Tuesday, 14 October 2014

100 Word Story - Reader's Digest Australia Competition

I've wanted to take on the challenge of writing a one hundred word story for a few years now and recently, I saw in the Reader's Digest Australia magazine that their 100 Word Story Competition is on again. The prize for the overall winner is $1000 and since I have taken my car to the mechanic and my teeth to the dentist both in the same week, I decided that now is well and truly the time to enter. I had thought that the challenge was to write a story of 100 words or less, but it turns out that it must be exactly 100 words. After adding and taking away words half a dozen times, here's what I came up with:

She sits in front of the cake, eyes gleaming, totally present in this moment.

Her family gathers around her, smiling, taking photographs. They wouldn't have missed this party for anything.

One of them lights the candle, another turns off the lights. Her gap-toothed smile broadens, she starts to drool. Someone leans across with a napkin and wipes her chin.

She's can't express her gratitude with words, but they can see how much she's enjoying herself.

They start to sing. It's time to blow out the candle. Just the one, to symbolise a century; one hundred would have been too many.



The Reader's Digest 100 Word Story Competition is open until the 31st December 2014. You can enter your own story here. Hyphenated words count as one. Good luck!

Have you ever written a 100 word story or any other very, very short work of fiction?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

How to Get a Baby to Sleep - Wheelbarrow Style

Last week, Annalisa and I were visiting her grandparents and were out playing in the garden. She walked over to the shed, where she knew the wheelbarrow is kept, pointed to the door and said "Brrrrm" (Brrrrm is her word for anything that has wheels). I'd given her a ride in it before and she must have remember how much fun it was. So I got out the wheelbarrow and gave her a ride around the garden. 

But after only a couple of laps of the house, she started to get sleepy ...

 And then a minute or so later, I looked down and saw this ...

This was the girl who has taken an HOUR to get to sleep in her cot the previous afternoon!

So we took a bit of a tour de jardin in the spring sunshine. I couldn't believe how peacefully she slept in there.

Eventually, I stopped wheeling her round and left her to finish her nap by the lavender.


Have you accidentally discovered any other weird and wonderful ways to get a baby to sleep?

Monday, 29 September 2014

Easy Raw Chocolate Recipe

I must confess I have a new love in my life. And no, it's not a member of the opposite sex. Heavens no. It's raw chocolate.

I discovered an absolutely delectable brand of raw chocolate in the supermarket a few months ago and it has been an obsession ever since. I do have some competition for my new love though - my rascal of an eighteen-month-year-old, who adores the stuff just as much, if not more, than I do.

The ingredients in the chocolate are all natural so our obsession isn't a problem as far as our health is concerned, but I have been starting to think that perhaps it is becoming a bit of a problem as far as our finances are concerned. At $2.59 per small bar, this choccy isn't cheap. I worked out that if we had just one little bar a day (not that we do. We do have days off, but we also have days when I eat four or five in a row so that evens things out), that would end up costing $945.35 over a year.

So I decided I had better learn how to make it myself.

After studying the ingredients on the back of the packet, looking up various recipes online and doing a bit of tweaking and experimenting, I've come up with an easy peasy recipe for raw chocolate balls:


1 cup of dates, chopped

1 cup of nuts, crushed (I used 1/2 cup of almonds and 1/2 a cup of cashews. You could also use pecans, walnuts or macadamias or a combination of whichever nuts take your fancy).

1/4 cup of coconut oil

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon cardamon

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla


1. Chop dates, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to soak for one hour

2. Place nuts in a sandwich bag or plastic bag and bash with rolling pin until crushed. You can also use a mortar and pestle for this if you have one. But I recommend the sandwich bag and the rolling pin because the bashing process is enormously fun. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's actually therapeutic. Perhaps I should bash nuts more often.

3. Once dates have soaked for an hour, strain, making sure to catch excess water in a bowl

4. Place dates, nuts, spices, coconut oil and cocoa in a bowl and mix all ingredients together

5. If more moisture is required, add some of the remaining date water until desirable consistency is achieved (this is a sticky mixture though so you may not need any at all)

6. Line a tray with baking paper. Place rounded teaspoons of mixture onto paper

7. Place in refrigerator. Leave to refrigerate for at least an hour 

8. Sit back and indulge
Bake Play Smile
Do you like raw chocolate?

Do you have any other tried and tested recipes for it?

Have you bashed anything lately with a rolling pin? 

How to Recover a Deleted Blog Post

A couple of weeks ago, I logged into blogger to edit a post and as I was scrolling down the list of previously published posts, I realised that one of them was missing. 
Now google + often likes to play tricks on me and make blog comments sometimes disappear at random only to reappear a couple of days later, so initially I didn't worry about it too much. But as the week went on, I checked back several times and the post was still not there. I checked in the blog archives on the main page of my blog; not there either. I tried clicking on links from other blogs that had linked to that post; those links were broken. I did a cached search of the direct URL of the post; no luck. The post had vanished.

I was angry and I was confused, as any blogger would be on discovering that their work had disappeared. Unfortunately (and naively) I had not backed it up anywhere. There are several of my posts that I really wouldn't mind being lost in the oblivion of cyberspace, but this wasn't one of them. I kind of liked this post. It pretty much summed up who I am and described an event which has subsequently led to a beautiful friendship. Not only that, but a lot of people had left comments on it and, as most bloggers would agree, nothing makes us happier than lots of comments - they're the bread and butter of blogging.

