Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Laundry humor

It's five o'clock: time to make dinner.  Slice the potatoes, marinate the meat, then reach into the fridge for... a pair of dirty socks.  Indy strikes again.

Indy is a newcomer to the field of humor.  While her elder sister has always enjoyed a good joke, Indy has remained resolutely literal.  When the girls play dress-up, you wouldn't dare say, "I see we have princesses visiting today.  Good morning, your royal highnesses," because the certain retort would be, "I'm not!  I'm Indy in a princess costume!"  The dress would promptly be abandoned, and Indy would stomp off.

Perhaps Australia is particularly funny, because Indy has recently warmed to the idea of wordplay and the unexpected.  Thus, the socks.  I now find her socks - always used, often smelly - under my pillow, in the crisper, nestled amongst the knives.  Whenever I unearth these treasures, I am required to express shock and outrage, and Indy laughs her dirty, delighted four-year-old laugh.

Why?  Where do you keep your socks?
Not being one to leave things to chance, Indy often hands me the script in advance.  "Mom, I'm going to hide these socks beside the milk.  You go find them and get mad."
I dutifully wait in the hallway while said socks are deposited in the fridge.
Indy emerges from the kitchen.  "Okay, go."
I walk into the kitchen, keeping up a stream-of-consciousness patter about wanting a glass of milk.  When I discover the planted socks and overreact, Indy laughs herself sick, and though we hadn't set the scene together thirty seconds ago.

Knock-knock jokes are also a big theme.  Sometimes they make sense (Knock-knock.  Who's there?  Snow.  Snow who?  'S nobody but me!), and sometimes not (Knock-knock.  Who's there?  Candle.  Candle who?  Candle sitting on the table beside the ketchup!).

But, newly-hilarious or not, Indy remains Indy.  This morning, she was colouring in a picture of a cake.  As she carefully shaded in pink and purple candles, I said, "That cake looks delicious!  I think I'll have a bite."  I pretended to cut a piece and eat it.

"Mom," said Indy, "it is only a picture of a cake.  It isn't real - you can't eat it."

Well, we'll get around to imagination another day.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

And Good Morning to You, Too!

We are almost four weeks into our temporary time ashore, and what, you may ask, are our cultural sticking points?  Is it that we haven't heard of a single film/singer/celebrity which has cropped up in the past two years?  Are the girls ridiculed for not owning an iPad?  Do we feel strange about our (often-commented-on) Canadian accents? 

No.  Our biggest problem is, "good morning."  More accurately, the lack thereof.

Years ago, Erik worked in Switzerland.  I went to visit him one summer, and, among the cultural instruction he gave me regarding the language ("you won't understand it,") and transportation ("learn to ride a bicycle without killing anyone,") he included the command: "You must say hello to people as you pass them on the street."

"What do you mean?" I asked.  "Who do I have to say hi to?"
"Everybody."  This was delivered in an emphatic tone along with an I-need-you-to-internalize-this-or-I'll-have-to-get-a-new-job-elsewhere look.
"Okay," I said.
"Good," said Erik.  "Now.  If you meet one person, you say grüezi."
I have yet to meet a more difficult combination of sounds in any language.  "Grüezi," I tried.  We practiced.
"If it's more than one person, you say, grüezi mitenand."
"Grüezi mitenand," I repeated.
"Unless it is a younger person, in which case it's hoi."
I slumped.  "Well, what if it's an old lady with a teenager?  Erik, is this really...?"
"You have to do this," he said.  "It is really, really important."

For someone who grew up in urban North America, this was anathema to me.  City-dwellers operate under strong social conditioning to ignore other people on the streets.  I suppose it is a reaction to over-crowding, to pretend those strangers aren't really there, constantly pushing through your personal space.  I'm not an extrovert at the best of times, and intentionally speaking to total strangers felt like flashing them: very personal and very unwanted.

The first day I went out, I felt ridiculous.  I was sure that I would proffer my grüezi/grüezi mitenand/hoi and receive only dead air in response.  I was going to be Crocodile Dundee on the streets of New York.  Or, worse, someone would take it as an invitation to talk to me, and my complete lack of Swiss German would become embarrassingly clear.

