A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Of Sinuses, Sleeplessness and Jackie Chan

Yesterday was one of those days...
Dark, gloomy on the outside... dark and gloomy on the inside.

I've been going through another bout of broken sleep... waking up in the middle of the night after 4 or 5 hours of okay sleep and then tossing and turning. Some nose blowing. I've had a bit of a cold and while it seems to have settled to a trickle now and again, it does affect sleep. A host of thoughts swimming around, some good, some depressing... all conspiring to keep me awake when the body desperately needs rest and restoration.

When I awake... it's headaches and fatigue. Headaches and fatigue mean an inability to deal with the ordinary silliness of life with children. Headaches and fatigue exacerbates the irritation. Headaches and fatigue means all you want to do is go back to bed but you can't because there is someone else to think about.

I scan the news all around the web... and it's depressing... but it's always depressing. Some days the accumulation of depressing-ness wears you down because a helplessness invades your soul. What can I do... when I can't even get my own child to listen to me?

Life as a suburban housewife is fundamentally about wrestling with ordinary things... the cooking, the cleaning, the washing supervising homework, disciplining children over and over again. A broken record might do just as well. Some are better at it, some revel in it... but some of us wonder when it'll all end. Is it an exercise in futility or is there more to it than the repetition of doing the same things?
Repetition is torture for someone like me... the organ that sits above my neck and shoulders explodes when I have to sing the last stanza of a song for the fourth time in a row.

What am I doing with my life?

Two Thoughts:
When I was growing up in Singapore, I remember being raised on a steady diet of Jackie Chan films... The really good stuff. Not the diluted, slapstick stuff he does now. But Jackie was really good (martial arts wise, that is) in those old flicks... several of them traditional revenge chopsocky. Okay, so they were and are cheesy but really... pffffft... it's a martial arts film. Among them, my favourite was Wooden Shaolin (offically it seems to be called Shaolin Wooden Men). In this story, Jackie is a mute orphan... not deaf. He just doesn't feel much like talking. And as the film progresses, the reason for that becomes clear. He somehow manages to wander into a Shaolin temple and picks up a move or two while he's there. In these types of films... which is where the themes of Karate Kid are located, he finds a mentor... sometimes two... one good, one hell bent on death and destruction. The training regime is fairly similar... the usual mundane stuff... carrying water water over a km of steps to fill an enormous wash basin on top of the mountain. Lots of menial tasks basically. Or physically gruelling stuff like attempting to stand motionlessly single-legged from dawn to dusk. The idea behind all this grinding monotony is that the trainee learns agility and grace by doing these mundane tasks, as well as building their inner and outer chops. Plus it's a great way to get the temple housekeeping stuff done for free. Hence, when the trainee is ready for the cool stuff, he/she (let's not be sexist here) will have all the strength and dexterity to kick all kinds of rear ends execute wonderful, far-fetched maneouvres.

Oddly enough, I see a spiritual analogy with my blatherings. Obviously I didn't as a twelve year old or a fifteen year old. Moses, the great and flawed man of God, was wandering around as a shepherd for 40 years before he received his call at the burning bush incident. I don't imagine being a shepherd is a lot of fun... it's a job... it was how he occupied himself and supported his family. But I imagine it gave him a lot of time to think... out in the wilderness, with nothing but sheep and grass to keep him company most of the day, you have nothing but time to wander and wonder. The time he spent in the wilderness taught him how to be humble and how to cope with apparently the most whiny, recalcitrant bunch of ungrateful wretches on the face of the planet. (Sounds familiar?)

Look, as mums, I doubt we're called to lead a couple of million people through land and sea (I don't entirely discount it, mind you) although I think getting the children from the house to the car some times does take a bit of doing. But humility is still the hardest lesson to learn, isn't it? It just goes against everything we are, to realize that we are earthern vessels... or dust....
The discipline of life, though, keeps us real, keeps us looking outside ourselves and heavenward for ultimate hope and eternal blessing.

Ah... some sunlight at last... it's good to see it... Hopefully there's enough of it for my laundry before the next lot of rain comes.

 (Photo: Film Journal)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Yeech... I hate iTunes. Loathe it. I avoid it like the plague as much as possible by downloading directly to the iPod. But lately I've been getting a backlog of update messages from the App Store... (Honestly, these duvalackey machines can be so pushy) And it's supremely hard to ignore them when there's a conspicuous "20" in a red circle staring out when the home screen comes on. Anyhow, most of those messages were from the third party developers all eagerly offering to turn my apps "iOS4 compatible". Whatever that was, it looked vaguely important. Well, to my housewifely brain that looked a lot like Tech-ese for "new firmware update that I need to have because everybody is updating and if I'm going to use the apps, I'll have to as well." Especially if this new firmware is going to give me access to the new Apple ebookstore that all the iPad people get to fool around with.

So I reinstalled iTunes on my 'puter (had to, unfortunately, as the laptop was melting down a couple of months ago and we had to reinstall Windows)... yeech... and then after downloading and installing it a message window popped up informing me that there was a new updated version... So, of course, I went through the whole shebang again. Scanned through the terms and agreement twice... yeech... What fun.
iTunes drives like a constipated snail or limping tortoise (whichever is slower) when it syncs with the iPod. It's ridiculous. I've been told that it's because I use a PC. Well, it isn't just slow... it's inefficient and not very intuitive in my opinion. After 9 versions, you'd think, the people at Apple would get it right for everyone... who buys their mobile devices ie. paying customers...

It's backing up the o'l Pod now and my laptop fan seems to be in overdrive. *chews nails nervously*
Worse than watching paint dry.

