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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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IMG_4828The House of Gusto is, at the time of writing, two days free of the sound of jackhammers. I’m not saying it is connected, but the sun has come out from where it has cowered behind rainclouds for weeks, in the hope of not losing its solar hearing and its tiny sun mind. I expect it found, as we all did, that clouds are not very useful ear protection, but I do understand: it had to do something or it might have exploded, which would have been dramatic but catastrophic.

I, sadly not a celestial being, had to remain here on the earth that quaked every day for eight or nine hours as the diggers ripped through the sandstone layers a metre or so from our house. I did go mad and on several occasions came close to becoming a supernova. Not in a good way.

I yelled back at the small people who yelled at me and the large people who didn’t. And we all did have to yell a lot to make ourselves heard. There was a lot of bursting into tears, wailing, putting ourselves and each other into various time-out situations.

It was very unpleasant and more than one person close to me suggested I might like to start back on the happy pills since perhaps it wasn’t healthy or normal to be quite this miserable about pretty much everything. My response to that, as it has to be when you are trying to tell other people that you don’t need medication for depression, was calm and measured, delivered with a joke and a smile.

I told them all that I did not think this situation was normal and that if and when the fucking jackhammers ever stopped, that I would then take stock of my mental state and see if this was maybe just a bit of jackhammer-induced lunacy I was experiencing and then we could all look back and laugh.

Now the jackhammers have stopped, I am feeling much better, but like that person who keeps singing for a few lines before they realise the stereo has blown all the fuses and there is no more music or light, Garnet has continued to shout.

He’s having several tantrums a day at the moment, and they are very loud and full of woe. My clever and sensitive friend Kate, who has a similar model of four year old, tells me that they are just experiencing the internal conflict of realising the world of independence is beginning to open up to them and being utterly terrified that the world of independence is opening up to them. But she is wrong. There’s nothing internal about Garnet’s conflict. It is very much external. It echoes off the other side of the valley.

So I have replaced jackhammers with the anguished screams of a young soul in torment. On Monday, when the jackhammering was still happening, I went outside to ask them to stop fior a couple of minutes so I could get Garnet into the car without blowing his eardrums. The builder obligingly stopped, and he and his colleagues stood there as I hauled a furious and crying Garnet out to the car. He was making far more noise than the jackhammers.

As I tried and failed to strap him into the car, then turned and carried him back into the house, the builders watched with looks on their faces that clearly said ‘Yeah, how’s that quiet break in the excavation working out for you, love?’

Poor old Garnet. I gather that this is a normal enough part of his development, but it can’t be any fun for him. He’s as happy as anything when he’s not behaving like lava, but he is quite easily set off, especially by May Blossom interrupting.

She has reached the age where she can sense the ebb and flow of conversation well enough to get away with interrupting. I remember trying to figure that out when I was a kid. My brothers and I were told not to interrupt, but then if we listened to the grownups talking, it was clear that their whole conversation relied on interrupting each other, to some extent.

When you thought of something relevant to say, if you waited until there was a quiet moment, it was too late and you sounded like a dullard who just thought of that interesting thing to say when the conversation had well and truly moved on. It was as frustrating as fuck.

When you crack the secret of when it’s ok to interrupt, the world of conversation opens up and life is just so exciting. May Blossom is there. Garnet is not. He’ll get there, but in the meantime he cries a lot when May Blossom leaps in while he’s still trying to gather his thoughts and get them into words.

I’m working on some strategies to help us all. One strategy is leaving the children with my parents and going to Melbourne with H for a long weekend. Another might be to get a conch shell and making a rule whereby only the person holding the shell can speak.

But it’s probably a slippery slope to start using Lord of the Flies as a parenting manual.

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IMG_4719The last two weeks have been so great and productive for me on a personal level. I’ve been exercising, writing, keeping on top of the laundry – all things that I don’t always find easy because of my clinical laziness.

My children have picked up on that and helpfully compensated to bring my overall happiness down to neutral. Both of them are still recovering from various ailments that started as a cold virus but then went to their ears, throats, chests and finally to their very souls. The soul antibiotics are not kicking in as quickly as I’d like.

The main symptoms of an upper soul infection are waging war on your sibling, and being unspeakably mean to your mother, because she is responsible for spawning your enemy.

Most of the time our kids get along pretty well, but the past few weeks have been another story entirely. A story more along the lines of Cain and Abel, or a biography of Noel and Liam Gallagher. (more…)

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img_4357Sometimes, as a parent, you reach a point where you kind of sort of maybe think you might just ever so slightly have gotten your shit together. Your kids are well and happy and they seem to like going to school and preschool, and they don’t have set their minds on owning something that is completely out of the question, like a Lego Hogwarts or an actual lynx.

That, of course, is when then the gods strike you down. That is when you all come down with a virus and the teacher sends home a bunch of exercise books and tells you to cover them with contact.

Contact. I don’t know if it’s called that the world over. I expect the Germans have a word for it that literally translates as ‘roll of judgement by which we can tell how much you care about your children’. (more…)

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gingerbreadhouse16

Proper homemade gingerbread house that I had absolutely nothing to do with. Grandmothers are where it’s at.

Good New Year to you, dear people of the internet. It seems to be week three of January. I haven’t written since well before that dark and dreadful time back in December when everyone was mainlining candy canes and behaving like juvenile Hunters S. Thompson, coming up with insane demands and changing their minds about what was on their Christmas list every eighteen seconds from dawn until dusk, which in December in Australia is about 16 hours.

This year I spent December dangling Santa over my children’s heads like a jolly fat stick shaped carrot. I punctuated the long idle hours with threats to inform on them to Santa for all their wrongdoing.  The irony was lost on me until now of the time I shouted at them that if they didn’t stop dobbing on each other I would tell Santa they were dreadful and that he shouldn’t come. After Christmas I had to change tack and I began threatening to throw away their presents if they didn’t behave. This threat was rendered entirely hollow by me spending the rest of the time complaining that there was no more room in the bins because of all the toy packaging.  (more…)

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fountain

Someone’s kid has an extendable arm that only comes out when there’s a chocolate fountain. Handy. 

May Blossom turned six on the weekend and her two requests for her party were:

  1. A chocolate fountain
  2. No siblings

The first request we could accommodate. We borrowed a device called a Sunbeam Choccy, melted together a kilo of chocolate and a cup of canola oil, and Bob’s your auntie’s live-in lover: there’s your chocolate fountain. Happy days.

The second request was more challenging, because I believe family should celebrate birthdays together. Even if some of the family are behaving like complete shits. I’m a big believer in encouraging children to be kind and loving, and to celebrate each other’s successes and happiness. Garnet’s beliefs are fundamentally opposed to that. (more…)

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IMG_8591This weekend, the Sydney Opera House will come alive with challenging premises and audiences will wrestle with a variety of thought-provoking concepts when the Festival of Dangerous Ideas kicks off. My parents are going to heaps of things at this festival, including Alexei Sayle’s talk ‘Thatcher Made me Laugh” and ‘The Government We Deserve’ presented by Annabel Crabb and David Marr. I will be staying at home with my children, while H heads off to Perth for a few days. But that’s no reason not be challenged and wrestle with ideas. I’ve decided to run our own Festival of Dangerous Ideas, as programmed by my almost four and almost six year olds. Let me know which sessions you want to see. (more…)

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