I'm still in the dark as to exactly how this happened. In one of the moments when my eighteen-month-old got hold of my phone, did she, in the short time before I rescued it from her, press the exact combination of buttons to get into the backstage bits of my blog and delete the post? High unlikely, but not impossible. Or did someone log into blogger and delete it on purpose? There is only one person I know of who could have done that. I'd like to think that this too is unlikely, but again it's not impossible. While I was contemplating this possibility, I remembered a conversation where I told him my password. I can remember distinctly what he said to me when I told him. I'd like to believe that even he wouldn't contemplate doing something like that, but I changed my password nonetheless. And then there's a third possibility: it simply vanished because of an unexplained technical error with blogger. That possibility makes me feel very vulnerable as a blogger, thinking that something like that could happen again.

But there is a happy ending to this story. Not a perfect ending (I couldn't retrieve the post in its original form with the comments), but I'll settle with happy over nothing.

After much googling and trial and error, I discovered how to retrieve a deleted post. There is a place on the web called Way Back Machine where it appears that everything that was ever published onto the net is eventually archived. That means that nothing is ever truly lost or hidden (which is kind of cool and scary at the same time).

This is what you need to do to retrieve a lost post:

1. Go to archive.org/web/

2. enter the URL of the post you have lost

3. click the 'browse history' button

4. click on one of the dates highlighted in the calendar on the page that will appear and your deleted post should appear

It is possible that the post you are looking for has not been archived. I tried locating about a dozen of my current posts using this method and while most of them were there, a couple had not been archived. I was lucky that the one I was looking for had been.

I hope this works for you. In the meantime, here's the post that mysteriously disappeared ...

A Cautionary Tale About Pyjamas & The School Run

I have often wondered if all mothers of school-aged children were asked to do an anonymous survey about whether they had ever dropped their child off at school in their pyjamas (assuming, of course, that they didn't have to get out of the car) what resulting percentage of secret pyjama wearers there would be.

I must confess that I am guilty, not just of a once-off or a now-and-then offence, but of being a serial pyjama school run mum. And while I'm being honest, I might as well confess that I'm sometimes still in my  PJs when I go to pick my son up from school in the afternoon too.

Well today's post is a little cautionary tale about why one should actually dress oneself in a socially acceptable manner before leaving the house ...

As we leave the house in the mornings, my nine-year-old son and I have developed a bit of a routine: I grab the house keys, the car keys and the baby and go out the back door. As I do so, I stick the house key into the lock, leaving the door open. While I am putting the baby in her carseat and warming up the engine, Ben follows me out of the house, turns the key in the lock, gives me the keys and runs next door to get Han, the little girl who lives there, who we take to school. This usually works quite well because I can threatened Ben, who is the slowest breakfast eater in the history of the world, that if he doesn't hurry up I will drive Han to school and leave him at home. Fortunately for me, he likes school and this always speeds him up. He also doesn't want to miss out on seeing Han.

Last Friday, however, our little routine did not go altogether smoothly. Neither Ben nor I are morning people and we were running even later than we usually do. The morning fog had also not yet lifted from our brains and, although we didn't realise it at the time, we were both operating in a state of muddle-headedness.

I drove the kids to school in the usual way, decked out in pyjamas with a hoodie over the top. The little girl next door is used to seeing me dressed like this now. She either thinks it's completely normal or else she thinks I'm officially insane and is just too polite to tell me, because she's never mentioned it.

After dropping them off, I drove home, parked the car, got the baby out of her carseat and patted my left pocket where I always put the housekeys. A feeling of dread washed over me. The pocket was empty.

I checked the right pocket. I checked all through the car. I checked to see if they were still in the door. But alas, the door was locked and the keys were nowhere to be found. There was only one place they could be: in Ben's pocket.

Now if I had been clad in socially acceptable attire, this would not have been much a problem. I would simply have driven up to Ben's school, knocked on the door of his classroom, explained the situation, got the keys, end of story. But this was not the case. Now don't get me wrong, I'm really not too concerned if people like the way I dress or not, but I had my son to think of here as well. It is doubtful if he would ever truly be able to forgive his mother for turning up to his school, where he is still very much the new kid on the block, in her flanellette pyjamas. Added to that, I was braless, make-upless and wearing a pair of big fluffy slippers (not that turning up to your kid's classroom in pyjamas is okay as long as you're wearing make-up, a bra and nice shoes, but I'm just trying to draw a picture of my physical state).

I looked a little something like this, only hundreds and thousands of times worse, because this is my 4 pm face (I got Ben to snap a re-enactment shot when he came home from school) and at the time I had my 8:30am I-don't-do-mornings face on and believe me, you should be grateful that you're not looking at a photo of that.

At this point a number of things went through my mind. Should I call the school and ask the secretary to ask Ben to meet me in the carpark? That might have worked, but my phone was inside the house. Should I drive to my sister's or my best friend's house, ask them to come back with me in the car and get them to knock on the door of Ben's classroom? That seemed like a plausible solution so I got back in the car and headed off and then realised that I had no petrol. Both of them live twenty minutes away and I would have been lucky if the car could have got half that distance. Even if I swallowed my pride and ventured into the petrol station in my nocturnal apparel, there was the small problem of money; my purse was locked inside the house too.