I've had the iPod Touch now for over a year and it's been a good buy. I've used it for all kinds of things... mostly podcasts, sermons, eBooks, music, shopping list... As with all new toys, I rediscovered my inner gamer for about two intense months and was so over that phase after wasting a good amount of electricity and time. (There was even a time I seriously considered paying for the original Monkey Island revamped but that's another story...) Mostly I let the girls play around with age appropriate apps to keep them quiet. The downside to games on these piddly devices is how shockingly quick the battery gets drained especially when there's sound involved.

Speaking of the girls, the 9 year old surprised me this afternoon while I was trying to clean up my iTunes music library. I was testing out an audio book and forgot she was doing her homework nearby. I was listening somewhat absent-mindedly. The narrator read out a few quotes and then this one...
"We know what we are, but know not what we may be."
Blow me down... but the 9 year old knew that it was Shakespeare. Hamlet to be precise. Talk about a budding literary scholar. I was taken aback... where could she have come upon the Bard.  Apparently she gleaned this vital piece of information from a history book for kids called The Terrible Tudors. Of course. I had forgotten about this irreverent tribute to Harry and his gals. Of course. It was one of those odd things we found at second-hand book sale last year. We were supposed to give it to an older child... Not sure what happened to that idea.


Two plus hours later... the entire process of downloading, installing, back-uping, deleting, re-installing finally... finally I can turn in for the night.

Monday, July 26, 2010

God Talk: Neither Jew nor Greek

... for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29 ESV)
"Multiculturalism", "diversity" and "pluralism" are buzz words of the last four decades. They are powerful concepts from which governments and communities have rallied around in the hope that people of different ethnic and socio-political backgrounds will play together nicely and perhaps even learn the words to "Kumbaya", with the expectation that we will hum it in one accord.
All this assumes that like a game of World Cup soccer, for instance, we're all playing by the same rules.

Feel-good multiculturalism manifests in tangible ways like cuisine, lifestyle and a festive celebration of difference and plurality. The word "cultural" contained in this concept suggests that there are recognizable forms of cultural tokens that distinguish one group from another, whether it be art, fashion or religious traditions/rituals. However, the theory of multiculturalism is about transcending these differences. The key to this is tolerance. Tolerance is the bridge through which different cultures can co-exist peacefully. Tolerance, however, is meaningful only if all parties involved have enough shared values that can overcome potential conflict.

There is also another aspect to this... an ominous side... when multiculturalism is used as a political mechanism to enforce a kind of tentative unity. It's employed to justify restrictions on what is appropriate speech in the public square as well as to also rein in controversial ideas, lest offence be given to those who hold contrary/opposing views. Multiculturalism as a political mechanism becomes a selective form of censorship. This often allows governments, who are perceived to be the final authority in such a structure, to become arbiters of what is acceptable through the legislative process.

However, if under such a regime, contradictory ideas are determined to be equally valid, then it becomes difficult to make important moral distinctions and to argue that any position can be the "correct" one. Under such a system, there is no "correct" position. So groups must battle politically to have their ideas validated in the public square by gaining power over competing groups/ideas.
Therefore, truth or facts are not relevant in such a system but who has the ability to influence the political process.

Multiculturalism, as I have gradually come to understand the term, is a utopian vision and like all utopian visions, it is grounded in idealism rather than reality. The reality is that the human race is separated by deep divisions, divisions that aren't so easily overcome by simply saying that we agree to disagree. Some of these issues have far-reaching ramifications that deal with matters of human rights... and of life and death.
Proponents of multiculturalism skirts these issues by attempting to solve what is fundamentally a spiritual problem with an idealistic political solution, Through government regulating what kind of speech is appropriate in public or what is acceptable behaviour, proponents of this position believe that human beings can come together as equals. It is conformity at its most insidious because driving this is a belief that all of this is necessary for the common good.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.                                                                                             (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)
In George Orwell's Animal Farm, we see an allegory of what often occurs when the revolution is over. Human beings revert to their core selfish instincts. The elites change the rules to protect their interests and so "some animals are more equal than others". The revolution only changes the government, it does not and cannot change something far more visceral, the human heart.

Multiculturalism holds a certain attraction for many as it is an attempt to avert conflicts on a local as well as global level. It is perceived, in certain quarters, to be an antidote to war.

I'm less optimistic about multiculturalism these days because I don't have any great faith in human beings to broker "peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind". Having children certainly brings that into sharp focus every day. Furthermore, the news is rife with many instances men and women breaking every single one of the ten commandments on a daily basis. And far more importantly, I know me. I know my own heart all too well. I shudder to think what I would do if I had been left to my own devices.

But I haven't been... and neither has the rest of the human race.

The wonderful truth of the gospel is that God "interfered" in human history by sending his son, Jesus, Christ to be the Saviour of the world. He did not come as a political revolutionary, or an economist, or a scientist or a warrior in search of a battle. He came as a human being... to die.

First as a baby then grew up to be a carpenter aware of his ultimate mission but biding his time.
The problem, when one gets down to brass tacks, is sin... while hostility between nations, racism, xenophobia are just the symptoms of the same thing.
But the wages of sin is death.
Jesus, however, as the Creator of the universe, gave his life for his creation.  By doing that he offered salvation in equal measure to all the peoples of the world.
Grace is the equalizer. Undeserving creatures receiving salvation from the saviour who did not deserve to die. Hence, all this leaves no room for any of us to rest on our laurels, lest any should be tempted to boast. When we receive his grace, we all partake of his salvation... united by his death and his resurrection.
Equally praiseworthy, is the gift of the Holy Spirit, residing in every believer... He too, is our Comforter who is the deposit guaranteeing our salvation.

