Saturday, December 31, 2011

What people read in 2011

I was planning to take a more or less complete online break until tomorrow, but you know, life. We are running a dismal marathon known as the Gastro 500 around here and Twitter has been my sanity as I've comforted children and bathed them repeatedly and washed sheets and made up endless glasses of Gastrolyte. The 8 year old, first down with it (Vomit the First occurred at 11pm last night) is now pale, wan and tragic on the couch, occasionally raising a weak voice to request water or a cuddle. The 6 year old is still caught in the throes, although her dose seems a lot less severe than the 8 year old's - a half-dozen chucks, yes, but she's drinking heaps, even eating icypoles and crackers, and is still fairly perky. The toddler, the victim of a horrific gastric bug just three weeks ago, this time has miraculously escaped (THUS FAR), making me wonder if that awful week maybe gave her some useful immunity.

Today I really should have started work on the small contract job I've got in - it's due on 16 January and work opportunities will be even more constrained than usual in the coming fortnight with all three kids at home. But, as I'm on vomit patrol, clean-up crew, toddler-amusing detail, and laundry duties, plus the fact that I logged a whopping 2.5 hrs sleep (in two blocks) last night, that's just not been realistic.

Instead, in the slips and gaps of time between doing all the necessary stuff, I've been moaning on Twitter (how unusual for me!) and reading people's end-of-year blog posts. I've been particularly enjoying the list posts, where people are indicating their most-popular posts of the year (Miscellaneous Mum and Louisa Claire, I'm looking at you in particular). I've never done this before, partly because I am not very interested in or competent with stats, but I thought I'd check out Blogger's page to see what my 5 most read posts of the year turned out to be.

The results surprised me a little bit, but here they are - the top 5 read posts of 2011 on Play, Eat, Learn, Live.

1. An era is ending
This post that I wrote in July about my mixed feelings at what appeared to be the coming end of my breastfeeding of C was the most read post of the year - due, I'm sure, to being mentioned by the ever-popular Nicole in one of her round-up posts.

2. The Australian Eastern Seaboard Floods
I was a little surprised to note the ongoing reading numbers of this heartfelt but general post about the floods last January. I guess common tragedies do draw people's thoughts together.

3. We Play: Coloured Icypole Sticks
One of the last posts I did in Christie's now discontinued We Play meme, this post has had continuous trickling traffic all through the year from when it first appeared in April.

4. Cars 2: Review and Giveaway
This was probably the only one that didn't surprise me - it was a very cool prize pack :-)

5. For and against: Online grocery shopping

This one got a rush of pageviews when it first appeared in April, and again, a small but unceasing trickle ever since. (It is also, unfortunately, a comment spam-magnet; I've deleted more SPECIAL OFFER url nonsense comments on this post than any other, ever).

None of my posts this year eclipsed the two most read posts on this blog of all time: a post from September 2010 on childrens' detective series Trixie Belden and Emily Eyefinger, which is, to my bewilderment, still a total Energizer bunny in terms of pageviews; and my August 2010 post on the science-themed party that my eldest had for her 7th birthday, complete with a birthday cake composed of the periodic table of the elements in cupcakes. (Yes, all 118 of them). That post caught a lot of traffic after my cake-decorating friend K listed it on a couple of baking sites she frequents.

I guess what this tells me is something I already knew - that posts that get linked or mentioned elsewhere attract more readers (duh, you might well say, but I'm not a quick study with these things). I can also see, from the stats on the posts trailing not far behind the Big 5 (or at least what passes for "big" in terms of my very teeny weeny blog), that my wrap-up / options type posts (such as Presents for Teachers) have a steady, predictable and respectable readership; my Reading Notes posts are much more read than commented upon (7 of the 10 posts ranked 6-15 this year were Reading Notes posts); and that cooking / gluten free themed posts also have a steady readership.

(My least read category of posts? Poetry. I'm OK with that, and it won't stop me writing it, when I feel moved to do so).

