I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

1600 kilometres later...

...and we're still not only having the time of our lives, we have yet to kill one another. I can say with some certainty that all five members of my family are still alive and well. I can't comment on the dog because he is holidaying with my IL's, but I trust he too is still with us. (IL's, feel free to leave a comment and let us know.)

When I last blogged we had been in Canberra two nights. The next day we spent not nearly enough time at the War Memorial - somewhere I was going along to mostly to humour DH (who, in addition to being as Aussie as they come) loves all things military related. I honestly expected the kids (and me, let's be frank here) to be whining about being bored about five minutes into it. Instead the kids AND I were all quite disappointed to have to leave - we did a 90 minute tour and all of us felt we really only scratched the surface. There is SO much more to see there that we have already planned a trip back. From there we went onto Parliament (where I had a slightly heart-rate raising moment when we went through the explosives check and I got pulled aside). Parliament, too, is another place we could have spent more time. The last stop on our "Geek's Tour of Australian Government Icons" was the Royal Mint - disappointing only because it was not a working day for them and so we did not get to see all the machinery in action, but otherwise fascinating in many respects.

Our last day in Canberra dawned a bit overcast, but we pressed on with our plans to visit Cockington Green - a minature town of replica buildings. Bitty bitty people in bitty bitty buildings doing things like playing bitty bitty cricket games. For me this was our most disappointing stop, because not only was it a bit expensive, but I don't remember it being as ...meh...as it was. The kids enjoyed it, especially the ridiculous kiddy train ride (so small each of us took up an entire bench in a carriage) and it was fun but I don't think I'd go again.  From there we went on to the CSIRO Discovery Centre, which, as the name suggests, is a place for older kids to discover a lot about the work CSIRO does (did you know they invented WiFi?). We were the only ones there, which was a good thing as it means the kids (okay, DH and I) could run around madly pressing buttons on stuff and not have to pretend like it wasn't us who made the little solar powered lolly machine continually give out lollies.

From there we pressed onto Wallerawang - not the bustling metropolis you might imagine with a name like that, but a small town in the coalmine area of NSW. En route we stopped in Goulburn, supposedly to have lunch and get petrol but really to take pictures in front of the giant Merino. Not giant as in "Wow, what a big sheep" but giant as in "Let's climb up into it's body and look out of it's eyes onto the road below." Onwards (and a few wrong turns along the way) we ended up in Wallerawang. It turned out to be a lovely town, with a lovely hotel in a former school - the owner of the hotel was actually a student of the school for most of his life, which is such an "only in Australia" sort of thing, isn't it? Dinner at the local Chinese (delicious, shame about the horrible waitress, but then with no competition to speak of I can't imagine anyone is too worried about things like customer service!). Morning saw us up and about and heading for Jenolan Caves - and to give you some time perspective, that was this morning I'm talking about.

Jenolan Caves is one of those places which cannot really be described with words - and apologies about the lack of pictures, but uploading from our various phones and cameras is a bit more fiddly than I feel like dealing with, so I'll do some photo posts on our return. We spent our entire day on a couple of tour caves (translation: in awe of the caves, in awe of the sheer number of stairs, in awe of the number of photos it's possible to take), walks around the blue lake (more @&*@# stairs!) and eventually a very happy but weary emzee family made it back to the car (guess what? stairs to the carpark, too). Unequivocally it was one of our most adventurous days yet - and we worked out that by the end of it we had climbed or come down over 1,600 steps. Goodness knows how we will feel tomorrow!

Afternoon had us heading into Sydney and to our accommodation for the next week - sadly a disappointing 'granny flat' place under a home in Allambie Heights (just outside of Manly.) While it's mostly clean, it's clear that the owners are not experienced at having people stay - no dishes, no cutlery, no real bin (!) to speak of, and so on. I'm pretty certain the fridge was stolen from a few grotty fraternity boys - and in terms of cooking 'equipment' the best we have is an electric frying pan...so suffice to say our emergency Coles run had items like tea towels, big bags, spatulas, toilet paper and so on make their way into the trolley. I'm pretty disappointed but as usual the kids don't give a shit and are rolling with it - they were just thrilled to see a Scrabble board in the cupboard!

I have to say the real heroes of this trip have been the children - they have soaked up every moment of it, revelled in the adventures, taken more photos than I will ever know what to do with, and just LIVED in each moment of every day. To be sure we have asked a fair bit of them, but they've taken it all in their stride and have proven themselves far more flexible than I ever anticipated. The electronic sanity device has yet to get out of the box, even though they discovered it's existence early on in the piece. They are laughing, smiling, engaged kids - and while they have tried to get on one another's nerves now and again, generally speaking I throw a handful of Werther's lollies back there and all is right with the world. They have even tolerated us playing endless Beatles CD's (thanks DH for the music selection) but in turn we've sat through hours and hours of their books on tape (DS picked audio books which a) go on for HOURS and b) require a lot of active listening. Bless him.) They have already decided that "road trips rock!" and that the ONLY solution to this problem of not seeing all we want to see is just to repeat this exact trip next year, but go to the places we just did not have time for.

