Monday, June 27, 2011

Winner: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD

Well, according to, the winner is commenter 2:

Random Sequence Generator

Here is your sequence:


Timestamp: 2011-06-27 03:17:45 UTC

Janinne, that's you! I'll email you to firm up the delivery details.

Thanks for playing, everyone.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On being fruitful (and multiplying)

I used to think it wouldn't matter, much
to who I am
what I am
the core-of-me

Oh, I knew I wanted to do it. Always, I knew that
and that love would be involved. a lot of it.
I surmised it could be difficult
and constraining
and tiring.

but I guess I thought
that it was a Thing that happened, and was intense and huge and all that
and then
at some point
it kind of stopped happening.
stopped consuming earth and sky
and you went back
to what you were,
who you were,

I suppose I did not consider
that what we are and who we are
is built in the trenches of experience, as much
as written in the blood.
that this particular experience
(this once, twice, three times bearing)
would be not only intense
not only difficult
not only suffused with love beyond my compass
would overrun me.
I did not know it would permanently rewire the pathways
change not just surface but core
remake me, utterly and completely

I am not just a mother, no
but bearing fruit
the monstrous joyfulness of it, the operatic pain, the impossibilities and serendipities of it
has made me a person who is infused with mothering. a person
who would be different entirely
without this

this Thing that I always planned to do
but never knew
it would do me in return.

- Kathy, 25/6/11

Friday, June 24, 2011

Things I Know

Joining in with the Yay for Home! meme again, here are some Things I Know this week.

- Starting and ending the week with slow morning ambles home from school drop-off, and park play, is great for both my toddler and I. No-car Mondays and Fridays FTW!

- Smartphones are very awesome, but the ability to tweet and email on the road is a mixed blessing.

- When the school calls to say your almost-8-year-old is in sick bay looking white as a sheet and complaining of a headache and nausea, it's probably best to ask them to ascertain what she was doing immediately before said incident, before you panic and race to the school in a tizzy. (Answer: She was playing a spinning-around game with her friends. She suffers quite badly from both vertigo and motion sickness. Case closed ;-)

- Sun in the winter time lifts your heart out of all proportion.

- A cop of tea, a fresh pear, a new novel by a favourite author, a warm blankie, a clean house, and a napping toddler = A precious and savoured hour of indulgence of my very favourite kind.

For more things that people know, check out the main page at Shae's here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally: Review and Giveaway

I fall between the generations when it comes to Mickey Mouse. Born in 1973, I was too young for the glory days of the Mickey Mouse Club and much too old for the incredibly popular Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (the cartoon series that started in 2006). My experiences with Mickey Mouse as a child were therefore largely in book form, reading the stacks of Golden Books with Mickey Mouse stories, reading my Dad's stash of Mickey Mouse and Popeye comics, and so on.

Luckily, though, my daughters have been the delighted beneficiaries of the roaring success of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and I've got to know Mickey and his pals through their eyes.

I can remember my two elder girls, A and E (then around 3 and 15 months), sitting down on the couch together to try out this new show that Playhouse Disney channel (now Disney Junior) was promoting furiously. I was a bit sceptical, but as the credits rolled and the catchy theme song started, I narrowed my eyes at the faint familiarity of the music, and raced off to Google it. The theme song, as it transpires, is sung by They Might Be Giants, one of my favourite bands evah.

It was all uphill from there ;-)

My girls were very keen to check out the new full-length movie-lette (it's 50 mins or so), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally, when we saw the opportunity on Digital Parents. It arrived in the mail yesterday, so, with much squeeing, the three of them settled down to watch it as dinner cooked.

So how was it?

I'll let them tell you!

A, aged 7 years 10 months: "I liked this film because it was funny and it was like every time Pete tried to press the button, it didn't work!"

E, aged 6: "It was good because on the extra episode after the movie, Pluto jumped out and got the kitty just before it fell into the pond. The actual movie was very funny and Toodles was really good in it."

