What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: February, 2013

How do you do it?

I was asked again last night. “How do you do it?” Three kids who, with a whoop and a holler, have joined everything their expensive schools have to offer, two choirs for me, two jobs plus soccer for my husband, committees galore for both of us. It’s very simple, really. There’s this thing, you may have heard of it. It’s called a calendar.

Of course, a paper calendar has no chance with a schedule like ours. I use Microsoft Outlook, and we put EVERYTHING in it. Every kids activity (use the recurrence function), every birthday party, every P&F meeting, every doctor’s appointment. My husband even puts reminders in it for cleaning the pool or calling people. His brain is full of cricket statistics, he has no room for minutiae. Then we synchronise every day with both my phone and my husband’s. Even the Moose is starting to occasionally load the family calendar onto his laptop. Early in our marriage my husband proposed this system and he used our mutual sanctimoniousness to get our whole lives onto it. “Well, you couldn’t possibly be going to the pub after soccer, it isn’t in the calendar”, is rarely heard any more. Our relationship has been a long struggle for moral superiority. I think I pinched that from Marge Simpson.

Here’s what the evenings for this week look like:

The rule is that if there’s space in the calendar, you can go ahead with the proposed activity. Saves all that marital bickering about who told whom what and when. Synchronising has occasionally been a problem. We do it manually with a cable to the computer at the moment. I tried synchronising it with Google Calendar and it crashed the entire computer. I also tried iCloud but ended up with duplicates and even triplicates, so we’re waiting for either technology to catch up with us, or for us to go completely Apple. It may happen. Stranger things have.

No, I don’t think we’re trying to fit too much in. All of the kids activities have been volunteered for, in some cases begged for. They must be completing their homework with ease and getting sufficient sleep if they want to cram something else in. And what would I be doing with more time at home? Cleaning? Watching TV? Tchah. When we do all see each other, we have much to talk about. Much.

So what I want to know is, how do those of you who don’t use this system do it? How do you ever remember to get anywhere?


Swimming Carnival

Not the one I made the cape for, that was last week. My daughter’s swimming carnival was a high school one, all girls, so the swimming was well organised, the cheering was shrill and the costumes were elaborate. The one I’m telling you about today was the Horror’s one, full of primary school boys and therefore much more dramatic.

One starts off the day of a swimming carnival by dropping the swimming child at school so he can get the bus to the pool with his friends. This leaves me time to go and get a reliably good coffee from the local coffee wranglers for me to consume while I spend an hour being grateful that I never usually need to deal with this kind of traffic. This morning’s half hour snarl up Lyons Road appeared to have been caused by an elderly man attempting to reverse park in front of a school, ignoring the execrations of the commuters whose road he was blocking. He wanted to get in perfectly parallel and he had all the time in the world.

Upon arriving at the pool and parking some blocks away I went to locate my last born. All the kids sit in their colour coded houses on concrete steps, and the parents squeeze in with them. I could feel my hair curling into a perfectly spherical pom pom around my head in the humidity even before I’d squashed in between the new Irish kid and the Horror and some of his wrigglier friends. I thought he was bad enough, but one of his mates managed to kick me in the shin, the foot, both elbows and numerous times in the back by the end of the day. Perhaps next time I should bring a sharp stick.

My favourite bit of the primary school swimming carnival is watching the eight and nine year olds swim. It’s usually their first ever carnival and they’re full of excitement and a can do attitude. A highlight came early on in the freestyle when a little one started struggling at the twenty five metre mark, causing a strapping young student teacher to strip off his shirt and dive in to the rescue. Most of the potential rescues were identified before the kids jumped in, they were put in lane one so they could be hauled out at the side. One little kid leapt in for the start of the breaststroke only to immediately realise he couldn’t swim at all, he was gaffed and pulled in within seconds. Another little champ managed to swim the twenty five metre breaststroke entirely in butterfly. I don’t think I could swim twenty five metres of butterfly.

Girls schools do elaborate chants to support their houses, with melodies and verse and one that springs from house to house like a musical Mexican wave. Boys shout their double syllable house name (if it’s a single syllable they stick in a diphthong) followed by three claps. My ears are still ringing. They don’t sit still and watch their colleagues swim, they wrestle and draw on each other and play scissors paper rock and drum on the garbage bins and make hats out of their towels and stand and sit and lie down and head butt each other. No wonder the teachers in charge of the audience not falling in the pool (almost a continuous line of them) looked filleted by the end of the last relay.

The once a year swimmers like the Horror only get to go in their age races for freestyle and breaststroke. He managed to come third out of five in the freestyle (the last two hauled themselves to the finish line on the lane ropes) and fifth out of eight in the breaststroke. He did point out that that heat was won by the under ten overall champion, so good on him. He’s starting squads this very Thursday morning, so next year I can do a lot more cheering.

