Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On coming to an end

it's time
so the calendar says, and the press of small warm bodies
the layer of dust on the benchtops
the smell of gingerbread, the happiness of tiny lights

it's time to stop, with the
daily henpecking at the keys, clickclick pause click
mind fogged in the words that are yet to fully form
a thick, sticky bear trap for minutes and hours

time to put away November things
and turn to summer with arms wide open, ready
to live embodied, not chasing wraiths through ghost halls of the subliminal
that pearl-grey place
where fictive worlds and thought-pieces (oh yes, and poems) are born.

time to live less strangely, less pellucidly
time to write less, and be more.

time to end.
(until the words' time comes again).

- Kathy, 30/11/11

This is my very last post in the NaBloPoMo challenge, to write a blog post every day in November. I also, as at 11am, have completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, hitting 50,600 words and validating my novel on the NaNo site. (Check out my sidebar button!) The book I'm writing is not completed - I estimate I have about 5-6k left to write - but it will now be shelved until January. I am really glad I did both of these challenges - I've learned enormously from them, I enjoyed the processes, and I'm mostly happy with what I produced. I am also really, really glad they're both over!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Community Blogging

This has been a monumental month for me, full of words, and almost-job-offers-that-didn't-quite-come-off, and words, and concerns over aspects of one of my children's behaviours, and words, and festive activities kicking into overdrive, and words, and entering two skill-based competitions nervously but with hope, and words, and starting early pre-reading with my toddler (which involves words), and extra volunteering shifts at school, playgroup and other places ...

Also, words. Just a few :-)

One of the things that has given me the greatest satisfaction this month, though, hasn't been so much about words as action - collective action in a positive direction by a group of Melbourne bloggers. Created and directed by the ever-wonderful Nicole of Planning With Kids fame, the Community Blogging initiative is an effort by a group of bloggers to work with, support and draw much-needed attention to the needs of not for profit organisations. The idea, to use a hackneyed yet fitting expression, is to give something back, to use our blogs and our skills to create momentum and light for important organisations that are often woefully under-resourced to do the work they do.

The Christmas function, which will be held at the Victorian Archives Centre, will be on 9 December and will support the work of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre and St Kilda Mums, two groups who are heavily engaged at this time of year in creating relief packages for people who really, really need them.

I feel really privileged to have been asked to be part of this as it's just starting; I feel energised about its potential, I feel like there is a mass of positive charge out there that can be harnessed to do something special. I have been looking for more opportunities to get involved in helping out, in ways beyond donations of money and locally-based volunteering. Being involved with something with the dynamic potential of Community Blogging is a massive step in this direction for me.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 29 down, 1 to go!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas preparations

Yesterday we had our now-traditional Christmas prep day. We always try to do this the Sunday closest to the start of December, and I block a day out in the calendar to make sure it's not eaten away by other seasonal busyness. The kids have been excited about it for weeks, and I was looking forward to it too - I really enjoy Christmas, even more so now I have children, and a day to get the ball rolling strikes me as a fun use of Sunday.

Christmas prep day for us includes:
- Making Christmas ornaments - this year, we made cardboard pop-up figures from books my Mum had given the girls;
- Listening to Christmas music
- Making our Christmas lists and writing letters to Santa
- Doing our first round of Christmas baking and cookie decorating (we make shortbread and gingerbread, both gluten free, as gifts for the girls' teachers and coaches across all their various activities)
- The main event: putting up and decorating the Christmas tree!

In years when I've been more organised, we've also written and addressed cards on this day, but this year, owing to my failure to procure cards last week due to a complete brain freeze at the shops, where, as well as forgetting about cards, I also neglected to buy milk, bread and bananas (but somehow remembered chocolate, olives and pork roast :-) I blame it on the Month of the Words occupying my mind, and the concomitant lack of sleep that's gone along with it. Never mind, we'll get to the cards this coming week.

Christmas prep day was, once again, enormous fun. It's become a very special day in our family year - maybe almost as much as Halloween or Easter Sunday, in terms of the kids' level of excitement and anticipation. (Nothing, naturally, gazumps Christmas Day itself!)

We started with a big clean-up of the house, on the premise that the tree takes up a lot of space and a big swathe of clean space is the best way to start. I've found that with family clean-up efforts, making a list of jobs to be done and letting everyone self-select from the list is the best and least stressful way to proceed. My list was heavily annotated by A and E, who got into the spirit of the thing and actually did a fine job.

Then it was a matter of enjoying ourselves, making cardboard decorations, mixing dough to chill, eating a scratch lunch of sausages in bread and sliced avocado (the kids thought that was hilarious), erecting and decorating the tree, and doing our lists and letters. We listened to the Crash Test Dummies' Christmas album, Colin Buchanan's Christmas album, and a rather cool collection I picked up years ago called Christmas with the Rat Pack, featuring a lot of Sinatra.

All in all, a lovely start to the festive season in all its overscheduled glory. Now it's just a matter of finishing the shopping, getting to all the events, getting Santa photos done, helping out with a few charitable endeavours (very important to us at this time of year), and shedloads more baking. (All deferred now til AFTER I hit 50,000 words on NanoWrimo :-)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 28 down, 2 to go!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winner: Cars 2 Giveaway

Question: Is it ever going to stop raining in random and voluminous intervals in Melbourne? *Sigh*.

Yesterday we had one of Those Days that everyone had in the lead-up to Christmas, with 5 commitments scattered in a wide arc from our house throughout the day and evening. And as you already know if you live in Melbourne, yesterday it rained. And rained. AND RAINED. In copious, driving quantities.

We got wet going into swimming. (Yes, I appreciate the absurdity of that statement :-) We got wet coming back from swimming. Hubs and eldest got wet going to guitar lessons, and we all got a light soaking running into a friend's birthday party. This was all nothing compared with how wet we got getting from where we parked our car to dinner at the Southbank restaurant my mother had selected for my Dad's birthday dinner.

Damp and steaming was the order of the day, it seemed.

And today, when the furthest we have to go from home is 5 minutes, once, where we can park next to the door?

Not a raindrop in sight. Lucky we love you, Melbourne.

In other news ...

Using yesterday, I selected the winner of the Cars 2 pack giveaway ... picked number 6, so that means FIONA is the lucky winner! Woo hoo!

Fiona, can you contact me by Wednesday with a postal addy that I can supply to Disney for the mailing of your pack. Thanks everyone for playing :-)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 27 down, 3 to go!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

1001 Books and me

I'm sure everyone's seen this list, the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die thing. I saw this rendition on Miscellaneous Mum and A Permanent Flux when archive-hopping yesterday evening in a vague attempt at either inspiring myself to keep on writing on my Nanowrimo book, or at least pleasantly procrastinating some time away until it became obvious that no more writing could take place.

I copied and pasted it into Notepad, thinking I might go back to it later, but actually I find myself drawn to have a look today. I flicked my eye through the list to discover that I've read 147 of them, with a heavy emphasis on 19th century female authors (the Eyres and Austens account for over 10) and on texts I was set in high school (the Tolstoys, James, Hardy, Dickens et al all came from there). The books on the list that I've read just from sheer affection and delight are mostly modern women writers, and genre fiction (crime and sci fi / fantasy). I recently read the three Jules Verne entries for the first time and really enjoyed them all, and I have a bit of a taste for both Latin American and spy fiction, as evidenced by the Allende & Marquez and Flemming & Le Carre entries.

147 seems like a lot, and I suppose it is really, but if you included in the count the books I've started but not finished, because I found them dull, too difficult, unpalatable in some way, it'd be closer to 250, maybe more. Frankly, the three goes I've had at Ulysses are enough for any one lifetime, and unAustralian as this may make me, I cannot STAND Peter Carey's prose (I've tried, I really have, but I haven't been able to finish a single book of his. And the one I liked best and got the furthest with, The True History of the Kelly Gang, isn't even on the list!)

