Thursday, March 31, 2011

A beach holiday in the autumn

We got back from our sixth family holiday last Saturday. We are steadily working our way around Victoria, starting with our 2007 sojourn on the Mornington Peninsula, based at Blairgowrie, then 2008's trips to Phillip Island and Bendigo. 2009 was the year C was born and the year my spine was misbehaving, so we didn't get away at all that year, but it was followed by 2010's adventures in Echuca and Wangaratta. This time we went to stay at a friend's holiday house in Anglesea, a quiet little beach town near the start of the Great Ocean Road (about 40 minutes from Geelong).

There's a lot to be said for holidaying locally as a young family. G and I have enjoyed getting to discover and rediscover some of the brilliant places that our own state has to offer (neither of us had ever stayed in Wangaratta until last year, and he had never stayed in Bendigo except for work, while our experiences of Phillip Island had both been long-ago childhood ones). We've been able to take our own car, which saves a lot of expense and inconvenience. Staying in one place and voyaging out for day trips has been easier on the kids' sleep patterns (after an inevitable first night of shenanigans, they've slept well at each holiday location). All of the longer holidays (Blairgowrie, Phillip Island, Echuca and Anglesea) have involved staying at a house, which has been easier in terms of food - given that I am a Coeliac, even on holidays, I prefer to prepare most of our food so I am comfortable in the knowledge that I'm eating safely. It also means I can do laundry as we go, which might sound mundane but actually helps reduce the amount of stuff you need to take and the scale of the clean-up when you get back.

More that that, I think, not having gone a long way or spent a massive amount of money has just taken the pressure off - we can relax, chill out, have days when we do very little, without feeling like we're "wasting" an opportunity or that we need to force a peak experience out of every millisecond.

Certainly our week away in Anglesea was an example of this kind of holiday. We chilled out, a lot. The kids watched DVDs each morning before a late breakfast, and hubs and I watched movies or read novels at night. We went for walks and collected sticks for the wood heater. I read 2 Trixie Belden novels, cover to cover, to the big kids during the little one's naps. The kids did crafts and read comics they found on the bookshelves and kept holiday diaries. We played Pictionary and card games.

We did do out and about things as well - we drove down the Great Ocean Road and visited the Otway Tree Top Walk, which was a full day's outing complete with travel-sickness vomiting from both the 7-year-old and me (nonetheless, it was actually a good day).

We were lucky enough, despite the cooling weather, to get two great beach half-day water sessions in - swimming at Anglesea front beach, and exploring caves and rock-pools at Point Roadknight. The girls were enchanted with both.

We visited the National Wool Museum in Geelong and, after a lovely lunch at the restaurant there, explored the travelling Science of Toys exhibit and the museum itself (which is well worth the time if you are ever in Geelong with children).

We took several long walks through the Coongah wetlands park, a charming maze of footbridges and gravel paths along the Anglesea River, which was also possessed of a superb playground.

We took G out for a fancy lunch in Torquay for his birthday, and the kids all gave him hand-created cards and presents.

We talked and we played and we laughed and we rested, and we visibly relaxed, all of us. The big girls, who'd been flagging with the demands of the busy term, came back as full of beans as can be. G and I feel better rested and back in tune with each other. C just loved the whole thing, especially having all her family around all the time.

It was a lovely autumn beach holiday.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Home from holidays

Just back from a week away in Anglesea today. I will write up our holiday properly anon, but for now, a pic or two:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Expensive tastes

C, aged 25 months: I wanna snack, peese, Mummy!

Me: OK sweetheart. What would you like?

C: Fwoot! An' cheese an' cwackers!

Me: OK ... (Begins segmenting a mandarin and grabs sliced cheese from the fridge)

C, indignantly: NO, Mummy! Banananana!

Me: Alright, alright (muttering about $10.99 / kilo fruit and solid-gold food)

C, munching on banana, sees the sliced cheese: NO! The white cheese! I wan' the WHITE cheese! (By which she means my extremely pricey King Island Double Brie that I foolishly gave her a smidgeon of to try).

Me, sighing: OK ... (There goes *my* post-dinner indulgence!)

C, all smiles: Thank you, my Mummy! (Big kisses follow)

Me: You're welcome, poppet. What shall we have for dinner tonight, huh?

C, firmly: Sammon! (Atlantic salmon fillets, very delicious, very $$ - the family eats about $25 worth in a meal).

