Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 round up...

Well, here we are on the very last day of 2014 and as coincidence would have it, this is post number 2014 on this blog (yes, that's right, I'm going to start 2015 with post number 2015 as well, because that's how I roll!)...

2014 has been... interesting.

The Grumpy Old Man told me this morning that 2014 was disappointing for him. He was disappointed that our previous home was sold from under us when they had given us assurances we could live there for a few years. He was disappointed that the big boys didn't make more of the opportunities their high school affords them...

Me, I don't feel disappointed. I guess I didn't have many expectations when this year began. I did think we'd still be at Leeds Street at the end of the year, but yesterday I realised I've well and truly settled into this new house. I don't want to move from here now. It's not as perfect for us as the other, but the other house is gone now, and we've made this house a home, so I'm happy with that.

As for the boys, well, yes, it's disappointing they don't value the opportunities laid out for them the way their father and I do, but they're teenagers, and quite frankly, at this age, I was probably no more enthused by classroom work and assignments and the school schedule than they are. I have to believe they'll figure it out sooner or later.

Parts of this year have been very sad. A friend's son drowned in February at the age of only five years. That has impacted me every day. I worry more about my kids now than I used to. Life seems more precarious and precious. I have lost a degree of innocent I wasn't even aware I had.

My grandmother also died in March this year. That was very sad, and at the same time it was a relief because there is no doubt she suffered in the last few years of her life. She believed she was going to a better place beyond this life and so I choose to believe she is happier now than she was for a long time before her passing.

2014 has also been marvellous. Midway through the year I passed my colloquium with no ammendments, which was a huge relief and quite affirming. I have also travelled, on my own, overseas and presentation a paper at a conference, and said paper will be published this coming year (I hope).

I have made some awesome new friends and acquaintances in a wide variety of pockets of life, which is always a surprise to and always a bonus!

I have learned some of the basics of reading braille and how to use a white cane.

I received a whole lot of fantastic technology through a Vision Australia Education Bursary.

And as of Christmas I am learning to play the ukulele!

With regard to the kids, Lukas and Ari both started new schools this year and they both seem quite happy where they are. Lukas has probably done better socially than he has in a few years, though his academics have suffered. Ari has had a few bumps socially, but academically is going gangbusters.

Erik has not pursued his painting as vigorously as he did last year, but has also be preoccupied with relationships and a new love of film.

Bryn struggle a bit for the first 2/3s of 2014 but seems to have found his feet in the last three or four months and generally seems to be a lot happier now, which is a relief to see.

On the whole, 2014 has been exhausting, but in a good way for me. I feel as if I'm finishing the year ahead. I'm in a better place in many ways. I can feel I have gained ground on some of my life goals and it feels good.

2015 looks to be just as interesting. I'm expecting to get to Iceland later in the year. It'll be 30 years in June since I was last in Iceland, so this will be a coming full circle sort of experience. I'm very excited and have almost none of the anxiety about this trip that I had about going to New Zealand.

In January I have a lot of creative writing to get through, but also I need to get my resume sorted and sent an email to the head of school to try and secure some sessional work. If I get the sessional work, then February through to June will be very busy with thesis research and writing and teaching - it is a challenge I'm chaffing at the bit to take on!

July/August will be all about the Iceland trip.

September to the end of November will be about the AAWP conference, writing a paper for that and hopefully presenting. As well as more work on the thesis as well.

And the first half of 2016 will be about the final throws of writing up my thesis and submitting it.

So, the next eighteen months are going to be a whirlwind of activity! There are many mini-projects in there I haven't written about (two other papers I'm working on, as well as other creative work I will work on getting published), the broad strokes are exciting enough, I think!

In the back of my mind is the lingering knowledge that for every passing month, the GOM's mother becomes more dependent on us, and there is a strong likelihood that during this next year she will come to live with us. Part of me hopes that somehow her progressive dependence will slow and she will remain in her own home for the next 18 months. It might happen. We have expected her to move in with us for years now and she hasn't. Time will tell.  We will work through whatever comes, I'm sure!

