Sunday, October 30, 2011

More injured fingers and a very injured airline

C, my 2 and a half year old, got her hand stuck in a door hinge yesterday. The *whole* hand, which, as it turned out, was probably a blessing, as it diffused the pinch enough that she probably doesn't have a broken finger (although we do have an x-ray appointment tomorrow to make sure).

It does, however, look awful, is clearly very sore, and we think she's likely to shed the fingernail on her middle finger soon.
In many ways it reminds me of the Great Scissor Catastrophe of February, with all the attendant finger care and appeasing empained and cranky small people.

In an ironic twist of fate, the inadvertent injurer in this case was Miss 6, who was herself the victim of accidental finger damage in February. This time, although I devoutly wish it hadn't happened, am very sorry for both C and E (who's guilt-stricken), and will pay greater attention to door safety reinforcement in the future, I'm not beating myself up about it. It not only wasn't my fault, it wasn't even something I could have reasonably prevented. Not feeling guilty is helping me be a calmer and more soothing parent this time around, I think, and that's all to the good.

Of course, while C's poor fingers may be the biggest news in our private universe, most of the action in Australian commentary at the moment is revolving around the killing of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and the Qantas lock-out of staff, which has caused a fleet-wide grounding of planes and a massive tsunami of disruption, angst and trouble.

About the soldiers killed in Afghanistan I have nothing to add other than my thoughts and sympathies to the families. It's a tragedy and one that will no doubt give rise to more discussion about what Australian forces' role in Afghanistan is or should be. I have no expertise in this area and no desire to enter this debate, so I'll leave it just with that.

I do have opinions about the Qantas debacle, though. (Who doesn't? Certainly not anyone on Twitter, which has been on fire ever since Alan Joyce's presser where the lock-out was announced).

In case you're unfamiliar with it (I can't imagine anyone is, but you never know), this it the situation. Qantas, after months of sour negotiations with three of the 15 unions that cover their staff (the Transport Workers Union, the pilot's association, and the engineers' union), which have been punctuated by various kinds of industrial action on the unions' part, yesterday announced that they would be locking out the workers in all affected unions, and - this is the kicker - therefore grounding their ENTIRE air fleet. IMMEDIATELY. Until they got a guarantee that industrial action would stop - not pause, while negotiations could continue, but stop, outright.

To say that this represents an extreme measure would be the understatement of this or any other century.

In essence, this seems to me to an incredibly hard-line move on Qantas's part, one that underlines in thick red ink how utterly determined they are to get their way at any cost, and "break" the unions. The fact that this is taking place at the expense of the travelling public, business, tourism, their own employees (both involved in industrial action and those totally uninvolved) and their own brand seems irrelevant. In any other context, I'd call this behaviour a tantrum ... actually, perhaps I'd call it bullying. It is absolutely, as someone noted, a knife to the throat of the Australian government and the unions, and it makes me intensely cross that corporations can behave like this.

Bottom line is that Qantas is acting in the worst possible faith in this matter. The vote, just 24 hours earlier, to give CEO Alan Joyce a whopping payrise; the lack of a heads-up to staff, unions or the Australian government; the timing of the action to coincide with major travel events such as the Melbourne Cup and (embarassingly for Australia) the Perth CHOGM meeting; the fact that Qantas continued to this lock-out even though the unions had agreed to suspend planned industrial action for several weeks so negotiations could continue; the announcing of 1,000 Australian job losses in the same year as profits are high and while union pay negotiations are ongoing ... This smells to me like we, the Australian public, are being played. I think this is all quite deliberate, planned, intentional and harmful bludgeoning of a large Australian workforce, and I am horrified to think they may get away with it, at least in part.

I realise that it's probable that the three unions are being intransigent and aggressive in their tactics; that's not unusual, nor is it admirable. While I count myself as a firm supporter of unionism (as a concept and a force to create equitable outcomes), I don't admire or support everything that individual unions do. I don't necessarily blame Qantas management for being frustrated with the negotiations.

