Something awesome that has happened in the past month is that Otto has discovered cooking.

Well, more that I have had time to discover cooking with her. It’s a little bittersweet, as Bigster had just decided she wanted to learn to cook when she got sick, so now her sister is learning things that she never got the chance to learn. And that sucks for Bigster, but if we are totally honest it is really rather glorious for her little sister.

A year or two ago, I bought a slow cooker with a “sear” setting. It’s perfect for us, because you can sear things and then add all the slow-cookery things and leave it bubbling away in the background. And because I am completely paranoid about Otto using the  gas stove to cook on.

She’s a whizz at bolognese sauce. The good kind, too – she even directs Fraser when they are home together (Now I need the WHITE wine, daddy). And she’s pretty good at salads, and even spent Christmas day regaling the family with the recipe for the (very yummy) vinaigrette dressing she’d made for the potato salad.

Lately, though, she’s expanded her repertoire.

She bought a box of macaron mix and made macarons, virtually all by herself. We’re going to try them from a recipe soon. I do get frustrated that everything takes longer when she’s doing the cooking, but of course it takes less time than ever when I don’t have to stand there cooking. And you don’t nag the child with the sharp knives.

When we went to the beach after Christmas, she cooked dinner. Not once, not twice, but EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. With daddy’s help, which meant that we swapped jobs and I got to do the dishes. Without a dishwasher, boo hoo. It helps that the burger patties were really, REALLY good, so we ate them a lot – but she got right into it (and a bit bossy too).

It’s getting so I can’t use my kitchen any more. Tonight, we defrosted some chicken I’d marinated and she insisted on cooking it for me. And the rice, AND fluffing the rice with a fork, and then she told me which platter I should serve it up on.

Because my kids aren’t a bit bossy.


Posted by on January 18, 2014 in food, parenting


My new obsession

I have a new obsession.

It’s Nony’s blog at A Slob Comes Clean.

It’s like reading my own posts by an alternate-universe-Melissa. Nony and I just might be soulmates. But mostly I love her because she posts before pictures that are at least as bad as my own. I find her motivating as much because she fails as because she succeeds.

Like her, I struggle with clutter. If “struggle” means “constantly lose the battle”. Like her, I have tried lots of different methods, but they never work because there is a weak link: me. There are many things that are more fun than cleaning the toilet. And I am (just a tad) easily distractable.

I have always believed, quite genuinely and sincerely, that my house would be less of a tip if I wasn’t always working so hard and such crazy hours. Not perfect, mind you, but “less of a tip”. It gets noticeably worse when I work more, so it stands to reason that it should get better when I work less. And so, the house is one of the things I was going to work on after I quit my job in June (the 18th, if you were wondering). But then I kept working pretty much full time until September, and then there were STILL projects to finish and I was still studying until the Middle of November and the builders were here and they and their cement dust pretty much became the Best Excuse Ever for not tidying.

Except that they have finished now. I don’t have any excuses left. It’s January, the kids are on holidays, we don’t have many places to be, and I don’t officially start my PhD until March. And the house is still a tip. And my cleaner is overseas until the end of the month and I don’t think we can afford for her to come weekly any more.

And the problem with Every Single Thing I have *EVER* read about getting your clutter sorted out is that it’s all one person’s responsibility and sharing the load never seems to even figure. Which means I need to toughen up a bit and Just Do It.

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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in decluttering



I have been feeling so unbelievably overwhelmed lately that it is like the rest of my life before this was underwhelming and dull and filled with long absences-of-anything and moments-of-supreme-boredom, which I do not really believe for a moment. There have even been a couple of moments of weeping in the car, and one monumentally embarrassing moment last week of running out of a tile shop because I was about to start not merely weeping but actually sobbing. With snot and everything. Because bathroom tiles are really, REALLY stressful.

And then I sat down to write a family Christmas letter which I know is terribly bourgeois and all that but frankly, I am middle-aged and married with kids which probably makes me terribly bourgeois. And I have no time and have not caught up with many of my friends all year which means I kind of owe them a roundup.

And I was ok with writing about what other family members are doing and all that generally fun stuff, and then I got to me and I tried to write it and I went HOLY CRAP I HAVE DONE A LOT THIS YEAR. And then I freaked out a little bit (= quite a lot) and then I realised that actually it was all good because it means that I am ALLOWED to be overwhelmed.