Perhaps I was just going to have to risk it. I'd just get in there, get it done and get out as quickly as possible. If I put on my sunnies and just popped my head round the corner of the classroom door, keeping my body concealed, then surely there was a chance I might get away with it. I put my hand to the top of my head to reach for my sunglasses (which I never go driving without, even if it's overcast), but all I could feel was the top of my head. Of all days, of course this day would have to be the one where I forgot my sunglasses. I hunted round frantically in the car for my old ones which I knew had been floating around there recently, but all I found in the way of eyewear was a pair of 3D glasses. That's really all I needed to top off my outfit and give me a lifetime reputation as a flat out freak.

At that point I also remembered that, being Friday morning, the whole school would also be having assembly. Parents are always invited to this of course, but this was far from a comforting thought. So besides gate-crashing the assembly and scarring my son for life, the only other alternative I could think of was waiting outside the house until school finished six and a half hours later. It was chilly, I had no clean nappies for the baby and the only thing to eat would have been the nasturtiums in the front garden.

So desperate times led to desperate measures. The only thing left to do was to ask Han's mum, Thuy, for help. Thuy and I have met and greeted each other several times since we moved to the area a couple of months ago and she was very happy when I offered to drive her daughter to school, but up until that point, we had never been inside each other's homes and she had definitely never seen me so casually dressed.

I knocked on the door and when she opened it, I blurted out "I need your help". I didn't even need to explain the whole story. As soon as I said "Ben's got my keys in his pocket", she nodded her head, got her coat and came outside. An amused little smile spread across her face. She doesn't have a car, so we both drove up to the school in mine. She got out and braved the crowds at the assemble to find Ben and bring the keys back to me where I was lying low in the car.

When we got back to our houses, she invited me in for a coffee. I hung out in her loungeroom, without even bothering to go home and get changed, for another two hours. That little smile didn't leave her lips the entire time.I think we're going to become good friends.

That afternoon when I asked Ben to take a photo of me for my blog (because, let's face it, I really have no life and don't have anything else to blog about), instead of apologising for pocketing my keys and allowing me to endure such emotional exhaustion, he said very matter-of-factly: "It's lucky you didn't come up to assembly this morning in your PJs, mum; your pyjama top doesn't even match the bottoms!"

So in future I shall be far more careful. In future I shall ensure that I always go to bed in matching pyjama top and bottoms so the next time I get locked out of my house, at least I will look fashionably co-ordinated when my neighbour opens the door to me. 

So tell me the truth ... do you do the school run in your PJs?

Have you ever been caught out?

Could you trust your neighbours to save you from public pyjama shame?

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ten Things I Love about Here

I've had this post growing in my head for more than five months now.

It took root while I was thinking one day back in April about all the things Ben and I left behind when we left the home we used to share with my daughter's father. My losses were great, but my son's were greater because he had no control over the decision to move away from his school and his friends and a limited understanding of why it was necessary to move so far away.

At around the same time that I was having these thoughts, a number of things started to go wrong in our little cottage: the roof sprung a large leak, we were visited by several rodent guests, the oven decided it would stop working whenever it was raining, the washing machine decided it would only work when it felt like it, and half the light bulbs in the house stopped working all at once. Some of these problems were reasonably easy to fix. Others have been ongoing challenges.

So Ben and I came up with a little motto to help us put things into perspective and appreciate our house more during those times when we get fed up and want to rant about our house being too small or too leaky or that it stinks of dead rat-in-the-ceiling, That motto is: "it's better than camping" and it makes us remember all the things we have, like beds and hot showers and a computer and a power point to charge my phone.

And so, on that day back in April, I thought to myself, actually there's a lot to be thankful for around here. I started to make a list in my head and every so often, as the weeks went by, I'd add something to that list in my head. I'd go back to that list whenever I felt my thoughts returning to the things I had lost and left behind to remind myself of the beauty and fortune in our lives.

Tonight, I thought I'd finally get that list out of my head and onto this space. So here it is,

Ten Things I love about Here

1There are three parks in walking distance from us

We visit them often when the weather is fine. Sometimes, we even go on a park 'crawl' and go to all three in one day. And it's as good for me as it is for the kids - it's a pretty good work-out chasing a toddler around a park! It's really quite embarrassing how quickly I work up a sweat and start panting.

2. We have the best of both worlds

We live in quite an unusual suburb of Western Australia in that our house seems to straddle two parallel worlds. On one side of the river near to us is the hub of urban life, but on the other lies a laid back of cul-de-sacs and cottages, some of which are among the oldest buildings in the state.

If we walk out of our driveway and turn left and walk for five minutes, we come to a mini suburban metropolis where we can find top-quality coffee, a library, three major supermarkets, a video store, a post office and a take-away pizza chain. Oh, and the liquor store I told you about in this post.

But if we walk out of our driveway and turn right and head for five minutes in that direction, we go past  properties that are semi-rural, some with geese and chickens, some with horses and one with alpacas. Yes, that's right, alpacas. I was walking along one morning with my top-quality take-away coffee in my hand and all of a sudden, I looked up and there was an alpaca. I had to do a bit of eye rubbing.

This is where I planned on inserting a photo of an alpaca or a horse. I went walking this morning to snap one, but the blighters were hiding from me (a bit like almost every single animal almost every single time I go to the zoo).

3. We live in walking distance from a train station

I know that might not sound particularly riveting to some of you, but Ben loves train travel and after living so far away from any trains for such a long time, it's all seems rather exciting for us. We've taken a few trips into the city of Perth and also to Fremantle.