I'm sure people could argue until the cows come home as to what books 'belong' on such a list, what the near-exclusion of certain kinds and genres of books says about the listmaker's biases, and why some exceedingly popular and highly-regarded authors don't appear at all while others have just about everything they ever published included. I was frankly astounded to find just one Agatha Christie book on the list, and, in fact, the entire Golden Age of crime fiction represented by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and two titles of Dorothy Sayers', and not even her best two titles at that. And where is Ray Bradbury? Ursula LeGuin? CS Lewis, for goodness' sake?

Anyway ...

I'm not going to make it my mission to chew through the 1001 list, but I might use it as a prompt to step outside my comfort zone every now and then and try something that other people have loved over time.

I won't reproduce the whole 1001 here, it'd be painfully long - check out Karen or Amanda's pages if you're interested. But anyway, for what it is (or isn't) worth, here's the list of the 147 I've read. In my opinion only, the best 10 of the lot of them are: Possession (AS Byatt); I, Robot (Isaac Asimov); Beloved (Toni Morrison); Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte); The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Attwood); A Secret History (Donna Tartt); The Hitchhinker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams); The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien); In Cold Blood (Truman Capote); and Smilla's Sense of Snow (Peter Hoeg). Likewise, the worst five (again, YMMV) are the tedious Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the incomprehensible Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the horrifically wordy A Tale of Two Cities, the massive and depressing War and Peace, and The Mill on the Floss, a book which I cannot comprehend the attraction of, even now (and certainly not as a 14 year old being force-fed it under threat of exam).

What I've read
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
Dead Air – Iain Banks
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
Veronika Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
The Crow Road – Iain Banks
Jazz – Toni Morrison
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Høeg
Wild Swans – Jung Chang
Possession – A.S. Byatt
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Perfume – Patrick Süskind
Neuromancer – William Gibson
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera
Smiley’s People – John Le Carré
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
The Virgin in the Garden – A.S. Byatt
Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison
Interview With the Vampire – Anne Rice
Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel García Márquez
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum – Heinrich Böll
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John Le Carré
Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The Book of Daniel – E.L. Doctorow
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The Magus – John Fowles
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
The Once and Future King – T.H. White
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
The Quiet American – Graham Greene
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
Foundation – Isaac Asimov
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Outsider – Albert Camus
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Nine Tailors – Dorothy L. Sayers
The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy L. Sayers
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
Howards End – E.M. Forster
A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Water-Babies – Charles Kingsley
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
The Purloined Letter – Edgar Allan Poe
The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Emma – Jane Austen
Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
The Thousand and One Nights – Anonymous

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 26 down, 4 to go!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Things I Know

Today I know that Christmas is only 4 weeks away... and that that makes me (mostly) smile.

I know that I have some distance to go before I perfect roast pork with crackling. (I know it tasted real good with applesauce and gravy anyway).

I know that I have had a wonderful week in terms of my self-esteem, with both extrinsic and, more importantly, intrinsic, boosts to my confidence and belief in my own competence and ability.

I know that being at 40,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel, with the finish line achievable and in sight, is a big part of this feeling of wellbeing and self-power that I'm enjoying today. I Am Writer, Hear Me Roar :-)

I know that the Month of the Words is extracting a price, but that its price isn't being paid in less attentive time with the kids or dropping the ball on commitments. Rather, it's being paid in lost sleep, undone housework and lost reading time - which seems fair, as those sacrifices are mine to make, and it was, after all, me who wanted to do this thing.

I know that I am looking forward keenly to our Christmas prep day on Sunday, when we'll put up our tree, decorate the house, do round 1 of festive baking, sing carols, and watch a Christmas movie. (The daggy delights of suburbia, but I don't care).

For more things that people know, hop over to Yay for Home! and check out the links.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 25 down, 5 to go!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Reading Notes: RIP Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey died two days ago. I imagine many (maybe even most) people have some idea who she is - a beloved, prolific and renowned science fiction / fantasy author, one of the true greats of the genre in terms of sales, spread and the affection of fans.

I first read Anne McCaffrey's Pern series, starting with Dragonflight, as a 12 year old. I used to have frequent sleepovers at the house of my best friend at my new high school (and still one of my best friends today; she's my daughters' godmother, in fact). Her house was, I will be honest, a lot cooler than mine - they had a big TV, a pool, they lived walking distance from the shops and a video store, and there was always bacon & eggs for breakfast (an unheard-of luxury at our house).

Her parents were also very relaxed and both were huge readers of all kinds of fiction, but particularly science fiction. My mother likes to read, but her tastes ran even then to Christian devotional texts and cozy crime fiction (in fact, the love that I retain for a well-written cozy or puzzle mystery comes from my Mum, and we still swap new books in this genre, and occasionally indulge ourselves with tea, chocolate and a Poirot movie :-)

My friend K's parents, though, had all sorts of adult books lying about that they were happy for me, voracious reader that I was, to pick up and flick through, and then borrow. That was how I first made the acquaintance of Anne McCaffrey.

I'd discovered most of the greats in middle-grade sci fi / fantasy independently by then - I'd done Tolkien, Lewis and Susan Cooper, I'd covered The Wizard of Earthsea, Madeleine L'Engle and Diana Wynne Jones. (One day I'll post about the vast imaginative world that they supplied me as I moved through an oftentimes lonely childhood).

Those books were part of my mental landscape, but when I started reading Dragonflight, the richness and strangeness of this adult story was something different again. I was sucked in, completely and utterly besotted, within 5 pages, and I didn't stop until I'd read all seven of the first Pern books, then-available: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, Dragonsong, Dragonsinger: Harper of Pern, Dragondrums, Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, and The White Dragon.

Later, I'd go on to read most of McCaffrey's major series - the Ship Who Sang books, the Crystal Singer books, and the Talents books. I enjoyed all of them (and own most of them), being particularly fond of To Ride Pegasus, her 1973 exploration of a society where psionic talents are manifest and struggling to be recognised, and The Crystal Singer (mostly because I love the central character, Killashandra).

McCaffrey's non-Pern works, though, sit for me within a broader landscape of other science ficton and fantasy authors that I've come to know and love since those wide-eyed 12 year old days - Isaac Asimov, Ursula LeGuin's adult works, Frederick Pohl, Robert Heinlen, Connie Willis, CJ Cherryh, Nancy Kress, and so many others. It is to Pern that my first heart belongs, even today.

I embraced some of the later Pern books - especially 1988's Dragsonsdawn, which came out during my year 10 exams and is singlehandedly responsible for my bare C in Maths - and 1991's All the Weyrs of Pern, which I read, rapt, tucked up in the little fiction library in the Union building at Monash, a first-year student with no idea about how to navigate university life, but thrilled and relieved to sink into Pern again for a little while.

But when I think back on how I became an adult reader, and how I developed a lifelong commitment to both science fiction / fantasy and also good plotting and good storytelling, it's those first Pern books, that very first glimpse of Dragonflight, in fact, that stays with me.

Thank you, Anne McCaffrey. Your enormous talent gave me many a gift, and to millions of others too. Rest gently now you've gone between, and know that I will always treasure the fact that it was your words that led me into the readers' world that is one of my greatest delights in my life.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 24 down, 6 to go!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On drawing dubious conclusions from data (or, How to push your barrow along regardless)

This article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday set my teeth on edge, and it's taken me until today to pin down why.

The article is, basically, reporting the results of the NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey, but with the inevitable glosses and essentialist positions that seem to go hand in hand with any reporting on childrens' health or activity levels. It leads off with an absolute statement and doesn't improve from there:
MANY Australian children are too inactive, with more than half of the primary students and almost three-quarters of the high school students in a survey spending more than the recommended time each day in front of a TV, computer or other screen.
My editor's eye immediately caught the phrase "too inactive" and started unpicking it. What's too inactive? I thought. According to whom? Is the only measure how much screen time children are having, or are other factors considered too?