Which is probably the first stage in a 12-step program, right? Except not the AA kind of 12-step program because I don’t think you’re meant to give yourself permission to be an addict. And I am seriously contemplating wallowing in it. And maybe bribing the Bigster, who is on holidays now, to take her sister to school on Friday while I sleep and sleep and sleep. (unless the builder is there … or the cats … or the postman delivers something …)

Anyway, what I am overwhelmed about at the moment is the bathroom, because things are still going wronger and wronger. And my mother, who has breast cancer and is going a bit nutty from chemotherapy and ringing me three times a day. Or maybe I am going nutty from her doing that. And my brother, who she doesn’t really ring at all, which is probably good for his mental health but less good for mine. And my dad, who is in a nursing home close to me and needs visiting and love and affection. And maybe furniture. And the Bigster, who is still sick. And Otto, who is adorable and sometimes nuts, and always wants attention right when I am having a “my brain is full please let me process something” moment. And the cats, who wizzed on all the clean washing so I had to re-wash it. And there was a LOT of it. And Fraser, who is lovely but wonders why I never have any time. And my experiment going back to a couple of small work projects, which has been a dismal failure and has seen me actually working 4-5 days a week the last 2 weeks (and until 3:30am today). And the house, which is even more of a disaster area than ever, not helped by the Absence of Bathroom. And (ex-) work perhaps not actually realising that I am really not working there any more and asking me to do a small project NEXT WEEK as in the week before Christmas. And not earning any money except for these projects, so Fraser doesn’t know whether to be cross with me for working or for not earning anything, and neither do I. (We are over this now. We are both cross with me for working so I am stopping.). And the garden, which is completely overrun with weeds that are, quite literally, stronger than me.

There are some funny stories buried in the stress, like my mother and the online banking app. I’m sure that will be funny in oooh about fifty years or so. And the builder telling me the tiles we spent three hours tracking down were the wrong size. (They are NOT.). And Snowflake’s big escape through the wall of the bathroom. And the toilet story which I have told before (emptying and cleaning it, however, was NOT a funny story). And dad and the set-top box. And the water tank that was going to cost more than a Miele oven! And the Miele oven that I didn’t buy. And the vegetables fruits and herbs that Otto and I planted (Fraser is worried because I bought “vegetable and herb” potting mix and he thinks that might be enough v-word to trigger something). And the crazy nutritionist with the squillion dietary supplements. I think perhaps I should invent a sort of half-life for these moments – a way to calculate how long it will be before they stop inspiring either murderous rage or cold sweats, and instead become funny. But in reality it’s probably about two weeks. Or two days, depending on who I am talking to and whether I am drawing a flowchart about it.

I haven’t even got my head around Christmas shopping yet. I did, however, buy shoes. They are Spanish, and wearing them is like having my feet caressed by the downy wings of baby angels. Even the Bigster approves: “Mum, you are allowed to buy me these shoes if you like.” They don’t quite make up for the tiling issues, but they sometimes come close.

And our toilet still flushes. I am grateful every time.

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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in house, rant


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.


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.


My veggie garden is Cursed … even when I just think about it!

Oddly, it seems that I have never blogged about my very own personal Curse.

Veggie gardens.

No, it’s not the kind of “sucks all my time, darn weeds, get off my lawn” kind of curse. It’s the honest-to-goodness, do-it-and-badness-comes, cost-us-over-quarter-of-a-million-bucks-so-far, make-sure-you-capitalised-it kind of Curse.

Veggie Abundance

It all started in 1996. Freshly engaged, planning a wedding, I had a brief moment of domestic excitement and planted a veggie garden in the garden beds at our old home. A couple of months later, flushed with the money that was going to buy our honeymoon, we were driving down the next street and there was a house open for inspection, and suddenly we were moving into our own TOGETHER home a month later and if the veggies grew we weren’t around to see them.

But that was OK. A couple of years later, having settled into our new home, we insulated the roof and settled in for some domestic bliss … with a veggie garden, of course. That’s what people do when they buy a home. But then the roof started leaking on the new insulation, which meant that the ceiling was at risk, so we replaced the roof … and the contractors threw all the old tin down on top of my just-about-ready-to-harvest veggie garden, and we had to start from scratch. Except we didn’t, because Fraser was rumbling about “how much your veggie gardens have cost us”.

Fast forward a year or two, and the Bigster was toddling around our lives. It’s sort of a parent’s duty to teach their children where food comes from, so we went and had a lovely day planting some tomatoes and basil and parsley. It wasn’t quite a veggie garden, so I thought it should be OK.

