Friday, December 17, 2010

Being Brave and Feeling Scared

I have thought hard about whether I should write this post, but I don't like it when blogs I enjoy reading just drop off the face of the earth for no apparent reason.   So I feel I owe you, dear readers, some courtesy and explanation.   I would also of course like to be able to stick to the happy stuff, especially at this time of year, because really, who wants to read doom and gloom, but sometimes things don't work out that way. 

So, here's the thing.  My week started normally, on Monday.   Just the usual work and a client lunch where we discussed the weather in England (-15 in Yorkshire!), the new Victorian government, holiday plans and the merits of roast goose v roast turkey. 

On Tuesday I had a mammogram and an ultrasound. Routine I thought.  I had never had either of these before but something did not feel quite right to me so I thought I should take a precaution.  I knew the results were not routine when the ultrasound operator told me that I needed to go back to my referring doctor that very afternoon

On Wednesday I saw a breast surgeon, had 7 biopsies and an MRI.

On Thursday I was told that I had multi focal invasive carcinoma in my right breast.  

Today as I write this I am preparing to have surgery on Monday. A mastectomy actually. 

I feel strangely light-headed, which I put down to the shock.  I kind of expected I would be wailing and howling.  But maybe that is still to come. 

It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun it rises slowly as you walk 
away from all the fears and all the faults 
you left behind

(The Cave by Mumford & Sons)

Like all illnesses, cancer is a process.   There are many options, many possible treatments, particularly so for breast cancer.   I am taking things one day at a time, because that is the logical thing to do and also because if I think too far ahead my heart will break. 

I have been so so impressed by all the medical people I have dealt with just in the last few days.  Their compassion, their calm and their professionalism has made me feel very fortunate to live here, in Melbourne, with such great medical care.  

And strangely, I actually feel lucky.  Lucky that my doctor ordered an ultrasound as well as a mammogram (because the mammogram revealed nothing).   Lucky because it is on my right side, and I am left handed.    

Once you have children, as everyone tediously says, everything changes.  And that includes they way you view yourself and your role on this green and blue planet.    

On a trivial level, I found I could no longer watch war films because I kept thinking about my son going off to war.   

More positively I started to feel that I owed my children an obligation to stay alive and healthy for as long as I could.   That is in part what was behind my decision a year ago to start training three times a week, from a standing start of never having exercised.   So, at least, ironically, I can comfort myself with the thought that I go into this at a reasonably good level of physical health. 

Before all this happened, I was going to do a little post on children's Christmas books, because to me Christmas is not complete without them.    Here is just a little excerpt, from my very favourite book, the Snowman, by Raymond Briggs.  This is a magical book, which reminds me every time I read it of the fragility of life and how you should make the most of everything (in the case of this story, before it melts).

All the images in this book are divine but I particularly like this one, of the little boy and the snowman flying over the onion domes in Red Square in Moscow. 

There are so many things whirling around in my mind.   I still have so many basic things to sort out.   Work.  Christmas lunch.  What do I tell the children?   What do I tell the children? 

So, dear friends, as you may have gathered, I need to take a break from this little blog, to face my demons and have my battle.   Don't think I am going away any time soon though.  

Today I want you all to tell at least one person you love them, and stop, just for 30 seconds, and put your face in the sunshine (or snow), and smile. 

Update: (19 December 2010) 

I just wanted to say thank you all, from the very bottom of my heart for your kind thoughts, suggestions, wishes of love, whimsical quotes and compassionate messages.  To my fellow travellers, family members of cancer sufferers, occasional visitors, complete strangers, regular commenters and dear dear blog friends: thank you.   One day soon I will get around to visiting each and every one of you.   

And thank you all for the emails.  

And thank you to Ness Lockyer, Jane, Kerry, Amanda, Martha, Anita, JMW, Maxabella, Kerri, Ann, Caterpillar, Posie, Anita, Millie, Natasha, Anna and AM (I hope that is everyone) for posting about this. 

I have always been terrible at asking for help, because I am one of those people who thinks I can do it better and quicker than anyone else.  I still think that is true!  But I see now that such an approach has to change.   I have great friends and family and they are already amazing me with their support. 

I feel utterly buoyed by all your thoughts.  My over imaginative son told me on Friday that he could see real Transformers in the clouds.  Well, I can see other things. Love. Support.  Positive thoughts.  And quite a lot of white fluffy stuff.   Which reminds me of something I have often said, which is that blogging brings out that all that is great about humanity.


(first three images from

Monday, December 13, 2010

Salmon Ceviche and Babushkas for Christmas

Although my family is not large, this year I am having 20 people for Christmas lunch.   This intimidating number (for me) has had the rather nice unintended side effect of forcing me to get organised in advance.  