But to lock out your workforce? To basically say, Do it our way, no discussion, or no jobs at all for you? To do this even though it will cost you much, much cash and much more in reputational damage? To do this even though it will harm so many associated industries, and so many passengers? To do this without warning or notice?

It's bad behaviour, pure and simple. Bad, unethical, unfair, and unconscionable. And I am hoping - seriously hoping - that the Fair Work Tribunal agrees and terminates the lock out today.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Things I Know

This week, I know that I am equal parts trepidatious and energised by the writing committments I've made for November. Let the words fall where they may!

I know that watching rainbow fairy princesses read rainbow fairy books makes me smile.

I know that I'm disappointed for her that my 6 year old has a bout of tonsillitis again, after just over two years clear of this bete noir of hers, but that I'm relieved that it seems to be responding well to antibiotics this time.

I know that I am wracked with ambivalence (again) about the toddler and creche, which is rotten timing as a) I will probably need to job-seek in 2012, so she'll likely be increasing her days of necessity, and b) she is well settled on her Thursdays now, so removing her would be disruptive to her routine.

I know that the interminability of housework makes me tired and cranky and stressed far more often than I'd like.

And I know that the arrival of our book package from Booktopia on Thuursday filled the girls and I with shared and untrammelled delight, and that Thursday afternoon and evening saw us all lost in a pile of good books :-)

For more things that people know, check out Yay for Home!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

November - the month of the words

I've been planning to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again this year pretty much since I somewhat astounded myself by finishing last year's effort (a middle grade detective novel) - I wrote 51,000 words in 30 days, and have subsequently written an ending and polished that manuscript into a 55,000 word completed story. I enjoyed the experience last year so enormously, and was so satisfied with achieving the goal, that there was never any doubt that I'd have a stab again.

Then I saw that Karen at Miscellaneous Mum is going to do NaNo AND its blogly cousin, NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month)... both in November.

Holy words on fire, Batman!

But what the hey, if Karen's prepared to give it a try, so am I. Unlikely and foolhardy as it may seem, I'm going to give it a go to do both NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo together in November.

So that's a month where I'm going to:

- post here every day (some of them might be image-heavy, mind you)
- write at least 50,000 words on a new middle grade novel
- plan for and prepare for Christmas seasonal things
- attend at least one and usually 2 or more functions each weekend
- do about 30 hours contracting work
- as per normal, care for three children, a husband and a dog; maintain a house; shop for and prepare meals; and ferry everybody where they have to go

I might be a tiny bit over-ambitious here - how unlike me - but I'm going to try. In for a penny, in for a pound...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scienceworks Dinosaur Day

The 2 year old and I went to Scienceworks today with the lovely Shae and her girls for Dinosaur Day.

Scienceworks is running the Explore-a-Saurus exhibit until April 2012, an interactive and fascinating display featuring, among other things, animatronic dinosaurs, a sandpit for uncovering dinosaur bones and eggs, and information about how paleontologists make their discoveries and surmises about prehistoric life.

Being museum members, we were well aware of the exhibit and it was on our list, but going on Dinosaur Day meant that we got in for free, which, being a well-known cheapskate, appealed to me enormously :-) Getting to go along with Shae and her girls was a very good added incentive to today's trip.

When discussing the day with C, I told her we'd be going to a museum with some friends.

"Who?" she said with slight suspicion.

"A lady with three little girls, C," I replied, "you haven't met them yet but you'll like them."

"OK ..." she said. Then: "Will there be dinosaurs?"

Oh yes, lamb. Dinosaurs in SPADES!

C was delighted - entranced - with the moving dinosaurs (which were, I must say, exceedingly well done). She kept wanting to come back all the time to the display of the mother Maiasaurus bending over her nest of hatching eggs. She was also madly keen on brushing the sand off the eggs in the sandpit, staring at them intently in the hope that they too would hatch. (Alas, being made of plaster, they did not).