Choc Mint Slice

My husband likes to make requests of me, he thinks it makes me feel useful. Some make me furrow my brow not inconsiderably, like the “please sort out the Outlook 2010/IMAP problems”, which has defeated greater minds than mine. Some I greet with whoops of joy, like “please can I have morning tea for ten people for a meeting on Sunday morning”. Catering, but without the paperwork.

I decide to give him tea scented shortbread, ANZAC biscuits, hazelnut biscotti and something chocolate. He put on his sad face and said “but, there aren’t any ginger nuts!”. He keeps asking not to make those because he’ll just be compelled to eat them all, and then where will the schoolgirl figure be? Men. I can just about make them in my sleep, so he got a batch of those. The chocolate brownies I usually make just weren’t quite right, so the kids get them (there’s only three pieces left). I’m wondering if Pepe Saya butter isn’t so great with chocolate or what’s going on. It was the perfect opportunity to make some chocolate mint slice, something I’ve been contemplating for quite some time.

I knew what I wanted was a more robust version of the after dinner mints that I’ve stopped refining because I kept eating them. The Internet wasn’t the place for recipes because a mint slice appears to be one of those weird recipes that people want to make with crushed up mint chocolate bars. Why wouldn’t you just eat the chocolate bar? Women’s Weekly Cakes and Slices had the closest to what I was looking for, but it will need to undergo further refinement, so let me know if you want to volunteer for testing.

Even so, this looked like one of those recipes where they’d let their attention wander a bit. The base was unusual, but I took them at their word and it produced a fairly dense cake layer, which worked well when the slice was at room temperature, but not when it had been refrigerated. Here’s how to make the base:
Mix together 2/3 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1/4 of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, 1/3 of a cup of caster sugar and their grams of softened butter. Stir in a third of a cup of water. Stir in an egg. Pour this lot into a baking paper lined 25 by 30 cm slice tin or, in my case, roasting pan. Bake at 180 degrees for about twenty minutes.

I was happy with the peppermint filling. You mix a tablespoon of vegetable oil with two and quarter cups of icing sugar and one and a half teaspoons of peppermint essence in a heat proof bowl. Actually, it doesn’t mix at all, so you add in three tablespoons of milk. When you’ve incorporated most of the icing sugar and you have a stiff paste, starting mixing it over a saucepan of boiling water until it becomes spreadable. I’d suggest wrapping you hands in a teatowel, steam burns are unpleasant. If you can’t get it to form a paste, add a touch more milk. The recipe oddly didn’t specify the amount of peppermint essence, but I thought one and a half teaspoons was about right. Spread the paste over the slightly cooled base. You want to wait a bit, otherwise you’ll tear the base up. Stick this into the fridge until it’s firm.

They then suggest melting 125 grams of dark chocolate with 90 grams of unsalted butter (in a bowl over boiling water) to spread over the top. Now I know from experience that if you just melt straight chocolate and spread it on the slice you’ll get a chocolate layer that is very delicious but impossible to cut without shattering unless you want to muck around with a hot knife. The butter is to make it softer, but as it turns out I think this combination is too soft, you have to lick your fingers after eating. I might try 40 grams of butter with 170 grams of chocolate next time.


I’m also going to try for more of a biscuit base next time, then I can have the soft chocolate on top and serve it refrigerated. Or if I stick with the cake base, a much firmer chocolate layer. I wouldn’t mind trying this version of peppermint fondant in an after dinner mint either, maybe in disc form dipped in chocolate. But perhaps I should be thinking of my schoolgirl figure.

The Kids’ Favourite Ice Block – So Far

It is mango season, but I’m finding the classic eating mango, the Kensington Pride, a little pricey at the moment, and I’m not willing to commit to a case of them. There are a lot more varieties of mango about than there used to be in the olden days, and the ones I’m buying are the giant ones that evoke Star Wars for us, the R2E2. The kids aren’t that keen to eat them straight, though will at a pinch, but there’s such a lot of flesh on them that they just groan with potential.

The first thing to do when you get the kids all hot and sweaty from school is to cut the cheeks off an R2E2 and scoop the flesh into the blender. Pour in a slug of the lime syrup we made a few blogs ago, add a cup of ice and press Smoothie on your fancy blender. Instant refreshment for three kids, if you use the small glasses. But the way they like them best is in iceblock form.


My iceblock moulds are the rocket shaped Avanti ones that you can put a wooden paddle pop stick into. It makes them feel like a real iceblock. So take the flesh of one giant mango and insert it into your blender. Add the flesh of half a pineapple, cut that really hard core bit out. Add one lime, from which you have removed the peel and hopefully saved the zest for cola syrup. Add a third of a cup of coconut cream. You put the rest of the tin into a little Decor plastic container for the next batch that you will inevitably be making the next time Graham Creed talks about high pressure systems over central Australia. Press the Smoothie button on the aforementioned fancy blender. I get about twelve ice blocks out of this, which annoys me a little because the moulds are in sets of eight. The kids whinge a little about the fibrousness of the result, because I will insist on making the iceblocks with an actual pineapple rather than a chemical facsimile, but it’s still their favourite.

