When ‘no’ is the hardest word to say

If you’re anything like me and suffer from a chronic need to please people, you’ll relate to my inability to say the word “no”.

It always starts with a polite request, usually dropped into the middle of a conversation. I’ll readily agree, pay for my coffee and spend the rest of the car ride home remembering – with rising panic – all the reasons why I can’t meet that request.

Rather than back out, I’ll spend the next few days convincing myself that it is possible, in one morning, to wake up at 5am and drive my friend to the airport, take my son to his swimming lesson, edit my brother’s uni assignment and bake 30 pink cupcakes for a Peppa Pig-themed kid birthday party (“…and would you mind making 7 of them gluten free?”).

It’s the perfect recipe for an anxiety attack.

You end up trying to please everyone, sacrificing sleep in order to drive to a 24-hour Coles in your pyjamas where you’ll find yourself squinting at packet labels, trying to work out if rice flour is gluten free. It’s moments like these you think to yourself, “why couldn’t I have just said no?”

A psychologist I saw six years ago had a solution for this dilemma. She had a default answer for every request she received, no matter how big or small: “thanks for asking me; do you mind if I check my diary first and get back to you?”

Of course, you’ll most likely have a smart phone in your pocket with your schedule handy, but the other person doesn’t need to know that. By delaying your answer, you short-circuit that loop where a person asks a favour and you automatically respond with yes. It gives you time to work out how to graciously decline the request. Plus you avoid double booking – a classic problem for the chronic people pleaser.

It’s taken six years, but this default answer has now become my catchphrase. If someone asks me for a favour, I’ll say I need to check the family calendar. Later that night, I’ll think about the request. As the psychologist recommended, I’ll think through how much time the task will take, what I’ll need to sacrifice in order to do it, how it will impact my family and whether I have enough on my plate already.

I also added another factor to consider: whether I want to do it.

It sounds like a simple question, but it’s actually quite complex for people pleasers like me, leading to a self-indulgent string of additional questions: do I actually want to help this person, or am I doing it because I feel like I should? Am I doing it to win their good opinion, or because I actually care? There’s nothing worse than helping someone with a grumbling heart.

Especially if that favour involves trying to trace Peppa Pig’s likeness on a small cupcake at 1am in the morning.

The third wave of mummy blogging

838340467_ebf91c2a8e_bI’m currently working on a feature article about mummy bloggers who are Christians: why they blog, what kind of readers they attract, how their faith influences their writing, what impact they’re making in both secular and Christian online circles.

It’s been a great topic to sink my teeth into. I’ve had a number of chats with fascinating women who have tapped into the blogosphere in different ways.

I’ve also discovered the third wave of mummy blogging. To quote The New York Times:

The first wave of mommy blogs (pre-Facebook) were simple family updates, like year-round Christmas letters. The second wave were confessional soap boxes for mothers with dirty laundry to air (like dooce.com), attracting devoted readerships, advertising dollars and eventually public mimicry. The third, it seems, are jaw-droppingly art-directed, sort of like a glossy fashion magazine on the newsstand.

While most of the bloggers I’m interviewing firmly belong in the second category, I find the third wave of blogs an interesting development. Confessional blogs pointedly reveal the unglamorous side of parenting. Glossy blogs like The Glow do the opposite. Think idealised images of family life, effusive writing, organic food and high fashion – for the babies, not just the mums. From a post on The Glow:

“When I had Ruby, my former boss told me, ‘here’s the secret: buy kids’ clothes in Paris.’ She’s been my mom mentor. Now I always shop for her when I’m there for the shows. I find all of these great, affordable pieces in muted colors and classic styles at Monoprix.”

These kinds of blogs are the byproduct of a seismic shift in print media. While magazines grapple with the challenge online publishing poses for their revenue streams, aspirational blogs signal a sort of democratisation of Vogue-style content.

As for the confessional type bloggers? They’re still there, albeit on a variety of other platforms: twitter, facebook, instagram, pinterest.

And they are still telling their stories, searching for the valuable in the mundane.

Should we really ban the word ‘bossy’?

I remember the first time someone called me bossy.

I’m the oldest child in my family, so whenever I played games with my friends in the playground, I liked being in charge. I had no qualms about telling other kids what to do and assigning roles for everyone in pretend play.

