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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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.

(more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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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