As I'm considering, she adds: An' choccat cweam! (My home-made chocolate mousse, which uses rather a lot of very expensive dark chocolate)

She likes the high life, does C.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reading Notes - Room

Some time ago I had a look at the shortlist for the 2010 Man Booker prize. There were some damn good books on it, as usual - Andrea Levy's wonderful The Long Song, set in early 19th century Jamaica and dealing with slavery and its aftermath; the eventual winner, Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, which I greatly enjoyed and would concede is a worthy winner. (It also contained Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America, which, due to my stubborn, inexplicable and unAustralian distaste for Carey's style and literary voice, I have not read, and am unlikely to do so).

For me, though, looking at the shortlist, the clear stand-out (and the book I would have chosen, had I been a judge) was Emma Donoghue's compelling, beautiful Room. Room is the story of 5-year-old Jack and his Ma, a loving mother-child dyad who are all the world to each other, in a completely literal sense. Jack's Ma, it transpires, is a prisoner, kidnapped and held in a locked garden shed ("Room") for seven years by a sociopathic man refered to only as Old Nick.

Donoghue's decision to tell this story in Jack's voice was absolutely the right one for creating the intimacy and sense of connection that is the book's strength. Told by an adult, or even partly in an adult voice, Room ran the risk of being prurient, sensationalist, and disgusting. (Think of the visceral reaction you had, or at least that I know I had, to the Fritzl case, or the Jaycee Lee Dugard case.) Donoghue's triumph in this book is to give us a story that is wholly about a mother and her son, about what might happen if that relationship was intensified and forced to be unmediated by the world, through no pathology of the mother's but rather by the evil acts of another.

There is without doubt a sense of menace and shudderiness (for want of a better word) in the first part of the book, where Jack and Ma are still trapped in Room. Old Nick, never directly seen by Jack and rarely heard by him, is a malevolent force who informs Ma's decisions, talk, and moods. The accommodations that Ma has to make to keep Jack safe and away from Old Nick are terrible; Faustian bargains at their most distilled. Seeing it through Jack's sensitive, intelligent but childlike eyes, the details are missing but the essence of domination, violence and the power of resistance is evident.

The ways of Ma and Jack's life, and Donoghue's surmises about how such confinement would affect mother and child's development, are fascinating and ring true to me. Jack's physical limitations (how could he develop good spatial perception when all space is known, and tiny?) make sense as does his incredibly advanced literacy and numeracy. Their deeply intimate yet matter-of-fact breastfeeding relationship is also entirely logical, and beautifully rendered. As a woman currently breastfeeding a verbal child, the dance of comfort and connection around nursing rings completely true to me. (It is an indictment of our society that when Ma and Jack are out of Room, one of the things that provokes vulgar curiosity and revulsion in the public is the fact that 5-year-old Jack is still nursing. As Ma, incredulous, says in her TV interview: After everything that happened to me over the past 7 years, THAT'S what you find shocking? REALLY?)

One of the things I loved the most in this book was the creation of Ma through Jack's eyes. Ma is all the world to him and what a person she is - fiercely loving, protective, intelligent, and human. The days she and Jack share, in their tiny Room, are filled with her commitment to nurturing and teaching her son and keeping him safe. And although both Ma and Jack exhibit unmistakeable signs of the fear, stress, anxiety and unnaturalness that shadows their lives (Jack with his obsessive counting, Ma with the days when she mentally checks out and is "Gone"), the two of them remain, to my mind, remarkably rich, well-balanced, and functional throughout. One of my favourite passages in the book comes after their escape from Room, when Ma is giving a TV interview about her captivity. Her lucidity, scorn for platitude, fierceness and strength shines through as she takes down the interviewer but good. (The fact that the interview carries a severe emotional backlash for Ma and Jack is also not disguised or minimised. Donoghue isn't about hiding the magnitude of this situation, at any time).

I think Donoghue's message here is incredibly powerful and hopeful and a testament to the character she has created in Ma - These people are strong, and they are not complicit in the subjugation and abuse they are subjected to. The fault and guilt lies with Old Nick in its entirety, at all times. And despite the trauma that will be part of Ma forever, Old Nick does not have the capacity to draw her (and Jack) into his abusive mental world; Ma stands apart, holding Jack with her on her island of connection and consent and love. This might seem an obvious message until you consider the insidious and sly tenor of commentary that always seems to creep into reportage of kidnap-and-imprisonment cases - the insistence that the kidnapee must have developed some attachment, some form of Stockholm syndrome; the notion (explicated in the Klampusch case in particular) that escape *would* have been possible, had the victim *really* wanted to get away; the unspoken idea that even these victims, the most victim-y of all possible victims if you think about it, must have in some way contributed to their abuse, or their abuser's selection of them. Donoghue, as I, calls bullshit on this egregious and especially nasty manifestation of victim blaming, through the person and dignity of Ma.

