Friday, 22 July 2016

Voices in my head

Recently, I received an email from a good friend who lives on the other side of the globe and she was apologising for not writing sooner, but she did say "I do talk to you A LOT in my head, if that counts". And it does. I like being a sounding board for someone going through their day, even if I'm not actually hearing her words.

The thing is I chat to her a lot in my head too. Does that sound crazy? Perhaps it does. I hear something and I can see her rolling her eyes or chuckling with me. I also write a lot of blog posts in my head too, because as much as I have to say and no matter how much I want to sit down and write, it doesn't always happen.

Living somewhere where I don't know many people and having a husband who works hard and travels a lot, not a lot of adult conversations happen in my world. So often I resort to chatting to friends and writing blog posts in my head. I know that I'm not alone, there are plenty of mums who are knee-deep in the nappy trenches, people who have moved to a new place or people who are stuck at home due to illness or a myriad of other reasons. Sure there's social media and I definitely do keep up with the chatter there, but the outrage and opinions does my head in at times. And there are only so many times you can chuckle at Trump meme.

A few weeks ago, we headed down to Sydney for the school holidays and my birthday party. It's always great to go to Sydney and catch up with all my friends and family. Each time, before I go, I have these grand plans of wonderful catch ups and quality time spent with good people I love. What usually ends up happening the kids get sick and tired and whingy from being dragged around. I only get to see a quarter of the people I want to and quality time turns out to be rushed catch ups and nothing like I imagine. I leave feeling exhausted and frustrated that things haven't turned out like I planned. More than likely pissing off myself and few others off in the process.

Then after the push and pull of being Sydney, I end up back with days filled with busy monotony, wishing I could transplant some of those catch ups here. It's like feast and famine. It's a feeling I've shared with a lot of other expats, it seems to be a common thing. And even though I'm not an expat anymore, in some ways I feel more like an expat now than ever.

Then you meet someone and they invite you for coffee and dinner and before you know it you have friends. You wave hello to people at the school gate, down the street and in the supermarket. You slowly, step-by-step, build up a life again and become part of a strange place.

A Whatsapp messages buzzes, an email dings or message lands on your phone and you're instantly in the thoughts of someone a city or world away.

Whatever happens, I still think those voices and unwritten blog posts will remain in my head.

Friday, 3 June 2016

People person

Earlier this week I was driving into town to pick up Skip for a sneaky birthday lunch. On the radio was one of my all-time favourites Conversations with Richard Fidler on ABC local radio, which I have listened to whenever I'm able for the past 10 years (if you don't know it, go and podcast it immediately).

The show involves an hour conversation with a person - they could be wildly famous and just mildly interesting. The show this day was about a man who has studied birds for many years, mostly the magpie and brush turkey. This fascinated me as we currently have a brush turkey living in our yard and we recently had to remove almost 2 tonne (yes, tonne) of vegetation matter from its nest. This guy explained all about the huge nests they make. In the midst of my wide-eyed amazement at his tales, I thought "I'm so glad we have people who are so fascinated about this stuff that they spend their lives studying it and sharing what they learnt".

I think that's why I love reading and books and movies and blogs. I love hearing people's stories. Everyone has a story to tell and it's interesting.

I also love hearing people who are passionate and interested about stuff, even if I'm not interested on that topic. I heard Adam Spencer recently talking about maths, and I'm not a maths person and I loved hearing him get excited about numbers and their place in the world. I wished that I had a teacher when I was young who was that passionate and maybe I would be a maths person. The older I get, the more I despise this nonchalant attitude we're all supposed to have, I want to be excited about stuff and I want to hear other people excited about things.

While I was in Dubai, without doubt the best part was the all the people I met and hearing their stories. Whether is was Maria who grew up in Soviet Russia or Aabia who told me what life in Pakistan was like as a woman or the Malaysian couple who ran marathons or Leila and her life in Lebanon. It felt like such a privilege to share in their lives and their stories. And I do miss that. I miss those parent catch-ups that were like the United Nations and the whole world opened up to me. I brought home such a deeper understanding of the world and the lives people live through those conversations.