I found this a really interesting exercise to do. I'm not a stats follower generally, as I don't directly monetise (although I do reviews), and I am not especially interested in writing in a way that attracts the most eyeballs per se. That said, if I didn't want to be read, I'd be scribbling away in a paper notebook rather than posting on the Internet. I blog to practice writing, to form connections, to share, to hopefully contribute in some small way to the zeitgeist of the blogosphere. For all reasons but the first, I do like to know what themes and topics are of most interest to those who read here.

(In closing, one post that I personally enjoyed creating that didn't catch many views was this one.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas - An online Christmas card

Dear Everyone,

From my family to yours, I wish you the festive season you're craving - be it parties, champagne and canapes, or family, roasts and afternoon naps; be it church, carols and candles, or a book, tea and solitude; be it rest, meditation and reflection, or adventures, challenges and flight.

I wish you health and happiness, freedom from pain. I wish you bodies that do your will, and spirits that are whole.

I hope that 2012 brings you things you want, and things you need, and things you didn't know you wanted or needed until they surprise you by turning up somehow.

I wish you to be not lonely, even if alone; not despairing, even if heartbroken; not afraid, even if the world is a fearsome place.

I know this isn't much of a Christmas card, but, in the words of one of my favourite poems of the season, it's got the right thought behind it.

Christmas in Envelopes
U. A. Fanthorpe

Monks are at it again, quaffing, carousing;
And stage-coaches, cantering straight out of Merrie England,
In a flurry of whips and fetlocks, sacks and Santas.

Raphael has been roped in, and Botticelli;
Experts predict a vintage year for Virgins.

From the theologically challenged, Richmond Bridge,
Giverny, a lugger by moonlight, doves. Ours

Costs less than these in money, more in time;
Like them, is hopelessly irrelevant
But brings, like them, the essential message


I'll be taking an online holiday from this evening until the New Year, but will then be attempting a repeat of NaBloPoMo in January; for some reason I can't quite fathom, I feel moved to do so again. So see you bright and early in 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas elves and human kindness

Today, one of the nicest - just plain kindest - micro-stories I have ever seen on the Internet unfolded right before my eyes.

It started with Marita and her daughter Annie. Annie, who has Aspberger's Syndrome, was struggling to understand why her younger sister Heidi, who is also autistic, had been provided with an iPad to help in her learning and development, via the FaHCSIA Helping Children with Autism Funding. Rather than trying to explain this further, I recommend you read Marita's post, and, more importantly, listen to Annie herself talk eloquently and passionately about the inequities in autism funding.

The next day, the beautiful Kim of Frogpondsrock wrote this post, drawing attention to the situation and saying simply, well, why can't Annie have an iPad? I think she can, said Kim - and if we all think so, then we can make it so.

I read Kim's post on my Android while trotting from one committment to the next, and made a mental note to come back to it once the madness of our end of school year party had subsided and I could get to my PC (I don't do financial stuff on the phone. Call me paranoid, I just don't).

But when I sat down at 4:30 to go to it, I found that it was all done and dusted. The money was raised in 4 hours flat, a discount was negotiated by the lovely Nathalie of Easy Peasy Kids, the iPad and apps had been bought, and a dream had come true, an inequity been rectified.

At that point, I had a serious case of something-in-my-eye.

There is so much I find wonderful about this story. Annie's articulate and passionate speech; Kim's simple and immediate statement of the need; the instant response and generosity of so many people; Nathalie's participation to arrange the transaction; and Annie's delight at her new tool, as shown in the photos Marita tweeted. What I found so moving about it all was how rapidly, how sweetly, how beautifully it all all came about. Just plain human lovingkindness, displayed as purely and perfectly as you'd ever want to see; no carping, no cavilling, just people seeing a need and reaching out to fill it.

