December 2014 Archive

A man called Ove
A Man Called Ove, By Fredrick Backman

“Ove is fifty-nine

He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium sized box at him.”

“So this is one of those O-Pads, is it”? he demands”.

The brusque Ove harangues the  shop assistant further.

Ove is¬†angry because the world’s moved on and he hasn’t. Ove is a curmudgeon. He patrols the neighborhood daily and relishes the chance to bring¬†any breaches of the rules to the Residents Association to the attentions of his fellows. He has recently been made redundant and we learn that he has lost most of his purpose in living. His life until recently has revolved around his job and his wife.

Naturally he is annoyed when a young disruptive family moves in next to him one day. This leads to sequence of events is both touching and intriguing as we learn more behind the curmudgeonly exterior of Ove.

From the dust jacket: “he is a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines and a short fuse.”

This debut novel from Sweden is a very enjoyable book to read. Especially if like me you fall in the curmudgeonly end of the spectrum. In our spare time we curmudgeons peruse the internet shaking our heads at all the bad lack that befalls man and the lack of regard for common sense and manners. I suspect that is what Ove wanted to purchase an O-Pad for.

This year I resolve to spend less time on my O-pad and more time reading and reviewing.

Happy New Year.



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The worst side of anxiety is the watery bowels effect the condition can cause. I became aware about the age of twelve that if I had a crush on someone I could only be around them if there was a nearby bathroom.

In fact that is how I realised I had a crush. I particularly remember the epic time I was caught short down the back of a farm.

All of sudden the farmer’s grandson who I’d innocently played with last summer had this AMAZING taste in music. He introduced me to Fleetwood Mac. He drove a car. When he broke out a Mad Magazine one particular day I¬†felt the first stirrings of ….. A sudden urgent need.

I fled to the general proximity of what we called the toilet paper tree. Big green leaves that could be used as… you guessed it.

And as my insides clenched I reflected.

Mostly on how awesome it was our farming friends ran a dairy farm. With big friendly poopy cows. No one would ever have to know.

The second time this happened I wasn’t so lucky. I took refuge in a wax tree. The wax tree is a member of the poison ivy family. It ¬†caused a painful rash on my buttocks.

And ended my first crush. It was was far too painful and embarrassing to be in love.

A New Zealand jersey cow. Friendly, docile and poopy.

A New Zealand jersey cow. Friendly, docile and poopy.

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I’m doing a series of posts on the cheery topic of anxiety to herald in the New Year.

I was twelve when I had my first full on panic attack. I didn’t establish this date stamp until recently. I had pegged myself to be around the age of eight. I guess eight was how ‘old’ I felt in my head.

Turns out I was a hormonally sensitive tween. It was 1986. There was a disaster at the nuclear power plant Chernobyl.

My precocious friend ¬†Alana cornered me at school. “Do you know,” she said. There’s been a nuclear power plant accident in the Ukraine. Deadly nuclear fallout is going to drift all the way down to New Zealand.”

Perhaps my friend¬†Alana¬†was exhibiting a ¬†journalistic nose for news. When you’ve got a breaking story¬†the imperative¬†is to share to an audience. Verifying sources and fact checking can come secondary to the urge to share.

Alter this pronouncement; Alana went home to her parents who had recently converted from Catholicism to Buddhism.

She had this past year also enlightened me to the actual nature of Santa Claus. I went home to an acute state of misery.

The next two days were an internal monologue of, “when am I going to die, ” and”I’m so scared.” I was asked what was wrong by my worried Mom. My stomach and tongue were so twisted in knots that I¬†couldn’t tell her. She finally drew it out of me and I started to feel better. I believe it was then I got the card. “Welcome to Anxietyville, Have a nice day!”

I wonder how many Cold War era basket cases there are out there. I am certainly one of them.

Dealing with anxiety in childhood comes down to three things.

1. Genetic set point. I was never a bullet proof child. I tended to worry about random stuff even before the onset of panic attacks.

2. Exposure to events that might cause an overly anxious reaction. As a parent we can ¬†be aware that they may be having internal reactions that We can’t wrap our children in cotton wool but I’m careful to check in with them.

3. Management of anxiety by parents. Sometimes kids look older than they are. I don’t over share. They’re going through a totally different life experience than I am ¬†and I may not be able to judge their maturity level. I have a conflict of interest as a parent.

