MY KINGDOM FOR A BISCUIT

The traditional ANZAC biscuit, a sweet biscuit made from rolled oats and golden syrup, is my favourite biscuit. I love the crumbly, crispy outer texture and the slightly chewy centre. I adore desicated coconut mixed with that buttery taste.

So when my husband suggested that we make ANZAC biscuits to commemorate ANZAC Day, I was all on board. I sent him off to the supermarket with a photo of ingredients needed for the recipe.

He came home with a packet of Monte Carlos, a packet of Butter Snaps and all of the ingredients for ANZAC biscuits except the most important ones – golden syrup and desicated coconut.

It appeared that every other Australian was commemorating in the same way, which was fair enough. This pandemic had restricted Australians to holding dawn services at the end of their driveways and baking ANZAC biscuits. We were just too late to the party.

Almost a week later, I tried online ordering golden syrup, coconut and treacle (as a substitute, just in case). I had my heart (and stomach) set on making and eating ANZAC biscuits. Plus I had a surplus of rolled oats that would never be eaten otherwise. Imagine my disappointment when only coconut made an appearance.

I thought to myself, “What kind of weirdo conspiracy is this?”

By this stage, it became a matter of principle. I was getting that golden syrup. I wasn’t about to let a pandemic or supermarket shortage stop me. I spent days trawling aisles at different supermarkets. I visited local grocers and natural food stores.

It was as though the Universe was taunting me. “You don’t need those biscuits, love.”

After searching for almost two weeks and on the verge of throwing in the towel, I finally found the object of my desires. By chance, while at my local supermarket, I found two precious bottles of golden syrup tucked right in the back of the top shelf. The only problem? I could not reach them.

Being vertically challenged, I had to get creative. Tippy toes. Jumping up and down. Using my phone and other grocery items to tease the bottles forward. Trying to chase down unwilling and unhelpful store assistants.

In the end, an elderly lady who was browsing nearby took pity on my short ass. She reached over, grabbed a bottle of golden syrup and put me out of my misery. We had a lovely chat afterwards about ANZAC recipes.

When I finally sat down with a hot cuppa and took a bite of the biscuit… well, let’s just say it was worth the wait.

So to my neighbours and friends who received a pack of my home-made ANZAC biscuits, the secret ingredient was… time.

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OPPOSITES ATTRACT

My husband accused me of being a pop culture fluff ball today. Why? We were having an intense discussion about why people are attracted to those that are fundamentally different to them.

You see, my husband and I grew up in very different households with ethnicity, culture, socioeconomics, religion and parental life experiences, impacting on our cognitive and behavioural development.

In my view, he had a fortunate and stable upbringing. He lived in the family home for most of his childhood, made life-long school friends, given opportunities to participate in extra-curricular sports and had few disadvantages.

My upbringing was decidedly different. My parents were refugees and that in itself brought a vast number of issues. I didn’t stay at any school (bar my last few senior years) for longer than two years. Both my parents had undiagnosed mental health issues. We were dirt poor most of the time.

My husband is a logical, pragmatic and heavily systems thinking based person. Emotion is the last variable in his decision-making. His objective to any problem is finding the simplest solution that makes the biggest impact.

While my decision-making is often driven by emotion. This is not to say that I don’t have capabilities. I can hold down a high-pressure and high-level job. I can run a household. I am capable of making good decisions. But compared to my husband, I don’t like to face variables and I tend to veer towards confirmation bias.

If a stranger came up to me and asked me to peel an orange, my immediate response would be… why? Whereas, my husband would think… what’s the best and worst thing, that could happen? And peel the damn orange.

We agreed that the diversity of thinking or lack of was attributed to our differences – our tapestry of life experiences, leading to the software and hard wiring in our brains.

My argument was that given the same upbringing, my husband would not have the same decision-making abilities. He might even be a bit more like me. 

Nope. No way. My husband was adamant that given the same upbringing, he would still be who he is. He would still be the observant, boundary-pushing, thought-provoking and forward-thinking person.

His counter-argument was that while our childhood experience had some influence, the main reason for his diversity of thinking was due to his open-mindedness to challenging assumptions and expectations. Particularly those of people in positions of authority and power – like his parents and teachers.