So it was that one day in primary school I was going about my usual habit, giving people different Rainbow Brite characters to act out (child of the 80s here) when out of nowhere, a friend piped up in a quiet but indignant voice: “I don’t want to play. You’re being really bossy.”

I was mortified. Suddenly I saw myself from her perspective, disregarding everyone’s ideas, telling people what to do. She was absolutely right. I was being, for lack of a better term, Little Miss Bossy Boots.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her organisation Lean In is campaigning hard to ban the word ‘bossy’, especially in relation to little girls.

She argues that bossy is a term used to discourage girls from taking on leadership roles. “We need to recognise the many ways we systematically discourage leadership in girls from a young age — and instead, we need to encourage them,” she says. “So the next time you have the urge to call your little girl bossy? Take a deep breath and praise her leadership skills instead.”

You can watch the campaign below:

While I heartily agree leadership skills should be nurtured in young girls (I love Lean In’s collection of new stock images depicting working women), a celebrity studded campaign pillorying the word ‘bossy’ is a clumsy way to go about it.

Bossiness, Control, Dominance – any term that signifies overbearing leadership – is applied to both men and women. When the Labor party was in government, former PM Kevin Rudd was labelled a micro manager intent on gaining power. The late Steve Jobs was well-renowned as a demanding control freak. Closer to home, we complain about bossy male bosses as well as female ones.

Yes, it’s true that society tends to be more forgiving of men who are bossy than women (Steve Jobs, for all his interpersonal flaws, is still hailed as a genius). It’s clear Sandberg is projecting her own struggles of working in a male dominated industry into this campaign. But the answer isn’t to police what is essentially gender-neutral language, as if reframing negative traits in girls will somehow tip the scales and smash glass ceilings.

The answer is to rethink what makes a good leader.

I’d argue that a good boss isn’t bossy. Effective leaders don’t dominate over others, nor do they lead by simply telling people what to do. Great leadership is about leading by example. It involves inspiring people to follow, rather than simply barking demands. It’s about having empathy and understanding what motivates people. It’s about not being afraid to get down and dirty amongst those you lead. We all know this. No one wants to work for a tyrant, male or female, which is why I find this campaign so baffling.

Beyonce’s assertion “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss” is only helpful if the word ‘bossy’, on examination of her character, is invalid. If she (or any female) is overbearing and dictatorial, then such a statement is not empowering for women, but defensive and foolish.

Sandberg may want to paint bossy girls as feminist but the truth still stands. No one wants to follow a bossy girl; in the same way no one wants to follow a bossy boy. Encouraging negative behaviour in young girls is not empowering, but ultimately damaging. Raising a generation of women who do not know the value of empathetic leadership, who cannot filter criticism with a healthy dose of self awareness, can only be detrimental to any feminist cause.

As a child, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that my constant haranguing of my friends to do what I want was ‘progressive’ or ‘a great display of leadership potential’. I needed someone to give me a clip over the ear and tell me to be thoughtful of others.

I would do the same for my daughter.
I would do the same for my son.

And I would hope that they would grow up to be better leaders as a result.

When did a jam jar stop being a jam jar?

IMG_1920I started collecting old jam jars before Pinterest told me there are 101 things you can do with them.

It started when my friend threw a cocktail party and served pots of decadent chocolate mousse in old baby food jars. I was so taken with the idea that in preparation for my upcoming 30th, I spent the next two weeks feeding my baby pureed pears, just so I could have forty identical glass jars to serve canapés in (the husband thought I was mad).

One year on, I’m still collecting jars.

I have a chest full of old pasta sauce bottles, salsa jars, strawberry jam jars and glass candleholders. As the hipster obsession with repurposed jars spreads into mainstream culture, I’m not alone. I’ve eaten muesli out of a jar at cafes. I’ve received homemade baking mix jars as gifts. I’ve seen young mums drink kale smoothies out of Mason jars while at the park. There are even jars for hipster babies: tiny mason jars with sippy tops attached for little Seraphina/Brooklyn/Rex.

It’s part of the ‘old is new’ aesthetic; a trend that makes mascots of the wooden crate, the typewriter, buddy holly glasses, the rotary dial phone. And although I’m more Taylor Swift than Arcade Fire, I can’t get enough. Every day I scour sites like Gumtree and Freecycle for second-hand items. My last find was a rattan basket filled with knitting patterns from the 1960s (that’s when I discovered jumpers from the 60s are unflattering unless you look like Twiggy).

