Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Way We Live, Sunday 26 December 2010: Triumphs and Trials

There’s still five days to go but I’m guessing you’ve already called it. The votes are in. The tally’s been done. You’ve summed up 2010 in your head and made the decision whether you’ll file this away as a terrific twelve months or a year which sucked like your mother’s old Hoover.

But the fact is each year brings with it both triumphs and trials. Can’t think of any triumphs? Sure you can.

Take my year.  After a six-year wait, dear friends finally got to meet and bring home their newly adopted son from China and he is the most cheerful little soul I’ve possibly ever met.  After years on IVF my friend Lisa, who had given up on motherhood, fell pregnant naturally at the age of 42.  Lisa’s due to have a baby boy in March. Meanwhile my friend Kat, who’s been single for ten years, fell in love with a glorious man and has started a new life with him in Perth.  What else? Let’s see.  After 12 months of gruelling study, family members passed their medical exams and are on the road to becoming doctors.  New, wonderful friendships have come into my life when I least expected it.  And last month I was given the chance to tell my favourite History teacher – Mike Selleck – how much he meant to me before he passed away last week.

And how about what we have done together through this column and our First Sunday Club? As a group we have raised more than $60,000 for a host of different charities.  Just by donating $10 per month we’ve bought books for girls in Afghanistan, paid for street swags for our country’s homeless, contributed to an orphanage in Thailand, helped buy a Liberty swing for wheelchair-bound kids in McGregor, provided fresh pyjamas and storybooks to Queensland foster kids, paid for more staff to help educated school kids about the risks of spinal injuries and more counselling time for children who have been sexually assaulted. We’ve given high school girls better facilities at Southside Education, funded more research into stillbirths and ensured that more disadvantaged kids will have something to open on Christmas Day. (On that note, Ann George from Project Love and Care has asked me to pass on her deep gratitude for the overwhelming support you gave her this month).  On 3 January when I launched the First Sunday Club I hoped we would spend the year changing lives. We did.

And while there are only a few days left of 2010, you never know what little triumphs are yet to unfold.  This time last year I encouraged you to squirrel away every five-dollar note that came into your possession as a way to save money.  Joan, a pensioner, wrote to me yesterday to tell me she now has $930 to spend over the holidays.  Way to go, Joan! Yet another item to put in my 2010 triumphs list.

 

The Way We Live, Sunday 19 December 2010: Sharing Christmas traditions

You know how much I love a ritual, how much I adore family traditions.  At this time of year it’s the little things that can help make the Christmas season more meaningful. Last week I put a call out to readers to share their Christmas traditions and rituals with me. So if you’re looking for some fresh ideas, try some of these:

The adults in Kyley’s family do a pyjama “Secret Santa” every year. On Christmas Eve all the family gather together, change into their new sleepwear and then proceed to get drunk on eggnog.

In Leandra’s family it’s all about the way the tree is decorated.  The star is only placed on top once the sun goes down. Then someone hits the switch and – BAM! – the Christmas lights are on and John Lennon’s “And So This Is Christmas” is put on the stereo.

In Frankie and Johnno’s house the children are taken to see the Myer Christmas windows before being allowed to choose one new ornament each for the tree.

The Sharry Family have a ritual that the Christmas star must be passed from youngest to oldest on its way to being placed on the tree. They also have a Christmas car game: anyone who spots random Christmas lights has to yell out “CHRISTMAS LIGHTS!” as loud as they can.

In Thalia’s home they do the Advent calendar and following German tradition they have their big dinner on Christmas Eve.

Over at Shona’s all the kids put on a Nativity Play. Although last year the shepherds got into a fight and the sheep (played by the family cavoodle) ran off.

Meanwhile in the Greatorex family it’s all about the Christmas cake – a cake that was first clipped out of the newspaper in December 1963 when Pam and her sisters Margaret and Janet were just young girls. Over the ensuing 48 years measurements have been converted and debates held over exactly how much a “packet of spice” actually weighs.  And then there was the ’73 fire when the oven thermostat broke and the cake went “whoosh” (but was saved).