                                                Ice-cream time in the city with my lovelies last weekend.

I don't notice the toots of the trains anymore as they come and go from the station. When we first moved in, I noticed them all the time. But it was strangely comforting because it reminded me that I wasn't completely cut off from the world the way I had been before.

4. This little corner of the globe is quirky (and we do like a good dose of quirk now and then)

This means our family walks are rarely dull. I'm not just talking about the people we meet either. We have a route that we follow when we're going for a walk just for some exercise and fresh air and along the way, in among the houses of the back streets suburbia, we pass a graveyard (which Ben always wants to enter), a caravan park, an antique shop and a veterinary clinic which doesn't look like a veterinary clinic at all because its premises is a rather rundown suburban house. We often hear a cacophony of assorted barks, squawks and brays coming from inside when we walk by.

5. We have corner shops - TWO of them - spoilt for choice

I was delighted and surprised to discover that there are two surviving corner shops close to us, when all over the country, these iconic institutions seem to be dropping like flies. It's even more surprising when you consider just how close they are to some of the major supermarket chains. But how could a supermarket ever hold the same intimacy as a corner shop? Actually, if I'm buying more than one item, the man who owns the one I go to most often usually tries to rip me off by ten or twenty cents each time. He looks over whatever I've put on the counter then just tells me a price. Maybe he's just really bad at maths, but I tend to think he's a very cunning business man taking advantage of the fact that he doesn't have to scan items or give receipts. If he managed to get an extra ten cents out of every second customer every day, that would really add up over a year. But I'm onto him. And I still love corner shops.

6. All is going well at Ben's school

He has really hit the ground running at his new school. He came in at week eight of first term and had been invited to two different boys' homes for a play before the end of the week. He's made friends with both boys and girls of different ages and backgrounds and never wants to miss a day of school. I try to remind him often that I'm so proud of how good he is at making friends.

The only real thing that's not going so well is his inability to stop talking in class. I think I will have to nominate his teacher for earthly beatification.

7. We have orchards, vineyards and rolling hills practically on our doorstep

There are two ways that we can drive to my parent's place from our house. The first way involves two highways and several sets of traffic lights and for a while I thought that was the only way. Then one day, we were out driving about and exploring and we realised that there is a back way to their house through the Perth hills. This way takes about ten minutes longer, but has winding roads through the bush instead of highways and beautiful scenery instead of traffic lights. I take the back way whenever I can (except at night because there's no street lights on those windy roads).

In some places, the scenery on this route reminds me of the landscape around parts of the south west of Western Australia, where we lived for two years before moving here. Driving through these roads, with their apple trees and grapevines, helps to ease the longing in my heart for the place we had to leave.

8. Our garden is full of endless surprises

When we first moved in , I had no idea that there were so many natural beauties in our garden. I was allowed fifteen minutes to inspect the house during the home opening before making an application for it, so there wasn't enough time to explore the garden in detail. Since then, we've discovered an olive tree, a locut tree, a jade plant (which is also known as a money tree apparently, so hopefully it will bring me good fortune) and as the seasons have changed, roses, lavender, hawthorn, black-eyed susans, nasturtiums and poinsettia have all sprung up and made our garden alive with colour and flooded with fragrance.

There's also this beauty whose name I can't remember. I think it starts with D. If anyone knows, please tell me!

9. I have neighbours who bring me food

This point will have a entire blog post complied in its honour one day I'm sure. On one side of us lives Fadima from Singapore, who brings us exotic spicy delicacies whose names I can't pronounce and on the other side lives Thuy from Vietnam, who brings us coconut curry and noodles and desserts made with banana and tapioca. I make them biscuits. They always tell me they were delicious, but never know for sure if they eat them or not :)

10. Happy people

Since moving to this area, I have been surprised and touched by how friendly so many of the people are around here. One thing I noted straight away was how genuinely happy the people who work in the supermarkets are. They seem to take a pride in their job en masse that I haven't observed in any other place I've lived in before. On two separate occasions, when I've asked ladies in Coles to help me find a particular item, they've ended up sharing their own recipes with me too.

I'll be honest and tell you that before moving here I had a preconceived notion that this was not a particularly 'nice' area and that the people here would all be rough at best and maybe even dangerous. Well some of them are, but most of them are anything but. They might not be 'refined', but at least they're not pretending to be anything they're not.

Recently, I was telling a friend of mine how amazed I was by how open and friendly the people are around this area. The place I lived in before had a reputation for laid-back locals and a welcoming attitude and yet, I found it was much more the case in this new place. And she said to me: "Maybe it's you that's different. Maybe because now you are free to be yourself and you don't have to worry about who you talk to anymore or what you say and you're not so full of anxiety, maybe that draws people to you".

I've been thinking a lot about what she said, and I think she might be onto something :)

Linking up this weekend with Lizzi for her Ten Things of Thankful link-up.

What are you thankful for in the area where you live? 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Most of the time, I'm doing okay

Most of the time, I think I'm doing okay.

It's not quite like I thought it would be, this place here on the other side of an abusive relationship, but each day I try to remind myself that I am lucky that I got out when I did and that six months is still not a long time in terms of the journey of recovery that lies ahead.

I try to focus on all that is good in my life and to tell myself that even though I should have left long, long before I did, that my reasons for holding on as long as I did were good reasons: hope, forgiveness, family. But there comes a time when you realise that to hope too much and to forgive too much are doing far more harm than good. That to protect my children and myself I had to leave, no matter what anyone else believed. There were no longer any other options. It's hard to forgive myself for staying for so long, but I do know that I did so with the very best of intentions.