Of course, it didn't turn out that way at all.  Everyone was perfectly nice, and the greeting formula was perfectly normal, and I got used to it.  I soon greeted a band of regulars at the old folks' home down the street every morning, and somehow the day started off right.

Back home again, it took me a little time not to feel snubbed when I saw only blank, closed faces on my daily walk.  But the conditioning kicked in again, and I forgot about it.

When we reached Australia, our girls had more than two years of Central America and French Polynesia under their belts.  Stylish is naturally friendly, and Indy has been aboard since she could form simple sentences.  So, of course, they said hello to everyone.

Who wouldn't say hello to these kids?
And they get nothing in return.

The first time this happened, I tried to explain how it just isn't normal to greet strangers in the city.  They both frowned, and, the more I tried to clarify the point, the more foolish I felt.  Was it really such an imposition to give a child a smile and a nod?  Did it make any sense to shy like a startled horse when a eight-year-old wished you good morning?  I thought back to my grüezi days when I cheerfully bellowed a greeting to my almost-deaf friends-I'd-never-met at the rest home.

"It's ridiculous," I said finally, "and it's too bad.  But I don't want you to feel bad because people won't say hello back to you.  It's their problem, not yours."

They still try it.  And sometimes they can surprise a hello out of someone.  The maintenance staff at the local mall has proven particularly friendly.  I just hope the First World doesn't leech that natural friendliness out of them.  Everyone could use a grüezi to start the day off right.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Beat The Heat

Back in the day, we lived in a house.  Unlike Kiwi and Aussie houses, which tend to be low and spreading, Canadian houses go up and up.  And in a Southern Ontario summer, things got hot upstairs.  Our family room was on the third floor, and it was positively melting when the thermometer crept above 30 degrees Celsius. 

Except, we had air conditioning.  It was a power-wasting luxury, but, being home with small kids, I loved it.  It was hard to adjust correctly - you were always too cold in one place and too warm in another - but we didn't much mind.  One did have to be careful, though; one summer, the a/c broke down while we were at the cottage.  Sadly, our fish tank was situated at the top of the house, and, by the time we got back, the fish had liquefied. We moved Fish Tank Mark II down to the second floor with better results.

When we moved aboard Papillon, we had a tiny plug-in air conditioner, much like the window-mount units people often have in apartments.  The first time Erik and I tried to wrestle it into the companionway for the night, we managed to drop it on my leg.

Yes, it hurt just as much as you think it did.
And that's the last time I remember using it.  Which is good; we were young and foolish in those days, and had no concept of just how much power an air conditioner would steal on a boat.

We sold the air conditioner when the opportunity arose, and happily sailed through the topics without it.  Sure, it was hot, but we were in bathing suits most of the time, and swimming all day long.  Who needs a/c?

In New Zealand, we had the opposite problem, and had to fire up the diesel heater to fight the damp and cold.  But in Australia, it is hot.  Really, really hot.  Erik reports that, when the wind starts blowing where he works, it feels like walking around in front of a hair dryer.  Even here in town it gets hot; we took a drive through the Adelaide Hills on the weekend, and this sign caught my eye.

That's 96.8 Fahrenheit, people.

Last week we had a few hot nights, which did not help the precarious sleeping situation around here.  I mentioned this on a call to my parents.

"Don't you have an air conditioner?" asked my dad.

Oh.  Yes.  Yes, actually, we do.  I'd forgotten all about it.

(Indy just asked me what an air conditioner is.  I pointed out the unit in our apartment and explained its function.  "Oh," she said.  "I thought that was a hand dryer.")

Later that morning, the maintenance man for our building came through the apartment to check on a few things.  We chatted about the rising temperatures, and he was horrified to discover that I hadn't even turned the unit on yet.  This was a serious breach of protocol.  He abandoned his work to give me a quick overview, and to set the air conditioner to a decent temperature.

He told me - quite seriously - that 19 C was the way to go.  That sounded a little frosty to me, but who am I to ignore expert advice?  So, we set the unit to 19 C, and the day went on.

