A Parent’s Lament

October 23, 2011

When the light mist lifted this morning in Melbourne I had already been riding for half an hour. I’d met two girlfriends and we were cycling a route that one of them had discovered through Balwyn and Lower Plenty. The morning slowly warmed up and before we knew it we were riding in perfect conditions.

We cycled for two hours. I hadn’t ridden since last Sunday’s Around the Bay in a Day. In fact I hadn’t done any exercise other than the odd walk instead of drive. Around the Bay was a 210 km ride and I’d been too tired afterwards to get straight back into running and swimming.

It felt good. There was a pinch of a hill just over the half way mark that got my heart pumping. The endorphins kicked in and I finished the ride feeling pumped.

I arrived home at 10.30am. I don’t think my daughters were even aware that I’d been out. I had a shower and was standing there naked in my bathroom when Kat called out to me,


“Yep I’m in here but don’t come in I’m naked – just hopped out of the shower.”

“Oh, okay. Have you got any money?”

I only had two fifty dollar notes. I’d taken them out yesterday doing the “cash out” option at Target, and it was nice to have some money in my purse. Her boyfriend was visiting from Brisbane and they were heading out for the day. She spent too much money for a uni student, but I’d rather her have fun than be too restricted because of cash problems. Take one of the fifties out of my purse I said to her.

Still naked in my bathroom I was cleaning my teeth when Emma barged in and quickly back tracked saying, “Arg, I wish I hadn’t seen that! MUM Close your bathroom door!”

She waited while I threw on a summer dress and some knickers.

“What did you want to talk about Emma?”

“Can you drive me down to Foodworks? I said I’d meet Shari fifteen minutes ago and I can’t ring her because my phone’s busted”.


“And can I have some money to buy lunch with?”

“Um, all I have is this fifty dollar note”

“Well, I have a twenty”, Emma said, “Give me the fifty and I’ll give you the twenty. If I have change from lunch I’ll give it back to you later”.

Foodworks is only a 2 minute drive. I turned around and drove back to our home in less than ten minutes. As I opened the garage I found Sally waiting for me. She gestured with her hand, a stop gesture, to indicate don’t bother driving in.

“Mum, can you drive me down to the local shops. Beck is meeting me there and I’m running late”.

“Its just straight down the hill Sally. Why don’t you scoot?”

“I’m running late. Can you just drive me?”

“Okay”. We pulled out of the driveway.

“Can I have some money to do kid things with?”

“What sort of kid things? and why do you need money to be a kid?” (Sally is twelve at the end of this week).

“I might get a soft drink or icy pole”.

“Oh okay, but I only have this twenty dollar note”.

“Well give that to me and I’ll give you fifteen dollars change”.

This morning I had one hundred dollars. I now only have fifteen. This is my lament.

I’m sitting down now, munching on fruit and nuts, drinking formosan tea and reclining in my comfy chair by the window. The house is very quiet. But Rosie is still upstairs. I haven’t seen her yet today. I’m wondering whether she might need fifteen dollars before she steps out this morning…

Ah here she is! “What are you doing today Rosie?”

“Homework, but I’m going to go for a run first. Its beautiful out there!”

I feel love and pride for all of my daughters.

And I get to keep the 15 ūüôā


the snow is calling

June 12, 2011

Its mid June. First semester at uni is over, the mornings are getting foggy and I’m thinking about the snow. We don’t get snow in our cities but for the first time in many years, the opening of the ski season has begun with skiable mountains.

Before I had my children, going up to the snow fields on Queens Birthday weekend was a given. These years were followed by years of pressing parental duties with babies, which were followed by years of ignoring the snow while the drought took hold and snow in time for the opening became a thing of the past. Those years of ignoring the snow were spent in the Grampians with friends who we would have skied with in the old days. Instead we tramped the Grampians by day: one group on a child-friendly walk and another doing a more challenging walk for adults-only.  The adult walkers would often return well after dark feeling as though they had survived an expedition. Evenso, the day walks ended in comfort, which was very unlike the trips we all used to do hauling tents to remote places for a taste of wilderness and snow camping. Our accommodation in the Grampians was a large farmhouse that felt roomy even with four families staying together and it was a working sheep farm. There we regrouped in the evenings over the massive dining table and shared tales from the day while the kids ran amok in the corridoors or played in one of the large unused rooms. It became a tradition that the kids would plan a show and put it on for the adults in the sitting room on the last day of the weekend.

