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Beautiful things

I had a wonderful night out on Thursday night, celebrating a friend’s birthday with “Margaritas and Dessert”. It helped that it was a stinker of a night – well over 30 degrees even well into the night – so frozen drinks and treats were very welcome, but as always the conversations were the best part.

One that was very close to my heart was about beauty and happiness. One woman talked about her time at art school. She still remembers a guest speaker who came and spoke about the importance of beauty, with the example that even if you are just getting out a bowl to beat an egg, that bowl can (should) still be beautiful. Another spoke about the book, The Architecture of Happiness, which considers how where we are might influence what we are (and what we become). And I spoke about Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which I credit as a catalyst for some of the important (and positive) changes I made in my life last year. I probably need to re-read it, actually.

I try to surround myself with things that I love and find beauty in, that make me feel good, but sometimes I choose things that are functional rather than lovely. And I always regret it.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in be happy, friends

 

Urgent! I need a toilet! (Just not in the way you might think)

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that toilets have been on my mind lately. You see, the next stage of the Curse’s after-effects has been the demolition of much of our bathroom floor. It’s rotten under the shower … AGAIN.

Unfortunately, the rot had spread to under the toilet as well. Our lovely builder Alberto warned us last week that the toilet was going to have to go, maybe for as much as a week.

Cue panic.

Then it was all OK and we were only going to be without a toilet on Monday night.

Which sounds reasonable until you think about the words. Without. A. Toilet. Family of Four. Ugh.

And so every day since about last Thursday, I have wondered whether I would have a toilet that night. And I have been oh so very thankful when I did.

And then the Bigster realised that her exams were at the start of this week. No proper shower (only hand-held over bath). No toilet. Actually, half a bathroom missing. And Exams. Yikes.

So we hatched a little plan that involved me and Bigster going to a hotel for Monday night, leaving Fraser and Otto to wizz in a bucket manage on their own. And then we considered getting a family room or something so that we could all go. And then our builder said today, “Oh by the way, you won’t have a toilet tomorrow either.”

Which he clearly meant to be reassuring. Or, at the least, informative.

But you see, “no toilet” and “reassuring” do not really go together. And I started to add numbers in my head, because we were already way over “budget” on, well, everything, but especially on the unbudgeted “hotel” item. And I flung myself in my car and drove to Aldi, because some of my friends thought that MAYBEJUSTMAYBE they might have seen camping toilets at Aldi.

And of all the things that were bad about having OMG NO TOILET, that one was the least bad. Because it would mean that the inspection camera was no longer the strangest thing that I had bought at Aldi. I was able to go to a happy place inside my head. A toilet-free happy place, admittedly, but an only slightly less happy place for it.

Until the woman at my local Aldi smashed my dreams. “Yeah, we had those. About three months ago. But they didn’t sell so we sent all our stock to the rural stores.”

Grrr. I drove home again, thoroughly subdued. Then: Brainwave! Camping Stores!

I rang the “local” camping store, which is about 15 minutes’ drive away. It was 5:13. They had camping toilets in stock, but closed at 5:30. It was a challenge I was determined to make; I was out the door before we were even off the phone.  (I rang my family while I was on the way, to tell them I had gone out).

I made good time to the camping store, until … disaster. A train. Ding, ding, ding, boomgates down, no chance to cross.

Thoroughly desperate for my toilet, I rang them. “I’m on my way to pick up a camping toilet but I am at the boomgates and now I will be late. Could I possibly pay by credit card or something, just to speed it up?” I was ready to offer any staff member willing to WAIT OUTSIDE THE STORE WITH MY TOILET $20 cash. Things were down to the wire.

Fortunately, the assistant manager was lovely and helpful and reassuring. After establishing that I really WAS just up the road, she promised to keep the till open for me, even past 5:30 if need be.

And so it was that I got there, and ran through the doors, and was greeted with one sweet sweet word: “Toilet?”