We've all been having so much fun that we've forgotten both the date and the day of the week - today DS asked me what the date was and I literally had no idea. I'm pretty sure that's what this vacation was for, just to forget about life for a while. In which case - objective achieved.

Tomorrow it's the pinaccle of this trip (although in hindsight, maybe not..) - the Harry Potter exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum. I'm going to sign off now because DH and I have some planning to do for the rest of our days in Sydney - and connecting to the 'net via my mobile phone is probably costing as much as ...well...a lot.

Sydney, I hope you're ready for us, because we've got big plans for you...! (Pylon lookout, Chinese garden, Manly Aquarium, clifftop walk from Bondi to Coogee...and so on!)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Older and Wiser

For what it's worth, I don't intend to blog every day of our trip. I'm meant to be on vacation, not tied to a laptop. That said, having talking about this trip for so damn long, it would be remiss of me to not at least give you the occassional update of how we're doing.

My birthday today was glorious - filled with sunny skies, time spent with the people I love the most, plenty of delicious food (and gummy cherries. We've got snakes still but the cherries are my fave, so I opened the bag early...) and plenty of sight-seeing and being loved. I got a number of birthday wishes via text, phone calls, and facebook posts so I feel loved fron all corners of the globe. I am *much* happier at 36 than I was at 26 (the kids were not yet a year old, I'm pretty sure I slept through my birthday) and much happier again than I was at 16 (good lord, is any 16 year old happy?!). All in all, it's been a great day and tomorrow is our "History of Australia" geek day with tours of Parliament House, the War Memorial, and the Royal Mint. Today's geek activities - the highlight of which was the National Dinosaur Museum - were all suitably geeky and a good time was had by all.

In between all the love and joy I've thought a bit about my word of the year - and the one word which keeps coming back to me is "value." Value works for me on two levels - one, as a reminder to me to value all that I already have and all that I have achieved, and two, to do things which I value or which bring value to my life. Less stressing, more enjoying - less 'busy work', more putting time into those things and people which I value.

I did for a while consider "treasure" and "blossom" and some other ones...but I think VALUE is the one it's going to be. To just stop for a second and ask myself, "What value am I getting out of this?" (and not be referring to monetary value) sounds like a great way to consider all that has come before, and all that is yet to come. I'm going to try this word on for a bit and see how it fits. We'll see.

Other than that bit of thinking, I'm spending my days revelling in the love and affection of my madcap children and my adoring husband, as hurl-worthy as that sounds. This is *exactly* the right way to end 2011, and a fabulous way to start of 2012.

Sending love, humour, sweetness and of course a healthy dose of sarcasm to you and yours on this merriest  of Christmases.

M xx

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Very Much Still Alive

I'm writing this from our hotel apartment in Queanbeyan- which is in New South Wales, a short hop from Canberra, the capital of Australia. Canberra is in the Australian Capital Territory, an independant patch of land in the middle of NSW but somehow NOT NSW (a bit like Washington DC in that respect.) Suffice to say we're not exactly in Party Central, Australia - but it's a gorgeous city and there is nowhere I would rather be right this very moment.

The good news is that there is no bad news - today was one of our longest driving days (8 hours or thereabouts) and we've all had a glorious day. With every passing kilometre I could literally feel the stress, worry and hysteria of the past few months just seeping out of my pores - in between eating too many gummy snakes and changing the CDs over for the kids I managed to have a think about a few things, catch a nap (or two or three) and just really relax as the Victorian, New South Wales, and ACT landscape just passed on by.

It was a glorious, blue sky sort of day - the kind where it looks like the perfect white fluffy clouds have been painted into the sky, where even the sheep and cows on the side of the road appear to have been Photoshopped onto the hillsides. We spent our day visiting various gourmet spots (and as a result now have a car boot filled with indulgences), walking around country towns, and in general loving every minute of our adventure. The kids did not ask for nor need any sort of electronic stimulation (not a single kid asked to play on my phone, which is pretty miraculous when you consider they often ask on the drive from their bus stop to home - which is about 3 minutes long.)

All in all, today was a really great start to our Geeks Tour of Southern Australia - the only real "excitement" of the day was when DH looked at the fuel thingie which said we had "1 kilometre to empty" and the nearest gas station was 14 kilometres away. HE managed to be in a flap about it, I viewed it as an opportunity to teach the kids a lesson about packing too much shit in the car. Pushing the car that far would have surely made my point abundantly clear, no?

Tomorrow the Geek Tour begins properly, as we fit in views from the tops of various mountains, a birthday* picnic at Causarina Sands (thanks Kazari for the idea) and then an afternoon at...yes, the National Dinosaur Museum. Chat to you tomorrow, but for now this is a very tired but very happy and relaxed emzee, signing off.

*Post about this to follow, but DH totally ACED my birthday cake and I've got the pictures to prove it. We had to enjoy it earlier than my real birthday, but suffice to say he didn't stuff up a single part of it (okay, he did. But it was *my* fault and so that does not really count.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lean On Me

Tonight the family and I were at an event which required us all to sit on the grass and hang out for a bit - and within a few minutes of sitting down, DH had a child sitting on his lap, I was leaning towards him, I had a child laying with their head on my thigh, and child number three was sitting in my lap, leaning back on me.