I thank God every day for the people in my life who helped me to flee that situation. I know not all women are as blessed as I was in that respect.

Some moments I feel crippled with fear. When the calls and the messages and the emails won't stop, When I can't escape from those twisted, horrid lies. Some nights I'm afraid to go outside and put the rubbish in the bin, but I force myself to do it because I refuse to have my life governed by fear.

Some days, I think I'm learning to manage that fear. I'm learning to be okay with being scared. I have built a safety net around myself and, most of the time, I feel safe there.

I am not achieving anything particularly remarkable or exciting at the moment, nor am I likely to for a while, but as I lay down to sleep at night, if I can rest my head on the pillow and say to myself nothing bad happened today, then that day was a good day. I've learnt to be grateful for those days where nothing much happens. I used to have such high expectations from life and from myself. Now I settle for okay. Okay is all I need.

For now, I just focus on survival and my children's happiness.

I get my son off to school in the morning with food in his tummy, teeth brushed, lunch and homework packed, clean clothes and hair (usually) brushed.

I don't always cook with enthusiasm, but we eat healthy food.

We don't have anything fancy, but we want for nothing either.

I am blessed with two supportive parents and some beautiful friends, both old and new.

I'm learning, slowly, that it's okay for me to spend money on myself every now and then. That going to the hairdresser to get my hair cut rather than doing it myself doesn't mean I'm wasting money, that buying a cupboard or a new cardigan doesn't mean I'm greedy, that wearing make-up doesn't mean I want every man I meet to be attracted to me. That having a blog doesn't mean I neglect my children.

When I listen to music, I make sure it's happy music.

If I watch a film, I choose something uplifting or funny.

I surround myself with people who genuinely care about me and my children. I distance myself from those who judge me.

My children light up my world. They are my world. I try to take them out to fun places. I make sure they laugh every day.

But every now and then, a situation creeps up on me and knocks the air out of my lungs. And in that moment, although six months have passed, it feels like no time has passed at all and I'm right back there, his voice pounding in my ears.

A week or so ago, I bought some bookshelves.

The morning the flatpack arrives, I'm thrilled. I'm going to be able to have all my books with me instead of out in boxes in the shed. They're going to bring new colour and energy into this house.

My dad's there to help me contruct the shelves. I go to work with vigour. I don't realise how much I enjoy building things. The instructions are easy. I even start explaining how to do it to my dad. Maybe he's even proud of me for being so handy.

Then something goes wrong. One of the wooden pegs snaps in the hole. It's impossible to get it out. I've totally stuffed up that shelf. The positive voice in my head tells me it will just be wobbly. The other voice tells me it will be completely useless.

Then the same thing happens on another of the shelves. I try to tell myself it doesn't matter. "Let's just go onto the next part', I say. But the next part is even harder; dozens of bolts that are supposed to screw into places that seem to exist in the instructions but not on the shelves themselves.

It's taken hours to get to this point and all I see in front of me on the floor is a bookshelf that would be so unstable it would probably be dangerous to use and a whole lot of bolts and screws that don't seem to have anywhere to blot or screw into.

And then, without warning, it comes. A great, big, fat tear, drops from my eye onto my big toe and then another splashes down on top of it. And then the words come out that had been in my head for so long, that had been my fear before I'd even started to try and make the shelves.

I can't do it.

But they don't come out normally, they come out as a wail and then I'm on the ground sobbing as if someone has just died and my poor old dad, exhausted now from all of the work and the confusion, looks at me helplessly, bewilderedly, lovingly.

I'm lying on the ground and all I can hear are the words of that man I used to love with everything I had.


So it must be true. He was right all along. I've just gone and proved it to myself.


Normal people don't cry hysterically like this over a bookshelf. Most people never cry like this at all. Only crazy people do that. So look, it is true after all.

But I just can't stop.


That voice that I try so hard every day to smother rears its ugly head and shouts at me over and over again.

His voice, over time, has become my own voice.

Lucky your children didn't see you doing this.

A mother doesn't behave like this.

You need to get some help, from someone who actually knows what they're talking about. 

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

It's not the first time, either.

Four months ago. Trying to put up a cot. Failing again. My daughter was 14 months old already. I just wanted her to have a cot. My sister had given us a beautiful cot just before our baby was born. All that had to be done was put it together. But there were always excuses and later, lies about missing parts. Someone who has the ability to build a house with nothing but rocks and a hammer and his two hands wouldn't construct that cot for me. Why wouldn't he just let me have a cot for my baby? Just another twisted way of controlling me.

That time my children didn't see my tears either; one was at school, the other in the next room with my mum. But there was one time when they did see.

We were driving home, just a week or so ago. Someone I'd know almost my whole life had made a cruel and thoughtless comment. In some people's minds, physical abuse only exists if the woman was king hit within an inch of her life and psychological abuse only exists in her own mind. Because they think everything is just black and white. Because they met the guy several times themselves and he was always funny and charming and there's no way in hell he could be anything but good.

So you see, it's true. You can't ran away from the truth. You are a bad mother. A proper mother doesn't put on a show like that in front of her children. Especially when she's driving. 

You just think about yourself and how you feel, don't you Liz? If you were thinking about your children, you wouldn't cry. Only arrogant people take offence to things the way you do.