She chattered about dinosaurs all the way home and has been playing with her little tub of plastic dinos ever since, while listening to dinosaur music and having me read My Dearest Dinosaur, Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs and How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?

I leave you with our favourite dinosaur-related song of all ... They Might Be Giants' I Am a Paleontologist.

Dinosaurs FTW!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

MSO Kids: Clowning Around with Melvin Tix

We had a fantastic and musical family outing this morning (ahhhh, the legitimate thee-ater, as Homer Simpson might say :-) The husband, kids and I skipped regular Saturday swimming lessons in favour of one of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's deservedly popular and engaging MSO Kids concerts.

This performance featured Norwegian "clownductor" Peter Vabog, who performs as clown Melvin Tix. His 27 years of creating fun, interactive musical events for young children were fully on display as he led the MSO musicians through a really enjoyable program.

My children all enjoyed different aspects of the show. My 6 year old liked the parts where Melvin played his little trumpet and conducted the orchestra. My 2 year old loved it "when the clown was silly an' knocked hisself on the bottom with the stick" (a reference to an amusing section where Melvin got four adults to come up and play hollow sticks by hitting them on their body parts). My 8 year old's favourite part was the introduction of each instrument (she was fascinated hearing the instruments played individually and then together, remarking how different they sounded).

The performance went 50 minutes, which was fine for Miss 8, OK for Miss 6, and probably a touch long for Miss 2 (who, nonetheless, sat for it all and was still chirpy at the end). I think it's a perfect length of the target age range (3-8) and will satisfy them without stretching the friendship too far.

We are not an especially devoted classical music family - husband and both big girls learn guitar, but are playing folk and rock music rather than classical even in that arena. This concert, and the consummate skill of the MSO, has sparked an interest in classical music in the 8 year old (we are listening to Brahms right now) and a speculative acquisition of the 2012 program for husband and I, who are thinking we might try to get to a few performances next year.

All in all, a warm, fun, and interactive way to spend a family morning, and such a treat to hear lovely music presented unpretentiously and in an engaging way for very young children. I cannot recommend this highly enough, and I know we'll be taking the family to an MSO Kids performance again.

Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to this performance for review purposes courtesy of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. No financial payment was offered nor accepted for this post. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Things I Know

Well, let's see what I know after a few days offline ...

I know spring has sprung, the grass is riz, and the roses are exploding with blossoms.

I know what my NaNoWriMo project for this year is going to be, and I have a title, a synopsis, and a clear idea of how to begin.

I know that morning tea with other bloggers is great fun, and that Karen is a generous and gracious hostess.

I know that giving my 8 year old a day off school to come along to the morning tea with me was the right decision and a special thing for her as she begins her blogging life.

I know that all the kids thought the Wild Action show at the morning tea was a huge hoot, and that I was as fascinated as they were with the lizards.

I know that getting stuck in execrable traffic on the way to and from the morning tea was an unexpected boon, as it gave my 8 year old girl and I a chance to have some real in depth talking time.

I know that I enjoyed the time offline and that it settled my head a lot, and gave me undistracted time to sort out several niggling household issues that had been hanging around way too long.

And I know that, much as I think #pbevent would have been fun, I'm content to be spending my day with my beautiful toddler, just baking, painting pictures, playing trains, and singing in the rain.

For more things that people know, check out Yay for Home!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On death, dying, pain, and the silence of modernity

A friend of my mother's, a man she worked with years ago, died very recently from cancer. My mum was saddened by his passing, although, given the nature of his disease, not especially shocked. She did, however, express a deal of frustration with the palliative care he received, which she described as medically competent but emotionally inadequate. All that could be done to relieve his pain and make him physically comfortable had been done, but his fear, his anger, his sense of loss at the ending of his life - that had no real outlet. Nurses were incredibly kind, doctors soothing, his sisters conscientious and grieving, but he was encouraged - subtly, but surely - to die "peacefully", by which she meant to die QUIETLY, stoically, silently.

