plam trees

Waikiki at dawn. I like this place best between 4 and 6 am.

Aloha from Hawaii, where I am finishing up a three-week lecture tour of the United States. I have lectured May Blossom and Garnet in public and private, day and night, on planes, in hotels and restaurants, through three states.

The first two weeks of our trip were to the mainland USA – Denver and the mountains of far southern Colorado, where we spend a very strange and tumultuous week that needs, and will have, a post all to itself. Now we are in Hawaii, which seemed like a really good plan when I made the booking back in December, and now feels like purgatory, but more expensive, thanks to the Australian dollar which seems to have taken a leaf from Garnet’s book and sat down in the middle of the footpath and refused to walk.

In traditional Gusto Family style, our vacation has been light on relaxation and heavy on visits to doctors’ offices. Garnet kicked it off before we left home by getting croup, which by the time we landed in Denver after twenty-four hours’ travel had morphed into conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, to use the deceptively cute term the Americans prefer. Once the crusted eye-rot cleared up, he was left with the croup again, with an additional helping of bronchitis and strep throat. I had strep throat too, and May Blossom succumbed to it a few days after. The three of us all had a course of antibiotics, which worked briefly, but as soon as the course finished the throat infection reared up like a zombie and Garnet and I were left with the undead living on our tonsils again.

My lectures to the kids are working somewhat. For the most part, the children are behaving beautifully in public, where lots of people have come over to compliment us on their behaviour. Behind the scenes, it’s like living with two small sarcastic tearful wolves. They are okay as long as they are able to do exactly what they want, when they want. Mostly that is sitting on the window seat in the hotel room watching Aladdin on the ipad while scooping hummus out of the tub with their thumbs, but there’s only so many hours a day we can permit that. Fifteen hours, to be precise.

Sometimes we drag them out and make them do other things. That’s when it gets hard.

This morning, for example, Garnet had a weeping collapse because after H went back upstairs to our room to retrieve some drawing materials, at May Blossom’s request, he brought back the wrong drawing book for his son. Garnet only wanted the one that was still upstairs, even though all his does in it is draw with a purple glue stick that dries clear, thereby leaving his art invisible and the pages stuck together. Garnet is an extremely tortured artist because of his choice of media.

So while poor beleaguered H marched back up to get the right book, I launched into a stern talk about how Daddy was not having a nice time at all on this vacation, and how after we did some drawing under the gorgeous banyan tree in the marble courtyard of this overpriced hotel, we would all be going shopping and how they had better smarten up and behave or there was going to be no television or swimming ever again in their lives.

‘Right, so there will be no more fussing today. About anything. Is that completely clear?’ I finished.

May Blossom agreed, apologised and said that would indeed be fine.

Garnet, on the other hand, stared into the middle distance with a firm set to his jaw.

‘Garnet?” I repeated. ‘Will there be any more fussing today?’

‘He seems to be speechless,’ observed his sister. Garnet was not planning to be a signatory to our non-aggression treaty.

In the end the shopping trip didn’t end too badly. The kids rabbited about the mercifully empty H & M and accepted bribes of $1 necklaces to stay mostly under control.

It was only when we were paying at the checkout that Garnet lost his shit a bit, because I couldn’t make the plaited gold belt that he wanted to wear as a tail stay on him without doing it up. He seemed to want it to float behind him. He got pretty shirty with me because, you know, if your mother can’t overcome gravity and other simple laws of physics then what use is she at all?

Luckily, irrational jetlagged people, large and small, are ten-a-penny here in Waikiki, so we aren’t standing out too much. Our five day-stay here was cut short by a night because of a flight delay from LA, and when we first got here I was so exhausted from the mucked up travel that I didn’t know if I was ahi or mahi mahi. I tried to reserve judgement until I had settled in a bit and wasn’t so tired. Now I have recovered enough to know that the delay was a blessing in disguise because it turns out Waikiki with two small children is not my US$9 cup of tea at all.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Hawaii, mostly as a child and teenager, when my grandparents used to live in the tiny town of Hana on the island of Maui. The Hawaii I am familiar with is nothing like Waikiki. Hana is like the Hawaiian version of Huskisson. Waikiki is like the Gold Coast. I sort of knew this was the case, but it still came as a mighty shock to me. Waikiki is no longer like a Beach Boys song, if it ever was.