IMG_1919Why are we attached to this stuff?

Some people say it’s because we’re moving towards more sustainable ways of living. I don’t buy it because it’s hard to believe millions of Gen Yers are at home on a Thursday night, patiently soaking their old jam jars in hot water and scrubbing off the labels.

The reality is most people buy jam jars for $4 in chain stores which probably source their jars from factories with questionable labour practices. I was at a café recently – one of those places with bicycles hanging from the ceiling and signs made from recycled bits of corrugated iron. I ordered a burrito and instead of serving it on…I don’t know…a PLATE, it arrived in an old-school styrofoam takeaway container, even though I was eating in. Is this really where we’re at? Using takeaway containers that create more landfill just because it’s retro?

Another reason given is that old items connect us to the past. Again, I’m not sure.

We’re collecting items from a past we’ve technically never experienced. My family never drank iced tea from a Mason jar while sitting on the porch, which is not surprising given a) they are Chinese and b) we don’t live in the Deep South. My mother, who preferred soup from a tin and taped up the hems of my jeans, never knit me jumpers with baby animals on them. My weetbix have always come out of a cardboard box. I don’t remember a time before CDs and microwaves.

The truth is, I don’t have a noble purpose for collecting jam jars.

Even though I’m glad they don’t end up as landfill, I really just like the way they look in my kitchen. It’s easier to see my pasta when they are in glass jars rather than opaque tupperware containers. They keep the wax from spilling all over my (Ikea) table. Daisies in a jar on my kitchen countertop aren’t some ironic throwback to 1950s domestication. They just make me feel happy.

I realise this makes me a fipster, i.e. fake hipster. My younger brother Nic, a true hipster who was in Africa last week at a two hour drumming circle, would be the first to point this out. I don’t mind at all.  I’ll own my fipster status, along with my moleskine diaries, packets of quinoa and collection of porcelain owls (mostly bought from Kmart).

In the meantime, if you want to borrow forty baby food jars for a party, you know who to call.

If you want a fun day out, don’t invite the dolphins.

What I expected the dolphins to look like...The sign outside the Jervis Bay tourist centre caught my attention.

Cruise Pristine Waters! Watch Dolphins Up Close in their Natural Habitat! Relax on Our Deluxe Ship!

Usually, my husband and I would ignore this kind of sign. We are, by nature, low-key vacationers who prefer mucking around on the beach to scheduled outings. The two-hour cruise, though, looked like a great way to end our recent family holiday at Jervis Bay. I had visions of our family on a sun drenched deck, rosy cheeks turned to the sea breeze in exhilaration. We’d never been on a cruise with the children before, but what kind of child doesn’t enjoy being on a big boat?

Mine, as it turns out.

The morning started pleasantly enough. Both kids were excited as we boarded the ship and scuttled to find the best seats for dolphin watching. Then the boat took off and reality set in. The toddler decided she didn’t care about boats and preferred to climb up the restricted access staircase. The preschooler took all of 40 seconds to absorb the scenery before hurtling around the deck, his sandaled feet kicking kneecaps as he tried to crawl under the chairs.

Don’t stress, I told myself as I prised my daughter’s flailing body from under the staircase railing. They’re just restless, waiting for the dolphins. Remember, Pristine Waters! Relaxing in a Deluxe Ship! Perhaps I will take an impromptu photo of us, all blithe and tousled in the wind, with a dolphin or two in the background.

Except the dolphins took a while to appear. The first sighting was forty minutes into the cruise. Two fins slipped out of the water and down again, too fast for the myriad of camera phones poised to capture their majesty. “Where’s the dolphin?” asked the preschooler. “There.” I gestured wildly towards what was now empty sea. He looked at me quizzically then continued charging around the deck. I brightened my smile by a few notches and focussed on the calming influence of the ocean. “Breath-taking, isn’t it?” I said to the husband in what I hoped was a deep and meaningful tone. “I can’t hear you over the howling,” he replied. The toddler was in full-scale meltdown, banshee style, while husband had the preschooler in a headlock to stop him climbing over the edge of the boat.  I then realised something crucial. I get extremely bad seasickness. Having only been on a boat a handful of times in my life, I’d forgotten. “Um, I think I need to walk around and stretch my legs,” I said to the husband, who responded with a don’t-you-dare-leave-me-alone glare.