Unstable. Negligent. Selfish.

Then when the tears stop, the exhaustion sets in, like the brain and the body shutting down. If it's possible to sleep, you sleep. If it's not, you just go through the motions - school pick up, swimming lessons, dinner, bath, games, bed.

You wake up the next morning and get the kids fed and dressed and the big one off to school and the little one into the garden for a play and you thank God that you have these children to get you up in the morning and out of bed because if they weren't there, some days you might just sink into a black abyss and never get out again. Because even though being a mother is such hard work, those children are the reason that you are okay. They are the reason that you make sure you're okay.


I'm learning to acknowledge that I have a right to feel everything that I'm feeling. That this whole thing is massive, really truly hideously massive, and I don't have to go on pretending that it's not.

Every day I count my blessings. Some days it's harder than others.

But most of the time, I'm happy.

Most of the time, I'm moving forward.

Most of the time, I'm doing okay.

Thank you to those you have contacted me or commented on this post. If you would like to comment privately rather than publicly, please feel free to do so either through google + or twitter. If you would like to discuss the issues raised in this post further, please email me at:


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Secret Life of the Number Nine

I originally intended this to be a quick little post about some cool maths patterns and some fun facts about the number nine, but as I started to read more and more about this number, the post sort of took on a life of its own and, like John Lennon (I'll get to him later), I got a little bit obsessed with this number. You might be too in a few minutes ... enjoy!

"Do you have a favourite number?" I'd often ask the kids who came in for maths support at the tutoring centre where I worked last year.

The answer was often a shrug of the shoulders, a blank look or a look that said Are you insane? Aren't all numbers diabolical?

Usually, these kids struggled significantly in grasping the maths concepts they were being taught at school and as a result of having fallen behind their peers, were often disengaged in anything related to numeracy.

We often started the sessions off with work on their times tables because it's so difficult to progress in maths without a sound knowledge of them. My challenge was therefore to marry the times tables with something fun to achieve engagement. So after I'd asked them their favourite number, I'd tell them mine.

"Mine's nine', I say, "Do you want to know why?"

Luckily, no-one ever said no.

"Because nine is a magic number", I'd tell them. "You can find out the answers to your nine times table just by using your fingers. Lend me your hands for a moment and I'll show you".

For the purpose of this post, I borrowed my son's little hands to demonstrate.

Following this pattern, you can work out your nine times table all the way up to 10 x 9 , which looks like this:

But the magic of nine doesn't stop there. The number nine forms some fascinating patterns which I'd sometimes share with the kids too. Here are my six favourites ...

1. The inverse times table. Another cool thing about the nine times table is that whenever you multiply a number by nine, you can reverse the digits in the answer and every single time you will get another multiple of nine.

Let's put that to the test:

3 x 9 = 27        27 inversed = 72           72 = 9 x 8

7 x 9 = 63      63 inversed = 36        36 = 9 x 4

10 x 9 = 90     90 inversed is 09           09 = 9 x 1

2. Multiply any number by 9 and the sum of the digits in the answer will always equal nine.

For example:

2 x 9 = 18 (1 + 8 = 9)

6 x 9 = 54 (5 + 4 = 9)

12 x 9 = 108 (1 + 0 + 8 = 9)

3. And just when you thought the nine times table couldn't get any cooler, check this out:

123456789 x 9 =       1111111101

123456789 x 18 =  2222222202

123456789 x 27 =     3333333303

123456789 x 36 =  4444444404

123456789 x 45 =     5555555505

123456789 x 54 =  6666666606

123456789 x 63 =     7777777707

123456789 x 72 =  8888888808

123456789 x 81 =     9999999909

123456789 x 90 = 11111111010

4. There's an intriguing pattern involving the number nine in a subtraction exercise too:

Think of any number with two or more digits. Write it down.

Now write down the inverse of this number.

Subtract whichever number of the two is lower from the other.

The digits of the answer will always add up to a multiple of nine.

For example:

64 - 46 = 18 (1 + 8 = 9)

72 - 27 = 45 (4 + 5 = 9)

896 - 698 = 198 (1 + 9 + 8 = 18)

998877 - 778899 = 219978 (2 +1 + 9 + 9 + 7 + 8 = 36)

5. Here's another amazing pattern that occurs when adding with the number nine:

Think of any number containing two or more digits

Add nine to this number

The sum of the digits in the answer will always be equal to the sum of the digits in your original number

For example:

33 + 9 = 42 (3 + 3 = 6 and 4 + 2 also = 6)

111 + 9 = 120 (1 + 1 + 1 = 3 and 1 + 2 + 0 also = 3)

6982 + 9 = 6991 (6 + 9 + 8 + 2 = 25 and 6 + 9 + 9 + 1 also = 25)

6. I saved my very favourite one for last. This one's a   magic maths trick you can do to wow your kids or to just show off in general and make people think you have extrasensory perception :)

You will need:

1. A pen and paper

2. A person to trick


1. Give the person you are going to trick the paper and pen and ask them to write down a number that is at least four digits long. They should keep this number a secret from you.

2. Now tell them to add the digits of that number together. For example, if the number they chose was 4903, the sum of the digits would be 16.

3. Now ask them to subtract the sum of those digits from their original number.

    4903 - 16 = 4887

4. Next, ask them to cross out any number of their choice (except for a zero) from the answer they have just arrived at.

5. Finally, ask them to tell you what the number in front of them is now that they have removed one number.

For example, if they crossed out the seven, the number would be 488.