It’s really no wonder that he had so many school detentions and reprimands. It’s also not surprising that our offspring are cheeky buggers, full of sass and curiosity.

Anyway, we debated many points and in end, I was as befuddled as this post. Back to my original point. Why are people attracted to their opposites?

My husband’s answer? It’s because of our chimp brains and natural selection.

My answer? Because of my husband’s definition of diversity of thought, I have no option but to love pop culture.

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GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

My dad calls me every day, usually during his meal breaks. He works as a welder in a big factory and for the most part, his work is solitary. There might be a few words here or there with a passing coworker, but everyone mostly keeps to their own work section. I guess he gets lonely. He has a phone list of people he calls while he has lunch – mum, me (not my brother as he never picks up), his brother, his other brother … and another four or five brothers to choose from.

The phone calls are the same every day. How are the kids? What are you doing? Have you heard the gossip about so and so? As much as my dad’s calls can be annoying, they are comforting in their regularity. These days we talk a lot about the pandemic, which is to be expected. He doesn’t understand my concern with food or toilet paper shortages. His response to having no toilet paper? Ah, just go wash your bottom, like the old days. And to food? I have a stockpile of coffee. And lots of liver pâté and two-minute noodles to spare. Uh, thanks Dad.

Yesterday, my mum lost her second part-time job. She’s now jobless and not eligible for government assistance as my dad makes just above the family threshold for support. So now, my brother and I are supplementing her with a small income to help support my elderly grandma overseas. With spare time on her hands, my mum is now also calling me daily. My phone calls with my mum are slightly different than with my dad. Like today, my mum spent fifty-eight minutes giving me advice on wearing masks in public, cooking meals that the kids will definitely like, what foods to buy in a pandemic and what other measures I should undertake. My mum thinks I should be filling old milk bottles with boiled water in case the water gets infected. A bit drastic methinks.

After my talk with the parents, I felt unnerved and conflicted. I had one parent unaffected by the pandemic and another prepping like it was a zombie apocalypse. Fuelled on heightened anxiety, I went to the supermarket to restock on fresh vegetables and meat. I didn’t wear the mask, feeling self-conscious, and rushed through the grocery list in an effort to reduce exposure in the community. Staff were sanitising baskets; customers were wearing masks; there were no children accompanying their parents. Everyone was complying with rules about social distancing. There were green lines marking safe distancing for queuing. Fortunately, the shelves were looking less bare and there was toilet paper!

In my frazzled state, I didn’t check prices for anything. I just grabbed my listed items, chucked them into the basket and bolted to the cash register. It wasn’t until I got home and was reviewing the bill that I realised two heads of broccoli cost me ten buckaroos! We can’t afford luxury goods in this climate! Broccoli will have to go. I’m sure the children will agree.

We are heading into influenza season with winter and this COVID pandemic could last six months. If I can’t keep my wits about me during this time, I might be forced to take up my dad’s offer of pâté and noodles after all.

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EXCUSES EXCUSES

I should be losing weight. I should have started my slimming down diet. I should be doing some form of exercise.

Why? No, it’s not to get healthy and fit. No, it’s not for any medical necessity. No, it’s not to be a good role model for my children. It’s simply so that when I rock up to my brother’s wedding next March, I won’t be the butt of my extended family’s ridicule. Sad, isn’t it? I can almost hear you shout… You’re doing it for all the wrong reasons! This would be true if I actually managed to begin the arduous weight loss journey in the first place!

You see, I have a litany of excuses that I am using to bide the time. I’m too tired. I don’t have time. I don’t have runners. I don’t have money to join a gym. I don’t have exercise clothing (That’s a lie… there are some tucked away from 2017’s pilate’s efforts.) I don’t like sweating, my face itches (Seriously, it does!). I have a whole year until I really need to get my act together. And so it goes on and on.

The real reason is I have no discipline. And because I have no discipline, adding lack of drive and laziness into the mix, means I probably won’t be losing any real weight. Have I mentioned that the minute I think about exercising, subconsciously my feet propel towards the pantry and my hand shoves bags of chips and chocolate into my unwilling mouth? It’s a problem. Thinking of a diet causes me to gain weight.