As the article continues, it becomes clearer what the study means by "too inactive" - it means a) more time in front of screens than 'experts' think is optimal b) an asserted decline in 'basic' physical skills such as jumping and catching a ball and c) a steady rate of consumption of fat-rich foods and sugary drinks (not an increase, it is noted in small words).

The article, to do it justice, does point out that the proportion of overweight and obese children is stable at 22.8%, having shown no increase since the 2004 study despite the widespread panic about a "rising" obesity crisis in young people. However, this is presented as the 'good' news in amongst a generally dismal set of results.

However, I'll be honest; it's not the actual data or even the conclusions that the article draws from it that I find problematic. I think aggregated data about diet and habits can be useful thing to gather in terms of planning public health interventions. I think messages about nutrition and giving growing bodies the best dietary support to do their growing, as well as initiatives to positively increase activity levels (such as Victoria's Go For Your Life program) are great, especially when they are done in a way that supports and encourages achieving the best health your body is capable of, rather than focusing on dubious measures of wellbeing such as weight.

No, the part of the article that really bugged me was the conclusions voiced by some of the people involved in the study. For instance:
Dr Hardy said it was ''appalling'' that fewer than 10 per cent of girls in year 4 and 6 could throw a ball overarm correctly.
REALLY? That's your measure of the decay of modern childhood - the ability to throw a ball overarm "correctly?"

The (weak) premise behind this is that if children lack physical skills, they are less likely to enjoy physical activity and / or get picked for team sports. If the lack could be demonstrated to be global, across ALL activity types, then perhaps there might be half a leg to stand on here. But it entirely fails to consider that some children - hell, some adults - may lack ball skills but still be perfectly physically competent, and active, in other ways. My own daughters, for instance, are somewhere below mediocre in ball sports, but are great swimmers, good gymnasts (and growing those skills all the time), and love to ride their bikes and scooters everywhere.

Is this study really asserting that THE MEASURE of physical wellbeing in children is whether or not they have the capacity to be good at a limited number of ball sports? I think, actually, that the assertion arises because of the data, in that the results showed a drop in ball skills, the commentators have an interest in showing an overall picture of failure and crisis, so they seize on that element and tut-tut about how shocking it is. I agree that helping kids to acquire good ball skills is a worthwhile goal, for parents or for PE teachers - it helps hand-eye co-ordination, and it's fun to play ball games! Do I think it a universal measure, though? NO.

I guess what I find the most disappointing in these stories is their assumption that a) there IS an obesity crisis, and it's getting WORSER and WORSERER b) kids these days. They need to get outside more! Screens are bad, eleventy!!! and c) parents are to blame. (Naturellement). I think what studies like the NSW one can do, at their best, is give a statistical picture that can help focus public health messages across the board, and also, in this case, refute some folk wisdom that's actually based on erronoeous assumptions (that childhood obesity is worsening. As this data shows, it isn't). It's a shame that instead of these actually useful outcomes, the focus always springs to demonising weight, parents, and children who use technology.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 23 down, 7 to go!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reading Notes: 5 Christmas picture books

Last year I posted about 5 of our favourite Christmas picture books. With the season almost upon us again, I thought I might offer 5 different books that we're already enjoying in this pre-festive warm-up period :-)

1. The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Kevin Whitlark
This hilarious remake of the Twelve Days of Christmas features, among other things, three French poodles, six pooches playing, ten labs a'licking, eleven puppies pooping, and a fat cat in a fur tree. The kids like it because it's amusing. I like it because I can SING it, and, tunelessness notwithstanding, I do love to sing.

Apparently there is a companion volume, The Twelve Cats of Christmas, and I'm on the hunt for it now.

2. On This Special Night by Claire Freedman and Simon Mendez
Choosing one animals'-eye nativity story out of the bunch is always tricky, as there is such a plethora of titles in this sub-genre. This one, which uses a little grey kitten's learning about the meaning of the special night as its central device, is very appealing, though, firstly because it is beautifully, almost photographically illustrated, and secondly because of the oddly touching detail of the empty manger in the final illustration, leaving the child's mind to supply the image of the infant Jesus, being gazed on by the animals.

(As with all nativity stories, I have to set aside the historical and biblical inaccuracies that go with the territory. My 2 year old really doesn't need to hear me explain that the wise men didn't visit Jesus until he was almost 2, according to the Bible, or that if there were shepherds and flocks on the hills, it sure as sugar wasn't December - midwinter - when he was born. Well, at least not EVERY time :-)

3. Zelda & Ivy: One Christmas
This extremely appealing three-part tale of the Fox sisters' preparations for Christmas has been on our bookshelf for years, but it's this year that it's really come into its own. C, my 2 year old, and E, my 6 year old, have adopted this one as a sister-story, and E's been reading it aloud to C most days. They are particularly enamoured of Chapter Three, where the girls finally get their Christmas gifts, and deliver a very special one to their widowed neighbour.

4. Magical Christmas
This is a strange little book in some ways, combining quite a teacherly-earnest tone in some parts (and useful information about various Christmas traditions around the world) with a very tongue-in-cheek manner at others.

My 6 year old adores it for the way it seems to invite the child reader into the joke, but there's also plenty of sly humour for the adults, with phrases like, "Always show letters for Santa to your parents before sending - it really helps" and "Don't open all the windows at once or the grown-ups will be cross and it is essential not to make grown-ups cross before Christmas."

5. Aussie Jingle Bells
Colin Buchanan's version of Jingle Bells for an Australian audience is famous - probably infamous - now, and needs no introduction. It's another one I can sing, too!

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 22 down, 8 to go!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Potato salad with sour cream

There was a bit of a discussion on Twitter at the weekend about the problem of people who don't like condiments. Potato salad, for example, was raised as one insuperable stumbling block to the no-condiments thing, because mayonnaise is usually a component of it. And really, what's summer without potato salad?

However, you can make potato salad very deliciously without mayonnaise, and the advantage of doing so is that if you are gluten free like me, you don't need to worry about gluten in the mayo (always a concern with non-homemade mayo). The downside is that this version is very dairy-heavy and thus probably high in calories (I don't care much about fattiness per se, so it doesn't bother me, but YMMV).

Here is ... Potato Salad with Sour Cream 2 Ways.

8 waxy potatoes
300 - 400g sour cream
2 or 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 - 1.5 tablespoon seeded mustard
(I suggest tasting the cream mixture after adding the first portions of vinegar and mustard, and adjusting the amounts to suit your palate)
(For variation 1) 300g bacon, diced and fried in olive oil
(For variation 2) 5 spring onions, finely chopped

Boil the potatoes whole in their skins. When they are still firm, but softening, remove, drain, cool, and dice. (You can peel the skins off if you like - I do sometimes, but not always).

If making the bacon option, fry it, diced, in olive oil. If making the spring onion option, cut the spring onions finely and give them 2 mins in a frypan with a tiny bit of olive oil just to take the sting out.

Mix the sour cream, red wine vinegar and mustard in a jug. Add the cream mixture to the hot frypan (with the bacon or the spring onions), immediately removing from the heat, and mix well.

Pour the sauce over the chopped potatoes. Mix well & chill for one hour before serving.

It is very yummy, tasting sharper / less creamy / more tangy than a traditional mayo-based salad. We like it especially with fancy sausages (the pictured ones are lamb, rosemary & thyme).

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 21 down, 9 to go!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Selections

Well, this is my first time joining in frogpondsrock's Sunday Selections photography meme, so please excuse me if it's a bit clunky, but like everyone, I have a massive backlog of photos that have ben neitherr printed nor displayed, and this seems like a really good way to give some of them a bit of daylight.