I witnessed this with the death of my friend from a brain tumour last year also. Her bravery, cheerfulness and the indomitability of her spirit was cited over and over again by friends and acquaintances, and so many people who visited her ended up being comforted by her rather than the other way around. My friend was lucky to have an awesome family around her who gave her space to express the full gamut of her fear, pain and outrage at this dreadful thing that was stealing her years. Her sister, speaking at her funeral, expressed this best when she said that the hardest thing a person can be called on to do is to stand with another in their pain - pain that can't be fixed or cured, but must be ridden to into the long dark, with no abatement or surcease.

Learning on Twitter this week of the death of Australian fantasy author Sara Douglass in September brought these musings sharply to mind, as I read her powerful post on her blog about this very point, The Silence of the Dying. Being ten times the writer that I'll ever be, and having the awful authority of terminal ovarian cancer to inform her words, Douglass's post captured everything I'd been struggling to express as I've sat by several terminal bedsides over the past years.

Douglass talks about the modern discomfort with death and disease. She speaks doubly powerfully - in the voice of a medieval historian, with the perspective of time (her other professional life, as Sara Warnecke, and where I first came across her, as I am myself a trained historian and it's a small incestuous world in Australian historical scholarship); and, of course, in the voice of a dying woman. Writing about the pre-modern experience of illness, dying and death, she wrote:

"Suffering, if not quite celebrated, was at least something to which everyone could relate, and with which everyone was at ease. People were comfortable with death and with the dying. Death was not shunted away out of sight. Grief was not subdued. Emotions were not repressed... Death and dying was familiar, and its journey’s milestones well marked and recognizable. People prepared from an early age to die, they were always prepared, for none knew when death would strike."

My grandmothers, both of them, told stories of family deathbeds not unlike this - relatives coming and going, open wailing, vast oceans of grief being voiced (including, oftentimes, by the dying themselves). My Irish grandmother told me about the release of an old-style wake - celebration and mourning in one, remembrance and acknowledgement.

It seems to me that this kind of integration of death and dying into life and living is something that we miss in modern Western society. Even illness - chronic, severe, painful illness - is something verboten for us; something we're supposed to talk about in whispers, if at all; something we're meant to endure without complaint (and, preferably, without talking about it). Pain, fear, death, is not to be cried against, for us, but to be suppressed, to be denied, to be papered over with a brave smile, because we wouldn't want other people to be made uncomfortable, would we?

Would we?

Sara Douglass expressed it thus:

"Now we ignore death. We shunt it away. Children are protected from it (and adults wish they could be protected from it). The dying are often not allowed to express what they are really feeling, but are expected (by many pressures) to be positive, bright and cheerful as ‘this will make them feel better’ (actually, it doesn’t make the dying feel better at all, it just makes them feel worse, but it does make their dying more bearable for those who have to be with them).

When it comes to death and dying, we impose a dreadful silence on the dying lest they discomfort the living too greatly."

I think this silence is suffocating and unnatural and inhuman, and I think it makes all of our passings more traumatic than nature would have them. Why must we go silently into the night? Why should we be rendered mute with embarrassment at the pain and anger of others as they die? Why is death seen as something separate to life instead of its inevitable, terrible, but rightful end?

Dylan Thomas had it when he wrote:

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light...

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

To my friends who are suffering, and to the one who is dying (although, we believe and hope, slowly), I say: Do NOT feel pressured to go gentle into that good night. I will rage with you and grieve with you and wail for myself and for you.

No more silence.


I'm taking an online holiday this week, barring email. Comments will still be approved but I won't be on Twitter or posting here until the weekend. I hope you all have a good week and for those going to pbevent, I look forward to hearing about it when I'm "back".