6. In your head, add together the digits of the number they have just told you.

(4 + 8 + 8 = 20)

7. Calculate how many numbers there are between the number you have just arrived at and the next multiple of nine.

In this case, the next multiple of nine is 27. 27 - 20 = 7.

8. Wow the pants off the other person by telling them the number they crossed out was seven.

To test this trick out a little further, imagine that the number they chose to cross out was 4.

They would therefore tell you that the final number in front of them is 887.

Adding those digits together brings you to 23.

The next multiple of nine you come to starting at 23 is 27.

The difference between 23 and 27 is four (the number they crossed out)

This works for any combination of numbers as long at their original number has at least four digits and the number they chose out is not a zero.

How cool is that? Who could not be ├╝ber in love with the number nine now?

But the mysteries surrounding this number are not just limited to the realms of mathematics; they permeate subjects such as religion, astrology, astronomy, the natural rhythms of life and the vernacular of our English language.

You would have heard, of course, that cats have nine lives and that a stitch in time saves nine. A human pregnancy lasts nine months and prior to Pluto being officially demoted to the status of dwarf planet, there were nine planets in our solar system. Astrologers still work with all nine original planets, however.

Nine is also significant in all five of the major world religions:

  • For Muslims, Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

  • In Hinduism, the number nine is featured in many of the concepts and practices of that faith. I am not familiar with the full extent of these, but have read that Hindus observe nine different forms of devotion and that the goddess Durga is worshipped each year for a total of nine days and nine nights. Hindus also consider the human body to be a city with nine gates which correspond with the nine points of entry/exit into the body (two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, the mouth, the anus and the urethra). I'm not quite sure why the vagina is not counted in this tally, but if you happen to know, please enlighten me!

Worship of the Sri Chakra (or Sri Yantra) is also central to the Hindu faith. The chakra consists of a total of nine intertwining triangles (five pointing downwards to represent the feminine and four pointing upwards to represent the masculine). Together they symbolise the union between masculinity and femininity and the communion of the cosmos.
                                     Sri Yantra

  • In Judaism, a period known as The Nine Days is observed every year during the first nine days of the Jewish month of Av (July/August). This time is set aside for communal and personal mourning for the tragedies that have inflicted the Jewish people throughout the ages.

Fascinatingly and disturbingly coincidental, the ninth day of the month of Av was the date of the destruction of both the first and second Holy Jewish Temples (656 years apart), the date when the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, the date Germany entered the war in 1914 and the day on which the implementation of The Final Solution was approved by the Nazi Party, in 1942.

  • In Christianity, the Bible refers to the nine fruits and to the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit. The number nine also features in the Book of Acts, where praying at the "ninth hour" is referred to on two separate occassions.

The association of prayer and the number nine found in the bible led Roman Catholics to adopt the practice of observing nine day prayer rituals known as novenas (novem being Latin for 'nine').

  • Buddhists believe that there are nine levels of consciousness and nine separate spiritual planes of existence that one must pass through prior to enlightenment.

In Buddhism, the number 108 (12 x 9) also features prominently: Buddhist temples contain 108 steps, they believe that there are 108 paths to reach Nirvana and it is said that if a person is calm enough to breathe just 108 times a day, that they will reach enlightenment.

  • Both Buddhist and Hindu malas (prayer rosaries) consist of 108 beads. Mantras are recited 108 times on these malas as this number is said to be sacred and to be in rhythm with time and space.
  • In other religions and cultures, 108 is also significant: in Islam, this number is used to refer to God. In Japan, the New Year is welcomed in with the beating of a gong 108 times in all the main temples. Traditional Indian dance comprises of 108 poses. 
  • Astronomers have discovered that the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. They have also calculated that the distance between the earth and the sun is equal to 108 times the sun's diameter  and that the distance between the earth and the moon is equal to 108 times the moon's diamater.
  • In the study of astrology, nine planets move through twelve houses, creating 108 possible combinations in total, which are collectively considered to represent the whole of existence.

The symbolism and significance of the number nine and its multiples have been a source of fascination to many throughout history, but possibly its most famous devotee of the modern era was John Lennon, who is quoted to have said that it was a number that "followed [him] around" his whole life.

Lennon was born on the ninth day of the month. His street number of his first home was nine and the names of the street, suburb and city in the address of that house all contained nine letters each.

He was the lead singer of the Beatles for nine years. During his time with the band and later as a solo artist, he released a total of three songs containing the number nine in the title:  One After 909, Revolution 9 (which appeared on the Beatles 9th UK album) and #9 Dream (which peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100).

The incidences in which the number nine surfaced in Lennon's life are too numerous to list here, but can be found over at The Beatles Bible.

When he was shot, Lennon was taken to Roosevelt Hospital on 9th Avenue, Manhattan. 'Roosevelt' and 'Manhattan' both contain nine letters respectively.  He passed away in the USA on the 8th December 1980, but the date in the UK at his time of death was already the 9th December.

He died at the age of 40, not even making it into middle age and yet significantly older than many other musicians who, as we know, have a tendency for living short lives. Much of this can be put down to drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and reckless living, but the fact remains that there an uncanny number of world famous musicians have lost their lives, via a variety of causes, at the age of 27.

These coincidences became so prolific that the group has been dubbed "The 27 Club". Its members include over 40 celebrated musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jacob Miller, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

And so it begs the question: why 27?

