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A week ago I turned 27. Of late years my birthday tends to induce short-lived but bleakish angst, as I recall how many years I am past being a precocious novelist and contemplate how my knee-joints are Only Going to Be Downhill From Here. This year, however, I remained serene. For a few months at the start of the year I thought I was already 27, so by the time Helpdesk Man informed me this was not the case I was inured to the concept. Plus, my chin-pores decided to relive their teenage glory the night before my party, and it’s hard to feel old with a spotty chin.
Which is just as well, because the pig, having decided she is the guinea-pigs’ mother, has taken to referring to me as Gran.
Figuring that the Ravages of Time should be given due deference even without the angst, Helpdesk Man and I have decided to slim. Well, I decided. Helpdesk Man said “Mm”, miserably. So for the time being, no sugar or white flour. I have been very virtuous so far, even giving the snortlepig the last of my chocolate orange birthday cheesecake instead of polishing it off myself as a last hurrah. I did unthinkingly buy Tic Tacs today at the supermarket, but I shall only use them in cases of extreme garlic.
(Digression: Oh dear. The pig just wrapped Tiny Miles up in a blanket for a present for me, but Tiny Miles objected halfway through the process; and by the time I came along the pig was firmly pressing the blanket over his face, saying “Hush!” as he struggled. Poor wee Miles.)
Anyway. I just made a batch of double-chocolate-orange brownies – it seemed wise to use up all the chocolate lest temptation befall – for supper after choir practice tonight, and I didn’t even lick the bowl. So there. And I’m going to try for the ever-elusive batch of light wholemeal bread. Five rises, longer-than-you-think kneading, a wet dough and adding porridge to the mix are all helpful, I hear. We shall see.
And now I’m going to curl up by the fire and read a memoir by a chef. Poor timing, perhaps.
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1. Smokey: “Tell me a story about guinea pigs and shmallows.”
Pig: “Talking shmallows?”
Smokey: “If you wish.”
Pig: “Okay! Once upon a time there were three guinea pigs. Their names were Toby, Hansel and Gretel. They were very happy together. One day, Hansel got sick. But he didn’t die. He got better and they got married again.”
Smokey: “…Who got married again?”
Pig: “Hansel. Then one day, a shmallow came walking out of the forest, with eight little baby shmallows walking behind her. And Hansel wanted to show them the church, because he wanted to show them the church. So – hang on, I have to change my dress. It’s too poofy.”
[Two minutes, later in pyjamas]
Pig: “And then Hansel showed them the church. The end. Now you tell me a story about a snake and a shmallow.”
2. Pig: “Ooh, Mummy, I know! If you died, before you died you could make Daddy a Prince Charming costume, and then like if you had cancer you’d get very sick, and after you died, he could go to Disneyland and he could find a lady dressed like Cinderella and he could marry her in his charming prince suit, so they’d be Prince Charming and Cinderella!”
3: Miles: “Wazzat?”
Smokey: “It’s a quiche.”
Miles: “Izza very cute quiche.”
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1. On Sunday at church, Tiny Miles spied a woman who had changed into her running clothes so as to jog home. Her top, while eminently respectable, was sleeveless. Miles took one look, pointed at her upper arm and squealed, “Naked!”
We’re Reformed Baptist, dude, not Closed Brethren.
2. “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” Henry Ford. Sooth.
3. On the internet today someone advised the wives of the world to show appreciation for their husbands by pre-toothpasting their toothbrushes for them, to give them a little frisson of Caring and Thoughtfulness when they stumble into the throom of a weary morning. Now, I realise I am not the veriest paragon of a wife, and therefore my opinion counts for little: but nevertheless: Que?
4. Last night we had the fire going, and I asked the pig if she wanted to roast some shmallows. Always alive to the romance of a situation, she was very keen and insisted we find a blanket to snuggle under for maximum cosiness. “Mummy, this is so beautiful and nice,” she sighed rapturously as I opened the “Reduced to Clear 99 cents” Pascalls retrieved from the dodgy bin at Pak’N’Save.
I put a shmallow on the skewer and handed it to her. She extended it cautiously towards the flame and tossed it in. Puzzled, I retrieved it and toasted the shmallow. I then handed it to the pig.
Whereupon she gasped and said “You can eat them?”
Me: “…Yes? What did you think you did with toasted shmallows?”
The pig, shrugging: “Just burned them up, I guess.”
5. Yesterday we went to the zoo. It was fun. It was long. By the end of the trip we were all a bit past it, and dragged ourselves round the supermarket wishing we were elsewhere. Especially Miles. As I was searching the likker section looking for $6.99 plonk for the lamb chops, he started to throw a tantrum and loudly wailed to the world “Whissskeeeeyy! Whissskeeeeeeey!”