The panic attacks continued sporadically throughout my early childhood. Any prediction of the end of the world would set it off. There was some inane prediction by ¬†freaks channeling Mother Shipton that set me off around 1990. ¬†But everything else was mostly normal until I moved schools. Then came the rounds of social anxiety. More than mere shyness. I am an extrovert. I love social situations. I had lots of friends in my early school years and have lots of friends now. ¬†But due to whatever factors were at play (hormones, recent parental break up, I would suffer. I would go into a new school situation and be paralysed. I wouldn’t speak. I’d desperately want to make friends but I wouldn’t speak. ¬†And not being able to speak severely limits your ability to make friends.

Who’da thunk?

So I learned to self medicate by the age of sixteen. The usual suspects for us¬†Gen X teenagers.¬†Wine (casked); beer; ¬†rum. I developed ¬†a good posse of friends which was awesome. ¬†I took the misbehavior all a bit far in my late teens and early years of college. But it didn’t matter if¬†I burned off the odd flatmate because I was able to talk again and write. My anxiety would reoccur periodically. I’d go and talk with a doctor. They’d ask me how much I drank. I’d lie and life would move on.

I met a couple of people who had a huge influence on my internal state. I was a housekeeper at a motel and made friends with the head housekeeper who was just a few years older than me. She would curse¬†and¬†speak her mind. And she was so funny. We would be in fits as we folded sheets together. We’d finish work and hang out and she’d tease me and I’d relax. She was like the older sister I never had.

I met the deadlocked hippy who was my future husband.

Call it Oxytocin or “Love at first sight” ; the rare combination of Brains (we were College dropouts) and Aspiration (we had none; we were hippies) drew us together. It turns out we’d experience the future ups and downs of life together.

I’ll split this post out into two¬†shortly


I realized this year, mainly through others honest discussions, that we all have something. Call it anxiety; depression; the human condition. We’ll go to any lengths to hide it but we’re all suffering from it!

Crazy crazy us! If you’re an anxious teen or prone to anxiety; hang in there. It always gets better. And never underestimate the power of a laugh or a cuddle.







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First. A recipe to use up your leftover pork:

Boxing Day Burgers

Leftover Pork or Roast Chicken.

BBQ Sauce.

Onion rings. (half or whole onion to taste)

Jalapenos or milder peppers for sooks.

Canned pineapple.

Mayo. I used Best Foods

Buns or Romaine lettuce leaves for the gluten free option.

Fry together the pork, bbq sauce and onions. You probably won’t need any extra fat or liquid.

Butter the buns and heap the warmed pork mixture on top. Dress with Jalapenos and top with a pineapple ring or two.

Finish with mayo and top with another bun.


Three biggest stories here in the Bay Area on Boxing Day:

1. Mountain Lion loose in Hillsborough. A quote from SF Gate:

‚ÄúLots of people let their pets roam around,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúIf you could see what it did to this baby deer … let‚Äôs just say that the cat was hungry.‚ÄĚ Yuck.

“Because there were no prints, O‚ÄôConnor said, it was impossible to determine exactly what had attacked the fawn. He noted that coyotes and bobcats also frequent the area and sometimes prey on small deer.”

2 40% of people will return an average of four gifts each on Boxing Day:

A cashier at our shopping center said it was their busiest day of the year. 40% of the recipients of YOUR gifts will have  re gifted.

I’d be pissed.

3.  The New York cops are pissed at the mayor following the slaying of two cops last Saturday. 

“De Blasio Our Backs Have Turned to you”

DE BLASIO, OUR BACKS HAVE TURNED TO YOU,‚ÄĚ screamed a banner trailing from a plane that flew along the Hudson River in a show of disdain for the mayor.

“Since the execution of two cops in their squad car in Brooklyn a week ago, many members of the NYPD have accused de Blasio of fostering anti-police sentiment that they charge contributed to the officers‚Äô deaths.”

Among the speakers at the funeral for slain NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio,

Have a wild-animal free day and spare a thought for the families of cops everywhere.

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First off. The best part about Christmas is not being a dead celebrity.

The worst and most depressing part is not watching the Christmas time antics of the Kardashians. Though that is depressing.
It is being exposed to the barrage of tributes about those we have ‘Lost’ building up to the New Year.

Normal people die or pass on. Those of us remaining grieve and move on.Celebrities are different. They get ‘lost’.

Interesting metaphysical connotations. Maybe the association with Hollywood gives celebrities an added dimension to their existence.

Instead of being Goneburgers like us normal folk; celebrities are still here, ‘With us‘. Another perplexing term.

Like, if the rest of us just squint the ¬†right way they’ll be back, ‘With Us’.

We won’t be able to touch them. We’ll probably see right through them. Ewww!