Have a happy and safe New Year's Eve and I'll see you in 2015 for my 2015th post!


Monday, December 29, 2014

Desperate Measures...

Today I've been working on something that is so very not me at all... I have been compiling a recipe folder. Yes, you read that right. The anti-foodie has been compiling a recipe folder.

Evidence of the actual recipe folder!

Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes.

I am, and I'm sure many of you can relate to this, entirely over the nightly ritual of 'What's for dinner?'... This is a phenomenon which has its own meme (for those of you lucky enough not to have kids). See!

Yes, we suffer from this too.

The Grumpy Old Man is the cook around these parts. He used to love cooking. He hates it now. Partly because he's tired when it comes to cooking time, partly because none of us can agree on what constitutes an appetising dinner - there is always someone pushing their plate away and declaring a lack of appetite. It's a thankless job and over the past 18 years of cooking for us, we have managed to suck all the joy out of the process for the Grumpy Old Man, like blood thirsty mozzies on a summer's eve.

But also, even though we have about 30 dishes we rotate (I know, I can't believe we have that many either, but I counted, it always felt like we ate the same five things over and over, but no), we're heartily bored of every single one of them. Gosh, we're spoiled! I remember as a child, we ate fish and potatoes a LOT while living in Iceland and we didn't complain, much, I think... For eighteen months when we were particularly short on cash it was Maggi packet soup every.single.night.

The GOM's mum did the 'Salmon Mornay Monday, Chops and three Veg Tuesday...' thing. He always knew what was for dinner so he didn't ask. Sure he was bored to tears but at least life was predictable and he never got his hopes up for Chicken Tikka Masala or Green Thai Curry!

So, I've decided we're going back to basics. We're going to eat real food (by real, I mean it won't come out of a jar or a take away menu). We're going to rotate about 18 dishes over a three week period and aim to have a roast each Sunday. 

I've written out a three week schedule of meals, so the next time the kids come and ask what's for dinner I'm directing them to the schedule! I will only consider changing the schedule once we have completed it three times, at that point if people agree that they HATE a particular meal we can substitute it for something else. This way, the GOM won't have to pull his hair out wondering what to cook, there will be far less temptation to just order take away, and our shopping will becoming wholly predictable!

Three week dinner schedule!

Hopefully we will also see some health benefits from eating whole unprocessed foods - time will tell!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

We did!

It's been wall to wall excitement, family, and food. Today we're packing up Christmas but before we do I thought I'd better capture the frivolity here.

Christmas started a few days before Christmas here, with the arrival of a brand new 55" television, thanks to a number of my family's (Dad, my brother, and my parents) help. This extravagance was mostly a gift for me as it had become impossible for me to see our old 32" television with my deteriorating sight. Of course, my sight will continue to deteriorate and I guess one day (hopefully not too soon) the new television will also become impossible for me to see, but this gift means I can enjoy my favourite show and characters for a little while longer.

Because of the size of the new box, we had to rearrange the entire lounge room, put the buffet out in the hallway and bring the hall stand (a trusty old Expedit shelving unit) into the lounge as a television stand. This has really opened up the lounge room, actually and made everything a bit more airy. This is where I want to say that I LOVE those removable 3M hooks and velcro strips I use to hang the photos and paintings in the hallway! The came right off the wall without leaving a mark, and I moved all the photos and paintings to the lounge room wall in no time at all! 

And of course the first thing we watched on the tv was Doctor Who.

This Christmas I decided to give making a pavlova a go! I love pavlova but I was frightened away from trying to make my own by tales of pav failures. Anyway, this year I bit the bullet and gave it a go, and I'm glad I did because pavlova is really the easiest thing in the world to make!

Into the oven she goes...

First attempt with passion fruit... Lukas said it was like eating a rainbow!

Second attempt for Christmas Eve with my family, this time with mixed berries!

