Getting Out of the Fast Lane

Life would work better with a remote control; so you can pause for breath occasionally, rewind the good bits and fast forward the bad. Last month I jabbed furiously at the pause button, I felt like I was living life in fast forward. Trying to do too much and not doing anything particularly well, something about men and multi-tasking perhaps?

We went to the zoo yesterday; it was the first time we got to see the lions. We don’t normally get that far because I’m ferrying us round the enclosures at break neck speed and zooming home so I can get The Boy to bed and put my Dad Down Under hat on. I’ve decided to take my foot off the gas, engage cruise control and see more lions.

The last month’s been good; I’ve been reading books instead of tweets, enjoying excessively long baths instead of brisk showers and foregoing takeaway coffee cups in favour of a chair and a chat. If I could make a foodie metaphor, just because I like food and metaphors really, it’s been a lovingly prepared risotto rather than a throw everything in and hope for the best stir fry. We’re all wired differently, some people like life fast and furious I prefer a gentle amble.

Increasingly it feels like you have to consciously choose to slow down, if you don’t make that choice you get swept up with the rest. People often tell me how lucky I am to be a Stay at Home Dad, how they wish that they could be doing the same thing. For the next couple of years I’m going to make the most of it, my ambitions stretch no further than enjoying being Dad. There’s plenty of time for the fast lane after that.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a sunny spot under a tree to claim as my own, I’m going to go and stare at clouds for a while.

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Do you ever find yourself wanting to get out of the fast lane?

April 15, 2014   | 16 Comments

Surfing the Wet

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I don’t watch a lot of television but there is one show I never miss and you can file it under Guilty Pleasures. Once a week I command the remote control, demand silence and become completely absorbed in 30 minutes of high octane life saving in the form of Bondi Rescue. Whilst I suspect a large portion of viewers like to imagine they are being rescued by one of the boys (or girl) in blue, my motives are altogether different.

I watch with morbid fascination as people who can’t swim, surf or even float hurl themselves into waves and rips like lemmings. “What are you thinking? You shouldn’t even be near the water!” is one of the many things I like to shout at the telly. Anna looks at me with an expression that screams; pot, kettle and black. She has witnessed my journey from novice surfer to, erm, novice surfer and feels with some justification that I am in no position to criticise.

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I like surfing in theory. I like driving out to the beach full of nervous excitement. I like waxing my board and that’s not a euphemism. I like doing wees in my wetsuit when it’s really cold. I like informing people I’m going for a surf. But when it comes to the reality of actually standing up on a surfboard, I’m useless.

I walk out as far as I can until the water is just below my nostrils because I’m too lazy to paddle. I’ll sit on my board wondering whether its shadow is in fact a large, hungry shark with a penchant for Englishmen. Suddenly a wave smashes the bejesus out of me, sucks me under and only lets me out once it is sure I’ve learnt my lesson.

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As I splash and flap in my blubbery black wetsuit it occurs to me that to any passing sharks I must be doing an incredibly convincing impersonation of an injured seal. The entire time I am ‘surfing’ the Jaws music plays loudly in my head. For a split second I might get into a position somewhere between a crouch and a stoop and that’s enough to keep me coming back for more.

Having watched on from the comfort of the beach as I’m tossed around in the waves, dragged out by rips and struck with my board Anna recently gave me an ultimatum; get lessons or stop. I’ve had 2 lessons now with a very patient instructor who likes to call himself Fish and if you squint there has been a tiny suggestion of progress. Worryingly I also realised that I had been breaking every one of the 8 Safe Surfing Commandments

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  1.  Thou shalt surf with a friend.
  2. Thou shalt assess the conditions prior to entering the surf.
  3. Thou shalt continue to assess the conditions whilst surfing.
  4. Thou shalt use a leg rope and nose guard.
  5. Thou shalt stay on your surfboard if you’re in trouble.
  6. Thou shalt stay calm, stay with your board and paddle parallel to the beach if caught in a rip.
  7. Thou shalt be aware of other people in the water and never surf too close to swimmers.
  8. Thou shalt learn to surf with a lesson from a Surfing Victoria affiliated instructor

I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be troubling the Mick Fanning’s or Kelly Slater’s of the world anytime soon but I am enjoying getting in and out of the water without any Bondi Rescue style cameos. Do you have any surfers or surfers to be in your household? Have you or anyone you know had any dicey moments in the ocean.