But they’ll be around; just a fainter version.

Dead celebrities would be the best people to take to a party.

Even better than live celebrities.

Some issues here¬†for Hollywood agents. Who to put where on the circuit? You’ve got your A list celebrities. your B list and ¬†now your Dead List.

Does¬†Joan Rivers get one of the most coveted lanyards to the Oscars? Or is this seen as a snub to those who didn’t die and become useless to the industry. Who’s accorded seniority? Rivers or Close/Keaton/Streep

Still! Dead celebrities won’t drink once they figure out they look stupid¬†when the liquid drains right through and end up on the floor.

More for the rest of us.

Unfortunately they won’t be able to play the role of sober driver because of the limiting factors of being non corporeal.

The gag possibilities are endless. Imagine being pulled over. Sheriff: “Blow into this breathalyser. Patrick Swayze: ¬†” I’ve got one problem.”Sheriff: “Hey aren’t you that guy out ¬†of, what’s that movie”?

Patrick: ” Ghost. That’s my problem”.

So this year.  spare a thought for the non-working dead celeb who passed in 2014.

It’ll be hard not too.

Robin Williams in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Robin Williams in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.



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We wind up Christmas Eve playing Ticket to Ride with our oldest son. He’s in fifth grade and not easily¬†fobbed off when he asks the awkward questions. ¬†He’s too old to be called a child but too young to treat as an adult. And the faith is strong in this one. Proudest moment of my life ¬†was this time last year when he declared: ” Mom I’m the only fourth grader who actually believes in Santa!” He said this with pride and not a hint of disbelief in the existence of magical creatures.

This elaborate ritual¬†glorifying the wonder of¬†childhood is Christianity’s¬†greatest triumph. Other than taking the art of brewing beer to it’s highest level¬†that is.

I lose Ticket To Ride and the guys wind me up. I’m fiercely competitive so it’s easy. We have some laughs and¬†my son¬†and I fight over who’s going to post Team America to my Facebook feed.


My cousins back in New Zealand ¬†rise to the occasion and post “New Zealand Whaka Yeah”.

Whaka is a Maori word; a grammatical particle. One reason why as a culture we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our native language sounds like a cuss fest but you know it’s not because we’re smiling as we speak.
It’s when you see the whites of our eyes you need to move back. Slowly.

We’re a self conscious culture as opposed to a confident culture but we cook a mean roast dinner and our nation was settled with a whole lot of mutual arse kicking.

New Zealand scenery is out of this world. I grew up on a movie set and had no idea. I was born in the most beautiful country and I now live in the most beautiful country. This is the duality of national pride I am blessed with this Christmas.

Belief is a mindset you can re adopt as an adult. The proof is in the giving. Stop Believing and all you receive for Christmas is socks and undies .
Maintain your level of Belief and anything is possible. Unless you are dealing with Wellington City Council (NZ) but that is another story.

Christmas Eve Yeah!

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How awesome is Christmas Eve! Filled with magic and bonhomie. I pat myself on the back for just being human! For being an awesome enough species that evolution bought us to the point where society is geared around supplying young children with the thrill of eagerly awaited sacks of gifts from a magical entity. Different cultures faiths have different variants. Well mostly. It must suck to be a Jehovahs witness child at this time of the year.

Thankfully I’m about as pagan as they come. I take all the good bits and leave aside the rest. I love the rituals and that there are strong and loving souls who¬†who preach messages of love and faith to and on behalf of the rest of us. They feed the poor, the homeless and keep the Good Ship of Humanity on a true course.

And if the religion doesn’t prohibit the consumption of alcohol that’s a bonus.

Speaking of which. I seem to have become taste blind to Chardonnay. I may have to get inventive.

Pisco Sour made using Peru's national spirit the grape brandy Pisco. Mojitos are so old school.

Pisco Sour made using Peru’s national spirit the grape brandy Pisco. Mojitos are so old school.







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Presents wrapped. Wine poured and put aside for the moment. I’m too busy putting last minute touches to the table settings to relax just yet. I love the Holidays!

As I reflected on in my ¬†previous post.¬†Christmas can be overwhelming for immigrants to America.¬†¬†If there is any time you’re going to get a rush of culture shock it is during the most important holidays of the year.

I was talking with a friend from Boston recently. We were discussing how it’s amazing how different two English speaking cultures can be.

After my experiences here, I am convinced my native country New Zealand speaks an English dialect. It’s moved on from an accent to a dialect! I could do an ongoing series of posts on this.