Today, I decided to focus on the period from April to September 2009, which, as anyone who was reading my other blog at that time might recall, was an extraordinarily difficult period for me, emotionally and physically, as I battled probable (but undiagnosed) PND, serious nerve damage in my spine from the spinal anaesthetic I had when delivering C in the February, severe anxiety about the failing health of my grandmother and my mother, and the awful news of my dear friend's terminal brain cancer.

But it was also the period where my family learned to be a family of five, and a period of huge development for all three kids.

A period of great sibling times and lovely cuddles.

I decided to revisit this period in photographs to remind me that despite it all, this was not a period of unrelieved blackness - that there was still joy in it and moments of laughter and light, almost all because of my beautiful children. Pictures help remind me of this more than words could ever do.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 20 down, 10 to go!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cars 2: Review and Giveaway

As I mentioned last week, my girls and I had a pretty excellent time at the Disney 3D Bluray Cars 2 screening at the Medina Grand penthouse on 8 December.

The food was a-MAZ-ing, and so was the venue. The kids enjoyed everything, from the activities to the eating to the running amuck to the eating to the view to the eating... I enjoyed less eating, but more atmospherics, and I learned a lot about Bluray and 3D. (I hadn't realised that 3D movies have to be presented on Bluray simply because DVDs aren't big enough to hold them, for instance, nor that 8% of Australian households already have a 3D TV, and that it's growing by 300% a month.)

For all the excitement, one thing we didn't actually do, any of us, on the day was watch the entire movie, start to finish. I watched barely any of it, to be totally honest, engaged as I was in keeping tabs on the three kids (who, naturally, scattered to the furthest corners of the penthouse from each other as if magnetically repelled) and chatting to people. C watched snippets, but was more interested in colouring in and general mayhem. E watched two large chunks before being inescapably diverted by ice-cream and dumplings. A, the 8 year old, probably watched the most, tucked up in a luxury bed, but even she lost the last 40 minutes when toddler shenanigans took over her viewing room.

So when we all sat down to watch Cars 2 (*not* in 3D!) on our home projector / screen last night, it was something of a novelty for all of us.

A, G and I had seen Cars when it came out, and A had liked, but not loved, it. She watched it maybe two or three times but then never asked for it again. My reaction was similar; it was enjoyable enough, I liked it, but it didn't completely captivate me as an adult viewer.

Based on our reactions to Cars 2 last night, I think it's safe to say that in our view at least, Cars 2 is several steps up from the first movie. Other than a slightly slowish start (quite ironic in a movie about racing cars!), the pacing, story and visuals of this film were impeccable. I loved that it was a story about friendship but also about valuing difference, and not judging people's worth on their surface behaviour. Square pegs everywhere should rejoice in Mater's triumph in this film.

My three girls all really, really liked it, too. The 6 year old was probably the most besotted, particularly enjoying the Italian sequence (that was also my favourite part. 6 year old wants us to go to Italy for hols next year now ... ahhhh, no, my love). The 2 year old wandered in and out - at just shy of 2 hours, it's not quite toddler-length - but she was very taken with the final half-hour - in fact we all were, even G.

So this isn't just a collection of my thoughts about a kids' movie (thank goodness, do I hear you say)? There's a prize on offer too!

Disney has provided me with ONE ultimate Cars 2 prize pack to offer to readers of this blog (valued at $177.95)

The Cars 2 pack includes:
- Cars 2 Blu-ray and DVD
- Invisible Pen with UV Light set
- Cars 2 watch
- Credit Card Sized USB Flash Drive
- Mini Car toolkit
- Spy Ear Phone

If you would like to be in the running to win the pack, just leave a comment by 5pm AEDT on Friday 25th November with your favourite Disney film of the last decade and why. I'll draw a winner with and announce it on Sunday 27th November. The winner then has 3 days to provide me with mailing details or I will draw another winning. Only Australian addressees are eligible for this one - sorry!

Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to the Disney 3d Bluray event in Melbourne and a Cars 2 gift pack, which included the Cars 2 DVD / Bluray, courtesy of Porter Novelli and Disney. No financial payment was offered nor accepted for this post, nor was a review of the movie required. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 19 down, 11 to go!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Things I Know: Speak Out

Today I know that speaking out against domestic violence is something that needs to happen more and more, until the chorus of voices drowns out the noise of people who say it's not a problem, or that it's somehow justified. (I know people of both these mentalities).

Today I know that I feel lucky, privileged, that my own experience of domestic violence has been limited and short-lived; but that even that brief period of emotional / social violence and manipulation was one of the darkest of my life.

Today I know that I'm thinking of three friends who've suffered enormously from domestic violence, one who had to give birth to her youngest child in a women's shelter, fleeing with her children from a violent partner. Her youngest child, that baby born in the shelter, was the child of rape, the last of many physical, emotional and social violences inflicted on her over several years.

Today I know that women and children everywhere - in my community, perhaps even in my street - are hurting from domestic violence.

(And I know that some men are victims, too. To say - and I do say this, emphatically - that women and children suffer disproportionately is not intended to erase those real and painful experiences of abused men).

Today I know that escaping domestic violence can be incredibly difficult and that judging women who stay with violent partners is not only cruel, but counter-productive.

And today I know that if you or someone close to you is in a situation of domestic violence, that I hope you are able to get help. Reach Out is one place to start.

This post is part of Wanderlust's link-up for Speak Out day. If you are posting today on this topic, please join the Mr Linky over there.)

This post is also part of NaBloPoMo. 18 down, 12 to go!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Today's post is a Public Service Announcement

Here is a top parenting tip, from me to you:

If, as was the case here yesterday, your toddler has eaten an unusually heavy and sweet afternoon tea (ie pancakes with jam, and popcorn with butter);

and has then, not too long after, eaten a big bowl of pasta with a rich tomato sauce and cheese for dinner;

and has then spent a manic 15 minutes playing Duck, Duck, Goose with you and her sisters, amid much hilarity and frantic running;

it's not the world's smartest idea to then send her to play with her toy stove and plastic food in the loungeroom while you read to the big kids -

unless you want to spend 15 minutes scrubbing lurid orange-coloured upchuck off the carpet, and another 15 minutes doing this:

I'm just saying, is all. Learn from my mistakes.

You're welcome :-)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 17 down, 13 to go!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A day in the life of us

Occasionally - annually, or a little more often - I log a day of regular life for us, just as an exercise, and to track how things change over time. The last one I did was last October, so I thought it might be time to have a go again...

So this was Tuesday, in the life of us.

6-year-old presents herself at my bedside, having had a nightmare. I comfort her and bring her in between G and I for the balance of the night. It takes her a while to get comfy, and when she does, it's with her limbs splayed to their furthest reaches, which includes a foot in the small of my back.

I finally drift back to sleep, balanced on a pencil-edge of bed and slightly cramped.

C wakes for the day. At 2 years 9 months, it's finally the norm for her to sleep through the night, albeit with an early waking time. I go fetch her from her room.

I take C out of her night nappy, get her on the toilet, then we sit down to do her morning breastfeed.

I head to the kitchen to make breakfasts and lunches. G and E, the 6-year-old, are still sound asleep in my bed. 8-year-old A has gotten up, however, and is curled up on the couch with a blankie and a book. C starts to play with her duplo blocks.

I call A and C to the table and the three of us eat - Weetbix and fruit for the kids, gluten free muesli for me, washed down (for A and I, anyway) with hot tea.

I send A in to wake the sleepyheads, both of whom are not enamoured of getting up, but do eventually. I finish packing the lunches and do the dishes, some left over from last night, some from A, C and my breakfast.

A is dressed for school and back reading. G is showering, E is eating porridge, and I suddenly realise I haven't heard from C in a few minutes. This is never a good thing.