Do be sure to follow the Play it Safe by Water Facebook and Twitter feeds for ongoing safety advice, competitions and giveaways.

April 9, 2014   | 8 Comments

The Joys of House Hunting

Something’s not quite right when you start to feel nauseous that it’s nearly the weekend. The past few have been spent in a car with a map, hunting for the elusive dream home. Our net has been cast far and wide, it’s a trawler net, not one of those sustainable ones that lets unsuitable fish fit through, we’re catching everything. Last Saturday we set off at 9am and returned at 8pm; stupid big net.

Rather than search for properties that falls within our location and budget I have an involuntary reflex that automatically enters unsuitable locations and a figure that is substantially beyond our upper limit, just in case the owners have a kind heart and see no real value in financial gain.

Rather than set up a search on that well known real estate website and patiently wait for an email to alert me of a new property, I will visit said site approximately 20 times each day. This also means having to decipher ‘estate agent’ speak and there seems to be some recurring themes. This morning I saw a property that simply had the headline “Provence?” in reference to the beautiful French region and style, what this property had was a photo of an outside table and chair with a bottle of wine and a baguette on it.

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Other favourites include;

This one’s got it all – it has a roof, four walls and a floor

Real quirky character – Whoever decorated this property was clearly on drugs

Neat as a pin – its only redeemable feature is that it’s been cleaned

Room for improvement – you might as well knock it down and start again.

There was actually an Estate Agent in England who gathered notoriety for taking honesty to the extreme and described one house as having; “All the charm and poise of a vicar on crack. Suit midget on a budget.” It would certainly make the process of house hunting more entertaining.

I remember house hunting pre-kids being quite a leisurely process, measuring up rooms and ‘debating’ where I’d put my X-Box. These days I spend the entire viewing trying to restrain Max from jumping on the beds, using the toilet, stealing food and generally making himself at home in someone else’s.

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House hunting is beginning to feel a bit like an exercise in self harm for someone too squeamish to deal with the sight of blood. I suspect this is just the calm before the paperwork, removalist and renovation storm that’s on its way. The hunt goes on.

How is house hunting for you? Are you currently searching?

March 28, 2014   | 8 Comments

It Shits Me That He Swore

We were making our way back from the library weighed down by a bag full of books and a child that is reluctant to acknowledge that his feet are made for walking. His ears pricked up as he heard a passing police siren, few things excite Max like a services siren.

“I think it’s coming to get me Daddy”

“Why would it be coming to get you Max, what have you done?”

“I said fucking”

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Of course it was said just loud enough for the passing Mum who had just collected her son from school to hear. I caught her eye as she looked at me in disbelief, I think was wearing the same expression, and was hit with a large dose of something that felt a bit like shame or guilt or sadness? I couldn’t help but think that that Mum probably looked at us and thought ‘bad parent, bad kid’ – I wanted to catch her up and explain that it wasn’t an everyday occurrence and it hadn’t come from me.

I came down to Max’s level and told him in no uncertain terms that it’s a word he shouldn’t use and that some words are off limits. In truth he had said it with all the confidence of someone that didn’t really know whether the word he was saying had any meaning whatsoever. After a few silent paces he asked me if I was “happy now?” which is what he says when he knows something has riled me. I gave him a big hug and told him I wasn’t angry with him and that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I hate that he said that word. I suspect most parents struggle with the notion that their toddlers are anything other than perfect and him saying that word doesn’t make him imperfect but it certainly caught me by surprise. Don’t get me wrong I can swear with the best of them (in adult company) but there is something surreal about hearing it from the mouth of a toddler, my toddler.

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It was the first time as a parent that I was forced to acknowledge that no matter how much you want to shelter or protect them from the unseemly bits and pieces of life, you can’t.