And Jack - oh, Jack. Was ever a 5 year old boy more exquisitely realised in fiction? Jack is three-dimensional, breathing through every line in this book. He is bright, loving, perceptive, wonderful - and he is a child. There is nothing adult in his way of being. This does not imply that he is simplistic or stupid, naturally. As a parent with a 5 year old currently, I recognise the speech patterns and thought trajectories with a shock of familiarity. Donoghue has said that she drew upon her experiences with her own son in creating Jack, and that shows. He is, quite simply, lovely - a joy on the earth, a wonderful boy.

So I would give Room my highest recommendation. Despite its subject matter and the potential for disgust, this book is not creepy or disgusting at all. It is powerful, moving, engaging, and one of the books that stays with you for a long, long time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

This and that

Monday, Monday ...

I have a stubbornly red, itchy and weeping eye. I thought it was just allergies but now I'm wondering, as it's not terribly responsive to eye drops and has been going on for a few days. I don't think I've ever had pink-eye before but I'm a bit suss that this is it. Botheration.

Toddler has decided that she wants to wee "onna toy-yet" like her sisters, rather than on her potty. On one level this is great, as it means less porting around of potties and so forth. It also means that, with her tiny 25-month-old bum, she needs to be held every time, so goodbye independent toileting for a while. Swings and roundabouts.

It'll be hubs' birthday on Wednesday. I'm trying to decide what to cook for dinner that night that will be a treat for him, but also eaten by the kids, as I don't favour making two separate meals if at all avoidable. Given that his taste runs to seafood, I may see if I can get some nice barramundi or salmon. Maybe some pickled octopus for him for an appetizer. (Pre-kids, we always went out for birthday dinners, but these days it's sooooo much easier to eat in. Not to mention cheaper!)

The kids have a few favourite jokes at the moment. Check out these gems:

Q: What do you call a big ant?

Q: Why was the sand wet?
A: Because the sea wee-ed!

Q: What do you call two robbers?
A: A pair of knickers!

A man and a giraffe walk into a bar. The giraffe is tired so he lies down on the floor. The bartender says, "What's that lyin' on the floor?"
The man says: "It's not a lion, it's a giraffe!"

Boom-tish ;-)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sleep transitions

My 25-month-old toddler is starting to slowly transition to a state of naplessness.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that *I* am starting to encourage her in that direction. While she is no longer at all likely to simply go to sleep on her own in the middle of the day, I can stack the deck - if I give her a breastfeed, she will still happily feed off to sleep and then snore away 2 or more hours. However, if she does that, she then won't settle for night sleep until at least 9pm, and she's been pushing that later and later, until last night's 10:30pm effort finally convinced me that the daily nap is becoming a problem rather than an asset to our overall family rhythm.

The difficulty with toddler not going to sleep until effectively the same time as me is fourfold:

1. I get no time in the afternoon / evenings to spend exclusively with my older daughters, talking about their day, listening to readers, exploring homework, reading our read-aloud chapter book, and just hanging out. As toddler has pushed her bedtime later and later over the last month, the 7 and 5 year olds (who go into bed at 8pm, with lights out at 8:30) have been really missing that time to relax together without an enormously cute and enormously mischievous 2 year old running around.

2. I also get no time at all during the week to talk child-free to my husband. This is not a great thing for either our relationship or my sense of personhood as an adult separate from my identity as "Mummy."

3. Even though I do, in theory, get up to 2 free daytime hours when she naps, this trade-off doesn't seem to quite equate to the productivity and sense of benefit I can achieve if toddler is asleep at 7, the big kids in bed at 8, and me well-rested enough to do stuff through until 10:30 or 11. I often seem to find myself doing household chores, things that can just as easily be done with toddler awake, when she is asleep in the day. Things like laundry, dishes, cooking, and mopping, things that she actually enjoys doing with me and are part of her play / development.