So far.

Super for Beginners

I was going to write about the lemon ricotta muffins which are currently holding off my kids from eating the cat, but they’re going to have to wait. For I have spent the day deep in treasury and I think there’s a lot about super you don’t know. In fact, I’m sure there is.

You may think that you don’t need to know about super. What would I, a humble housewife, have to do with it anyway? I, my friends, am treasurer for the Sydney University Graduate Choir. They employ a conductor, a rehearsal pianist, orchestra members and soloists. They all have to be paid super. It’s all very unpleasant, but it’s true, I’ve tried to wriggle out of it. Not as hard as the musicians have, though, they hate all that financial stuff, except for the getting paid bit. If you are a not for profit, an association, a company, a family trust, incorporated or not, you have to pay super if you pay any individual over $450 in one month. It doesn’t matter if they give you an ABN or come through an agency, or if they try to have super waived in their contract, you still have to pay it. It doesn’t matter if they’re still studying at the Con. It doesn’t matter if they don’t even have a super fund. You have to pick one and set them up and pay it in there, causing them innumerable headaches in later life.

I tell you what, there’s a niche in the market for someone to cater to organisations like us. Medicare, don’t ask me why, run a clearing house to make it easy for small businesses to pay super to their less than twenty employees. Because of employee choice, most employees will have different super funds, which means that every quarter you have to make a payment to each of those twenty institutions, each of which have their own logins and methods of payment. Through Medicare you can just set it all up and type it in like a spreadsheet. We can’t have that though, oh no. We have more than twenty employees. Usually not all at the same time, and many of them only once before they become too expensive for us to afford. So after I pay their super I’ll get letters from their super funds for years after wondering why I’m not paying in a quarterly amount. I just toss them in the recycling. The system isn’t set up for organisations like ours.

There’s also the fairly important matter of calculating the amounts you are required to pay. Well, it’s just 9%, everybody knows that. Ah yes, but 9% of what? It took me ages to figure it out, I’m not the type just to tap it into a Super Calculator, I want to know what’s going on. We pay our artists nice round numbers. Say we agree to pay a lovely young soloist $600 for a moderately taxing role in the Messiah. $600 is the total amount we’re prepared to fork over, we’re not paying super on top of it. You might think that you calculate 9% of $600 and take it off the total, but you would be very very wrong indeed. $600 is the bucks that they get in their bank account plus their 9% super so, follow me closely here, $600 is actually 109% of the payment they get. You divide the $600 by 109 then multiply it by 100, shove that into their bank account and spend three hours attempting to put the rest into their super account.

Man I hope I’ve got all that right. Do you want to hear about the Register of Cultural Organisations next? It’s almost as riveting. Oh, and there’s the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission just fired up, it’s the next thing on my list to fill my fluffy little head with. Keeps me off the streets, you know.

Swimming Carnival Accessories

“Mum, we’re allowed to dress up for the swimming carnival! Can you make me something?”. Year 7 is so exciting for the Muffet, they’re allowed just that little bit more freedom and it’s going to their heads. Swimming carnival is on Friday, and it isn’t compulsory to attend, unlike primary school. It is, however, very strongly encouraged and the Muffet wouldn’t miss it for quids. Especially as you can dress up. Looks like it’s time to get out the ole sewing machine again.

The first thing is to decide what to make. A hat? Hair’s going to be wet for some of the time, so no. Some kind of outfit? I still haven’t recovered from the school play. You know what I’m pretty good at. Capes. They’re only a step up from baby blankets and I’ve made wizard ones, fairy ones, a Red Riding Hood and a Jedi one. With or without hoods, they are dead easy and you don’t need a pattern. Muffet wants a swirly one in her house colours, so I stuff her house shirt in my handbag and it’s off to Spotlight I go.

Her house colour is maroon, so if we lived in Brisbane I’m sure the whole house would be decked out in footy memorabilia. As it is, I’m surprised at the choice of materials available that exactly match her shirt. Dance satin is on special, so I get three metres of it and six metres of maroon fringe, plus some black and white balls of that yarn you knit into spirally scarves and a set of knitting needles to replace the ones the dog ate.