The thing is we all have stories, unique and important stories. Most people don't think their story is worthy to share and keep it bottled up. Or they make up what they think should be their story.

While looking on the Conversations website, I stumbled across an episode of someone who I sat next to at work for a couple of years. I didn't really know him well, but he was a great writer and he used to make me laugh because when he did speak he'd say "What's is going on? I don't understand any of this?" usually referring to his computer or a work meeting or a comment from a colleague. So it was strange to hear him talk for almost an hour about this amazing story of his family and his childhood. Here I was thinking he was a privileged  kid who was a talented writer, but I had no clue he had such a traumatic life.

 I'm so thankful for the people who are brave enough to share their stories. There's so much talk about over-sharing these days, that people reveal too much of themselves. I get that. But I think there's a big difference between sharing your story and writing a Facebook update about missing the train. I think people feel comfortable sharing about what they ate for breakfast or what they're doing on the weekend, but people don't want to share what's really interesting or what's really important for fear of not being 'good enough' or feeling ashamed (probably because of all the Facebook updates) or being uninteresting when what they think is uninteresting is the most interesting, because it makes them who they are.

I'm amazed and envious of the artists who can put their stories into songs or words or paintings. I think they're luck that they can share their stories and our stories too. I don't think you have to be an artist to share though. Do you share your story? Who do you share your story with?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Rain, rain come and stay

There is much excitement in our house at the moment, you see, they are predicting rain and lots of it for Saturday. Why is that so exciting, I hear you ask. Well, it's been almost four years since our family has had a cool, rainy Saturday. One of those days where you have no choice but to curl up under a blanket, read a book or watch a movie. Maybe make something delicious to snack on and then return to the blanket.

In Dubai, it was a nice day every single day. And on the rare occasions it did rain, it usually lasted a matter of minutes and then the seeded clouds would roll away. The pressure of "It's a nice day, I really should get out and do something" is surprisingly real.

Since we've been in Brisbane, the weather has been warm and nice. Every day. So every weekend we've gotten out and bush walked and played in the park and swum at the beach and explored and enjoyed 'the lovely day'. All the while, secretly hoping that big black clouds would roll over, the temperature would drop and we'd have no choice but to hibernate at home.

Four years is a really long time not to have that luxury of hearing the rain pelt on the window, a cool breeze blow under the door and not have a single place to go. You can't fake it either. You may try to stay at home and close the curtains, but you still know that it's hot and balmy and sunny outside. The guilt will creep in and you just can't enjoy it.

I can live with damp washing. I can live with soggy shoes. I'm just looking forward to it! My kids won't know themselves, they're always asking to stay at home.

Now, I have written this I've probably jinxed it and the sun will be shining in a bright blue sky and the nagging thought of "We should really get out there…" will return.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Spewin'

Without a doubt, the worst thing that all parents will go through at some stage of parenting is gastro. Waking up in the night to find their child in a puddle of vomit. Sheets, blankets, PJs having be washed and rewashed. Picking chunks out of hair and even eyelashes. Hand washing and lots more hand washing. Just when you think you couldn't possibly have to wash another load or wash your hands again, yep, there's more.

Gastro (I think) has hit our house. And while it's awful watching your little one so unwell, you know it's a ticking time bomb until another kid starts chucking, then another, until it's the husband and then, of course, you. Then suddenly you're washing sheets and clothes and picking out chunks while trying not to blow chunks yourself. Parenthood at it's most glamourous. And let's not forget about the stench.

At the moment, one child is down, I'm in that denial stage where I think "maybe she just ate something bad", while simultaneously jumping at every cough or gag that the other kids make. Dettol in hand wiping down every surface in the vain effort of stopping it spreading throughout the house.
In one way hoping, that if everyone is going to be struck down, can it happen now and get over it quickly so we don't have to cancel the weekend plans.

Skip is away again this week and I think is understandably hoping we can get this bug done and dusted before he arrives home.