My own conclusion about multiculturalism is that it is a "secular" way of trying to achieve a Christian ideal. A means of trying to unite people from different ethnic backgrounds without recourse to the divine. As a result it is doomed to being a cosmetic solution for some deep seated divisions amongst the people of the earth that no amount of regulation by well-meaning governing bodies will ever solve.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In Search of Mr Potato Head

I am tempted to label the Target Mid-Year Toy Sale as an egregious marketing exercise. Well, let's face it... if they advertise it, they will come. Looking at the large (although not horrifying) numbers that flocked to my particular venue, I daresay the powers that govern the doings of Target all around the country would have made their shareholders pretty happy yesterday or at least would've have potentially made tons of money through lay-bys. Perhaps it is cynical strategy to take advantage of the consumerist impulse that lurks within but if it were just that, I don't know why tens of thousands of mums, dads, grandparents would flock to it. Evidently it must meet some kind of need... and everybody, it is often said, loves a bargain. So what was I doing there on Day One? Me? I was looking for Mr Potato Head.

Officially, this was my first time although... one year... a couple of years ago... I found myself standing in a long queue at a local Big W when all I wanted was a DVD. (I think it was a DVD). It's all pretty hazy now but I remember standing behind a family of Nintendo users because they were buying a stack of Nintendo games and apps. It struck me as being odd at the time for people to be stocking up on entertainment apps as if they were necessities but looking at it in largely economic terms these gaming enthusiasts were obviously doing their part during the GFC in keeping apps developers in business and Big W sales assistant in employment.

This year I joined in the fray motivated partly by curiosity and pragmatism... The rationale behind this quixotic gesture was to stock up for Christmas and birthdays etc. And c'mon... what person doesn't want to save a few bucks even if it means enduring the inconvenience of long queues? Much to my surprise and relief, the circus really wasn't quite as frenzied as I had expected.
Could be that all the really organized (and bold) shoppers had already done their rounds at K-Mart and Big W a couple of weeks earlier. The only really awkward thing was me dragging one of those cute little red carts trying to maneouvre through the narrow and cramped aisles, excusing myself politely and trying to find the shortest route from point A to point B. More often than not, however, I ended up taking the longer route trying to avoid colliding into fellow shoppers who were staring meditatively at pink and blue objects hoping for some kind of inspiration to the eternal question of  "Will I, won't I?"... or wracked with guilt trying to stretch the budget for yet another must-have plaything.
Equally fascinating on my outing was watching grown-ups gushing ecstatically over toys... as if they were reliving their childhoods vicariously through acquiring baby dolls, Lego sets or minature vehicles for the young ones in their lives.

After filling up my cart with Christmas/Birthday non-essentials, I was determined to track down Mr Potato Head. Not the cyborg Buzz Lightyear abomination or the gigantic safari plastic bowl but the original Playskool toy already well-known before being adopted by the Toy Story franchise. It was for my littlest niece... a nice companion for last year's Mrs Potato Head. While I adore the Toy Story film franchise, I find the whole merchandising aspect rather disturbing... apparently we have George Lucas to "thank" for this barrage of film tie-ins we've been inundated with since Star Wars. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing... in my opinion.

After criss-crossing, and backtracking what felt like the labyrinthic structure of the store, (and pouncing on a sales assistant) I did end up finding a Mr Potato Head Original in the Toy Story section which was good as he seemed to be the last one on the shelf when I got to it.

Shopping is sometimes called "retail therapy" but I beg to disagree... I don't find shopping therapeutic whatsoever. "Exhausting" is closer to what I have in mind. However, I do like saving money... and if it means I won't have to rush around like a beheaded chicken on the 22nd December trying to find something for all the younger children in our families, joining a stampede like this one doesn't appear all that bad. In fact, it makes me feel almost... organized...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why Kissing Too Early Can Be a Problem

It's Cheap Wednesday at the local video store which means 95 cents per DVD... I'm curious about the Dear John movie which was out in the cinemas a few months ago. So I break the bank and rent Dear John for me and Dora and the Crystal Something for the 3 year old. "Dear John" has snuck into the language as a kind of unexpected, nasty correspondence that breaks hearts from afar.

The plot is straightforward... 2 young people fall madly in love with one another in a matter of 2 weeks, which is convenient because he's on leave and she's on spring break... Still, they're not bad kids. She's a uni student and he's a soldier with the Special Forces. And of course, his name is John. It's shy and awkward at first but she's a really, really nice girl... very pretty and sweet so he can't help himself. Soon they're kissing in the rain... Yeah, when people kiss in the rain in da movies, you know of course, it has to be uber, uber SERIOUS.

But he's a soldier so he has to take off and do his duty in unmentionable, faraway places. He makes ...oh, oh... A PROMISE to be back after his present tour. So while separated they write letters... lots and lots of letters because what they really want to do is kiss some more and have babies together. The course of true love doesn't run smoothly because on Sept 11, an airplane crashes into the Twin Towers. He's a good boy... a patriot and feels that it is his duty to stick with his unit and extend his term in the army. She's not happy about this new development but tries to be understanding.

Thinking all is well, he goes back to doing army stuff. She doesn't write for a long, long time and so he gets a bit worried. One day, after a few months, he gets his "Dear John" letter... She's engaged... but not to him obviously and doesn't have the guts to tell him herself that she's "met someone else". Even a Green Beret can get broken hearted and since he doesn't feel like killing anyone around him, he takes all her letters and burns them in the nearest oversized ash tray.