The weekends at the farmhouse in the Grampians ended for us when our children became teenagers. The drought continued and the long weekend passed by unremarkably. Even this year we planned a weekend of rest. Rosie is studying for exams. Emma has returned from a 3 week choir tour of the US. Kat has been nightclubbing. I’ve been out with friends and doing the night club run at the end of the evening. But the snow fell early and I can feel the mountains calling!

Emma took up cross country skiing with a passion last year. She competed in the schools’ XC ski championships. I spent a weekend up on Buller with her and found my ski legs again. This year I’ve been caught by surprise. ¬†But next Queens Birthday weekend you know where you’ll find me !

Recently I was concerned with my responsibility for the cultural education of my children, only to discover that my children were equally capable of educating me. The use of the word ‘peeps’ in the title is another example of their influence. I was first introduced to the expression “peeps” or “peep-gang” as a modern alternative to the word ‘people’ through the lyrics of ‘Sammy The Salmon’, a song that we enjoy on long car rides, thanks to the technology of the ipod including it’s little connect-y cable that plugs into the supplied sound system of my people mover, my peep-gang mover, that allows my children to hook their own ipods up for the rest of the family’s enjoyment (or not).

The other part of the title, ‘New Orleans’, refers to the location of the conference that I will be attending in about a weeks time.

For the first time I’ll be heading off to the annual U.S. conference without my peep-gang from Melbourne.

Usually before even leaving Melbourne for an overseas conference, someone in the peep-gang takes care of restaurant bookings. I usually receive an email detailing the venues for dinner each night. Because of my peeps, I have fine dined in restaurants in Chicago, New York, Amsterdam and Helsinki. The other thing that someone in my peep-gang usually does is invite me to cocktail parties hosted by publishing houses and social events organised by academic faculties. Once I was even invited to a private party in Chicago in a roof-top condo, where I was educated on tequila varieties and listened to the host play harmonica in front of an open fire while it snowed outside. With my peeps, I’ve tasted some night life – blues clubs in Chicago, jazz clubs on Bleaker Street in New York, live music at the concert hall in Amsterdam and at a street festival in Helsinki.

But this time there will be no one to set up dinners before we go, and no one I can rely on for the impromptu things.

Its a little bit daunting, but also a little bit of an adventure.

I have put some measures in place for meeting new people. On the first night I will attend a dinner for international collaboration amongst a selection of participating universities and with the same group I have two breakfast engagements as well. I have signed up for a Mentor Luncheon with people interested in similar things to me. In addition, there are two receptions that I am eligible to attend and I have booked in for a walking tour of New Orleans’ French Quarter. This leaves still a couple of nights unaccounted for. My main aim in all of these opportunities for networking is to find some new peeps with whom I can experience some live music in New Orleans!

I have also bought a little travel pocket book about New Orleans that I intend to read some time during the 19 hours of travel. Any suggestions of must do and see things in New Orleans would also be greatly appreciated ūüôā

(Of course, this is in addition to trying to do a good job presenting my paper and going to the sessions of interest to me. Work is the focus, yes sir!).

To women

August 1, 2009

I’ve written elsewhere that women are brilliant company but what I wanted to write about today was an overwhelming sense of women as wonderful support for each other. I feel lucky to be a woman and to therefore qualify as a recipient for this.

You know something about life when you embrace change. Change is a large part of life. Just when you think you’ve got a stage of life worked out, another stage is upon you. There’s nothing to bring this home more than being a parent. When I was a parent of babies, I looked towards them growing up as a time of reduced parental input. I’m not saying that reaching this imagined stage of reduced parental input was something I aspired to or held in trepidation, I’m just saying that it was an assumed given from the perspective of one who attended to the needs of small people.

Attending to small people was a significant adjustment to make. It was recognised as significant because support groups would spring up out of the community to help you cope. Play groups for example. (They are called play groups, but a larger function of these groups is social contact between women all making similar adjustments in their lives). There is a lot to learn as a new parent, and it helps when you don’t have to do it alone. I look back to the women I spent my play group years with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and connection.

Recently I attended a mothers day luncheon put on by my eldest daughter’s secondary school. I wasn’t intending to go. You know the feeling? Too much work on, not enough time, wouldn’t know anyone (Kat’s only been at this school a year). But as it happened, one of my colleagues (the L from this story as a matter of fact) has a daughter who has been at this school all the way through. She always attends the social functions and she convinced me to go.