When all the kids are asleep at night, I am much more likely to blog, do paid work if I have a bit of contracting on (which is sporadic and occasional, taking up about one or two nights every three weeks or so), write poetry or stories, ring a friend to chat, watch TV with my husband, or catch up on my own reading. In other words, it's less about the house, more about me (at the moment I count the contract work as personal time, because it's interesting and engaging and, most importantly, not ever-present ;-)

4. I think C herself prefers not to sleep sometimes. She seems to really enjoy the extra stories, playtime, and usually extra 15 minutes or so of TV that the lack of the nap buys her. She is rarely super-grizzly and while she becomes very subdued as the afternoon wears on, she doesn't seem dramatically affected by it.

I think she isn't quite ready to ditch the nap totally - after gymnastics and playdate morning on Tuesdays, for instance, she is always desperate for a nap by 12:30, and the same is true on swimming Saturdays. For now I'm going to try every second day and see how that flies. It might be a disaster, but sometimes you have to try things to see what'll work.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Jonah Day

"Oh, this has been such a Jonah day, Marilla. I'm so ashamed of myself." (L.M Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea, p 92)

I had a real pig of a day yesterday. A day when nothing (or very little) seemed to go as it should, when every tiny thing was a battle or an effort. A day where everyone, most assuredly including myself, was out of sorts and querulous and impatient and fractious. A day of worrying and dark imaginings and feeling overwhelmed. A day of not rising to the challenge with grace (ha!) or good humour (HA HA!) or indeed at all, but just sulking and wishing myself elsewhere.

Each little thing taken by itself wasn't such a big deal. It started with a bad night's sleep for me, where I woke with a headache and to settle the toddler at 3am. She was back asleep within 10 minutes, but I, for some reason I don't recall, stubbornly decided not to take any Panadol for my head. Thus, I couldn't settle back to slumber until almost 6, only to be woken for the day at the toddler's usual 6:30am. Still with a headache.

Then the big girls squabbled steadily from rising until leaving for school, which is unusual for them, and pretty grating after about 10 minutes, let alone 1.5 hours. This resulted in quite a lot of ultimately ineffective parental shoutiness from both G and I. The toddler then picked this as an ideal time to refuse to eat her breakfast, dance across the table, and sit down in the 7 year old's bowl of Weetbix, creating much drama.

Having delivered the big kids to school just before the bell, the toddler and I headed off to visit my mother in law, stopping at a bakery and a pharmacy on the way, whereupon I managed to drop and break a $28 bottle of iron liquid tonic - the last one the pharmacy had in stock - as I left the shop, because the toddler decided to bolt for the road and I had to ditch my parcels to grab her. The 1.5 hours we spent with my MIL was probably the best stretch of the day for me, as the toddler enjoyed looking at and feeding the chookies, ate her morning tea without incident, and I got to drink an entire cup of tea without harassment. My MIL's yard is huge and securely fenced, so runaway 2 year old could explore and take off to her heart's content (and did).

Of course, never one to leave a peaceful moment alone, my curious and super-active toddler decided to quietly strip most of the unripe tomatoes off my sister in law's prize-winning heritage tomato plant and dump them in the chook's water to see them float. "Yittle geen balls, Mummy!" she proclaimed proudly, as MIL and I looked at each other in silent horror, I resigning myself to the inevitable outraged phone call I would get that evening when SIL went out to water her vegetables.

Home again to discover that birds had comprehensively crapped all over the majority of my half-line of washing - about 2 loads' worth - due, I suspect, to the dog startling them with his rapid as they perch nearby. While I was muttering under my breath and pulling soiled clothes down, the toddler upended the dog's water bowl over her head, put the empty bowl carefully on the ground, took her nappy off and weed in it. "Yook! Outside potty, Mummy!" she exclaimed gleefully.

"...!" sez I.

Inside, I put on a Spot DVD for C, and started paying bills online, discovering, to my horror, that I'd forgotten all about the car insurance and it was now lapsed.

After Spot, I was starting to think the day was improving, as C sat on my knee and ate her lunch calmly while I read her stories. OK, OK, things are looking up, I thought, as my little sweetheart snuggled in. This is nice, I feel better...

Then the phone rang.

It was the school office. My 5 year old, who'd been so uncharacteristically grizzly and quarrelsome in the morning, was there with a headache and generally feeling icky. I offered to come get her but the school secretary suggested a dose of Panadol first, which I agreed to. She assured me they'd ring back if she didn't improve.