The young girl sitting next to us commented to me, "Geez, you guys are a family that really like to lean on one another."

She doesn't know how right she is.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just Back Yourself

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about my amazing friend (who I have yet to come up with a blog moniker for) - and how I find her strength inspiring. She responded to me personally and said that when she tells her other friends about me she describes me as the woman "willing to back herself." Today I met another woman who - in quite possibly the most brave way I've ever heard of - also chose to 'back herself' and take charge of her life. To live the way SHE wanted to live. To seek new horizons (literally), to experience things differently, to just "back herself" in such a way as to turn her life around completely. 

I think we all need to remember to do this once in a while. Just - BACK ourselves. Believe. Do something completely crazy and insane which - because you backed yourself - will lead to great things. Or maybe not, but surely it's worth trying?

In talking to this woman today (hello, woman! You too need a blog moniker)...I told her about the crazy story of how I ended up going to culinary school. The story of how I backed myself because "life, the Universe and everything" basically forced me to do so. The short version is, I had reached the point in my working life where every single day was breaking a chunk off my soul. SOMETHING had to change. The long version is this:

I'd been working in a large University for a long time. Universities are wonderful places because the benefits of being an employee are fabulous as long as you never want anything actually DONE. So you get crazy good entitlements, but your brain atrophies as you realise that another year has gone by and you have achieved SFA (shit fuck all). People in Universities are AWESOME at meetings - having them, attending them, planning them, fighting in them, planning more of them and so on - but not a damn meeting RESOLVES anything. Ever.

It's very annoying.

Anyway - I needed to stay at said job (hello, benefits, and hello, husband who kept losing jobs, and hello, toddler triplets) but I hated it. The "I hate this so much I cry almost every day" sort of hating it. So I went through a (too long to talk about) very long process to get a secondment to another area of the University, in the hopes this would keep me from the daily wanting to pull out my eyelashes and make a bonfire at my desk. I got the secondment and on the first day my new boss calls me into her office to tell me that my job was non-existent. They invented the role and the project as a way of retaining their funding from one year to the next, but the role and the project were pure works of fiction.

I left a job I hated, in the hopes of making my life more bearable - to walk into a job which did not exist.


This meant I had 9 months in which to do even less than nothing, because even I could not call meetings together for non-existant projects. I'm good at bullshitting, but I'm not THAT good. My official work instructions were to, "show up late, take long lunches, and leave early. Look busy while you're here."  This is in the days before smartphones and facebook...so options for how to look busy were limited. PLUS, I would have much rather been home with my trio (at least parenting is productive) - but we really needed that money.

That same year, I applied - and got rejected from - culinary school due to there being (ironically) no funding for local students. Later that year (with my brain now in complete melt down) I got a call telling me they had last minute funding for some spots. I had 30 minutes to tell them if I wanted the spot - and I had one day and one weekend before the course started. Long story short, I took them up on the offer and then went to tell my boss that I was quitting her ghost project.

She wouldn't let me quit. They *needed* me to remain employed until the project was complete, so that they could retain their funding. If I left, the jig was up, and they were screwed, financially speaking. I tried to argue that it was ridiculous - a government funded university was going to PAY for an employee to train in another area at another school, and literally produce NOTHING in exchange. Ridiculous on SO many levels. In the end, I just threw my hands up and gave in (I suspect she would have paid me if I showed up or not). So - several days a week, I'd start the day in my corporate gear, go to "work" to piss fart around for a few hours, then at lunchtime drive to culinary school, change into chef whites, and be the person I so desperately wanted to be.

I led this insane life for a couple of months (just till the end of the 'project') and then went on to culinary school and a real chef job and so on - and life got a whole hell of a lot better.

Kitchens rarely have meetings, and when they do, it's generally fuelled by the promise of creating fabulous food, enjoying the buzz of teamwork, the adrenaline of service and, you know, actually ACHIEVING something.


This is why you need to back yourself once in a while.

Because sometimes there is just no other choice.

This Morning


For longer than one rotation (actually I think I got up to about 30 seconds worth)...and while I'm no expert yet I need WAY more practice yet)...I did it. I actually hula hooped. For real.

Yiippeeee! Roll on 2012! (literally. skating is next.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Shall Wear Midnight*

Next week I'm turning 36. This means I'm on the other side of halfway in terms of getting to forty, and I know I said I wasn't going to use that expression any more...but..damn, I'm getting up there in years. I'm none too happy about this whole getting older thing, mostly because in my mind I'm still somewhere in my 20's. It can of course be argued that my 30's are WAY better than my 20's - if for nothing else than I've done heaps more living and experiencing, and I'm slimmer, fitter, smarter and cuter now (not to mention I can do WAY cooler stuff like blog and bake like a rock star)...but, still, I'm none too thrilled about it.

