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Guest Blog: There’s a Bear in There

My twelve year old daughter wrote the following for her school’s public speaking competition, after we were talking about the Bear Grylls in Newcastle hashtag on Twitter. I thought it was pretty funny, so would like to share it with you all. Apart  from removing names and the lovely all-caps and rainbow colours she had going on, all words are her own. I hope you enjoy it:

teddyI was watching a TV show called Man vs Wild the other night. If you haven’t seen it – you’re not living!

In Man vs Wild there’s this guy called Bear Grylls, right? He goes to some of the harshest places on earth, but he doesn’t take a plane like any normal person. He’s Bear Grylls! He has to jump out of a helicopter.  Then he puts himself in the position of a lost hiker or tourist and shows you how to survive. Like all tourists he only takes a few things with him –

  • a water bottle,
  • a pocket knife,
  • his clothes
  • … and a camera crew!

Some of the adventures Bear Grylls attempts include

  • Jumping off a waterfall in the amazon
  • chasing rhinos across the savannah
  • eating a sheep’s eye in Alaska
  • and jumping into quicksand to show you how to get out.

What can I say? This guy’s mental!

Anyway while I was watching Man vs Wild the other day I thought how would Bear Grylls cope being stranded in the wilds of my school?  Well for starters he’d jump out of a plane and parachute onto the library roof. He’d then abseil down the building and CRASH! He’s through the principal’s window. There’s glass everywhere but there’s no time to pick the pieces out from his skin because someone’s coming! Quick! It’s the principal! Bear Grylls drops to the ground. He knows what he must do. He commando crawls out of the principal’s office and past the EVIL OFFICE LADIES!

All right, he could get in easily enough – but how would he survive? If you have ever watched the show you would know that water is essential for survival. That should be easy enough in a school playground – there’s bubblers right? But Bear always prepares for the worst. He would probably pee into his Wiggles drink bottle in case he gets dehydrated and can’t make it to the bubblers. How disgusting is that?!

Next problem is what would he eat? Well he could raid the canteen but he would have to fight off the canteen lady first. And even though he is an SAS commando and has trained in the airforce I reckon she could take him on. Looks like he would have to raid the garbage bin for the last half-chewed chicken chippy. But wait a minute – that sounds a bit boring for Bear Grylls. He’d probably go down to the creek and catch one of those red belly black snakes for his lunch – YUM!

As night falls, the air gets colder, and Bear knows that he has to build a shelter – and fast! He usually finds tree branches, bamboo and palm leaves to make a cover for his bed. But everybody knows it’s an immediate yellow card if you start ripping down the trees!  He could get supplies from the work shed. Hey – he could even sleep in the shed!

Oh well – no one said he was smart.

After a hard night’s sleep out in the cold, Bear thinks he has primary school sussed. He has found food and a water source, but then – the lunch bell rings. It takes all Bear’s survival skills to avoid the herd of stampeding kindies on their way to the sandpit. There are kids everywhere – he has to get out! NOW!!

Finally Bear has an idea. He creeps into one of the classrooms and grabs a desk and a meter ruler. With the desk upside down and using the ruler as a paddle, he rafts down the creek then crawls across the scorching earth of the local soccer grounds to finally make it to civilisation – BI LO!

With all his skills and training, Bear Grylls has conquered some of the world’s most deadly terrains. But I reckon my school would be his toughest challenge yet!

About a Boy

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My son is not your average lad. When people talk about boys being more assertive, more physical or just generally more boisterous than girls, I know they haven’t met Davo, whose boofy family nickname belies his gentle personality. He’s an enigma at times. Incredibly bright, but not particularly enamoured with academic success. Awards and certificates don’t inspire him. He just gets in and does the job. He’d rather sit quietly in the back corner, and yet I’m told he speaks confidently when called on in class. He plays soccer the same way, watching mostly from the side, but running in and having a go when he feels confident.

Davo  seems happiest being a bystander, an observer. He’d make a great writer, except he hates to actually write. His  face sums up his personality so well – big limpid blue eyes, massive eyes, hiding behind a mop of sandy brown hair that is begging for a cut, but he prefers unkempt. (He’s not much into appearances.) Mouth curved into a small smile. He doesn’t say much.