This, for me, is what blogging is about when it's at its best - being part of communities (often several intersecting ones), communities that can support and grow and educate and entertain and, yes, love each other (in that peculiar, but not false, online kind of way). It's not always or even often about money, but it is about lessening each others' loads, whether it's with shared humour, venting, information, conversation, or just the acknowledgement of the voice of people who may not have another one.

The friends I have made - and I do call them friends, even though I've never met some of them IRL - through my blog and through Twitter are hugely important to me, and I care about them and their worlds. The communities I'm part of here, on the flickering screen, are none the less real for being virtual.

Enjoy your iPad, Annie. You deserve it, and we all wanted you to have it so much.

And to all my online friends - merry Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gluten free packet mixes: Sponge cake and brownies

Before I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease, I admit that I was a bit of a packet mix snob. Oh, I'd buy the White Wings mixes sometimes if I was running short of time, but I'd always make them a bit surreptitiously, feeling like I was cheating. Mostly, I made cakes, muffins, pies and slices from scratch, some more successfully than others.

Now that I have lost the inestimable advantage of wheat flour in my cooking, however, I've found that some baked goods are really, really hard to get right from scratch (some almost impossible). I've worked out the right substitutions for cookies - we make gingerbread, shortbread, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, sultana cookies, and a range of others from scratch and they work out well.

I've had less uniform success with cakes, though, and sponge cakes in particular have been a bugbear for me. I've tried cornflour sponges, but they just don't work (for me) as well as I'd like. Brownies, likewise, have failed to achieve the mandatory fudge gooeyness when baked gluten free.
So I have experimented with different packet mixes in an attempt to find a solution to these baking problems. Brownies were my first mission. After trying some that were, frankly, awful (tasteless, dry, altogether yuk), I gave Melinda's mix a try.

Now, I must admit that while many of my gluten free friends rave about the Melinda's range, I haven't found them universally wonderful. I made the lemon slice from that range a while back and I'm not sure if I just did it wrong, but it came out greasy and unpleasant. But I will say categorically that this brownie mix has 100% redeemed the brand in my mind, because it is AWESOME. Fudgy, rich, delicious, it's everything a good brownie should be. I make it at least once a month now and my kids are always super excited when it turns up in their lunchboxes.

The process is refreshingly straightforward, too, and only requires the addition of eggs and margarine / butter. I really like that aspect, as I get fed up with gluten free packet mixes that require half a dozen extra things to make them. Really, that is *not* the point of a packet mix!

Next up was sponge cake. I tried a few that were tasty enough but flat as pancakes, which is not the point of a sponge cake, especially if you believe (as I do) that the ability to cross-slice and add jam and cream is a mandatory component of a good sponge. Finally, on a friend's recommendation, I hit on Macro Foods' sponge mix and oh what a revelation it was :-)

Light, airy, stable enough to slice and fill, this cake mix is one of my absolute favourites now, as it just quietly works, every time, without any fuss or bother and lets me create a cake that looks (and tastes) The Business, which is what it's all about.

Of course, having my delightful assistant chef in the kitchen is the magic ingredient that brings it all together - and results in superbly licked-clean beaters, spoons and bowls :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On birthdays and rosebuds

The people in the house behind are having a party tonight.
A 21st birthday, with marquee and balloons, laughter and those strange occasional shouts
that parties always seem to disgorge.
From here, in my darkening room, they sound like nothing so much
as a merry gaggle of geese
gathered at a waterhole as the sun sets
to cluck together and wet their feet
while flying insects are plucked from the sky by waiting beaks.

I sit,
the dull thump-thump of music buzzing gently under my feet,
the weight of the day settling over my shoulders like a bearskin
tired and old. well, old enough.
old enough to feel it, in mind and body both
the fingers of all my days, both beautiful and ungentle
lying on my line-marked skin like clay.

I remember being 21. Oh, not nostalgically
(not really).
I was equal parts uncertain and brash in that time, at once
arrogant and assured, and fearing to chance myself
in case I fell face-down.
I was not, I think, a mature 21, as 21 year olds go.
I was childish, in many ways; self-absorbed, petulant, yes, those too.
I don't think I would like that self, now, should I meet her.
(In fact I did not fully like her then. Thus the self-doubt).