The luncheon was a success. I met a few new people, but mostly L took me under her wing and ¬†sat me at her table. Most of the women sharing L’s table had one or two children older than my Kat. They had all experienced (and survived) parenting teenagers. They shared stories of their survival and I was in awe. ¬†My teenager is finding the years fraught with adjustment and difficulty. It was after sharing some of my current experiences that one of the women turned to me, placed her hand on my arm with warmth and reassurance and said, “why do we have playgroups when the children are little? Its when they are teenagers that we need the most support!”

Its true! When our children are teenagers, so much else is happening in life. Many of us have gone back to work. Our role as ‘parent’ doesn’t seem to warrant the same support. Its not an immediate topic of conversation. Yet it is a difficult parenting stage.

After the mothers day luncheon I fell bolstered and refreshed. The next social occasion is a cocktail party for the opening of the new library. This time I won’t need L to convince me to go. I’ll be there, I’ve found my new “playgroup”.

When somebody loves you

February 3, 2009

I have memories of Melbourne when it was a much smaller city than it is now. The place where I grew up, Lower Templestowe, used to be¬†refereed¬†to as “the sticks” because it was on the fringe. My family and I rarely went into the city, even though it was only a fifteen kilometre journey. The rare occasions were at Christmas time to see the Myer windows and when our father took us into his work substation in Carlton (he worked for what was called the Tramways Board back then).

There was no direct route from Lower Templestowe into the city back then. You had to drive through Kew and Richmond. Past the factories in Victoria Street Richmond the Skipping Girl Vinegar neon sign and Coppertone sign showing a dog pulling down a girls knickers were highlights of the drive. 

It was a big deal when the Eastern Freeway was built. It was massive to Melbourne standards. Four lanes each way and a good six kilometers long. I was fourteen when my friend Kaz and I decided to ride our push bikes along the freeway prior to its opening. We entered at its starting point off Bulleen Road, with no real plans about where we were heading. We took packed lunches. 

The freeway was smooth to ride on, quiet and pretty. It’s flanked by golf courses. We rode for a few kilometers before deciding to have lunch. We parked our bikes and hopped over the low¬†fence onto one of the golf courses. Not knowing anything about golf, we chose a lovely mown circular patch of grass for our picnic.¬†

Kaz’ mother had a knack with oranges. She had a tool that cut the peel around its diameter. It was then possible to peel the oranges in two half circles. It was like magic really. The skins just peeled right off and retained their shape. You could put them back together again and it looked like a whole orange. Or you could put the half-oranges inside your top and it would look like you actually had tits! I can’t remember who did it first, but I do remember rolling around on the green laughing until I cried when Kaz paraded around with one inside her bike shorts against her crotch.

Now days, the freeway extends way beyond Bulleen Road and Melbourne extends so far beyond the suburb of my childhood that it is just about metropolitan. A lot has changed. Kaz left school to become a dental nurse. She married, had two daughters and moved to the country. I stayed on at school and went through uni. 

Despite only seeing Kaz a couple of times after we both had children, she sent me a christmas card every year. My kids don’t remember Kaz. They only know her as ‘the one who sends mum a Christmas card every year even though she never sends one back’. This is no reflection on the way I felt about Kaz. I just sucked at writing cards. When my kids were younger and before I went back to work I made the effort, enlisting the kids’ help like a production line. But I haven’t written one for years. The kids have¬†wizened¬†up and they have their own to write. Sometimes I send out group emails for Christmas but I didn’t have electronic contact details for Kaz.

On Saturday morning I received a phone call from one of our mutual friends to inform me that Kaz had passed away. “What? How could this happen?” I asked, possibly naively but definitely out of shock. After I listened to a description of the diseases that ended Kaz’ life, the caller and I shared an emotional moment. “She loved you Jenne”, I was told.

The first day I found out about Kaz’ death I was in shock. I had no way to express my grief. I was agitated and confused. On the second day, I was less emotional and felt a sudden renewed awe for life. On the third day (today) I bought a beautiful bunch of twenty mixed roses from the market spontaneously. “They’ll last longer in the heat if you cut the stems every few days and put ice in the water”, the florist told me. As I arranged the flowers at home I thought of Kaz. I don’t know how to grieve but having the flowers there as a representation seemed to help a lot.

