The Shallow Promise of Your Best Life Ever

The holiday and festive season is over. How do I know? It’s not the suddenly empty beaches or the re-emergence of school crossing guards. It is the plethora of magazine and newspaper lifestyle segments telling us that the good times are over and it’s time to pay for all the excess.

It’s like getting your first credit card statement of the year.

Suddenly, instead of recipes for the perfect chocolate pavlova, the media is full of ways to remove the undesirable poundage that said pavlova has deposited on unsuspecting thighs, waists and chins.

I was tempted for a few seconds by a seductive little detox number that promised to clean up my system, get me into my old jeans and supply me with a fabulous life all within the space of 10 days. However, when I read what I was expected to eat, or more importantly not eat, I came to my senses. I realised that 240 hours of sheer misery was too much to endure, even for the promise of my best life ever at the end of the torture.

Let’s face it. Diets aren’t about reaching your healthy goal weight. Diets are about reaching your goal happiness, your goal size smaller than your best friend, your goal boyfriend, and best of all; your goal envious looks from other people. Diets are about being suddenly slim and glamorous. They’re about swanning around in sports cars and being lusted after by movie stars. Wouldn’t we all be deliriously happy, content and rich if only we were just a little bit slimmer?

I’ve been wading through the lists of sure-fire diets and the swathe of Celebrity Diets. There are only two things that I’ve read that have made any sense. One was a celebrity singer saying that the only way to lose weight was to eat less and exercise more. The other was a celebrity actress telling us not to believe other actresses who say they eat whatever they like and stay stick thin. She said that she, like all the rest of them, was hungry all the time.

This week I’m relishing my morning walks along the near empty, post-holiday beach, not to lose weight but just for the sheer joy of it. And when I see those people who are slimmer than me, I no longer see them as morally superior beings who live incredibly fulfilled and fascinating lives with their perfect life partner. I see them as people who are just a bit hungrier than me.

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Eat More Cake…and Merry Christmas

The Hubby and I had the conversation we had to have a few weeks ago. About cake. Christmas cake to be precise. You see, one of our lovely neighbours comes around every December selling Lions Christmas cakes. Every year we buy one. In the past we have been known to give them away but last year we ate the whole cake before Christmas even arrived. We love Christmas cake.

This year we decided to buy one and divide it into thirds. We’d keep one-third for ourselves and give the other two-thirds away. Never happened. Once again we ate the whole cake in less than a fortnight, way before Christmas day had a chance to dawn. Did I mention we love Christmas cake?

But for myself, it wasn’t always that way.

 My grandmother used to create amazing Christmas cakes. They were works of art. She would bake the cake months in advance and regularly soak it in brandy. Then as the day grew closer she’d cover it in marzipan and then finally a coat of royal icing with all the trimmings. As a child I’d try to grab a piece with the most icing. The cake and the marzipan always remained on my plate, naked and dishevelled. Back then I hated fruitcake but I loved the icing. Kids! My grandmother must have despaired. If only she was still alive, I’d give her Christmas cakes the respect they deserved.

Granny was a great cook but there was one thing I could never fathom. At Christmas she’d serve up jellied peas. Who in their right minds would put peas in jelly? My mum explained that the jelly was aspic, a kind of savoury jelly, but I was not impressed. However, in retrospect, I can see how devilishly clever my grandmother was. She solved the problem of children and peas with a two-pronged attack. Peas in jelly won’t fall off the fork, plus it makes peas so unattractive to children they won’t want to eat them anyway.  There’s no danger of peas getting squashed into the carpet if no one under 14 is eating them.

I hope you have a joyful Christmas and I also hope that, unlike The Hubby and myself, you have some Christmas cake left to eat on the day. And wherever you are and whoever you’re celebrating Christmas with,  may there be no jellied peas on the menu.

Do The Mashed Potato

dee-dee-sharp-mashed-potato-time-columbia-2My friend Fiona was a career woman. Like a lot of my friends at the time she had a great job, plenty of money, all the perks she could possibly demand… and a part-time man.  There was an era of my life when the latest accessory for the woman who had everything was the no-commitment relationship.  Fiona called one such relationship  “Three Days”. Once a month he’d fly up from Sydney and they’d do the long weekend thing, an arrangement she was perfectly content with.  Many of my female friends longed for the perfect relationship – not true love, commitment and roses, but a man who’d leave them alone to get on with their busy lives and only be around when it was convenient.