I also remember, though, that at 21
I had a body that worked. Nothing was broken, nothing faltered
That 21 year old, she did not know how to value
never having to think on the energy of a thing, or weigh pain against benefit
drawing from what felt like an inexhaustible well.

They say - I've heard it said -
that youth is wasted on the young. I'm not sure if that's always so
I doubt everyone is as callow (shallow?) as I was then.
But for me, oh yes,
that girl I was
she did not understand (how could she?) what she had
she missed so many chances to see more, do more, be more
she did not gather any rosebuds

and now the roses are in full bloom, and sweet they are
but still I wonder
as I half-smile at the rise and fall of young voices
what might have come
had the buds been gleaned
while the hand was still steady for the plucking.

- Kathy, 17/12/11

Friday, December 16, 2011

Things I Know

It's Friday, and the last week of Shae hosting Things I Know over at Yay for Home! So I thought I'd better know some stuff today.

I know that after a scary and sudden bout of gastro, with a prolonged period of extreme lethargy afterwards, seeing your almost-3-year-old well enough to play for a while at playgroup is a huge blessing and a massive relief.

I know that the end of the year is hitting us hard, exacerbated by C's illness but already full of overtired, overloaded behaviours from Miss 8 and Miss 6.

I know that paying special attention to making sure they all get as much outdoor time as possible, as much of me as possible, and as many opportunities to relax at home as possible is critical to getting through this next 10 days.

I know that a big part of getting through this time without major crisis is me needing to get my head in the game. And that means managing my moods better, and less online time in the day - in fact, I think, NO online time when the kids are awake for the next little while.

(I also know that in the 10 minutes I've spent thus far writing this post, C has grizzled at me nonstop and demanded my attention, and that I've said to her five times, "Just give me a minute to do this, honey." Case closed, I think).

I know that spending some money on getting our garden fixed up, and spending some family time on finishing the job with planting and weeding and cultivating, has been so worthwhile and so satisfying for us all.

And finally, I know that the summer holidays cannot come fast enough for me at this point.

For more things that people know, check out Yay for Home - for the last week!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Should I Have a Pet Goldfish? A Persuasive Text

The past five days have been rough around here - C, my almost-three-year-old, has been extremely ill with a gastric upset that saw us in hospital briefly on Sunday. Thankfully she is now recovering, and today was bright enough to even get to our playgroup Christmas break-up for a while (we arrived late and left early, but she enjoyed the bubbles, the carols, the crafts, and Santa's visit, and even ate half a frankfurt and a piece of fairy bread, a major excitement for me as she's eaten effectively nothing since Saturday).

One pleasure amidst the worry and nursing has been introduced by the older girls bringing home their art, maths and essay books from school. It's been really enjoyable looking through their work for the year and noting the progression in all areas.

A, my 8 year old, fished out one of her essays (well, they call them "persuasive texts" these days) and handed it to me.

"This is for you, Mum," she said seriously. "So that you'll be persuaded."

The piece is entitled Should I Have a Pet Goldfish? and it goes a little something like this:

Impressed as I am with the maturity and rationality of her argument, the answer is still no right at the moment (in fact, her dad pulled the ol' parent trick of "when you can show us that you can keep your desk clean, THEN maybe we'll consider buying you Yet Another Object to put on it.")

Still, 10/10 for effort, I reckon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

On a sudden and serious illness

in the hospital bed, you lie
your face a folded white petal
creased and pale,
the blue veins marked clearly beneath.

you want to drink, but your belly
a temporarily broken vessel
will not accept the water.
again and again you shake and heave
and I, who thought to pack fresh clothes for you
end up drenched, as you cling to me, crying, afraid
and empty your stomach down my neck.