Meanwhile, the washing machine goes on and on…

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Meal deals: Fishy tales


Last night, I resurrected a recipe at Skip's request. It's a dish I used to make years ago (although I used to use a Tetsuya recipe and it was a bit more fiddly than this version), but for some reason I stopped making it. Probably because the ingredients were a little more difficult to come by in Dubai. Anyway, it's so simple and so delicious, that I thought I better share it.

This recipe is one that I got from Jill Dupleix but I changed it slightly. It's a take on Nobu's famous miso black cod and it's super easy and super quick to make. I reckon it's the perfect Monday night meal, light and healthy after a weekend of eating and/or drinking and you can have it on the table quick smart (if you prepare ahead and marinate the fish the night before, or you could eat it on a weekend, just remember to leave time for the fish to marinate). Best of all it's very, very delicious. There may be a couple of ingredients that are not in your pantry, but they're easy to pick up from the Asian aisle of the supermarket and once you buy them, you've got them for next you make it. Believe me, once you make it you'll make it again.

So I dare you to try it.




Miso fish with sesame snow pea salad

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup of Mirin
  • 1/3 cup Shiro Miso (white miso paste)
  • 500 grams of white fish (I used bream, but you could use any firm white fish)


Udon noodles or rice to serve

For the salad

  • Snow peas thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • Lebanese cucumber, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of miring
  • 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • sesame seeds











Method
  1. Place the soy sauce, sugar and mirin in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the miso paste and whisk until combined. Take off the heat and let it cool completely. 
  2. Place the fish in a dish with the marinade and toss to coat. Leave for a least two hours or, even better, overnight in the fridge. 
  3. Heat a hot grill. Line the wire rack with alfoil. Place the fish on the foil and chuck the marinade. Cook for about 10-15 minutes  (if the fish is whole, you can cut the fish into smaller pieces and the cooking time will be less). The original recipe said not to turn, but I quite like to turn and get the golden, burnt caramelisation all over the fish. 
  4. For the salad simply toss all the ingredients together. Serve the fish and salad with some udon noodles (I used ready-to-eat noodles) or some rice. 

My other favourite way to cook simple, delicious salmon is below. This dish is on regular rotation at our place.

Sweet chilli and lime salmon

Ingredients

  • A good slosh of sweet chilli sauce
  • A dash of soy sauce or fish sauce
  • A teaspoon of sugar (optional)
  • Lime or lemon juice (lime works better, but I often use lemon)
  • Finely chopped corriander
  • Salmon fillets (with or without skin, whatever you like)

Method
  1. Put all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and mix together
  2. Place the fillets on individual pieces of foil (enough to fold up and make a small parcel)
  3. Spoon marinade over the fish fillets, then bring the edges of the foil together and scrunch tightly to make little parcels.
  4. Put in a hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
  5. Serve the fillets on rice or noodles with stir-fried veggies or salad.
YUM! 

What's your favourite way to cook fish?




Monday, 23 May 2016

The secret life of BrisVegas



Last Friday, as I was sitting with my legs spread out on the grass of the school oval watching the kids kick around an AFL ball, the sun was starting to dip behind the lush, green mountains. A golden haze spilt across the grounds giving a warm glow and the most perfect light. A balmy breeze blew through the tall gums circling the oval.

I was chatting to some other parents, talking about where I'd come from and what had brought me to Brisbane. Talk moved onto the weather, as it often does. "It's just so glorious, to think winter is just a few weeks away," said one. "You see, this is one of the reasons Brisbane is Australia's best kept secret. I moved here from Canberra and you just can't beat the weather and the lifestyle. If everyone else knew how we lived, they'd all want to move here," said another.

It's true. A lot of people think we're a little strange for moving here. Brisbane equals boring in a lot of people's minds. Suburban. Nothing much to do. Redneck. Boring.

A dear friend quoted Paul Keating when we said we were moving here: "If you're not living in Sydney, then you're just camping out." Well if that's true, then I have to say I quite enjoy camping out.

Sydney is my hometown. It's where I was born. It's where I spent the majority of my life. It's where most of my family and friends live. It's a place that will always be "home". The problem is the few times I've been back over the past few years, I've found that it started to annoy me and stress me. I'd get in the car thinking I had plenty of time to get where I was going to find it actually took me three times longer. To buy a home we would have to settle for something nowhere near what we wanted, miles away from friends and family, and have a long commute for work and just about anywhere else. Then there's the parking, the rush and everything else. Sydney was beginning to lose its shine for me.

