Sunday, May 31, 2015

A sevenling for the city

I was in town (Melbourne) yesterday for the Emerging Writer's Festival's National Writers' Conference (more on that later!). I took a long walk in the lunchbreak and was struck by the Saturday feel of the place. It's a long time since I wandered around in the city on a weekend, and I thought it might make an interesting sevenling, especially the very odd face-off between the Christian and Muslim proselytizers on Swanston St.

So ... A Sevenling for the City.

in front of the sushi bar, three men hand flyers explaining Islam;
kitty-corner, a grey woman in green proclaims Jesus is Lord;
sandwiched between, serious-faced people argue against forced organ donation in China.

broad golden leaves scatter the path, slippery underfoot;
teenagers' skateboards click sharply on the library steps, while
families buy caramelised nuts and sip coffee slowly.

susurating in the air, the chill deepens, penetrates bones.

- Kathy, 31/5/15

Thursday, May 28, 2015

On changing the game

So the big news here is that I resigned from my job on Monday. Four weeks today, on Thursday 25 June, I'll be once again self-employed, by my own free and considered choice.

I've been heading towards  this decision for a while now. My workplace was very good about making some adjustments for me when and after I was so sick last year, and I felt, despite a few reservations, that it would be the fair thing to do to give the part-time jobshare arrangement a proper, serious try. I feel I really have done that, in the past 5 months - I've done the best work that I was capable of, and I think (I hope) I've delivered some value. My jobshare partner is an absolute delight, and working with her has been very positive.

However, with the best will in the world, the challenges and volume of the work, and the reality of being part of an organisation in a state of radical flux, have proven incompatible with maintaining my health in any kind of equilibrium, or keeping balance in my life.

And this is not a small thing, either - the life logistics challenges are as unrelenting as they've been from the very start of this 2-year journey. One of the enormous boons of freelancing for me in 2011-13 was the almost total flexibility it gives around how you organise your time. (Not necessarily "how much time you work", but when and how you deploy it). Clients, on the whole, do not care if you spent Tuesday morning at a school cross-country and the dentist, and picked up the slack by working a few hours Wednesday night. If you deliver the right quality of work by the deadline, they're not interested in what path you walked to get there. This is not the case for salaried employment, and I have never really made a good, long-lasting peace with the timetable juggle that having to be "somewhere else" most of the time imposes.

Piecing together office work with school runs, sick days, dental appointments, special occasions for the kids, the everyday business of family life, is often fractured, and often balanced on a hair, in a way that I just didn't have to contend with when I was freelancing. Obviously sharing the load with my partner has been all that has made this possible, but even there, the solution is imperfect, because his job also (not unreasonably) has expectations of him.

All that said, it's not a small decision, choosing to give away stable employment and move into the precariat. I acknowledge the privilege I have, because I am in a relationship with a partner in stable, well-paid employment, in even being able to take this risk.

My plan is to take most of the month of July off. This will allow me to enjoy ComiCon with my family; relax in the two weeks of the school holidays with the spouse and kids (including a few days in Marysville); have a bit of concentrated novel-writing time; do some decluttering and reorganising; and clear off a backlog of life administration jobs that have been piling up. After that, I'm going to start up freelancing again. I hope there will be some work - we'll see. I did enjoy freelancing a great deal in 2011-13, and I hope I will again.

I'm going to give it a good go, and only start regular-job-hunting in the second half of 2016 if there just isn't enough freelance work going. I'm already beginning the logistical part of this, with my newly-reissued ABN, and putting together my rates sheet and portfolio. Next will be a simple website, business cards, and work email address.

I think we'll be OK financially, so long as I can get enough work to go close to, or ideally replace, my part-time salary. I feel that if money gets tight, my skills are current enough that I should be able to find another salaried job if I need to next year. For now, freelancing is the right direction for me, though, and what I am hoping for is to recapture the flow in a way that helps me sustain myself and my family.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Week (Poem)

how's your week been? she says.

well, I'll tell you.

in the past seven days, I
    started a class war on Facebook
             narrowly avoided two car accidents
                   baked a creamy flow of cookies
                           bought a disturbing amount of party supplies
                                     cleaned, cooked, did laundry,
                                             worked three days, and travelled there and back again

also, also, I:
     wrote two poems, a book review and a chapter of the novel-baby
              lunched with one friend, and supplied the citrus addiction of another
                    read two light and cottony detective novels, and started a heftier tome
                              lay awake at every 4am, glommed onto the weight of the world
                                      got sick, then sicker, and despaired
                                               set up the Potterest party of the year, and watched it unfold into delight
                                                      contemplated my eventual death, and cried

actually, never mind.

my week? fine. fine.