Friday, October 14, 2011

Things I Know

It's Friday, so that must mean I know things, right?

This week I know that giving a 6 year old girl a day off school to spend on her own with Mummy might be, strictly speaking, against the rules ... but that it's a rule well worth breaking every once in a while.

I know that 2.5 year olds who've not been to their Thursday creche for a couple of weeks due to holidays might be a little hesitant on arrival ...

but that the discovery that creche has acquired a goldfish called Dora and a rabbit called Boots in her absence will have her waving me off impatiently so she can join the throng of kids around the pets.

I know that the warmer weather is a double blessing, coinciding as it does with my central heating going up the putt again, and us deciding to not fix it for now based on the ridonkulous costs involved.

I know that appliance repair can be cripplingly costly, and that having less electricity-driven machines might not be the worst thing in the world anyway as power prices head north next year with carbon tax.

I know that the kids and I have witnessed two sets of solar panels being fixed to roofs this week on our school walk, and I think (I don't *know*!) that this trend will accelerate as July approaches. This can only be a good thing in my view.

And finally, I know that holidays away are wonderful, a great maker of memories and destresser of persons, but that all the same, it's nice to be back home.

For more things that people know, head over to Yay for Home!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Name That Object! #3

Well, time for the Monday $2 Shop Mystery Object Guessing Game. (For an explanation and previous weeks' objects, see here and here).

I found this one in a shop in Inverloch while on holidays last week. I think we've figured out what one part of it is, but I'm at a loss for the adjunct pieces.

Here is:

Thing 3!

I await your enlightenment ;-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our farm-near-the-coast holiday

We got back late yesterday afternoon after a week away at a farmstay holiday in South Gippsland, at a place called Boggabri, located near Walkerville.

As the person who makes the running in planning, organising, booking, and paying for our family holidays (I always put aside any contracting income I get specifically for holidays - it doesn't go into general revenue, ususally), I had decided on a farmstay near the beach a while ago. Beach holidays have a proven track record of success for us, and all of the kids would, I felt, enjoy being on a working farm and seeing animals more closely.

I picked Boggabri based on its website, just because it had a pretty garden, it was on the beautiful South Gippsland coast and reasonably close to Inverloch, a town I've always wanted to explore but have never visited until this week. These were thin enough reasons, but in this instance, my intuition did not let me down.

Our week at Boggabri was very special family time for us.

We walked the paddocks every day, strolling past mildly interested cows, skittish sheep and calm black bulls. (The bulls were behind wire, but the other animals just wandered freely with us, kept in only by cattle grates at roadways).

We visited Walkerville South beach, the beautiful, secluded little inlet that inspired one of our favourite childrens' picture books of all time - Alison Lester's Magic Beach. The kids were so thrilled to actually *be* at the place in the story. We were even lucky enough to get a warm spring day where we could paddle, build sandcastles, and in the case of the cold-impervious 8-year-old, swim.

We spent time in Inverloch, walking the Dinosaur Cove and letting the 2 year old go to town on splashing in rockpools.

We helped muster some sheep from one paddock to the next over rolling green hills, riding in (or, in the case of the fearless 6 year old), on, a farm ute.

We watched a flock get shorn and crutched, and each of the kids came away with a fistful of soft creamy wool courtesy of the friendly shearers.

We stroked and hand-fed little lambs.

We went for a beautiful drive towards Wilsons Prom and ate an astoundingly good meal in a little town called Fish Creek. (I'll be doing a post on that later this week, as it was one of the nicest gluten-free meals I've ever eaten in a restaurant, anywhere).

We did lots of holidayish, relaxing things too - reading (the big kids and I chewed through three novels apiece), drinking tea in the afternoon sun, playing Uno and Pictionary, listening to music, napping (me as well as the younger two kids). The husband and I traded sleep-ins a couple of days, and the girls got to watch a Barbie movie that I'd brought specifically for the holiday. We even got to watched a film one night, a rarity for us these days as I am usually working and / or sleeping once the kids are in bed.

