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..." 

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Is it really working mothers' fault... again?

Child eating Chicken & Leek Pie

Overweight and obesity is a significant public health concern. More than 60% of Australian adults are obese along with at least 25% of our children. So where do we apportion blame? Well, working mothers apparently.

We’re spending around 32% of our weekly budgets on takeaway food and eating out, according to a recent report by Deakin University. For Hungry Jacks owner and Domino’s Chairman Jack Cowin, this figure is directly attributable to women working more. Not his fault that the dinners he dishes up contribute to the national epidemic; it’s your fault for working.

Whacking working mothers yet again is boring. It particularly smarts when it comes from the head of a fast food chain with the worst scores on commitment to healthy eating in the country. The convenience food industry can do a better job of providing real, healthy food choices. We do. Every week. We’re also working closely with some forward thinking managers to provide meaningful support to their employees in the everyday juggle between work and home. Stay tuned… we can’t wait to tell you about it!

We know you struggle to cook a perfectly balanced dinner for your people every single night of the week. Because we do too. That’s why we appreciate it when someone cooks for us. We just demand convenient food that doesn’t make us or our kids feel miserable. And doesn’t contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Women's Agenda :

If you'd like to see the interview #abcthebusiness:

Sweating the small stuff and frying the big fish

Aerial view of 32/7 Carrington Road Castle Hill

Tell me it's not just me? I mean the big deals, they can be pretty stressful. But it's the small stuff that can really push you over the edge. The small stuff uses up your emotional energy but sometimes there are bigger fish to fry.

One of the junior recipe testers needed a haircut. It should be said that the haircut was badly needed. The junior in question would put Australia's finest merino to shame. He wasn't overly chuffed with the idea of having his haircut, but his hair was ridiculous. Even the barber commented.

Haircut complete, he continued to grizzle about how he hated haircuts. And his smart new hair. Give me strength.

We finally got over it long enough to get home. Fortunately, because he now can't see his hair, he forgot about it. We carried on.

Some time later that day this particular junior took himself to the bathroom. At this point it should be noted that this is the junior who also has the broken arm. Tasks such as attending to one's personal hygiene needs are somewhat more difficult one-armed.

A short time passed and an enormous cry came from the bathroom. "He's fallen on the floor," I thought. "He's cracked his head open on the edge of the bath and is bleeding," was the next thing to enter my head. "Are you alright?" is what I shouted down the hall, picking up my pace.

"I hate my haircut!" came the response.

Standing up from the toilet the junior had caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror...

At this point I began to wonder how many years I'd get for grievous bodily harm.

It is these matters that consume my emotional energy. But this, you'll be pleased to learn, isn't the big fish we're frying...

The big news is Dinner on the Table is moving our kitchen. Our current premises on Seven Hills Road with the great kitchen and terrible parking has served us well for the past few years. But it's time to move on...

We're heading up the road to an exciting new premises in Castle Hill. You'll find us at Unit 32, 7 Carrington Road.

We'll have more space for cooking and more parking. This means that it'll be MUCH easier to pick up your dinners from our kitchen, and we can't wait to see you there. (And, stay tuned for some exciting new ways we're making it even easier to get dinner on your table.)

All this excitement means that for a short time we will need to pause deliveries while we get all our equipment out of our current home and into our new home. Order by 1pm Monday 28 May for delivery next week. All orders after this time will not be delivered until Tuesday 5 June.

We'll keep you posted about how we're going. Moving house is great... once it's done.

Work-life balance is a myth

Child in a school uniform holding a school bag with a green plaster cast and slingWork-life balance is a furphy.

There. I've said it. Out loud.

Sorry to burst your bubble. Or perhaps you made that discovery ages ago (and if you did, why didn't you tell me?)

I don't think that's the end of the story though. While it might not be balance, it just might be something else.

Last week I had the great fortune of spending three days in Melbourne as part of an incubator program for entrepreneurs. Fabulous. Great discussion. Great coffee. Great brain food. (Must remember to pack more black clothes for next trip).

The day before I was due to leave, the senior recipe tester had to travel to Brisbane for work.

His was a particularly early start, but no big drama. The junior recipe testers and I went about our usual Wednesday things, culminating in soccer training for two of them. Miraculously, training occurs for both juniors at the same park at a very similar time. And so, last Wednesday night, the four of us went.

About half way through training one of the juniors fell over. He did not get up. He howled. And could not readily be comforted. We sat about for a bit waiting for the comfort to kick in. It didn't much.