I also made my signature layered pudding with baked apples, cherries and biscuit. 
I have to say. On Christmas Day, when MIL ate with us, she brought a store bought pav based, and it must have sucked in a lot of humidity at the shops because it was like rock candy. My pavs were melt-in-your-mouth soft. Homemade is definitely best!

It was a delight to bring out the table cloth mum and I made last year...

Having it on hand makes life so much easier!

My parents and brother turned up on Christmas Eve ladened with presents, much to the boys delight!

Before they arrived...

After they arrived!
My happy little Christmas elves...
And then it was time for the first round of food; Double smoked ham with brown sugar glazing, candied potatoes, mushroom cream sauce, carrots, asparagus and brown gravy (we totally forgot the red cabbage, again!)...

You can always trust someone to take advantage of the blind photographer and pull a face!

We three kings, eh?

And my brother looking like someone straight out a parody of Game of Thrones...

Dessert time!
And then it was present time... Also known as paper ripping time!

Look at that mess!
Funny story... During the day, my brother texted me, he was Christmas shopping (he works six days a week, there is no time for Christmas shopping so inevitably he does it on Christmas Eve)... He texts, 'I've found a Hulk Onesie in Dave's size, should I get it?' Dave saw my phone before I did and literally ran (he NEVER runs) down the hall with it yelling, 'Tell him NO!' So, my brother didn't get him the Hulk Onesie (which I, personally, would have loved to see), instead he got him those blue and red polkadot shorts, emblazoned with 'Mr Perfect!'... Dave should have said yes to the onesie...

The boys got an assortment of books and clothess and video games, the little boys got remote control cars.

Ari got a talking Weeping Angel, which everyone else thinks is kind of creepy, but which he insists of taking to bed with him each night... He's my odd-little-bod!

Ari with his remote controlled car - Erik tells me it is modelled on the fastest car in the world.

I received some awesome presents, myself. A colourful hanging tea-light holder in the shape of a star, which now hangs in our hall way. A gorgeous pair of earrings from Dave, and from my brother (man, this guy can think outside the box), a ukulele! So, for the past few days I've been learning ukulele chords and strumming patterns. I think it will probably take a long while to become competent, but I'll have fun getting there... The guys are just happy he didn't get me a saxophone or a clarinet...

On Christmas Day - after a very late night of almost 3am chatting with my brother and doing the dishes and so on - we backed up for lunch with Dave's mum...

Christmas lunch is always a traditional turkey of some variety (sometimes turducken, but this year a turkey loaf), with all the trimmings.... My fave is her cherry sauce, which she made and brought herself this year.... Yum!

Also, roast veggies, which I took charge of this year. I did the potatoes Jamie Oliver style... I added an unplanned secret ingredient, which I will not mention here, but which no one noticed in the end. Bryn asked if we could ALWAYS have these potatoes because they were the best... Erik said, 'Sure, I think we should always have 'floor potatoes', and then he winked at me, little so-and-so...

The obligatory pre-eating photo... That, by the way, is Dave and his mother smiling their smiliest smiles.... I kid you not.

Boxing Day was spent resting and eating leftovers and watching the Doctor Who Christmas special... I don't have many photos from Box Day because, well we were relaxing, but here are a couple of the indulgences from that day...

Left overs (though I made fresh candied potatoes because they're never left over), this time I remembered the red cabbage!


One other exciting thing that happened this Christmas was the arrival of the birthday present my mum made for me!

Isn't she lovely? Of course she doesn't live in that spot since we moved all the furniture around, she is on the cabinet in the corner of the lounge room next to the Christmas tree - but you can't see her in the photos above. This figure is from an Icelandic story and in this position she is singing a much loved Icelandic lullaby which is a sort of apology to her child for bringing the child into such a harsh environment and life. It is actually very sad, but speak of a mother's love for her child. I love it!

