Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Tragic Cost of Hope

Photo: ABC Online

Yesterday I watched in horror as details emerged about the Indonesian refugee boat that was dashed on the rocks off Christmas Island. To date, the death toll stands at 30 including four infants who didn't stand a chance.
The people of Christmas Island who watched the tragedy unfolding from shore thought quickly enough to throw life jackets in the water and shout directions to the disorientated, terrified people in the water. Their actions saved several lives, but residents are taking little comfort in their efforts after watching too many others die before their eyes.

Hearing the firsthand accounts from traumatised witnesses on the morning news, it struck me that nobody cared at that moment about whether or not those people 'should' have been on that boat approaching Christmas Island. There was no political right or wrong. There was nothing but sorrow for these people and for the faint dream they had which ended so tragically within metres of Australian soil.

It's hard to imagine how paying people smugglers to give you a place on an overcrowded boat with putrid living conditions and no guarantee of acceptance (or even survival) could be an investment in your future. Imagine leaving your relatives, your country, your language and everything you've ever known behind in the search for something better. How bad must life be for these people to take such desperate measures? It's an enormous leap of faith.

And their faith is placed in the hands of the people smugglers, who probably sleep well at night in the knowledge that they're helping people live their dream. It's hard to say sometimes whether humans deserve to be at the top of the swamp of evolution, or down the bottom for the apathy we show each other.

Every day I take for granted that my family and I will live to see another day. We will still have a home, each other, good food and our health. And if we get sick, we'll seek medical care. And in a week we will open presents, eat until we have to lie down and enjoy happy family time together.

It's a world away from those people on the boat, and yet I'm certain many of them had the same hopes and wants in life that I do. Hope for their kids to have a good life, and give the same to their kids. For fresh air and water, a safe place to live and a chance at a good job.

Tragedies like these should remind us that everywhere in the world there are people who are victims of circumstance. In their search for something better, or even for survival, they become another person's commodity, and ultimately their life becomes cheap.

Or in the case of the people on that boat yesterday, worthless.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving Thanks for the Little Things

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. It's a uniquely North American holiday, and if you ask an American you'll find it almost beats Christmas in order of importance on the festive calendar. The purpose of the day is exactly as it sounds. To get together with family and friends and give thanks for all you have.

I lived in the US for four years and as someone who didn't celebrate Thanksgiving as a part of my culture I was always taken aback by how generous and willing Americans are to share their special day. My family never spent a Thanksgiving alone. We were invited to meet extended families, eat pumpkin pie and turkey, plus corn bread, kool-whip and pineapple salad.

So as I thought about my American friends last week I also began to think about what I'm thankful for. My wonderful husband and gorgeous, healthy kids. The fact that our kids have a complete set of grandparents. My supportive, loving parents and my wonderful sister. The closeness I have to my parents and sisters in law. Fantastic friends. Our adorable dog. Our home. Our peaceful country. My happy, comfortable life.

It was a long list, but as I thought more about it I started to go off on tangents, and I realised I'm grateful for a lot of things I would usually overlook. So in the wake of the real Thanksgiving here's a nod to some of the other, smaller things I'm thankful for:

* The button on my car that allows me to close the boot without actually putting my hand on it and pushing it down. Sure, it doesn't take THAT much effort, but an armload of shopping, the drycleaning, two pairs of left behind shoes and a handbag to carry it's a godsend.

* Technology. As I shouted at my laptop today about a forgotten password and my iPhone rang non-stop I also realised how wonderful it is that I can keep in touch with people when I'm unable to actually see them. Skype, iPhone, laptop, sms, I curse you but I am grateful you're there and also that you usually work when I need you to.

* Modern medicine. This weekend I discovered just how good Advils really are. Ditto soothing, anti-red eye drops.

* Online shopping. So far, five Christmas presents have been delivered to my door, ready to wrap and give.

* Insurance. It's a grudge purchase, sure, but when your neighbour's drunk party guest hits your car on the way home, you're loving it. Trust me.

* Rain. Now I can stay inside and blog instead of hanging out the washing.

* The clothes dryer. See above.

* Celebrity chefs. A stretch I know, but these guys seem to be trying to outdo each other in the everyday-great-family-food-at-home-in-minutes-that-looks-like-something-you'd-get-in-my restaurant genre. And for that I am eternally grateful.

* Summer. I wasn't particularly grateful for the change of season until it changed back to winter yesterday. And now as I sit here with cold feet I realise how much I miss it. I don't even feel like a mango. It's not summery enough to enjoy it.