(I spend the rest of the day in a hospital gown, provided by kindly nurses
and confusing to doctors, who come to question and poke at you, and then wonder
if I am mother, or wandering patient, as I hold you in my arms.)

you, who seem so robust to me in the everyday
so strong, so lovely
now stare at me with filmed eyes
your body at once a weight on me and curiously light
your skin soft and dry, feeling permeable
terribly so
as if a harsh wind could blow it to dust

and I am, out of all proportion, fearful of this thing
an illness, a virus, no more, yet
in a different time or different place
quite apt to steal the life of a person
a person so small
so young, so tender
as you.
my beloved child
my somehow-suddenly-fragile child

and I do not think I could bear it. People do,
they do if they must, I know. my mother did. my grandmother.
in other times and other places
people must bear this again and again
and endure the scoring of the heart
again and again

please, little love.
be well again.

- Kathy, 12/12/11

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Human Rights Day: No more turning away

Today is World Human Rights Day. This is a day to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (63 years ago now) and to reflect on how far we have - or haven't - come in recognising and realising these principles in daily life.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to hear about the work of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and its staff and volunteers in helping asylum seekers in Australia. The ASRC is non-federal-government funded, fuelled by donations, volunteers and a small amount of state government support (95% of the funding is derived from philanthropic and community sources). Initiated 10 years ago as a student project, ASRC was originally primarily a food bank for asylum seeking refugees but is now much broader in its activities, offering asylum seekers English language services, counselling, legal aid, employment assistance, health programs, support at hearings and more. The activities of the Centre are built on 4 pillars: Aid, Justice, Empowerment and Community.

The philosophy of the Centre is this:
The ASRC recognises the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. It is the vision of the ASRC to enact the change we want to see in the world and to build a community which defends the ideals of dignity and justice for all.

It seems to me on Human Rights Day that turning my mind towards the work of ASRC and the situation of many asylum seekers in Australia is peculiarly apt. Refugees are a group of people whose human rights are regularly, even routinely, disregarded in Australia. Asylum seekers are confined, treated as criminals, when in fact it is not illegal under international or Australian law to be a refugee. Some portions of the media and some voices in the community - often the loud ones, unfortunately - engage in awful, inhumane, selfish rhetoric in which refugees are the kicking post for larger fears and deeper prejudices.

Hearing about the work of ASRC last night reminded me sharply of the work my grandparents did in the 1970s and 1980s, helping Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees come to Australia (and be allowed to remain). I can remember, as a child, playing with the children of these families, children who had literally nothing except what they were given by aid agencies, often possessing no more than one change of clothes. I can remember, as a teenager, being numb with shock at the stories that some of them had to tell about what they had gone through to come here, and the circumstances that had driven them from their countries of birth.

Horrific circumstances. Terrors and traumas that no-one should have to live through, not a child, not a woman, not a man.

I believed then, as I believe now, that people do not choose to become refugees. It is a last-ditch decision that's made in the face of adversity so severe that most of us here are blessed to be unable to really imagine it.

I believed then, as I believe now, that our shared humanity should prompt compassion, not turning away, from suffering like this; that refugees' dignity should be respected and their hurts tended, that to do otherwise is cruelty, and is a failure to recognise the humanity in others.

I think that the work the ASRC is doing is incredibly valuable, important, life-valuing and humanity-affirming work. And on this Human Rights Day, I salute them and all their volunteers (more than 600 people in all different fields) for what they are doing. They are not turning away. None of us should.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

C is for cookie (and community)

It's good enough for me :-)

The inaugural Community Blogging event is on tomorrow night at the Victorian Archives Centre. This event happens to fall in the busiest week of the busiest month of the year for me (especially because of the kids' school concert yesterday, which, being on school council, meant jobs aplenty for me - but it was awesome and so much fun). I wondered if I might reach this point of the week stressed out and a bit over myself, without much verve left for the day.

