Introducing PLMs – because no parent is perfect

I don’t know about you but I find my kids absolutely delight in letting me know when I’ve made a mistake.

It seems to be one of their favourite things in the world. Up there with Minecraft, furbys, Luna Park, surprise ice-creams on the way home from school… and oh yes, Mum’s made a mistake. Woohoo.

Usually it’s when I say something when I’m not concentrating.

Like at the dinner table when they’re cramming food in their mouths while they’re talking and I absent-mindedly ask them to please not eat with their mouth full.

Ha! Hilarious. They fall around laughing. Don’t eat with your mouth full. Ha ha. Yes, of course I meant don’t talk with your mouth full I try and explain over their laughter. But they’re too far gone. I really should be a comedian.

But it went too far the other day, when I said some silly thing and my eight-year old daughter delightedly declared ‘Mum screwed up’. Really.

I couldn’t believe it. I told her there absolutely had to be a nicer way to phrase it than that.

In jumped my ten-year old son, quick as ever, to save the day. It’s a PLM he confidently declared.


Yes, a parent’s lovable mistake.

And you know what? I actually like that.

So next time you tell your kids to put their chair in the dishwasher or to go and brush their feet after dinner and they crease up laughing, just let them know it’s a little PLM.

Gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect.
~Chinese Proverb

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The supreme importance of locality with regards to habituality

From 1 January 2013 to 21 June this year, I exercised every day. Spurred on originally by this blog on streak running from No Meat Athlete, and bound to be true to my resolution by declaring it aloud to my son on day one – because who wants to be a letdown as a role model for their own child? – for the first time in my life I exercised every day for over 500 days.

It made me realize that I absolutely had time to exercise every day. No excuses. I was not actually too busy. I was not too tired. It was not too cold. Or too wet, or too hot, or too windy.

Most days I ran. Sometimes – often – it was only a couple of kilometres. At one stage it was over twenty kilometres. A couple of times I had to get up and run ‘in the fours’, in order to fit it in. I’d then get back into bed, and wake up an hour or so later with my run already done, which was a strangely luxurious way to start the day.

Once or twice a week I did a yoga class. Weekly yoga has been a goal of mine since I was in my twenties. It was only once I was exercising every day that I was able to make this happen; proving I guess that sometimes it takes two decades to get around to working on your goals.

For a short period, I swam down at the local bay beach with a very patient friend. Battling nerves and waves and the occasional jelly fish, it was a scary, cold, exhilarating way to start the day.

Occasionally, when I was really unable to get out of the house for any other exercise, I skipped rope 1,000 times on the back deck. Once when it was just too early and dark, I skipped rope in the lounge room.

The huge impact of daily exercise for me, was not physical, but mental. It made me feel more positive, more happy. Exercising every day is without a doubt the one most positive thing I’ve done for myself in my whole life.

When we went away for a month on the 23 June, I’d already decided in advance I wasn’t going to exercise every day on our holiday. I took my running shoes but only used them three times in the month.

Did I miss daily exercise? Much as I’d like to say yes, I really suffered by not exercising, the honest answer is no. Not at all. Not one little bit. I was really just too completely busy eating cheese and drinking wine and sitting in the sun and hanging out with my family. After the first couple of days I felt absolutely no compulsion to exercise at all.

But, as we boarded the plane to head home, a little thought sprung into my head. Back to real life, back to exercise… when are you going to fit in your run? And today, back at home, kids off at school, I couldn’t relax until I’d got into my running gear and headed out for a jog.

Day one of a new streak, done.

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What I did on my holidays; a back to school story

The house has been very very very quiet this week. Shhhh. Even the tapping of my keyboard is echoing loudly. It’s a sure sign that school has started, term two is underway, and our house’s two noisiest occupants are not here for most of the day. Ahhhh.

I prepared them on Sunday night that they would probably have to write a story at school the next day: what I did on my holidays. Don’t you always have to do that on your first day back? Or has the curriculum changed in the thirty years since I’ve been to primary school?