It doesn’t help that my husband tells me every second day that I should start doing the seven-minute workout in the mornings with the children. He thinks it’ll give me energy, and I’ll start to feel better about myself. Sigh. I know what he says makes sense. Somewhere deep in my rational mind, I know this to be true.

I’m just sick of the yo-yo dieting and the lacklustre exercising, and the eventual weight gain. I’m at my heaviest to date and I have gone up three dress sizes since having the babies.

What do you do when you need motivation but have none? What do you do when you should be disciplined but aren’t?

You put one foot in front of the other. You take one step at a time. You start low and go slow.

I guess I’ll start with that seven-minute workout.

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STEPPING INTO THE UNKNOWN

Overthinking and overanalysing is a common problem with anxiety sufferers. The mind likes to run in endless loops of worthless conjecture, questioning, dissecting and criticizing every decision and response. It becomes a hardwired obsessive behaviour that leaves the person physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Without intervention and retraining of the mind, life can feel like an insurmountable hurdle.

I’ve suffered from anxiety for a long time, possibly since I was a child. Yet, it wasn’t until my breakdown at work last year that I was willing to accept that I was mentally unwell and needed help. My unchecked and untreated anxiety had become all-consuming, affecting my every thought, decision and action. It had become mental warfare to my subconscious and conscious mind, making me overfraught and fatigued. Simply avoiding anxiety triggers and shying from new experiences were not keeping that beast of anxiety at bay any longer. I had to be in control, in everything and everyone – an impossible task.

Since undergoing psychological counselling and treatment, I better understand what drives my patterns of negative thinking. I’m learning to recalibrate my thought processes through mindfulness. Instead of avoiding triggers (e.g. school runs, meeting new people), I consciously put myself in those uncomfortable situations, accept the unwanted fear and stress, and try to reduce my anxiety levels through exposure therapy. Baby steps. Tiny baby steps.

Recently, we visited Erskine Falls, a popular tourist attraction in Lorne. We travelled a small stretch of the 243km length of the Great Ocean Road to get to this destination. We drove on winding roads that mostly hugged the coastline with scenic views of beaches, limestone and sandstone cliffs, passed through several popular coastal towns before traversing through beautiful rainforests.

Most people would have admired the views, taken a great deal of photos and chalked up the drive as a great experience. For someone like me who is terrified of heights and has an abnormal fear of death, the drive was akin to an extreme form of exposure therapy. I was shitting my dacks.

“Slow down around the bends!”
“The sign says 40!”
“Should we use fog lights?”

I was the unwanted backseat driver (in this case, passenger seat driver) that everyone loathes to travel with. My husband was at risk of repetitive strain injury from eye-rolling. That was how bad I was with projecting my fears.

“Why is Mum so scared?” my children asked.
“Mummy sees danger everywhere. She finds it hard to relax and just enjoy things,” my husband replied.

I had an irrational fear that the car would veer off the road and crash on the jagged rocks below. Rationally, I understood that it was unlikely and that my husband would never put us in harm’s way. It was like a bad rollercoaster ride that I couldn’t get off and all I could do was grasp the car door handle with white knuckles and close my eyes every time we took a sharp bend. Eventually, we made it to the destination. I was in one piece, relatively speaking.

Oh, but the fun didn’t end there! As we entered the trails, I saw a sign that sent shivers down my spine.

ARE WE GOING THE RIGHT WAY FOLKS??

Immediately, the alert beacons sounded and danger in flashing neon lights threatened to overwhelm my logical mind. 

Did we REALLY want to look at some water falling down rocks? What if someone slips and gets hurt? Ssssssnakes?

While I was having a mini-mind meltdown of what ifs, the crew bounded down the rock steps before I could voice my concerns. I forced my feet to move after the kids yelled out “Come on Mum, stop being a scaredy cat!”

STEPS… SO MANY STEPS!

Have you seen anything more frightening? I was worried to see fit looking people huffing and puffing as they struggled back up the steps. For someone who hates sweating and is unfit, the sight was disturbing. There was a distinct possibility that I’d need a rescue team to retrieve me from whence I lay.

By the time I got my plump behind to the bottom, the crew had begun to venture off the dirt path and rock jumping along the stream bed.