And it was 5:33 and all was good.

Epilogue:

I bought the special toilet paper which “hindert Verstopfungen” (stops blockages) which made me giggle because I will swear that Verstopfung is German for constipation. Trust me, by that time I would have giggled at anything. And then I bought the special tank chemicals, only it turns out that you aren’t supposed to use them in the regular sewers, so I didn’t. And then I over-filled the tank (the clean water for flushing, people, minds out of the gutter) and it started leaking and there may or may not have been some al-fresco wizzing and some argufying with Fraser about how much water should be going into the waste tank anyway because there is a PROPER WAY to use a camping toilet and I might have missed it. And then we demonstrated how to flush the toilet to the girls and there was much hilarity except from them and Fraser, who all think it is a little revolting. So from me, really.

And the best part of all, is that I got to buy something completely weird, and actually genuinely put it on the “saving money” side of the ledger.

And also, I have just topped my Best Toilet Ever story.

 

School Fete

Saturday was our school fete. While these are a fairly normal part of life for many schools in Australia, I realised recently that they’re not something that happens everywhere.

In Australia, as in most countries (at least most where I have readers), schools are funded by the government. Parents are expected to make a “voluntary contribution” which is an interesting redefinition of the word voluntary (there is a lot of followup if you choose not to make that payment or can’t afford to do so) as well as to buy “essential educational items” (usually by paying a lump some to the school which then provides them). Some “private” or “independent” schools also receive income from parents who pay fees, which vary from around $2000 a year to well over $20,000 per year.

This funding, however, particularly for the government and lower-priced independent schools, seems to fall short of funding what the schools want to provide. In the case of Otto’s school, which is an independent school, there is a need for a sports ground which we currently do not have and which could easily cost $300,000 to build.

And so, schools do fund-raising. Sometimes they do lamington (or pie, or donut, or hot cross bun, or cupcake, or …) drives – where each family is invited to shake down family, friends and colleagues to order as many of the particular cake item as possible. They are then all delivered to the school in one massive lot, and parents deliver to their clients. There is usually a prize for the child or family who sells the most.  Ditto chocolates. Or tooth-brushes. Or mangoes. etc. Some do walkathons (or other —athons), or wash cars, or make and sell cookbooks.

But the best fund-raiser of all is often the school fete. When I were a lass, this meant a sausage sizzle and a cake stall and a few manky plants that someone had dug up the night before. These days, though, fetes are big business. Some schools apparently even hire professional fete organisers.

At the government school my girls used to attend, the fete raised somewhere in the order of $70,000 a year. Yes, you read that right. Seventy thousand dollars. The school budgeted to fund-raise somewhere over $100,000 a year and used that money to employ extra teaching staff. Activities included:

  • trash & treasure stall
  • jams & preserves
  • cakes (to take home)
  • raffles
  • silent auction
  • spinning wheel
  • coffee & cake
  • 3? commercially hired rides (cha cha, etc)
  • snow cones
  • soft drinks, beer and wine
  • live stage with bands
  • busking students
  • book stall (all new)
  • baby goods stall
  • bouncy castle
  • plant stall (bit better than the manky ones I remember!)
  • food:
    • sausages
    • gourmet burgers
    • wood-fired pizzas
    • souvlaki
    • butter chicken
    • etc

Now that school had around 470 students, and the entire school community spends 8 weeks preparing for the fete. Parents are asked to bake cakes, make preserves, donate items for hampers and even donate a cube (box of 24-30) of soft drink (soda) cans for sale on the day. Here is an article (2 years old) about this type of school fete: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/a-fete-accompli-as-inner-schools-raise-big-bucks-20101113-17rxm.html

Otto’s school has 49 students at the moment, from around 34 families. So there are some differences, principally around what we can staff. Despite this, we managed to put on a pretty amazing fete, and our informal exit polls showed that people had a great time.