So, there you have it, our Christmas wrap up. Now I'm going to go pack up all the Christmas decorations for another year. A part of me really hopes we will still be in this house next year as we had such a lovely Christmas here this year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Delicious Food, ready when you are…

So, let me tell you about some awesome fun my family and I have been having in the past couple of weeks! I was given the opportunity to taste some absolutely fantastic gourmet foods from a new company which is just beginning to spread its wings in Australia. The company is called dish’d and they offer a new and exciting way to experience delicious food from around the world right in the comfort of you own home! Now, as I had the pleasure of finding out, these aren’t just any old pre-prepared frozen meals, they’re the kind of food you find restaurants, prepared by an experience chef who wants to offer something innovative, creative and tantilising!

I was a little worried about how the family would take to this, especially Bryn who has, well, let’s say, an extremely (frustratingly so) discerning palate (in layman’s term, he’s a fussy eater)… So, I ordered a range of side dishes, mains, and desserts, some more recognisable to the kids such as spring rolls and vegie lasagna. As I was going away that week, I scheduled the order for after I got back later, however, dish’d will deliver the following day, so if you are after very fast service, they do that, too. As it turned out, because my order was over $50 (and I was pleasantly surprised by the affordability of the dishes), I discovered I was entitled to $30 worth of free product in addition to my order, as well as free delivery as part of an introductory offer, which was pretty awesome!

The order arrived exactly as per my instructions on the day I asked for and we all crowded around the box to see the goodies. The meals are frozen and delivered in dry ice to retain their nutritional and taste credentials, which means no fear of food spoiling before you eat it!

Over the next few days we tried out a variety of meals, side dishes, and desserts including: Sea Bream and Vegetables; Spinach and Mascarpone pizza; White and Red Quinoa Salad, and the lemoniest Lemon Tart I’ve ever had, YUM!

I was particularly impressed with the sides; Baby baked potatoes, Pearl couscous salad, and the Mediterrean Salad because these meant I (ahem, the Grumpy Old Man, as dinner is his forte) could quickly grill some fish or chicken, and serve with a side dish, which was either defrosted in the fridge while we were out chasing our tails or can quickly be defrosted in the microwave in under 5 minutes – I have to say this is ideal for busy families like mine because a nutritious dinner can be served in 15 minutes from walking through the front door – perfect!

But my all time favourites were the finger foods and desserts. To be able to have those things in the freezer for special occasion – without even having to break my routine to go shopping (and just quietly, I loathe food shopping, especially with kids!) – was marvelous. I felt a somewhat smug sense of self-satisfaction when I was able to serve up a warm wild berry tart with a drizzle of cream to guests who had turned up on speck!

This Wild Blueberry Tart came out of MY oven - thanks to dish'd!

Served with a little drizzle of cream - and a large dollop of smugness...

So, how did the kids like the food? Well, Lukas LOVES the Mozzarella and Mushroom pizza. Erik’s favourite was the Thai Vegetable Green Curry. Ari couldn’t get enough of the Chorizo and Bacon Croquettes, and even Bryn had a favourite – the Potato Spun Vegetable Balls. The Grumpy Old Man loved the Petits Gratins De Crab and for me the standouts were the desserts; particularly the Bacio Gelato, but also Apple Le Carré Feuilleté!

It is safe to say we were all impressed and there was something for everyone’s taste!

Is your mouth watering yet?

Well, I’m not just here to brag about how I got to eat lots of yummy food delivered right to my door… I am offering you the chance to win a $50 vouncher if you live in metro Victoria or New South Wales. For a chance to win this fabulous prize simply answer the following question:

What about dish’d service appeals to you?

Be quick, this competition closes on December 23rd, 2014!

To help you answer this question, have a look at their range, and keep in mind the meals are frozen to lock in nutrition and taste and that they are delivered right to your door the very next day if needed – as a busy mum, who loathes food shopping, that’s very appealing, but there is so much more that appeals as well. Really, have a look at their range on the dish’d site!

I am already being asked when we’ll put in our next order, and with all the business of Christmas and school holidays, I suspect it will be very soon!

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this review I was provided with a voucher to sample a range of products, and a fee for my time writing this review. My opinions are wholly my own.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Create, don't consume...