6. Just heard Miles crowing “Bad baby!”
Helpdesk Man and myself, in unison: “What did you do?”
Miles, smuglier still: “VERRAH bad baby!”
Still haven’t found out what he did. Ah well. I’m sure it’ll make itself hideously obvious at some point, like the pens he posted into the grille of the fireplace.
7. This morning in bed Miles crawled over, gave me a big sloppy kiss and then shouted fiercely “SO! CUTE!”
8. A question for the single ladies. Or gents. (Hey! You should meet up.)
Would you choose to meet and marry a woman (or man) of stunning beauty, impeccable intelligence, functional but not obtrusive fertility, a clean police record and comely financial prospects, with a wonderful sense of humour, cleanly in habits, domestically gifted, politically sane, etc, etc – in short, the perfect woman (or man); if you knew that after 40 years of blissful wedlock, he or she would suddenly flip out and kill you?
I asked Helpdesk Man this question and he said “Sure”. “What if it was me?” I said, and he went “Ehhh…”
I cry at night, sometimes.
9. Dammit! As I was typing this, Tiny Miles fossicked through my bag and found my lip balm, which he has been strictly forbidden to touch on account of he pokes his fingers in it, and if a girl who wears neither makeup nor heels and has never had a massage, facial, manicure, pedicure or more than a triannual freakin’ haircut can’t have a nice smooth unmolested lip balm surface with which to caress her cragged and strinky lips, what is the point in being a woman?
Anyway, so rather than trucking off with it sneakily like a regular baby, Tiny Miles put the whole thing in his mouth like a cigar, made sweet hooty noises until I looked at him, then beamed and went away. It took my typing-addled brain a full two minutes to catch on; whereupon I tracked him to his sister’s bedroom. He was sitting, pantsless, in a little wooden wagon, beaming with delight and holding the unopened lip balm out to me. He is a bad baby.
10. In a fit of health, I just made Baked Cauliflower Poppers. Tastes just like French fries, she said. She lied.
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To the library user who had The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2013 on reserve:
I am very, very sorry. Helpdesk Man left his coffee within pig’s-reach, and I left the volume likewise. In retrospect, we ought not to have done these things. I am even sorrier that the copy upon which Miles carefully spooned half a cup of coffee was the sole remaining copy in our city’s public library system.
If it is any consolation, it is a very good book, and worth buying. I happen to know – painfully well – that $32.89 will buy you a copy. You can probably buy it for considerably cheaper, in fact, being in a position to shop around; unlike some.
To Helpdesk Man:
Now we have to go to Disneyland this year.
One Dog Mildly Harassed During the Writing Of This Post
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Our sole remaining chicken, Wingdings the Dogproof of the Order of the Stoopid Hairdo, appears to have lost the plot. For reasons known only to herself she spent Saturday night outdoors in a torrential downpour. Come morning she looked like a particularly repellent pipe-cleaner recovered from the interior of a Sarlacc. She whiled away the hours staggering backwards around the house, scraping her beak along the ground with her head on one side, staring cock-eyed at the world and giving every indication of having already become Chicken Zero.
Helpdesk Man offered a little too eagerly to go all Atticus on her white meats; but by the time we got back from church she had fluffed up and regained some low-level sanity, so we decided to wait and see. I realise that this is the kind of thinking that causes people to shout at the screen; and sure enough, the next rainshower saw her sopping and crazy again. Today, Wingdings is nowhere to be seen. Humanity, we apologise.
This being our track record, it is a wonder that we have been entrusted with the temporary care and feeding of not only a dog, but two guinea-pigs. The dog is Holly, a mere four-day addition to the household. The guinea-pigs, Eartha (Ertha?) and Gretel, are small fluffy reminders that my ungrateful family of origin is heading off to the British Isles for the next, if you don’t mind, ten weeks. Missing, I might add, two birthdays, a whole term of both violin and choir, and numerous prime babysitting opportunities. Some people.
3:30 PM: Snortlepig: “Miles! Don’t sit on the guinea-pig! What were you THINKING?”
7:00 PM: Miles, towering over Holly, who was lying meeky on the floor: “Sit down! Doggie! SIDDOWN DOGGIE! SIDDOWN DOGGIE!”
9:30 AM: Miles, shouting inches from Holly’s (silent) nose: “Hush you dogs! Hush you dogs! HUSH YOU DOGS!”
