Saturday, April 30, 2011

Getting back on the wagon

I'll spare you the excuses, compelling reasons and dire necessities that forcibly kept me from my computer screen for a week now.

The interesting bit - for both of us - is what happens next? Do I get back on the wagon, or do I sit in the middle of the road sobbing while it disappears into the sunset?

Whenever we fail to live up to our own intentions and expectations we face the climb back onto the wagon. It's easy getting on the first time, full of hope and good intentions, full of excitement about where we're headed and how much greener the grass will be when we get there. It's harder the second, third and fourth time, with the knowledge of failure (or defeat) burning in our breast, and grass that is an ubiquitous shade. But unless we climb back on the wagon, we won't get to our intended destination.

I wonder why it seems easier to say, 'Sod the wagon, I never wanted to be on it anyway!' than it it is to accept that we fell off - or jumped off - but now we want back on again?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bad behaviour in a carpark

Traffic can turn ordinary people into tools. Maybe the distance between us and the outside world creates the necessary privacy to act like a tool in ways we never would up close and personal.

This morning, a chap wanted to turn into a carpark. The streets were quiet, but there was a queue of about five cars ahead of him actually in the carpark, where one driver was leaving and another was waiting to take the spot and temporarily blocking the throughfare. It's Saturday of a long weekend, so there wasn't anywhere to go with any great urgency. (It wasn't a hospital carpark, for example.) He was waiting in a turning lane and was in no danger of being hit by another car while he waited. Nonetheless, he repeatedly blasting his car horn - maybe at the cars in front, or maybe just at the world in general.

What disturbed me more than the pointless rudeness and excessive aggression was that he had his small daughter in the car with him. She was visibly distressed. From the look on his face, he wasn't even much moved, the instinct to blast away appeared to be his habitual first response. (Like I said, tool.)

I was sufficiently moved by his behaviour that I walked over to his car to ask him what he thought it would achieve. He failed to make eye contact, and drove off as a bit I got closer. As I was feeling quite moved, I walked over to his car again.  I did this three times, and each time, he moved away without making eye contact.  I'm pretty sure he knew I was there. Bullies never seem to enjoy a taste of their own medicine. Even if it's administered by a pedestrian and they're driving a big 4wd tank.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A sacred holy day

Here in Melbourne, Good Friday has become the most sacred day of the secular year. I woke up to silent traffic sounds. No-one is going out because there is nowhere to go. The shops are all shut - and how often does that happen these days? The Zoo, the Botanical Gardens? Shut. Even Bunnings is shut. (A few traders of different religious persuasions will open, ensuring that Melbournians can get essentials such as milk, nappies, kebabs, pak chouy and great middle-European cakes and pastries.)

The second most sacred holiday is not, as you might expect, Christmas Day. It's ANZAC Day (in honor of returned servicemen) on 25 April. It would qualify as the most sacred day, except that the shops are only closed until 1pm. The pubs needed to open so old diggers could go out for a slap up lunch (liquid or otherwise). Now the shopping malls feel this applies to them too: Mammon must be worshipped, he is a jealous god. I suppose a little retail therapy helps bring us down from the ANZAC Day focus on death and noble sacrifice.

Its an interesting cultural phenomenon that Many more Australians will observe the dawn service ANZAC Day ceremonies on Monday, than will be in church at 3pm today. Unlike Christian congregations, the gate at the Shrine of Remembrance is growing annually. Which begs the question: which day is really the more sacred holy day to the average Australian?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fancy a change?

If its our waistline, or a grumpy teenager, or our finances, and the change is positive: bring it on!

If it is a loved one behaving 'like a stranger', or it's ambiguous what will happen, or it's negative, or it involves something or someone we like the way they are now, then hold the change please, I'm fine with the status quo.

Not that we get a choice. Often, we don't control change. Even when we make the change, we don't - and can't - control all the indirect consequences and repercussions of that change. We pick up both ends of the stick when we grab hold of one end. Which leads to both fear and anxiety.

Without change, there is stagnation. A little bit of stagnation, once in a while, can be very comforting, but it's not good for us. When did you last do something different, something really new? Try it and you'll get a new appreciation of resistance.

So, do you fancy a change?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting what I ask for, or what I need

Today I was buying hardware. I needed to buy a bracket that was similar to, but shorter than the bracket sample I took in.  I needed a centre bracket for some curtains, as the curtain pole was sagging in the middle. But the middle bracket needed to be shorter because it would be installed on the window frame, whereas the end brackets were attached to the wall.

The staff went out of their way to get me what I asked for.  They didn't become enrolled in my problem. With great regret, I was told that there were longer brackets, but not shorter ones than the sample I had with me.