In our house we take Ava to see the Christmas windows and I make my now infamous brandy and cinnamon panacotta on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day usually involves a jigsaw, a trip to the beach and a walk through the streets to look at all the lights. Boxing Day is all about the cricket and me trying to stab myself with a fork out of boredom.

So why incorporate a Christmas tradition into your celebrations? Pam sums it up best.

“This is ‘not just a cake,’ Pam tells me. “ It is part of our family story. Its flavour continues to be made richer by the ingredients that are not listed on the recipe: the marking of the years, the dramas, the stories, but mostly the love of family and friends.”

What better way to celebrate December 25.

 

 

The Way We Live, Sunday 12 December – What’s Normal?

Oprah’s coming. Look busy.   Or better still look normal.  As I write this Team Oprah are scouring the country to find a normal Aussie family for her to bunk down with for a night. And you know what I immediately thought? Thank God. Finally Americans are going to see for themselves that we have carpet. (Don’t laugh. On my first trip to the States fifteen years ago someone asked me if we had carpet.  I thought that was possibly the dumbest thing someone could ask me.  I was wrong. Minutes later I was asked if we celebrated Columbus Day. And PS did we have the same days of the week?)

So hurrah that we’re being given an opportunity to showcase Australian life as an English-speaking, carpet loving nation that has nada to do with Christopher Columbus.   But then I thought a bit more about Oprah’s desire to spend time with a “normal” Aussie family and I thought, “Yeah, good luck with that.”

Somewhere there’s an Aussie family who are going to have to try and pack their “crazy” away with the bad plates and the ugly vase when Oprah comes to visit. Because here’s the thing I’ve realised over the past few months — none of us are normal. We’re all just a little bit loco.

Take me. In the past few months, I’ve taken to stacking the dishwasher in a certain way. I feel this need to keep all the utensils together. All the forks in one compartment. All the knives in another.  It’s weird, I know.  I hear you.  Because it’s not like I don’t have three million other things to do and what the hell difference does it make having all the forks together?  I’ve got a total segregation thing happening.  But I’m not alone (okay, I might be alone in my dishwasher fastidiousness).  Other people I know have a thing about pegs.  When they hang out the washing, the pegs have to match.  Same colour pegs for each item.  Turn it up a notch and some folks are matching the pegs to the colour of the item.  See? I think that sounds way more nuts than my dishwasher thing but then I may be in OCD denial.

A certain person I know can’t stand odd numbers. Only likes even numbers. Unless it’s an even number that can be divided by three. Then he hates that number the way some people hate brussel sprouts. Or Sarah Palin.

And not so long ago I heard a woman talking about the fact she doesn’t like dirty clothes being put in the washing machine. Because the clothes would make the machine dirty.  Yep.

So Oprah, all I can say is good luck.  And if you can find a normal Aussie family you should definitely put them on TV.  I’d certainly like to see them.

PS: Next week’s column is all about Christmas traditions. If you have one you’d like to share, email it to me at bec@rebeccasparrow.com

 

First Sunday Club: Project Love and Care

Christmas 1975 and there was just one toy I was whispering about in Santa’s ear. One toy I desperately wanted, longed to own, dreamt of unwrapping under the tree on Christmas morning.  That toy was Baby Alive.  She cried! She ate! She made a disgusting mess in her plastic nappy!  And as a three year old I was desperate for her. Unfortunately in the 70s so was every other three year old girl.  My poor mother tried countless toyshops but couldn’t get her hands on a Baby Alive in time for Christmas.  So in her place I unwrapped a doll with red curly hair and a gigantic goofy smile and eyes that rolled around like Lindsay Lohan’s after the MTV Awards. I spent much of the day in tears. As for Santa Claus? He and I were no longer speaking.

While I’ve had fabulous Christmases and birthdays since (okay except for the year “Santa” gave me a bike helmet and Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth album), I can still remember my utter disappointment that year.

This is the difficult part of Christmas.  For kids in particular, it’s full of expectation.  Expectation that Santa will come and that of course he’ll bring you that X Box or bike or those Ben 10 walkie-talkies you so desperately want.  The fact that dad has been retrenched or mum is drowning in bills is irrelevant when you’re a child. Christmas is about singing Away In A Manger and eating Nanna’s pudding and Santa.  End of story. Well, not quite. This year thousands of children will be waking up to nothing. And they’re often the kids who had nothing to start with.