I talked them through what we’d done over the past two weeks, just as a helpful reminder. Is it just me who thinks it’s a tad annoying when you do a host of fabulous fun-packed, well-enjoyed, life-enhancing activities over the holidays, and then find out they’ve written three hundred words on the one night they were allowed to stay up late and watch the football on TV?

Considering we’ve been lucky enough to have some pretty awesome holidays in the last few years – including a month campervanning around Western Australia and a fortnight living it up in California – I think it speaks volumes that one of my best holidays is probably the one that we just had.

Where was it? Well, we didn’t actually go away. It was just a week off work during the school holidays. And what made it so good? Oh, so many things.

No school and no work which meant no work email, no stress, no rushing, no packing school lunch boxes, no washing school uniforms, no tantrums over putting on socks, no having to remember sports gear on that day or band stuff on this day, no rushing out the door and halfway down the street only to find the school bags are still sitting in the hall inside the front door, no trying to answer emails with one hand while cooking dinner with the other, no… well, I think you get the idea.

Added to that the fact we didn’t go away, so no need to organise a holiday, no trawling the internet for accommodation, no packing bags, no having to find the camping stuff in the depths of the shed, no having to pack everything all back where it came from at the end of the holiday and no need to do the guzillion loads of washing that going away always seems to necessitate when you get home.

But the absolute best bit? The best bit was the afternoon naps. Is there anything more holiday-like than lying down on the couch for a sneaky siesta after lunch? And now the kids will sit there and read quietly for an hour I don’t even have to convince them they need to nap too. In fact, I am now officially the only one left in our house who still regularly needs an afternoon nap.

Of course, I’m only joking. Not about needing a nap – that’s serious – but about the best bit of the holiday.

The best thing about the holiday really was spending relaxed time with the kids. A la Enid Blyton we named ourselves the Terrific Trio, upgraded to the Fantabulous Four when my husband was home. Ah, by jolly hockey sticks, it was fun.

Visits to the park, the gardens, the skatepark, the beach. Hanging out with family and friends and cousins. The sunshine, the glorious Autumn weather with clear blue skies, without the paranoid need to reapply sunscreen every two hours. What a beautiful fun holiday to remember and appreciate. I was actually even quite sad to drop the poppets back at school on Monday morning.

So there’s my back to school essay. Turns out the kids didn’t even have to do one. I guess the curriculum has moved on after all.

“I do love the beginning of the hols,’ said Julian. “They always seem to stretch out ahead for ages and ages.” “They go so nice and slowly at first,’ said Anne, his little sister. “Then they start to gallop.” Five Go Off In A Caravan

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Making soup like Gwyneth

Let me take you back a few years to the night I threw a bowl of vegetarian chilli across the room because my, then three-year old, daughter wouldn’t even try it. Mmmh, not my finest hour.

Neither was the night a few years earlier than that when I lay on the kitchen floor and cried because my, then one-year old son, wouldn’t eat his lovingly home-made chicken stew. Wouldn’t even open his mouth a crack so I could sneakily slip a bit in and he could discover how truly delicious it really was.

Fast forward a few years and vegetarian chilli is greeted by my, now six-year old, daughter with cries of delight. OK, that is a complete exaggeration, but she does gobble down a bowl of it without complaining and there is no longer any need for me to throw crockery across the kitchen.

Their ability to try new foods and to finish what they’re served without total meltdowns – theirs or mine – had grown a hundredfold. Eating out at a restaurant with them has become a pleasure. We’ve had Indian, Thai, Spanish and Vietnamese. They’ll try new foods, chopsticks are being mastered, and their spaghetti twirling is getting better.

So when I saw a recipe in the weekend newspaper for Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle and Coriander, I decided the kids were up to the challenge.

This, despite me not even knowing what a chipotle is. I know now but not in time to include it in the soup, so really we were up for Sweet Potato Soup with Coriander.