1:14 PM: Snortlepig: “Ooh, you know what we could do? You could make Miles a dog costume, and me a bigger dog costume, and a fat one for Daddy, ’cause – you know. I’m not saying he’s fat, because that’s rude. And we could all wear the costumes, and then when Alison came to pick Holly up, she’d be all concerned and say “Where did all these dogs come from?” … We probably better not.”
Snortlepig: “I didn’t say you were fat, Daddy.”
4:30 PM: Snortlepig, shouting across the orchard: “Mum! Holly’s met Macy!” [Macy is the orchard dog.] Pause. “They’re BEHAVING!”
4:45 PM: Smokey to visiting small child: “She likes you? …Mm. No no, we won’t pull her hair out. Guinea-pigs look better with hair. No, we won’t poke her eyes. Don’t squeeze the head! That’s important. Squeeze the other end. Oop! Careful with the eyes. Do you think she likes that? Hmm, I think she’s looking a bit sleepy. Maybe we’ll put her back for now.”
5:02 PM: Helpdesk Man: “OK Miles, time to sleep. Night-night! Kiss for Mummy… kiss for your sister…”
Miles: “Kees a doggie?”
6:12 PM: Miles: “Hi doggie! I’m naked!”
6:35 PM: Smokey: “No, Miles, that’s your toothbrush! Don’t brush the doggie’s… give that here.”
6:37 PM: Miles: “I bash a doggie!”
Smokey: “Miles, no! Give me the fork.”
6:58 PM: Smokey: “Miles, don’t feed your baked beans to the doggie. Doggies don’t like baked beans.”
6:59 PM: Smokey: “…Well, maybe doggies do like baked beans, but I said not to feed her. Those are your beans.”
7:00 PM: Smokey: “Miles! Don’t! Feed! The dog!”
It is now 7:43. Smeg. I forgot to feed the dog.
A Moustery, and Other Matters
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1. It is the season for mice, apparently. The orchard dog has been joyously snapping them up among the apple trees; the orchard pigs have been spotting them by the dishwasher and squealing “SO CUUUUUTE!” repeatedly.
Helpdesk Man being less impressed, we have been loading a lot of mousetraps. Most commonly, the mouse licks the peanut butter off the trap and prances away smugly; less often, the thing works as advertised and Tiny Miles gets to admire the corpses up close before we fling them over the fence. And then there was last week.
Before bed: a trap, peanut-butter-baited placed enticingly by the open door of the pantry.
Come the dawn: a mouse lying dead with a bloody nose in front of the pantry, and no trap to be seen.
We still haven’t found the mousetrap.
2. Here are my two latest cakes. The first was for a two-year-old nephewpig, who wailed at it like an ingrate. The second was for Helpdesk Man’s 30th. He did not wail at it, but he did fail to finish his piece in favour of someone else’s trifle; so it’s been a pretty psychologically taxing run, cakewise. I should write a book on Suffering.
3. This past weekend, we loaded up the pigs, a sword and a bow and arrows and went to Wellington so Helpdesk Man could attend a martial arts conference. I was a little apprehensive about the prospect of two days in a strange city with no car, two pigs and a foreboding weather forecast – to say nothing of the eight-hour trips there and back – but I’ve been lobbying for a return to Wellington since our honeymoon, so it seemed silly to pass up the chance.
It wasn’t too bad, actually. We rented a tiny house, which turned out to have one bedroom fewer than might be desired and was located up a perilously steep hill, accessible only via numerous ramps and flights of stairs. Still, clean and cozy, a proliferation of spare towels, and a kitchen well-stocked enough to make nachos and ravioli, so we didn’t feel we should quibble – especially after Miles throomed on their duvet.
On Day 1 we went to the zoo, where Tiny Miles confounded me somewhat by his attitude to the beasts. His invariable first question – “Izza cat izza dog?” – made sense, but when he followed it up with “Eyebrows?” I was frequently stumped. Does a cheetah have eyebrows? I guess, kind of. But an otter? A porcupine, of which only the hinder end is currently visible in any case? Deep stuff.
Wellington Zoo is a nice little zoo – by no means spectacular, as there aren’t any elephants and the Little Blue penguins had done a bunk. But there was a Giraffe Talk, at which the pigs were given sprigs of browse and allowed to feed the beasts. The snortlepig kept shying away at the critical moment and dropping her leaves – Miles, however, suffered no such qualms and happily let himself be licked all over while the giraffe attempted to wrest the leaves out of his chortling paws. At the end of the encounter Miles waved goodbye to the giraffe’s retreating head, and then sighed with beatific content: “Cat!”