- Kathy, 17/5/15

Friday, May 15, 2015

Making a Golden Snitch Cake

It is my second girl's 10th birthday party on Saturday - the much-discussed and heavily-planned-for Harry Potter themed extravaganza. Preparations proceed apace, but one of the biggest items that we needed to concentrate on - as always - was the cake. So, with the help of my lovely cake decorating friend K, last Saturday was dedicated to the construction of ... the Golden Snitch.

The steps to making this cake weren't as onerous as they might, at first glance, appear. It was a lot less labour-intensive than earlier cakes we have done, such as Dorothy the Dinosaur, Lalaloopsy, or the memorable year that we made 110 cupcakes and decorated them all with chemical symbols to represent the Periodic Table of the Elements. (THAT was effort!)

So here's what we did, to make the Golden Snitch that we're all pretty happy with.

1. Acquire - buy, borrow or rent - a ball cake tin. It is *technically* possible to do this in a metal bowl, but I have to say, when I tried, it was a disaster. The soccer ball tin I bought - Wilton brand - wasn't cheap, but I intend to make many round cakes in the future now I have it, so the cost-per-bake will come out OK.

2. Bake 2x half-circle cakes. You are supposed to fill the tin to about 2/3 to 3/4, but I used gluten free batter and filled just over 3/4 and it didn't quite rise evenly to the top (close enough though). I would suggest a fairly dense cake, as anything light and fluffy like a sponge will just get crushed under the weight of the fondant that's coming up.

3. Wrap and freeze the cakes, preferably for at least 24 hours.
4. If you need to (and you probably will), use a breadknife to cut the non-flat end of the cakes to a level surface.

5. Make a very large amount of buttercream icing. By "very large", I used over 500g of icing sugar, mixed with margarine and a little hot water to loosen up. You want the buttercream to be thick - no dripping off the spoon!

6. Put Cake 1 (the bottom half) on some kind of holding up thing -  an upside down cup or something. (We used an old Tupperware bottle lid). Slather the top with buttercream, then "glue" Cake 2 to it by pressing gently down from the top.

(Tip: You should be working by this point on the cake board or serving plate - whatever you are going to present it on - as you are  approaching the point at which you do NOT want to shift this cake).

7. Now you need to slather the whole lot with buttercream! Go wild - you want it to be thoroughly coated.

8. Colouring the fondant (white icing) is the next step. We use Orchard White Icing because it's gluten free and easily obtainable in Australian supermarkets, but you can use any white icing / fondant available. If you are a perfectionist (or a confectionist :-) with too much time on your hands, you could make your own, I suppose, but we never do.

Colour gels work much, much better than liquid colouring in fondant. We used a gold colour gel for this cake. Latex gloves are your friend here - the colour must be kneaded into the fondant, and sans gloves, you will end up with stained fingers.

Kids usually love this part - pictured is the birthday girl in mid-knead.

9. Now you need to cover the cake with the gold fondant. This, I must fairly state, is haaaaaard.

The way it needs to be done is that you roll out the fondant to an even thickness, then carefully, carefully, lay it out over the cake and smooth it down with your fingers.

This will not be easy to do and get it looking right, and the weight of the fondant is going to very quickly start to pull down and the cake and tear little holes in the coating. (Ours tore three). You may also find it looks a bit like an octopus at this stage.

What you need to do *as quickly as possible* is to trim the "skirt" from the base of the cake. Use a small paring knife and trim it to just under the visible baseline. The sooner you get rid of the extra weight, the less repair work you will need to do.

The fondant you cut away should be saved as you will use it in the next stage for making the embellishments.

Once you have done this bit, very carefully lift the cake off the holder-up thing and place it flat to the board.

10. Next, position the wings / feathers. We used yellow feathers from the $2 shop because I am lazy, but if you want to go authentic,  you could make them out of icing or spun sugar. Once they are in place, roll out two thin "snakes" of fondant and make little holders  as pictured.

11. The decorations / embellishments come next. There are a squillion pictures of the Snitch on the Internet; we just blew one up, printed it and copied the design.

It is pretty much all made from fondant "snakes" - lines laid out on top and across the cake in the correct configuration.

12. Now comes the really fun step - spraying the cake! My friend K had acquired some edible gold spray from one of her mysterious baking sources, and we took the cake outside and sprayed it liberally.

It was just like I imagine graffiti art to be ... except not as stinky and a lot more delicious :-)

After spraying, you will need to let the cake sit somewhere safe, out of the sun and dry to "set" for a while.

14. The final, optional, step is to use edible marker to write "I open at the close" on the Snitch, and birthday wishes on the cake board (K used white fudge icing pen for the birthday message).