A: "And we liked saying all the bits out loud with Mickey."

E: "And dancing to the music!"

C, aged 2 years 4 months: "The Mickey Mouse movie so I like it vewy much."

There you have it - a multi-age ringing endorsement ;-)

Now to the fun bit:

I have a copy of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally to give away to one blog reader. If you would like to be in the draw for this DVD, please leave your name in comments before 5pm on Sunday 3 July. I'll randomly select a winner and post the name on Monday 4 July. Please note: This giveaway is only open to Australian addressees (ie the DVD cannot be posted internationally).

Disclosure: I received a complimentary DVD review copy courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and Porter Novelli via Digital Parents. No financial payment was offered nor accepted for this post. All opinions expressed are purely my own.


It was my birthday on Sunday, which was nice, although it does tend to happen every year (amazingly enough ;-) I turned 38, ate cake, celebrated with family, and received much costume jewellery from my daughters, who chose it themselves.

However, I also discovered recently that June 19th, which I have always thought of as just my birthday, is a very significant day in American history: Juneteenth, the day on which the ending of slavery is commemmorated.

Although an Australian by birth and a mixed-up-European by ancestry (with Scots, Irish, French, Jewish and Spanish forebears), I have studied American history, earning my Masters degree with a study of Puritan narratives of captivity. I've never made a special study of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, but I thought I had the same general familiarity with them that any student of the Americas would have. After all, I've tutored Modern American History (Civil War - 1980) at university level in the past. (The distant past, granted ... last century, as my eldest daughter is wont to proclaim with high incredulity when talking about The Things I Did Before I Had Kids).

Yet somehow in all my reading and all my teaching, the significance of June 19th had passed me by. It was on June 19th 1865 that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and slavery was over. (If you are at all familiar with American history, you might notice that this is well over 2 years after the war ended and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was made on 1 January 1863. There are many theories as to why this delay happened, all of them unpleasant but probably none of them surprising).

Being neither a person of colour nor an American, I don't feel I can speak with any great wisdom about what Juneteenth and its celebration means. I can say, that as a white Australian to whom the incomplete state of reconciliation in my own country is on ongoing source of pain, that days to acknowledge the darkness of the past and mark some progress from it are valuable. They have meaning, they can matter in the hearts of people.

I told my girls that my birthday was shared with the day that people in America stopped being enslaved. My 6 year old turned her head to me and said, "That's VERY good, Mum."

The 8 year old, being a little more nuanced in her understanding, said thoughtfully, "I don't suppose everything was just all right, straight away, though, was it, Mum?"

"No," I agreed. "It was just the start. It isn't anywhere near finished yet."

But celebrating the start? Ah, that's worth doing. Yes, it is.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reading Notes - Toddler's Top 20 for May / June 2011

(Earlier posts in this series are here: February, March and April 2011).

Having just realised that I missed doing a Toddler's Top 20 for May, and it's now close to the end of June (ooooops ;-), I thought I'd do a combined May-June list of the titles the 28-month-old is enjoying.

The last 4-5 weeks have seen a reduction in the number of different books read on each day, and the emergence of the craving for repetition. C has never been fixated in the past on having the same book read and re-read and re-read again in one sitting, but she is definitely showing this tendency now, especially with the simpler titles she's enjoying.

The reason, I think, is that she is starting to associate the shape of letters and words with the sound they make. She will point at a word, and, using her memory of how the story goes, half-queryingly attempt it: "On? Mama, it is ON?" It is very exciting to me to see her trying to work out the connection between the sound and the shape of the word on the page. The day she pointed to the word "On" in an unfamiliar book and proudly proclaimed "IT IS SAY ON!" was a brilliant one for both of us.

This pre-reading phase is connected, in her as it was in her 6 year old sister before her at about this age, with a desire to "practice" her understanding on familiar titles, and ones without too many words to a page. With a few notable exceptions, therefore, this month's Top 20 veers towards the linguistically simple.

