The one that doesn't smell faintly of dinners.

Pale green handbag sitting amongst Autumn leavesWhen the situation calls for it, I like to think I am capable of holding my own in a professional forum. You know the type. The suited up kind. Brushed hair. High heels. That sort of thing.

And recently, the situation called for it. I dressed up. I dug out the fancy handbag, you know, the one that doesn't ever go into the kitchen. The one that doesn't smell faintly of your dinners.

On that morning, the senior recipe tester took our junior recipe testers to school because I had very important places to be. I kissed them all and left early for the bus stop. The commuter bus stop. To catch the bus. The bus that takes commuters into town. To do important things.

Important work is fuelled by coffee, so I filled my travel mug and put said cup in my handbag. I fancied that perhaps the junior recipe testers were vaguely impressed that I was heading out early to do important things...

As I walked out to the garage, I realised I had to drop a box off at the kitchen. The kitchen is near the bus stop, so I figured I could do both in the one trip. Tucking my handbag firmly under my arm, I leaned over to pick up the box.

Coffee poured into my armpit. 

It dribbled onto the box.

I resisted the urge to start yelling, but I did have to flap my shirt in an effort to rapidly cool the coffee down.

I walked back into the house.

"That was quick," commented the senior recipe tester. Now, it should be said that the senior is well used to my leaving several times in the morning, returning often more than once to retrieve the things I have forgotten on the first, second or third attempt at leaving.

On this particular occasion I may have given him a somewhat withering look. "I have coffee in my armpit," I quipped, trying to engender sympathy. "You wouldn't believe what just happened..."

"If it was anyone else, I probably wouldn't" was his truthful reply. He didn't bat an eyelid when I handed him my handbag and asked if he would please wipe it out while I went to change my clothes.

I did eventually get to my meeting. In town. With me, I had a handbag. The fancy one. That doesn't smell faintly of your dinners.

Yes. The one that smells strongly of coffee...

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Therapeutic Gardens guest blog

Dinner on the Table team

It was my pleasure to write this week for the Therapeutics Garden blog, about what drives me and about our affiliation.

I first met Jo from Therapeutic Gardens a couple of years ago.  What inspired me about her was her intimate understanding and her passion for the power of gardens, of the natural environment, to promote health and well-being for people of all ages, abilities and needs.  Almost immediately we started talking about how we could work together to improve the health and well-being of some of Australia’s most vulnerable.

Dinner on the Table has always worked on the premise that having a good dinner cooked for you changes your daily life.  But how that dinner is produced changes lives too.

Read on to find out how we plan to work together.






When someone else does the cooking

Setting sun outside a restaurantThere is deep joy, I am convinced, in someone else cooking dinner for you. Someone else takes care of the shopping, the preparation, and, most importantly in my opinion, the dreaded washing up.

For Christmas we were given a voucher to a lovely local restaurant. The senior recipe tester and I quickly took the chance to have dinner on our own. But, given that there was money remaining on the voucher, we thought we would have a second intimate dinner. This time for five.

And so last weekend we set out for an evening of relaxation, good food and good conversation.

We had sat at the table for perhaps a minute and a half before the first drink went over. The junior recipe tester who spilled it is such a master at such feats that he now tends to either, try and hide the fact that he's had a spillage, or comment immediately upon the magnitude of spillage in an attempt to reduce the richter scale of exasperation that surely follows.

In this instance he commented immediately on magnitude. Not that much, in his considered opinion. However, given that we were in a restaurant and the drink was special, and filled with ice, he had to make a second admission: his "not very" wet shirt, chair, table and floor were freezing cold. He required assistance.

Assistance was delivered through gritted teeth, but determined not to ruin the evening, we took some deep breaths. Thankfully, at that point the meal arrived.

One soggy junior began to assert that there was a problem. The slow roasted, falling apart, meat sitting on his plate was "too crunchy". We politely suggested he was being ridiculous. No, he insisted, it was crunchy. And, what was more, his teeth were not strong enough to chew it.

I imagine one day we'll encounter this problem again. One day, 40 years from now, the senior recipe tester will sit opposite me at a restaurant. We will hope that the denture glue is steadfast. And I will gaze into his eyes and say, "My teeth are not strong enough to chew this..." 

Parenting thesis: Chapter One

Black and white image of a baby asleepWhen I commenced my parenting thesis, nine and a half years ago, I had not considered that it would take quite so long to hand it in. I had not banked on the required reading list being quite so long, nor the minimum skill set being quite so extensive. This graduation, of course, does not mark the end of the parenting journey. Merely, it signifies the end of the chapter entitled, "child-at-home-during-the-day-several-days-of-the-week".

