mutteringhousewife

What does the last of the housewives do?

Category: miscellaneous

Award Season

You psych yourself up for a lot of things when you become a parent, sleepless nights, attitude issues, everything being sticky all the time. But nothing can prepare you for award nights. Especially not private school ones.

The week starts off with that of the Muffet’s school, who has a Year 3 to Year 12 ceremony at the Opera House. At first I thought they were doing it to show off, but when we got there I realised that the sheer number of people involved meant the venues you could hold this kind of thing at were pretty limited.

Because we live in Sydney it takes us an hour to travel the eight kilometres to the Opera House by bus. Once there we pick seats up the back so we can have a refreshing doze before the speeches kick off. The Muffet deserts me to sit and giggle and whisper with Lindy Lu, a few rows back. Proceedings are opened by a very impressive pipes and drums performance, I love bagpipes and am devoutly glad they are not played by any of my children. The head of the foundation that administers the school hauls himself to his feet and spends twenty minutes telling the outgoing Year Twelve that it’d be rather good to be nice to people. He is followed by the headmaster, who does a very similar thing, only addressed to all the girls. He introduces the special guest speaker as “a Christian woman”, all the way from Chicago, who is studying the lives of women at the time of Christ. He doesn’t want us to labour under the impression that he’d invite an infidel to address our precious daughters, especially not an Australian one. She holds us spellbound with a learned dissertation on how difficult it is to tell whether Roman women sat on chairs or lay on the lounge when eating with their husbands. She seamlessly segues into a thirty second rap on how lucky those present are not to be shot in the head for going to school like that poor girl in Pakistan. The only bright moments in the whole shebang are the musical interludes by students that are quite terrific and the outgoing school captain’s speech which is essentially that you should try to be cheery and if you’ve worked really hard you should reward yourself with a Tim Tam. All the Muffet got out of this was that school captains eat Tim Tams. Would it kill the adults to throw in a few jokes?

The Horror’s awards morning is a lot more snappy. The headmaster speculates on who is going to win the book being run by the staff on how long his speech will be. The head of school, who has a voice like a sergeant major and a haircut to match astonishes the boys with a story about when he was little they only had a black and white TV that only his father was allowed to operate. He also massages his face quite a lot during the music which haas a pretty shaky start, but finishes strongly. It’s always risky to get a lot of little boys to sing a round.

We’ve just come home from the Moose’s evening. None of my kids have won prizes this year, so once again I can sit up the back and let my attention wander. This was at the Town Hall, and they may want to consider using the Opera House too, so they don’t need to crowbar parents into corners and alcoves in that crenellated building. Nice and squeezy. The adults once again make worthy speeches, but at least they’re not all smooth platitudes, and they get in a few laffs. I did appreciate the head of the school council, finding himself without the appropriate award to hand over to a community worthy, handing over his mobile phone instead, then rounding off with “well that’s it, I’m off”. The prize for dux of Year 7 was awarded in memory of a child in the nineteen forties who had been dux of Year 7 and dropped dead of heart failure shortly after. And we think we put our kids under too much pressure. I do wonder how the Year 11 prize for Altruism is decided, and how it differs from the Year 11 prize for Citizenship. I think about investing a prize for Year 7 boy who only Pulls his Finger Out Late in the Year, but it would be too late for the Moose. The music was really outstanding, they want to get these kids out on the street with a hat. Bring our fees down.

Now I have to work out what to do with the lot of them for the next two months. There’s only so much watching TV and eating ice cream that one can do.

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Horseys

One the many things I don’t get about girls is the horse thing. The Muffet has loved them from birth. When she was five her cat got run over and before the body was even cold she said “well, I don’t have a pet now, how about a pony?”. We compromised with a dog, and Harry is now often my favourite member of the family. She still manages to get close to horses whenever she can, like today.