There are countless charities that work hard to deliver toys to families in need and they all do a wonderful job.  But for December’s First Sunday Club I’m nominating an organisation you’ve probably never heard of: Project Love and Care.  This tiny not-for-profit group, based in Inala, is run by Ann George and her friends. Together they dedicate their time to making up “care kits” for children going into foster care.

From a new toothbrush and fresh underwear to shampoo and pyjamas – they’re the type of items you and I take for granted. Ann’s kits are given to the Department of Child Safety who help distribute the packs to the growing number of kids who come through their doors.

So this month, let’s donate $20 (yes, double our usual amount) to Project Love and Care to help them continue their work.  100% of your donation will go towards providing a new toy for a foster child.  Or you can buy your own present and organise to drop it off at the Project Love and Care Headquarters.   Our own kids won’t notice if we spend $20 less on them at Christmas. But there’s a child out there whose face will light up thanks to that Ben 10 figure or those Dora Explorer walkie-talkies you paid for.

For more information go to www.projectloveandcare.com or call Ann on 07 3372 8493.

 

The Way We Live, Sunday 28 November 2010: Make a will

Five months on and I’m still getting over the shock of the Catholic Church’s decision that pop songs can’t be played at funeral services.  Not that I’m Catholic. I haven’t signed on the dotted line with any of God’s franchisees but I do like to keep my options open.  And I’m a fan of pop.  And, you know, if I wanted to have Yazz and Plastic Population’s delightfully optimistic “The Only Way Is Up” played during my service, it would be good to know it was possible.

Predictably, death has been on my mind of late.  Not in a morbid sense.  Okay, in a bit of a morbid sense. The thing is I’ve started worrying about what would happen if something happened to me.  If I wasn’t around, who would warn Ava of the dangers of wearing shiny stockings?   Who would introduce her to the adventures of Anne of Green Gables?  Who would teach her how to make my famous Quiche Lorraine? Who would warn her to never date a boy who has Celine Dion on his iPod?  How will she know that on Christmas Eve she have no choice but to head into the kitchen and cook up Brandy and Cinnamon Panacotta?

My sister-in-law is far more practical. She’s written down everything her husband would need to know: account names, codes, passwords, locations where things are kept. ARE YOU LISTENING BURGLARS? Very sensible. I should do that.  Alas, I probably won’t.

It’s staggering to think around 58% of Australians don’t have a will.  Me included. What. Are. We. Thinking? Because if you don’t have a will, what you leave behind is a mess for your family. Even if you don’t own much stuff. Even if your most valuable possession is your homemade A-Z of Kylie Minogue on cassette. Doesn’t matter. Someone is going to take ownership of those cassettes and your bank accounts. And with no will it can take months and months to sort out.

And what if you do have a substantial amount of money or property? Who gets what? A will is also where we can formally write out our wishes for our children.  Who would you appoint as their guardians? What values do you want them to be raised with? What dessert should they be forced to make every Christmas Eve? Last but not least it’s in a will were you can confirm your desire to be an organ donor.

Making a will isn’t that hard.  It sounds like a lot of effort but it’s really not. The Public Trustee offers a free will-making service to all Queenslanders over the age of 18. Or you can make up your own will with a kit or online for as little as $25. Or see a solicitor for as little as $150. So that’s my goal by 31st January – to make a will ensuring Ava is well looked after and forever has my recipe for Quiche Lorrain. And (ahem) my Kylie tapes.

 

The Way We Live, Sunday 21 November 2010: Hooking Up with Charity

I had an interesting conversation about advertising recently with a copywriter pal.

 

“I hate ads!” I said to her.

 

My pal begged to differ.  “No you just hate the bad ones. If a TV commercial is clever or funny – you love it. We all do. Tell me you don’t love ‘Barbara from the Bank’”

 

Okay, I do kinda love Barbara from the Bank and her “I’m in a meeting” schtick.  And I never get sick of watching the Old Spice now-I’m-on-a-horse guy.  And now that I think about it I was always rather fond of that yoghurt commercial where the woman sitting on a park bench had calories delivered “straight to her thighs”. And twenty years ago I was pretty obsessed with the Nescafe TV commercial romance. Remember Roy? Remember the blonde woman? Remember Rebecca the daughter who was a musician? And the pan pipes?  It was a mini soap opera played out over several years.