And with that ... you're done! One Golden Snitch cake, all ready to grace the most Potterific of parties.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fantasy (Poem)

if I didn't have to work -
if I was in the one per cent
money dripping like sticky honey from my little hives
money to pay someone else to do the dustwork of life
      cleaning laundry errands all that jazz
always enough, always enough, always enough

if that was the case, I would -
      garden and grow things
      write poems every single day
      bake luxurious cakes, and blog them
      go along to slam poetry fests and public lectures and sit there, glowing,
      read all the things there are to read, then read them all again
      parent perfectly, of course -

then I would say: life, it is beautiful
      I could say it in hundreds of tasteful and whimsical ways
      because I would have time to stare at flowers and so forth
      because there would be such a soft, silky screen between me and the harshness of the world
      the most bracing of parachutes for all life's travail -

if I didn't have to work, I might still choose to
I might graciously gift my time to worthwhile things; but then,
if they got boring, or unpleasant, I could always just stop
      because having lots of money means never having to eat shit so you can, well, eat

if I didn't have to work, if I was in the one per cent
(or even the ten, or the fifteen)
would it make me more, or less, who I am?
would I care about the same things, wandering be-dazed in the pleasure gardens of my life
would I care more?

it doesn't matter that this is unknowable; it seems safe to say
the opportunity will not arise to test the theorem

because I have to work
and take what hearts-ease I can in the slips and gaps between
being not to the manor born
being just a worker bee
bringing pollen back to the hive
not taking the sweetness of the honey away.

- Kathy, 12/5/15

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Preparing for a Potter Party

My second girl will turn 10 soon, and for her party this year, she's asked for a Harry Potter theme. As is often the wont with our kid parties, the scale of this is rapidly galloping away from me, but it's all fun at the same time :-) We've hired the church hall, cos she is having quite a few kids, so space isn't an issue, mercifully.

I am going to do a few posts on different aspects of our Potter adventure, with how-tos if we manage to pull off anything great. Our rough conception so far includes:

- Potions Class - a do-it-yourself experiment station with all the fizzy bicarb experiments there are
- Pin the Beak on the Hippogriff - with special Hippogriff painted by my artist Dad
- Musical Statues, which we are giving some kind of Potterific name we haven't thought of yet
- Pass the Parcel, with magical prizes
- Some form of Quidditch...

- A Golden Snitch birthday cake
- Potter cookies, Deathly Hallows cookies, and (if I get time) wizard-hat cupcakes
- Cauldron Cakes (basically, big fluffy pancakes)
- Pumpkin Pasties(OK, gonna cheat - just buying sausage rolls and CALLING them Pumpkin Pasties)
- Little sausages (frankfurts)
- Train Pies (Party pies)
- Fruit skewers just because we always have them at parties :-)
- Potterific drinks - ButterBeer (Cream Soda), Fire Whiskey (Raspberry lemonade), Pumpkin Juice (Fanta) and Elf Made Wine (Coke). Printable labels are your friends...

Party Favours
- A lolly buffet with a twist - we're going to set up a Honeydukes Sweets Shop, using these labels I found online, and let guests fill their own party bags!

- House banners, which I have luckily found printables for online
- Owl balloons
- We're going to try to do up a Mirror of Erised too, but let's not make any promises at this stage
- Potter music and possibly low-impact movie clips

Harry Potter gear is heinously expensive, but I've been very fortunate to get the loan of two full Gryffindor costumes for my two older kids (younger one has a generic witchy costume she can wear). The magic of Internet tutorials and printables is also a beautiful thing in this space.

The party is Saturday week, and so far, I've printed all the labels / banners / decorations, secured the costumes, and baked the two halves of the round cake for the Snitch. Tomorrow, in between a parade of tradespeople coming to do various things to my house, is dedicated to lolly-jar and lolly / drink shopping, making the dough for cookies (I'll freeze it to bake next Thursday), and getting all the Pass the Parcel objects and wrapping it. My Dad has already painted the Hippogriff, and on Saturday my friend the cake decorator extraordinaire is coming to help construct the Snitch.

It does leave a few things to do late next week, but very fortunately, I have both Thursday and Friday off next week thanks to some overtime I have worked over the past fortnight. I think there's no doubt I'll be shattered by the time this is done, but it's a good kind of shattered, and seeing Miss 10's excitement makes it all worthwhile.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A sevenling for a day at home

I am at home today, on a carer's leave day for two sick children. This is not a bad thing at all, as I am a little headachey myself and a day of not juggling work and commuting is welcome. This sevenling came to me as I was harvesting Tahitian limes from my tree.

A sevenling for a day at home

Hands that smell like oranges, or a little like lime;
The desultory cough of a sickabed child:
One half of a round cake cools on the counter.

The slow consumption of tea, while warmth still clings to it;
Cotton-nursing of a squeezing headache is allowed, even encouraged:
Outside, the autumn sun ripens fruit.

The heartbeat of time steadies, slows, and becomes new.

- Kathy,  4/5/2015

Sunday, May 3, 2015