I can see the benefits of ageing (namely improving one's rock star skills), but...meh. Heading on to forty just seems so....forty, you know? Of course the irony here is that I have a number of friends who are forty and beyond and who totally rock that age. You know, the ones who wear kick-ass sparkly runners, the ones who spend more money on concert tickets in a month than I spend in a lifetime, the ones running marathons, the ones who own several pairs of Docs (with lots of eyelets) and so on. So it's not like 40 is the new dead or anything...it's just that I've still got that ridiculous teenage notion that anyone above, say, 30, is pretty much ancient. It's a bullshit notion, but then I never claimed to be clever all the time, did I?

Anyway so now that I'm on 'this side' of my thirties, I'm thinking I need to do something to somehow stop the ravages of time. I've decided that on my 2012 'to do' list, I'm going to put in a bunch of ridiculous (mostly physical) things which I never achieved in my childhood or young adulthood that I'd like to learn how to do now. I've got the added bonus of being more physically able, having my back in good condition (for now...ask me again once I've done this list) and also wanting to push myself physically a bit this year (because I clearly have nothing else to fill my time).

So far my list includes learning how to:

  • Hula Hoop
  • Inline skate
  • Roller skate
  • Ice skate
  • Ride a scooter
 I've rejected learning how to:
  • do a cartwheel (small matter of boobs, and inability to go upside-down)
  • go across monkey bars (too tall now)
  • ride a unicycle (yeah. no.)
  • wear a boob tube (I'm laughing as I type this. NOBODY over an A cup should attempt this at any time.)
  • Do a flip on a trampoline (no trampoline, ours died.)
  • Instigate a first date kiss or ask a boy out (I'm pretty sure DH might have something to say about that.)

So while I still have no word of the year (but I'm getting closer), I do have a bunch of ridiculous silly things I'd like to do to prove to myself that age is a number and NOT a state of mind or a barrier to silliness.

Suggestions welcome.

*Five bucks to anyone who can work out the reference.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Giant Leap Forward

This afternoon the mobile phone on my desk rang, scaring the living shit out of me.

Given how wedded I am to my phone (I made a 5 tier cake for the commitment ceremony), you would think this occurrence would not be all that unusual. Except, of course, it wasn't MY phone which rang, it was the BUSINESS phone which rang.

It was a MONUMENTAL moment for me. Seriously - HUGE.

I know you all still don't get what the big deal is - so allow me to explain.  When the business became a business in the "now I don't do this in my home kitchen anymore" sort of way, I put my mobile phone number on all my business cards. That meant that every work-related phone call I ever got came to me personally. At odd hours, on odd days, and all the damn time - but, you know, I didn't mind so much. Calls meant business and business meant success, so it was okay. People started to assume that the business was still home based (and thus a bargain type company), and as part of my non-existant marketing strategy I decided to make the address of the company sound more official (Kitchen 4, XX Acme Street, as opposed to XX Acme Street.) Then I decided to get a 1300 number (free from any phone in Australia) rather than publish my mobile number. The 1300 number needed a 'landing' number though ...which of course was just my mobile phone because I had no other option. So although I suddenly LOOKED a bit less small time, I was pretty much still small time.

And then came the day when I was not so small time anymore. I had an honest-to-goodness shop, and facebook followers, and crazy stuff like business plans and social media strategies and....most painful but useful of all....a budget and a cash flow chart thingie-whatsit. You know, I could no longer pretend that having the money in the bank to pay the rent was just sheer good luck.

In all this time, the business number has always 'landed' at my personal number. Which means I spend my time sneaking out of movies to answer queries about cake, I half-assed watch my son play basketball because I'm answering queries about cake, and I sit on the toilet and answer queries about cake.

Yes, I really do. Get over it.

Anyway - as part of my overall plans for myself personally and the business, AND as part of that whole slowing down thing, I finally decided it was time to separate the siamese twins which are my personal phone number and my work phone number. The surgery was long and painful (bloody Dr Optus!) and it took several days of rest and recovery as I waited for it all to take effect...but this afternoon, the BUSINESS phone rang. NOT *my* phone. I even picked it up and very tentatively said, "Um, helll-ooo?" because I was convinced it was some wierd prank. Nope. She had, you guessed it, a query about cake.

I finished up talking to her and called DH to squeal to him about the success of the surgery and I asked him to call me back on the 1300 number to check it worked. He TRIED to call back several times...but the damn thing kept ringing and ringing and so I  missed his calls. Too busy answering queries about cake - which is how it should be.  Sheesh. He's my husband. He should know to only call me on my personal phone! ;)

Then of course I changed my personal voicemail to make it, you know, PERSONAL.  I then got DH to call me again to make sure THAT worked and it really did work!  Because apparently among other things, DH is a phone line and voicemail tester of the highest calibre.

This does not mean that I won't be the person resposible for answering the business phone a vast majority of the time. I will. It's just that now, if I don't WANT to take the phone into the toilet with me, I don't HAVE to. I can sit on the toilet and facebook on my personal phone instead, which I am told is exactly what freedom feels like.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Still Me

I was thinking about this blog the other day - thinking about how much it has changed over the years. I seem to recall that at one point I was pretty funny. At many points I was sarcastic, some points I was earnest (oh you all need to go and bake for other people right this very second!) and at all points I was honest.