So here is her list:

1. Grug

2. Grug learns to read

3. Grug at the zoo

4. Grug learns to dance

5. Grug learns to cook

Ted Prior's wonderful Grug books somehow managed to pass us by when my elder two kids were toddlers. C discovered Grug at the library and instantly fell in love, and we've since acquired quite a few of the titles in the series. There's an interesting interview with Ted Prior here for fans of the books.

6. On Your Potty!

7. Eat Your Dinner!

8. Get Into Bed!

These three George and Bartholomew books by Virginia Miller were given to my second girl when she was a toddler, and man did she love them. C finds them hilarious, and with the low number of words on each page, she loves to sit "reading" them by herself, turning the pages as she burbles the story off from memory.

9. Look, There's a Hippopotamus in the Playground Eating Cake

10. Guess What? There's a Hippopotamus on the Hospital Roof Eating Cake

11. My Hippopotamus is on Our Caravan Roof Getting Sunburnt

Hazel Edwards' Hippopotamus series have always appealed strongly to us here, but C has really started to cotton on to them in the past few weeks. Her favourite is the playground one - she loves any and all books about school at the moment.

12. Meet Strawberry Shortcake (Justine Fontes)

Yes, yes, I realise it's commercialised and so forth, but C, like her big sister A (who's now nearly 8), has always liked Strawberry Shortcake dollies to play with, and enjoyed the cartoon when it pops up in their viewing time. This book is an "origin story" of sorts, as it's where Strawberry first meets all the friends that become her posse in later adventures. C loves it, and requests it several times a day.

13. Little Baa (Kim Lewis)

14. Goodnight Harry (Kim Lewis)

15. Hooray for Harry! (Kim Lewis)

Two of these are retained from last month, and with a new adventure of Harry's added in for good measure. These gentle, beautiful, watercolour-art, soft-feeling books are just like a warm cuddly blanket, and that's how C likes to use them, requesting them often before her nap or before bed, or when she's in the mood for a quiet cuddle.

16. Inside, Outside, Upside Down (Stan & Jan Berenstain)

This Berenstain Bears book is an example of the simple-language repetitive-text that C is favouring as she gets the hang of squiggles on a page representing words. I don't really like the Berenstain Bears books much myself, but clearly I am not the target audience, and there's no denying they work for toddlers!

17. Wombat Divine (Mem Fox)

C discovered this lovely, lovely Christmas story on the shelf and, with a toddler's fine disregard for seasonality, has put it into regular rotation, along with her Wiggles Christmas DVD. (Christmas in June indeed ;-)

18. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Eric Carle)

C likes all the Eric Carle books on our shelf, but this one, with its colour / animal / word repetition nexus, is her current favourite.

19. Olivia (Ian Falconer)

The original book about one of children's fiction's charming pigs. C loves it.

20. Little Tiger's Big Surprise (Julie Sykes)

C has become very attached to this story about a tiger cub getting used to the idea of having a baby brother or sister around - hopefully she's not thinking of new cubs at her house though! (Hint - It. Ain't. Happening ;-)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reading Notes - Choose Your Own Adventure books

My eldest daughter is heavily into Choose Your Own Adventure books at the moment.

Do you remember these from when you were a kid? I sure do, although there was a lot less variety of series around back then (cos I'm reeeeeeally, old, y'know ;-) I remember the novelty of them appealing to me at first, but that the thrill of controlling the direction of the story wore thin as I worked out that they were actually pretty badly plotted. Oh, not always - some of them were considerably better than others - but on the whole, we weren't talking Great Literature of Our Time here.

My daughter, though, is still deeply in love with them, having read her way through 10 titles recently and with a fresh stack sitting on her desk awaiting her reading pleasure. She reads them in bed, on the couch, at the table; she reads them aloud to her 6 year old sister and lets the younger girl choose the story direction; she asks me many questions about "facts" in the stories. At least once a day, she'll ask, "Mum, is it true that ... [insert improbable assertion about geography, history or technology here]", to which the answer is almost always, "No, that's just for the sake of the story, honey."