Fiona asked me around for dinner one night, at that stage she was going out with a sailor, a Rear Admiral no less, whose home port was San Francisco. How marvellous we all thought, she has a boyfriend she only sees every 6 months, very clever.  She asked me what I’d like to eat; Thai, African, perhaps Japanese.  She was a rather put out by my reply. At the time I was working on average 14 hours a day (a relationship with a hermit living in a cave in Estonia would have been too much for me) and I wanted bangers and mash for dinner. I think the trend for good old-fashioned home cooking, like mashed potatoes, was spawned by exhausted careerists who needed to feel looked after, just for a while, before chaining themselves to the corporate juggernaut once more.

Fiona did her best with what should have been a simple task; boil potatoes until they’re falling apart, drain, add milk, lashings of butter, salt to taste, and then go to it with the potato masher. Worked for my mum every time. Unfortunately a glossy coffee table book detailing these instructions hadn’t been released and Fiona was way out of her depth.  What should have been the pinnacle of comfort food arrived on our plates as grey, lumpy soup.

Fast food, disposable music and no-commitment relationships left me feeling empty and homesick. But I didn’t have time to dwell, there was too much work to do. I was dishing out instant gratification on commercial radio, highly researched and tightly formatted for maximum monetary gain. My head was full of call-out figures, familiarity scores and burn factors, that was what music had become to me.  Slow cooked food, slow music that cooks and a slowly cooking relationship were way too inconvenient. But the day after that dinner I found time to buy a potato masher.

These days my life is a lot slower and I love it. Everything has changed. Who would have thought that the career-frazzled woman I used to be would become a happily married writer? Not me. Now I have time to think and cook  and write a book that’s coming along way too slowly. And that’s okay. Other things have changed too. The Hubby and I no longer eat mashed potatoes but have discovered the delights of mashed cauliflower and it’s just as delicious and comforting. Fast food no longer enters the building and I’m feeling well and truly committed after 12 years of marriage. But one thing hasn’t changed. I still have that potato masher.

Before You Start That New Year’s Diet….

cakeThe festive season is a strange conundrum. First we’re encouraged to go to lots of parties, eat too much, drink and generally over indulge. Then suddenly it’s as if someone hits a switch. Magazines and newspaper life style lift-outs start wagging the finger and tell us that the good times are over and we must pay for all the excess. Instead of recipes for the perfect chocolate pavlova, the best Christmas pudding and the most impressive cocktail, we’re instructed in ways  to remove the undesirable poundage that the pavlova, pudding and fluffy drinks have deposited on our thighs, waists and chins. It’s like getting your first credit card statement of the year. New Year’s resolutions become abound as the fun times fly out the window.
I was tempted for a few seconds once by a seductive little New Year detox number that promised to clean out my system, get me in to my old jeans and supply me with the perfect life all within the space of 10 days. However when I read what I was expected to eat, or more importantly not eat, I came to my senses. I realised that 240 hours of sheer misery was too much to endure, even for the promised perfection at the end of the torture.
Let’s face it. Diets aren’t about reaching your healthy goal weight.
Diets are about reaching your goal happiness, your goal size smaller than your best friend, your goal boyfriend, your goal life and best of all –  your goal envious looks from other people. Diets are about being suddenly slim and glamorous, they’re about swanning around in sports cars and being lusted after by movie stars. Wouldn’t we all be deliriously happy, content and rich if only we were just a little bit slimmer?
I’ve waded through the sure-fire kilo-dropper starvation plans and the swathe of Celebrity Diets. There are only two things I’ve read that have made any sense. One was a famous singer saying that the only way to lose weight was to eat less and exercise more. The other was a famous actress telling us not to believe other actresses who say they eat whatever they like and stay stick thin. She said that she, like the rest of them, was hungry all the time.
 So when the over indulgence of the first part of the festive season turns into the cold light of a New Year, I don’t allow myself to be harangued into a life of deprivation. Thanks to a few honest celebrities I now know that people who are slimmer than me aren’t morally superior beings who live incredibly fulfilled and fascinating lives with their perfect partners. They are just people who are a bit hungrier than me.