The me who has been writing this blog over the last ....2 years?....isn't the me who started it. A whole lot of things have happened since then. When I started this blog, I was still in pastry school, was morbidly obese and the trio were only toddlers. Now I'm the Boss Lady of a cake company, am living with 3 pre-teens and a dog, am minus a parent, minus some weight, and basically a whole different person (visually AND mentally. But I still have insane, will-not-sit-still hair.) In thinking about this blog, I realised that I kinda miss the blogger of old - who talked shit about Helicopter Mum, who wrote funny posts about things like Australian food, and who didn't take life nearly as serious as I have been in recent time.

I fear I have become boring.

Boring is just about the most offensive adjective one can use to describe me, so my thinking that I am boring is in and of itself something akin to a crisis.

I'm pretty sure the very essence of me has not changed - I'm still acid-tongued, still saracastic, still surprised by stupidity, still curse exactly enough, still am funny on occassion, and still think other people's kids suck. It is remarkable to me that I can be all of those things and yet still be blogging like a grown up - and all these posts of late have positively reeked with eau de grownup.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. Evolution as a person and therefore as a blogger is exactly what I expected would happen...but somehow the lighter moments in this blog have disappeared as a result. I have no idea why this is. Other irritating people still inhabit the earth. My children are still as imperfect as they need to be to seem normal. My ass is still too big. In some ways not much has changed.

I have no witty ending to this post as it's really just a verbal diarrhea of my thoughts on the page...but if you are a blogger, has YOUR blog changed? For the better? Worse? Not at all? Share with me.

Yes, It Gets Worse

If you are reading this without reading the post below on "How to End Your Marriage" - stop right now. You NEED to read the first part before reading this part. Trust me.

So when we last left the stupidest husband on earth, he was totally fucking over his wife's birthday party. Determined to rescue something of this event, I pressed on with the cake planning. Not surprisingly, this did not go well.  He had grand ideas for all sorts of stuff ... but when I pointed out the limitations (you cannot put a 3D grand piano on top of a cupcake tower unless it's a very small piano) he got a little irriated with me. "You're not working with me, emzee!" - never mind the sheets and sheets of design options I've got there, it's just because I can't make what he wants (small matter of gravity, my friend) that he's not all that impressed. I can deal with this - part of my job is telling people what IS possible.

Yeah. That assumes clients with SOME concept of reality. We were not getting very far and believe me, I was really trying to rescue this thing. (Woman to woman, she NEEDED me to make at least one thing decent.)

Finally I say, well, you said she likes matching stuff - so maybe next week when the invite comes out, email it to me and I'll come up with some design options which coordinate. "No, I really just think we should go with what I like."

Wait. Tell me again whose party this is you are ruining?

Anyway we eventually agree (and by agree, I mean I gently force him into the one idea which is not ugly, impossible, or going to cost him thousands) on a design. Then he decides he wants a figurine of her on the cake - so I need details, right? Hard to make a figurine look like someone unless you have some idea as to their appearance.

He tells me she has brown hair, kinda wavy, and sorta long-ish.

He tells me she has no favourite clothes or colours, and spends all her days in track suit pants and moccossins so we should put her in those (remember? The baby. I forgive her, but not him. I am NOT making a figurine with track suit and moccossins. It's her birthday for cripes sake.)

He tells me that he does not care what the figurine looks like, because ANYWAY it's HER birthday and people will know it's meant to be her.

At this point, I decide this woman needs SOME shred of dignity left in her party-that-wasn't so I ask to see a picture of her for reference purposes.

I'm very glad I did that.

She's BLOND. With straight hair. And a bob which goes just to her chin.

I saw more than one photo so I know it wasn't a one-off.

I EVEN saw a photo of her holding said baby as a newborn, and let me tell you, she is as blond and straight haired as it is possible to be. She's also wearing nice clothes, has jewellery on, and basically looks like somoene who does not deserve to be married to Moron Of The Year.


Eventually - and at this point, I've aged rather a few years - we get to the end of the consult, and I tell him the price. It's something like $380 (or an odd number in any case.)

"Well," he says, "I like it, but I'd like it MUCH more if there was just a zero next to that 3."

"Well," I say, "I like you, but I'd like you MUCH more if you were not as dumb as two short planks, but we do not always get what we want, do we?"

(Okay. I didn't say it. I wanted to, but I didn't. I just explained that we charge what we do because we are worth it.)

He then proceeds to make the cupcake tower smaller by more than 20% because, "It's not like anyone will notice if not everyone gets one, right? I mean nobody eats cupcakes, do they? No big deal if there are like 20 people who don't have one, whatever, they'll miss out." Me, I'm thinking 20 out of 50 people not getting a bit of the only dessert...will look bad, but hey, what do I know of these things?

OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, am I *that* shit of a person that the Universe feels the need to send me clients like these?!

Oh wait. Without them, I wouldn't have two fabulously ridiculous blog posts!

Universe, bring on the stupids!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How To End Your Marriage

This week I had a client whose marriage is not going to last very long. The entire story of this client actually falls into the, "If it did not happen to be I would not have believed it" category.  The first part is so insane, I'm going to split this across two blog posts so I do not give anyone a heart attack.