There are people everywhere, all the time, all trying to walk on whatever side of the footpath is customary where they come from. They’ve all got at least one selfie stick. Someone on every block is busking badly on the ukelele, and they are only know how to play ‘Tiny Bubbles’ and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. I’m going to hide in our room, gargle salt water for my sore throat, watch Aladdin and eat hummus off my thumb until it’s time to go the airport. I will only venture out for happy hour mai tais.

NoveltiesphotoWe’re two weeks into the fitness kick here at the House of Gusto and slowly but surely, things are changing for the better. We have been aided by an unprecedented run of good health for the whole family – although obviously having typed that I will return today to seven plagues upon my house.

I have been exercising quite a lot. It turns out the trick to exercise is not trying too hard. Apparently I knew this when I was a child but had forgotten until now. A few weeks ago I came across an old homework book from when I was eight, in which I wrote the following sentence:

‘If it does not rain we are going to have our athletics carnival on Wednesday and I am going to get lots of energy so when the starter goes I am going to be champion of the novelties.’

Now that sentence says a few things to me. It says that my habit of writing overly long sentences goes back a very, very long way. It says my pessimism is deeply ingrained – these good things were only going to happen if it didn’t rain, which it probably would. And most importantly, it says that even at eight I knew that aiming low is the key to exercise success. I was not planning to win a running race. I was not planning to jump the highest or throw a javelin the furthest. I was aiming for ‘Champion of the Novelties’, which I think means things like the egg and spoon race and the sack race. History doesn’t relate how I actually fared at this carnival, but the lesson is one I carry with me today. Continue Reading »

Save The Horses

In about three weeks we are going on a Big Trip. We’re heading to the USA to see my side of the family, and spend a week on a beautiful ranch on the border of Colorado and New Mexico, then stopping for a few days in Hawaii on the way home. We’re very lucky and very excited. We’ve been booking and planning and discussing for ages, and this week H and I began the most important part: a twenty-four day fitness and diet kick. We’ve realised that although we are truly fine specimens of man and womanhood, there’s just a bit more to us at the moment than we’d like, in an ideal world, and we’re a bit wary of being the two people at the ranch who need a crane and a winch to be loaded onto our mounts. And we don’t really want to turn up and see the wranglers’ eyes widen in horror before they lead away our svelte stallions, Dazzle and Spry, who could easily outrun a bear, and lead out two solid old draughthorses named Ironsides and Sherman Grizzlysnack. Continue Reading »

Garnet, who has a lot of dandelion picking to do to get back in my good books.

Garnet, who has a lot of dandelion picking to do to get back in my good books.

There is a new rule in the House of Gusto: no one is allowed to eat or drink within 10 metres of our car. There is a very good, very expensive and extremely revolting reason for this.

Two weeks ago we bought Garnet a new sippy cup. One week ago we went away for the long weekend and when it was time to come home, we thought we would outwit our children and wait until bedtime before leaving the farm to drive home. This would, we theorised, mean that we could feed them dinner, bathe them and put them in their pjs, strap them into the car, hand Garnet his bedtime milk in his new cup, then get on the road and they would fall asleep. When they were sleeping we could listen to a few episodes of Serial, which is a bit too murder-based to comfortably listen to with the kids awake. Once home, we would transfer their deeply sleeping little selves into their beds, tuck them in warmly, and retreat to watch a hundred episodes of Suits on Netflix.

Things did not go exactly to plan. Garnet stayed up the whole way home, so we listened to the Shawn the Sheep Christmas Remix. I was having murder-based roasting fantasies about that wretched beast after ten minutes. May Blossom obediently fell asleep five minutes into the journey, but woke with a start half an hour before home. ‘Shhh, back to sleep,’ we soothed her, hopefully. ‘No,’ she said. ‘If I fall asleep you’ll carry me upstairs and put me to bed and I’ll miss out on having my books read. I’m staying awake.’ Fuck. Foiled. Continue Reading »

Tough Love


This morning, as I prepared the third course of May Blossom and Garnet’s breakfast, I began to think they were a bit spoiled. After they had eaten cereal, followed by fried eggs and Vegemite on toast, May Blossom asked for some leek and potato soup. My desire to be finished with the short order cooking was quashed by my rule that if a kid ever asks for vegetables you give them vegetables very quickly before they have chance to change their mind, so I warmed up the soup. Then May Blossom asked if they could please have the soup in some tiny vintage cups and saucers she has recently discovered in the sideboad, where I hoard such hand-wash-only trinkets from our carefree days pre-children. And so I came to be serving vichyssoise in demitasse cups, like some fancy amuse-bouche from the degustation menu of a Michelin-starred restaurant (with more Vegemite smears on the table, obviously).
As I traipsed back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, I consoled myself by thinking of all the ways we don’t spoil them. Because H and I can be quite hardarsed parents when we put our minds to it.

