Friday 26 July 2013

Fact: tattoo sleeves won't keep you warm

It's the middle of winter at the moment in Sydney, which means it's pretty cold by our standards (even though we've had some gloriously sunny days of late).We don't have to brave snow, extreme temperature lows, harsh frost or major gale force winds; but, we do generally need to rug up each day with a coat and scarf - or at least a jumper so we don't freeze our bits off.

That is of course, unless your arms are more inked up than a squid.

It appears that people with heavily tattooed arms (aka sleeves), are actually invincible super heroes. Their "art" gives them special powers making them immune to the cold.

Seriously, there's something I want to tell you people: your sleeves are not real sleeves.

It's true, from afar your decorated guns and tuck shop lady arms might be confused for crazy, colourful jumpers, but alas they will not keep you warm. I urge you all, please head to the nearest clothing shop and suit up. Influenza is not a joke, and goose pimples are not attractive.

We get it, you got ink. Rock out! Now put your sweater on.

Perhaps I missed the memo, but if your arms are tattooed up the wazoo does this mean you can never cover them up with real sleeves ever again? Is there some special tattoo code that says you've got to show off your tats always, no matter what?

If this is the case, I hate to think what your wardrobes look like. I don't think I could handle wearing a singlet day in / day out, unless I called Summer Bay my home and hung out at the diner drinking shakes every day.

One of these 'freezing to be fierce' culprits walked past me the other day on a particularly cold morning while I was in traffic. Before I even noticed his tattooed arms and lack of real sleeves, the first thing I saw was the look of pain across his face. He looked miserable, and freezing. I almost invited him into the car to warm up. Almost.

Another one was a woman I sat next to in a bar at night. We were both near the entrance so exposed to some cold draughts. Me = t-shirt and long sleeved jumper. Her = sleeveless halter top. How else was she going to show off that ink all over her arms and back? She was putting on a brave face but I just couldn't help thinking, why?! I wanted to tell her to cover up, get cosy and then later when she's back at some dude's house and he takes off her top it can be like he's opened a kinder surprise. Ta da!

I guess I understand it to some degree. A bit like dying your hair bright pink and then tucking it under a hat all the time. Most people get sleeve tattoos to make a statement, and for them it's like wearing a form of permanent clothing they always want to display. But in Winter? Seriously? Maybe they should move to Tahiti. 

Know any sleeveless wonders? Gimme your tat stories

photo credit: moominsean via photopin cc

Friday 19 July 2013

Dear Maple Syrup

...I love you.  There I said it.

You are a golden liquid delight. Every time I reach for your bottle I feel like a genie is going to come out and shower me with winning lottery tickets and fluffy kittens. Yep, you really are that darn special.

Don't worry, I'm exclusive only to you - the 100% Canadian real stuff and not the nasty, fake imitators in plastic containers that cheapen your good name. And each time I lift your sacred lid I can't help thinking how amazing you are. 

You come from a tree (a freakin' tree!) and taste like heaven - mind blowing. Ok, so you're sap's been tapped and boiled to get you so awesome, but still AH-MAZING.

The opportunities for lending your sensational self to cuisine are endless. You can be poured on pancakes, porridge and french toast;  used in cakes, slices and cookies; be a sweetener in tea, coffee and cereal; even drunk straight from the bottle a la Super Troopers - ok now I'm getting crazy...or am I?

You have less calories and are more nutritious than honey - suck on that bees. And thanks to being high in manganese and zinc you have great antioxidant properties which help the heart, immune system and male reproductive health. 

You're also vegan-friendly AND have no allergens so everybody on this planet can get down with your sweet, sweet funky maple goodness.

Sweet Mother Maple of Sweetness is there anything you can't do?

Maple Syrup, you are truly magical. Just thought you should know.