I thought for a moment, then said, "I know, I'll use these longer brackets to replace the ends, and use the one I already have as the 'short' one in the middle." The staff tried to stop me, "But the one you're buying is longer than the one you have. I thought you said you wanted a shorter one."

"Yes," I said, "but it solves the problem just as well." They were so busy giving me what I asked for, they weren't giving me what I needed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Love language translation errors

We feel sad - and unappreciated - if those around us do not notice the small tasks we do for them. Perhaps we tidy the kitchen bench. Perhaps we make more than our share of cups of tea. Perhaps we always put the garbage out. Perhaps we watch a film in which we have little interest. I recently had an instance where my little expression of love was ignored or at least not recognized for what it was. These are examples of translation errors in our love languages.

Which started me thinking. More important than my 'love tasks' being noticed is to notice and appreciate those others do for me. I wonder what I am missing? I do notice some things, but probably not all.

The difficulty of having different 'love languages' is this type of obliviousness. I'm carefully giving you space and not mauling you when you are tired, but perhaps you're craving a cuddle. Restraint may be one of the hardest love gifts to appreciate because it is invisible when done well.

Or I might think you put the garbage out because you share my ideals of equitable distribution of domestic tasks, and thus fail to see it as the example of cherishing you perceive it to be.

If only we recognized all the loving things done to and for us as they were intended by the giver: the world would be a more peaceful place, and we would each feel more appreciated too.

Sent from my iPhone

Working from home - two birds with one stone

I'm freelancing from home a lot at the moment. I rather like it. Today I found myself working in 3 different rooms of my house, and out in the garden. The change of scenery is good for creativity, as it keeps things fresh. I find I enjoy my house more, when I use it more.

Wage slaves - and I count salaried professionals in that category - tend to only enjoy their homes briefly. Most of the time, we spend more time maintaining it (it gets dirty when unused too) than enjoying it. For many, the weekend is when we do a week's worth of laundry, a mountain of dishes (especially if we've had a rush of blood to the head and invited people for a meal) and a vacuum, dust and general tidy up.

Working from home, I do a bit of housework every day, rather than a lot at once. So no day is the dreaded 'housework' day. It's great to do something physical while you consider a tricky piece of writing. It's good to get up and more around after you've been text editing at a computer screen for the past two hours.

As for productivity, yes, there are some days when not a lot of 'billable hours' occur. There are other days when I'm still working at 9pm - or when I start at 6am. Over the course of a week, I'm not sure it makes much difference. I don't waste any time on 'make work': at home, you're either working or you're not. There isn't any benefit to sitting around pretending to be busy the way there can be in an office environment.

Working from home is a good way to kill two birds with one stone. Or maybe I'm just learning to appreciate the positives of whatever circumstance I find myself in. It feels a bit like work-life balance to me, if there is such a thing for more than a few days!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Growing food

I have discovered pea pods on my peas. I now consider myself a farmer. I have never grown food before - unless you count herbs, which I don"t quite.

They're too small to eat, but it's a start.

Apologies for my recent absence. Normal service has now resumed. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Simple pleasures

"I don't think even a king could eat anything nicer than bread with butter and honey." So says Cassandra Mortmain in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle (brilliantly read by Jenny Agutter in my Audible audiobook).

I quite agree, and that was my snack yesterday. Another pleasure is 15 minutes weeding in my garden. There's something very satisfying about pulling weeds up by the roots, especially the kind that have runners. The recent heavy rains we're enjoying make weeding easier and more necessary too. The glow of conscious virtue is a b

Sitting in the sun for a few minutes (when there is any) enjoying the mildness of the air. The smoothness of freshly washed sheets and I slide between them. (I've never been a fan of satin, I prefer the resilience of good quality cotton, with a high thread count.)

I've been suffering from a bug - I blame the change of season - and as I recover it is such simple pleasures that I enjoy most acutely. I don't know why they're so easy to overlook when we're caught up in our busy schedules or our busy minds.

What're your favorite simple pleasures?

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, April 11, 2011

Advice: just another word for affirmation?

When you ask someone for advice, what are you after? Do you want their unique and different perspective on the issue? Or do you want them to uncover what you - perhaps unconsciously - think, or want to hear? Do you even ask for advice?

Some people ask for advice as a form of attention-seeking. Most of us are flattered to be asked for our sage advice. Remember: the other person is not obliged to take our advice, but it's polite for them to listen to advice if they ask you for it.