Except I accidentally grabbed a bunch of parsley from the supermarket, not coriander. So really we were just having Sweet Potato Soup.

You can download the full recipe, including chipotles and coriander, from here.

I suspect my real desire to make this soup was because it was part of an article about Gwyneth Paltrow and her new recipe book. Gwyneth was pictured next to the recipe looking typically fantastic, perched on her kitchen bench chopping something up. I’m sure that deep down I thought if I made the soup I too would have fantastic hair and thin toned thighs.

Disappointingly my hair and thighs remained unchanged – maybe it was because I just stood next to the bench to chop the sweet potato rather than perching myself Gwyneth-style on the benchtop itself.

The kids didn’t rave about the soup. But they didn’t complain either. And I don’t know what Gwyneth would think, but in my opinion, that’s a total win.

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The perfect picket fence

When my husband and I were first looking to buy a house – scarily, a fair bit more than a decade ago – my main criteria was that it had a picket fence. It didn’t. So one of our first jobs when we moved in was to build one.

Ditto with house two.

In fact with our second house, which had no fence at all, I was walking home from work one evening soon after we’d moved in, and my heart melted with love and appreciation for my husband when I saw he’d built a picket fence for our new house while I’d been at work for the day. How is that for sweet? And really just incredibly productive?

Then I realised I was looking at the wrong house, and ours was actually the still-fenceless house three doors up the road.

No matter, he did build the fence shortly after.

The paint job on picket fence number two is now almost seven years old and in need of a bit of attention. A bit dry, a bit peely, a bit wrinkly – a bit like my skin come to think of it. So on the weekend I suggested we repaint it.

The fence, that is.

A few hours later it was becoming clear that the plan to ‘slap a bit of paint on it’ was going to be more of a three weekend job, than the original and optimistic estimated three-hours-and-we’ll-be-sitting-back-admiring-our-handiwork type timeframe.

The upside was that the repetitive act of painting pickets is meditative. There was time to think. Time to reflect.

Since our first picket fence we’d got married, lived overseas for years, had two kids, and however many jobs between us. We’d gone from two essentially single people, to a pretty tight knit team of four. Plus the three chickens. Our kids are healthy, we are healthy, we have work, we have food, we have family, we have friends, we have eggs.

It made me realise that while the picket fence is not perfect, life in the house behind it is pretty darn good. And while we finish repainting the fence – over the next however many weekends – there’ll be plenty more time to appreciate that.

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The Easter Bunny: fact or fiction?

With Easter approaching, talk and thoughts in our house have turned to chocolate. The other night at dinner my six-year old daughter confidently declared she no longer believed in the Easter Bunny.

My eight-year old son was shocked. Not so much that she didn’t believe, I suspect, more that she’d dared to declare it. “But if you don’t believe, you don’t get,” he warned her.

Let me assure you there is absolutely no way he believes a rabbit travels around the world delivering chocolate eggs. But unlike his younger sister he has enough street-smarts not to admit it.

My daughter was emphatic. Her evidence? She’d seen Easter eggs in a plastic bag in our car last year, and the same type of eggs had been delivered by the alleged rabbit to the door of her tent when we were camping a few days later.

Attack is the best form of defence, right? I quickly hopped to it.

“Do you really believe…?” I started, staring straight in to her defiant big blue eyes. “Do you really believe that we make up this huge elaborate story so we can secretly go to the shops and buy you chocolate eggs?”

“And then…” I continued, “Do you really believe that we hide the eggs, and start talking about the giant magic bunny that’s going to deliver chocolate to you? Do you really think we’ve made that up because we desperately want to give you secret stashes of chocolate?”

“Do you really believe…?” Oh, I was really getting into it now. “Do you really believe that we sneak in to your room and put the eggs next to your bed in the dark of night, and in the morning we pretend it wasn’t us, it was a rabbit?”