For a travelling cape you make trapezoid panels, a big one for the back and two halves for the front and it sits close to the body. For a swirly cape you need a semicircle. I spread the material out on the floor and measure the width. It’s one hundred and thirteen centimetres, so I draw on the wrong side a semicircle of that radius. See, you should pay attention in maths. I cut out a semicircle for the neck of radius twenty centimetres. I’m not going to get all fussy about finishing touches, but I don’t want to leave the neck edge raw and I don’t want to muck about with facing and fusible interfacing, so I make a smaller cape to shoulder height to sit on top with exactly the same neck cutout. This has a fifty centimetre radius. I hem the front edges of the larger and smaller capes, then sew the maroon fringing around the edge of the smaller cape. Then, concentrating tensely, I place the shiny side of the short cape against the rough side of the long cape, line the neck edges up and sew them together. I got it right first time! I don’t even need to press the seams as the material is heavy enough to sit properly. A tab of Velcro at the neck corners and I’m done in under an hour.

How popular am I going to be when the Muffet gets home? But then again, how long will that popularity last?

Oat and Choc Chip Biscuits

“It’s not my favourite biscuit”, said the Horror, reaching for a second. “I don’t love it but I don’t not like it”, he continued, alternating bites with sips of miso soup. He’s a tough audience. The Moose managed to suck down two in the thirty seconds between arriving home from tennis and his piano lesson, I may have to mop down the keys. It’s an excellent lunchbox addition, the kids are calling them choc chip Anzacs. I got the recipe from the Pillsbury Family Recipe Book which, though utterly loony on the salad front, has some pretty interesting biscuit recipes.

Cream together half a cup of butter with half a cup of caster sugar and half a cup of brown sugar. Add an egg and realise as it hits the butter that it’s off. I have been playing a bit fast and loose with my eggs, I don’t put them in the fridge. I generally go through a dozen every week or two, but the weather has been very peculiar lately and I notice that organic produce is a little more touchy than factory produced stuff. I didn’t want to chuck out the butter out and start again, that Pepe Saya butter is pricey. Worth it, but pricey. Here’s what I did. I gave some advice to the cat about checking eggs before adding them to anything. The cat turned his head sideways at me. He doesn’t care for biscuits. Then I tipped the majority of the egg into the sink. I put a little bit of cold water on top of the butter and swished it around, then tipped it out. Did that a couple more times. Then I carefully scraped the very top layer off the butter and washed that down the sink. Then I stuck my head in the bowl and took a deep sniff. Clear.

I cracked another egg from the same box into a measuring cup. It was fine, so into the butter and mix to incorporate. Add in a cup of flour, a cup of oats, a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, a teaspoon of vanilla essence and half a cup of chocolate chips. Nice ones. I was going to say not ones from the supermarket, but you can actually get Callebaut chocolate chips from my local supermarket. Mix it all in and put chunks of the fairly sticky dough onto a baking paper lined tray. Bake at one hundred and eighty degrees for about fifteen minutes. My mix made twenty seven biscuits. They spread out quite a bit. They’re not as crunchy as Anzacs.

You know, modern traffic really does have a whiff of rotten egg about it? Either that, or there’s still some stuck to my jumper somewhere.

Yet Another Black and White Necklace

It’s a funny thing with committees. You just dip your toe in, help out with a stall at the fete here, offer to count the take for the raffle there. You think you can take it or leave it alone, but before you know it you’re on your third gig as Treasurer and no end in sight. It has to be said that it’s an excellent way to find out about an organisation, be it a school or a choir, and you meet the nicest people on committees. Utter nutters too, but you learn to spot those and develop a quick left dodge.

So I find myself on two school committees this year. Another funny thing is that I don’t think I’ve ever gone along to a committee meeting or talked to a committee member and volunteered for anything. I just find myself on an email list with a commitment to leave the bosom of my family every fourth Thursday night. Here’s a tip, if you really don’t want to be on a committee, and someone you know who is on one offers to buy you coffee or a drink, run screaming in the opposite direction. As soon as you agree to just pop along to Sarah’s place tomorrow night and just meet everyone, you are so gone.

There’s a cocktail party at the Horror’s school tonight, rained for the third year in a row into the hall. The president of the committee I’m on at this school just loves the school colours and has fairly firmly suggested that everyone on the “exec” as she’s jovially calling it wear black and white tonight and possibly forever more. There are two ways I could go. I could cop out somewhat by just wearing a black dress and trying to blend in with the crowd. Or alternatively I could join in enthusiastically and wear the white dress I bought on a whim from Dotti because it was forty bucks, sling on a black jacket and make a matching black and white necklace. Oh yeah.

You’d think I’d have run out of black and white inspiration after the end of last year’s efforts, but it just keeps coming. I’ve added a touch of orange, I believe that’s part of the livery colours but I’ve only seen it on stationery. For those who are interested, it’s Swarovski Red Magma.

And because the Horror is only in fourth grade, I’m going to be associated with this school for a long time. This isn’t the last of the black and white necklaces.