I have therefore had rather a lovely time looking at all the Christmas food magazines and pulling out my old Christmas cookbooks to plan the menu.  

My sole criteria is that at least half the food be able to be done ahead of time.  And I always do turkey.   And never an entree.   And given the insane variances of Melbourne weather, I want to have a menu which is traditional with a modern twist (ha, what a meaningless phrase) to allow for the possibility of a 40 degree day (as happened in 1999) and a 12 degree day (as happened in 2007 I think it was).

In between cookbook reading, I have had to attend to the important matters of the Santa List. 

This list was eventually produced by my daughter who initially said she didn't want anything at all. Nothing at all morphed into two pages of hilariously detailed requirements, including a babushka with 11 inside (12 total) (if you want to know where to find these, go here - you are looking at $380 for a babushka of this size) to lots and lots of Sylvanian family items.   

These creatures are called Calico Critters in the US and are made in Japan.  You can buy furniture for them, and houses, and cars, and food, and boats, and a windmill and a tree house. It's endless.   And they just keep creating new families, so it is impossible to keep up.

My son had some help with his list.    Somewhat scarily, he has put things on this list he already has.   This may be why the 'Santa won't come' threats are not working that well on him.    He knows that it doesn't really matter either way.  

We are having a small related problem which is that growing up my husband only received tiny things from Santa and presents from his parents.  My situation was reversed, a big present from Santa and nothing from my parents.   I prefer it this way because how can you use the Santa Bribe on the children if they know they are only getting a sparkly pencil or some other rubbish from Santa? 

In this time of rampant consumerism, you should take the time to read this story, about a little girl in the South of the US who received  a pair of shoes and an orange for Christmas.  This story has stayed with me ever since I first read it last Christmas.   

So, to food.
This is what I have in mind so far:

Canapes (all do-ahead)
Salmon Ceviche (see above image but not in those glass)
Corn and chilli cakes with avocado salsa
Blinis with sour cream

Main course
Roast Turkey with chestnut stuffing
Potatoes (plain roast or hasselback am undecided)
Chipolatas wrapped in pancetta
Ham (my mother does this)
Green beans with lemon
Some kind of green salad maybe asparagus with feta

Dessert  (all do-ahead)
Nectarine and Vanilla Trifle
Plum Pudding with Brandy Butter
Icecream Plum Pudding

Look at this trifle, on the cover of the Donna Hay Christmas magazine. Isn't it  divine? 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Salads for Madame Bovary

Whilst looking for some Christmas table inspiration I came across this wonderful French dining room.

And I thought - I know just the woman for this room: the highly imaginative, but unhappy, Emma Bovary, the heroine of Gaustave Flaubert's beautiful book, written in 1854, which I am re-reading at the moment. This book was listed in the top two best books ever written (along with War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy) in a poll of contemporary writers in 2007.   

This was an excellent book for backpacking around the regional cities of France as a young girl, accompanied only by some mournful New Order music on my 'Walkman' (these large plastic portable tape decks seem so dated now don't they?) .  

This room looks like just the place Emma, enticed by the money lender Lheureux, may have excitedly spent money she didn't have decorating, in an effort to make things and in particular, her life, more interesting.    Really, who needs Eat Pray Love when you have a book like this to delve into a complicated female psyche?  After all, Emma Bovary tries all the same things that that woman does from Eat Pray Love (am I the only person on the planet to have found the EPL woman appallingly self indulgent?*):  turns to religion, has affairs, meditates on the meaning of life and indulges in romantic fantasies.

(Isabelle Huppert as Madame Bovary in Claude Chabrol's adaptation from 1991)

For Emma Bovary, in this dining room, I would serve salads.    Something delicate but well flavoured. 

Which coincides nicely with the no 1 item on my Christmas list this year, Salades by Sydney chef Damien Pignolet:

I really am very easy to buy for at Christmas.  Just a few cookbooks and I am a happy girl.  And this one looks to be a cracker.   So Santa, if you are reading this, please can you oblige me? 

Here are some of Pignolet's salads to entice you into summer (or winter!)

(cauliflower, beetroot and celeriac with horseradish cream)

(nicoise salade)

(goats cheese fritters, baby beetroot and figs)

(warm salad of scallops, sorrel croutons, grilled red pepper and witlof)

I think I could pretty much happily live on salads for the rest of my life.

(* I am aware I have probably made some enemies by this comment.  Please don't judge me by my loathing of this book..... I am of course just a lone voice struggling against the tide).

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Fuchsia Pinata Party

If I could have conveniently timed my babies I would not have had one at the end of November (too close to Christmas) and end of March (bad timing in terms of school start resulting in him repeating 3 year old kindergarten).  But of course you can't plan these things.  At least I couldn't.   And for me the Christmas season can't really start until we get my daughter's birthday done and dusted.    I thought it would be pretty straightforward to do her 8th birthday party at home this year. 