“And then… and then… do you really believe for one second after all of that, we then decide it’s a good idea to let you scoff down that whole chocolate egg before breakfast? Seriously?”

I can’t tell you what her reaction was, because I had to leave the room. It was an emergency situation. After that pivotal parenting moment I needed a drink. Or at the very least I needed chocolate.

So I went and hid behind the pantry door and ate half the chocolate eggs her Grandma from England had sent over for her.

That’ll teach her to believe in the Easter Bunny, bless her little cottontail socks.

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Fill your bucket

The other day when I was walking the kids to school, I noticed my eight-year old son had started loudly and brightly greeting random people we passed on the way.

“Good morning,” he called to the rushed looking man hurrying past us to the train station. “Have a great day,” he urged to the fruit shop owner who was outside his shop stacking apples. “Hallo,” he sung out to the woman waiting for her take away coffee in front of the cafe.

When I asked him exactly what was he up to, he answered: I’m filling their buckets.

He went on to explain it was something they’d talked about at school. His teacher had asked them all to imagine a bucket full of water. Come on, let’s do it now, imagine a bucket, go on.

Mine is blue with a black handle. Actually, now I think of it, it’s exactly the same as my laundry bucket I use to soak the kids’ dirty clothes, showing a distinct lack of imagination on my part. Anyhow, we all have buckets now, let’s continue.

So, my son went on, now you need to imagine someone does something nice for you. They say hallo, or give you a piece of cake, invite you to their party, or pay you a compliment. It makes you feel good, and it adds to your bucket.

But imagine now that someone does something nasty to you. They ignore you or they say something mean. Now how do you feel? They’ve made you feel bad, and they’ve dipped from your bucket.

The best bit, my son says, is that if you do something nice for someone else, not only does it add to their bucket but – and his eyes widened with the wonder of it all – it adds to yours too. Because doing something nice for someone, makes you feel good about yourself.

Ah, they’re teaching them well at school, aren’t they?

Now I’d never heard of this bucket filling theory before, but some extensive research since – OK, I just googled it then – reveals a wealth of books, activities and even a song themed around the imaginary bucket metaphor. Yes, I kid you not, a song – here’s a link – which could even possibly bring a small emotional tear to your eye if you’re that type of slightly fragile hormonal woman. Which of course I’m not.

Anyway, on this lovely sunny day – at least here where I am – and from the wisdom of my eight-year old son, I say to you… I hope your imaginary bucket, whatever colour it may be, is overflowing.

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My new favourite curse: the ‘s’ word

I have a new favourite swear word. I can’t remember where I first heard it. Did I read it? Did someone tell me about it? I can’t for the life of me remember. Do you know? I must be getting old. Anyway…

Since I’ve learnt it I’ve put it to good use. I am replacing all my old ‘f’ words, and ‘b’ words, and ‘h’ words, and all the lovely enchanting combinations of the three mixed together, spoken at varying volumes from a whispered mutter under my breath to an almighty yell that scares even myself. All gone, pretty much. All replaced with the ‘s’ word.

And what is this fantastic ‘s’ word?

Setback. That’s right. Setback.

You probably won’t fully comprehend the quiet understated power of the word setback, unless you start using it as a curse yourself.

It’s impossible to yell. It’s actually really hard to say with any anger whatsoever. And it puts into perspective whatever has actually just happened.

Here’s an example. The other night when I was making dinner I lazily and optimistically went to pour yoghurt from a one litre container into two little cups for the kids’ dessert, without the aid of a spoon. Because the spoon drawer was at least thirty centimetres from where I was standing.

Naturally, inevitably, I ended up with a whole litre of yoghurt poured into the two little cups, over their rims, and all across the kitchen bench. Now, who could have guessed that would happen?

What a mess. But did I swear? No, I did not. Of course not.

“Setback,” I sang out cheerily. Thirty seconds later most of the yoghurt was back in the pot – very hygienic, I know, but I’m sure that bench was pretty germ free – the kids were tucking into their dessert, and the kitchen bench was clean again. Thirty seconds of setback. See what I mean about perspective?