By now, you're probably fuming at me for giving away the plot. But honestly, you could've worked it out from the first five minutes of the film so I'm probably doing you a favour. It's not a bad film really... dialogue's good, acting ranging from so-so to pretty good.
But the thing that bugs someone like me about a film like this is how quickly people kiss and jump over each other like a rash. Dear John is scarcely unique in contemporary film-making, I realise. Some might even consider it tame. But it makes the show kinda boring, don't you think? When the pay-off comes in the first 30 minutes?

However, when you watch one of those brilliant Jane Austen adaptations, your heart is racing, your internal temperature rises when the handsome male lead enters the picture, gazes longingly at his lady-love and they both manage to keep their hands and lips to themselves, clothes intact.
Of course, they want to make babies together... it's in their eyes, for crying out loud. The British are superior eye actors, if you ask me. The best.
But they believe in something ridiculous called "honour" which means they want to be super sure that before they lock lips or jump into bed together, they can properly say, "Till death do us part..."
So by the end of  the series/film, you're shouting at the screen in desperation... "Good gracious man, kiss her already!"

In Sense and Sensibility, (the most recent BBC version... not the movie starring Hugh Grant... thank God... Sorry but Hugh Grant plays Hugh Grant everytime he's in a movie) it's obvious to everyone with eyes (even the cat that he calls "sister") that Edward Ferrars is head over heels with Elinor Dashwood. But something holds him back... He is a man of "honour" so he doesn't say more than he should because he has made a prior commitment else where.

There's a lovely scene two-thirds of the way into the final part (4:07 - 6:03) when Edward and Elinor are talking. There are a million things they want to say but they can't because of the position that he's in.
There's something extremely sexy about a man who has enough mastery over his own feelings to restrain himself but it is in his eyes we see a glimpse of his inner struggle. He is not free to say "I love you" and he doesn't.
It's a sensibility, both in life and fiction, that has all but disappeared into the sunset.
It's a lost art.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday Twitterings

Why do we shout at the kiddies? It's a mostly serious question. Do we believe that by raising our voice a notch or two we can cower them into submission? Or are we just downright desperate... feeling at the end of one's tether, groping around for non-existent solutions? So we revert to our primal instincts to throw an adult tantrum?
Clearly shouting is a form of emotion-based parenting. A tacit appeal to their emotions or their savage nature (wherever it's hiding). Instilling fear is the ultimate goal. The logic, in my experience, goes something like this: Well, if you kids think you can get away with this and that naughty thing, you have another thing coming. Mummy is going to raise her voice like the Scooby Doo fake monster and scare the wits out of you. Mummy will strike fear in your hearts. Fear will grip you and you will never, never, ever do that naughty thing again.

Except of course, they do it again and again and again. And worse still they learn how to shout the Mummy Way. 'Cause it comes back to bite... hard... 'Cause children are echo chambers...

But one thing you'll never catch me doing is pleading with the children... no siree... That would be sinking to new depths. Even I, with my lack of constancy, have standards.

That's what I liked about Setting Limits... it laid out so explicitly what parents need to do to take control and set up boundaries without having to sound like a punk rock band. Lots of great ideas there... but the hard part is  not accumulating facts but putting them into practice.

Speaking of practising things... Big day today... ran a few errands... did a few MOPS things to get ready for tomorrow. Made sausage rolls, chucked them in the freezer and then hastily chopped up some chicken thigh fillets for a stir-fry.
Picked up the 9 year old from school at the usual time and then headed off to Homework Club where I read to an attentive audience The Emperor's New Clothes and Cat in the Hat... among other things.
I have a soft spot for Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale now that I see how stunningly perceptive a mere children's story has been about politics and history. Time and time again... all these fads have just swamped the imagination of political activists and elites which turn out to be empty doctrines that go nowhere.

But here's a great quote from the great C.S. Lewis I saw in my internet travels today:
I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man.
I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.
The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . .
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
—C.S. Lewis, “Equality,” in Present Concerns (reprint: Mariner Books, 2002), p. 17.

Something to chew over as some of us head into election mode.

My neck's no good today... the shower I had an hour ago was just what the doctor ordered... but I feel knotted up around the neck and shoulder region. Too much computer time probably.
Bed is where I should be heading... It calllssssssssssss ussssssssssss... precioussssssss.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Mutterings

I'm turning into an autocratic monster -- a 9 year apprenticeship in the home and 12 years in the classroom are finally paying off. I have become The Tyrant with the Kitchen Timer. Part dragon, part Nanny McPhee (without the magic, unfortunately), and part Sulley. Which sounds altogether like a badly cloned chimera. Don't think the kiddies are that convinced that Mum is much of anything... I have a sneaking suspicion that they see Mum more as an obstacle to get past to get to where they want to than the next incarnation of Jaws.
A girl can dream, can't she?

Just tucked the 3 year old, the Ariel doll and some purplely-looking gumnut baby in knitwear into bed. Not sure if the 3 year old needed the company or if the company is good for her at this time at night. I'm expecting her to fall asleep soon as she has a habit of not napping in the afternoons.

The 3 year old jumped into our bed this morning for a cuddle and no sooner did she make her way up to my arms, than my finely-tuned toilet training radar detected a foul odour. So I asked her (rather redundantly) if she had accomplished some important business and she nodded. Typical. I grumbled inwardly. But outwardly I sighed with maternal understanding. Impeccable timing as always. Clockwork. It's almost always too soon. This snug-in-her-pyjamas mum is almost never ready to get out of bed.
The 3 year old pointed to the poster-sized wedding photo (that reminds us of the way we were) and said, "Mum... that was you when you were a princess. And when Daddy was a man."