So far the summer is whizzing by in a whir of socializing with house guests and relatives visiting from far and further away. My favorite cousin from Brissy and his family of five left today after three weeks here. We’ve also had the hub’s brother and his family of five here from the UK. We’re on to our fourth set of house guests, with a change-over happening on Friday. At various pinch points we’ve needed to put up tents to cope with the numbers – in total five tents and one camper van!

People have been asking me how I cope with all the visitors and house guests so well, and ask whether I’m getting tired of catering for the hoards. My answer is the same each time.¬†It’s¬†not really much effort at all. For a start, we have been cooking combined¬†barbecues. I’ve been placing orders at the local fresh sea food supplier. There is no effort in placing and picking up an order, putting out freshly shucked oysters and wrapping a fresh barramundi or salmon fillet (big enough to serve 10) in foil with lemon and a bit of butter and whacking it on the barbie for others to supervise while throwing together a couple of salads. There was one time that the two kilos of prawns I ordered needed peeling before marinating and barbecuing, but my friend, Cath (one of our house guests for New Years Eve) did it with me and made it fun. The result was worth it by the way. Prior to barbecuing them, we marinated the prawns in garlic, lemon juice, sambal oelek and half of the bunch of coriander that Cath had brought with her for her fried noodle salad.¬†

And further, I have not been cleaning the house from top to bottom every time new friends or relatives arrive. I’m on holidays and the house is as they find it (even down to them bringing their own towels and linen). I do occasionally ask the girls to tidy the upstairs bathroom. With four daughters the bench in there is so out of control with products for every thing you could imagine that it almost warrants a photograph. For example, how many pump packs of Impulse, and how many bottles of Listerine could girls of nine, twelve, fourteen and sixteen actually need to have in their shared bathroom? On last count there were three of each. I’m not even beginning to count the number of hair products,¬†moisturizers, body glow¬†and makeup¬†products.

I do check to see that the guests have all they need, and do make sure they feel entirely at home to put the kettle on or take over the kitchen any time they feel the urge. All in all, they muck in and the result is shared labor. Every body’s happy!

Catering for sixty

January 3, 2009

I have another cooking challenge. Last year I cooked an entree for fifty for the yacht club progressive dinner. This year for the same event, I am down to cook the main course. 

I hadn’t given it much thought. I’ve hosted christmas dinner for twenty and a new years eve barbeque for thirty two. The progressive dinner is my next challenge and its next Saturday. There is something about being under pressure that kicks me into gear. I’ve decided to make beef wellington. The yacht club has a terrific industrial kitchen and very large oven. I’ll be able to prepare the beef wellingtons beforehand and place them in the oven when the time comes. Whilst they are cooking I’ll be able to eat my entree and prepare the¬†accompaniments.¬†

The problem is I’ve never cooked beef wellington before. I’ll have to finalize a recipe and try it at home. The trial run will also help with the costing. Two friends have told me their beef wellington recipes. They are slightly different. Both require eye fillet steak, puff pastry and a combination of onion and mushroom sauteed in butter. The difference is one uses chicken liver pate spread onto the puff pastry and the other uses blue cheese, crumbled into the cooled sauteed vegetables and spread onto the pastry prior to rolling it around the meat:

1. Mushrooms and Blue Cheese

Saute chopped onions, mushrooms in butter. Add red wine, favorite herbs and reduce. Cool. Crumble through blue cheese during assembly.

2.  Traditional

Saute onions, mushrooms in butter. Cool. Spread chicken liver pate on puff pastry during assembly.

Time pressure dictates that I make up my mind and do a trial run tomorrow night. I’ll need to cost and order the ingredients early in the week. But which recipe should I choose and what should I serve with it?

Spring Magic

October 31, 2008

Spring in Melbourne is a wonderful time. Melbournians at this time though, will always begin a conversation with a comment about the weather. Our weather is variable at the best of times, but Spring is something else! Why only on Wednesday, we were blessed with perfect mid-twenties, no wind, absolutely glorious weather that put everyone in a good mood. Carmel (my favorite person at work) and I made the most of it by walking up to a French deli  (a recently discovered secret of ours) and pretending we were in Paris. I changed out of my bike riding gear and into suitable French deli attire and although I developed blisters from the pointy white shoes I chose my enjoyment could not be dampened. We feasted on duck pie (me) and goats cheese tart (Carmel), followed by tiny, delicate custard tarts and coffee. Back in my riding gear and riding home afterwards, the spell was still in the air. Motorists were singing out of their car windows and chatting to me at traffic lights. 