On Day 2 we went to Te Papa. This is a museum – apparently a good one. We studied it in the only history class I took at Uni, which despite being called Communication In History: From the Printing Press to the Internet and being taught by a rabid Tolkien fan, was mind-numbingly dreary. What museums have to do with the history of communication, I never did find out: but we learned that Te Papa is a respected, highly up-to-date and progressive institution.
Which is all very well, except that
a) I have a phobia of museums
b) I have a phobia of stuffed, skeletonised and otherwise corpsified animals
c) I have a phobia of large aquatic life
and d) Te Papa is an a) filled with b), some of which are c).
Despite this, I have been twice – once on the initial horrifying trip that cemented a) and involved me being literally dragged, sweating with clenched eyes, round a bunch of taxidermied stags by my two heartless sisters who kept saying things like “Ooh, let’s take her into the Marine Mammal Skeleton room!”, while a museum assistant looked on with mild interest and said “Is she all right?”; and once to see a display of LOTR movie props, which just goes to show that Geekdom Conquers All.
As do drugs, apparently. This third trip wasn’t planned, but after waiting for a bus which didn’t come and walking all the way into the city, trying to persuade the pigs that the shops were interesting enough not to whine about visiting them, but not so interesting that one needed to escape from one’s pram and destroy them – well, any remotely child-friendly space was appealing, be it ever so festooned with the scaffolding of plesiosaurs.
So we went in, and I averted my eyes from the giant creepy anchor that looms in the foyer, and asked the information lady which pig-friendly areas could be accessed without passing beneath a fibreglass reconstruction of the Kraken – which she took rather well, even advising me to go down this side of the lifts because there was the skeleton of a famous racehorse on that side (side note: why? WHY?); and there we were.
The areas we visited were on “Pasifika” and “Invention”, and they were moderately well-done; but I spent most of my time gazing in fascination at my son and heir.
Miles is not a shy child. Where the pig saw Things to Do, Miles saw Friends to Make. His modus operandi was to find a baby, walk over to it, kindly but firmly appropriate its toy, and then make its parent play with him. And they did.
If he happened to come across a temporarily babyless adult, he would instead break the ice by thrusting out a foot and saying “Izzabzzagllbta BOOT!”, or perhaps pointing and saying “Lady!” repeatedly, until the parent admitted to being a lady. At one point he brought a hand-puppet goat to a man and said “Wazzat?”, and when told it was a goat decided the man was a zoological authority and brought him a possum, an octopus and a parrot for inspection while the man’s neglected daughter played by herself in a corner.
He was only snubbed once – by a pre-pubescent, shy-looking Asian boy who tried to brush him off with a vague smile. Miles, being immune to the concept of a brush-off, continued to attempt conversation for a good two minutes while the boy shifted from foot to foot and cast occasional nervous glances in my direction, as if to say “Call off your baby, woman, it thinks it’s human”. I probably should have, but it seemed a shame to deprive a forward-thinking museum of such a compelling anthropological performance piece.
On the way off the bus home, Miles cheerfully shouted “Thank’oo! See’oo! See’oo! Bye-bye!” to the bus driver. Giggles from every adult in the vicinity. I don’t know where he gets it from. Some recessive non-recessive gene, I spose.
And I did not have a panic attack, even when the corner of my eye caught the grinning front end of the racehorse (who was looking far smugger than circumstances warranted.) All hail Big Pharma. Srsly.
A Near Miss
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Miles [having eaten approximately half the crackers in the known universe]: Quacker!
Me [tearing self away from reading article online about alopecia for no valid reason]: You want more crackers?
Miles: Quacker! Moah quacker!
Me: Whoa. You are so hungry for crackers! –Oh dear. They’re all gone!
Miles: Moah quacker!
Me: There aren’t any more, Tiny. You ate them all!
Miles: Moah quacker!
Me: There are no more crackers. Look, they’re all gone!
Miles [dispiciously]: Gone?
Me: Yes, all gone! Look.
Miles [outraged]: GONE?!
Me [nervously, trying to jolly him along]: All gone!
Me: Yes, the packet’s empty.
Miles [quietly]: Mmh. [trucks off happily down the hall to play with his trains]
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1. I made myself a dress.
Further details here if you’re into that sort of thing. I like it – it’s just 50s enough that I feel I should be wearing it with cherry-red pumps and cherry-red lips, sipping root beer from a Mason jar and perching ingenuously on a bicycle with cat’s-eye glasses and a heavy Instagram filter over the whole. Sadly, this is not a look I am ever likely to pull off. I do have a cherry-red lipstick – one of Helpdesk Man’s clients sent it to me (long story) – but I wore it the other day at the pig’s insistence, and Tiny Miles pointed at my face and squeaked in outrage “WazZAT?”, and I cannot disagree with his assessment. Also, Helpdesk Man refuses to let me buy cat’s-eye glasses. Still, I like the dress.