* I'm thankful for having Time. Today is the first day in a long time that I've had the chance and inclination to sit down and blog. It's a luxury to have and it's becoming even more luxurious as the year closes and I stare down the barrel of school holidays.

This is by no means a definitive list, and I'm certain I'll want to add to it within five minutes. But it feels good to take the time to be thankful, whether it's for big things or small. I can't decide which category Lindt chilli chocolate falls into but it's my final addition and I'm very, very thankful for that.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

And the winner is... zzzzzzz....

Masterchef is finally, FINALLY over.

No more Katy Perry belting out Hot and Cold from the opening credits, no more eyefuls of George Calombaris shovelling his food like a caveman. No more Gary bouncing on his tippy toes leering at lopsided desserts, and no more Matt looking lustfully at pork bellies through his eyebrows.

No more wondering if Callum's cascading sweat is going to be the true culprit in his over-salted seafood dish. Goodbye, Adam's little top-knot and the constant, endless recaps and reminders of contestants past.

If I never see Jonno's sneering smile again I'll be happy. Same goes for Jimmy's trembling bottom lip as Matt frowns on yet another sodding curry. I won't miss Clare's Princess Diana glances, and Marion's 'I'm so surprised!' face as she wins yet another challenge. I never thought I'd say this, but I can't take another bite of Masterchef. I'm full, I'm stuffed, and I've had enough thank you.

At this stage of the competition, minutes from finding out who wins the title, I actually don't care. Callum and Adam are both worthy. They both deserve a place in the industry working as professionals. Good on them. And all the contestants have been watchable, they've given our household hours of entertainment and I've loved watching them cook their hearts out. Guys, it's nothing personal. Because for me it's about the journey. (See, I even sound like Gary now).

The people who produce Masterchef deserve a medal (and will probably get it in the form of a swag of Logies) for their brilliance in stretching a concept as far as it could possibly go. I never imagined watching the same show, night after night, glued to every episode, and shouting at my husband for accidentally deleting the series link on the Foxtel IQ. We only missed two episodes all season. And it went for weeks, and weeks. How long has this thing been going for? I've lost count, but I'm sure my children have grown a few centimetres since the series began. I wouldn't know because I've been too busy learning to make Adriano Zumbo's macarons.

It's been like a degustation - long, indulgent, satisfying and slightly sickening. But everyone has a finite attention span and mine cut out like a lightbulb last week. I can see the bright lights of the finale getting closer so I'm dragging myself to the table to stuff my face with Masterchef one last time.

And tomorrow, cold turkey.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Partied Out

Almost every weekend for the past three months we have been wrapping, carding and ferrying off to birthday parties. Some weekends they are on a Saturday, some on a Sunday and some on both days. It's proving to be a gruelling schedule, and last weekend I came to the conclusion that we have officially been hit by the birthday tsunami - a force of nature which swallows your weekend whole before dragging you, your wallet and your own social life far out to sea to drown.

The social calendar of a kindergarten kid is unbelievable. I was warned about this by seasoned parents. They told me that kindergarten is birthday-central. Every kid wants a birthday party and every parent wants their little kid to have lots of friends, so from the outset it's the perfect recipe.

It's a fortunate thing to be in a position to throw your child a party and I know some people would love to but can't, so I don't want to seem overly cynical about it. And it would be a very different post if my daughter didn't get any invitations. When she had her birthday party in April she was in heaven; her school friends came, she had cake and lollies and presents. The presents from her friends were very generous and she received an enviable pile of loot. Most of the givers have been on the same party circuit as us since then and even though they will likely be on the receiving end at some stage, I'm almost certain their parents are feeling a twinge of financial party fatigue.

As an example, this past weekend Miss Partypants was invited to two parties. Gifts for the birthday girls were $50+ in total. Over three months that could be up to $600 - it's not been that extreme, but you can see where I'm going.

Getting your child to and from the party is another new experience. The party is usually two hours long - add 20 minutes travel either side and it's a sizeable chunk out of your day. As a result I have embraced the car pool. Some of the parents have formed a sort of Mum's-Taxis Combined and we take turns to drop off and pick up each others' kids. It makes a big difference to the amount of day the rest of the family has to play with. As a one-car family with a three year old, a 12-2pm party on a Saturday can knock out any other social options with one punch. We're buying a second car to combat the problem (well, that's not exactly true. It's for Hubby's new job, but it will help to have another set of wheels).