Happily, the craptastic portion of my week, complete with full-scale meltdowns, seems to have discharged itself harmlessly on Tuesday afternoon, leaving yesterday as a productive and wonderful school concert day and today free for finishing Christmas shopping (done), laundry (doing), wrapping prezzies (doing), baking - so much baking! - and singing Christmas songs to myself in the quiet house. (I am still not used to not having C here on Thursdays, even after 8 months' practice).

I decided to put together a tray of gluten free cookies for tomorrow night's event. The catering, which is going to be delicious, is all savoury food, including gluten free options, but as others are bringing sweets for the "normals", I thought it would be nice if anyone with dietary issues (and - ahem - moi) could have a sweetie as well.

This kind of planning ahead is something that, frankly, I never used to do before I was diagnosed as a Coeliac. Knowing that I will need to either make & bring, carefully investigate food options, or go without has concentrated my mind wonderfully on the pre-production and stockpiling of food. As I'm sure most Coeliacs would agree, there is nothing worse than being hungry, being offered yummy-looking treats and having not one SINGLE thing you can safely eat. It's the pits. So rather than booking a table at Pity Party for One, I get around it now by baking things I like to eat and bringing them along.

(If you are going tomorrow night, allow me to beat my own drum for one second and say that if you like gingerbread, you should try mine. It's pretty good. /boast :-)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Presents for teachers

It's the time of year again when most people with children are thinking about gifts to give significant adults in their children's lives - school teachers, kindergarten teachers, sports coaches, club leaders, music teachers, carers at creche, playgroup leaders, babysitters ... (The list can have infinite variations!)

There are many schools of thought about the gifts-for-teachers thing. While the majority of people of my acquaintance (both teachers and parents) seem to appreciate the notion of food gifts, some people are implacably opposed to giving or receiving food. Home-made vs store-bought is another potential minefield - home-made is personal and shows thought and effort, OR home-made is cheap and tacky and results in unreliable products. Alcohol and gift cards as presents are also contentious. How much is appropriate to spend on teacher gifts is another area of dispute, and everyone has their own ideas about it. I have been a little surprised, in the last 6 years of doing teacher gifts, exactly how deeply people hold their views on the subject and how much they believe them to be universal truth, rather than, well, their opinion, relevant to their situation.

In our case, this year we'll give gifts to:
- 7 gymnastics coaches (2 apiece for the three girls, and the director)
- 3 swimming teachers
- 2 carers at C's creche
- 4 teachers at the big kids' school (their classroom teacher, the maths coach who has done much extension work with them both this year, and the school VP, who has been super wonderful to us)
- The administration staff at school
- A and G's guitar teacher
- 7 families at playgroup
- My cake-baking friend K

(I'm tempted to add "and a partridge in a pear tree" :-)

We've varied what we give over the years, but each offering has included home-baked food. We've done chocolate truffles in the past, white Christmas, and pink fudge. One year we did meringue snowballs. Every year we make gingerbread, and last year and this, we have made shortbread. Everything I prepare in my kitchen is gluten free, so that certainly adds to the ingredient cost somewhat, but it's worth it so I can sample as we go :-)

I do check in with all the recipients before I cook whether there are any dietary or taste barriers, and I modify the gifts accordingly. Each year I do one batch of gingerbread that is dairy-free, for example, to cater to lactose intolerant people. And some people always state a preference for not eating chocolate (strange as I find this :-) so they get extra cookies and no truffles in their packs.

So this year we're sticking to gingerbread and shortbread, packaged in white noodle boxes and wrapped in ribbon, for the people on our list. The kids' classroom teachers and C's creche carers will also get a sachet of A's magical chocolate truffles and a charity gift card for buying school supplies via TEAR Australia. They will also get a bottle of wine (I've checked they're all wine drinkers - they are!)

I reckon if I worked it out fully (I haven't) that the cookie box gifts would probably cost about $5 each in terms of materials, and take maybe 20 minutes apiece prep time. The kids can all be involved in the preparation of the food and the fact that the cookies are always a bit wonky and decorated idiosyncratically is, I hope, part of the charm.