( http://www.genv.net/en-us/node/9036)

I have to confess though, I was pretty lackadaisical this morning... dragged my feet all over the house, annoyed it was Monday... and annoyed that the children can't/don't get their own breakfast. More than that, I was uber annoyed that time goes by when you're wasting time on the internet.
It's something I haven't done for a while... I succumbed to temptation this morning and went to my favourite entertainment-related blog to see how the discussion thread on The Princess Bride was going from last night.

It is afterall, The Princess Bride.
One of the funniest, wittiest, cleverest films ever made. Arguably the most quotable.
But before school interweb surfing is bad... Very naughty...  and I am entirely incorrigible. Almost as bad as the 9 year old reading books while eating.

But I did my penance by going straight to Aldi after dropping off Big Missy at school. I didn't really want to. The ridiculousness of driving 10 -15 minutes to do grocery shopping when I can do it in 1-2 minutes. But when I think about the cheap veggies and cheap canned stuff and cheap rice crackers, I feel something light a fire under me...

The 9 year old is reading The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series... I worry that it's giving her ideas. I read one a month or so ago to make sure there wasn't really anything highly objectionable in it. There's plenty of humorous cheekiness about it but at least there are consequences when kids do naughty things. I've only read Book 2 and thought Dad was a rather limp character, an object of humour as well as gentle mockery and not much else.
Anyhow, she was reading the yellow one today, called Dog Days when we left the school.

Emerging from the book, she asked me, "Mum... what's a EU-RYE-NAIL?" It sounded like no word I had heard of so she spelt it out.
"Oh... a urinal..."
"Yeah, what is it..."
"Well, can't you guess? Urinal sounds like 'urine'"
"Tell me, mum..."
"If you ever accidentally end up in the boys' toilet one day... you'll see one." Now that I think about it, that was a dumb thing to say to a curious 9 year old. Not my best moment.
"It's where boys do their wee."
"That's disgusting!"
"It's just part of the boys toilet. Nothing disgusting about that."

Later on, while having food, she asked me thoughtfully, "Mum... have you ever accidentally gone into a boy's toilet?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Our church has a specific missions focus every year and this year, we're giving attention to the people of Mongolia.
Under Genghis Khan and his descendants, Mongolia was the seat of a great empire stretching from present day Poland to Korea. The Mongol empire was the largest contiguous land empire in world history. Today, it's a tragic story of poverty and social disintegration.
Mongolia is a deeply dysfunctional land... alcoholism pervades the country, which leads to domestic violence and street children take refuge under manholes during the night.
If you're looking for something to pray for, pray for Mongolia... the people there could do with some good news... the gospel of Jesus Christ to set them free from that which enslaves.

Watch this video, then pray...
(It reminded me of H.G. Well's The Time Machine)

Mongolia Facts
Capital: Ulan Bator (1 368 400)
Population: 2 736 800
Area: 1,564,115.75 km2

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekend Follies

I have mixed feelings about Fridays. In the happy part of my brain, it signals the beginning of the weekend which is always cause for celebration, mainly because I'm not running solo withe kiddies. But unlike a lot of people, my weekends... are too often busier than my weekdays, comprised mainly of church stuff.  Three Friday evenings a month we have our homegroup and I lead a small group bible study there. Twice a quarter I take the Sunday Service. Once a month, we have a married people's group on Saturday, which I'm one-thirdly responsible for and there's always some unexpected Saturday thing that pops up now and again. Once a fortnight we gather together with the in-laws. All good things, really. But when you're sleep deprived or not doing optimum sleep time... everything feels like toilet training.

I enjoy doing these things to varying degrees (I wouldn't be doing them otherwise) but oddly enough they seem to all hit me in blocks. A quiet week or two and then for two weeks... Wham! It turns into a kind of frantic madness rushing from this to that and the other thing. And almost everything I do requires PREPARATION and being human, I often succumb to the follies of PROCRASTINATION.
My ideal weekend would be just to sit somewhere quiet and read a really good book and let someone else take care of lunch and dinner. Of course, somewhere quiet doesn't exist in my world right now. Houses under 35 years old in Brisbane are basically cardboard boxes surrounded by brick walls. So anywhere I go in the house, including the bathroom, automatically reverberates sound to everywhere else. Although I'm entering an epoch in my parenting experience where I'm more worried about silence than I am about wailing children.

Now that she's getting the hang of the 7 day week, the 3 year old nags me about going to Friday "craygroup" every other day... and fortuitously, I find my third attempt at this weird and wonderful concept less excruciating than I did the last couple of times. Playgroup is much more fun when people actually talk to you... or talk back to you when you ask them questions. More incredible, is when other people in such settings actually initiate the conversation and look genuinely interested in you as a human being, and not just an invisible shadow hovering around to prevent your child from murdering theirs.
When the 9 year old was about 1 plus year old, I started attending my first playgroup. I perservered for 2 years because I thought it was good for her. Frankly speaking, I didn't get anything out of it for myself and I definitely didn't make any lifelong friendships. But they had good toys and occasionally I didn't have to work very hard to strike up an adult conversation. By the time, Daughter 1, was 3+, I was back at work 3 days a week and she was in child care a day and with my mother 2 days a week, I felt that she was getting a reasonable amount of non-mummy socializing accomplished.

Anyhow, I'm working on a few things this weekend... Bar picking a bible reading and doing a short devotional, I think I have Sunday more or less sorted out. I've also been working on a super serious post on multiculturalism and church unity. Because it's super serious, it's taking a super long time to write up. God willing, we'll get there...

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Kitchen as Chem Lab: Okonomiyaki Take 2

Well, I didn't get it right the first time... but we got a decent meal out of it.  After looking at several videos on You Tube, the problem, I believe, with my first attempt was too many eggs and possibly too much water as well. My sense, from looking at the video clips, is that the texture needs to be somewhat gluggy... elastic almost.

