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On The Tiles

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Here’s my awful ugly new desk chair, rehearsing its look for next Book Week, when it plans to go as Doris the Desk Chair Fairy

We’ve had Book Week, and now there doesn’t seem much else to look forward to until next Book Week. For my non-Australian readers (and WordPress would have me believe there are one or two of you in Papua New Guinea and Denmark), Book Week is a week when kids get to go to school dressed as their favourite book character. All through primary school it was hands-down my favourite day of the year.

To celebrate Book Week this year, I wrote a big chunk of Book and I exercised all my self-control to let May Blossom do her own thing for her costume. I’m reasonably easygoing about what my kids dress up as for things like Halloween and dress-up parties – usually at least one kid goes as some sort of cat — but I did have to take myself to one side and have a serious chat bout how I’m no longer the kid and I’m not the one dressing up and my child is her own person and thus should be permitted to have her own thoughts and feelings about books. Operation Don’t Be A Book Week Dictator went pretty successfully. I only made a few suggestions about Hermione Granger, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Heidi, which were all overruled in favour of someone called Lydia The Reading Fairy.

May Blossom is a fan of a series called the Rainbow Magic books. There are umpty-gasquillion of them and they are all nearly identical except for the fairy-protagonist. There’s Phoebe the Fashion Fairy, Melissa the Sports Fairy, Harriet the Hamster Fairy, Nora the Netflix Fairy, Abigail the Attitude Fairy, Ella the Eyeroll Fairy, Betty the Brother-hating Fairy. Some of those may be forthcoming titles. Continue Reading »

There Will Be Books

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Curious George is a movie that can penetrate even the most noise-cancelling of headphones. Writing a novel in the same room as a four-year-old watching Curious George is not in my top 10 productivity tips.

It’s been a long time between posts here on Life With Gusto because I’ve been devoting my writing hours and, frankly, all my jokes, to this novel I’ve been working on. That seems to have paid off because a very nice fiction publisher at HarperCollins has acquired it, and its younger sibling which is currently only a gleam in its mother’s eye, for publication.

This is a dream come true, as I say in the press release they sent out today*, only slightly marred by the fact that I now have to do a huge amount of work. Now don’t get me wrong, I love hard work. Mad for it. It’s just that up until now I haven’t had to juggle a whole lot of it with those attention-sapping, disrespects of deadlines and creative process known as my children. But everyone else manages it and so will I, and I’ll complain about it extensively here on the blog.

The news of this book deal has been received with great excitement by almost all my family and friends, with the notable and vocal exception of Garnet. To be fair though, he’s been really sick the past couple of weeks with influenza, which is currently tearing through our community. Continue Reading »

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 2.11.35 PMThis morning I went outside and discovered the builders next door merrily bricklaying away at the wall of the neighbour’s house that sits on our boundary, just beside our dining room. Except they weren’t bricking all of it. There was a large rectangular gap where there should have been bricks.

‘What’s that window doing there?’ I asked.

‘It’s not really a window,’ the brickie told me. ‘It’s more of a vent.’

I said nothing.

‘So they can get some fresh air in this bathroom,’ he clarified. ‘It’ll be frosted.’

‘A frosted glass vent that opens and shuts is commonly called a window,’ I said in a pleasant enough voice that nonetheless contained the suggestion that he might like to go get the foreman, Paul.

‘I’ll go get Paul,’ he said. Continue Reading »

IMG_7130Last week was the Sydney Writers’ Festival and I spent too much time around people who muck about with words for a living. So I hope you’ll forgive me for a flight of poetic fancy I have taken today. Here is a poem, in honour of the crisp autumn weather and the deep love I have for my children and the disgusting state of my handbag. I present it with apology to ee cummings, whose verses I have adapted.

Continue Reading »

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Just before dawn yesterday I had one of those very special nightmares where you wake, unable to breathe from the horror, saying to yourself, ‘It’s all right, it was just a dream. It was just a dream,’ before going back to sleep and having the bastard dream resume exactly where it left off. That’s not supposed to happen. It was a classic anxiety dream, the details of which I will not relate because nothing is more boring than other people’s dreams.

H disagrees. He likes hearing about other people’s dreams, presumably because he is a psychologist and it’s some sort of revealing diagnostic tool. Often in the morning he’ll ask me if I had any dreams. I like to answer, with a sad, faraway stare, ‘Once perhaps. But not for years. They’ve all crumbled into dust now.”