Then it all fell gloriously apart. Nothing could distract our children – not the ‘deluxe’ morning tea of biscuits and styrofoam cups of tea, not the bored tourists taking selfies next to us. Finally, salvation came in the form of an iPhone. People glowered as Peppa Pig blared, either feeling sorry for us or thinking we were awful parents who couldn’t go one hour without resorting to technology. I might have felt bad, if I wasn’t too busy concentrating on not throwing up in my sunhat.

When we returned to Sydney, I wondered why I had placed such high hopes in an overpriced cruise. Was I more interested in having a picture perfect family day, or the kind of day that would actually make us happy?

Magazines and lifestyle blogs have a certain idea of what a happy family does, whether it’s holidaying in exotic locations or creating photogenic moments in vintage-styled apartments. Reading these articles reminds me of celebrating New Year’s Eve in my early twenties. Everyone would talk about the parties they went to and if my night was quiet, I felt like I had missed something vital – that somehow, I wasn’t having fun the right way. It took a long time for me to realise there’s no point straddling the gap between ‘what I feel I should be doing’ and ‘what I actually want to do’. I’m better off being comfortable in my own skin and accepting what makes me happy.

When facebook and instagram came on the scene, I had to learn this lesson all over again. It’s easy to feel down about my life when I’m offered a tantalising glimpse into someone else’s. Amidst the overseas holidays, charming family picnics and the fabulous parties, my world can seem small by comparison. I sometimes catch myself wishing my days were brighter, filled with more adventure, more magical moments. Instead, I’m working on relishing the life I already have.  And happily accepting the fact that sometimes, all I want to do on New Years Eve is eat cheese, watch a DVD and get an early night’s sleep.

If I’m honest, this is what a great day out would look like for our family. There would be sleeping in. There would be television. A beach trip would be 40 minutes max because any longer would be suicide. There would be coffee. There would be wrestling with daddy and books with mummy. There would be digging in the dirt. There would be no wearing of underwear by anyone under 4. There would be frozen chips for dinner. Finally, at night, when our kids are tucked in bed, there would be cups of tea, Fitz and the Tantrums and dark chocolate.

And there would not be a boat or a dolphin to be seen.

How Nigella saved me thousands of dollars in therapy


It all started with a trifle.

I had recently given birth to my second child and life was chaos. Not the whimsical, ‘let’s go to Bali at a moment’s notice’ sort of chaos, but the kind that felt like a daily avalanche. To relieve the stress, I became adept at breastfeeding while balancing a laptop on the arm of the couch and watching YouTube clips. I didn’t discriminate; think videos of singing goats, Best Moments of The Voice UK, old clips of Trinny and Susannah during an intense but mercifully brief obsession.

That’s when I discovered it: a clip of Nigella Lawson making a passionfruit trifle. From then on, I was hooked.

People are divided when it comes to the infamous domestic goddess. While some are enthralled by Nigella’s buttery voice and sensual approach to cooking, others dislike her on air persona. “I don’t buy the act,” one friend said. “The perfect hair, using teacups to measure flour…it’s all a bit much.” I can see where she’s coming from. Nigella Kitchen is not so much a cooking show as it is an instagrammer’s delight. From twinkling fairy lights to sticking celery in vases (why you ask? So party guests can break off little trees to dip in passing bowls of pesto), Nigella is all about the show. She is den mother, hostess and lady of leisure rolled in one. She cooks to perform and shapes her stage effortlessly.

This is why I find her appealing. In my mind, Nigella represents control – more precisely, the ability to shape your environment rather than letting your environment shape you. When I’m drowning in chaos, watching Nigella cook is like taking a vacation to fairyland where you can make everything exactly the way you dream it to be. How often can you say that about real life? And unlike other chefs whose recipes require a stone oven and five different types of mushrooms on hand, Nigella’s world is within my reach. Not long after watching her show, I made that trifle. I piled chunks of store-bought cake on a plate, doused it in ginger wine and dolloped cream and passionfruit on top. Yes, my kitchen was a mess. Yes, I did it while wearing Kmart trackies. And yes, I may have accidentally put my elbow into the bowl of whipped cream. But I tamed those ingredients into willing submission and for a brief moment, life also felt under control. Adrenaline drained out of my body. My jaw visibly slackened. Happiness was no longer a complicated matrix of factors that eluded me but a simple matter of cut, assemble, eat. The End.