 

But there’s another ad that grabbed my attention this year – another bank ad interestingly enough. The ad wasn’t about bank queues or interest rates or longer opening hours or how the banks are ripping us off so that many of us are considering entering our toddlers in Little Miss Pine Rivers to earn some prize money (maybe that’s just me). Instead, it was a short, simple ad about how a certain bank offered its staff paid leave for volunteering in the community. And that simple, low-budget ad had me thinking differently about a bank I would never have thought twice about.

 

Increasingly businesses of all sizes are stepping up and demonstrating a real commitment to their local communities and the environment. Of course there are tangible public relations benefits if the behaviour is genuine and consistent. (Are you listening banks?). But there are also huge staff benefits to having a social conscience. Staff develop a sense of pride in the company. And there’s better bonding amongst employees.  (You see, when someone from Accounts is made to do two hours of free “gold coin donation” Christmas gift-wrapping with someone from Marketing – the Great Photocopier Feud of 2007 is eventually forgotten.)

 

So let’s say your company would like to help out a cause but you’re cash-strapped.  According to Social Money Solution’s Tara Castle it’s not all about donating money.

 

“Sure, cash is king for most charities but often charities needs are not always in financial terms.  Charities can really benefit from corporates donating their expertise and resources or even volunteering and mentoring.  Sometimes these kinds of donations can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars without a cent changing hands.”

 

So the question is, what is your company really doing to help the community?  A donation tin on your front reception counter doesn’t cut it. Why not head to www.volunteeringqld.org.au or www.socialmarketingsolutions for some ideas.

 

The Way We Live for Sunday 14 Nov 2010: You are not your OP score …

I remember what this week was like despite the fact it unfolded ten years ago. Okay twenty. Fine, twenty-one if you want to get specific.  Twenty-one years ago this week I was facing my final week of high school.   My perm and I sat through those last few school assemblies excited and terrified.  Ahead of me lay a brand new world. A world where “regulation sock height” was no longer an issue and where I wasn’t expected to like or understand Biology.  Or maths. Or PE.

As the Class of 2010 prepare to graduate, I thought I’d share three pieces of advice  – things I wish I’d known before I walked out of those school gates for the final time.

 

  1. You Will Not Be A Success Or Failure in Life Based on Your OP Score.  I know it’s a big deal. I remember. But the truth is that long-term, your OP score has nothing to do with how successful you will be in life.  An OP 1 is no guarantee of anything.  You can be the smartest person in the room but if you’re not resilient, if you don’t have the ability to “bounce back” when failure and disappointment strike (and trust me, they’ll strike), then you won’t get anywhere.  It’s the people in life who – when they fall down – are able to get back up, dust themselves off and keep going who inevitably achieve their goals.  So if  — like me — you don’t get the OP score you were hoping for – don’t stress.  If you really want to study something, you’ll find a wormhole.  When one door shuts, try squeezing through the cat flap.
  2. Real Life Has Real Consequences.  It may not have felt like it but high school is actually a fairly nurturing, safe environment.  Real life? Not so much.  In the real world – be it in a job or at uni – you face more than a Saturday morning detention if you behave like a bully. Or steal something.  Or mutter racist or sexist remarks. And if you go on to further study and choose to spend your days sitting in the Rec Club discussing Mad Men rather than attending lectures – no teacher is going to come looking for you.  And your grades will suck.  Welcome to life.
  3. Do What You Love. The biggest risk you’ll take is NOT doing what you love.  Work takes up a hell of a lot of your life.  If you’re studying something purely to please your family, you risk living a second-rate version of your own life.  And life’s too short not to feel fulfilled by what you do every day.  If you’re not sure yet what it is you want to do – don’t stress either.  Pick something. If it doesn’t work out – you get to change direction. You have the right to change your mind.

So Class of 2010, take care. And know that whatever unfolds over the next few weeks, you’ll be just fine.