Around this time every year I fly into a bit of a panic. It's not as bad as it was, say, seven years ago, but it still happens. You see, tomorrow Erik and Lukas go on summer holidays, and then at the end of next week Bryn and Ari join them. The next three weeks will be okay because, well, there's Christmas and then there's New Year's. But then there is January, in particular the first three weeks of January.

We can never afford to get afford to get away, and so we spend January at home. I will most likely be working, which gets me out of the house, but the rest of the guys will be at home niggling one another. It can truly be a sucky time. Mostly, the kids want to play computer games. I get that, it passes the time, it's a form of escapism, and frankly, if they could do it without squabbling, I'd be tempted to let them while away summer days going on virtual quests.

But, you see, there's the rub, they really aren't able to play the games without fighting over controllers (we have four, and they STILL fight over them), or squabbling about which games to play, or someone demanding to left ALONE to play (as if that would ever happen in our household).

So, every year I panic about what to do with the kids.

We've had games tournaments, but haven't done that in a couple of years now, maybe this year is the year to revive that tradition>

One thing I have talked to the boys about with regard to this summer is that I don't want them to simply consume all summer. I don't want them to just sit and watch tv, or read books (only two children are likely to do this) or play computer games. I want them CREATE something this year, more specifically I want them to create something others can somehow enjoy. Yes, they can create quests on a server, or a you tube channel, if they MUST use technology. Or they can create artwork to exhibit/sell, or they can create music or stories, but they must create something.

Erik thinks this will be easy as he has a whole slew of work to do for his upcoming Studio Art subject next year. Lukas hasn't commented on my demand. Bryn is thinking he'll do a you tube channel teaching other kids how to get through levels on a game (hmmm, I'll be watching this one carefully). Ari, like Lukas, hasn't said anything about it, but the concept of creating anything but trouble might be beyond him, right now. I can see I may have to work with him.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Levelling out...

Okay, so let's see. I got back from Wellington on Wednesday evening last week. I felt completely outside my head on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Like seriously, I wasn't gone that long, but it took me nearly as long to settle once I got back. Part of the reason for that is that Bryn had left for camp the morning of the day I returned, so I didn't have my family back in one place until Friday night.

On Saturday I went to the Swedish Church Christmas Fair in Toorak with mum. It has grown so much over the past decade. We barely knew anyone, but it was marvellous all the same. We had Danish pølser (hotdogs) and frikadeller (meatball on black bread with onion). Listened to Scandinavian Christmas music, and of course, bought scandinavian Christmas decos!

I loved these lights and had to have them! Also on the table you can see a candle holder consisting of four connected, red-painted wood hearts, a little 'nisse' (christmas elf) with a long beard and his nose sticking out from under a red santa cap, and a Christmas candle calendar (you burn it for a about an hour a day, every day leading up to the 23 and when the last number is burned away, it's Christmas!).

On Sunday we comprehensively cleaned the house - I washed the floor for the first time since we moved in, eek! And we put up all the Christmas decorations and the tree. It looks lovely in the house now. Only when that was done did I really feel like I had settled back in at home.

On Sunday, I wrote a great long list of everything I need to do for the nest couple of weeks. I have to start organising the trip to Iceland already. I have sent off all my paper work to my aunt in Iceland to try and arrange a change of name, so I can apply for an Icelandic passport. I have to get quotes for flights etc. and then make bookings, it is very exciting but considering the amount of energy and time I expended on preparing for this conference, I'm keen to try and streamline things a bit more for the research trip.

Today I've been working on the revisions for the peer reviewed paper (due Friday), they aren't big revisions at all, but somewhat confusing as I feel I'm being asked to repeat myself. I think maybe I need to try and be clearer. 

This week will be all about churning out some creative work. I've very excited to be back to this bit of the thesis, I love this bit, I feel most at home in this bit - like most practice-led researchers, I dare say.

I also need to do some follow up work from the conference - which seems like a million years ago now, so best not let those things linger too long!