A car full of balloons

We had a contest to guess how many balloons were in the car. The children had fun helping to fill it…

And so did we – and it was beautiful to see the school community come together to work so hard to make our little school shine. The fete co-ordinators have spent 5 years really bringing it all together now – and their experience showed. Each year, it gets a little better (and a little more profitable too). Of course we don’t make $75,000 from the day, but our per-student rate is pretty incredible.

Gingerbread hearts - very decorated

Gingerbread hearts are always popular. This one says Spatzerl (little sparrow). For the Christmas market, we’re thinking of doing some blanks that we can write on on the night.

It’s lovely to welcome volunteers from outside the school too, some of whom have come every year to volunteer their time, as well as other community members who come in for the day or for lunch, for “a little slice of Europe”. A good friend of ours drove 40+ minutes to come to the fete, then won third prize in the raffle. Virtue is sometimes its own reward, although she wasn’t sure quite what her partner would make of their new yellow spotty beanbag. Other friends were in town from Sydney and made the trip over for lunch. My mum and dad came out and then mum spent 4 hours selling jams and preserves, barely taking a break at all.

Still setting up. Later, this courtyard was filled with people eating, drinking and being merry. Tables were full all day.

But it was so much fun. Even working the fairy floss machine, which was more tricky than it looks and resulted in a fine coating of pink sugar, inside and outside clothing. And in hair. (Note to future self: Do not do fairy floss before taking photo of frock!)

And it was so much fun – but so busy – that I have no photos of:

  • the bouncy castle, or
  • the mini golf, or
  • the teddy bear hospital or
  • face painting,
  • the treasure hunt,
  • the Bobbycars,
  • the pirate scavenger hunt,
  • the sausages, Frikadellen and hot dogs,
  • the soup,
  • the juice, soft drinks and beer,
  • the box maze,
  • the pretzels,
  • the animal nursery,
  • the coffee and cake and waffles stall,
  • Penelope the Popcorn machine,
  • the exhibition of students’ art and student photos,
  • the badge making,
  • the book and toy stalls,
  • the preserves and produce stalls,
  • the amazing silent auction,
  • the live auction,
  • the Bavarian dancers or
  • either of the two fabulous bands (I had a little weep the second time they played Forever Young) (Because it was so good, not because it was so bad, like that craptacular version they used to play on The OC).

Although there is just one of the fairy floss machine:

Me, in a dirndl, holding fairy floss sticks like Bier Steins

Worst fairy floss maker in the world. The zoomed in version of this photo shows that I have fairy floss all over myself, including in my hair. A friend has a shot of me with it on my nose! But at least here we can pretend they are Biersteine.

And the funniest moment (for me, if not for the Bigster) was probably before I realised that my Dirndl did actually have a pocket, so I was having a braphone day, and I was up to my elbows in fairy floss but wanted my phone, and completely horrified the Bigster by asking her to OMG REACH INTO MY TOP AND GET MY PHONE OUT. Apparently it would have been better to ask someone I was not related to, or so she saw it (Note: The phone was over to one side, practically on my shoulder.). She did it eventually, which is why I have the above photo of me scowling at the fairy floss machine. Which richly deserved the scowl. And then I realised that I should perhaps not make jokes to strangers about licking my dress, even though there was probably enough sugar on it to keep me going for a week.

And all day Sunday, there were texts flying about what a wonderful day we’d had (and how knackered we were). And a friend and I went off to markets around town, lining up stallholders for our next big event, because sometimes the fun just doesn’t stop.

But the real beauty of our school fete – the thing that makes it stand out in comparison to other events – is not in the money that it raises; it’s in the way that the entire school community comes together for a day, baking, selling, running errands, even cleaning the toilets, to make sure that it is as lovely as it can be.

And it was.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in be happy, school

 

Not blogging, WRITING

I have not been blogging much this week, because I have been focusing all of my creative efforts on my essay.

OK, I lie. I have been juggling school holidays and parent stuff and work stuff AND my essay.