I also discovered that Okonomiyaki is sometimes called "Japanese pizza" which makes a lot of sense when you see what different cooks cobble together. The gluggy texture does result in a thicker result which does *surprise, surprise* resemble the crust of a pizza.
At the end of the day, the moral of the lesson is that there doesn't seem to be just one correct way of doing it. Unless it ends up tasting like tree bark, it shouldn't matter too much how it's done.
Hence, this time I followed a fairly simple recipe. But I forgot the salt in round one... which isn't the end of the world because the mayo and brown sauce does take care of things.

This recipe makes one rather thick pancake about 20 cm in diameter.

1 cup of tempura flour
1 egg
3/4 cup of water
Pinch of salt
2-3 large cabbage leaves chopped finely
1 packet of fish (Bonita) flakes
2 sea food sticks sliced finely
Japanese maynonnaise
Okonomi sauce

Chop up ye veggies... cabbage is always good. Goes a long way.

Bonita flakes. I only use one small packet at time.

Dump the fish flakes into 1 cup of tempura flour. Don't forget the salt.

Add in 1 egg, 3/4 cup water and cabbage into flour. Fold ingredients together. Don't over mix.

I used seafood sticks this time round and sliced them finely.

Add sliced seafood sticks into the mix

Fry the mix in hot oil. I used a spatula to spread the mixture out so that it covers the entire based of the pan. If your fry pan is bigger than mine, I'm sure it'll work too. It'll be thinner but I can't imagine it'll affect the taste too much.

Seems to me that the tempura flour gives it that bumpy look

Add the sauces. My new tube of mayo doesn't quite lend itself to squiggles unfortunately. The piping on the bottle oozes out thick cream-like streaks.

I have noticed that some add dried seaweed as a garnishing, as in this photo.

I've adapted the recipe from this young lady's demo:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Babbling about Barbie

Hmph... I missed the mid-year toy sale this year by one day. Do the department stores usually have these things during the school holidays? I seem to remember otherwise. I haven't the fortitude, quite frankly, to go during the first few days, much less drag children along to stand in long queues to save a few bucks. When I'm childfree, I happy to stand around for half an hour chatting to whomever is in front or behind me. Like I did at school yesterday outside the tuckshop waiting to buy a school shirt. Predictably, the 3 year old ran riotously all over the tuckshop area with a couple of equally bored preschoolers.

Shopping with children is like a visit to the dentist: It's hard on the mouth, painful and you always end up spending more money than you should. One, it's the tenth commandment they seem intent to break... Two, they whine and and whinge about me taking forever to look at stuff. Three, the 9 year old will put on a theatrical performance about her selfish and cruel parents who never buy her anything. Four, the 3 year old, if she isn't trying shoplift, would be carping about wanting something to eat. Five, if the 9 year old knows what I've bought for so and so for Christmas etc, I will never hear the end of it. I will be pestered, badgered and nagged about it until the big day.

I'm not that enthused about this kind of parental flagellation unless circumstances deem it necessary. I lack the chops for dealing with torture.

Seeing that I had a moment or two to spare today and no children at home, I thought I'd pop into the local Westfield shopping centre to get Barbie and Ariel (The Little Mermaid) some new clothes. I've been rather relieved that the 3 year old has taken an interest in Ariel and found some clothes to dress her in. At various times, both Barbie and Ariel have been seen lying around the house au naturel from neglect and disinterest, with the occasional tissue wrapped around their Made-in-China plastic bodies. Barbie and Ariel came into our house by way of birthdays and Christmas because she wouldn't be in here otherwise.  Although after Toy Story 3, my estimation of Barbie has risen by leaps and bounds. Who would've thought that under the vacuous stare, lurks a badass chick, terrifyingly proficient in enhanced interrogation techniques. Quite the political philosopher too. Ken, on the other hand, turns out to be a sleazy metrosexual.

Both dolls were rather wasted on the 9 year old... who turns out, is more like her mother than her mother is comfortable with. Her eagerness for inanimate objects often wanes after a few days and she has a disturbing tendency to strip them bare on a permanent basis. It's the story of her young life so for years I didn't bother cluttering the house with inanimate playthings. Anyhow, there's an embargo on Barbies at our place... Philosophical objections to Barbie aside, it's such a waste of resources, in my opinion to have a different one just for a new look. No doubt, Mattel has made a killing using this business model over the years.

I'm optimistic about the 3 year old taking over the existing Barbies and giving them a new lease on life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Laundry and other Laments

What an odd sort of day... gloomy, grumpy, chilly one moment and sunny, bright, cheery, warm the next.
As I write, the sun is ascendent once more but the blustery wind reminds us that it's not too far away... accompanied by sounds that alternate between a gentle howl and soft pleading groans.

Golly... it's laundry day again... and so far we've accomplished 3 loads of kids clothes and bed linen. Some are out there swaying in with the wind, others under the patio lest the grim clouds should rumble and tumble as raindrops out of the sky. I can hear the machine in the background... in the spin dry mode sounding like wailing child screeching for her mother.

I often wonder how ladies of old got much done without a washing machine. I imagine that most would not own that many pieces of clothing and apart from underwear, they wouldn't have changed into a fresh set of clothes everyday. I am old enough to remember the women in our household crouching over the wooden, ridged washing boards and my young fingers running over them. When I'm feeling a little nostalgic, I imagine an old fashion glamour to them but generally, I know better... laundry by hand was time consuming, back-breaking work.