Which other natural products do you think are awesome? Tell me about them. Now.

photo credit: Marco Cabazal via photopin cc

Friday 12 July 2013

Why giving blood makes me see red

I believe people are naturally drawn to certain charities and causes - they select you, not the other way around. Along with a passion for recycling and supporting animal shelters; donating blood is one of my big ones, which is why I'm so ashamed to admit that last week was the first time I've given blood in almost eight years. I knew it had been a while, but wow, eight years! What was even sadder than this though, was despite the better part of a decade passing by since my last visit, I found the experience of giving blood to be just as frustrating as ever.

Let me be clear, I'm not talking about the opening up your vein part and I'm definitely not having a go at the Australian Red Cross. They do amazing work in all kinds of areas (not just blood collection), and we would be lost without them. Unfortunately though (as is the case with almost all non-profit organisations), they are drastically underfunded and understaffed, and blood donation is of course a tricky business which requires many highly organised processes and skilled staff. Because when you're extracting vital bits of the human body with the life-saving intention of giving them to someone else contamination-free, well there just ain't no room for cowboy operations.

I used to be a very regular donor, rolling up my sleeve every three months and sometimes even more frequently for plasma and platelet donations (where they separate out your blood cells, only take some of them and then give the rest back to you - don't worry it sounds worse than it actually is). Every time I went I made sure to book an appointment beforehand to reduce the waiting time, but just like the toilet queue at a music festival, every time I would end up waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

The normal one-hour process would usually take around three hours all up, including travel time. It would make me so sad to see others who just couldn't wait any longer get up and leave without donating (I only did this once). There are so many people in our country who are ineligible to give blood (due to things like illness, overseas travel, nationality, pregnancy, new tattoos and piercings, to name a few), and of the ones that are eligible, most can't be bothered or don't want to. So it's heart breaking when the ones that do walk in the door ready to give away their precious red stuff end up walking out again without leaving a drop because they just can't wait any longer. What a waste.

I did become used to the long waits though and even looked forward to them, blocking out several hours of my day to catch up on reading when I was due for a donation. This worked fine as a student and casual bar-maid still living at home, but became near impossible once my working career kicked off and then totally vanished when I started my own company. Looking back now I know I should have made the time, but then I felt like I didn't have a spare second to scratch my own backside let alone get it off to the blood bank for three hours. And then came children - two rounds of pregnancy and breastfeeding, meaning yet another big chunk of time when I wasn't able to donate.

So, last week I broke the drought and headed off to my appointment with a local mobile unit on a day when my oldest son was at Kindy. Unfortunately I had to take my one year-old with me, but figured he could sit next to me in his small stroller eating lunch quietly while I did my thing. Fat chance. The stroller wasn't allowed in the van even though there was room, and my son was too upset to be minded by one of the kind staff members who offered to hold him, after already sitting with me for over an hour while I filled out my questionnaire and had my pre-donation interview. I ended up having to call my husband to come and collect him who luckily was off work on holidays, meaning I thankfully didn't have to walk away untapped. I was not a popular wifey that afternoon however.

Ok, I'll admit it was stupid of me to think I could bring my baby with me to donate blood, but I was just so desperate to start donating again. And until my children go to school it's going to be difficult for me to give blood regularly again - it's not just about getting someone to mind my kids, but trying to find several hours of time amongst my freelance work, stay-at-home mum duties, doctor's appointments and a million other things.

I applaud the fact that Australia has a blood donation system that works and is better than most around the world. But I personally also find it incredibly frustrating that the whole process isn't faster and easier for willing donors - something which I guess might be possible with more funds to allow more staff, mobile units, equipment, better facilities and other elements - creche anyone?

In the meantime, I'm just going to have to accept that right now I might not have the time or freedom to give blood every three months, which is fine. I am sure as hell going to try, but if it only ends up being once or twice a year, like a dental check-up, then that's ok too. It can still make a huge difference and is better than not donating again for another eight years!

Maybe I've just been incredibly unlucky with my blood donation visits. If you've had similar experiences, or in contrast have whizzed through in record time I'd love to hear about it.