I quickly began to lose feeling in my fingers.  I turned the controller to 20 C.  I still craved a sweater.  21.  No good.  22.  23.  At 24 C, the girls and I agreed that things were becoming comfortable.  Instead of an artic blast, we had a cool trickle pouring out of the unit above the couch.  People could sit below it without a blanket.  Just right.

But, even though it sometimes feels like Hell's foyer out here, we are still trying to enjoy the great outdoors.  We spent our weekend at the local park:

Stylish on the zipline.

Mom, I'm not getting anywhere.
So much climbing goodness.
The beach:
Sand!  We never get to play in the sand!

Lunch, now with extra sand.
We looked for wildlife, but this was as close as we got:

And, sometimes, we just sat around and made hats:
What else do you do with old envelopes?
A pretty good couple of days, at any temperature.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doctor, doctor

(Updated to reflect the results of Trial #3)

I got my first ear infection when I was about three weeks old.  To hear my mother tell it, I was a demon baby to begin with, and this did not help.  (Aside: my mother rates babies on a difficulty scale from 1 to 10, 1 being a delightful child such as my sister (the second-born) who slept 23 hours a day and was apparently made of sunshine and rainbows, 10 being me, the first-born, who was made of pure rage.  Maybe Mom just needed a little more practice, hmm?  Hmm?)  Shortly after the first came the second ear infection, then a whole childhood of ear infections (also experienced by my oh-so-perfect siblings, I hasten to add), and ear tubes and drama.  In fact, I'm still not out of the woods; I lost a good percentage of the hearing in my left ear only a few years ago thanks to an ear infection.  Long story short, ear infections stink, and I feel very sorry for anyone who has one.

My own kids have been pretty lucky on this front.  Stylish has maybe had a couple, and Indy, although a champion puker (we all have our gifts), has been left unscathed.

Until Friday.

To borrow from Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a child will only become ill on a Friday evening after all doctors and pharmacies are closed. This is properly done on a holiday weekend, obviously, but we can't always make events suit us, can we?  But Indy did her best, and, at bedtime on Friday, complained her ear hurt.

Well.  We had a few hours of fitful sleep, then, at 11pm, things really got into full swing.  Erik found an open-until-midnight pharmacy (on the other side of town, naturally), called a cab, and went in search of ear drops.

The ear drops did nothing.

Once again, Mom and Indy shared a bed, waking every twenty minutes. And so it went on for the weekend.  Indy would improve and we would think the whole thing was over, then she would fall apart again.

On Monday I spoke with our local pharmacist.  She agreed that antibiotics were likely going to be the thing, and gave me some numbers for doctors nearby.  I went home, called around, and found that no one was accepting new patients.  Rank on the Surprise-meter: 0.  Please.  I'm Canadian.  The first rule of socialized medicine is: never give up your doctor.  So, I turned the page in my Social Medicine Handbook and moved on to rule #2: work your network.

Which I did without guilt.  Tuesday morning, Erik hustled into a cab and headed to the airport in the wee hours of the morning, muttering something about getting to work for a rest.  We dropped Stylish at school, and we picked up a shiny new set of penicillin pills for young Indy.

"Hooray," I thought.  "Finally we will kick this thing."

What I had forgotten was that penicillin tastes, as Indy put it, like "bones and wood".  I would have said plaster dust and iron filings, but chacun son gout.  And I believe I have already mentioned Indy's hair-trigger on the upchuck front.

This was not going to be pretty.

Trial #1: Peanut butter
My mom used this trick on us when we were kids and we needed to take Gravol or some other horrendous thing.  As I recall, it worked, but barely.  It was more successful when feeding pills to our cats, but maybe they just didn't complain as much.

Indy complained.

She spat it out twice, and it kept putting it back.  But she got it down, albeit with a lot of tears and yelling.

Verdict: I was right.  It worked, but barely.

Trial #2: Nutella
Sweet banana from Montana.  I haven't had to clean up that much chocolate mess since the girls were babies.  I'm still finding spots on high cupboards.