Have you ever had someone solicit your advice, and then when you give it, argue that your perceptions are plain wrong? Have you ever been that someone? This is a case where your affirmation is desired, rather than your advice. Rather than, "what do you think?" you're being asked, "do you think I'm right?" (or even, "I'm right, aren't I?")

It's a win-win situation for the advice-seeker: you affirm their opinion now and they get to blame your bad advice if everything doesn't work out the way they want later. Here's my useful side-step phrase when you recognise you're in this situation: "Wow, I'm flattered you want my opinion, but I don't feel qualified to comment."  If the advice-seeker presses you, you can follow up, "You're a fully-fledged individual in charge of your own destiny, I'm confident you've already worked out what you feel is best to do, and that's what's relevant here."

Saturday, April 9, 2011


No wait is long if you have a good enough novel. Waiting for public transport, five minutes feels like ages. Today, fifteen minutes passed in the blink of an eye. Thank you, Donna Leon.

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When we don't finish what we start

Have you ever noticed how many times you don't finish a task you start?

Sometimes it's the nature of the task, but more often we get distracted or think we are better at 'multi-tasking' than we really are. This post was prompted when I emptied the kitchen bin earlier today, and an hour later I realised I hadn't replaced the bin liner. In itself, it's a minor sin of omission, but it started me thinking.

Many - most? - of us go through life metaphorically leaving lights on, doors open, lids off, belongings strewn about the place, etc. I suggest that all but the most efficient and tidy amongst us do this at least some of the time. For example, does it count as finished when you 'file' those files in the 'to be filed' basket? I don't think so. It's really finished when you file those files in the correct file in your filing system.

Much of the minutiae that clogs our lives falls into this category. Also most of the annoyances of on our annoyance lists. Take this completely fictional example:

We take the dirty dishes through to the kitchen, then dump them on the benchtop rather than stacking them neatly let alone rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. (Chances are we don't do this because the dishwasher is still full of the last load of clean dishes.)  Incomplete tasks snowball. We don't have time to empty the dishwasher just now, so we dump our new load of dirty cups. Later, we don't have time to empty the dishwasher and reload it, so we certainly don't have time to do all that and cook, so we go out to dinner….

When something has remained unfinished for long enough, it becomes first an annoyance and then a 'guilt god' (thanks to the late Douglas Adams for this useful concept). Eventually we have a large domestic crisis looming when we either the funky smell, guilt, or impending visitors drive us to deal with the kitchen situation. That's right, it's now officially 'the kitchen situation'. At which point we're mentally swearing and feeling sorry for ourself for having to do all this horrible, unnecessary, boring, unpleasant, menial housework on our precious day off. It takes a long time, and we're exhausted mentally and physically by the end of it.  So we have a cup of tea. Then we decide to do something more interesting as a reward. We probably leave the dirty cup on the coffee table when we do so.

So the next time you find yourself 'just' doing something else instead of finishing a task you'd already start, stop and ask yourself where it might all lead, and what your daily life would be like if you finished minor or menial tasks whenever you started them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Is this the end of the shiny nose?

Another product review. Good work deserves encouragement.

I don't like foundation makeup. I like what it does - when it works - but I don't like how it smells, how it feels on my skin, how it rubs off on my clothes, or the breakouts I get when I use it.

But - and its a big but - I also don't like having a shiny nose (well, a shiny t-zone since I'm being confessional.) My Scottish ancestry is evident in my pale and sensitive skin, which goes red whenever I encounter an environmental poison - like sunlight, cigarette smoke, alcohol, coffee, sugar, perfume… you get the idea. Vanity, thy name is opinionatedchildlesswoman.

Now I've found a foundation that works on the shiny/red part, without the usual negatives of foundation. It's called Matte Morphose by L'Oreal. (I bought a small tub for AUD 30 at Priceline.)

It has a mousse texture, and you only use the merest dab of the stuff as it spreads a long way. I do mean a dab, and not a wodge too - I ususally just tap the surface of the stuff with my middle digit and apply that much until I run out. 3-4 taps does as much of my face as required.  Its texture is creamy without being oily. Once it's on, I can't feel it. When I touch my face, the skin feels like smooth skin, not like pancake. It doesn't have enough smell to mention.

It lasts and lasts, without clagging up my pores. I haven't had a breakout as a result. Yet it does cover in the illusionistic way I like. At first you can see where you've applied it, but within a few minutes it seems to disappear. I don't look like I'm wearing makeup until I use a wipe to take it off, and then I notice that it was evening out my skin tone. Mr O, who can't understand why women think they look better with "that stuff" on their faces, quite approves of this one because he doesn't notice I'm wearing it, he just thinks I look especially nice today.