This week I was at Safeway for the third time to upend my wallet into their tills. Here in America the millstones of commerce grind slow but they grind exceedingly small.
The lovely lady behind the deli counter said as she has before: “Oh I love your language”! “What language do you speak”?

I realise I’m using nods and gestures to communicate to get my pound of crab.

Once I’ve known people for a while they get used to my accent.¬†If I get excitable I lapse back into New Zealandese. ¬†My friend says: ” Monique I can’t understand a word of what you’re saying but I love listening to you”.

At this point I try to swap to water.

We had closets installed in our sons new bedrooms this week. The installers were Mexican. I fed them leftovers from a class party even though I resent they kick our arses at football (soccer) . We chatted. It’s nice that we were able to communicate. I tell them I’m from New Zealand and a bit of our family’s story. They say: “Oh we thought you were Russian! Apparently they have a Russian co-worker who learned to speak English as an adult. We sound similar. Who knew!

My husband has an accent but is able to make himself understood fairly easily.
“Ohh I Love your Accent”,¬†coo his female co-workers. If I ever wanted to get rid of him I’d send him up to the playground with a dog and a newborn. It’d tick all the boxes and he’d be picked up by¬†the first single female he talked to.

Here’s a good explanation on understanding the New Zealand accent.









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As an adult first  generation immigrant to the USA, I find Christmas overwhelming. The whole period of the year from the time children return to school in late August is an overwhelming non stop succession of festivals and celebrations. Our school is often in recess through this first semester.
School starts back August 25th. it’s called a ‘minimum day’. 8.30 to 11.45. I mean, why bother? But everyone attends because if you miss the first three days of school you can be diverted to another local school. I haven’t heard of it happening but our jolly and incredibly efficient principal never fails to remind us of the consequences via email.

Then September 1st is Labor day. Yup. 1st weekend back at school is a long weekend! Why not just start school after Labor weekend? Sheesh.

September is all about Conference week. A week of minimum days. And running the gauntlet  of a series of parent/ teacher conferences.
Hubby is away for ¬†in Buenos Aires for a week for work. I’ve got five kids to manage on my own and shuttle kids to school and eight hours worth of after school activities. ¬†Facepalm!

At this point I realize that I’m not losing it and I’m not not imagining it either. It is ¬†little crazy.¬†All the expectations from school. All the expectations we put on our selves and our kids. Piano. Violin. Dance. Because to get into the good colleges they need to be well rounded. So I do what any self respecting American parent does. I sign my child up for another dance class and I go shopping.

All the seasonal stuff comes into the stores and I start stocking up for the next two months. First Halloween. An hour in Costco and five Halloween outfits later I’m well prepared for the biggest school day of the year!

Thursday 30th October rolls around. I’ve been up since 4am. Which is not a lot earlier than I normally wake. Because ‘Hyper’ in a culture can be kind of catching.

Usually I let the kids sleep until 6.50am. Exactly. This morning I’m in their rooms at six am dragging them out of bed by their ankles. The ten year old hits the floor and wakes up “Put this on”, I¬†say and I’m off to the twins room. Two hands and two sets of ankles later I’ve got the twins on the floor looking at me puzzled.

By 7am all five children are in the car dressed in their Halloween costume for school. I can’t believe how well we’re doing. I might even be able to stop by Starbucks.

“We haven’t had breakfast yet”, observes my First Grader mildly.

By 7.40am we’re back in the car. I lose a hat. Another ten minutes delay. I groan.
We leave. Hopefully there’s car parks left at school.

It’s the annual Halloween tradition. At 8.30 am there will be a parade around the lower field by the children in their Halloween garb followed by class parties for the rest of the school day. Which is. You guessed it. A minimum day. ¬†So instead of just the usual routine of Stop Drop and Go you’ve got Mom and Dad in separate cars up at school to watch darling Jupiter parade as a vampire.

It’s such a family event you’ve also got ¬†Nana and Grandad from Fremont and Aunty Louise from Ohio. Four cars per family. At least. If you want to park at the school you have to be there by 8am.

The three oldest participate in the parade. There are less Steves this year.

Then it’s off to the twins preschool an hour to repeat the tradition.

And at this point I have to stop and wrap gifts for the latest celebration (More gifts wrapped now means more time in the Chardonnay bottle later. I will hopefully get more time to write this afternoon.

In Australia and New Zealand to celebrate we whip egg whites and slow bake into a gooey meringue topped with cream and fruit.

In Australia and New Zealand to celebrate we whip egg whites and slow bake into a gooey meringue topped with cream and fruit.







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