Either way, please don't let lack of time or other factors deter you fit and healthy, non-Cow Diseased individuals from giving blood. Over 27,000 blood donations are needed in Australia every week, so if like me you have kids, or an annoying boss who doesn't let you out of the office, or are generally time pressed - don't beat yourself up about it, just go when you can but make sure you do. 

And a word to all healthy students, unemployed people and retirees who have a lot of time on their hands - get your chops into the blood bank, now!

Want to get on the blood bandwagon and save some lives? All the info you need is here

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Give me a coffee break

"Do you want to grab a coffee?" "Let's do coffee!" "Why don't we discuss over coffee?"

Sound familiar? Typical phrases we've all heard and said dozens of times. I myself have accepted and initiated more coffee dates and appointments than I can remember. The truth is though, I don’t actually drink or even like coffee... so how the hell did I get so caught up in this crazy coffee bandwagon?

I don't mean I can't have coffee, I don't have a caffeine intolerance or anything, I simply just can’t stand the taste. Now, before you baristas and coffee bean connoisseurs start frothing about how I obviously can't have tried the right coffee yet, let me clarify that yes, I have tried numerous different coffees over the years. 

I've even worked behind a coffee machine in my time, churning out perfect cappuccinos and lattes for punters with fancy foam designs that looked so awesome and smelled so delicious, I couldn't help but continually crack and keep trying them again (just in case my tastebuds had somehow magically got the memo at last about coffee being delicious). 

Unfortunately though, I simply do not and will never dig this drink. To me it tastes like dirt. Yeah that's right...dirt.

In fact, I detest the coffee taste so much that I can't eat or drink anything with a coffee flavour - chocolate, cakes, ice cream, even the liqueur Kahula is off the menu for me as it’s made from coffee beans. 

It’s possible this hatred stems from my childhood when I once raided the leftovers from one of my parents' dinner parties, unknowingly wolfing down handfuls of coffee flavoured chocolates before realising my mistake. Or maybe it was my old clarinet teacher standing too close with his stale coffee breath throwing me off my Mozart. Who really knows, all I can say is that I haven’t been able to tolerate even the slightest taste for as long as I can remember.

Luckily for the thousands of café and restaurant owners across Australia though, most Aussies are mad for the black stuff, slurping up 2.1 billion cups of coffee in 2012 alone – and this doesn’t even include ones drank at home or in the office. And it’s because of this, as the number one café drink, that people don’t say “let’s go to a café”, instead it’s “let’s have a coffee,” which makes no sense at all, unless of course you too are addicted to the liquid black crack.

Of course I don’t need to fall foul to this questionable modern terminology which forces me to lie about what I am drinking and doing, and there was actually a time when asked to meet for coffee I would reply that I didn’t drink it but would love to meet up anyway for a different beverage. 

As you might imagine though, this was always met with looks of both confusion – “what?! You don’t drink coffee are you crazy?!” – and pity – “poor girl, took me literally...of course I meant go to a café...” Well then why didn’t you bloody well say so?! And you think I’m the crazy one. So yeah, after a while it became easier to just ‘go along’ with this whole coffee thing (especially as “let’s have a drink” implies alcohol is on the agenda).

Sounds simple enough, but believe it or not I used to find not drinking coffee a major pain in the arse, particularly during work meetings. For instance, when I was a keen young professional starting out my career, I found it incredibly intimidating deciding what to order when out with someone like my boss or a client. Hot chocolate? Too juvenile. Tea? Too Nana. Milkshake? You can’t be serious. Water? Not serious enough. Sigh. I wanted people to take me as a mature and confident working woman, but I was damn well not going to drink a crapuccino just to prove it.

This awkwardness at coffee meetings followed me for quite some time in my career, even into the early days of running my own company. I realise this seems utterly absurd for someone who signs off on the payroll, but when everyone around you (even the spotty work experience kid), is swilling back their fourth coffee for the day and uniting in a caffeine fuelled frenzy, you feel kind of left out.