Oh but when Davo does speak – everyone should sit up and listen. For underneath the quiet exterior is a funny and thoughtful young man. He measures his thoughts and his words carefully, and often sees details that go unnoticed by the rest of us. He is not completely averse to silliness of course, he’s still a kid. And there is nobody better at pushing his sister’s buttons – the one time he uses his superpowers for evil rather than good. But the rest of the time there is a stillness about him, that is incredibly soothing and highly uncommon in nearly ten year old boys. Davo and I can sit together for ages, just reading or watching TV and talking to each other about everything and nothing. I hope we can continue this for as long as possible as I watch my gentle boy grow up into a gentle man and a gentleman.

Related Post: About a Girl

About a Girl

motherMy girl is so beautiful that I swell with pride when I look at her.  I suppose it is entirely possible that she is quite ordinary-looking, but I only see beauty. Perhaps it is because of what I see.

When I see her legs, long and colt-like, I picture her running onto a netball court on wintry Saturdays. She is always bubbling with enthusiasm – not because of a particular love of the game, but because she is surrounded by friends. She is part of a team. With this group of girls she has experienced highs and lows.  This team, that suffered humiliating defeat after defeat followed by a season that surely could only belong in a clichéd feel-good sports movie, could teach many adults about sportsmanship and friendship.

When I see her hands, long fingers and large knuckles like her father, I hear a flute playing. First the piercing squeaks of the early learner, followed by the monotony of major and minor scales and finally the soaring notes as the pieces become more polished.  I marvel that her hands, with their dirty, gnawed nails and ink-marked fingers, can produce such beautiful music.

When I see her hair, no longer the blonde of her infancy, I see the tangles and knots that I have smoothed over the years. Knots gained from tree branches and bike helmets. Tangles from expeditions to the creek, from hanging upside down while watching TV. Every morning I tease them out (not always carefully) and arrange her mane into a tidy ponytail or plait. Every afternoon she comes home, looking like she has been “dragged through a hedge backwards”.  Always beaming with the adventures of her day.

When I see her eyes, long-lashed and shining blue, I see her brow furrow as she sees some unfairness in the world.  From an unkind word from a classmate, to stories of animal cruelty, to the larger social injustices she sees on the news. She doesn’t understand hate, and cannot bear intolerance. She is still learning about speaking up for others, about standing up for her beliefs, but she is trying. I know she will when it counts.

When I see her smile, I hear her laughing. From the hearty belly laughs of her baby-self to the secretive giggles of a pre-teen with her friends. The squeals of delight as she wrestles with her beloved ginger cat and the wry chuckles as she sits beside us and watches Fawlty Towers or Seinfeld, finally old enough to share the jokes.

My girl is beautiful.

Related Post: About a Boy

Navel-gazing

I answered this “25 things”  meme a while ago on Facebook, and thought it might be nice to break up the Deep Thoughts I’ve been posting about lately, because I am really quite shallow.

oranges1.I am completely and profoundly addicted to coffee.

2. I desperately need a haircut. I am morphing into Cousin Itt (with Morticia grey streaks.)

3. I have to leave the room during tense moments in sport. Particularly if the Wallabies are playing, and the last World Cup nearly killed me (the football one, not the rugby one.) 90 minutes of tension at 5am is not good for me!

4. I call soccer ‘football’ because I am both a wanker and a wog.

5. When I was a kid I used to go with my Dad to watch KB United play. I used to take my teddy bear dressed in a team scarf and beanie.

6. I am a writer because I love words. Also because I can spend my working day in my pyjamas.

7. I know more about Star Wars than my kids, and I will yell at them if they ask me one more time if “this is the one with the ewoks?”

8. Jar Jar Binks made the Ewoks look like fucking Shaft.

9. That is a quote from Spaced. I love Simon Pegg.

10. I am not a geek. I swear.

11. OK – maybe I am – a little bit.

12. Apart from a year in Germany, I have lived my whole life in the zone of my archnemesis, the Sydney Funnel Web spider.They are found from Nowra (where I was born) to Newcastle (where I grew up and live now.) I swear they’re after me!

13. I sincerely believe that my extreme arachnophobia comes from watching the Dr Who “Planet of the Spiders” episode as a kid.

14. “People are Stupid” is my mantra. Seriously, once you accept this, life gets much easier.

15. Frangipanis used to be my favourite flower until everyone started sticking them on their damn cars.

16. I am a little bit jealous that our cats like my daughter more than me, but I have come to accept that she has the Kavorka for cats.