Verdict:  Never.  Again.

I have it on good authority (read: my friend the internet) that applesauce hides penicillin pretty well.  We'll find out this evening.  And any other ideas you have, just send them my way.  I'll be the one washing Nutella out of her hair.

Trial #3: Applesauce
A-pple-sauce!  A-pple-sauce! (insert confetti and marching bands here.)

I won't lie to you, people.  I wasn't holding out a lot of hope for this one.  After the Nutella incident, I was once bitten, twice shy, as it were.  But what were my options?  Indy needs the medication and I have to get it into her somehow.

We picked Stylish up from school, and trundled off to the grocery store.  I was carrying Indy on my back, since she was far too pathetic to be self-ambulatory.  Listening to her stream of grumbles and complaints, feeling her get heavier and heavier, we walked the aisles.

No applesauce.

Ah, but I had a cunning plan.  Indy can't read very well yet, and she was barely paying attention anyway, so I very calmly worked my way down the baby aisle.  Stylish opened her mouth to say something, and I gave her a quelling look.  We slowed almost imperceptibly when we reached the baby food, I snatched a likely-looking candidate, and we proceeded to the cash, Indy none the wiser.

Then, the big test.  Indy and I settled down on the kitchen floor, prepared to do battle.  I put the tablet on a spoon, squirted some applesauce on top, and held it out.  Indy whined.  I wheedled.  A battle of wills ensued.  Eventually, she accepted the inevitable and opened her mouth.  And I accepted the inevitable and prepared to do more laundry.

Gulp.  Gone.

We blinked at each other.  What the...?  That pill went down like feed into a foie gras goose.  Indy recovered first.  She wiped her tears and made me swear that we would always, every time use applesauce, forever.  I nodded solemnly, and we shook on it.

Last night, Indy slept from midnight until seven, uninterrupted.   And this morning, the next pill went down as easily as the last one.  Dare I hope we are making progress?

Verdict: Best method ever!

(Amy's handy tip: do not crush the pill first - aside from losing some medicine, you'll just taste it that way.  Surface area is not your friend.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Sleepover

"So, how do you like being on land?  It's pretty great, right?  And you completely love it, don't you?"

I close my bleary eyes and reach for my tea.  There is no tea.

I'll be right back.

Okay, now I have tea.  It is hot, caffeinated, and will hopefully get me through answering my chipper interrogator without hurting anyone.  Because the Papillon Crew does not sleep anymore.  None of us.

How do you land people ever sleep?  The bed doesn't move.  I know that's a funny statement from someone who gets motion sickness, but the gentle motion of the waves at anchor feels great.  And we all miss it.  When we reached Tonga after a twelve-day passage, the harbour was so calm that none of us slept.  All four of us ended up in the V-berth, wiggling for space and complaining about stray elbows.

This is worse.

Indy has always been a good sleeper.  Scratch that: she was a terrible sleeper when she was a baby.  But she normally falls asleep easily and stays that way until dawn.  Stylish has always been a night owl, and you can't get her out of bed in the morning without serious and concentrated effort.  But now, neither of them fall asleep.  This is a problem because they share a room.  Last night, there were whispers and giggles and fights and apologies and more whispers coming from their room at eight thirty.  Nine o'clock.  Nine thirty.  Ten o'clock.  At ten thirty I separated them, and put Indy to sleep in my room.  (Erik is working, which equals travelling, so there was space free.)  And that did the trick: by eleven they were both asleep.

But then, I had this.

Inevitably, both girls were cranky this morning.  Good luck to their teachers is all I can say.  I'm always cranky, so the difference is minimal.

I don't pack the kids full of sugar.  They get lots of exercise.  Goodness knows they deserve to be tired by bedtime, but they aren't.  I'm at a loss.  Help me, Obi Wan.

Score:  Papillon 1, Land 0.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Adjustment Issues

There are things I love about being on land.  Somehow, we have landed in what I would consider an almost-perfect place.  The ‘almost’ comes from the fact that life in Adelaide is expensive.  Very, very expensive.  But so many of my favourites are covered: the apartment is bright.  I can walk everywhere.  There is a free bus downtown.  The girls love their schools.  People are friendly.  The rules are relaxed.  There is a library 200 m from my door.  The weather is awesome.  Hot running water!  These are things it is hard to compete with.  Erik is already having a panic attack about trying to get us to move back aboard when his project is done.