Thankfully, the breakthrough I was waiting for came somewhere around 2005 when chai lattes started popping up on menu boards. Hallelujah! Finally, a hot drink I could order that was respectable and looked almost exactly like a normal latte. Instead of funny looks across the table at my hot chocolate or lemon squash, people were intrigued by my exotic new drink and wanted to know what it tasted like. was sweet again. Actually, it was too sweet. My love affair with chai lattes ended after about a year when I realised couldn’t distinguish the taste from a cup of liquid sugar.

It didn’t matter though because guess what? By this time I remembered I was a grown woman and could order whatever the hell I felt like! Stick your coffees people, I’m having an iced chocolate with whipped cream and ice-cream! Jealous? Darn right you are. Ok, so I still haven’t strayed too far from the sugar bowl and have a tendency to lean towards chocolate type beverages, but I am also quite partial to fresh juices and a pot of loose leaf chai, or any other teas for that matter (I married an Englishman so life’s one big tea party around our house).

And here we are. I’ve finally got the balls to order what I want, but now I’ve got another problem – most cafés cater to the coffee crowd only and do a terrible job with other drinks. 

Of course there are exceptions (like my mates at Shot On Military who do a killer house blend chai), but most cafés have a poor selection of teas, only a few soft drinks, cheap instant milkshake flavours instead of the real deal, and if I want a decent hot chocolate (not watery cocoa powder crap), well just forget it. For that I need to trek to a specialist place like Max Brenner or San Churro. Sure it costs a bit more, but oh boy it’s worth it. Unfortunately it’s not convenient enough though when there are perfectly good cafés on almost every corner that just need to lift their game.

I would definitely pay a higher price in a café for a genuine hot chocolate made with real chocolate and milk if it was offered. Hell even a good old milo for crying out loud if it’s too difficult to coordinate melted chocolate, but alas most just don’t seem to be bothered or are happy relying solely on their coffee cash cow. And you wonder why so many cafés go out of business...

I recently discovered even McDonalds doesn’t let you order a hot chocolate in their drive through, you have to go into the store for that. So obviously people who drink hot chocolates have a lot of time up their sleeves and don’t require their hot drink fix on the go. Clowns.    

Seriously though baristas, I’m not the only outcast in this coffee crazed world. There are more of us non-coffee drinkers than you realise, and guess what? Even your precious coffee posse like to ‘slum it’ occasionally with a nice hot cup of cocoa or freshly squeezed juice. I know it’s called a ‘coffee shop’ but c’mon give me a break.

Any other non-coffee lovers out there? Unite here!

photo credit: andylangager via photopin cc 

Friday 5 July 2013

WARNING - kids and holidays don't mix

Chucklehead #1

Until late last year, my husband and I had never been to Bali before and were seriously long overdue for a holiday. As you can imagine we were pretty excited about our trip. The problem was, we also brought along our ‘two under two’ double trouble act with us... 

What were we thinking?? Honestly, I really don’t know. We had teed up a local nanny (referred from a friend) to help us out, and planned to mostly stay poolside at the hotel villa (instead of sight-seeing), so therefore thought we’d be fine. Of course, we were wrong.
The biggest problem with our vacation was that our expectations were way too high. We imagined the holiday to be just that, a holiday. I’ve since learnt that there is no such thing as a true holiday when you’re travelling with young kids. It’s really just the same stuff, but in a different location. The best you can hope for are snatches of holiday-esk type moments in between the daily mayhem of tantrums, poo and feeding time at the zoo. 