There’s what looks like a multimillion dollar slab of land across the road from Centennial Park which houses quite a lot of horse stables. You can’t really see it from the road, but once you’re inside it’s all chaff bags and sawdust and arenas and a whole lot of rough looking women wearing jodhpurs. Also, a whole lot of what look to me to be fairly depressed looking horses, I can’t imagine that living in a box for most of your life punctuated by being kicked by overexcited little girls could be much of a life. Still, presumably better than being made into glue.

It is one of these establishments that the Muffet frequents. They’re having a gymkhana in a couple of weeks, so she must brush up on her jumps. A gymkhana consists of a group of determined young ladies sitting on horses and making them do a whole lot of things they would rather not. Whomever is the bossiest wins. The Muffet was practicing being bossy today on a horse called Harley, and today he was the winner and she fell on her bottom. Hooray for Harley, I say, but she got back on the horse and was much lauded by her instructors for it.

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It is better than watching TV, and it does get one out in the fresh air, and it can be good exercise, especially if you’re falling off a lot. Just don’t expect an intelligent response from me if you start going on about rein notches and bending and chain jumps. I’m just the chauffeur. And I don’t get horseys.

Internet Shopping for Beginners

I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who are worried that if they open up the Amazon site a hand will extend from the screen and start going through their pockets.  I’ve just finished a whole lot of online Christmas shopping and am in the mood to give those of you with the collywobbles about the whole thing a helping hand.

First of all, most people I know who’ve had their credit card done over have had it copied in a physical shop, like a restaurant.  I know you’re still worried, so there are a few things you can do.  First, if your home has a wireless setup make sure it is password protected.  Now there’s a whole other blog.  If you’re really having trouble with this step, send me a personal message of some kind and I’ll come ’round to your place (if feasible) and fix it.  If you’re very worried, you could set up a card just for internet purchases, but it really isn’t necessary, the card companies are pretty good about refunding you if you’ve been genuinely defrauded.  Another important thing is to make sure your virus software is up to date and isn’t just freeware your son-in-law installed one night after dinner.  Then once you have held your breath and actually typed your credit card details into the computer and purchased something, check for the bit that asks if they can keep your information to make your future shopping easier.  I don’t mind them keeping my address, but I’d rather they didn’t have my card details on file.

Now the fun bit.  What do you want to buy?  It’s all out there.  Spend a bit of time browsing to see what prices are like and if they’ll ship to Australia.  To get you started, here are some I’ve bought from more than once.

Australian online shopping is generally woeful and embarrassing, but there are some exceptions and more are either popping up or getting their act together all the time.  Peters of Kensington has been terrific for years and I’ve often done my Christmas shopping there online rather than drag myself over to Kensington, find a park and lose myself in their baffling store layout.  The only other Australian site I regularly buy from is Nespresso.  I’d really like to buy from JB HiFi (badly laid out) or Spotlight (catalogue scans OMG are we in the nineties??), but they just suck too much.  I am keeping a close eye on The Iconic, that looks like fun.

I buy all my underwear and quite a few clothes from Victoria’s Secret.  I popped into a shop when we visited the US a couple of years ago and really couldn’t believe how comfortable and attractive the range was my dears.  Even with their horrendous postage, the value is terrific.  When buying clothes just remember to take your Australian size and divide it by two.  If in doubt, buy something stretchy.  I bought two pairs of leggings at the same time as I bought a pair from Target at the same price, and the Target ones are now see through while the VS ones are going strong.

I used to buy the kids’ school shoes from endless.com, but they were recently consumed whole by Amazon.  I had only ever bought ebooks on my Kindle through Amazon (I do love buying a book while lying in bed, then reading it straight away), but took the plunge this morning to get some Christmas presents.  I really wish they’d put some kind of filter on their site to only display items they’re prepared to ship to Australia, it’s such a tease.  You can get there by choosing Amazon as the seller and Amazon Global Eligible as the shipping, but you need to do it each time you perform a search.  Perhaps I should send them some strongly worded feedback.  The shipping wasn’t too bad, and just look at those prices!  I shall be back in January for school shoes, I’m certainly not paying a hundred smackers in a local shop for black leather shoes, especially considering the current parkour craze going on in this family.