All the way through C's half-hour breastfeed before her nap, I was on a tenterhooks, expecting the phone to ring, and worrying like hell about 5-year-old E and her 7-year-old sister who's been having repeated headaches for weeks. I started to feel sick thinking about it all.

C napped for an hour and a half, during which time I managed to get some rice paper rolls made for a birthday party we're attending tomorrow. I also rehung the washing and ate my own lunch. Then I threw it up, which was excellent.

Up to school for assembly, which was an exercise in chasing C around the hall in mounting frustration, to be followed by a gentle ticking off from E's teacher for not having come to fetch her, despite the fact that the office had not called me back and she had improved from the Panadol. After assembly I let the kids have a play on the playground for half an hour with some friends, where they took the opportunity to filthy up their clothes and each accrue at least one injury, accompanied by screaming.

By this stage, my judgement was somewhat impaired, otherwise I never would have made the dubious decision to go ahead with Plan A and take them off to the local shopping centre to buy new sneakers. I will grant that the sneakers were successfully acquired and that both the 7 and 5 year olds were cheerful and helpful. Buuut the 2 year old ran. Every. Where. All. The. Time. Fast. And when I picked her up to prevent the running off, she screeeeeeeamed. And wriggled, and kicked, and pushed, and pulled my hair. I cursed myself repeatedly for not bringing the pusher with me (brain fail! brain fail!!)

Then, riding the travelator to the food court to buy a donut for each kid, I saw two head lice merrily jumping around on the 5 year old's head. Her class had been lice-checked earlier in the week, due to a head lice case in the class, and E had been proclaimed clear. Not so! A happy Saturday of family delousing beckons!

By this stage E was starting to look a bit peaky again and so we purchased the donuts and bundled into the car to go get G from work. At his workplace, C ran, E moped and was hot to the touch, and A, who had been getting sniffier by the minute, snorted into tissues. I sat slumped with my head in my hands.

On the way home, C screamed for the Wiggles. E slept, her breathing shallow and rapid, her head on fire. A stared out the window. I almost cried.

G dropped E and I at home and bore the eldest and youngest off in search of food. I dosed E with Panadol after taking a temp of almost 39 degrees. Boy, did I feel like a good mother (not). She lay on the couch watching TV while I attempted to restore some order to the house.

The others returned, we ate (except for E), and baths and showers happened. C promptly pooed in the bath, just for extra difficulty points.

(As I'm writing this, my 7 year old, who is reading over my shoulder, is giggling. She just said, "It's funny now, but it wasn't funny then!" OH SING IT, SISTER.)

After another few rounds of squabbles, yelling and general bad behaviour on everyone's part, the big girls (E with her temp back to normal, thankfully) went to bed, and I settled down to give C her bedtime breastfeed in my bed, so I could lie down and contemplate the awfulness of the day in peace. One mercy was that she fed quietly, and then went to bed easily at 9pm, without requiring me to lie down in her room as she often does.

Then my phone pipped with a text message. Stuff YOOOOOOOU! I thought in defeat, and clambered into bed with a Terry Pratchett book and a cup of herbal tea, and fell asleep half an hour later, exhausted in mind, body and spirit.

Given my personality, I am tempted to blame myself for many of the ructions of the day, which I would have managed differently (and probably largely prevented) if I'd been on my A game. But I guess, like Marilla tells Anne, "We all make mistakes ... but people forget them. And Jonah days come to everybody."

And today, well, it's a new day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ever after (on my 13th anniversary)

There is a golden orb spider who lives just outside my door.
Her web
trails, expansive, sticky and strong, gleaming like spun wire in the light
around plant-pots and lavender, door-frame and old shoes.

Unlike all the other orb spiders
(they are legion, here, in this strange autumn)
she doesn't hide in plants or on rafters
waiting to scurry out to wrap prey in filaments of gossamer
the better to keep for later.

This one
sits in the middle of her web
just above eye-height when the door is opened
her legs neatly extended, her body
with its tattoos of white and grey
in repose, mostly
unless delicately wrapping a bee, or consuming a mosquito
(of which she's caught a great number).
She appears never to startle. Our comings and goings
do not concern her, there is no retreat
no fear of us.

My daughters have decided
that she guards our house, brings
peacefulness to we inside the door.
They believe her to be special, she
so beautiful, so spare in her design

Once, I would have killed her. A witch-hunter of spiders, I
in my fear
my toe-curling anxiety of all small scuttling things
would never have suffered her to live.

