Archive for April, 2006

velcro g-string

We usually come to Brisbane in summer, when the jacaranda and bougainvillea are blooming and the city is full of flowers. It’s late autumn now and there’s no sight of the brilliant flowers, just green against more green. My niece and nephew have grown like weeds and would be unrecognizeable, if they didn’t look exactly like the rest of my family. Kelly is basically me with brown eyes and a pointier nose; Ross is a grown-up, boy version of Julia.

These kids set the bar impossibly high. They have green belts in jiu-jitsu. Kelly is an accomplished cellist and Ross is about to start playing flute. In terms of physical fitness and manual dexterity, they kick my ass three ways from Sunday. Lucky I have mass and cunning on my side.

We had fantastic coffee at Cafe Do-Da. Sarah told a story about her new job, obviously a far better match to her personality than the old one. Her boss demanded a phone number from “a resume on my desk”. It wasn’t on his desk, or his boss’s desk, or the owner’s desk, or in his email, but eventually Sarah checked his voicemail and found it there. He texted back “Ta.”

She sent back seven texts.






“It took me three hours to find that number, and all you can say is ‘Ta’?”

“I quit!”

Ross said: “You should have done one letter at a time.”

(Kelly made a good joke, too. We pulled up outside her neighbour’s house, and I said “They don’t know it’s you in this weird car.” Under her breath she added: “With these weird people.” “Hey! I heard that!”)

Sarah says her boss gets nervous if she doesn’t quit two or three times a week. The job is clearly mad. The last n people in her position, for some unfeasibly large value of n, only lasted a few days. Rather than having to remember names, the company started referring to people by the day of the week on which they started work. Sarah was Tuesday for three weeks before they accepted that she was probably going to stay.

Next we drove up to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens on Mt Coot-Tha for a picnic. We spread our blanket on a peninsula in the lagoon, and were serenaded by Pacific black ducks, dusky moorhens, sacred ibis and an Eastern water dragon.

The cousins interviewed Claire. “What’s your favourite animal? Do you like cats? Do you like dogs? Do you like horses?”

The roast chicken came out of its bag.

“I like chicken!” said Claire.

Ross ran all the way around the lagoon (crazy!) and we all applauded when he arrived back. Later, in that shy way she uses when talking to a new crush, Claire said “Very good running.”

We tried to get some pictures of all four cousins, but there’s at least one cousin squinting or sticking its tongue out in every shot.

As we were packing up, I asked Claire to put on her shoes.

“She can put her shoes on! I’m very impressed,” said Uncle Al.

“I can put my shoes on,” said Kelly.

“You’re ten!” said Al. “She’s only three! I was impressed when you were three, too!”

“It’s the miracle of velcro,” I said.

“There is no article of clothing known to man that can’t be improved with velcro,” said Uncle Max.

My sister and I each thought for a minute, then said with exactly the same rhythm and intonation: “A… g-string?”

It took us a good ten minutes to stop laughing. In unison. You’d think we were related.

Oh, and talk about the HONOURED FREAKING GUESTS. Last night Uncle Max split a bottle of 1991 Peter Lehman Stonewell shiraz with us. YUM.

australia you’re standing in it

I rented the car in Sydney from Borat, “from former Yugoslavia”. Croats say they’re Croatian, Bosnians say they’re Bosnian and Serbs say they’re “from former Yugoslavia”. Anyway, Borat – a fiscal conservative with a strong stand on human rights – seemed charmed by my sleep-deprived, free-associative thoughts on geopolitics and the uses and abuses of American power, so he upgraded me to a Toyota Avalon, which is the biggest car I’ve ever driven. It’s seventeen feet wide and two hundred feet long. We drove out of the airport with the emergency brake on, because it’s where the clutch would be on a manual car – by your FOOT. The HANDbrake. Right. That car is Frankie, because he’s an Avalon.

We spent Friday in Sydney mostly sleeping, although Woollahra Council has thoughtfully installed a brand new playground in the park across the road where Jeremy and I were married. Claire was mostly delighted by this, but was trying to play barefoot, and the bark groundcover pricked her feet. She came sadly to the bench where I was sitting and reported: “Sticks are sharp. I cannot play.”

On Saturday morning we had breakfast at Petit Creme with three shifts of friends: first Pesce and Big and Rachel, then Pesce left when Kay and Kelso and Mark Bennett and Peter the Rocket Scientist arrived, then Kay and Kelso left when Adrian and Sam and Korbin turned up. Claire greatly admired Rachel’s blue motorbike, and announced that she wanted one. I explained that she’s not even allowed to date anyone who rides a motorbike, but she seemed unconvinced.

I had a joke I was going to tell Big, but I forgot: now that we’re Americans, we’re amazed that there are no kangaroos hopping along the street!

Flight to Brisbane went reasonably smoothly, and then our car rental got upgraded again, to a red Commodore, which is twenty three feet wide and five hundred feet long. This car is Jack, because he’s a Commodore. Fortunately the handbrake is where it is supposed to be, give or take the steering wheel being on the other side. Unfortunately we missed a turn on the way to Sarah’s house; fortunately, we had a map and got ourselves unlost.