She's in good company, of course - since their 1976 inception, these books have been among the most popular of all series for children, selling over 250 million volumes between 1980 and 1998. They're aimed at slightly older kids (9-13 is what the publishers indicate), but, at almost 8, my girl's language skills are good enough to enable her to really fly with them.

So what is it about Choose Your Own Adventures that makes them so endlessly appealing to middle-grade readers? I might be quite wrong about this, but I think it comes down to three factors:

1. Interactivity.
By allowing readers to determine the direction of the story (within defined tracks), these books allow for more direct, active participation in the text than is possible in conventional stories. For kids who like to Do (which is lots of them at this age), this moves the book from the category of passive to active experience.

2. Easy chunking.
This isn't a particular issue for my daughter, who has Olympian stamina when it comes to reading, but I'd say there is another advantage of these books for kids who have good language skills but shorter attention spans. Because these books usually provide a decision point within 1, 2 or at the most 3 pages, kids don't have to read for extended periods to progress the story. These books are natural short-to-medium reads for that reason alone.

3. Cartoon stories
I realised when listening to A read one of these books out loud to her sister that they had a very bright-colours, sharp-outlines feel to them - very cartoon-like, in other words. This is not intended as an insult - I love cartoons myself and they are enormously and rightly appealing to kids. I think what the Choose Your Own Adventure books capture is that sense of movement, colour, quirkiness, and exaggerated reactions that make cartoons so enjoyable.

All in all, the Choose Your Own Adventure phase is one that I know A is enjoying; these books are totally relaxing for her, pure fun, pure escapism. At the end of the day, the pleasure of reading is one of the most important things I want to give my daughters in this early stage of their literate lives. So if CYOA be the food of fun, read on...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

If I could turn back time

I'd make such different decisions today if I could rewind the clock to 1am, when I woke from a vivid dream of having dreadful menstrual cramps to discover that I was in fact having dreadful menstrual cramps.

- Instead of attempting the soft option (Panadol) first and lying in misery, not sleeping, badly hurting, for 2 hours, pretending it was going to work when clearly it wasn't, I would've taken Nurofen straight away and not lost almost 3 hours sleep. I ended up dragging myself to the kitchen at 3am, eating a pear and some cheese so I could take the Nurofen, which I can't tolerate on an empty stomach, then crawling shivering back to bed at 3:15 and *finally* drifting off as the ibuprofen did its thing around 4am.

- Instead of mumbling to my husband to settle the toddler at 5:15am on her first waking, I would've got up with her then. As it was, she did go back to sleep after 10 minutes of wailing at my patient husband, and slept for an extra hour, but I was thoroughly roused by the crying and didn't sleep again so I might as well have been up, as her extra sleep here led to a cascade of disasters downstream (see below).

- Instead of insisting that the 6-year-old swim with the other two in swimming lessons this morning, I would've kept her out of the pool with me, cuddled on my knee, and thus probably not have exacerbated her snotty nose so badly.

- Instead of buying a regular coffee at the pool, I would've stuck to my usual decaf, knowing how irritable caffeine can make me and that I didn't need any extra challenges to my equilibrium today.

- Instead of persisting with trying to get the toddler to nap for over 90 minutes, trying everything from nursing to rocking to lying down with her to singing, and ending up in tears of pain (cramps again), tiredness and frustration when she just would not go down, despite being very tired herself, I would've gone easy on myself and called it after half an hour. This is especially the case as I had a friend over for lunch with whom I got to spend exactly 10 minutes in between settling efforts, causing me to feel guilty, crappy and horrible when I came out of toddler's room at the end to find she'd left.