I didn't count on having the flu at the same time.  Which made everything take 10 times longer to organise.  And whilst I usually forget something critical (like the date on the invitations or buying lemonade) this year it went off without a hitch. 

A tip if you are planning a party at home: don't.  Seriously, this is what I have learned over years of these events.    You can read and then make an informed decision!

(I am getting good use out of my pink tablecloth. 
This is the one I used for my Family Argument Lunch a few weeks back.)

First off, the games.  

Rule no 1: a game you spend ages preparing for takes 5 minutes to happen. Blink and it is over.   Even if you stretch out the pass the parcel to Lady Gaga for as long as you can, it still only takes 7 minutes.   Simple arithmetic tells you that if you have an hour to fill in, that is a LOT of party games (although technically musical statues and musical bobs are two different games, aren't they?)   This means that you need some activity which  takes up lots of time.  See Rule no 5 below. 

Rule no 2: every one's a winner.   So in pass the parcel, which in my youth was fiercely competitive because there was only one prize, is now a bit of yawn because there is a gift in every layer.

Rule no 3: 8 is a hard age.  They are not little girls and not into fairies and glitter.  But they are too young still for many types of parties.  Still, a couple of the guests turned down the offer of a balloon on departure.  Too  childish, I guess.  

Rule no 4: treasure hunts take 3 minutes and consist of Lord of the Flies style carnivorous screeching around the house looking for the little hidden packages.  See rule 1 above.  I think my treasure maps took maybe 20 times longer to make than the game took...

Rule no 5: everyone loves a game which involves bashing something half to death with a stick.  In this case, a flower shaped pinata.  These girls must have some stress going on in their lives, because the pleasure they took in beating this thing to a pulp was a sight to see.  Even when all the lollies inside had spilled out, they kept hitting and hitting until it was in tiny pieces.

(I strung up leaves and lamps from the maple trees. This is also where the pinata massacre occurred)

Now to the all important food.

Rule no 1: the food you have proudly taken ages to prepare will be of least interest to the party goers.  This year my meringues went weird (I blame the humidity) so I crushed them, mixed with strawberries and cream and made mini Eton Messes in shot glasses. They were amazing.  And no one ate them. 

Rule no 2:  simple and sugary is best.    Caramel popcorn (see above image) is universally loved.  And at the other end of the spectrum, chopped up watermelon is always gobbled up. 

Rule no 3: don't bother with the elaborate cake.  In my time I have made a Miffy, a giant cupcake, an echidna, an Ariel mermaid on a sea bed and a dinosaur.   This year I went round and simple (from Feast by Nigella Lawson).

Rule no 4: there is always one girl who complains there is not enough food and another one who eats nothing at all. 

Rule no 5:  serve frankfurters.  I know that these are barely food but how they love them. 

Finally.... have the party in the late afternoon so you can pass out conveniently when it finishes without having to get through the rest of the day.....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dark and Moody

Dear Mother Nature

I know it must be challenging having one planet with two hemispheres and reversed seasons. Are you confused? I think you must be, as I sit here staring out the window to yet another day of rain.

I feel a bit pushy for reminding you of this, but today is 1 December 2010. In Melbourne. It is the first day of summer.   Where is the sun?  

I do want my heart to skip lightly to bright whites and lobster, and sarongs and sun hats but instead I find myself attracted to this:

because who needs windows when its always dark outside.

and wanting to sleep more than usual, here:  


and here:

to nurse my flu \ cold.  Did I mention my cold?  Oh, I think my cold, and the cold and flu that half my office has, have come about because it is the first day of summer and it is still raining and cold.  Just like it has been since April.  Sorry to mention it again. 

Anyway this weather is making me turn to boho Dickensian dark and moody interiors, like this: 

and this, which has given me quite a lot of pleasure lately:

And also I have a hankering for a bit of 1940's wartime to get me through this wet spell,  wearing of course my new Persol spectacles from the man section at OPSM.

I now have something suitably wartime to watch on DVD, the film of the wonderful book Enigma by Robert Harris about codebreakers at Bletchley Park in the UK during WWII.  

Here is a code breaker Kate Winslet style.  This is what I would look like codebreaking:

And here is the real thing. I probably wouldn't look so much like these women, clever and brave as they are:

Last year these amazing women were finally recognised by the UK government.   If you have not seen or read Enigma you really must.

Perfect for this grim, rainy weather.

(Images: (1)(2) Scanlon & Theodore (3) (5) Airspace  (4) Bodie and Fou (6) Michael Paul (8) via Daily Mail)

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