Once you've picked up the kid/s you then have to watch them inhale the contents of their party bag, knowing you'll have an overexcited pixie-on-crack to manage for the next few hours. Party bags are fascinating to me because they tell you a lot about the parents of the birthday boy or girl. While some parents are laid back about lollies, others are firmly in the 'no junk food' category and come up with some wacky alternatives. Personally, I'm a believer in one chocolate, a few lollies, some stickers and a toy, but then I've also been accused of putting lollies I like in my kids' bags (true - but who doesn't love Redskins?) and overdosing other people's kids on sugar (also true).

Last weekend a party bag came home with soap, a highlighter, one lolly and a packet of sparklers. I must admit I scratched my head thinking... so five year olds shouldn't have sweets, but they can have fireworks? Still, I have to give them 10 points for creativity and the kids loved them. We only had one minor burn, and NO cavities - good times!

I'm breathing a sigh of relief as next weekend is the first in months with no party to attend. I mentioned this to Miss Partypants this morning and even she was relieved, which just proves you can have too much of a good thing.
I wonder if we'll know what to do with ourselves?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

One for the Good Guys

I have a tortured relationship with the parking police. While I understand they are doing their job to the best of their ability, and they have mothers, and go home to their families at the end of the day, I still cannot believe that any person without sociopathic leanings would actually choose to be one.

Before you write in and say I'm an elitist bitch, and don't I know that not everyone has a choice of career, and if I didn't break the law I wouldn't have a problem with them, let me say you would be right on all counts. But I also happen to know that the majority of parking police have chosen to be one because they WANT TO.

Today I saw a parking cop chuckling to himself as he prepared to book the car parked behind mine. The guy was obviously excited and had he started rubbing his hands together with glee I wouldn't have been surprised.

He was just composing himself enough to take a photo of the offending car, when I asked if I could give the car my ticket as I was leaving, and it still had 20 minutes on it. He was aghast.

"You can if you want," he said "but why would you want to do that?"

Why? Why wouldn't I? I just saved this person $84 and I hope someone would do the same for me, and told him basically that.

And you know what he said?

"Well, thanks for nothing, good samaritan" and off he went on his miserable way.

I rest my case.

I DO love a reminisce...

Today I caught up with an old friend. We have bumped into each other a few times, but haven't properly talked for about five years.

We worked together in Mag Land for a short time, and it was there that we became friends. When this friend (we shall call her L) left our company to work at the competition we saw far less of each other, but always kept in touch.

Recently we have reunited via Facebook and our enviable knowledge of 80's music. L's is outstanding and I can only stand in her shadow and nod a lot. She knows things about Kids in the Kitchen that the Kids don't even know.

So today when she called, we had a lot of stuff from the baggage of our last five years to unpack. We caught up on babies, work, life and toxic friends. We bitched about Gen Y. We had a reminisce and a laugh, and lamented the fact that we don't get to see the people we want to see, let alone the ones we don't.

And again I realised that people who you like, really like and choose to keep as friends are rare. Even after years where your friendship could slip into the ether, you still make the effort to make sure it doesn't. And when you do catch up it's easy, and funny and effortless and you feel lighter and happier because you did.

And that's priceless.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lazy Days of Summer

It's been waaaaaay too long between drinks. Actually, the truth is it hasn't been nearly long enough, but that's the silly season for you. I shall blog on my imaginary detox and rehab some other time.

But it has been way too long between blog posts, and I have a backlog of ideas, stories and thoughts I want to put down. So I'm back, but softly.

Technically I'm still on holidays for now, though. Which is weird as I qualify 'holidays' as having my hubby, M, at home. I love it when he's here because I don't see enough of him when he's out running the world, and I miss him. This year he's taken three weeks and it's been great for the whole family to just be together. We've had a holiday at home, or as my friend Anne calls it, a "staycation". M's presence is quiet and steady, but somehow manages to completely stuff up any routines I used to have. Like regular exercise, eating sensibly and writing my blog.

He's home for one more week and then I will be forced to kick myself up the arse and get cracking back into Real Life.

By that I am talking about real, proper routines for me and more importantly for the girls. Our 2.5 year old needs to be completely de-programmed and is obviously not suited to a hedonistic lifestyle. Her daily tantrums are getting tedious even to her. Her hissy fits have become more frequent and I suspect they are due more to having an audience than to her problem with being told to finish her breakfast.

Our house has been a revolving door lately and has seen more summertime action than the Ivy Pool Bar, but with just a bit more nudity. Kids in the clam pool, kids under the sprinkler, barbeques that have gone way past lunchtime and into gorgeous, warm evenings. Heaven. It's this stuff that makes you pine for summer during the quieter, more insular winter months.

And while I'm needing one of those quiet weeks right now, I'll be daydreaming about them when it's all over.