17. The dog likes me though.

18. The dog also likes random strangers and sniffing other dogs’ butts, so I am finding little solace in this fact.

19. My Arts degree means that I can answer all the brown questions in Trivial Pursuit. That was four years well spent, yes?

20. My obsession with pop culture means I am also quite good at pink questions, and having once worked in travel helps with the blue. Tony is good at Sport and Science. If we just learn some history and politics we’d be the perfect team.

21. Sometimes I think with our Mad Trivia Skillz, we should quit work and just do the pub trivia circuit. Except we both find it hard to focus on anything other than beer while in a pub.

22. I would rather have a good gin and tonic (Bombay Sapphire and Schweppes Tonic water) than any fancy cocktail.

23. I am a literary snob who not-so-secretly loves reading chick lit. This is because all the worthy literature is so damn depressing. Kind of like the Best Picture Nominees at the Oscars.

24. My kids are quite possibly the funniest, cleverest, sweetest children that ever lived. I know every mum thinks that, but it’s TRUE!

25. And some mornings I would still trade them in for a really good cup of coffee.

Neither Rhyme nor Reason

American_GothicOn the weekend I went shopping with my daughter for some clothes. At almost 12, she has definite tastes. It has been a long time since I dressed for fashion rather than comfort, but I thought I was doing pretty well at pointing out colours and styles that are “in” this season. But then I found myself furiously shaking my head “No” at a cropped denim jacket that would have barely skimmed a bikini top. “Jackets are for warmth and I’m not paying for half of one!” I said, and then quickly looked around for my father. Surely those were his words, not mine!

You see, as much as I like to think I’m pretty cool (Are kids still using that word? “Cool”?) I do tend towards the fuddy-duddy at times.  Trouble is I can be a bit unpredictable with my preferences. For example I hate flat-brimmed caps, low hanging pants and “bling” on boys. But my son is one of only a few lads with long scruffy hair in a class of “short backs and sides”.  I turn up my nose at designer wear and brand names but gladly fork out for Globe skate shoes if it means my kids will wear black leather shoes to school without a fight.

We eat dinner as a family almost every night, with the table set and the television off. At the end of the meal, if we are still sitting and chatting, the kids need to ask “May I be excused” before they leave. Terribly old-fashioned, and yet I don’t care if they eat breakfast while hanging upside down on the lounge watching cartoons. On school mornings. While still in their pyjamas.

We have a mobile phone ban in place until Year 7, but umpty-two computers, a PS3, multiple iPods and Nintendo DSs. I refuse to get pay TV but with the endless hours of television series and movies we have on DVD, I can’t see how it would possibly change our viewing habits. Yes to The Simpsons, no to Home and Away. Neighbours at a pinch, but only if I can watch too and laugh at it – and none of them during dinner of course! No chewing gum! No bubble gum! No stupid sour liquid confectionery in a squirty bottle. Coke? Occasionally as a treat.  Chocolate? Hell yes! You can’t colour your hair until you are fifteen, but then you are allowed to dye it blue if you so desire. Lip gloss, sometimes. Lipstick NEVER!

So what do you think? Am I normal? What rules do you insist upon in your home? And which ones do you let slide?

The Tracks of My Tears

I understand some women enjoy watching tearjerkers like Grey’s Anatomy .  Apparently watching McDreamy and Whatsherface dance around their romance while saving and losing patients can lead to a very cathartic sob-fest. I don’t really get it. It’s not my thing. I tend to prefer comedies. Each to her own.

Gilly TommyMy daughter loves animals. Any animals – mammals, birds, reptiles, fish or insects – she’s not fussy. As a result we watch a lot of animal-related TV. I am well acquainted with David Attenborough, Dr Harry, Steve and Bindi Irwin and (my personal favourite) the Bondi Vet. (What?!)  It is not uncommon for me to be summoned urgently to the lounge room to look at the social habits of seahorses or the breeding cycle of dragonflies.

Last night was the series return of RSPCA Animal Rescue. We recorded it during dinner and then we girls tucked ourselves up on the lounge to watch. Of course, second story in, it hit us. A ginger cat. A ginger cat, lost and riddled with ticks. Paralysed in his back legs and losing his voice. Who belonged to a little girl who loved him and was missing him. Who may not make it through because of the extent of the poisoning. For the record, I lost it when we first laid eyes on the cat. Unfortunately before we could find out whether the cat survived, the recording stopped! That’s when my daughter lost it. The picture at left may explain our reaction somewhat.