The nicest part was how quiet and out-of-our-world the farm was. Things happen on farms, and people come and go, but the farm is big and wide and often you see no-one at all for hours. 3G reception was patchy, which led to an entire series of photos that we've dubbed The Things Husband Will Do to Get Internet (balancing the lappy on top of the taps in the cottage kitchen was probably the funniest). This meant there were large chunks of every day when we were happily offline and uncontactable, and it was good for all of us.

Oh, we didn't leave everyday life behind completely - people had tantrums, people melted down, people squabbled and got tired and got fed up. (And the kids did too, on occasion ;-) But the space out of life was a great boon to us and the sometimes fractious dynamics that can emerge in our little cluster of personalities.

The big kids, who can be competitive and provoking with each other, had time to play together and reconnect. I was able to go for a walk every day with just my 8 year old, who craves that one-on-one time and isn't always able to get it. The toddler got to spend much more time than usual with her daddy, which was very good for their relationship. And the 6 year old was able to run free, burning her boundless energy on hills and beaches rather than getting bored and mischievous.

One of the greatest things of all about being on the farm was the real breakthrough that we had with the 8 year old, who'd become, rather dismayingly and inexplicably, nervous of animals. (Not hysterical, just very, very cautious and a bit skittish).
Being around friendly, affectionate and well-trained kelpies, curious, calm cows, frolicking sheep, and well-trained horses, she relaxed visibly, even deciding off her own bat to trot out one morning to help groom the riding horses before a trail ride left. It was so wonderful to see her enjoying this contact rather than fearing it.

I think I've concluded a few things from this holiday, some of which I knew already, and some of which are new understandings.

- You don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good family holiday. All up, including food and petrol, this holiday cost us a long way south of $1,000. It's a truism, but the shared experience is the pearl, not the costliness of it.

Holidays with a single base
(preferably one where you can prepare meals) are easier by far with small children and a Coeliac parent. I shudder to think of the waste and expense if we'd had to eat every meal out.

- Being near a beach = FTW. Every time. No matter what the weather.

- Family holidays are a vital part of reconnecting and rebuilding relationships in a busy, often stressful world. It's easy to plan to stop and smell the roses, to say that quality time together is a priority, to think about family things to do, but the pace of life often swallows up good intentions.

Being a stay-at-home, occasionally-contracting parent this year, I do spend a lot of *time* with my children, but the relaxing of normal expectations that a holiday can offer opens the door to a different kind of time, a different kind on conversation. For my husband, who works fulltime out of the home, this was even more true, and even more important.

We won't go away anywhere in the summer break - we never do, as my husband can't usually get leave at that time, and another kind of enjoyment is always found in 6 luxurious summer weeks of kicking back at home. (We're also lucky enough to live opposite friends with a pool, and near a lovely swimming beach).

I think, though, we're all minded to have another break away next year; perhaps not twice as we've done this year with March's Anglesea trip and this farm break, but at least once, somewhere peaceful and expansive and welcoming. I cannot think of a better reason to do the little bits and pieces of contracting that come my way, time-pressuring as they can sometimes be, than to allow us these opportunities to grow and regenerate and build shared memories.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Name That Object! #2

This is the second installment of my ridiculous and pointless Monday guessing game, Name That Object! For last week's object and an introduction to the concept, see here.)

I found this in a $2 shop some time ago. I don't think it's *quite* as mysterious as last week's - well, I'm pretty sure I've worked out what it's for - but I'd have to say it's not self-evident. Naturally enough, it was unlabelled.

I'll give one clue - it was in amongst all the other kitchen utensils and doo-dads.

I present to you - Thing 2.

Thing 2 is made of white plastic and it comes apart in the middle, falling into two interlocking pieces.

The base piece has small slits cut into it.

Got any ideas? Share!