That was Melbourne Cup Day, 2001. My mum tells me you should always plant your tomatoes on Cup Day. Sadly, though, the ghost of Phar Lap did not protect me, because look what happened just a couple of weeks later.

Holy crap. By now, the Curse had cost us around quarter of a MILLION Aussie dollars. OK, we got a house out of it, and a nice bathroom, and a new roof, but no more.

It’s been 12 years. TWELVE. Surely, I figured, the Curse had worn itself out.

We’re having some fixer-up work done on the house. After 17 years, there were some weatherboards that had split or started to rot, and there were some other things that needed fixing. We’re even having the outside painted (pretty). We figure, we’re here for the long haul. And I figured, maybe, I might even start a – I can hardly say it – a v-e-g-g-i-e-g-a-r-d-e-n once the work was finished. I nearly bought some potatoes last week but held off, waiting for the work to be finished.

And now, the Curse has struck again. Instead of burning out in those 12 years, it’s clearly been biding its time and has only got stronger – because I HAVEN’T ACTUALLY DONE ANYTHING YET. Just had a little think and touched a plant pot. Bzzzz! (I was going to put HERBS in it! They’re not veggies!)

My builder came to me last week to point some stuff out. Long story short, there is the makings of a termite infestation at one end of the house. And the studs on that side are rotten, and a little termite damaged. It doesn’t sound like much … until you realise that THE STUDS ARE THE THINGS THAT STOP THE ROOF FROM BEING THE FLOOR.


We’re waiting to hear back from the structural engineer. I felt a little ill when I heard he’d asked whether we were planning on selling. Worst case, we will have to jack up the roof and replace all the walls, plaster and all. Best case, we might be able to put in parallel studs or something. Worst case? It doesn’t bear thinking about. If it’s much more than $100k, we might have to knock the house down and rebuild. Termite baits will cost us a couple of thousand – we’re going for the long term protection ones, rather than the heavy-chemicals-every-three-years ones. Mostly because report suggest that the chemicals don’t work.

Does anyone know a secular exorcist? I think it might take more than crystals and burnt sage to clear this … or maybe I just need to open an account with the Greengrocer.


Posted by on July 11, 2013 in grand plans, house, not your earth logic


A plea to game companies, designers, and gamers in general.

One of the highlights of our gaming year is BorderCon in Albury. It’s a small and intimate con, with around 100-120 people, that runs over the Queen’s Birthday Weekend in June in what must be one of the COLDEST lowland areas of the country, right in the depths of Winter. Seriously, it’s bitterly cold – which makes it the perfect time to play games.

I haven’t written much about this lately, mostly because there isn’t much to say about it except weep weep it’s awful, but our 14 year old Bigster is still extremely unwell with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At the end of Term 1, she dropped all but her five core subjects (her peers are taking nine subjects) of English, Maths, Science, Latin and German. Her Latin teacher isn’t sure that she can pass with her current attendance – even with the timetable affordances, she is still only getting to about 30% of her classes – so it’s on the critical list at the moment. She even dropped the history of warfare subject that she has been looking forward to since before she started high school. She’s dropped out of Saturday German as well, because she just can’t get there. The German name for this condition is Chronisches Erschöpfungssyndrom which translates literally as “chronic exhaustion syndrome” which seems a much better name to me – when you can’t get out of bed AT ALL some days, when you are a bookworm who is too exhausted to read, when you can’t wash your hair because you can’t actually stand up for the time it would take – that’s more than just fatigue.

The specialist tells us that she still has hope that Biggie may start to recover towards the end of the year. This is critical for us and we cling to that hope. Sadly, she’s not gaming much – the days when she played all (then) 12 Power Grid maps over one epic BorderCon weekend are behind us, at least for now.

The ME/CFS society of Australia offers support for people with this severely life-limiting condition (the 80% recovery rate for young people is much higher than that for adults) and funds research into it. There is no cure and no known cause.

Every year, BorderCon runs a raffle to aid a charity group, often raising over $1000. Donations are received from game companies within Australia as well as from attendees. This year, Neil has kindly agreed that the profits from the raffle will be donated to the ME/CFS Society of Australia.

I have a personal interest in making this the Biggest BorderCon Raffle Yet. So I am going out to game companies and to game designers to ask for your support. Can you donate a game? Can you donate a signed sticker that someone could paste inside their game box (or just put in there if they are a bit fussy about their boxes)? Maybe you have a piece of game artwork that could be included in the raffle? BorderCon is a small con with a big heart and any donation is always appreciated, even more so this year.