Then there’s ThinkGeek.  I spend hours window shopping there, and this morning did quite a bit of Christmas shopping.  Their shipping is also horrendous but goodness me they carry a lot of merchandise that is pertinent to this family.

 

See, right there, I got a Tardis keyring and a handy gadget that clicks onto your keyring that’s a Philips head screwdriver, a pocket knife and a bottle opener.  I was sorely tempted to get for the Moose’s science teacher the tshirt that said “Non-flammable? Challenge accepted”, but it won’t get here in time.

None of these websites have ever ripped off my credit card, so you may want to start with those.  Go on, online shopping is fun, there’s no parking problems, you can do it in your pyjamas while eating breakfast, and there’s none of that unwanted social interaction that so often interferes with actual shopping.  But you’ll have to do it now if you want it at your place by Christmas.

Cake Decorating

If one of your friends suddenly turns mummy blogger then you know you’re going to be fodder the moment you do anything interesting with them.  Today it was my introduction to cake decorating and as if that isn’t something I should be sharing then I don’t know what is.

I generally focus more on how my baked goods taste than what they look like.  I slap icing on birthday cakes mainly because I’m the one that gets to lick the bowl, but that’s as far as it goes.  You could call my style rustic, if you were being polite.  It turns out that there’s a whole world of pretty out there that can go on top of your homemade deliciousness and also that a whole lot of people rather like it.  So when my good friend and neighbour who also happens to be such a good cook that she can make sparkly macarons without breaking a sweat offers to demonstrate basic cake decorating to a group of mortals, I’m so in.

We gathered at another neighbour’s recently renovated house which is so perfect and clean and gleaming it just makes me cry a little inside.  I’m good at the feeding the family side of housewifery and slowly improving on the end of year play costume making front, but tidying and cleaning aren’t my strong points.  It was a shame to clutter up her shining benchtop with balls of fondant and rolling pins and sparkle powder and gel colours, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Hours of mucking around with playdough with your preschool kids will stand you in good stead for cake decorating.  You can get the fondant from the supermarket – I had a look at the do it yourself version and it is possible, but only if you are able to work quickly which means lots of experience.  You should use gel colours to colour it, but I did find that they leave a slight chemical taste.  I wonder if I’m the first person to want to use natural colours?  One of the girls suggests that this may not be the case, but the natural ones make you feel good and don’t really work.  Isn’t this often the way?  Perhaps I should go for all white decorations.

At its most basic, you just roll out the fondant really really thin.  You can either cut out a circle to cover a cupcake (that has previously had a glue of ganache or hot jam applied), and or cut shapes and letters out.  I was very tempted to photograph all of the pages in the Planet Cake book the guru brought along for ideas for pirate faces, cheeky monkeys, Mr Men and the like.  You can also make 3D shapes, this stuff really does have a similar consistency to playdough.   Pity birthday season is over in this house, but it does give me plenty of time to practise for next year.  First, though, a visit to the cake decorating section of the local kitchen shop for sparkle powder.

 

Remind me not to blog after the family has got home, if it has been a little disjointed it’s because I haven’t been able to get half a sentence out without being required to go and look at something, remove a knot from hair, deny a request and tell children every five minutes that I still haven’t decided what’s for dinner.  If they ask me again, they’re getting quinoa.  But they can have a fondant flower for dessert.

Blender Strawberry Sorbet

I may have to do a section on Anything Thermomix Can Do I Can do Almost As Well And A Little Bit Slower.  Those of you who are paying attention know that I attended a Thermomix demo yesterday.  One of the dishes prepared was a strawberry sorbet, and it struck me that this is the kind of thing you could do in a blender.  So this morning I got me a punnet of strawberries and gave it a whack.