This client came to an appointment with me to discuss his wife's surprise 30th birthday party cake. For the rest of this blog post, I'd like you to remember that he told me it's a surprise party, okay? So we sit down and I started to gather all the details about the event - number of guests, location of the party, if the cake is a stand-alone dessert, and so on. He knew the number of guests, and the date. He did not know the name or address of the venue, nor what the food would be, and he was even a little vague about the timing of it all.

The hairs on the back of my pastry chef neck are already standing on edge. How does one plan an entire surprise party but know so little about it? I mentally shrug (hey, who knows?) and carry on with the consultation.

We start talking about the design, and I ask all sorts of questions to get an idea about the sort of cake which might wow his wife - it IS a surprise after all, and he IS spending a bunch of money, so we might as well DO this thing, right?  Apparently she has no hobbies, no interests, no favourite colours, food, or music but she does like everything to be very "matchy matchy."  Well, I say, what does the invitation look like? Can we colour match the cake to the invite?

No, he says. She has not made the invitations yet.

Wait. WHAT?

(*mental backflips* He DID say SURPRISE party, right?)

I'm sorta thinking this is all a little...odd...but against my better judgement I carry on. It becomes clear (hell, he says as much) that she organised the entire thing. Booked the venue, picked the menu, decided on who her 50 guests would be, organised the room decoration, is making the invitations, and so on.

I can't help it. I HAVE to say something, right? So I casually say, "Sounds like it's going to be a great party but I thought you said it was a surprise? Is just the CAKE the surpise?" (Entirely within the realm of possibility, right?)

"Oh NO," says soon-to-be-divorced client, "It's a surprise PARTY." "So," I say, "If she organised it all, I don't quite understand what the surprise part is?" (as I try to maintain my you-are-a-fuckwit thoughts to myself.)

"Oh," he says..."The surprise is that I called the venue and I changed the time of the party, so instead of being at night, it's in the morning, at BREAKFAST time."

At this point, I did not even pretend. I just lifted my jaw right up off the floor.

He went on to explain, "Yeah, so she's sending out invites next week with the right location but the wrong time, and I've emailed everyone already to explain that it's a surprise breakfast, not dinner. It's great. She's booked it all and got it organised, which is why I don't know much about it."

And, Mr Stupid, how do you plan on getting her there on the morning?

"Oh, well, I'm going to tell her we need to drop something off there, like a CD or balloons or something, and when we get there, everyone will be there."

Divorce. For sure. Because I don't know this woman, but she IS female. So I'm guessing that on the day of her 30th Birthday Bash, she's planning on going to the hairdresser, has bought a damn hot outfit and heels, will get a spray tan, and in general willl spend her day preening so she feels and looks great in front of the fifty people coming to her party.

Instead she's going to walk in there, probably dressed in trackies and moccosins (more on why I know that later), looking like shit. Did I mention she has a 9 month old baby? We all know how fabulous mothers of new babies look in the morning, right?

I should offer him a 10% discount on divorce cakes, because no self respecting woman would stay with a man stupid enough to think this was a good idea.

Part Two: Yes, It Gets Worse.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Other Side of Halfway

Several times a week I go to the gym, and it's a circuit gym which means you do some cardio warm up, then two circuits of mixed cardio/weights, then some more cardio, then stretching.  The two circuits are formed around a rectangular shape - meaning lots of stations along two long walls, then the shorter walls have only 1 station. In my warped mind, I think of the long walls as "half circuits" meaning that once I've done one end of one circuit, I consider myself 1/4 done. Then it's 1/2 done at the end of one full circle, then 3/4 done at the end of one circuit and a half, and so on. In my head I'm mentally working out how much further I've got to go - and it's not for the reasons you might think.

I've been a gym junkie most of my adult life, and as amazing as it might seem for a fat chick, I actually really enjoy exercising. I like that for that single hour of every day, nobody is demanding my attention. I can't hear my phone ring, I can't hear my email inbox ping, nobody wants me to do anything for them, and for that hour I think about NOTHING (except for counting circuits.) I'm not counting circuits because I hate exercise and can't wait for it to be over, I count circuits because I am totally a horizon person AND I'm the sort of person who gets a fabulous high off of achieving things. Meaning I am *always* looking forward to the next thing, or reaching the finish line, or ticking something off a list, or making another list. I'm forever looking at the sunset in front of me and almost never looking at the sunrise that was behind me.

I don't recommend this as a lifestyle choice, because it means that I never truly appreciate how far I've come, how much history there is behind things, and I'm spending so much time living in the tomorrow that I rarely if ever appreciate the journey it took to GET to right now.

Back to my gym sessions - so all the way through the first circuit, I'm thinking, "Woo hoo, I'm nearly at halfway!" and then, because I'm OCD like that, I'll count how many more stations there are until I get to halfway. Then once I've finished a whole circuit and started another one, I think to myself, "YEAH! I'm ON THE OTHER SIDE of halfway!" meaning that I am now on the downward slope to the finish line.