Posted by on May 2, 2013 in children, games, health


Four Reasons

Speaking to Otto about the Boston Marathon Bombing today, because she’s 10 and it’s time to tell her all the bad stuff I’d rather tell her myself before her friends do, and get it wrong.

“I can’t even begin to understand what could bring someone to do that,” says I.

“I can,” says Otto, then proceeds to enumerate:

  • They must have had a lot of alcohol
  • Or drunk a lot of drugs
  • Or MAYBE they were hypnotised. By a crazy magician.

She thought for a while, then added one:

  • Or they could just have been BORN EVIL.

I’m not sure where to begin. But I like the crazy magician theory.

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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in children


The Perils of Online Shopping

As regular readers will know, I have a small habit of online shopping. Some (coughFrasercough) might call it a problem, but there are many instances where it has brought joy into our lives. Well, my life.

Like OMG and WTF self-inking stamps, which maybe aren’t used terribly often, but are often in my thoughts. Sometimes. But now that they ARE in my thoughts, I realise that they apply to some of the articles I have been reading for Uni. Useful AND Fun – look at that!

And the many, MANY parcels from the Book Depository that arrive on my doorstep (often literally – the postie doesn’t usually put them in the mailbox, for some reason) singing their sweet songs of happiness and delight.

And the Digital USB Microscope. OK, it doesn’t get much use, but just those three words are beautiful together.

And various t-shirts.

And then there are the things I have SEEN online but bought in person. Like the Inspection Camera. And many pairs of shoes.

And then there are the duds.

Let’s start with that new “Pern” book. Or the series of Piers Anthony books that I thought was not bad, so I ordered the whole lot, and then read the first one and where is that OMG WTF stamp when I need it, the series is such a shocker I didn’t even finish the first book and am seriously contemplating ceremonial incineration.

And the electronic mozzie bite relief thing. In a 2-pack.

And a solar house number, which really is SUCH a good idea because it is ILLUMINATED AT NIGHT so people can see your house number. But Fraser gives it a week before it is stolen and refuses to have it hung outside for that reason. So instead, it is inside where most people know our house number already. Not so useful after all.

And the mince pies.

Actually, they were part of a bread order. You get this enormous box full of bread and bread products and in theory you sink happily into carbohydrate heaven. In practice, you end up throwing out moldy bread because there is just too much of it and it’s not terribly nice, but the kids like the slices and the doughnuts and the muffins.

And there is this delicious little pack of mince pies that they sneak in there … except that when you go to open it, you notice that they were use by some time in January. And this went on for three of the four weeks that we had the standing bread product order, so Fraser sent them a little email saying I know mince pies live for ever, but presumably you took that into account when you created the use by dates, so – just maybe – it would be a good idea to stick to them, and they apologised. Yay!

And today, we had a new delivery. With mince pies. Except, they had TAKEN THEM OUT OF THE PACKAGING (but left them in the same tray).

And I think my food shopping on the Internet might be stopping right there.


Posted by on March 14, 2013 in shopping



My baby (my smallest baby) turns ten tomorrow.


Because she’s in the German school system (at least a little bit), she has been proudly telling everyone that she is in HIGH SCHOOL this year. Because, Year 5.

That was hard enough.

But still.


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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in children, family, parenting


Conversations with my husband (from late last year)

Almost verbatim. But edited.

Me: You know how we can’t find our satnav? And I thought maybe we should get another one but you said OVER YOUR DEAD BODY? And we are driving to South Australia? Well there’s a TomTom app that runs on an iphone.

Fraser: Ah ha

me: so you would not crack the shits if I got it?

Fraser: No. But I might ban you from Ikea for 6 months

me: lol << (“as if”)
I’m going to buy this sucker so I can wear it in a bit

Several minutes later …

Me: omg

Fraser: wot?

me: you can buy a YODA VOICE
for the TomTom

Fraser: no

me: Turn left, you must.
A roundabout, there will be.

Fraser: NO

me: Follow the third path, you should
I am not going to
but I am cracking up thinking about it
there is a lot of fun to be had there for $6.49

and, as it turns out, there is a lot of fun to be had wondering about what else Yoda might say.

  • The urge to speed, resist, you must.
  • An accident, there has been.
  • USE the brakes.



Posted by on March 8, 2013 in movies, shopping, travel