2. Here’s a question for you. For $100, would you sleep for a night on a pile of peeled bananas? No pillow; a blanket is allowed, but it must not come between you and the bananas.
Helpdesk Man says no. I am inclined to agree, although oddly, if I could sleep for ten successive nights on a pile of bananas (fresh each night, obviously) and make $1000, I’d be more inclined to consider it. I dislike bananas, and the smell would be off-putting; and I imagine it would be an intensely unpleasant experience, especially around 4AM or so. But still. We’re trying to save for Disneyland. Thoughts?
3. This evening I was looking through some old photos on the computer while Miles sat on my knee. I unearthed one of me carrying him at six months or so.
“Girl!” said Miles. “Girl!”
“That’s me!” I said. “That’s Mummy. See, Mummy?”
“Girl!” said Miles.
Apparently these last sixteen-odd months have aged me beyond recognition. He still recognised Daddy, of course, from photos of a similar vintage. Rotten little blighter.
4. The snortlepig’s latest thing is watching childbirth videos on YouTube. Whenever she’s bored. It unnerves Helpdesk Man no end when he emerges from the office for his bihourly coffee. The pig will not, she informs me, be having any babies herself; I’m not sure whether she watches the videos to bolster that conviction, or simply because, she puts it, the babies are “so cute and squashy”. Either way, she’s learning a good deal about amniotic fluid. SCIENCE, guv’mint.
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Last night we invited Gran, Grandpa and the aunts over for an Ancient Egyptian dinner. The pig got quite into it.
She has quite the Clara Bow thing going on, don’t you think?
We made the lot – dress, wig and necklacey collar thing, the name of which I should probably know, given that we’re doing a whole study on Ancient Egypt. We were going to do armbands, but we ran out of time. But then, so did the Ancient Egyptians, eventually.
There was also a pharaoh.
The pig decided he was going to be Tutankhamun, and that she would be his queen. “But we can’t pretend to be married, because he’s my brother,” she said. Without thinking, I said “Well, I think the real Tutankhamun actually married his sister…” “Oh! That’s all right then,” said the pig cheerfully. “Isn’t that handy?” She then generously offered to let me and Helpdesk Man act as her slaves – or alternatively, grave robbers. We declined.
For eats, after some hasty Internet-based and none-too-rigorous research, we had a platter with cucumbers, gherkins, eggs, lettuce, radish and cream cheese; a chickpea salad with green onions and sesame oil; fish cooked with cumin; and wholemeal flatbreads topped with mustard seeds, cumin and herbs.
Dessert (unpictured) was melons and grapes; a fact which outraged all my notions of hospitality. It caused me physical pain to refrain from whipping up some ice cream to serve after the pig had gone to bed; but I refrained. Probably good for my soul.
The drinks were ginger beer. Apparently Egyptian beer contained a large percentage of solids – surely one of the most intensely off-putting phrases ever applied to a beverage. It was the consistency of gruel and highly nutritious. We skipped it.
All in all, the evening was a success, not least because I got to feel like a Fancy Homeschooling Mother who Does Such Things. The downside is the pig’s newfound obsession with eyeliner. I may have unleashed a monster.
Thoughts Before Sleeping
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1. Felicia Day was homeschooled. This cheers me greatly.
2. If I ever need surgery I’m going to ask them to give me synaesthetic instead of anaesthetic, so my pain will be turned to song.
3. The snortlepig to Miles this morning: “Can you say ‘In October, vampires go to war’?”
I assume she’s writing a screenplay.
4. Today I did three mystery shops. It was only during the third, at which I had to pose as the kind of individual who would shell out $400 for designer sunglasses, that I noticed I had a large quantity of butter on my shoulder. To her credit, the salesperson treated me as if I were unbuttered; in a just world this would be reflected in my report, but there wasn’t a multi-choice question for it.
5. Today I visited a catering supply store, which I just discovered sells bulk food not only to restaurateurs and rest homes, but to ordinary, buttery citizens like myself. It was thrilling. I do not joke. There were cans of tomatoes as big as the snortlepig. 20-kilo bags of flour for $10. Bottles of vanilla essence big enough to crush your foot. 600-metre-long rolls of clingfilm. Pesto by the litre. Large bottles of Lepanto olives, which we haven’t been able to get since Farro shut down. And cheap. I haven’t been this excited since, um, the Auckland Food Show two years ago. That would be depressing if I sat and thought about it too long; so I shall go to bed instead, and dream of sitting out the zombie apocalypse in a fort made of pasta sacks.