Giggles guide me to my bathroom, where several toys are being washed in the sink, with about two-thirds of a bottle of expensive shampoo to make the "bubbles". Le sigh.

G leaves to catch the bus to work, while I finish cleaning up the bathroom and chivvy E along to finish her meal and get ready. I then chase C around the house several times before I can catch and dress her. I then brush & put up everyone's hair, to the usual daily accompaniment of wailing from Miss 8, who has bum-length hair, a low pain threshhold and hates sleeping in a plait. YOU DO THE MATH.

We do the always-ridiculously-protracted shoe-putting-on dance and finally leave the house about 8:40. On the plus side, we're not late, everyone's reasonably happy, and there have been no meltdowns. I call that V for Victory in the morning.

C and I drop the big girls to school then proceed to our Tuesday morning kinder gym class, which she deeply, deeply loves. Class doesn't start til 9:30am and thanks to being on time at school, we're early, giving us 20 minutes to chill out in the parent room and read stories.

Kindergym class finishes and we head for the shops, after a detour to drop off a bag at the Brotherhood shop.

We arrive at the shopping centre and park. We have a monster shop to do, so C and I have a talk about how we're going to behave at the shops. She nods very seriously. We'll see. Shopping with toddlers is pretty much a crapshoot in my experience.

C is being lovely; adorable, helpful, cheerful, listening to everything I say, not grabbing at anything, and STAYING WITH ME AT ALL TIMES. In fact, she's the picture-book child that everybody vaguely assumes they're going to get when first they fall pregnant. To say this is atypical for C would be an understatement of epic proportions, but man, I'll take it.

Finally through the checkout, I sign my credit card chit, wincing slightly (it was a pig of a shop) but pleased to be finished so painlessly.

C and I arrive home. I make her lunch and turn on a Hooley Dooleys DVD for her while I unload and put away Mount Grocerymore.

Groceries are away, DVD is over, lunch is eaten, it's time for C to take a nap.

Or not. Yeah, probably not, if she's still messing about half an hour later. I lift her out of her cot.

C is being fairly high-needs (being tired will do that to you). I abandon any thought of working on my Nano book, quickly finish yesterday's blog post, and sit down with her to read stories and play with her plastic animals.

As she is happily engaged in play, I creep off quietly to put out & bring in washing from the line.

We leave to go get the big kids from school, swinging by the library to drop off books on our way.

Home with the big kids. They both decide to go to their room to engage in some kind of secret sister business, I think involving Christmas. C, at a loose end, is a bit whiney until a neighbour kid knocks on the door wanting to come in and play. The big kids decline the offer but C is enthusiastic.

The neighbour kid's hour visit has been a godsend, as she's amused C while I've prepared dinner, sorted washing, answered email, and had a cup of tea. I feel like I ought to pay this kid for babysitting services rendered :-)

C and E go outside to play with the dog and bounce on the trampoline. A hangs about in the kitchen, chatting to me as I cook and half-reading her book.

The kids and I eat. Baked salmon in lemon-lime juice, roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots, broccolini, macaroni pasta, and artichoke hearts. (Of the kids, only A attempts the artichokes; they're more an adult treat). I read Grug books (for C) and chapters of Trixie Belden (for the big kids) while we eat.

Ice cream for dessert!

Bath time. The big kids take it in turns in with C while I scrape plates and wash up.

All are scrubbed, pjed and clean-toothed. I sit down with a book to do C's bedtime feed. She is super tired. A turns on her computer to have her half-hour screen time. E reads a book.

G arrives home and heads kitchen-ward to heat his dinner.

I lift a deeply-sleeping C off the breast and into bed, and signal to the big kids that it's time to swap on the computer. E starts her half-hour while A hangs around G and I, chatting, and getting us to compile quizzes for her to do. (What can I say ... she loves it).

Big kids are finished on the computer and should be in bed. I turn on my computer and open my Nano book to start writing.

Big kids are NOT in bed. One has itchy eyes, one has a funny tummy. Claratyne and Panadol are dispensed.

I start writing, aware of how tired I am.

After a considerable amount of pissfarting, I actually finish the 1,000 words I wanted to do and hit the halfway mark at 25,000 words. I cannot possibly not tweet this, so I do.

I stumble into bed, "to read".

(I am informed) 10:15
G turns off the light and takes my book from my fingers where I've clutched it as I fell asleep.

And THAT was our day!

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 16 down, 14 to go!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

To give or not to give a goat

Several years ago, just before my eldest child was born, I started buying gift cards from charities as part of my Christmas present shopping.

I'm sure you know the things I'm talking about - most of the major charities offer them now, as they're so popular. They're simply little printed cards which designate a relief or aid purpose to which the donation has been ostensibly out. Depending on the amount donated, you can "give" things like seed packets, training in chicken farming, a school supplies pack, a mosquito net, a birthing kit, tree seedlings, bridges & roads, safe water systems, and livestock of various kinds.

On the very first year I decided to do this, I bought $100 worth of gift cards in relatively small amounts and included them inside the Christmas cards I gave to my colleagues at work. I was excited about this as a concept; we had a culture of small-gift-giving at work, and the years before I'd handed out things like candles, soap packs and chocolates, but this seemed like a good option to me.

Most of my colleagues seemed happy with their gift cards, several expressing their pleasure at getting them instead of another random object. One colleague, however, frowned as she opened hers, and was quite cool to me for days afterwards.

Eventually, I asked her what was bothering her.

She said, "I just find the whole charity-card thing a bit ... I dunno ... sanctimonious and self-serving."

I was rather taken aback, but this was person that I respected and liked, and I wanted to hear her opinion. So I asked her to elaborate.

She said, "Look, I know you meant it well, and I really don't want to offend you. But don't you think that when you give someone a gift, it should be for them, rather than about you and what causes you've decided to support this year? If you knew that one of us was passionate about a particular charity, then a donation in that person's name would be appropriate. But as it is, how do you know that we even agree with the work being done or value it in the same way you do? If you want to donate to charity, I am absolutely on board with that, I do it too; but aren't you confusing two things with these cards? Your donation decisions - and your tax deductions, of course! - and your gift-giving?"

I was gobsmacked by her words at the time, and I won't say they weren't hurtful or that I didn't resent them, because that would be a lie. But I did think about them more and more as time went on, and eventually I concluded that, while I didn't think she was being entirely fair, there was some truth in what she was saying.

Giving gifts and giving money to causes aren't necessarily motivated by the same impulses, and there can be something impersonal about gift cards of any kind, charity ones included. If used indiscrimminately, they can make recipients feel undervalued, and can, however unintentionally, come off as holier-than-thou showing off.

I still buy $100 worth of charity gift cards every year, despite all this - usually a mixture from Oxfam Unwrapped and TEAR Australia's Really Useful Gifts. And I still include this as part - but not all - of our Christmas giving budget. It's particularly important to me that the kids see that we budget Christmas in a way that sets aside half of the available funds for charitable giving, rather than acquiring objects (or food!) for ourselves or family & friends. Both the big kids look forward to opening their own gift cards now and seeing whether their foregoing of an extra Zhou Zhou pet has bought another child a goat, a pig or a vegetable garden.

That's my decision, but I am more aware now of how this can be received, and possibly a little more strategic about who I distribute them to. (For example, I always include a $5 school supplies card in with the teacher gifts I get for the kids' teachers, along with home-baked goodies and a bottle of wine, as I feel safe in assuming there is an appropriate thematic connection there).

Do you buy charity donation cards at Christmas? What are your views on them?

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. Halfway there - 15 down, 15 to go!

Monday, November 14, 2011

On a girl who wants to change the world

my daughter has been reading a book
about women who made a difference,
some major contribution to the world.
(How to define 'major'? A story for a different day, perhaps).