- Instead of arguing with my husband and getting severely worked up, I would've listened properly to what he was trying to say and realised the rationality of it earlier (instead of after 15 cranky minutes). Because he was, in fact, completely in the right on this issue, and I was being ridiculous, which I would have seen had I allowed him to finish a sentence.

- Instead of trying to be a martyr and avoid more pain pills, I would've just taken the damn Nurofen as soon as the dose window allowed, in the mid-morning, and saved myself 4 hours of increasing pain until I caved at 2:30 and swallowed some more.

- Instead of furiously berating my eldest when she wore her new good boots outside to scoot and shredded the toe of one (six days old - $60 - probably irreparable), I would've taken a breath and had a talk to her about taking care of our things, and I would've calmly pointed out that replacement boots were not on the cards.

- Instead of bursting into uncontrollable sobbing as toddler pulled my hair then grabbed my glasses off my face and threw them hard onto the slate floor for the 10th time, I would've ... no, actually by that point I can't think of anything else I could have done that would have been less problematic. At least I didn't yell, which was the other way it could have gone.

And finally...

- Instead of spending all day in a black cloud, snapping at everyone, wishing myself elsewhere, I would've tried to be gentler on myself and my family, and to keep some perspective about the crappiness of it all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Things I Know

Here is what I know this week, playing along with the Yay For Home meme -

- Life is better when the sun shines. Even in winter. No, especially in winter.

- There is a massive difference between the helpfulness and professionalism of front-line enquiry telephone staff and case-manager staff at A Certain Very Large Federal Government Agency. The difference is so great that I'm not sure I'd ever bother trying the general non-help line again; I'd just submit an online request and wait for a knowledgeable and professional person to call me back. (I'm talking the difference between 45 minutes of increasing frustration that dead-ended because the person didn't know the answer to basic questions vs 5 minutes of slick, friendly, successful service).

- It is never a mistake to reach out in friendliness to people that are new or struggling. Living compassionately isn't just The Right Thing To Do, it's also likely to enrich your own life and your family's in ways you can't expect or anticipate.

- Spending your Thursday morning getting your hair cut & coloured for the first time in almost 3 years, then visiting the dentist for 2 nasty fillings, also delayed by almost 3 years, represents the Yin and Yang of personal expenditure and childfree time ;-)

- Separating nurslings from their mothers due to mistaken and terrifying ideas about extended breastfeeding is horrific, and an offence against human rights. If you feel you can, read about this case, and see what it makes you want to do.

- A year ago, my youngest was 16 months old and had very little hair, but now she's got a headful of sandy blonde curls. How quickly it happens (my heart, my heart...)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We Play: Tea Party

Not for the first time, my younger two have spent a lot of time this week taking tea with their soft toys, enjoying the new tea set the 6 year old was given for her birthday.

This post is part of the weekly We Play meme at the wonderful Childhood 101. Check out the main page over there for lots of fantastic play ideas.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

You know the times they are a-changing when...

your almost-8-year-old daughter spends her Saturday afternoon mowing the lawn. (With her father's supervision and assistance, but she did most of it).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Things I Know

This is my first week, but I thought I'd play along with Shae's Things I Know meme today.

Here's what I know this week -

- Reading is good for the soul. Shared reading, even more so. Reading that's accompanied with hot tea, warm quilts, laughing toddlers, intent older kids, and classic stories, the most of all.

- It is a very good thing for a school to have chickens, and said chickens are undoubtedly the most pampered and indulged avians imaginable.

- It is actually easier to manage household laundry for a family of five without a clothes drier, because the process is more consistent and staggered, so less enormous piles of dry washing awaiting sorting result. (This might not be one of the things I know when full winter hits, mind you!)

- Jealousy is a corrosive and entirely negative emotion. As it says in Song of Solomon, Jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire...

- It is a mixed blessing when a toddler skips a nap.

And finally ...

- It is a very awesome feeling when your almost 8 year old decides to like sushi!

Shae has lots of links of what other people know this week over here.