He was complaining bitterly of a very sore arm, and so in the end I thought perhaps I should seek some expert advice. A&E at the Children's Hospital seemed the most likely place to get the advice we needed.

With one howling junior on my hip I trudged back to the car. A good friend offered to take the other juniors home with her at the completion of training until we could work out what the position was. At the news that one junior was going to hospital another junior also began to howl. I comforted as best I could with my one free arm and my somewhat pretzeled spine, and continued on my journey.

The initiated will know that children's hospital A&E departments are not the place to go for a good time. I found myself inspecting every person to come through the door, wondering what we might catch from them. It is particularly incumbent upon any parent, I believe, to give a wide berth to anyone on "trial of fluids". For the uninitiated: you don't ever want to sit next to the poor soul holding the plastic bag.

Many hours passed. The crowds built and the caring, if frazzled, staff met need as they were able. Eventually we made it to X-ray, to the doctor's consult and ultimately into a cast to begin the process of healing a broken arm. As the hours passed I began to wonder whether I should reschedule my flight for the following morning: I wasn't sure I'd be home in time to make it.

With the senior recipe tester back on tera firma he fast tracked himself home from the airport to rescue our friend and bundle our other juniors into bed. He then arranged for someone else to mind them at our place and came to the hospital to relieve me. I had a bag to pack...

We all finally made it to bed three hours before my alarm went off to go to the airport. The junior is mending. The senior and I would like a bit more sleep...

I'm so grateful for the three days I got to spend dreaming and strategising Dinner on the Table. But there's no balance between caring for my children through crisis, and an intensive work period. I know you know this story. Because it's your story too.

Is it time to stop talking about balance, as if it's something to aspire to?

At that particular time, we had just enough resources to fit the demands, both thrust upon, and chosen by us. We were able to meet competing needs, with help from family and friends, and, while exhausting, our work during those few days was meaningful, if unpredictable.

Ultimately, we could sustain the pace for those few short days. But ask us to expend those resources for a week, or a month, or a year? We may as well plan to fly ourselves to the moon.

And so, forgetting balance: how sustainable is your daily life? How long can you manage the competing demands of your work and home life? Do you have the resources to fit the demands? How long will those resources last? How predictable is your day to day?

I know your life is not balanced.

But perhaps it doesn't have to be.

Why mums are worth it

My mum and I

Photograph: Alexander Mayes Photography

I met my mother quite a long time ago, when I was born. I don't remember it. Mind you, she assures me, neither does she. Best practice for childbirth in our case (and with the trouble I apparently caused) saw her knocked out entirely when I was born. She's not sure how many hours or days passed before she came to. ...But that's another story...

Thirty something years after that I became a mother.

And somewhere in between, I spent a lot of years thinking about mothers, understanding mothers and mothering from mothers themselves, wrestling with what it means to be a mother, to become a mother, and how this all happens in the context of disability.

In fact, I wrote a book about it.

Its publication was not proceeded by a great fanfare. Oprah didn't phone, wanting to discuss it. In fact, in the absence of any phone calls I rang the two people I thought might be excited about it: my mum and dad.

Dad answered the phone.

"My book is published."

"Well, that is just fantastic. Congratulations. We'll have to buy a copy. How much does it retail for?"

I told him.

[Long pause]. "Can I borrow your copy?"

Best seller or not, I learned some things about mums who have a disability. I think I learned a bunch of things about mums generally. As mothers, we see ourselves as the centre of our child's support network. We fundamentally believe that no one can provide care for our children as well as we can.

That's why (at times!) it can be so hard to leave your children with someone else. It's why we get defensive when other people suggest ways we could do a better job of caring for our own kids.

At the extremes: if we, or someone else, decide we can no longer look after our children at all, where does that leave us? The work I published after this book attempted to answer that question: it leaves mums grief stricken. But not always in disagreement: sometimes there are reasons why mums can't look after their own children. But when a mum is told she can't be the centre of her child's support network, it hurts.

Being mum is a job trickier and more rewarding than we ever thought possible. And we, like you, think mums deserve looking after. Mums are worth it.

If you'd like a good read (and you have a very good job), you can purchase a copy of the book here.

Or, you can borrow mine.

Cinderella had the same trouble...

The senior recipe tester and I at the ball

Once upon a time in a land not far from here at all, there lived a maiden not as young as she liked to think. In fact, she was less maiden and more matron... but that's the start of another story.

She did not spend hours sweeping out chimneys and emptying the ashes. In fact, rather than having to while away the hours yearning for a ticket, she was invited to the ball. Prince Charming had turned up many years before, had assumed the role of Senior Recipe Tester and added Junior Recipe Testers to the tribe as well.