So, Ferny Hills. Claire fell into the thrall of her cousin Kelly, where she remains. Ross loves the game we bought for him. Sarah and Julia bonded instantly. Oscar the cat is now a gigantic prey animal, as beautiful as the day. I bought a couple of bottles of cold white wine and got deliciously drunk.

rach on a plane

See you on the other side.

stockholm syndrome

Our hot water heater went into a bit of a decline last week. Its output shrank from a healthy cascade to a sad, rusty trickle. We’ve been reduced to having London-style showers – that is, shivering, blue and goosepimpled under a tepid mist.

Scary thing is, this morning I didn’t completely hate it. It was kind of …okay.

Anyway, we had two plumbers round. The first one was a very nice chap, and quite useless. He completely misdiagnosed the problem, ripped out our beautiful old brass shower and replaced it with an ugly modern stainless steel one. This accomplished exactly nothing.

The next plumber was a recommendation from the Cole Hardware home repair referral service, and like the roofer we got from them, he’s absolutely great (Frank Brown from Frank’s All-City Plumbing, in case you spring a leak of your own). He’s prompt, generous with his time and patient with my completely inane questions. He was both amused and appalled by our existing hot water heater, which was made in 1989 with an expected life of 10-12 years. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be able to fix it for us.

This is Jeremy’s fault. The hot water heater lives in our kitchen cupboard. Jeremy’s bright idea is to replace it with a tankless or instantaneous model, a fifth of the size so freeing up priceless kitchen real estate, much more fuel-efficient and earth-friendly and very widely used EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WESTERN WORLD, much like the METRIC SYSTEM or NATIONAL HEALTH. Here in the US of A? Not so much.

Of course it’s going to cost twice as much up front, and we need a special fitter to come in, and there’s some dire issue with the gas lines that out of pure weariness I have chosen not to inquire into… Small wonder, in short, that I am almost starting to like being rustily wee’d on.

I realize I should be posting about Segway polo or Temple Grandin’s terrific book and her theories on neoteny or SOMETHING, but all I can think about is the plumbing. I am a simple people.

all makerfaired out


Originally uploaded by dob.

Clairecita and Ada Boo take a well-earned forty winks.



Originally uploaded by Valree.



Originally uploaded by Valree.

constellation at maker faire

…wildly successful. Couple of hundred people must have come by to play with Jeremy’s beautiful stars. Very long day. We’re going to bed.

my favourite picture of miz jules so far

Fitzchalmers Family Shoot

Originally uploaded by quinnums.

Quinn is the bestest photographer ever, except for Jeremy, who is equal bestest.


Leonard is awesome!

So is Sumana!

Congratulations you crazy kids! WOOO!


Today would have been my grandma’s 101st birthday. It’s also the 100th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.

Like all the women in my family, my grandmother Doris could be (ahem) very difficult. She was particularly hard on my mother and my eldest brother. But she loved Al and me, and we loved her. She baked us wonderful scones, read us stories and loved to sing and play the piano for us. She painted china in her last years, pretty roses with a wavering line that was somehow very characteristically her.

That makes her sound very little-old-lady, and she wasn’t. She was thin and sharp, rather like Maggie Smith, with long, elegant hands holding perpetual cigarettes, and a splendid beak of a nose. A strong, prejudiced, devout, strange, imperious old Englishwoman, who never recovered from the death, the year I was born, of her beloved husband Jack. She outlived him by more than 25 years, a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

When she died in 1996 I was in Ireland with Jeremy, so I didn’t go to her funeral. I still miss her.

Drum parade all morning, right outside my office window, to celebrate San Francisco’s resurrection. Very bittersweet, because we all know this beautiful city will shake and burn again.

food and happiness

When we decided to have kids I was pretty clear on two things. I wanted them to be kind. And I wanted them to be happy.

Yesterday, Claire rocked my world.

We went to the just-reopened Nene’s for breakfast. It was a bit chaotic, so they under-poached my eggs and my plate went back to the kitchen just as everyone else chowed down. It was eleven am; I was hungry and grumpy. Claire had a giant mound of home fries.

She took a few onto a small plate for herself, then pushed the rest over: “Here mummy, these are for you.”

Later we drove past UP13. We’d dropped by the night before: Marc had made calamari and squid steaks with an incredible, dense, creamy chocolate veloute.

“I had fun at Marc’s house,” said Claire.

“Me too,” I said. “I like Marc.”

“I like Mummy!” said Claire.

“Thanks!” I said. “I like you too.”

“I like me,” said Claire.

It’s like a bomb going off in your heart. But in a good way.

a new low

I read Cintra Wilson’s Colors Insulting to Nature and enjoyed it immensely, until she mentioned Web sites appearing shortly after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989.

This eight-month anachronism immediately punctured my suspension of disbelief.

I am such a frickin nerd.

she feasts on human flesh

children and animals

J: Julia was so pleased to see Bebe that she tried to crawl over to her! But she went backwards instead!

R (disbelieving): Julia crawled?

J: It was just the commando-style belly-wiggle.

R: She’s four months old!

At that point Jack and Milo turned up with Daisy M. Dog, and Bebe Dog Bane did her best claw-skitter-fluff-tail-and-wyrd-yowl routine. The intruder dog was driven hence!


R: Claire, do you like Daisy?

C: No.

R: Oh.

C: Ran into the forest, dark.

R: You ran into a forest?

C: No. Belinda.

on bernal hill