According to Astrologers, this phenomenon is due to what is known as the Saturn Cycle. Apparently, Saturn returns to the position it was in at the time of our birth once approximately every 29 and a half years, but those changes begin to be felt when we reach 27 years of age and can remain into our early thirties. Saturn's return brings with it a sense of sobriety and an awakening to our own mortality. For some, Saturn's return is a positive time of re-focusing or finding new direction, but for others, it is a painfully intense period marked by the pressure of time creeping up on us and the realisation of the end of our youth. Whether positive or negative, it is a time of decision making and reality checks which can either lead to exciting new beginnings for some or, for others, a sense of feeling completely overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle what lies ahead in the future.

In the study of numerology, the age of 27 is a highly-charged period of our lives because it is a multiple of nine and numerologists believe that this number signifies the end of one cycle of our lives and the beginning of the next. These nine-yearly cross-over periods are times of adjustment, of personal reflection and of letting go. The tragic death of Robin Williams occurred just three weeks after his sixty-third birthday, which saw the completion of his seventh nine-year cycle.

Can you see how the cycle of nine has played out in your own life?

For me, nine was definitely an age of change. It was the year my dad told me Father Christmas wasn't real and I cried inconsolably not just for the loss of the magic of Christmas, but for the realisation that everything that I had thought was magical was just make believe. It was also the year that I accepted that I was never going to be an Olympic gymnast like I had dreamed of becoming because if I were, I would already have been a lot more talented than I was. And it was during that year, around the time of the Barcelona Olympics, that my teacher gave us a piece of homework where we had to watch something to do with the Olympics on TV and write about it. I approached her desk and told her that I wouldn't be able to do the homework because we didn't have a TV at home. She looked at me as if I had just told her we didn't have a roof on our house. So I guess that was also the time when I started to realise that, in subtle ways, I was a little bit different from the other kids. There was a certain loneliness in that realisation. At nine, it's hard to appreciate your uniqueness. And although I have never really reflected on it until now, nine was also the age when I started to believe that I wasn't quite enough.

Eighteen was a time of firsts. Of rites of passage into adulthood. Of sometimes taking great leaps into that territory known as maturity and independence and other times wanting to hold back and cling to an ever-fading adolescence. I spent the year I turned 18 living in Sweden as an exchange student. I loved that my school life in Australia was finally over and I could now live abroad like I'd dreamed of for so long, but I hated having to live by the rules of Rotary International, the organisation I was signed up to. I often felt like an adult forced to live as a child. The organisation had four main rules which they called The Four Ds. They were: no drinking, no driving, no dating, no drugs. Of course I can see now the necessity of these rules, but what 18 year old living half the world away from home would actually get excited about them? There was, however, a fifth, unwritten, 'D', passed on in whispers from exchange student to exchange student throughout the years: Do it all but don't get caught.

Twenty-seven was an enormously pivotal year for me in terms of setting in motion a series of events which led to permanent change. A month before my twenty-seventh birthday, I moved to Sicily with my little boy, who was five years old at the time. I read in a guide book on the plane trip there that the population of Sicily was 5 million. We didn't know a single one of them. Twenty-seven was an age where I felt that if I didn't follow my dreams right then and there then I would miss the opportunity and never would. I still felt, at 27, that I could go anywhere I wanted and be anything I wanted to be (except a gymnast of course). I think I lost that feeling around the age of 29. Maybe that had something to do with good old Saturn.

My little boy is nine at the moment. He's always loved numbers; he uses them to help him understand the world around him. Nine has been an age of transition for him too. A time of breaking away and holding back. Of rebelling and resisting. Sometimes he gives me a little, then he takes it away. He knows that Father Christmas doesn't exist, he knows that nothing lasts forever, he knows what it feels like to never have the chance to say goodbye. He makes friends easily and he has lots of them, but he's learnt too, along the way, what it's like to dwell on the fringes. He's lost so much of his innocence and purity. His repertoire of profanities is more extensive than mine and he knows about things I'm sure I hadn't even heard of until I was at least 12 and yet, he's still afraid of the dark, still takes his teddy to bed, still tells me I'm the best mummy in the world when he's in a good mood, still wants a mummy cuddle when he hurts himself.

He still dreams of running at the Olympics one day too. In 2012, when he was seven, breathing down the neck of eight, that dream was so lucid, he talked of nothing else. He'd draw pictures of himself crossing the finish line in first place. He'd run up and down the backyard and beg me to time him to see if he'd improved his time from the day before. He'd fall asleep with a book on the Olympics he'd borrowed from the school library open on his lap.

That dream is still there, but it's fading. It's almost like, at nine years old, he's convinced himself already that even though he's good at athletics, he'll never be quite good enough.

He's breathing down the neck of ten now. My baby's going to be double-digits soon. I still haven't decided what I'm going to give him as a present, but I do know the two things I want to give him most of all.

I desperately want to be able to help him hold onto his dreams and never lose faith in himself. But there's something I want to give him even more than that: I want him to know that it doesn't matter how many medals and trophies he wins. It doesn't matter if he makes it to the Olympics or falls over at the athletics carnival at school this week.

I want him to know that it doesn't matter what he does or doesn't achieve in his life, because, no matter what, he'll always be enough for me.

Do you have a favourite number?

Do you remember anything significant about being 9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54,63, 72, 81, 90 or 99? 

Do you know any other fascinating facts about the number 9 or 108?