That expression - 'the other side of halfway' is one that I use A LOT (in my head). It applies to long drives, lists of cakes which need finishing, lists of anything at all, biscuits which need cutting out, emails which need replying to, counting sleeps waiting for something wonderful to happen, counting hours until meeting friends, whatever. I spend my entire life wanting to be on the other side of halfway, because once you are on the other side of halfway, NOTHING can stop you. You're on the downward slope to victory and that, my friends, is what it's all about for me. The horizon. The victory. The end point. FINISHING on the other side of halfway.

In short, it's not at all about the journey and ALL about the finish, and then it's about starting the next thing so you can finish that as well. Start, do, fnish, repeat.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend I've not seen in a really long time.  She is, by all accounts, one of the most wonderful people I have ever had the good fortune to be friends with. The thing about her is, she is living an ordinary life - in a totally EXTRAordinary way.  She has faith, she has wisdom, she has knowledge, she has belief, she has temperance and she has patience. Like every other person, I am sure she has her moments when all of those traits abandon her entirely, but on the whole I've never meet anyone as centred as she is. I left that lunch feeling very thoughtful about the things she had to say and the experiences she shared with me. I truly believe that encounter will have a ripple effect on the rest of my life...and not surprisingly, it already has.

One of the comments she made was, "None of us truly understand how we are just mere moments away from random tragedy," to which I replied, "Yes, but we are also mere moments away from random joy," - because I am if nothing else an optimist. She agreed with me and told me that other people don't really understand just how MUCH joy she derives from a really lovely cup of tea, the sound of a kookaburra outside her window, finding the right fabric for a project, and so on.

Here is someone whose life has given her many challenges - and yet she still finds the time, and the mind space within, to do nothing but truly enjoy the little things. I'm guessing she has never used the expression "other side of halfway" because to her, it's now which is important. She has experienced how life can change unexpectedly and in a split second - and those experiences make her truly appreciate all she has and all she has done until now.

You all know that I have been struggling with this idea of not racing forward, not running constantly, and just BEING - I've been blogging about it rather a lot lately. Many of my friends (and now the neuro guy too) have been giving me the "slow down" message...and I've listened, but I'll be honest in saying I've not done a damn thing about it. I'd be lying if I said having lunch with my friend suddenly made me realise what I need to do in order to lead this calmer, slower life...but it is the absolute truth to say I believe that conversation was a turning point for me. So much of what she had to say -even in just the telling of her life stories - made me sit up and think...and think...and think.

This morning I went to the gym as per usual. I decided before I got there that I wasn't going to count the circuits, and I wasn't going to count the stations either - I'd just go along and let my mind wander as I made my way through the workout. I did catch myself doing it once or twice (Rome wasn't built in a day, blah blah)...but for the most part I took my own advice and just exercised. Nothing else.

I ended up staying at the gym 15 minutes longer than usual, worked far harder than usual, and then spent a couple of minutes in the car just feeling sweaty and rather pleased with myself. Not for a moment did I think about the day ahead, that I was probably now running late, or that there were calls to return and emails to write.

It's not much, it's really not. But it's a start...and the other side of halfway for this skill is probably a VERY long way off in the distance somewhere. I would tell you HOW far, but I don't know since right now all I am doing is looking at my feet and the road only one or two steps ahead. I've spent long enough looking at the horizon. Time to experience a different view.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nerds on Vacation

Way back in March I planted the seed in my family's head that we all needed to go on some sort of Australian driving adventure. At the time I assumed it would be some sort of epic trip - miles and miles and miles of dry desert wasteland passing by the windows as we all slowly went insane inside the car. As I mention in that post, while I was initially keen on the idea I very quickly decided the idea was truly bonkers and I secretly hoped they all might forget about it and instead surprise me with 7 nights at a luxury resort in Thailand.

But then I do suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, don't I?

When DH said he could take 2 weeks off of work this summer, I stupidly piped up with, "Oooh, maybe we should resurrect the road trip idea!" Moron. Why do I not read and remember these blog posts? Anyway as you can imagine DH took to this idea like white on rice, and in the past few weeks he has bombarded me with spreadsheets. Spreadsheets which track our costs, the dates we are going to be places, the various activities we might or might not do in our various stops, and so on. This holiday has been sponsored by Excel. (Actually. No. By Open Office Calc. We're an open source/Linux kind of family.)

Adventure travellers? Yes. Happy to play things by ear? Yes. Willing to push boundaries, get our of comfort zones, etc etc? Also yes. Big fat nerds who plan vacations via spreadsheets? OH HELL YES.

So this is how I find myself spending two weeks driving all the way through the states of Victoria and New South Wales over the Christmas period. Documented purpose of the trip? To see the Harry Potter Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

Did I mention we are an entire family of nerd travellers?

Did I mention the spreadsheet has stuff like Questacon, the Jenolan Caves, the Mint, Parliament House, and myriad other nerd-centric activities on it?