Other good ideas for teacher gifts that I have seen, but not used, are things like tree ornaments, notebook & stationery sets, tea & coffee supplies and equipment, movie cards, books and so forth. My basic barriers to choosing these kinds of gifts are a) financial and b) skill (I am a baker; I am *not* a crafter :-) We did make lavender scent bags last year that were cute, but this year we're sticking to food.

For anyone interested - and because I promised on Twitter! - here is my recipe for gluten free shortbread.

Gluten free shortbread

2 1/2 cups plain gf flour mix (I use Orgran All-Purpose)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup rice flour
250g butter, chilled & cut into small cubes

Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the cubed butter and, using your fingertips, rub it through the flour until it hangs together in heavy clumps. (The kids love this part!)

Knead and roll the dough into a rectangle, wrap in cling wrap and chill for 1-2 hrs.

Preheat oven to 160C. Roll out the dough a little more and cut desired shapes. (This stage can be frustrating as the dough is stiff, but don't let it warm too much or the butter gets melty and then the cookies spread).

Cook until shortbread is solid but preferably not changing colour (in my oven it takes about 10 minutes).

When the cookies are cooled, sprinkle with extra caster sugar. All done!

I'd be interested to know other people's take on the gifts-for-teachers thing. Do you do it? Do you have a set schtick that you use, or do you mix it up year to year? Enquiring minds want to know!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


This post is reproduced from a May 2009 entry on my private blog, Zucchinis in Bikinis. I've been re-travelling these thought paths recently and getting myself into a bit of a state about our decision that I will re-enter the workforce next year if I can find a suitable position.

At the time I wrote this, I was on maternity leave from my part-time job, from which I resigned in December 2010. My youngest child was 11 weeks old, I was suffering from nerve damage in my spine, I was unwell and sleep deprived. Withall, I still seemed to have a less muddy vision of my relationship to paid work than I do now.

Re-reading this piece helped me to remember the truth that was burning brightly for me 2.5 years ago, and realise that not working is neither an evil nor necessarily a problem for me. I can wait for the right job in the right time fraction, because this is not what my life is about, and the family and community and writing work I do is not marking time, it is the spirit and the core of my life. I feel a lot better now and clearer in my job-seeking paramters.

I hope you like it!

Following a link from the always-excellent Casaubon's Book, I came across this article by Barbara Ehrenreich. Drily entitled "Trying to Find a Job is Not a Job", this piece takes aim at the notion that the newly unemployed have an obligation - and indeed no other option - than to treat their job searching efforts as seriously, all-consumingly and committedly as (one presumes) they did their former careers. In the article, Ehrenreich points out the absurdities that this attitude engenders, from blue-collar workers endlessly retraining for illusory new skilled positions, to white-collar workers creating faux "bosses" to whom they "report" on their job-searching "work".

The ideas that underlie this attitude, it seems to me, are threefold:
1. Not having paid employment is the greatest evil imaginable
2. Persistence and application to the task will inevitably result in the landing of a new, desirable job
3. There are always jobs available for those with the right skills and attitude
2 and 3 are, of course, integrally linked, and are also bundled up with the cheerful and familiar age-old theme of blaming the unfortunate for their misfortune (ie. if you are unemployed for long, it must because you are doing SOMETHING wrong).

I agree with Ehrenreich that the purpose of the rhetoric around job-searching is essentially social control - creating a passive, "busy" corpus of unemployed rather than a rageful, bored army who have time and space to look up and see the writing on the wall. I also think that ideas 2 and 3 are the engine that drives this relentless personalisation - blaming the individual - for what may be, and often are, the effects of broader and more powerful trends.