I imagine last year was horrendous for Nigella. Whether or not you’re a fan, you have to respect a woman who can survive an abusive marriage, drug allegations and a brutal slaying by the British tabloids. Early this month she was back in the media, promoting her show The Taste with an upbeat interview on Good Morning America. According to a YouGov poll, two thirds of people surveyed said her drug confession made no difference to their opinion of her. In an age of sex tapes and luxury rehab centres, we don’t expect celebrities to be infallible. We also know that no one is in complete control of their environment, not even self-titled domestic goddesses.

At the risk of sounding like head cheerleader for #teamnigella, this makes me appreciate the Nigella’s cooking style even more. Her reality may be a far cry from cashmere in the kitchen, but she still manages to sell a brand of therapy that works. A simple achievement in the kitchen can be the best antidote to chaos, be it baking a cake, perfectly boiling an egg or when kids dinner doesn’t end up on the floor. As Nigella says in How to Be a Domestic Goddess, “cooking, we know, has a way of cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. This is why it matters”.

I heartily agree. Although reality is far more complicated than baking a cake and chaos a never ending avalanche, I’ll stick with trifle therapy for now.

What’s your version of trifle therapy? How do you cope when life gets crazy?

Accepting your stage of life

This post by Catherine on ‘giving in’ to motherhood is an interesting read. She writes:

“In giving in to motherhood, I’m learning that freedom does not equal child-free. When I stop resenting that “hemmed in” feeling and give in to caring for my children, I’m noticing it is much easier to serve happily. It is a painfully learned discipline which is being worked out over years.”

That word ‘hemmed in’ resonates with me. For various reasons, my cup is currently filled to the brim with my children and their needs. It’s an unexpected turn of events. I assumed once the newborn haze settled, I’d be back in my stride – writing, getting more involved in ministry, blogging. I didn’t anticipate what I’m doing now: appointments, waiting lists, more appointments, overloading on information, feeling like I’m learning how to parent all over again.

I know it will pass, this intense phase of parenting. One day, I’ll look at my week and feel like I have room for more. As for today, the concept of giving in is liberating. Motherhood (oh, that loaded term) isn’t something to be worshipped, nor does it define me as a person. However, I must remember to cut myself some slack next time I compare myself to other mums and wonder why I can’t cope with more. Rather than resenting the amount of time my family needs, I want to embrace the job God has given me for now and work at it wholeheartedly. I do love Catherine’s last paragraph:

“In the painful process of learning and re-learning this, I am left with nothing and no one but Jesus to find identity, joy, freedom and strength. To gain him is worth more than everything which is being peeled away.”

Father and son

The little man adores his dad. While he only recently started saying ‘mummy’ (after learning the name of other members in our extended family, a few friends and about 10 cartoon characters), ‘daddy’ was his very first word. I pretend to be cranky about this oversight, but I’m not really. It’s lovely to see the little man attempt to do everything his father does, from pouring and tamping shots on the ‘ca ma-hine‘ to talking on the phone or gardening out in our back lawn. I’ll often see the husband pulling out weeds and his little shadow close beside him, working hard in his own patch of grass (though we often have to go back and fix the plants/patches of grass/bark chips he has proudly ‘weeded’). I love how the husband holds such a special place in the little man’s heart. And I’ll love it even more when I can successfully train him to call out ‘daddy’ at 3am in the morning.

Sometimes it can be hard for dads to bond with their children, especially when they’re still in the baby stage. Mums build a natural closeness to your child through feeding and just generally being with them most of the time. Dads need to be more conscious of having time alone with the bub.

The midwife from my first pregnancy with the little man gave us a great tip. She suggested that instead of bathing our baby in a tub, we give him a shower with the husband. It’s a bit of a juggling act and requires a fair bit of passing around in the bathroom, but it’s worth it. The husband enjoys having ‘skin-to-skin’ time with our babies. They get used to his feel and smell And once you get the hang of the logistics, it’s actually a lot easier and faster than bathing.

Any other ideas on how to help dads bond with their babies?