“It’s fine. Don’t be a party pooper. Live a little.” This was my husband’s response to my concerns about safety.

“You’re only as old as you feel and I am not old. Don’t make me old cos you want to be old.” This was my father in-law’s response to my mother in-law’s grumbling over him joining in on the fun.

ROCK JUMPING ON STREAM BED

Unfortunately, my husband slipped on a rock while holding our three-year-old son, Henry and fell into the water. Luckily for Henry, my husband had turned his body to take the brunt of the fall. Panicked at the sight of the two of them in the water, I yelled at my seven-year-old daughter and the in-laws to stay put while I raced over to inspect the damage and placate a wailing child. I really wanted to say ‘I told you so!’ 

My husband sustained massive black bruises along his right shin, knee and thigh. Thankfully, Henry only had to deal with a wet shoe. As we trudged back up the steps, Henry kept saying over and over “That was a terrible idea! A terrible idea Daddy!” To which my husband would apologise for not turning back when he felt uncomfortable. However, by the time we reached the top, Henry had exclaimed “Let’s do that again!”

Upon reflection, I’m grateful that my children are inquisitive, energetic and ready to seek new adventures. I hope that they always see mistakes as opportunities to improve and learn from. I want them to feel that it’s okay to take a chance, try something new and not be downtrodden if things don’t go to plan. That it is not a sign of failure.

Raising resilient children is important to me. I hope that by facing my fears, by not depriving myself of new experiences, being open to personal growth and development, and building my emotional resilience, that I am setting a better example for my children.

In saying all this, I don’t think I was supposed to jump in the deep end and almost drown in anxiety with this whole exposure therapy business. Remember… baby steps.

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SANDY VAGINA

I am not a fan of the beach. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like feeling self-conscious in my bathers. I don’t like stepping on hot sand. I don’t like finding sand in places where sand should not be. I don’t like getting hot and bothered under the glaring sun. I don’t like sweating. I don’t like getting sunburn. I don’t swim. I think you probably get my drift.

I would never go to the beach willingly or suggest a beach holiday destination. So when my dad suggested that we should spend a day at the beach with the kids on New Year’s Day, my immediate response was ‘Hell No!’. Unfortunately, the children and my dad banded together and whined until they broke my resolve and I relented.

We met at my parent’s house so that we could follow each other down to the beach. It was a poor start to the day when I eyed my dad carrying four camera tripods and four rain umbrellas to his boot. I got snappy when my mum attempted to toast bread as a kiddie snack for the short car trip. Already feeling annoyed, I herded my crazy parents out of the house and drove twenty minutes to the nearest beach.

It’s been an age since I’ve been to the beach and I hadn’t realised that in place of ticket meters, you have to download a parking app or call a hotline to pay for tickets. How advance is that? I guess not many people carry coins or cash anymore. Makes sense. Anyway, after fumbling around and organising that, we trekked down to the beach.

When my dad told me he had sunshade under control, I wasn’t expecting him to use cable ties to connect handheld rain umbrellas to camera tripods. He set up four tripod-umbrella creations that offered little sunshade during high noon. Then he brought out his brand-new drone, a device he didn’t know how to set up or fly and had to get my husband to fix.

Meanwhile, my mum was unloading an array of sweet biscuits and cakes for the kids to eat and get high off.

Luckily, the children were eager to slather on sunscreen and make their way down to the water. Our three-year-old and I waded in the shallow waters and built sand castles while my husband and our seven-year-old ventured out further.

My suggestion of setting up closer to the water was dismissed in favour of being near the bushes for extra shade. This meant that anyone who returned wet was immediately covered in sand. There was sand everywhere! I had sand in all crevices and suffered a nasty case of inner thigh chafing.

On the way home, while I was complaining about the sand, my daughter yelled out “Mummy, why are you so grumpy? Have you got a sandy vagina?!” and cackled like a crazy hyena.

I was grumpy and being a sandy vagina. As for sand in the vagina, that was quite possible too.

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CHRISTMAS CHEER OR CHRISTMAS FEAR

Note: If you love Christmas and family gatherings, please don’t read this ranty post of mine.  

I don’t enjoy big family gatherings. I find the whole shamozzle stressful. Who is hosting? Who is invited? Who is bringing what? If you host, there’s the clean up before and after the event. Not to mention the costs involved. 