Now, I see her as she is
a small jewel of life
a little beneficence at my door
and I wonder why I ever thought otherwise.

And today, well, today
it is 13 years since I was wed.
Perhaps our lady of the door-way has come to remind me
that there is no luck other than the luck we make,
there are no forevers other than those we choose,
and sometimes not then.
Sometimes it all passes so fleetly

as will she, this red-legged girl,
not long now until her time is done, as the summer
becomes a memory.

But what then is the ever after
except to say, I choose it
for however long the days
for however thin the web
I choose it. Now
and 13 years ago
this is what I choose
this person, this life

and how I have been blessed in this choosing.

- Kathy, 7/3/11

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Volunteering - the fuel of community?

I was reflecting yesterday on how my life this year, while calmer, less stressful and in greater harmony / balance, has not become any less busy with the end of my employment last December. My discretionary hours in the week have not increased at all, and in some ways have actually compressed as all three kids edge their bedtimes later (a trend that I'm sure will be reversed when the 2-year-old starts ditching her nap, a change of which there are already indications).

This struck me as strange until I realised that the reason is that I have several more Stuff & Things to do each week now than I did in 2010. Some of these are things like the toddler's Kinder Gym class, which is great fun for both of us; doing my own cleaning instead of having fortnightly cleaners; and my yoga class, which is proving to be a very good thing for me. Most, however, are things that are effectively volunteering jobs, big and small: from serving on school council to helping run the playgroup C and I attend; from helping out with school Breakfast Club once a fortnight to teaching Sunday School monthly; from spending two hours each Friday morning cutting up fruit for the school's Free Fruit Friday program to serving on another volunteer committee. Next term I'll be throwing two hours of fortnightly classroom reading help for my Prep child's class into the mix as well.

I don't think I'm particularly unusual in this; if anything, I think we as a family are pretty light-on in terms of what we do for all the organisations to which we belong. We do no volunteering at all for the community gymnastics club that all three girls attend (although we always participate in the fundraisers); we don't go to working bees, we don't help organise craft fairs or fundraising efforts or Bunnings sausage sizzles (although I will declare that I have become the unofficial onion-dicer for three separate organisations - because we don't help on the day, I have been tasked with preparing 9 - 12 kg on onions in advance. That's one heck of a lot of onions, I can tell you). I don't help with school cooking or do canteen shifts. There are lots and lots of things more we *could* do, without even moving outside of the school / church / community centre / gym club orbit we occupy regularly (let alone the many other opportunities to help out that abound in our area).

Nonetheless, we - or, actually, I, as volunteering falls to me in our division of marital labour - do what we can. Lots of people are like me, in all these places - helping out here and there, lending a hand, on a regular or ad hoc basis. And the bald truth is, without a quiet army of volunteers in all these areas, nothing could or would get done. Public schools and community centres are under-resourced to do the auxiliary work that raises funds and builds the richer web of connection and community that these places can foster. Churches are entirely "staffed", if you can call it that, by volunteers. Playgroups are run by parents and carers, gym clubs and other sporting clubs are administered, run and tirelessly supported by participants and their families. All these people, all these thousands and thousands of people, who just know that community can be found wherever you choose to build it, and that building it is everyone's responsibility.

I personally find it rewarding to volunteer, and am committed to continuing to buy in to the organisations with which I'm involved; in time, I'd like to offer my labour to other places that are desperate for help. I have no special expertise, but I have my hands and my mind and my willingness to join in. Oh yes, and I have my TupperChef Master thingy - so if you need a massive bucket of onions chopped, I am your girl ;-)

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Can anyone identify this fella for me?

The spider databases at Museum Victoria and CSIRO are being less helpful than usual with this one. We're stumped, and would appreciate any thoughts...

The spider is:

- about 2 - 2.5cm in diameter
- is living on a web ([presumbly that it built)
- is not sharing the web with any spider friends as far as we can tell
- appears to be smooth-bodied, not hairy-bodied
- is catching a megatonne of mosquitos in its perch near my front door

UPDATED: It appears to be a female juvenile golden orb spider.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reading Notes - This month's Top 20

The big girls are into all sorts of books, and so is the toddler. At 2, naturally, she loves repetition, so although her exposure to different texts is very broad over time, within any given month we might read the same 20 or 30 books over and over again, rather than reading 100 different books (as would be truer of the picture-book habits of the 5-year-old).