If you’re lucky you’ll get small windows of time where the kids are both asleep and one of you can duck off for a swim or massage. Or you might manage to have the perfect family lunch in an exotic destination where miraculously no one cries or throws food, or maybe even a romantic local dinner out with your partner while the nanny minds the fort.
We were blessed with plenty of moments like this, but it was only when some time had passed and we were back in our daily grind that we were able to actually appreciate them. Unfortunately for us we were so caught up in our high expectations for the getaway, that when we weren’t able to ‘get away’ from the barrage of daily responsibilities that come with being a parent, and were lumbered instead with a bunch of extra issues to deal with, we became frustrated and upset. 

Obviously we knew we couldn’t avoid everything to do with the kids (and we wouldn’t have wanted to either), but I think in all our excitement about the big trip we forgot how difficult it might actually be. It also didn’t help that I was still breastfeeding twice in the night and both our boys and my husband became ill for part of the trip, meaning we were constantly tired and cranky. My dream of endless naps and reading by the pool sipping on cocktails vanished the minute we set foot on the plane.
The nanny we had was great, but she did take some getting used to. For the equivalent of AUD$5 an hour she was fantastic value, and more importantly a lovely, caring and trustworthy person, but initially it felt way too weird to have someone else hold my baby (four months old at the time). So even on the days when she came and helped out for a few hours, I felt like some kind of terrible celebrity mother hearing my baby cry in her arms as I ran off for a facial – turning my stolen ‘me time’ into a guilt and worry rollercoaster where I anxiously watched the clock to make sure I could get back to my children as soon as possible. Relaxing? I don’t think so.
My husband and I got so run down from the lack of sleep and constant daily hurdles (like making sure our toddler didn’t drown in our gateless private pool or finding somewhere that served chicken nuggets to make sure he ate something), that at one point we were convinced we had wasted our hard earned money and would have been better off never leaving the house. 

Our photos however, tell a very different story. At home putting a bunch of snaps on Facebook, I discovered our camera had captured some wonderful, happy, holiday memories that we had forgotten. Wow, it was us that ruined our holiday! Or should I say, thought we did. Reflecting back on the trip now it was probably close to the best vacation that anyone with two small children could hope for. A few small changes based on the knowledge we have now, and it might have been perfect.

So in the spirit of sharing the wealth, here’s a little advice if you’ve got young children and are thinking about booking your own family getaway:

Lower your expectations, big time – acknowledge you’re not going on a real holiday (like the ones you used to have), because unless you’re Angelina Jolie and can afford to have hired help around the clock, your itinerary will be dominated by sleep times, changing nappies, washing bums, organising meals, playing games, reading stories and settling tantrums – even if you do get a sitter or nanny for part of the time.

Be prepared for the flight – don’t just assume that because you’re on a night flight the kids will sleep and on top of all your essential supplies like nappies and bottles, take endless snacks and forms of entertainment (iPad works a treat). Better yet, holiday local and avoid the flight nightmare altogether.

Research your accommodation, child style – does the room service or restaurants have child-friendly food? Are there gates around all pool areas? Is there a gate at the entrance of the hotel? Is there a TV? Don’t wait until you get there to find out...

Line up a nanny or babysitter before you go – put a call out on Facebook, you’d be surprised at who else has been to your holiday destination and can recommend someone, or failing this get the hotel to vouch for someone and ask for their credentials. Just make sure you book them in before you go.

Choose your destination carefully – if you’re not keen on extra hassles or concerns, don’t travel to a place that’s unsafe for tourists, or where you might have trouble communicating in English, or where you can’t drink the water (toddlers will think nothing of chugging down bath or pool water, or licking the floor like ours did).

Don’t go for too long – our trip was 2½ weeks when we might have been better off going for only 10 days. Our kids didn’t get ill until after the first week and who knew that children could get bored of swimming every, single, day?

And finally, make sure you do really appreciate those great holiday moments – ok, so the kids had a meltdown at the water park in the morning, but my oh my doesn’t that cocktail at dinner taste great! Take as many photos and videos as you can so your brain doesn’t rewrite the holiday for you, and take pleasure in even the smallest of enjoyable getaway moments, because God only knows when you’ll be getting away again!