I'm so glad to be back. I hadn't realised how much the conference had taken out of me until Sunday when I started to feel more myself again. It is one thing to go to a conference and present a paper (something I find absolutely thrilling and invigorating, by the way, I am completely at home in front of a lecture theatre audience - this is so absolutely what I want to do), but it's a whole other thing to travel when you have a vision impairment, and worse than that, agoraphobia. I did really well, if I say so myself. I was actually kind of shocked at how many people travelled with their partners, their siblings, their children, or who were staying with friends and family. There is nothing wrong with that, but I was being quite hard on myself for being anxious about it and it turned out that being anxious and wanting to bring a 'security blanket' is very much the norm. One night, in Wellington, having asked people what they were doing for dinner and finding everyone had plans with people they had brought with them, or family/friends they were staying with, I ended up going out on the town by myself! I went and found a lovely little *quiet* restaurant and had a lovely dinner and then went back to my room and watched a movie. I was so proud of myself for just doing it anyway, on my own.

But the days and days of being socially 'on' took its toll, and that is why it took so long to find my feet once I was back home again. I think it will be easier next time. This same conference will be in Melbourne next year, so that's very much familiar territory for me, so no biggie. It's nice to back into the domestic routine again though - even though Christmas holidays start this week for the bigger boys, and next week for the smaller ones.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Holding back the tears ~ aka. The 19th AAWP Conference...

So, here I am on the second day of the big conference. It has been amazing. Mostly just because there are other people in the world just like me! You know the old trope of the lonely writer, well, that's probably not true for everyone, not strictly true. I have many friends and acquaintances, good friends, people I feel lucky to know (you guys know who you are, I think). Having said that, none of them are writers trying to break into the academy. Some of my acquaintances are, and hopefully we'll be able to form friendships as time passes, but even so, these are not people I see all the time, and being acquaintances, I'm only just getting to know them, and them me, so it is hard to know how they are experiencing the entire three ring circus that is pursuing one's creative writing impetus, but also attempting to be recognised as a scholar, and even more so a pedagog.

But here, at this conference, I've found others like me, which the same thoughts and feelings, and fears, and even tears.

I've been so inspired hearing what others are working on, and I have been told I have inspired others as well, which is really lovely (and, as always unexpected, today someone singled me out in a room, and I thought she was talking to the person next to me, because I couldn't believe anyone would be inspired by my work, hahaha)!

This morning I attended a panel on being a sessional tutor, and one of the delegates cried when expressing her frustration at not being able to find any security in the academy. She, like me, has only ever wanted to teach creative writing, and like me she is in her 40s, and like me, she has children, and like her I just wanted to cry because I feel her fear. There were no words of reassurance than there would be any security in any of our futures. In fact, we were encouraged to have no fantasies of security in the academy, because even those with a semblance of security, only have that security provisionally. We were encouraged to know what we ultimately wanted to and go for that. We were encouraged to support one another - which can be so difficult in what is often a dog-eat-dog environment. We were encouraged to stand together, and I volunteered to take part in an effort to set recommendations for improving the conditions of sessionals in creative writing. So, there was hope, in action.

80% of the panel from this morning, including some of my favourite academics, mostly because of their generosity and their dedication to making the academy a friendly, inclusive place for Candidates! I want to be like these guys!

The second panel I attended today was on failure and creativity, that was actually far for upbeat than  had expected it to be, and I felt a new resilience in the knowledge that all writers fail, but we can choose how and why we fail, as a matter of practice and/or perception.

The third session I attended this conference (after two yesterday, one of which I presented in), was on various forms of reality hopping, and it was very inspiring to hear about different kinds of writing which hop across reality, either in time, or form or language. This session has seeded some inspiration for writing.

I have come back to my room now, and skipped a keynote speech and a book launch because we have the conference dinner at 8pm tonight, and I am already feeling quite exhausted. It has been such an emotional roller coaster today.

I have other stuff to say on travelling on my own (and how I'm not actually dying, and I may even be enjoying it, just a little bit...), but I'm going to leave that for another time because right now, I just want to have a coffee and a lay down!

Good Job!