Cooking for a crowd without hurting the wallet.

I’d like to introduce you all to my friend Jane.

One of my earliest memories of Jane is of a conversation we had just after taking over the lease to her apartment. Jane not only remembered the names of everyone living in the building, but had obviously spent time getting to know different people. She’ll be embarrassed I’m sharing this, but that conversation goes to show the kind of warm person Jane is, and the love she has for all sorts of people.

I was pretty excited when Jane decided to launch a blog filled with recipes aimed at cooking for others. Hospitality in the home is a rare thing these days. While we’re used to the concept of entertaining or throwing a party, the simple act of opening up your house to friends and strangers is fast becoming a lost art. Jane’s blog, Food that Serves, revives hospitality into a practice that is achievable despite a busy lifestyle and tight budget. I can vouch for this personally; I made the passionfruit slice for a brunch the other week in under 20 minutes and it tasted great.

I asked Jane a few questions about the blog and what hospitality means to her (I’d also love fountainside readers to help Jane with her project. See the end of this post for more details).

Soph: What inspired you to start Food That Serves?

Jane: A few years ago, I had an idea of putting together a cook book for the purpose of Christian hospitality. At the time I’d been feeling bored with my repertoire of favourite recipes that fitted the bill: the cheap, easy and yummy ones that didn’t stress me out when having people over. But the idea failed to launch because I quickly realised how much effort was involved and life got busy. That was until about a month ago when another blogging friend of mine made a comment on facebook about ‘niche blogs’ and their value in the digital world. I realised my quaint little idea might captivate a certain audience and her comment sparked my the reformatting of my idea – not a book – but a blog.

Soph: What does hospitality mean to you?

Jane: I was raised in one of those (often chaotic) homes that thrives on having lots of people in it, by parents who were always inviting people over for one reason or another. As a kid I really enjoyed all the action and the company of all our visitors. Now that I’m all grown up, I still enjoy having people in my home, but I now see that hospitality is also a key part of my belief in Jesus. As one of his followers, I’ve been forgiven by God for all my failures of every kind. And this, I realise, is what hospitality is about. God forgave me, his enemy and now seats me at his family table, calling me his daughter. It’s humbling to know that I didn’t contribute to this – it’s all because Jesus died for me. So to me, hospitality is all about my fumbling efforts to open my heart, home and time to others in the same way God has for me.

Soph: How do you come up with the recipes featured on the site?

Jane: So far, the blog has mostly featured my commonly used recipes that I’ve collected over the years. But one of the reasons I was keen to put a resource like this together in the first place was that I’d been feeling a little bored with my usual repertoire. So I’m enjoying the way writing this blog has me researching new recipes and then trying them out in my own kitchen. However, I’m keen for people to know that if they have recipes that fit the criteria of easy-yummy-affordable, then I’d love to receive them at foodthatserves (at) gmail.com. Some of the recipes on the blog have come from others and I’m keen for this to continue.

Soph: In a typical week, who do you cook for?

Jane: Typically, I cook for my family, the university students my husband and I work amongst, friends who need meals and the freezer for when life spins out of control. I do lots of double-ups, making enough of one recipe for more than one purpose. I love cooking, but don’t have much time to fluff about with it.

 Soph: How do you plan for meals when it comes to hospitality? Do you have a meal plan? A budget? A constantly stocked pantry?

Jane: I make sure I’ve got certain things in stock all the time -  baking supplies, muffin cases, frozen berries, cream, tinned tomatoes and plenty of powdered stock. This just means it’s not too hard to whip up something like muffins scones or soup at shorter notice. I do sit down with the calendar and look at the week ahead, balancing up the cost of the meals planned so that having people over doesn’t cost the earth. I also choose what I’m going to cook depending on who I’m cooking for and how many people are involved (uni students don’t mind a dessert of waffle cones with ice magic, but I’d probably choose something different for my Bible study group!). When it comes to main meals, it has to be something I can cook ahead of time or something that literally only takes a few minutes to make just before being served. I try to stick closely to a self-imposed rule that if the cooking of food is going to take me away from enjoying the people I’m cooking for, then I’ll choose a different recipe.

Soph: How do you find the time to cook and practice hospitality?