The first thing to note is that the Thermomix (or TM as they refer to it in their cookbooks, makes it sound more jolly) jug is two litres, while a random blender you’ve dug out of the corner cupboard has a capacity of about six hundred millilitres.  To make strawberry sorbet in a TM you chuck in a hundred grams of icing sugar (which you can actually make in the TM), a punnet of strawberries, the white of an egg and about a litre of ice.  The blender has the power of twelve jumbo jets, or a classroom of five year olds or something, and turns your ingredients into sorbet in seconds.  I did find it a little dilute, but you needed that amount of ice to make the sorbet instant.

So into my blender went a hundred grams of icing sugar, the white of an egg and a punnet of strawberries.  That kept it occupied for about a minute, but it all blended up in the end and I poured half the result out into another bowl. I added about three hundred millilitres of crushed ice and switched it on.  I can’t believe how much I’ve used the ice function of the fridge I bought as part of my new kitchen last year, I was a determined pooh-pooher from a long way back and just got it to humour the kids.  Anyway, while making some fairly disturbing noises the blender quite suddenly transformed the stuff into a slushy sorbet after about two minutes of hard work.  I poured that out, and, fancying myself as a scientist, put the ice in first this time followed by the strawberry mix to see how that would work out.  It was better the first way, or else I lost patience, but we got there in the end.  You wouldn’t serve this up as is, but it would make an excellent cocktail base.

A couple of hours in the freezer  made it a lot more presentable.  I think the flavour is better with less ice and next time I’ll use less ice again.  The texture is certainly more grainy than that made with a TM, but not unacceptably so.  I’m going to be so popular when the kids get home.  Can’t wait for mangoes to get cheap!

A Day Out

A good housewife takes care of her health, because who else is going to make dinner? For me, this involves getting myself along to the Sydney Melanoma Unit every six months to get my skin looked at. The Melanoma Unit is situated next to a large teaching hospital, which adjoins the city’s oldest university, which is down the road from a busy and popular shopping strip. You may think that these facilities may warrant some extra parking around the place, but this is Sydney, so you would be wrong. You may also think that I should hop on a bus to get to my appointment, but once again, no. In the time it would take me to get from my house to the Melanoma Unit by bus I could jump in my car, drive to Glebe, purchase two rubber chickens, drive to a suburb adjoining that which the hospital is in, walk to Campos Coffee (the original, not the many franchises which have sprung up around the place), purchase a large skim flat white, walk to the Unit and still have fifteen minutes spare.

I spent that fifteen minutes enjoying my coffee while sympathizing with the lady at reception who was dealing with an elderly patient who wasn’t happy with her bill or completely convinced that she should come in for her next appointment. At one point she was waving a fistful of shopper dockets. The receptionist was incredibly patient, going through every item, drawing her a map of where her next appointment would be, even holding her hand and telling her not to worry. One of the many many jobs I would be very poor at.

I think the coffee at Campos has changed. It’s still full of the quiet authority that makes my kidneys wriggle, but was a little smoother than usual, failing to take any skin off the back of my throat. I think I prefer it to the original.

The appointment itself was mercifully brief. I strip down to my Victoria’s Secret underwear, the doctor gets out a bright light and a magnifying glass and examines every mole on my body, then squeezes various bits of my lymphatic system. I never know what to say on these occasions, not being skilled at small talk at the best of times, and I’m further stymied by her thick French accent, so I smile and say yes a bit and try not to think of Inspector Clouseau. A rubber chicken may have broken the ice, I should have brought it in.

I’m all clear again and have no further lumps or bumps than I should have. I give them a vial of blood and farewell them until next Easter. I resist the urge to spend some quality time in King Street because I have to get home and make more breadsticks, they were a huge success.

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Easy holiday lunch

I’m trying very hard not to Google Dirty Sanchez, the name of the cocktail I had tonight, which my sister assures me has hidden meanings that I’m not sure I want to be cognizant of. Also Cleveland Steamer, which sounds to me like a clam dish. Not looking.