I have of course already planned the trip to Costco to stock up on various dry goods (and the world's largest bag of gummy snakes, which are necessary for long car rides). I've got my own spreadsheet for packing purposes. I've thought about which books on CD I want to get from the library, I've already worked out how to tether my mobile phone and laptop so I can literally blog from the open road, and I've also worked out the best way to recharge my phone batteries. I've even downloaded some travel and map apps. Oh, and I've also purchased the "I wish I did not need it but my sanity needs to not end up in tatters" emergency double screen, double headset portable DVD player and worked out how I'm going to connect a third headset to it (USB port.) Plus we've worked out what public transport in Sydney is going to cost, how long it will take to get from our flat to the Manly Ferry...you get the idea. The only thing I have yet to work out is how to afford this crazy idea - not so much food and lodging but all the fun stuff we want to do (it's almost $1000 for all of us to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but it's on my "MUST DO" list...so...Universe, work this one out for me please!).

In short, the emzee family are headed off on the road trip of a ...lifetime? Maybe not, but certainly we plan on making memories, which is the entire point of this exercise (that and the whole Harry Potter thing.) That the kids will fight, that I will crack it once in a while, that we will likely consume too many calories, spend too much money, and in general go a little mental on this trip? All likely. That we'll eat a lot of lolly snakes, laugh a lot, take loads of pictures, and finally, FINALLY get to spend some time as a family, away from the madness of our jobs, our home, school and our daily chaos? ABSOLUTELY. How do I know this? It's on line D45 of the Holiday Activities Spreadhseet.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This Won't Hurt A Bit

I have a particularly thin skin, so when people say, "Don't take it personally," I cringe. To me, it's ALL personal, and it's never so true as it is in my business dealings (which ironically is where it should be the LEAST true.)

This week I called a client to chase up a late return on a cake stand - and in exchange got an earful of criticism.

Long story short - we made her a (really lovely) cupcake tower and top cake - which she specifically asked to be made in pastels and not bright colours. I even underlined 'pastel' on the order form twice, because our inherent style is much more skewer towards 'brighter is better.' At first her complaint was that the colours were not bright enough in the dark restaurant, "I said I did not want baby colours!" Then it was that the cake itself, while it tasted lovely and everyone loved it, was "boring." While I was on the phone with her, I took out the order form just to check - nope, we'd had done everything according to her instructions, down to what colours needed to be what shades and what it looked like.

Apparently the day went off without a hitch and "everything was perfect except for the cake", which she was "really disappointed in." We all thought it was lovely enough that we took more than the usual amount of photos of it, and commented quite a bit about how sweet and girly it looked...but she wasn't happy, and my job is to make her happy. So I sympathised and thanked her for her feedback. ALL feedback is useful to me so I was sincere in my appreciation.

She was not happy with my reaction, so decided to up her aggravation to ME. Personally. So all of a sudden I was "extremely rude" to her at the consultation, I walked back into the kitchen right in the middle of our consult, I didn't give her enough time to make her decision, I pressured her into making colour choices, I didn't ask for enough reference material on the colour she wanted, I had something against her because she brought a child with her. She thought if she owned a business, she would want to know if she was being rude to people so felt the need to tell me about it (and so on and so forth.)

Ultimately it doesn't matter that her comments are untrue - and I could spend this blog telling you all how I give my clients WAY MORE time than most cake makers do, that I watched her kid destroy my shop (and gave him a lollipop, and invited him to our kids' play area and so on). Blah blah, she was unhappy, for whatever reasons, most of which I am sure have nothing at all to do with me or her cake and cupcakes.

I could handle her hating her cake. I could not handle her telling me off for giving her good service, because I know in my very heart of hearts that the entire CRUX of my business is the service. My employees have been known to shake their heads and say, "Whoah, you gave that lady WAY more time than I would have, and you are WAY nicer than I would have been," and clients often comment about how I (and my employees) go ABOVE AND BEYOND where we need to in order to secure their happiness. So the comments about the service I gave her - those hurt like hell, because I knew they were undeserved and yet it made me miserable to think I had an unhappy client. I was grumpy about it for an entire day and a half.

It's utter BULLSHIT that I let her take control over that much time in my already full life.

It makes me think about how often we forget the good stuff and dwell on the crap stuff. I have kajillions of happy clients, but it's the ONE who is unhappy which sticks RIGHT in my craw. I've lost a billion kilos (at least) but it's the two I've gained in the last 6 weeks which irritate the shit out of me. My kids are all around awesome, but it's their one moment of losing it in public which makes me feel like a shit parent. I give as much as I can to friends but it's the one time I can't help them immediately which makes me believe I'm a shit friend. You get the idea. What a terrible character flaw us humans have, to dismiss lots and lots of positive achievements and attributes when faced with only a SINGLE painful comment or experience. We are so wrapped up in that single negative moment that all the positive ones before it pale into non-existance.

I've got to see that client again tomorrow, when she comes to return the stand. I'll smile and be polite and will sincerely think to myself, "I really hope that the WORST problem you ever have to face as a parent is that the pink in your christening cupcakes wasn't pink enough for you," and then I'll think, "Stupid bitch!"...and I'll feel better, and go back to making squillions of people happy. Because although the next client who is unhappy will also make comments which will hurt, all of it is lessons learned and a skin which will grow ever thicker, so that eventually, I'll be able to take on criticism and it won't hurt quite so much.