Despite being stuck in the house all day, I'm shocked, shocked, shocked that the 3 year is having an afternoon nap. No cajoling, not threats, no powerful mummy stare-downs. So peaceful... so still...
So glorious...
So I take the time to  do some preparation for this Sunday's service. The pastor has put in his dibs for a couple of hymns... I surf through You Tube for my selection and I stumble onto this:

Predictably, I'm all weepy after that. Especially the vibrato at the end. Sigh. Martin Luther's great hymn and sung with so much gusto. What a voice... and used to such great effect. Quite mesmerizing.
Kind of like listening to Susan Boyle for the first time.

Suitably inspired, all I have to do now is translate that hymn into contemporary English for the congregation.

Temporarily bitten by the music bug, the girls and I find ourselves in the mood for a bit crooning. Inexplicably I'm led to thoughts of Larry the Cucumber singing "Larry's High Silk Hat" to "Funiculi, Funicula"... (Could be the fine tenor) and why not...

One day while he was waiting for the trolley, he had a hat
My high silk hat
He wore it high upon his head so proudly, a beautiful hat
My high silk hat
A hat like this just makes him feel so grandly
Now fancy this and fancy that
The splendor of his hat in all it's majesty
Like a king in a royal cap

The 3 year old, who promptly jumps onto my lap, has the knack and the interest, ... and seems to know most of the words in the first couple of stanzas. She gurgles the words... but is discernibly in tune... mostly. I can be critical but here, I'm impressed... children really are sponges. The 9 year old feigns disinterest but quickly joins in when she's thinks there's a party happening that she needs to be a part of.

In an earlier post about Toy Story 3, I bemoaned about how fast the kiddies grow...

Nowhere is it more noticeable than in the way they interact... their speech... their lexical range...
Take this enlightening exchange in the car between squabbling siblings:

3 year old: Mummy... L is pinching me...
I turn around to look, but say nothing. The Talkative Twosome fall silent momentarily.
The trafffic moves slowly... I hear more whining... They carry on with their dispute.
9 year old: Do you want time-out? We're going to get time-out when we get home. I can tell... from the way Mummy looks.
I say nothing but am barely able to suppress a grin.
3 year old pipes up in the middle of the commotion: L smacked me...
I chide the 9 year old for her acts of violence.
9 year old protests: I didn't do anything illegal!

It wasn't so long ago, when the 3 year could barely string a sentence together. But now she's prevaricating and carrying tales in grammatically perfect sentences. Not all the time... some of it is still garbled but when she's complaining about the big sister, it's as clear as crystal.

Late afternoon traffic is a killer. Fueding sisters at the back of the car in late afternoon traffic is self-inflicted matricide.

Far be it for me to disappoint... let it not be said that I am mother who does not anticipate her children's wishes. If it's time-out they want, it's time-out they get.

Errands and Errant Offsprings

Tuesday, 14 July

Today... was one of those glorious days for which Queensland is reknowned. Despite a moderately chilly morning to kick start the day, the weather warmed so wonderfully that even a cold coward like myself was able to wonder around the house without a jumper or a jacket by lunch time.
After dropping the children off at kindy and then at school, I came home and tackled the laundry immediately. There were blankets to wash and baskets of clothes to put away. Some days, I stare blankly at the mountains of washing and wonder where they all come from... and why they never stop coming. Some weeks when there's spate of bad weather, it's almost as if there's an extra person living in the house... a creepy, invisible sentient being that seems to be conspiring with the rain.
But today the sun was out in full force... the perfect weather for sheets to sway in sunlight and bask in its glow.

As I got the washing machine going (one of life's great inventions), I went online and got my news for the day. The media feeding frenzy of Mel Gibson's recent domestic escapades continue. Iran, Turkey and goodness-knows-who- else in the Middle East are posturing, threatening and possibly building bombs. The world is divided along socio-politcal battle lines. Our own politicians find more ways to spend more tax-payers money.

Yup... just another normal day on planet Earth.

After skimming through a few news aggregation sites, I decided to take a trip to JB Hifi to find something to solve my earphones problems. Something that would last me longer than 6 weeks would be good. Something made for the busy albeit clumsy housewife... something that fits in with my lifestyle... something that doesn't cost more than $100.
Apparently no such earphone exists... at least not for $100...
Anyway, I embarked on an experiment. What about a pair of headphones instead? Less likely to fall off when I'm doing my chores and perhaps with this thing sitting over my head I may actually remember to take it off before going out. So I got the second cheapest headset I could find and already I perceive that my iPod could become a problem.

When I returned home I decided to tackle the clean laundry with a Hercule Poirot DVD to ease the pain. I put on Cards on the Table while I sorted and folded the clothes and put them away.
Library DVDs aren't the most reliable items unfortunately... Half way through, it stalled and so I had to use the portable player and jump a segment. Not sure what I missed... probably didn't really matter.

Next thing on my to do list was some baking... shortbread... for afternoon tea. Check.

As the mouthwatering fragrance of shortbread biscuits wafted from the oven through to the rest of the house, I moved on to doing some dinner prep which is always easier with no ankle biters in close proximity. I was eager to try the Okonomiyaki again so I gleefully chopped up some cabbage in preparation.
While I was doing food prep, the kitchen, without any warning, had gradually transformed into something akin to Cookie Monster's benchtop after an eating orgy.

Sigh... I love cooking but I detest cleaning up. There never seems to be enough bench space for a chopping board.
During such moments there's something inherently attractive about disposable utensils and crockery but...alas, it comes into direct conflict with the responsible stewardship ethos that I'm trying to live by.

It's after 3, the Talkative Twosome are home from school and kindy. Scoffing down the bickies, they offer their heartiest thumbs up for mum's efforts. Yeah, I have my own fan club... a rather fickle fan club... but a fan club nonetheless.