But, given that the prince was still cute as ever, she decided to take him along.

It was a friend, rather than a fairy godmother, who loaned her a gown to wear. As for shoes, they looked like they did indeed belong to poor Cinderella (before the fairy godmother showed up). Some of the straps were rather flapping in the breeze and required repair. The local cobbler made assurances that he could sort this out in plenty of time for the event.

Her locks, were not particularly Cinderella-esque: being neither blonde nor curly. Again, in the absence of a nearby fairy godmother, she went to see the hairdresser, to have her tresses tamed.

On the way home from the hairdresser, there was just enough time to call in to the cobbler to retrieve the golden (rather than glass) slippers she was to wear that evening. Congratulating herself on a) finding a handy parking spot and b) her speed and agility getting through the crowded shopping centre, without ruining her hair, Cinderella raced back to her chariot.  (the one with the car seat in the back seat).

The golden slippers were something to behold, once mended. She thanked the cobbler kindly, knowing they would suit the gown perfectly, and raced back to the chariot in the handy parking spot.

On the turn of the key, the chariot made a peculiar noise. Cinderella tried again. It made less noise. On the third try the chariot was completely silent.

In the land far away, it is hard to say how a pumpkin chariot would be remediated if the horses refused to pull it. In the land of quite near here, the NRMA battery service appeared to be the best option. She also phoned Prince Charming.

Because he really is, Prince Charming offered to come and wait with the chariot so that Cinderella could go home for a pre-ball snooze. For this she was exceedingly grateful, even if it did mean she had to sleep on her face for fear of ruining her recently combed tresses.

Many hours passed. Eventually Prince Charming appeared, now somewhat thin on patience. He arrived not on a steed, but in the chariot. The one with the car seat in the back and the new battery in the front. 

In record time, they made it to the ball.

I'm sure Cinderella was dropped at the door of the ball, the footmen rushing to assist her from her carriage. My Prince Charming found a parking spot and we made our way to the function. It was a lovely evening.

The walk from the car was just far enough for the recently mended slipper to become completely detached from itself and disintegrate entirely. And so, like Cinderella, I left the ball with only one shoe.

The edges of love

Timber hearts

Love is a wonderful thing. The commitment of one human being to the wellbeing of another is surely to be cherished and encouraged. But you wouldn't want to take that sort of support for granted. Neither would you want to push that commitment too far. 

I perhaps might have.

Last weekend Dinner on the Table attended the Castle Hill UPmarket. Bright sunshine, friendly folk, good food and lovely, local gifts. Perfect. Especially for the occasion, we had a new setup, complete with a freezer from which market goers could purchase their dinner. Excellent.

The freezer lives in our big kitchen. I needed it at the market. We borrowed a trailer for the transportation efforts and all appeared to be well. At some point it did dawn on me that, even with my herculean strength, I was perhaps going to struggle to lift a commercial freezer into a trailer on my own.

I turned to the person I turn to most often on these occasions. The senior recipe tester, who not only possesses herculean strength, but titanic patience, agreed to help.

Because the market started early we had to dig the junior recipe testers out of bed on Sunday morning for the trip to the kitchen. Bleary-eyed and pyjama-clad they trudged to the car while I trilled merrily that it would not be long before Daddy could take them back home for breakfast.

Turns out it was very long.

Arriving at the kitchen we set about simply popping the freezer into the trailer and setting off. The trailer was not so far up off the road and we had a trolley. No problem.

We manoeuvred the freezer against the trailer tailgate and the senior climbed in. We reasoned we could tilt it back and simply heave it into the trailer. I pushed on the bottom, while the senior pulled from the top.

I thought we were making excellent progress. We were inches from having it aboard. I pushed some more until I heard an odd noise. I shouted instructions. No response. When I looked around the side of the load I realised the senior was wedged between the top of the freezer and the trailer cage. His face was red. He was unable to speak freely. He did not look best pleased.

I stopped pushing. We put the freezer back down on the road. We tried something else. And something else. The freezer remained resolutely out of the trailer. A couple of times a junior would emerge from the car to ask if we'd got the freezer on the trailer yet. By this time neither the senior nor I looked best pleased.

I'm always learning. Last weekend I learned how tricky it can be to get a large, cumbersome object to defy gravity, even if it only seems like a little bit. This week I will learn about lifting devices specifically designed for moving large objects off the ground.

And I have learned that love, the commitment of one human being to the wellbeing of another, might find its limits pinned under a large object and strained through a trailer cage.