I've found Brisbane to be anything but boring. We can afford to have a lovely house just a couple of kilometres from the centre of town, in a nice neighbourhood. I've driven into the CBD at peak hour on a Friday evening and back again in a matter of minutes. We can jump in the car and be in the bush, the real actual bush in under 30 minutes. We have a funky bar, as cool as anything I've seen in Sydney a three minute walk from our house. Yet, there is space and parks and trees. There are plenty of good coffee shops and places to eat. There are Farmer's Markets and boutiques and bookshops. And best of all it's relaxed. It feels like life is made to lived here, not just to exist. It's easy and simple. Life just feels good here.

For an easy day trip you can venture north to the Sunshine Coast, south to Byron Bay or west to the dividing range. Places I'd dream of going for a holiday are now in easy reach each and every weekend.

So, if people think that Brisbane is this boring uninteresting place, where not a lot happens that's a-ok with me. I'm happy to keep it secret.



Friday, 20 May 2016

Lazy bones

This morning as I drove past the servo I noticed that petrol had dropped 10c a litre, as I was driving on fumes I pulled in. I spent a minute or two trying to remember where the button was to release the petrol cap, then another minute trying to remember if this was the car that needed premium petrol or was E10 ok? Finally, I was filled and ready to go, I open the back door and told Darbs to come with me and go inside to pay.

"What do you mean, go inside and pay?" he asked. Pulling him along, I explained that's what we did here. He shrugged his shoulders and followed me inside. After pointing out the bowser (I'd forgotten to note which number), questions about shopper docket discounts and then an argument with Darbs about how he couldn't have a Fanta slurpie at 9am, I was really, finally ready to go.

We then headed up to laundry to pick up Skip's shirts. Yes, I'm lazy and he's lazy and I hate starching and ironing and all that waste-of-time stuff.

Home again, I noticed that the car was really filthy, I pulled into the driveway, got the hose, bucket, sponge and chamois ready.

"You're washing the car again?" Darbs asked.

"Well, it was the other car I washed last week and this car is really dirty. Do you want to help?" I asked.

"Nah," he said as he went off to ride his scooter. The novelty of car washing has well and truly worn off.

You see, Dubai has made me really quite lazy and all these normal chores are strange to poor Darbs.

I do miss being able to pull into the servo and the man filling my tank and taking my money without getting out into the searing heat. By the end I didn't even have to tell him how much I wanted or what type of petrol I needed, he'd automatically start filling my car as soon as I'd pulled up. He knew not to ask if I needed Salik, fuel cleaner or a 15-box value of tissues.

I do miss being able to get my car washed and vacuumed weekly by a team of guys for under $10. As I looked at the streaky mess I made of my car, my admiration for those guys went up a million. They were true masters.

But I have a shameful confession to make. The most lazy part of my life in Dubai wasn't the live-in maid we had for a few months and it wasn't having people come and clean my home and change my sheets each week. The most lazy part of my life was the man who sat at the boom gate at my local mall, he'd sit there and collect tickets and put them into the machine so the boom would go up. All so we shoppers didn't have to stretch too far or put our arms out into the heat.

The first few times I used to think "How ridiculous! Surely it's not too much to reach out and put the ticket in the machine myself?" Then there was the day when he wasn't there, he was taking a well-deserved break. That day I actually had to wind down the window, of course I hadn't pulled in close enough so I had to take my seatbelt off. Then I dropped the ticket and it fluttered under the car. So I actually had to get out of the car and find the ticket on the greasy, dirty ground, while the cars piling up behind me beeped their horns. The ticket finally in my grasp, I threw my hand up in apology and mouthed "The man's not here!" and the drivers nodded in understanding. Oh the humanity of it all.

Now as I exit Westfield, I think wistfully of my ticket-collecting man and his smiling face at the boom gate of the Mall of the Emirates and my old Dubai life.
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