March 25, 2014   | 10 Comments

5 Teachers I Vaguely Recall

When I was training to become a teacher, the lecturers drilled it into us that the best teachers will always be remembered by their students. I remember my Dad bumping into one of his former students 30 years on who told him what positive impact he’d had on his life. I racked my brains trying to remember whether any of the teachers in my 13 years of education had had a major impact on me. I don’t think I can honestly say any of them did. I think they ranged from completely unsuitable to average, there was no great inspirational figure that imparted a thirst for learning. These five stuck in my mind for other reasons;

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Mr Sixsmith was one of the most unlikely candidates to be a PE teacher that you’ll ever come across.  He had a glass eye; rumour had it he lost it in a javelin accident but I suspect that might have received some creative license along the way. He sported a greasy side parting, a bristly moustache, an ill fitting tracksuit, a complexion that suggested he probably enjoyed a drink or two and belly to match. When it was shower time he’d come along with a brush and push you under the water, in hindsight I’m not sure he should have been working in a school.

Mr McEwan was one of the angriest men you could ever wish to meet. He taught Woodwork and after telling me to “put some elbow grease into it” was unimpressed when I spent 10 minutes searching for a tub labelled “elbow grease” in the cupboard. He always wore a short sleeved white shirt tucked into an impossibly high waisted pair of grey nylon trousers. His teaching methods were straight out of the old school and two of his favourite things were shouting in your face and finger poking.

Mrs Bird came along when I was making the transition from dorky boy to lusty (dorky) teenager and she was the closest thing I’d had to an attractive teacher. She taught Geography and low and behold my best subject suddenly became Geography; I know all my capital cities and can talk at length about igneous rock.

Mr Barker was another PE teacher. He was ex-military and I suspect he was struggling to let go of his army days. He was one of those teachers that was a lot of fun if you were on side but you knew that if you did push his buttons you would probably regret it. He had an old shoe called Mr Smiley that was a sort of a sidekick, it had a smiley face drawn on the sole and he’d ‘encourage’ any stragglers to partake with a whack across the legs. I once sent a stray discus hurtling towards his testicles at high speed only for him to vault it at the last moment, sighs of relief all round.

Mrs Pretorius was my Sociology teacher and a total stoner. She was always unprepared but you forgave her for it because when you smoke that much marijuana I imagine planning lessons and marking work wouldn’t be very high on your priorities. I seem to remember watching The Simpsons quite often and being asked to find examples of sociological goings on.

Do you have any teachers that stick in your mind, good or bad?

March 18, 2014   | 10 Comments

Run Your Own Race

It’s human nature for people to want to fit in, to be part of a majority, to be the same as others and not to stand out. Bizarrely at school it seemed to revolve around footwear, having the right brand made all the difference and could make the ride a little easier. I can remember on my 13th birthday using every last penny of my birthday money to buy a fairly ridiculous pair of trainers that had a pump in the tongue, just in case you ever felt the need to have inflatable feet. It served its purpose though and for a couple of weeks I was the toast of my class, crowds would flock to pump my tongue, that is until Mark McPhail got a pair with air bubbles in them and stole my glory.

I think it’s quite easy for parents to slip back into that schooldays mentality, with the temptation to fit in and do what the others do. Just like school where you had the popular kids you now have the popular parents, they no longer hang out round the back of the bike sheds smoking cigarettes and instead seem to favour congregating at cafes and sipping lattes. And were as the currency of popularity used to be footwear these days it’s prams.

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It’s easy to question yourself as a parent, you are your only critic, until your children reach their teenage years and then they can criticise your parenting too. One of the most straight forward routes to parent self doubt and guilt is to compare your methods with other parents. Which weekly classes do you send your son too? Where do you take your swimming classes? Have you enrolled Max at any schools yet? Daddy why am I drinking water and all the others are having Babyccino’s?