It's interesting to me to see where her tastes lie as time progresses, and as I am One of Those Evil People Who Writes About The Mundanity of Their Entirely Uninteresting Life, Thereby Clearly Forcing Others to Read It, As They Are Incapable of Simply Looking Away, I thought, what the heck, I'll do a monthly Top 20 for toddler, as a record for me and her.

And if you don't have a toddler and / or are uninterested in children's picture books, move on. Nothing to see here.

So, Toddler's Top 20 for the month of February 2011:

1. Hairy Maclary, Sit! (Lynley Dodd)

2. Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack (Lynley Dodd)

3. Schnitzel von Krumm's Basketwork (Lynley Dodd)

4. Slinky Malinki's Catflaps (Lynley Dodd)

5. Hairy Maclary, Shoo! (Lynley Dodd)

The top 5 positions all belong to Lynley Dodd and her wonderful, toddler-pleasing Hairy Maclary books. We've got about 15 of these books in total, but these five in particular are very dear to my 2-year-old's heart. She loves the rhyme and rhythm of the stories, the vibrant artwork, and the antics of Hairy and his posse so much.

6. The Willy-Willy and the Ant (Retold by Cecelia Egan)

7. Tiddalik, Or the Frog Who Wouldn't Laugh (Retold by Cecelia Egan)

The toddler is also very enamored at the moment of these two retellings of Aboriginal dreamtime stories - one about the whirlwind (willy willy), one about Tiddalik, the giant frog who swallowed all the fresh water in the world.

8. Mr Pusskins (A Love Story) (Sam Lloyd)

This is a total charmer of a book, featuring a very catly cat (ungrateful, disdainful and offhand, at least at the beginning). I can never read it without being reminded of the old axiom that while dogs have masters, cats have staff ;-)

9. My Many-Coloured Days (Dr Seuss)

Some days as yellow, some days are blue ... On different days I'm different too. The toddler, like both her sisters before her, is enchanted with this gentle riff on moods.

10. Peek-a-Baby! (Karen Katz)

11. Where Is Baby's Mommy? (Karen Katz)

C likes a good old lift-the-flap book as much as any self-respecting toddler, and Karen Katz's simple and colourful illustrations make these ones particular favourites.

12. Charlie & Lola - I am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed (Lauren Child)

13. Charlie & Lola - I Will Not Ever, Never Eat a Tomato (Lauren Child)

14. Charlie & Lola - This is Actually My Party (Lauren Child)

Now, Charlie and Lola are an interesting phenomenon to me. All three of my kids have adored them in turn, although C has developed her attachment the earliest (she really seems to keep pace with the stories too, amazingly), but none of them have been too bothered about the TV series, and the elder two now are quite disinterested in the books. It also hasn't translated into any taste for Lauren Child's older offerings - my 7 year old tried, and disliked, one of her Clarice Bean books (it is one of the few things she's ever taken back to the library half-read).

For me, I find these books just a little grating after repeated readings. Charlie is just a bit *too* patient and mature, Lola a bit *too* predictably inconsiderate and childish (as opposed to childlike, which is a different trait and one that I highly value in storybook characters). Still, I know many adults who rave about them, so to each their own.

15. Doggies! (Sandra Boynton)

Well, Sandra Boynton is a classic of the preschool set, after all.

16. Bertie and the Bear (Pamela Allen)

The variety of noises that accompany this story make it a great read for toddlers, and, I have discovered, a great engager for multi-age playgroup storytime as well.

17. We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen)

C likes to do the action to this classic story - "Froo the grass! Swishy-swashy, Swishy-swashy!" she calls excitedly. I love that this is a story that can be played as much as read.

18. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? (Mark Teague / Jane Yolen)

We have several of the excellent How Do Dinosaurs series, but this one is C's favourite of them all. She kisses the dinosaurs on each page ;-)

19. Time for Bed (Mem Fox)

C has this as a bedtime story, firmly choosing it over the toddler-night-routine tales of the older girls (my 7 year old was a Goodnight Moon kid, while the 5 year old was all about Owl Babies and nursery rhymes as bedtime). Like most Mem Fox books, it is beautiful.

20. Olga the Brolga (Rod Clement)

Again I think rhyme is the key to the engagement of this story - that and the beautiful illustrations. It's a fun one to read aloud too - even repetitively!

If you have toddlers, what books do yours go for? Does it change much month to month?