I think maybe I’m supposed to ask him back about his dreams, but I rarely do. He tells me anyway, and they seem to frequently feature me being way more fun than I am in real life. Continue Reading »

FullSizeRender 4I haven’t written a blog post for a while, because I’ve been trying to write my novel. When I say ‘write my novel’ I mean telling the (slowly developing) plot to anyone who will listen, and thereby reducing, slowly but surely, the number of people who might read it, should it ever be published.

It turns out this writing a book lark is harder than it looks and, like so many things in life, not made easier by having two small children about your person much of the time.

Neither is it made easier by going on a demented health kick, which is what I am doing at the moment. I am exercising to the point of great agony and simultaneously reducing my brain fuel. I am pretty sure I am losing brain weight, which is not where I have it to spare. Continue Reading »

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The pesto would have been better tossed with small snails than with the gnocchi I made.

I know I have a tendency to toot my own horn on this blog, and today is not going to be any different. You need to know that I can make the worst gnocchi in the world.

Yesterday at the end of a weekend in the country with three generations of our families, my friend Ellie and I spent four hours pottering in the kitchen. I was making gnocchi and she was making pesto. People wandered in and out, admiring our handiwork and commenting approvingly on what domestic goddesses we are, whipping up rustic Italian food from scratch while our children played happily outside.

It was all a ruse. Well, it was half a ruse: the pesto was beautiful. The gnocchi were very, very horrible.

On the page, where lies are born, gnocchi are straightforward: you cook some potatoes, peel them, mash them, mix in an egg yolk and some flour, roll the dough into long sausages and then cut them into pillow shapes, which you then roll across the tines of a fork to make a little grooves for your sauce to adhere to. So simple, so italiano. You cook them in boiling salted water for about a minute, or until they float to the surface. Then you skim them out and into a waiting warm dish where you coat them in oil or butter or pesto and serve them to your family to rapturous applause.

The recipes always warn you that the thing you must not do is mix in too much flour to the mashed potato, because then you will not have lovely little light pillows of deliciousness, but leaden, doughy lumps.

Every time I try to make gnocchi – and it is a ten-year cycle of forgetting how bad it was the last time and deciding to throw myself down that particular culinary insinkerator again – I take that warning too seriously and don’t add enough flour. At least that’s what I think the problem is. Who the fuck knows.

The dough always looks fine and I cut it up and make the pieces gnocchi-shaped, but when I cook them they come out with no resistance whatsoever. They melt in your mouth, which gnocchi aren’t meant to do. They melt in your mouth in the way that a dissolvable aspirin tablet does. It’s like eating dirty paste.

Yesterday I spent four hours making gnocchi. When it came time to feed the kids, I boiled up a few and I could tell when I fished them out of the pot, like little soft bloated whales, that they were going to be awful.

Have you ever left a zucchini or a cucumber too long in the fridge and when you try to pick it up your hand just goes straight through like it is a ghost? The gnocchi were like that. Disgusting potatoey ectoplasm.

Garnet wolfed them down, liberally doused with pesto. May Blossom tried to pick one up with a fork, but it might has well have been soup. She asked if she could have some pasta instead.

Normally I am very much of the school of making others pay for my mistakes, and under most circumstances I would have said she had to at least try them. But even I could see that would just have been mean. She had pasta.

Ellie had gone back to Sydney by then, with her parents and children, a bag of frozen gnocchi, a pot of pesto, and that excellent feeling you get when you come home after a weekend away and know something better than toast awaits you for dinner.

I burst that bubble with a text message, warning her ‘BIN THE GNOCCHI. COOK PASTA. REPEAT: COOK PASTA’.

So we all had pasta. I was breezy and good-humoured about it last night, because there were still some houseguests here whom I didn’t know very well. If there is a worse impression to make on people than them thinking you are a terrible cook, it’s them thinking you’re a petulant sulk about it. So, smiling, I served them all pasta with pesto and they said encouraging things about not throwing out the gnocchi but using them in a soup, perhaps, or to mend cracks in the walls. I think I agreed and said ‘Waste not, want not!’ in a slightly hysterical voice a few too many times. Then I ate four bowls of ice-cream.

This morning the gnocchi is still in the freezer, haunting me.

I’ve spent the day in self-flagellation for the gnocchi and the ice-cream. I went to the greengrocer and bought so many vegetables that they will not fit in the fridge and in a few days I will have ectoplasm zucchinis on my hands. Maybe I’ll make them into a sauce for the gnocchi.

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