Anyway, today we checked out of the Lee household, and of course I’ve been all awkward for nothing. We had a great time staying there, I’m extremely grateful to Gary and Helen.
The only thing that was awkward was the stairs. Not that I have a problem with stairs, it’s just that I didn’t realise that my knees make a kind of wet crunching sound when ascending, not noticeable on anything other than carpeted stairs. My husband has injury envy and says I don’t deserve to have joints that make that kind of racket.

In an effort to use up our supplies I discovered a very easy and delicious lunch. You could possibly make it just with a bowl and boiling water if you don’t mind it lukewarm, but I had access to a saucepan. Put a chunk of butter in a small saucepan over heat and add as many baby spinach leaves as you have left over from a previous salad. Stir around with a fork until wilted. Tip in about two thirds of a cup of instant couscous and about three quarters of a cup of boiling water and stir it again with a fork. Add about a third of a cup of finely grated cheese, it melts quicker the more finely you grate it. Stir again and eat.

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I can’t eat fast food every meal on holidays, so I’m always pleased to find something easy to make that isn’t a sandwich. I think that the rest of the holiday is going to be less activity based and more of the lead up to the wedding we’re actually here for, so there’ll be a bit more eating at home. I really hope that there’s a pedicure in my immediate future. I wonder if I’ll have to do more than cross my fingers to make that happen.

Fete Season

September in Sydney is usually a month of unrelenting fine weather, so if you’re in a really organized school P&C you will plan your school fete for then. If you’re in one of those P&Cs that are taken by surprise by spring, you’ll be having your fete in November, and risk getting it rained on.

On the weekend I attended an excellent example of a public school fete, but one that only really had about an hour’s entertainment for me in it, half of which I spent looking for my son. It got me wondering what I really like in a fete.

The coffee was good, a very important thing in any inner west fete. There was a fairy floss machine that filled the surrounding air with glittering sugar dust, you could have saved your money and just stood beside it inhaling for about ten minutes. The food stalls were really impressive, I got some sushi, some fried rice and some Pad Thai to take home so I wouldn’t have to cook dinner, and they were all fantastic. There was an excellent fresh produce stall all sourced from the school’s kitchen garden, something that should be mandatory in any school with an extra patch of grass.

There was a second had clothes stall with a rather disturbing table full of second hand swimmers. I don’t know about you, but I wear my swimmers until the elastic gives and members of the public start complaining about the transparency of my attire, so there are many odd things about second hand bathers for me. I gave it a wide berth. I always like to look at the second hand books, but this time the stall just made me wonder why all of these books were bought in the first place? I would have had a guess that the parent population of this school were fairly highly educated, yet their tastes seemed to veer towards weight and enormous metallic lettering in choosing literature. I was briefly tempted by a book entitled Teach Yourself Modern Hebrew, but my self improvement list is full up.

The music presented by the student population was pretty good. I was pleased to hear a recorder group playing something mediaeval, accompanied by a keyboard tastefully set to harpsichord. The band played pieces it was possible to recognize. There was an excellent young lady with a very mature voice who accompanied herself on the guitar.

And yet I felt like I was looking for something that wasn’t there. Maybe fetes need to get in some outside stallholders, and not just ones who’ve ordered a pallet load of plastic tat. I want to be able to buy a hippie handbag, or a hand knitted vest, or, ideally, a pair of chenille shorts. Or maybe I should just accept that they’re not markets, they’re a fundraiser for the kiddies and I should go buy a handful of tickets to the chocolate wheel. Perhaps I’ll win a pair of chenille shorts.