Then on Thursday we had black skies and thunderstorms, followed by sunshine and humidity!!

You can understand why the weather is a concern if you remember that next week is the Spring Racing Carnival and ladies from far and wide (including yours truly) have already organised their racing attire. It is not uncommon to see women in strappy, flowing dresses being lashed by freezing winds or to see the same women on another year burning to a crisp under the Australian sun. If its windy this year, I’m done for! My hatinator will be like a toy aerofoil! I’ll be blown across the starting gate and over the¬†chimney¬†tops. (Pics below, what do you think?).

Hatinator by Kim Fletcher, milliner. 

Tonight I met Libby at Her Majesties Theatre to see the preview to Melbourne’s Billie Elliot.¬†The show begins here in December. Libby¬†was invited to the preview because she coordinates group bookings for the school where she teaches music. I used to work with her. She often invites me to join her when she takes her students to shows, but this was the first preview I’ve been to.

I admit, I was expecting to see the whole show tonight and was initially disappointed when I sat down in the Stalls after complimentary champagne to learn that this was not going to be the case. However, tonight I heard one of the producers and one of the key actors speak about the show, I was introduced to the four “Billie’s”, I watched them perform together and saw the DVD of the audition process.¬†

A big deal was made of the fact that two new “Billies” were joining the show for the Melbourne performances. Like many of us who are not aware of the logistics of staging shows of this scale that employ over fifty children, it tickled me to listen to the producer talk of their “Billies” in plural. It was an education¬†for me and a delight to have ‘met’ all four of them.

Each of these Australian boys, when interviewed, spoke in familiar Aussie accents, yet in character produced a thick Irish twang. Their performance of the song at the moment when Billie describes how he feels to dance brought a tear to my eye.  These four boys danced sublimely, each of them obviously gymnasts as well as classically trained. 

I came away from the preview rather inspired on a number of levels. Firstly, the quality of dancing in the Billie’s performance was astonishing. It would be for this reason alone that I will see the show, and take as many family and friends as I can with me.¬†

Secondly, I came away with a feeling of pride for Australian theatre. Billie Elliot has been running in Sydney for a year. Australia is the second home of the musical Billie Elliot. It doesn’t open on Broadway until later in the year!

In April I was in New York, staying on Broadway. I was there for a conference, but saw Chicago the day I arrived. Aspects of the show were disappointing. For example the lawyer was poorly cast (played by a non-charismatic character who couldn’t tap), and the set and costuming were unexciting.¬†

A couple of weeks later in Melbourne, I saw Guys and Dolls with Libby and was impressed with it in comparison to Chicago on Broadway. At the time I remarked to Libby that I needn’t have gone to New York to see a great show. I’m feeling the same way tonight after previewing Billie Elliot: Its all right here at my finger tips in Melbourne!

The Big Screen

July 27, 2008

Do you remember when home videos became popular? Was it in the late eighties? Everyone said, “Oh that spells the end of cinema”.

Now everyone is creating home cinema experiences with purposefully made recliner chairs, blue ray DVDs (not sure what these are, but my kids are up to date with it), surround sound (not that surround sound is new – my boyfriend in the late eighties had it. He was so proud after he’d installed it. Is this a guy thing? Personally I don’t mind if the sound of an approaching train emanates from the telly. For my enjoyment it does not have to appear to be coming from behind me to the right), projectors mounted from the ceiling and large screens on the wall. We’ve got one of these in our new house too – the home cinema room. Our four-seater recliner (in red) is yet to be delivered.

Even so, the kids don’t want to wait until the new releases hit DVD. They’re off to the cinema as often as ever. During the school holidays Prince Caspian, Kung Fu Panda, and Get Smart drew them to the box office. For the children, I believe their motivation for going to the cinema is to be up with the conversations rather than the desire to get out into society. For me, its all about getting out. Sitting at home with surround sound and blue ray will never replace meeting a friend in the foyer, squeezing in a drink or dinner before hand, filing in after purchasing a choc top to watch a movie on the big screen and chatting about it later (not to mention the people-watching opportunities), and you never know who you might bump into when you’re out.