So a big shout out of thanks to the random strangers on Twitter who answered my query as to the fate of the cat. It helped both of us get some sleep. And the sob-fest thing? Quite cathartic. (Oh, like you didn’t see that one coming!)
Do you like a good sob-fest? What TV shows set you off?

Noses Run In Our Family (HAR HAR!)

geneSpotting family resemblances in your kids is great – “He has your nose.” “She has your eyes.” “He has your giant head!” (This last was delivered accusingly at my husband the day after my son was born, although to be fair my own head has trouble fitting into ladies’ hat sizes.) Beyond the physical, genetics can also play a role in the development of our personality and even strange quirks. Nature – vs – nurture. You’ve all read the Peer Reviewed Studies, I’m sure.

Anyway speaking of strange quirks,  I have the adorable habit (my husband says “maddening tendency”) of playing Actor Spotto during movies.  Not with Big Name Actors like George Clooney or Meryl Streep but you know, the actors whose faces you recognise but you may not know their name. The sadly defunct website Fametracker.com called them “That Guys” as in “Hey! It’s That Guy!

To play Actor Spotto (my version thereof) you have to exclaim something like “Oooh that actor playing the waiter. What was he in?” when a “That Guy ” comes on the screen. My husband (the B-List actor savant) will then give me the name of a movie. “Nope.  Don’t remember that one. It was a movie with a dog and maybe a rocket. And I think it was set in Europe somewhere. And it was snowing.” I won’t rest until I have the title. Thank goodness for the IMDB. We used to pause the movie to head downstairs to the computer to clarify (“shut you up” – my husband) now as soon as I say “Ooooh” he hands me his iPhone.

I have a nemesis in this game (“cruel and unusual punishment”) –  an actor called Michael O’Keefe, who, as his IMDB profile shows, has appeared in many many movies and TV shows over the years. My problem with Mr O’Keefe is that when I first met my husband, he and his flatmate were fans of one of O’Keefe’s early works, The Whoopee Boys. One IMDB user review calls it “Rude, crude, and absolutely hilarious”. They got two out of three right. This not long after he was in Caddyshack. Can you picture him now? This is the Michael O’Keefe in my head.

Now Mr O’Keefe has since appeared in many very Un-Whoopee Boys-like films and TV shows like The West Wing, Law and Order and Michael Clayton.  Being that this is acting, he changes his appearance for each character and he has of course grown older. He must be a very accomplished actor, because I never recognise him. Ever. And each time he appears my husband will say “Hey, that’s Michael O’Keefe” and I will disagree and we will bet fifty bucks of actual real (“pretend, because I’ve never seen it”) money on it and I will always lose.

So back to genetics. The other day we took the kids to see Avatar.  We’re a little way into the movie and looking fairly smashing  in our 3D glasses when my daughter jabs me in the ribs. “I told you to go to the toilet BEFORE we came in!”

“No, Mum. That lady – what’s she from?”

Sigourney Weaver. Ghostbusters.

My husband just smiled.

Nun-Denominational Fun

Nuns 'N' RosesWith 13 years of Catholic education in my distant past (note Meredith’s recent comments about our 20 year school reunion), I have a healthy respect for nuns. My memories range from the wonderful Sr Mary Amata, the school librarian who encouraged my love of books and reading, to the rather intimidating Sr Mary Pauline, who made my bush dancing classes 45 minutes of sheer torture.Reverend Mother of Purl

Given my experiences with nuns in the past, it is perhaps not surprising that I was intrigued by the Nun of a Kind website with its fantastic range of gift nuns. That’s right, you can purchase your very own, shipped direct to your door nun.

Once I visited The Nunnery I was hooked. Reverend Mother of Purl, the knitting nun. Nuns ‘n’ Roses, the rock’n’roll nun. Sr Nun the Wiser, the university graduate. Absolutely priceless as a gift idea for anyone with a Catholic background who can appreciate a good pun or simply someone like Meredith who includes nuns in her list of fundamentally amusing things.

Once I knew the Sisters existed I just had to have one. I just had to find a reason to justify my purchase. Fortunately, Linda the creator of the wonderful nuns, added a new nun, Sr Paige Turner the writing nun, just in time. Before you could say “get thee to a nunnery”, I had ordered two, one for me and one for Meredith.