However, what interests me more is unpacking the embedded notions that underlie the first idea. The concept that paid work is an ultimate good, and therefore, the lack of it an inherent evil, is one that deserves to be examined, not simply accepted. Of course people need resources to live, and in a modern capitalist economy, for "resources" you can read "money or access to it". I'm not suggesting that anyone can (or should even attempt to) live a cashless existence, although that said, I personally know of one couple that does this very thing, and two other families that are close to it. (However, in those cases, they each own another valuable resource - arable and cultivated land, and farm animals - free of debt, thanks to inheritance. Not the common scenario!)

What I'm wondering, though, is whether this global financial crisis and the resulting unemployment might not force a fruitful re-evaluation of the idea that we all need LOTS of cash, and that every adult in a household MUST aim to be part of the cash economy at all times. There are so many, many ways to be productive and contributive to the overall economy of a family, a household, a community, a society. Working for a wage is one of them, and in most cases, a necessary one for at least some of the people, some of the time. But if you are suddenly unable to bring home a wage, is running madly like a rat on a treadmill in order to obtain a job, ANY job, necessarily your only or even best option? Could the time be better spent in the extra work that you'll be freed to do in the unpaid silent economy of home, community and society, maybe reducing your need for high loads of cash along the way (ie by cooking more, growing some food, being able to shop more strategically etc). Communities and families rely anyway on unpaid labour to be sustained; it might be a gentler, kinder world if less people were juggling those tasks with the cash-based task of bringing home the bacon.

In our own case, we've given this a lot of thought of late. We are, granted, in a privileged position to be having these thoughts in the context of two stable, relatively unthreatened jobs (you never know what the future may bring, but the odds of either of us facing redundancy in the foreseeable future appear slim). Moreover, my husband is well paid, and we are relatively comfortably geared in terms of debt (carrying a very manageable mortgage and little else). But even though we have two paid jobs, I work mine in a very-much-less than fulltime arrangement, and I work from home (right now, of course, I'm on maternity leave, but won't be later in the year). At the moment, there is widespread social acceptance of this, as I have three children aged under 6, the youngest of whom is not quite 11 weeks old.

However, the prevalent impression appears to be that when my children are older, I'll work more - possibly fulltime - and what's more, that I'll want to do so, and need to do so, financially and personally. I'm starting to think, though, that I won't; that, in fact, we can live a freer and fuller life by keeping our dependence on cash at the level it's at now or even reducing it, and leaving time to build identities that aren't completely bound up with the paycheck. I salute my husband for his efforts in providing our family with a primary income, and I'll never underestimate the importance or necessity of it; but I also think that what I do, and can do, outside of the cash economy is valuable, the parenting and householding and volunteering and thinking creatively about how to live our lives. Of course, at the moment, the day to day parenting and nurturing is the overwhelming preponderance and joy of my time, but it will not ever be thus, and as the kids grow and become more independent, I want to be able to grow our family situation with them, to creatively rekey our lives every now and then, and live a life that's not in chains to the almighty dollar.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Things I Know

So on 2 December, I know that completing both Nanowrimo and NaBloPoMo in November has left me exhausted but very satisfied.

I know that rewarding myself with a glass of pink champagne on Wednesday night was nice, and sharing the rest of the bottle with two friends who came over for a girls' lunch yesterday was even nicer.

I know that my roast vegetable salad is pretty much always a lunchtime hit (she says oh-so-modestly :-)

I know that I was a little sad to come the end of school reading with my second girl's prep class yesterday, but that all the kids greatly enjoyed the strawberry babycakes that I brought along to mark the occasion.

I know that Christmas is coming very quickly, and that I'm OK with that and mostly organised, which surprises me a tad.

I know that the Community Blogging Christmas event at Victorian Archives Centre next Friday is going to be fantastico and that I'm really glad to be a part of it.

And finally, I know that I'm being vague and random today, but after a month in which I wrote a total of 89,000 words (across Nano, NaBlo and other stuff), you'll have to forgive me if I lack pithiness this time :-)

It's Friday, so lots of people over at Yay for Home! know things.