The kids have started using it too. The other morning we heard an almighty crash from the bathroom. A few seconds’ silence. Then my six-year old daughter sung out. “Setback, Mum.”

It took less than five minutes to clean up all the broken glass and was a much less embarrassing use of her vocabulary than the time I told her what the ‘b’ word really meant and then the next day she – very correctly, I have to admit – said, ‘Oh, look at that cute little bitch walking down the road.’

Now, that really was a setback.

“Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words.”
Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

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Learning to let go, and other important life lessons

One of the loveliest things in my life is that when I go running, my son has appointed himself my ride-along personal trainer. He jumps on his bicycle and comes out on weekend runs, keeping me company, chatting away, pointing out sights I would have otherwise run past obliviously.

Running with an eight-year old riding a bike next to you can be challenging. Bursts of top speed are followed by sudden braking to stop and pick up treasure spied on the ground. For example, a broken biro that is probably extremely valuable because it might possibly even have a little bit of ink left in it. Followed by another burst of top speed, sudden braking. Repeat. Repeat.

Late last year my son decided he wanted to get into mountain bike riding. So on our next run we headed for a local lake, about the only place in our area that has hills, let alone mountains.

He wanted to ride down one of the steepest gravel hills. I didn’t want him to. But I didn’t say so.

I remember vividly when he first learnt to ride his bike without training wheels. Watching him ride off along a beachside path, wobbling slightly, no-one holding him, seeing him get smaller as he rode further away. It is such a poignant memory. It was such a bittersweet moment. So proud of him. So sad he was growing up. Not my little baby anymore.

It was similar at the top of this hill. I didn’t want him to ride down it. I wanted to say no. I thought it was too dangerous. I wanted to wrap him up in the proverbial cotton wool so he would never get hurt.

But you can’t do that, can you? You have to learn to let go, don’t you?

So I said yes. Sure, go for it. And off he went.

And down he went.

Very fast.

Until about halfway down.

Where he skidded and fell off.

And screamed louder than you would believe possible.

Silly so and so hadn’t even put his brakes on at all. Maybe I should have thought to have mentioned that to him.

So then we had another lesson to learn.

About how when you fall off, you don’t give up. You stop screaming, you get up, you brush yourself down, you rub off most of the blood, you check you still have all of your teeth, you walk back to the top of the hill, and you go down again.

But this time with your brakes on.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
Albert Einstein

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Simplicity and the city: the second act

I had no intention of stopping this blog after a year. It just suddenly seemed, at the time, like a good place to stop and take a breath.

A breath that included a month travelling around Western Australia with the family. Four full-on fun but exhausting weeks in a campervan with two young kids, subsequently followed by months of necessary recovery time (counselling probably would have helped) – backed up with the frantic frenzy leading up to the end of the school year – the joy that is Christmas (more counselling could have helped there) – overseas visitors staying with us for a month – building a bathroom (ok so the builder did that, not me personally) – and bang before you know it the start of the next school year.

So there we were, spat out the other end of 2012 in a little ball of chewed up exhaustion, ready for a shiny new year with no mistakes in it.

For a while there life did not necessarily seem particularly simple. But then maybe it never will be.

I decided to come back for two main reasons. Firstly I’ve missed the process of turning one random thought into hundreds of words of longer rambling thoughts. It’s a thoughtful process that makes me consider things a little more thoroughly than normal. And thinking is a good thing. I think.

Secondly I missed making people laugh. When I’m actually in the throes of listening to my daughter having a tantrum over putting on her socks, or when I’m standing there lying to my kids about eating their chocolate cake, or when I’m too busy researching different ways to convince the chickens to lay eggs to remember to cook dinner, it doesn’t seem particularly funny to me. But apparently reading about it later makes some people giggle. And that’s another good thing. I think.

So here we are. Simplicity and the city, part II. Welcome.

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