I've worn it all day without my face beginning to itch - which is a first. This foundation is even making me vainer. Now that I know I can get rid of the shiny/red, I tend to wear it more often than in the past. Or maybe that's just part of being in my early 40s? (My 30s was when not wearing lipstick prompted colleagues - especially male colleagues - to ask, "Are you feeling ok today? You don't look well.")

I think this IS the end of the shiny nose.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A 100% cotton non-iron dress shirt - really!

Mr O has just discovered Seidensticker 100% cotton non-iron shirt. Which really is non-iron. No, I mean really. Once again I find myself exclaiming, O brave new world! (I expect we'll crack poverty and world peace any day now….)

We recently bought some other shirts that claim to be non-iron, with varying degrees of success. The Seidensticker are the real deal.

I do not use any tricks or special equipment. The O household has a front-load washer, and I do use the crease free setting. When I hung the shirt out on the line in a light breeze I got the best result. Drip-dry inside was not exactly creased, but did not have the same crispness. Moving air seemed to help. The shirt dried inside did need a quick 'touch up' with the iron. What my mother used to call 'a lick and a promise'. This was made almost worth doing because I sprayed on some lavendar water for the totally over-the-top care. (Yes, sometimes I am that much of a domestic tragic - but not often.)

The next best non-iron shirt was Brooksfield (by Gloweave). It was not crumpled either, but you could tell it had not been ironed. The Seidensticker shirt did look ironed. No creases, at all. Other shirts in various brands all needed to be ironed.

Both the Brooksfield and Seidenticker shirts iron like a dream, if one feels very dedicated or if the gentleman has a very important meeting or a wedding or funeral to attend. I do prefer the German shirt though - it handled better and the seams were so even the shirt laid flat ready for the iron. Both had a soft smooth texture, which I think of as 'buttery' even though no grease is involved.

Serious attention to detail, and a seriously wonderful sensory experience. If you have to wear a business shirt. Or launder one.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Driving and playing piano (not at the same time)

Today I drove for the first time in nearly two years. A combination of a temporary injury, a lack of available car, followed by lack of confidence, habitual avoidance, and de-skilling.

Anticipation was far worse than the experience. It felt weirdly normal to drive. I got my confidence back driving around the back streets on a quiet Sunday morning, while I re-familiarised myself. This is more significant than it sounds as I was a late-blooming driver who didn't get my license until I was 30. So I already had a story about how I was too old to be a really good driver.

I get much the same sensation after I haven't played the piano in a few days or weeks. It doesn't take long for the cycle of hyper-self-criticism, loss of confidence, avoidance and guilt, and de-skilling (repeat ad nauseum) to take effect.

Get on and drive either machine, and that all evaporates like snow. You're doing it, end of story. A very happy ending.

Happy driving this week.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Why do we care?

The clocks go back tonight, so time is on my mind.

I wrote recently about minutae. Why do we care so much about minutae? For example, I have a nature strip and I care about how it looks. I cut it with shears (very tiring, but satisfying) and have investigated replacing it with creeping thyme or just killing the current 'grass' (aka 'weeds') and installing some instant lawn. My preferred variety is Santa Ana in case you were wondering. Add up researching lawn mowers and lawn mowing substitutes, lawn care, planting options etc and I suspect I've given a week of my life to this issue over the past six months or so.

Why is it so? Why do I care? I doubt it adds to my property values. If I were selling or renting I'd pay a Jim's Mowing man to deal with it and that would be the end of it. I don't worry about the neighbors: it's not that kind of area, and I just don't much care what they think. No visitor has ever remarked upon the state of my nature strip.

In the end, I think I like grass and this is the only patch of it that falls under my sphere of control. Amateur psychologists may find other reasons why.

There are many less obvious tasks we all do because we care - although why we care is a mystery when you consider it consciously. I suggest we waste a little more time investigating why we care. It may just be a matter of out-of-date programming, with the potential to save us minutes, hours, days, weeks and even - eventually - years. Time we can spend on something or someone we really care about.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Knowledge is power

Here's a great trick for getting baked on gunk off a stainless steel roasting tray. I scrub and scrub, but the burnt oil always collects on the edges of the pan, and creeps toward the centre with regular monotony.

Pop the tray in a plastic basin filled with hot water and a dishwasher tablet. (Use rubber gloves and don't splash the water on your clothes or in your eyes. Let it soak. I became distracted and left the pan in for two days. The chemicals don't seem to have harmed the steel.

Rinse and allow to air dry, the baked on oil will peel off - literally, spookily even.

In domestic management, as in so many areas of life, it turns out that application, diligence and good intent are not enough to ensure a successful outcome. They need to be allied to knowledge. Knowledge is power.