Sr Paige Turner - our Keep the Table Laughing NunI didn’t stop there of course (Hello. My name is Susan. I am a compulsive online shopper). Thanks to a few emails bounced back and forth with the very helpful Linda, I also ordered two Sr Bea Well nuns as a special gift for my mother and her best friend, both of whom are breast cancer survivors.Sr Bea Well - Breast Cancer Survivor tribute sister

If you’re looking for a gift for someone with a great sense of humour, the Nun-denominational sisters are a fantastic bet-you-don’t-have-one-of-these gift. I have now outdone any gift Meredith could ever possibly give to me in the future (after all, how do you trump a personalised nun?) and my mother and her friend were very impressed with their special breast cancer survivor tribute nuns.

I’m rather partial to Sr Nun the Wiser given my probably return to studies at the end of this year. Sr Eileen, the off-centre nun appeals to my fondness for puns and how could any good book blogger go past Sr Rita Story, the reading nun?

Visit the Nunnery and then let us know Sr Nun the Wiserwhich nun is your favourite.Sr Rita Story

Does your Muse keep regular business hours?

One of the more challenging aspects of being a writer is the need to be creative on demand. It isn’t always possible to simply write when the mood strikes, especially if an important deadline is looming.

Of course it is easier to write when your muse is in the mood. Unfortunately, my muse is of a particularly quirky disposition. I seem to be at my most creative between 5 – 7 pm (when I am trying to organise dinner and bedtime routines) and after 11pm at night (when the rest of my body is shifting into shut-down mode for the day).

Inspiration often strikes while I’m in the shower but my poor sleep deprived brain is incapable of holding on to the ideas long enough for me to get to a notepad to write them down. A friend once suggested that I use a chinagraph pencil on the tiles, but that would mean more time spent cleaning the bathroom, right? Obviously that’s not going to happen.

I also tend to get quite creative when Meredith is occupied for a few days and can’t get to her computer, leaving me with complete control of our writing domain. This may explain why she rarely goes away for family holidays, as the insane number of emails from me she has waiting in her inbox when she returns scares her a little, I think.

What about you? Do you have a regular time of day when you’re all fired up and ready to write? Is your muse a free spirit like mine (that sounds so much nicer than headstrong and unmanageable) or does your creativity submit to a writing routine? If you’ve managed to achieve the latter, please feel free to share your tips and advice on how to train your muse to perform on demand.

Competition – Back to the Kitchen

Celebrity Masterchef is about to hit our airwaves, and we have to admit we’re kind of excited.  We loved the first series so much, and we are hoping that this version manages to keep the brand going. Surely it can’t fail when it combines two of our favourite things – food and celebrities. (Yeah, and you thought we were all about political philosophy and nuclear physics, didn’t you?)

KeeptheTableLaughing_front CoverWe particularly love food. So much so that a few years ago we wrote Keep the Table Laughing – A cookbook with a twist. Our cooking mantra is a little different to that of Gary, George and Matt. They judged the flavour, appearance and “Wow” factor of the food produced by the home cooks on Masterchef. Our motto is “the heart of the dinner party is not the dinner, but the party”. We believe that enjoying yourself around the dinner table is more important than creating works of art every time. In Keep the Table Laughing we interspersed some of our favourite easy recipes with tales of cookery and family life, and the kinds of conversation we were having over coffee and homemade chocolate cake.

It should be noted that the other kitchen creed that we live by is that any dish can be improved by adding at least one of three key ingredients – bacon, cheese or chocolate. Yes, we have a cardiologist on speed-dial.

What are your kitchen rules and cooking mantras? Does everyone pitch in or do you like to fly solo in the kitchen? Perhaps you only use home-grown vegetables and herbs.  Do you have the latest fancy equipment or scorn anyone who can’t create a four course meal with just a knife, a whisk and the wits God gave them?  Maybe you’ve never met a TV dinner you didn’t like.

We have two copies of Keep the Table Laughing to give away. To enter just leave us a comment below with your kitchen creed. Tweeting the competition will result in a bonus entry.  Competition is only open to Australian residents and will be drawn the day of the Masterchef finale. You can also enter at our book blog Reading Upside Down.

Make sure you include your email address when you leave a comment (addresses do not appear online) and include our twitter name, @thinkthinkers, in your tweet so that we don’t miss your extra entry.

Bon appétit!