You’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s only once a year, surely I can just cop it for a day. Well, add in dysfunctional family members, readily consumed alcohol, the undercurrent of unresolved family matters, mismatched personalities, eccentric and dementia-prone oldies, and you have the perfect storm for a catastrophic Christmas gathering. And if by chance, it doesn’t fall into utter chaos, the anxiety suffered from the anticipation is enough to make one keel over.  

Maybe it all stems from my childhood. I never enjoyed being dragged by my parents to attend our big family gatherings. Other than a few cousins that I played with, those gatherings were just an excuse for relatives to boast about their new cars, (mediocre) salaries and children’s academic achievements. Aunties would readily dish backhanded compliments to each other and drunk uncles would argue over who disrespected who. All under the watchful eyes of a cold matriarch and a distant patriarch.

By the time I reached adulthood, I had stood my ground and refused to return to the dysfunctional bosom of my extended family. I gave them all the cut. At eighteen, I decided that I didn’t need an extended family or their negativity. If my parents wanted to belong to that brand of crazies then so be it.

When I got married, there were occasions when we simply opted to go away somewhere to avoid the pressure of family gatherings. Now that I have children, it’s no longer about my wants or me. It’s about giving the children the opportunity to experience Christmas with extended family, opening presents, catching up with uncles that they don’t see often and being merry. So while it is a chore and I prefer to avoid family gatherings, I make the effort for my children. I go willingly (more like unwillingly) and I keep my grumblings predominantly to myself (and the husband).

This last Christmas, we celebrated with my parents, my brother and his fiancé. It was a small lunch affair. Between my brother and I, we organised that I would bring sides and he would cook the roasts. We agreed that my parents would have no involvement in the meal preparations. Their only task was to tidy up the house and tiny backyard.

Let me back up a bit. My parents are hoarders. My dad has at least three of everything and crams it all into his small townhouse. The garage is chock full with secondhand market goods that were ‘too cheap to pass up’. The bed in his room is cluttered with large speakers and electronic junk. There are fish tanks everywhere! Two large ones in the loungeroom, three in the dining area, one in the backyard. My mum, while not as bad, loves planting orchids. The backyard is a jungle. Nothing makes sense in their house. The kids love going there because it’s like going to a two-dollar store, jammed full of goodies to see and touch. Every time my daughter goes there, she gets a plastic bag and collects random trinkets and junk to bring home. My son just loves to feed the fish and dogs.

So on Christmas Day, we drove over with a potato salad, green salad, coleslaw and a sponge. The minute I entered, my dad proudly told me he spent hours cleaning the backyard so we could have the BBQ. He managed to clear his jungle to create a small seating space. My first questions were… What’s with the nesting pigeon and her babies doing perched underneath the café umbrella? And what BBQ, aren’t we doing roasts?

My brother was on a rant rampage on how my mum had ruined his roast chicken and roast pork. Evidently, she didn’t believe he could cook, so she took it upon herself to stuff the chicken with a pork mince mixture (instead of stuffing) and marinated it with some kind of weird mint (only herbs she had). She boiled the pork belly and shoved both the chicken and pork roasts into the oven with no regard to temperature or timing.  

My dad and his hard-of-hearing-ears-while-semi-drunk, had the radio blaring so little conversation could be had. My mum decided that feeding the kids cheese bread an hour before lunch was a good idea (there is no stopping my stubborn mother without a fight). There were prawns being barbecued on a tiny contraption, making my seafood hating husband and children barf.

By the time my brother’s fiancé had arrived, my brother and I had begun a heated debate on euthanasia of the family pets (I blame the stress of the day). We immediately put our best faces on (new fiancé didn’t need to see our crazy) and had a relatively calm afternoon with the children opening their Christmas presents. Of course, my dad took out every camera and video recording device he owned to capture the moment. And like every other occasion, the photos will be blurry and off-centre or he’ll have forgotten to press record on his devices. 

The kids were too full on bread to eat lunch but really, who could blame them for not wanting to sit with us while the creepy pigeon and its offspring watched from above.

Folks, the best part of Christmas… whimsical enjoyment by the children. Is it really worth it?

 

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