Continue Reading »

legoThis week has marked an important childhood milestone in our household: the transition from Duplo to Lego. Due to my fear of my family actually drowning in clutter and the paramedics not being able to push the door open to reach us when we are lying on the floor, our feet cut to ribbons by the sharp plastic edges of the little bricks, I’ve been strongly resisting this transition by using a clever psychological technique called lying, but they saw through me. Continue Reading »


Just one of the strange scenarios I have found in my home recently. By coincidence, a reasonable accurate portrayal of our life: a naked cat having a tantrum (Garnet), a moose who is over it (May Blossom) and I am obviously Mummy Pig, bearing it all with the patience of a saint, while wearing too much mascara. Not pictured: H, off earning money to keep us in antibiotics and steroids.

In news that will surprise precisely no-one who has ever read this blog before, here at the House of Gusto we are once again beplagued with illness. In under a month we have had one sinus infection, one chest infection, one ear infection, some viral tonsillitis, four common or garden variety colds, two cases of croup and one case of severe infectious impetigo. Jesus wept.

The only thing left to try is giving up on the healthy diet, with all the fruit and vegetables and quinoa, give up the probiotics and the immune boosting herbs and vitamin C powder and gummy vitamins, and try a regimen of McHappy Meals and white bread with margarine and hundreds and thousands, washed down with full-sugar Cocoa-Cola. I’ll let you know how we get on.

So there has been a lot of not going out, time off pre-school and quarantining ourselves at home, which has made everyone go completely do-lally. The children are beginning to turn on each other, and at times I’ve been tempted to just leave them to it. At other times I rally though, and attempt to intervene when a whack leads to a pinch, which leads to a thump which will eventually land someone in hospital. But even intervening has its risks.

A week or so ago Garnet and May Blossom were squabbling over something toy-train related, which is weird because only one of them gives a toss about the trains. She squeezed his wrist hard. He whacked her. I made them apologise to each other, then to distract them I pointed at their hobby horses, lying conveniently in the doorway like the overpriced trip hazards they are, and said, ‘Hey don’t your horses need some exercise? How about you take them for a ride! They’ve been stuck in their stable all day!” (When I haven’t slept for a fortnight I speak with a lot of panicky exclamation marks in my voice).

May Blossom piped up, “Actually they’ve been very bad today.”

“Really?’ I asked, ‘What happened?’

She replied, “Well, they kicked over a bucket of water they weren’t supposed to. Then they ripped up some books, then drew on some paper they weren’t supposed to. Then they broke some newly made chairs … And then they killed an old man.”

Well, I thought. That escalated fast. Those horses have indeed been very bad. Those horses need more than exercise.

When we are home too much I start stumbling across creepy toy vignettes around the house. Like this:

These aren’t even the old-man murdering horses. I can’t imagine what atrocity these animals committed.

Sometimes, when I can, I have been taking the least sick child out of the house for an exciting adventure. That rarely ends well. Garnet and I managed to go to the butcher early this week, as a special treat. While the assistant butcher was getting our order together, Garnet introduced himself to the jolly fat main butcher, who got excited because it turns out his father’s name was Garnet. He showed Garnet around and named all the different meats for him. ‘This is lamb and this is bacon and that is pork and that is chicken.’ Garnet repaid this kindness by getting his words all confused and as we left he tried to say ‘Bye, Butcher,’ but it came out ‘Bye, Porker’. To the big fat jolly kind butcher, who looked a little shattered.

After that it was only about a day before Garnet got the viral croup that May Blossom had. I should have known he was coming down with something, because she had perked up enough to play Schools, which meant it was his turn to get sick. She lined all her stuffed rabbits and cheetahs up on the floor and wrote some letters on pink slips of paper, which went in a box, but then had to come out of that box at roll call and go into a different box (she’s mad for bureaucracy in her games – can’t get enough paperwork). Usually Garnet will join in a game like this, but this time he came for roll call, sat in class for five minutes, then muttered ‘I’m going back to my shed,’ and stomped off. He doesn’t have a shed. I think he means the corner of the playroom where the oven full of ponies is. I’m a bit scared of his shed.


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