At the completion of a thesis it is requisite that a paper be published from the work. Now that the junior recipe testers are all at school during the prescribed hours, save those times we are running late due to a flat bike tyre, lost car keys or a tantrum about whether or not sunscreen should be applied and by whom, I feel it incumbent upon me to write.

Parenting is oft described as one of life's most fulfilling pursuits. Although there is some conjecture amongst scholars, those critiquing this standpoint are often found to have no offspring of their own. Supporters of the notion of parenting fulfilment are quick to counter that critics should at least be grateful that their parents wanted to try it. Lest they would not have been born.

The early years, considered the time between birth and when the last child starts formal education, are generally considered stressful. Learning potential is heightened as well adjusted, sensible adults come to terms with the vagaries of newborn, toddler and child behaviour. Classes, taken prior to the birth of a first child, are a curious human endeavour, producing adults who feel accomplished at parenting but without any understanding of what the task of caring for an offspring actually entails.

Along with my fellow graduates of 2018, all of them titans of learning, the following minimum competency standards have been achieved.

Shoes are rarely found on the feet of junior recipe testers, particularly in those precious minutes before you need to get out the door. An hour before leaving home, said shoes will be on the appropriate feet. A minute before, not so much. Multiple strategies for dealing with lost shoes, including hopping, are both learned and rehearsed.

For the breastfeeding mother, the advent of an infant's teeth is a significant test of faith. The losing of teeth, however, may set forth a series of events that has to be witnessed to be believed. At this point one is expected to add an additional role to one's repetoire - that of tooth fairy - without any additional duties allowance. Any role performance issues are treated extremely seriously.

The teaching of tucking in a school shirt requires swift mastery concurrent with the starting of school. In most cases it involves at least four hands, belonging to up to three individuals, pushing slightly too long shirt tails into a slightly too loose waistband. Proficiency is achieved when the task can be accomplished while running along the footpath, undistracted by the sound of a bell ringing in the distance.

The graduation ceremony was held on Monday 5th February. The bell rang, the lines were drawn, the bags were placed on the appropriate hooks. The tissues were fetched and the long walk back to the car, my hands empty, began. 

Time to write chapter two.

The balance back to real life

People swimming at the beach under a blue, lightly clouded skyWe talk a lot about work-life balance, and about the daily juggling act. But until this week it hadn't previously occurred to me how much of a balancing act getting back to real life was.

We had a lovely school holiday, enjoying some much needed time out and an extended period with family and friends at my favourite beach in all the earth. The junior recipe testers learned to body surf, caught and released prawns, swam with fish, some more or less walking on water to get away from the fishes "creepy eyes" and rattled through our very first earthquakes (that's a story for another day).

And then the first day of school rolled around. And we were back to real life.

The daily life tasks that you are required to balance are dependent entirely upon your socio-cultural status: where you live in the world, how old you are, your gender, and your role. If you are a junior recipe tester, this means your mornings may be preoccupied with getting dressed, eating breakfast, making your bed. Routinely, it will mean you need to invest significant time finding your shoes.

If you are an actuary, your mornings may include negotiating commuter traffic, checking market reports and doing hard sums. In both cases this will look completely different if you happen to live in Australia, in Austria or in Angola.

And so the morning, in our corner of Sydney, began.

One junior appeared in the kitchen in a pair of socks. And nothing else. She had neither noticed the breeze, nor that she had missed a few significant steps in the daily task set before her. When prompted she disappeared again.

Shrieking down the hall quickly followed. A second junior was going into meltdown. The first had gotten distracted again and was now sitting on the second's bed. The second indignantly pointed out that his sibling was sitting on his bed, "With a bare bottom!!"

With the daily goal of dressing finally sorted, we commenced goal two: eating breakfast. The youngest of our juniors promptly, and predictably, dropped part of his breakfast on the floor. "It's alright," he bellowed, immediately hopping off his stool in a desperate attempt to ward off the usual berating, "I'll just brush it off. With my toenails."

In a few days time, this particular junior will commence formal education. The senior recipe tester and I have great hopes for his progress. Principally, that pedagogical instruction will assist him in comprehending certain anatomical truths, namely, the difference between his fingernails and his toenails.

If the accomplishment of daily life tasks in and around the rigours of formal education is getting tricky already, may I suggest, this week's menu?

Merry Christmas