Kill Your Darlings – Part 1

I’m writing the second draft of my next book. And editing. At over 100,000 words the first draft is too long. So instead of being in the book I’m turning my darlings into blog posts. Seems I can’t kill them after all.

cadbury-biscuits-2

It’s embarrassing to be staying as a guest in someone’s house and to be stealing their chocolate biscuits.  Of course they wouldn’t see it as stealing. They were generous and hospitable, educated, erudite, warm, kind and old. One afternoon I had to escape the happy wedding preparations, if just for a few hours. The old man and I investigated river cruise timetables on the computer in his study. Every piece of wall space was hung with maps, masks and curios from time spent living and travelling overseas. Bookcases stuffed with mementoes, shelves laden with ephemera. So much stuff. His poor children.

“Why do you have so much stuff when you’re going to die soon?”

I imagined his kids having to sort though all these piles of dust. The agonising task of what to keep and what to toss. But if dad thought it was important shouldn’t we keep it?  Going home laden with memories from another’s life and duty bound to keep them – for what? For someone else to have to sort through them when they themselves died? Jetsam discarded when they left this world bound for another place where these things – they’re just things for God’s sake – were meaningless.

Thankfully the question stayed inside my mouth. Only just. I had to bite my lips closed to keep it there, safe, unsaid. What business was it of mine to question a man who’d lived a good life, an exciting life, a rich life and that the proof of this life was abundant. The physical reminders were everywhere, cluttering the large office into a small and claustrophobic space. If he needed such undeniable proof of what he’d done and where he’d been who was I to judge. This man was happier than me, richer than me, and – if I kept secretly eating all the chocolate biscuits – may well live longer than me.

 

 

How to Eat Cake

How to Eat Cake  Mary-Lou Stephens

The other morning I had a vision of the reality of life. It wasn’t profound. It was prosaic. Ordinary but delicious. The vision was of a cake. In this vision I saw a big round cake with icing on the top and one of those decorative cake wrappers around the circumference. I had to do an internet search to find out what those paper wrappers are called. They’re called cake frills. Even though most of them aren’t frilly. In my vision I saw that the life we know and experience is the same as that cake frill. Thin and inedible. It might look pretty but to eat the cake you have to take off that cake frill and discard it.

The real deal, the delicious, dense and deep stuff, is the cake. But we don’t see it, we don’t experience it, because all we see is the cake frill and we think that’s all there is.

It’s an unsatisfying way to be and live, convinced that a tasteless piece of pretty paper is the sum total of our existence. But we all agree that it’s all there is to life and that the prettier the cake frill the better our lives are. If anyone dare mention that perhaps this piece of paper is just a wrapping and nothing more, that the real experience is underneath and that this real experience is huge and deep and delicious beyond description, then they are derided. Scoffed at for being mad, deluded, odd, poor, ugly and probably frigid to boot. How dare anyone question the validity of our cake frills!

I realise also that this is how I judge most people. I see their external wrappings and all my thoughts are clouded by that wrapping. The car they drive, the house they live in, the way they look, their teeth, their hair, their skin. Their cake frill. I get distracted by it because this is all I’ve been taught to see.

The words we say are cake frills as well. We all want to impress, entertain, engage and prove our worth by our words. Cake frills for the ears. We take people at surface value, often too afraid to see or hear beyond that paper wrapping. Anything more is dangerous. Even if we realise that the true reality is beyond the cake frill, even if we sense that the real stuff of life is exquisitely delicious, the thought of removing that wrapping and discarding it is terrifying. We will never be able to go back. Once the cake frill is gone we will never fit in to this world again. We will be lonely. Outcast.

Fear is the thing we use to keep ourselves from having the cake. It is the thing that keeps us believing the cake frill is all there is. And so we live in the narrowest of realities. A sliver of paper just a breath away from heaven.