She's read the lives of Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa,
Amelia Earheart, and others,
some names known to me, some new.
A preponderence of caring professions, charitable endeavours, which, perhaps
shouldn't surprise.
(What are women allowed to be known for, mostly?)

She reads extracts to me in the kitchen, her voice filled with wonder
as I dice carrots, peel potatoes, slice meat.
propping the book at her place at the table, lost in it
sleeping with it pillow-side at night.

she is fired, now
aglow with the energy of inspiration

and she says,
"I want to change the world, too."

And I
looking at her open face and shining eyes
her child's expansive and beautiful heart
will not say, "But, perhaps, you cannot."

It would be wrong to tarnish that animal will, that hunger to be an agent
of a new world.
(Perhaps, in any case, she can. Who is to say? People do, sometimes.)

Instead, I say,
"What would you like to change in the world, my love?"
She, very serious, replies,
"I would like to help people to understand that women and children are as good as men. Everywhere."

And I, with eyes prickling with tears, stroke her hair
and think on her purity of purpose
and my sadness that she owns this knowledge, already embedded, at 8 years old,
that she
this marvellous, incandescent girl,
is part of a journey not yet finished
a song not yet sung,
a race not yet won.

- Kathy, 14/11/11

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 14 down, 16 to go!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

kd lang in concert

Last night G and I went to see kd lang and the Siss Boom Bang in an open air concert at the Myer Music Bowl. This was the cause of great excitement, as we both have loved kd lang long time, and it was the first live music show we've been to together since our eldest child was born over 8 years ago.

8 years is a fairly long time between drinks, especially as, before-kids, we used to go to concerts and live music in pubs fairly frequently. We often did the Saturday night at the Espy (St Kilda's Esplanade Hotel) thing. We saw bands ranging from Radiohead to Nick Cave and Billy Bragg at bigger venues, sometimes with friends, sometimes just ourselves.

In the past 8 years, if you don't count Wiggles, Kazoos and Hooley Dooleys performances that I've taken the kids to, I've been to 4 music performances - I've seen the Indigo Girls twice (once earlier this year with my Miss 8), I've been to an acoustic Deborah Conway performance at Tony & Rae's, and last night I got to go to kd lang. This means that a full 50% of my live music attending post-children has taken place in the last 8 months - perhaps this means the tide is turning?

The evening was fantastic. It was a warm day yesterday in Melbourne, so the air, as we arrived with our blanket and takeaway Thai food at 6:45, was still pleasantly warm. (By the end of the concert it was decidedly chilly and most people were wrapped up in coats or blankies, but there was no rain, and that was the main concern, as it always is with outdoor events in a Melbourne spring.)

As the sky slowly moved from light to dusk, the support act, Shane Nicholson, played his set. A friendly guy sitting next to us informed us that Nicholson, who we'd not heard play before, is actually the husband and frequent co-performer of Kasey Chambers, a singer we both like. Shane Nicholson was good - very relaxing music - but no-one got to really hear him properly because the sound system was acting up, and everyone past the seated section could only get the sound like a muted radio playing in the next room. They got it sorted out for the last two songs, which I really enjoyed, but I'm sure it would have been a better experience overall if we'd have heard it all.

The sound was perfect for kd lang, however. I have never seen her live before, and to me she seemed relaxed, happy to be in Melbourne and performing. Her set was full of little humorous and cheeky touches which really made it as a live performance. An oh, her voice ... it just soars. When she sang Constant Craving and Hallelujah, she almost brought the house down. (No mean feat given how many people there were on the hillside).

All in all, we loved it. I have not been to many outdoor music events (well, not since my teenage days of doing the Big Day Out thing) but kd lang showed how it's done last night. G and I were very happy to have chosen her concert to break the 8-year drought of shared live music.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 13 down, 17 to go!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


... and the lambs are here!

(I know, I know, it's minimalist. We have one heck of a day today, and this is as many words as I can manage :-)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 12 down, 18 to go!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Things I Know

This week I know that taking your kids to events, like the Disney 3D Bluray screening of Cars 2 that we attended on Tuesday, can be a great deal of fun.

I know that 3D TV is getting better and better, and that movie-makers are taking full advantage of the new technology to enhance the film experience.

(I also know that, longing sighs notwithstanding, it's not at a pricepoint where we would consider it yet, especially given our renewed commitment to live simply wherever we can. Our current smallish 10-year-old TV meets our minimal viewing requirements, so an upgrade is unnecessary and wasteful right now).

I know that I was blown away by the attention to detail in the food, decorations and activities provided, and have a whole new respect for the work and planning that goes into these things.

I know that getting to go to an event in a penthouse was a huge thrill for all my kids, and me too :-)

I know that the 8-year-old thought that being tucked up in a luxurious bed while watching a 3D movie and having people bring food and drink to her was extraordinarily good form.

I know that my 2-year-old is a social butterfly, comfortable initiating conversations with unfamiliar adults and then talking their ear off for some minutes (and that she did so, happily, on Tuesday!)

I know that mostly people find this charming in a cute curly-haired toddler, but that it might not be *quite* so adorable if she's still doing it in 10 years' time.

And I know that special events can be a great thing if they are done well and used sparingly within the tapestry of a child's days.

For more things that people know, check out the page at Shae's (Yay for Home!)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 11 down, 19 to go!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leggings as pants: What I want to teach my daughters

I have something to say that may not sit easily with some people, but I've decided to say it anyway. (That's what the Internet is for, isn't it - at its best, it can be about being brave and speaking our truths in a somewhat less confrontational arena than the breathing world).

So what I want to say is this:

The "leggings are not pants" assertion / meme / battlecry that has been infecting Twitter lately really, really bothers me.

I was trying to pin down exactly what I dislike so much about it, and I think I've worked it out.

It's not that a lot of people seem to agree that leggings as pants are not fashionable. This may be a true statement, and as a fashion null zone myself, I am unqualified to comment on it and won't. If the assertion was "leggings as pants are not in fashion", it would not raise my hackles.

It's not that some people simply don't like leggings, and don't find them comfortable. If the assertion was "I don't really like leggings", then what could anyone object to in that? I myself do not really like high heels, but making that statement doesn't imply a universalised condemnation of high heels or other people's wearing of them.

No, what I find so uncomfortable in the "leggings are not pants!" thing is that I cannot see how it is not both deeply classist and a form of thinly-veiled body policing, especially of fat bodies.

Almost all the "leggings are not pants!" rhetoric stems back to one of two ideas: either the body-snarking idea that some bodies shouldn't be displayed or visible in the figure-hugging way that leggings enable; or the classist idea that leggings are somehow "trashy", "poor people's cheap clothes", or, as I saw one person label them, "the marker of a feral". (Don't even get me started on my utter hatred of the term "feral" to describe a human being).

If you subscribe to the view that "leggings are not pants!", on what basis other than disapproval of certain bodies being visible, or distaste at the perceived class marker inherent in this clothing choice, do you sustain this view?

For me, I think, it comes down to this: I want to teach my daughters that all bodies - ALL bodies - are acceptable. That no body should have to be hidden (or indeed displayed). That bodies are the carriers of human beings, each of whom should be treated with dignity no matter how they talk, or what they wear, or how they look to your eyes.

I never want my daughters to look at someone and dismiss them or think less of them because they are wearing leggings without a top covering of some kind. I never want them to feel humiliated by their own clothing choices, to feel judged (I know I cannot prevent this for them entirely, sadly, but I hope to set up a basis whereby they have the foundation to at least see this for what it is).

Ultimately I do not give a fig whether anyone wears leggings (as pants or under dresses) or not. I just wish it was less of a rallying point for people to express their body policing or class issues in a socially sanctioned way.