Ode to the Bo Peep

I’m unashamed of my relationship with sugar. I just love it. You’re not going to get me giving it up, not for a detox, not for Lent, no way. I have fond memories of finding my Nanna’s many stashes of Pascal’s Columbines behind lounge cushions and inside dressing gown pockets, so it’s one of those hereditary things you just can’t argue with. I’ve handed it on to my youngest, the Horror From Outer Space as he’s formally known, who is forever discovering where I’ve hidden the the cooking chocolate and leaving sweet wrappers in his pockets.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat a lot of it. As you may have gathered from this blog, I don’t use much processed food, and despite the enormous amount of baked goods I turn out I rarely eat any of it. For breakfast I have a bowl of chaff with plain yoghurt, lunch and dinner are also fairly simple and I bow to the combined wisdom of the health pundits in my snacks. Because I like my sugar fairly concentrated, I don’t go diluting jam with bread, I eat it from the spoon. I like to buy the pure icing sugar rather than the smooth pour mix ostensibly because I don’t want additives, but actually because the pure stuff forms lumps that are easy to consume standing in the pantry.

So it is with my preferred sweets. I don’t want to go mucking around with bits of wafer or nuts or any such fillers. I like them as close to pure sugar as possible. So I’m very wistfully consuming my last bottle of Bo Peep sweets bought from a Darrell Lea shop. We used to get them in our Christmas stockings, back when they came in glass bottles. You can’t really hoard them for very long after you’ve opened the bottle, they get stuck together after a few days and you have to get in there with the end of a spoon, which smashes up their inviting pillow shapes. On the rare occasions I buy them for myself I look for a bottle in which the reds and purples dominate, rather than the less desirable orange and the completely give them to the husband black. There’s not a great deal else I’m that fond of at Darrell Lea. I’ve never understood the appeal of soft centred chocolate, the toasted marshmallows aren’t as nice as they used to be, and liquorice is anathema. I’m not sure what we’ll do without the Bulgarian Rock as the ideal gift for my father in law, though. Perhaps I’d better get up there one last time and lay in ten year’s supply.

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Beautician

Like so many things in my life, going to the beautician isn’t really one of those things I choose to do, it just happens. The first time I went to one was to redeem a gift certificate. It was a fairly pleasant experience, but the beautician went broke shortly afterwards. There was another one that my sister booked me into, which was also pleasant, but extremely tedious. She also went broke shortly afterwards. There have been a few in between that I’ve just drifted into, one who commented on my extreme old age, one who was a bit over ambitious getting my bikini line even, one with scary multicolored talons.

Today’s appointment was set up by my hairdresser. He’s insisting on dying my hair at my next appointment, unable to stand the kaleidoscope of ginger, blonde, dark brown and grey that is happening on my skull any more. I mention that when he dyes my hair, my eyebrows look a lot lighter. I’m actually in fear of them disappearing altogether, like my mother’s. My niece has suggested that perhaps Grandma got a big surprise one day and they just flew off. It could happen to me, I’m easily surprised.

Apparently you can get your eyebrows dyed. Also your eyelashes. So Gary has organized a young lady in Paddington to call me and book me in to her emporium of such mysteries. Paddington. That’s in the eastern suburbs. When people find a parking spot in the eastern suburbs, they pop into a dodgy doctor to get a disability sticker so they can leave their car there for the rest of their Ives. Then they bequeath it to their children. So I was foolish to venture there without my GPS enabled iPad, and even more so when I realized there was no map in the car. Fortunately my patient husband was able to talk me from the skip I’d parked beside to the emporium over the phone.

Once again, it was all very pleasant, though I hadn’t realized eyebrow shaping was one of the arts. I didn’t even really want my eyebrows shaped, I like them way they are, they’re rather sardonic. I just don’t want them disappearing in direct sunlight. She was very lovely, spoke English, didn’t draw blood at any point, and was very gentle with my eyebrows. She also dyed my eyelashes, which I knew was a beautician thing because I’d accidentally had it done at my very first gift certificate visit. I hope her finances are in order.

I think they look a little dark, I shall have to spend the next couple of days being very cross to use them to full effect. Apparently they’ll lighten a bit when I wash my hair. Nobody has noticed them, except my smirking husband, so they can’t be too savage. I wonder if it’s something I’ll do again? Perhaps I should just buy a dark brown Sharpie, it’d be much cheaper.

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