After two weeks without homework, the 9 year old drags her feet and dwadles. I shrug my shoulders... I keep the timer going... She knows she's not getting any television privileges the longer she takes. She changes tactics and wants me to do her homework for her. Well, I'm not falling for that one. We engage in a bit of Socratic dialogue and she comes to the answer on her own.
I leave the 3 year old to watch  Bananas in Pyjamas on the portable DVD player and get on with frying the Okonomiyaki which is looking more like how I remember it. Boredom for her means mischief somewhere in the house. Somewhere... where I'm not looking... or somewhere in the kitchen where I'm bound to step on.

Even before dinner is ready, I'm exhausted... I try out the Okonomiyaki and it tastes good with the mayo and brown sauce slathered all over the top. But the middle tastes bland... yeah, I forgot the salt.

During dinner, I observe the 9 year old is scratching her head intermittenly... Oh yeah... it's going to be a long night.

Remember Audrey Hepburn doing Eliza Dolittle and not wanting to go to bed but dance all night?
Well, that wasn't me... I collapse into bed at the first opportunity.

I'm too tired to update the blog, too tired to pick up my latest acquisition from the library so I browse the web in all my usual haunts. Ah ha... I see that the Gettys have another album... (I'm several months late) I preview each track and download the whole album off iTunes.

I'm totally knackered... new album or not... I have no energy to do anything with it. Tomorrow perhaps...

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Kitchen as Chem Lab: Okonomiyaki Take 1

 (This is what it is supposed to look like)

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese style pancake which has at its core (no pun intended), lots of chopped up cabbage, which in our health-conscious times is possibly quite laudable. According to one of a host of You Tube videos demo-ing this dish, it is a very popular children's dish. So to the mothers among us I say this: Having trouble getting the kiddies to devour greens? Here's another trick for your bulging sleeve. This could be a possibility amidst a myriad of possibilities.
Frankly speaking, I could care less which demographic this is supposed to appeal to... Food is food... generally speaking... and as long as it tastes good... I have few prejudices. However, I will strenuously continue to object to dead animals that remain mostly uncooked.

But my interest in food has more to do with avarice than health. And my interest in Okonomiyaki has more to do with how good it tastes than the fact that there's lots and lots of health brimming cabbage cleverly concealed within. Which would be a point in its favour if I had a conscience to appease.

I'm always game to try new foods... and once I ordered this delectable dish from a stall selling Chinese hotcakes of all things... there was no turning back.  But eating out is a rich man's game these days so it's in the kitchen I go to satisfy my multicultural appetites.

When asked, a Japanese friend suggested that it would be better if I bought the commerically prepared Okonomiyaki flour mix. My initial reaction was deflation, finding out that I could've gone into an Asian supermarket months ago and picked up a conveniently packaged packet of flavoured flour and short cut the entire process... Boo hiss...
But of course, it's never that straightforward...

The commercially prepared stuff, is unfortunately ridiculously unhelpful... unless you know a bit Japanese. It took a bit of finding and with help from the owner of the establishment, we managed to dig it out.
This is what it looks like when the bag was emptied into a mixing bowl. There were seaweed flakes and fishy looking bits and pieces which I am unable to identify just by looking.

Thankfully, plastered on the back is an ingredients label... printed in English... Looks like its mainly, flour, fish and a couple of seafood type things pulverized to its present form. But no instructions... nothing about water proportions and extra ingredients that I could decipher.

In my desperation I go to You Tube, which was both helpful and confusing. It gave me ideas but I became discombobulated by the variety of methods Okonomiyaki could be made, depending on the region of Japan etc.

I'm not sure if this was entirely necessary but as it turns out, it was quite helpful in the scheme of things. Tastes like barbecue sauce with a dash of tamarind. Something fruity anyway.

Fortunately, someone had the notion to print directions in English so I was at least able to have some sense of where to go with all the goodies.

In this attempt, I included bacon which went down well with my brood. Not that you have to have meat really... but the standard thing to do is to add strips of meat or seafood or vegetables to the mix. One of the 3 You Tube videos I raced through suggested using bacon so I thought, well, I have some sitting in the fridge, why not? I used about 6-8 slices of these middle bacon rashers here.

The recipe I was following suggested 4 eggs but I used 5 eggs here because the mixture looked a bit watery.

Cabbage was chopped up into square like flakes.
Flour and water (1 cup of flour to 250ml of water)

Bacon went into the fry pan to be pre-fried.

All ingredients dumped in together. Gave it a good stir.

I heat up the oil in my non-stick wok and pour some of the mixture in.

Flipped the pancake over with my giant spatula. Okay, it's not a perfect circle. But I don't do perfect circles.

Okay my first attempt mayonnaise zig-zagging could do with a bit of work. Looked balefully like childish scribblings. But it was a bottle on its last legs so I had to squeeze pretty hard. I should say though that the Japanese mayonnaise is the thing to use here. Kraft or Praise or No Frills mayo won't cut it. They don't taste the same.

 The Terrifyingly Talkative Two broke pancake together

 The Talkative Two heartily approve (so they say, anyway)

Verdict: To be honest, I'm a bit disappointed... Superficially it bore some resemblance with the original and was tasty in an omeletty, seafoody sort of way BUT it didn't have the crispy texture that I remember from my previous eating adventures. My family liked it... bless them... but it wasn't Okonomiyaki.

I'm not one to give up after one attempt. I'm aiming to try again. This time, I've bought my own tempura flour and bonita flakes to mix it up myself. I think it works out to be cheaper. I'm going to use the easy recipe I saw on You Tube instead.
The sheer arrogance of me...