Got your own 'holiday with kids' nightmare story to share?

Monday 1 July 2013

Why is my pizza waitress teaching American kids how to use guns?

I didn’t feel like cooking dinner the other week so I went to pick up some pizza for the hubby and I, and while I was waiting for the naughty treat I got chatting to the lovely young waitress serving me. She was about 19, beautiful, bubbly, smart, and was studying hospitality. Oh, and last year she worked at an American camp teaching kids as young as six how to shoot rifles.

Yep that’s right, GUNS. I’ve never actually experienced anything close to falling off a chair from hearing or seeing something unbelievable, but I was pretty darn close (and almost took my sneaky glass of red with me).  Whaaaa?

Turns out she simply applied for a holiday job as a camp counsellor, they had a position available for a rifle instructor, and then wham bam thanks Uncle Sam, just like that she’s on a plane and over there getting a two week crash course in riflery – cos’ that’s what you do when you’ve never shot a gun before but are about to teach kids in another country how to. 

Kind of like how your junior school art teacher is one step ahead of you in making papier mache crafts – except we’re talking about GUNS.

I came home reeling from this chick’s story, busting to tell my husband who strangely wasn’t as shocked as me.

“But were they actually pellet guns? Because they’re used in a lot in sports and aren’t that dangerous.”

“No! She said rifles with real bullets.”

“Ok, but they weren’t handguns though, were they?”

No they weren’t, but does this make a difference? A gun is a gun in my books. If it can kill someone then what on earth are Americans doing giving them to kids at camps and having someone who is basically a child themselves (and inexperienced with firearms to boot), teaching them how to use them?

I know this is riflery as a sport – shooting targets, clay pigeons, that sort of thing – and I know this is a credible, skilled and highly respected activity. But should children as young as six, in a country where guns are such a huge problem, really be handling weapons (especially when their instructors are rookie teens)? Can’t they be introduced to the sport in another way when they’re much, much older, or...not at all?

I don’t need to quote the stats, we’ve all heard the insane figures around massacres, murders, suicides and accidental deaths that happen every year in the States as a result of guns. Obama is on to it. US celebrities are on the bandwagon. Here’s an idea, why don’t you start with removing guns from school camps and let the kids get back to singing Kumbaya?

My waitress acted like she understood the craziness of it, but somehow I don’t think she fully grasped the madness otherwise she wouldn’t have wound up there in the first place packing heat and planting high-fives. She informed me with wide eyes that the hairiest part of her job was making sure the children didn’t wave their guns around too much or accidentally point them at other people. AAAGH! As a parent myself this fills me with cold fear – for both the children at the camp and the instructors. Far too many things to go wrong.

And on another note, what if my pizza waitress had been an anti-US psycho waiting to get her mitts on a rifle to then unload on a bunch of unsuspecting American kids? (she wasn’t of course, but who’s to know that?) This ‘camp’ was sounding more like the start of some sick horror flick to me.

Apparently the children could also choose what activities they wanted to do at the camp. So if all they wanted to do was play dodgeball, or say SHOOT GUNS, day in day out for 9 weeks, then that’s what they could do. There’s some healthy, wholesome fun.

Ok I assume these children were outdoors getting a lot of fresh air, learning new skills, socially interacting, working on their concentration and accuracy, etc., but do they need to be holding real life, bullet wielding weapons?

When I asked my waitress what her own parents had thought about her holiday job she replied: “Horrified. But, my mother has spent a lot of time in America and knows what the gun culture is like. And it was ok cos’ no one died or anything while I was there.”

Ah that’s a relief. Sounds pretty safe then. Maybe I should sign up for one of these instructor jobs? A quick look on the google machine and you can find a bunch of different sites offering camp counsellor placements in riflery, no firearm experience necessary – too easy.

Yippee ki-yay motherf#cker!

Aussie teens teaching US kids riflery - is this nuts or am I nuts? Fire away

photo credit: CoboFoto via photopin cc