(Disclaimer - I wear leggings, sometimes, yes, as pants. And I'm fat. And middle class.)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 10 down, 20 to go!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A day out of life

Late yesterday morning, I was getting pretty frazzled as I regarded my weekly running list, which is currently more than twice the size of a "normal" week's list. We have such a lot on at the moment - so many extra events and commitments, so many obligations to fulfill and places to be.

It's normal for this time of year - the kids seem to have a preponderence of friends with November / December birthdays, and seasonal things are ramping up (we have our first Christmas do of the year this coming Sunday, in fact). I know and expect the period from late October until Christmas to be a highly socially active one for us, and much as it tires us, we also really enjoy it.

What's complicating the issue a little is the commitment I've made to do NaNoWriMo (which is intensely rewarding and pleasurable for me, but is undoubtedly taking up head room and hours that I could otherwise use elsewhere). This has coincided with a very busy period at my husband's work - he worked the entire weekend just gone, in fact, and has had several late evenings, with more to come, and an interstate business trip, in the next few weeks.

I thought I was handling all this OK, keeping all the balls in the air, until I became so stressed yesterday. I realised when I became unreasonably and disproportionately upset about the toddler's decision not to nap that the tight scheduling and rushing about, combined with the demands of NaNo, the reduced help from husband, and the increasing weight of seasonal preparations, was starting to take its toll on me mentally.

Pondering this, I picked up the big girls early from school and we went to our scheduled special event for the day - the Disney 3D Bluray screening of Cars 2 at a penthouse suite of a posh hotel in the city yesterday afternoon. It was such immense fun and so well done - but more of that later, as I'll be reviewing both the event and the movie (with a giveaway) once I've collected my thoughts.

As we were coming home though, all three kids excited but tired, I found myself thinking about all the stuff on the list for the rest of the week and feeling my heart rate starting to rise again. I made a snap decision. I looked at my C, sleepy but smiling in the back seat, and said to her, "Honey, shall we miss playgroup and forget the shopping tomorrow? And big kids, we can skip gymnastics after school? Just have a home day?"

"YES!" carrolled C is instant delight. "We have a Mummy an' C day!"

The relief I felt was immediate and immense. And already I know this was the right decision. C and I, after dropping the big kids to school at 8:45, have spent an hour painting pictures together and chatting. She's had a lengthy and enjoyable bubble bath. She's now selecting stories to read while we have our morning tea, and after that we'll do the vaccuuming together, and I'll do the bathrooms while she watches Spot the Dog on DVD. (This might sound dull but the need to do it has been itching me for days - nothing brings my house-mood down faster than a dirty floor. I can live with clutter and mess - which is lucky, as I have A LOT of it! - but too much dirt, and especially bad smells, in the house makes me feel grotty).

After lunch C will nap (I hope and expect!) and I'll get stuck back into my NaNo book, and when we get the big kids home, we'll make our Rainy Day Banana Muffins, a recipe that hasn't been used in a year thanks to the price of bananas following the Queensland floods, but now, with them reaching the depths of $5.95 / kg this week, is on the cards again.

Sometimes knowing when to hit the pause button is the greatest gift you can give yourself, and your children.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 9 down, 21 to go!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On sweetness in spring

in the warm garden, they
run and harrumph and sweat and pinken.
fair skins in hot sun
hats pushed back, knees bare
and grubby.

the smallest
can't reach to the trampoline; she hops fiercely on her indignant feet, wailing
until two pairs of just-bigger arms
lift her up.

together, they rise
bouncing high, higher, higher, as if to touch the vague wisps of cloud
that trail like bolts of fine linen across the depth of the sky.

they are laughing
their voices mingling as they chortle, one over the other
as they hold hands, then circle each other, gasping between their explosions of mirth

they are joy
my three glad and fearsome answers to all pain and travail and woe

and the roses are blooming
the honeysuckle, the jasmine,
and it is sweet, so sweet, with scent and beauty

in this disorderly, weed-grown garden

on this hot, bee-rich, bright spring day.

- Kathy, 8/11/11

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 8 down, 22 to go!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The ABCs, toddler-style

Miss C is 2 years 8 months old. She loves to sing, she loves Playschool, she loves the ABC song. Her rendition is somewhat idiosyncratic, but it's all her own.

This is the first time I've ever posted video to the blog, and I'm a little nervous on two scores - firstly, will it work? (I am technically partially-ept at the very best). Secondly, is it the right thing to do, posting video of my child online? Granted, it is pretty innocuous stuff, it's more voice than vision really, but all the same, that won't stop me angsting about it for a while, cos that is what I do.

But anyway ... (deep breath) ... here it is. I hope it raises a smile.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 7 down, 23 to go!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The other side of Wordy November: My NaNoWriMo project

As I may have mentioned, I'm doing both NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo this year. In other words, I have committed to attempting a blog post per day and to writing a minimum of 50,000 words on a novel.

Although I find that I have a surprising number of things to blog about that aren't connected to my NaNo project, it's inevitable that at some point my preoccupation with the larger-loaded project will seep across to here. Against that day, I thought I might outline what I'm working on for NaNo, so it doesn't come as a complete surprise.

The book I've started (I'm at 10,300 words, a very satisfactory position to be in at the start of day 6!) is tentatively titled The Secret Admirer, the Cyber Bully and the Big Birthday - Frankie Loveday #2. It's a sequel to the one I wrote last year, which was originally called Frankie Loveday, Girl Detective, but I have retitled as The Missing Mother and the Class that Didn't Cheat - Frankie Loveday #1.

Here is a little synopsis, in case you are interested:

Frankie Loveday is enjoying the warm weather and relative calm of late spring in Melbourne, especially after all the action a month ago left her triumphant but exhausted (The Missing Mother and the Class that Didn't Cheat - Frankie Loveday #1). But serenity is overrated anyway, and Frankie and her friends are about to be catapulted into two new and engrossing investigations.

Who is leaving flowers, chocolates and love poems for Frankie's acidic school principal, Miss Radeski? Do they have an ulterior motive ... and what could it possibly be?

More disturbingly still, what lies behind the savage but anonymous cyber bullying of Frankie's classmates at school? Who's behind it, and why are they targeting specific kids? Is there another agenda at work here?

Meanwhile, preparations for Frankie's littlest sister's 2nd birthday party are accelerating, with new and grander layers being added daily.

Frankie, Seb, Jen, Egg and their friends have to race against the clock to solve these mysteries before someone really gets hurt ... and get to Vicky's Big Birthday Bash on time.

Like its predecessor, this is a middle-grade novel, aimed at readers aged 8ish to 11ish or so. My chief audience has been my own older daughter (and this year, my second daughter too) and it's their tastes, language, sensibility and interests that I am trying to keep firmly in mind as I write.

The books are written in the first-person voice of Frankie, an 11-year-old Australian girl who's intelligent, funny, fat, red-haired and self-confident. I didn't actually decide to write in the first person - I've never successfully done so before, and I had envisaged (vaguely) a third-person approach. When I started to write last year's book, though, it was honestly like the choice was taken out my hands; Frankie's voice just clamoured to be heard and once I started writing it that way, it flew. I've never experienced such a powerful example of a character coming to life, and it's Frankie's personality, born from observation and long-buried memories, that's carrying these tales forward. It's almost worrying to me that, I admit, I'm not always sure what she's going to do or say next. Automatic writing, indeed :-)

Anyway, that's what I'm up to when not living my regularly scheduled life or posting here!

(If you are also doing Nano and would like to add me as a writing buddy, I'm KathyZucchini on that site.)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 6 down, 24 to go!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Sometimes, I know, you all wish you had more of my attention, just to yourself, not shared between you.

Sometimes each of you wishes you were an only child; you think and talk wistfully of rooms unshared, toys unbroken, quarrels unneeded.

Sometimes the pace and bustle of life with two siblings in it with is tiring, and you all get sick of being dragged around to each other's activities.