Hooray!  We're finally free from Mom and get to go to school!
But, the honeymoon feelings of having a dishwasher aside, there are things I’m having trouble with.

Problem Complaint #1: The News
Oh, people.  What are you doing to yourselves?  I realize that reading a newspaper and watching the TV news is an unspoken requirement for personhood to many people.  And still I must ask you: why?  Since we hit NZ, I’ve flipped through the odd paper and seen a few news reports.  And what did I learn?  Nothing of value.  In one paper, it took Erik and me until page 93 to find anything we wanted to read about.  In the whole paper, we found two articles of interest, one about the Mars Curiosity, and another detailing comments from President Obama regarding the Israeli government.  What was the rest of the paper?  Aside from ads (don’t get me started), it was fear-mongering.  Thefts, murder, car crashes, don’t-eat-this-it-will-give-you-cancer, oh-no-our-kids-are-fat, be-careful-or-something-really-bad-is-going-to-happen-to-you, doom, doom, gloom.

In theory, the news fills a vital role.  I am interested in world news, and by that I mean a cogent overview and analysis of world events.  Not easy to find.  As for my local news, if I could find good coverage in a paper, I’d read it.  Until that exists, I’ll just talk to people.  You find out more, anyway.

In short, most so-called news is all filler and no content.  I won’t let it steal my time and make me scared.

Actual problem #1: I Own Nothing

Actual size.
Well, not nothing.  Obviously I own things.  Probably too many things.  But when I arrived in Adelaide, I realized that the entire contents of my wardrobe fit into one drawer.  That drawer.

Oh, you think I’m playing?

That's it.  There is no more.
See?  And that drawer is by no means chock-a-block.  The bottom drawer is currently occupied by computer cables, notebooks and other detritus, only to make me feel like I have something to put in there because otherwise it looks so sad and purposeless.  Maybe that is why people have too much stuff – they feel sorry for empty spaces.

Point being, I probably can’t wander around in my stained, boat-appropriate t-shirts around here.  I may have to do two things I hate doing, ie. 1. Spend money and 2. Go shopping.  Ugh.  Save me.

Problem #2: Explaining Papillon
You wouldn’t think this would be a tough one.  I’ve lived aboard Papillon for more than two years, and I pretty much have my patter down.  And up to this point, it has worked.  People get it.  They might think it is crazy, but they get it: family + boat = familyboat.  Adventure on the high seas.  But, for some reason, when I tell people here in Australia that I live on a boat, they make a funny face.  A brief frown crosses their features, as though they can’t really process what I’ve said.  Most days, I feel like I’ve told people, “I live in a jar of mustard,” or “I think car tires make a tasty snack.”  Those are the looks I get.  Maybe this is related to the issue above and the fact that, to these put-together moms, I must look like I just stumbled out of an alley somewhere.  Whatever the case, I’m clearly not in tune with the Australian psyche yet.

Problem #3: Routine
It isn’t as though we didn’t have a routine on Papillon.  Get up, eat, do school, eat, play somewhere, eat, read, sleep.  But some days it would be: get up, eat, go look at turtles, swim, eat, visit friends, write, eat, have an impromptu party.  Or, get up in the middle of the night, sail out of the harbour, make tea.  And all without the tyranny of a clock.  Man, do I not like wearing a watch again.  But when the school says be here now and pick them up then, you do it.  Land life = scheduled life.  Bleh.  Do people really do this for years on end?  Yes, obviously they do – I did, too.  But, more and more, I'm having trouble remembering why.

The solution is obvious: spend half the year aboard, half the year on land.  Totally perfect and manageable and in no way disruptive for work or school or anyone involved, right?  When they build that fairytale utopia of lollipops and spun sugar, you be sure to let me know.  I’ll point Papillon in that direction and apply for my visa right away.