Throw in the ‘expert advice’ from the magazines, blogs, websites and books and it can be very easy to question what you’re doing. One of the best things I did when I started hanging out with Max was to write a list of what sort of parent I wanted to be, what I wanted for Max and how I could make those things happen. Knowing the sort of parent I wanted to be has made the journey a lot easier. It’s proved to be more valuable than the tatty page of scruffy scribbles would suggest.

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I try not to dish out too much advice to new parents, they look shell shocked enough as it is but I would say that running your own race and not being influenced will make for a smoother ride.

 

March 17, 2014   | 8 Comments

Viva (Vegetarian) Mexico! Corn, Black Bean and Haloumi Quesadillas and Salad

I was raised by a couple of vegetarians, then I defected, then I came back and now I’ve defected again – it’s a cyclical thing. Vegetarian food can be as interesting or as boring as you make it, same as a carnivore diet. I don’t eat much meat anymore and I do feel healthier when it’s kept to a minimum. I’d challenge even the most sceptical carnivore not to enjoy this meal.

Corn, black beans, haloumi, coriander, chillies, spring onion and tomatoes all come together in one bright, pretty picture and it tastes pretty good too.  The best thing about this meal is that the quesadilla filling and the salad are the same thing so it means you aren’t stuck in the kitchen all day. If you need further convincing; it’s quick, cheap and healthy to boot. image

Ingredients

1 tin black beans, drained
1 chopped red chilli
2 spring onions, sliced
1 handful of tomatoes
100g grated Haloumi
4 large tortillas
1 corn on the cob
1 chopped green chilli
1 handful of chopped coriander
1 lime

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1.      Boil the corn until cooked, strip the kernels and cook in a hot frying pan with no oil to blacken.

2.      Combine the corn, drained beans, spring onion, tomato, chilli, coriander and Haloumi. Half of this is your salad, put it to one side and dress with lime juice.

3.      With the other half squash it up with your hands. Heat both sides of 2 tortillas in a hot dry pan. When you’re heating the last side add half the mix, spreading it evenly and leaving a 1cm edge empty around the outside of the tortilla.

4.      Put the other tortilla on top and squash down in the pan. Cook on a low heat to warm the filling without burning the tortilla.

5.      When you’ve charred one side, flip it over and cook the other.

6.      Cut into quarters and serve with lime and the salad.

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Where do you stand on vegetarian food? Have you ever tried a vegetarian diet? What’s a vegetarian recipe you like?

March 16, 2014   | 13 Comments

How To Make “The Daddy”

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This is the first Friday afternoon in a long while that I’m not feeling a little tipsy, instead I have a thudding headache after an evening of, ahem, ‘cocktail based research’. I thought I’d take #HappyHourDDU on tour this week and called on the help of an expert. His name is Mr Shaker, he has biceps the size of my thighs and he knows a thing or two about cocktails.

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“Make me something that looks pretty” were the vague instructions he had to work with and he did just that.

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“The Daddy” (alright I might have been behind the name)

Macerate ginger and chopped strawberries with Limoncello for 1 day. Add 2 tbsp. of the ginger and strawberry mixture to a tall glass (or jam jar if you don’t have a shaker) and muddle (mash up) with a rolling pin. Add 2 shots of gin, 1 shot of cherry liquor and shake.  Pour into a cold glass and top with tonic water, lemon juice and stir. Finish with a fresh strawberry, some chopped cucumber and a spiral of lemon rind to garnish.

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A big thank you to Mr Shaker for doing what he does best. If you want to set him a challenge for next week, I think he’s more than up to the job. Also a big thank you to Sorsi E Morsi in St Kilda for letting me use their bar and their barman, this place has kept me fuelled on coffee, pasta and cocktails for many years and is a home from home.

PicMonkey CollageAbove are the last 5 weeks of #happyhourddu, which one tickles your fancy - Margarita, Mojito, Aperol Spritz or the Water Cooler?

If you’re having a little Happy Hour all of your own, I’d love to see what’s in your glass. Take a pic and share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with #HappyHourDDU and we can all get merry together. What’s your favourite cocktail? Happy Happy Hour!

March 14, 2014   | 6 Comments