Sometimes you seem to squabble all day long, needling each other, picking fights, saying mean and hurtful things.

But then sometimes you play such endless and involved imaginative games with each other that you're reluctant to stop for food, or baths, or anything at all.

Sometimes you fall asleep in mid-sentence, chatting sleepily, in your warm shared room, comforted by each others' presence and company.

Sometimes you realise that you enjoy holidays and special activities much more for having people to share it with.

Sometimes you each display such care and protectiveness for each other that it astonishes and humbles me.

Long after your father and I are gone, my dear babies, these your sisters will, we believe and hope, remain. I wish only that the ties that bind you will be loving ones, as you grow into yourselves and move out into the world.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 5 down, 25 to go!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Things I Know

This week, I know that some days are yellow, some days are blue (to quote the late, great Dr Seuss).

I know that Halloween dressing up and trick or treating might not be an Australian tradition, and that it makes a lot of people on Twitter very grumpy, but that it sure is fun for the kids, and actually really nice communal time for the kids in our street.

I know that I'm glad to have Halloween as a force with which to push back against the absurdity of Christmas marketing in September. "Nothing Christmassy til after Halloween" works!

I know that Melbourne Cup Day has an entirely different resonance for me now that I have three children, and do NaNoWriMo each year. No more champagne, chicken, strawberries and carousing, but instead I have cuddles, stories and a writing sprint :-)

I know that it's getting to be a long time since husband and I last had a few hours together without any of the kids, and the strain of that is starting to show.

I know that this makes me all the more excited about our tickets to see k d lang next Saturday night - grandparent babysitting, and 5 hours out for us!

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

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 4 down, 26 to go!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Seven lunch alternatives to the sandwich

One of the things - actually, probably *the* thing - I miss most as a Coeliac is lovely, fresh, soft bread on sandwiches.

Gluten free breads are getting better and better, yes, to the point where several of them are somewhat palatable, even if, let's be frank, they're still at their best toasted. (I'm currently eating Black Ruby's bread and Schar's part-baked ciabattine rolls quite regularly).

I haven't yet found a real replacement, taste, texture, and sensation wise, for fresh wheat bread, though. So instead of trying to replicate my onetime fixation on sandwiches as lunch fare, I decided quite some time ago to abandon that and instead find alternatives to eat for lunch.

I have developed a few favourites! Here are my 7 best non-sandwich options for a tasty gluten free lunch.

1. Vietnamese-style rice paper rolls

These fresh-tasting, delicious uncooked spring rolls are a favourite for picnic lunches for me, as they can be prepared the day before and transport well. I don't follow a recipe as such - I just use the rice papers (you can buy them in most supermarkets these days) and some rice vermecelli noodles, and fill them with any combination of grilled chicken, prawns, cucumber, carrots, bean shoots, lettuce, shallots ... whatever takes my fancy. Mint is an essential component of these, which, thankfully, my garden provides. They're delicious with a dipping sauce - I mix rice wine vinegar with a little sweet chilli sauce.

2. Soups of all kinds

Especially in winter, I am a great fan of soup-making. The process of making mahoosive batches which can then be frozen is one I really enjoy, and the kids enjoy helping with it too. We have lots of favourite soups (I'm slurping my way through a bowl of sweet potato & leek soup as I write this!) but an all-time winner is this lamb & vegetable soup recipe, an old one of my mother's that I've adapted to be gluten free.


2 Lamb shanks
1 stick celery
1 large carrot
1 large turnip
1 large onion
2 handfuls of yellow split peas
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 can tomato soup
1 heaped tablespoon gluten free all purpose flour

Dice all veges quite small, put in large pot with lamb shanks, peas, salt, sugar, soup and flour and bring to boil. Simmer for 2 hours.
Remove shanks from pot and then remove meat from shanks, cut into small bits and put meat back into pot to stir well together.

3. Frittata

If one isn't egg-allergic (I'm not) or lactose-intolerant (not that either), frittata can be a delicious, rich-tasting lunch for adults and children alike. My kids will eat frittata hot, straight from the oven, but don't fancy it cold. I, on the other hand, love it cold and it has become something of a lunchtime staple for me.

Here's the recipe I use for frittata; it's extremely simple, and it freezes really well (or keeps in the fridge for about a week). I make a frittata about once a month or so and it then provides about 10 lunch-sized portions.


Frittata Base
7 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup cream
½ cup grated parmesan
Salt & pepper to taste

½ cup grated tasty cheese

Variation ingredients

Spanish frittata
1 x large red onion, sliced
2 x large potatoes, sliced and parboiled until just softening
3 x cloves of garlic, minced

Method: Layer sliced potato and red onion in frittata / quiche pan, then mix garlic into frittata mixture and pour over sliced ingredients, shaking pan to make sure it spreads out evenly over all ingredients. Sprinkle tasty cheese over top, then cover with foil. Into 180 degree oven for 25-30 mins. Remove foil and return to oven for 5 mins or so to lightly brown the top. Test centre is set with a skewer. Can be eaten hot or cold.

Frittata Lorraine
1 cup diced bacon, lightly sautéed
½ cup mushrooms, sliced and lightly sautéed
1 cup cooked spinach (I use baby spinach but I reckon the regular kind would work too)

Method: As above, but ensure there is no spinach on the top. (It burns!)

Roasted vegetable frittata
220g pumpkin
220g potato
220g sweet potato
70g mushrooms, sliced
1 brown onion, diced & lightly fried
Cup of peas (frozen are fine)

Cube & roast top three veg in a pan in the oven. When soft, add to sautéed mushies & onion and follow previous steps. (Peas can be added frozen).

4. Warm and cold salads

Salads are not just a summer food, although we do eat them more in the summer. If I have guests for lunch, I often make my roast vegetable & bacon warm salad, which is one of my husband's favourite meals of all time.


1 lettuce (I use rocket leaves or a cos lettuce)
1 potato, 1 sweet potato, and some pumpkin (amount variable)
2 rashers of bacon
2 tomatoes
1 red capsicum (optional)
Any sharp-tasting cheese - I have used fetta, blue, or even fried haloumi
Handful of pitted kalamata olives (optional)
(For dressing) Olive oil, balsamic vinegar and seeded mustard

Dice the vegetables into rough cubes, then season and roast them in an oven pan coated with olive oil.

While they are cooking, chop the lettuce and toss it with the tomatoes (cut into rough chunks), the olives if using them, and the cheese (if using haloumi, fry it first).

In a frypan, lightly fry the bacon, diced into large cubes, and the capsicum, cut into strips.

When the vegetables are cooked, add them to the lettuce with the bacon and capsicum. Dress with olie oil mixed with balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of seeded mustard.

5. Quick curries

Sometimes I have an unconquerable urge for something a bit weighty for lunch, that will sit in my stomach for hours. In these instances, if I'm at home and the kids co-operate, I'll often spend 15 minutes cooking myself a green curry. I cheat, using the Valcom curry paste that you can buy in the shops, and tinned coconut milk. I do know how to make curry paste from scratch, but it's a safe bet that I'll have neither the time nor the ingredients to do this every time I fancy a hot lunch.

6. Leftovers!

Ahhhh, leftovers. Enough said. The salvation of many a hungry tummy at lunchtime :-)

I plan all my meals to provide at least one portion over now to build in the leftover lunch.

7. Potato pancakes with applesauce or sour cream

I recently discovered the simplicity and fried deliciousness that is potato pancakes (latkes) with applesauce or sour cream. I've been making these as a side dish for family dinners and the kids adore them, but I also really enjoy them for lunch. (I'm still fiddling around with recipes to find the perfect one, but I'll add it when I get it just right).

If you are a non-sandwich-luncher by choice or necessity, do you have go-to options to eat? I'd love any new ideas!

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 3 down, 27 to go!