The essay is amusing me a lot. I do not, however, think that that is the primary purpose of an essay, or that my tutor would think that the essay as it currently stands is acceptable.

This is mostly because of that 1500 word thing. Because I think I probably TWEET about 1500 words in a week. Or possibly in a day, when I am writing an essay and being distracted by the AWESOME THINGS I COULD PUT INTO IT.

Things like:

  • a picture of me with Aldie and Reiner.
  • stuff about pervasive games
  • stuff about different content types on BGG
  • an analysis of why session reports, reviews and geeklists are really kinda sorta fanfiction
  • a study of the metagame in online Werewolf and how it transcends the individual games
  • that video of Otto doing the Order Up dance in Essen (actually I think this was lost)
  • stuff about how gamers are fans and analysis of the Superfan concept. I want to cast Derk as Harry Knowles in a movie.
  • a picture of a cat in a box.

Sadly, I suspect I am missing the point.

More than sadly, I think I have now written WELL OVER 1500 words ABOUT the essay. Which, for those who are counting, is currently sitting at around 3700 words, with more to add.

But lots of you have offered to proofread. So when I finish it, I might post some of the lost parts here. Because there is an audience for everything, and you guys are it.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in be happy, games, not your earth logic, study

 

Reading about Raiders. It’s study!

So, I’m doing this course.

And I am a little bit behind (what with all the doctors appointments and Bordercon), so I am finishing off last week’s reading.

Which is about the kids that made the shot-for-shot Raiders of the Lost Ark movie all those years ago.

Fraser and I saw it a few years ago, and it was wonderful to watch.

And today, I was sitting at the hospital while Bigster’s tests were done, reading this article and thinking wow. Because I would read that article for fun.

And so will the rest of the family.

And next week, we study Games.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in be happy, movies, study

 

Dreaming of Piña Coladas.

Things that would be better with a Piña Colada:

  • Taking children to swimming lessons
  • The waiting room at the dentist
  • Pretty much any kind of health food
  • Pedicures
  • Breakfast
  • Yoga
  • Parent-teacher interviews
  • The feel of the ocean
  • Making love at midnight in the dunes on the Cape*

Things that would not:

* or so I am told.

** it would dilute the drink.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in be happy

 

Traffic Lights

My friend Brunhilda* recently bought a house somewhere North of here. She hasn’t moved in yet, but she’s been checking out the property.

(*Names changed to protect the innocent.)

And it turns out that there is a set of traffic lights in the roof cavity.

If that wasn’t interesting enough, the set of traffic lights is apparently too big to get OUT of the roof cavity through the hatch.

The guy she is buying from can’t remember how they got up there.

So there has been much discussion about the traffic lights and the other stuff in the house etc etc etc but my mind got stuck at OMG TRAFFIC LIGHTS HOW COOL IS THAT! MOST AWESOME CHATTEL EVER!

Because if the house were local, I would generously offer to take the traffic lights off her hands.

I thought that I would offer them to Otto’s school. So they could have their very own European Right-hand drive Traffic School.

But then I realised that I would probably keep them for myself. And put them at my front door and not let people into the house unless the lights were green. That would keep me amused for at least a week.

And make an Ampelmann cutout so I could have different dudes on my “Go” sign. OMG that would be awesome.

Also, I could Inspect my traffic lights with my Inspection Camera, to make sure they were working. In case there was any doubt.

And so I was sad, because the traffic lights were not somewhere I could get to with any ease (although Fraser did drive to Sydney just to collect a carload of games last year – so maybe it would not be so unreasonable for me to go up to lever off a friend’s roof and steal a set of traffic lights? Maybe?)

And then I discovered that you can buy your very own traffic lights at really quite a reasonable price. And I was momentarily quite excited until ANOTHER old friend spoke to me very sternly and said

Melissa, no! You have a Masters to pay for – no traffic lights for you!

Which really has got to be the best thing anyone has said to me for days.