Jane: First of all, I try to be positive about it, remembering how much hospitality God has shown me in Jesus. Add to that, I just use lots of tricks I’ve collected over the years, such as: planning the weeks meals on Sunday night before the week starts; allowing people to bring desserts and drinks when they offer; deliberately keeping the bar low rather than making hospitality something that satisfies my ‘inner foodie’; sticking to the simple things when choosing recipes; cooking for more than one purpose at a time (5.5L of Beef Stroganoff, pictured left, in the slow cooker can be dinner that night, a meal to give away and two more for the freezer when life is busy). Also, I try to remember that even if there’s a disaster with the food, people will never mind if we end up dialing for a pizza. The self-talk in my head says over and over again, “The food serves the people, it’s not the main thing, the people are the main thing”.

Soph: Tell us about any mistakes you’ve learnt from.

Jane: Don’t try new things on large crowds! I once did this when attempting to make my own pizza dough and it didn’t work, resulting in undercooked pizza base and an inedible dinner. Try to be as organised as possible before people arrive so you can enjoy your guests. If the meal you’re making is ‘interactive’ like rice paper rolls, tacos or burritos, make them in advance for any children you have with you, that way the adults can eat and not just referee the whole time.

Soph: What’s the best piece of advice you can give when it comes to hospitality?

Jane: Focus on your guests and love them well. Serving them good food might be part of that, but it’s not the main game. Pick a menu that is achievable for you and don’t worry about trying to be a Masterchef. Hospitality is about opening up your heart and life. Caring for people, getting to know them and asking them good questions can happen over the simplest of meals, so don’t stress about the food. Keep it simple.

Jane is after new recipes to try, so I thought readers of this blog could help her out with their suggestions. What is your favourite fuss-free, budget friendly and tasty recipe when cooking for others?

Today I lost my cool.

We were in the park: me, the Little Man, Miss and about ten other playgroup mums. While everyone was chatting around the play equipment, the three of us were making my way down the hill. This is what we usually do when playing in the park with friends. They sit and eat cut-up fruit. I round up my toddler like a sheep dog.

I finally caught up to Little Man, only to discover he had dirtied his nappy, spread mud all over his mouth (presumably from drinking puddle water, I didn’t really want to know) and most importantly, was standing on the wrong side of a fence, casually looking down a three metre drop to the tennis courts below. I ran around the fence and down to the tennis courts – not easy when a baby is strapped to your torso – so I was standing beneath him. In my best fake calm voice, I asked him to “please get back on the OTHER SIDE OF THE FRIGGIN’ FENCE. Please.” Then it was all on. Miss started bawling. The Little Man, clearly having too much fun, blatantly ignored me. The other mums were too far away to call for help. I finally coaxed him down, but the day was irredeemable. There were multiple tantrums – in the walk back to the car; during the drive home; before his nappy change; during his nappy change; while I was breastfeeding; at the table while eating lunch, on the stairs when I insisted he go to bed.

So I lost my cool. I was so angry at my child, in a way I had never been before. I wanted to say to him: “Don’t you realise I do all these things for you? The least you could do is play around the other kids so I can an adult conversation, or realise your sister is bawling and maybe – just maybe – dangling three meters above hard concrete is not such a great idea.” That’s what I wanted to say, until I realised that you can’t say these things to a toddler. You really can’t explain any of your true frustrations, because parenting a two-year-old doesn’t work like that. So instead I issued a time-out. For me. I sat in my room while he screamed, breathing deeply and staring crazily at a spot on the carpet for a good three minutes.

Being angry at your child is an ugly business. It isn’t noble. It doesn’t make for pretty instagram photos or touching posts in the mummy blogosphere. Anger is fierce, yet alarmingly petty. It consumes our senses and knows no grace.

Anger can teach us things too. Today, my anger made me realise that love – the gritty, self sacrificial kind that endures even when feelings fade – requires perseverance. While speaking platitudes about motherhood and children is easy, the simplest expressions of love are a daily challenge, even with someone as scrummy as the Little Man. Things like being patient and kind when you’re feeling snappy. Keeping no record of wrongs. Or putting your child’s needs first, even if it means living a life you never imagined for yourself (my media degree never prepared me for an existence where the highlight is a trip to the park).

Little Man, I love you so very much. Every day with you is a blessing. I’ll do my best to show you that love, even when I’m frustrated, tired or just plain losing my cool.

What lessons has your anger taught you?