Friday, June 29, 2012

Tantrums in public, and cutting slack

Two weeks or so ago, I did absolutely everything dead wrong, according to the Rules On How To Avoid Tantrums from Preschoolers. I took a not-entirely-well, already-cranky 3 year old in the car at 4pm to take her sister to gymnastics class, let her fall asleep for 20 minutes, then woke her abruptly so we could go into the gym. I reluctantly carried her part of the way, but, with my back and neck screaming, I put her down at the foot of the stairs and asked her to walk up them. (I honestly don't think I could have lifted her up them, with my current state of neck pain, but nonetheless, I get it: Self-sacrificing Motherhood. I'm Doin' It Rong.)

The result of this dismal cascade was about what you'd expect - C sat down on the floor at the foot of the stairs and howled. And howled. And HOWLED. She would not be comforted (I tried) or cajoled (tried that too). Her sisters, bless 'em, gave it a red hot go too, to no avail. She was disorientated, pissed off and tired and she wanted me to carry her up the damn stairs and nothing else was going to satisfy her. Her noise level was impressive, if incoherent, and she showed no signs of slacking off at the 3-minute mark, which is a bad, bad sign (her minor tanties blow themselves out within 3 minutes. If she's still in full flight at that point, it's time to make a cup of nice hot Panadol and settle in for the duration).

I sent the big kids on upstairs so that the 7 year old wouldn't be late for her class, and sat down on the stairs, a few steps above where C was performing her interpretive dance of misery. I made sure she wasn't going to hurt herself, told her I was there and waiting when she was ready, and tried to project an aura of calm, smiling patience. Inside, not so calm, not so patient, naturally.

After 15 minutes - I am not even kidding a little bit - of this, with brief dips into sulky silence followed by renewed roars or protest - the stairs started to fill with parents and children going home from classes just finished. I moved C so that she wasn't blocking people's passage, and stood by her as she raged and bounced. Most of the parents moving past me either studiously ignored us (which was a kindness much appreciated) or gave me sympathetic smiles or eyerolls (even more appreciated). One, a mum I know slightly, said, "Oh hon, we've all been there," and squeezed my arm, which almost put me in tears too. The gym staff were fantastic, too, offering supportive and reassuring comments from upstairs and attempting to shamelessly bribe C into moving with offers of stickers and stamps.

Eventually C burned herself out, and subsided into quiet hiccups. She finally decided that the chance to do some stamping was too good to pass up, and, holding hands, we slowly ascended the stairs, 25 long, long minutes after arriving at the gym.

When I slumped down in a lounge chair in the parent room, exhausted in mind and body, I noticed a small cohort of parents giving me the side eye. Their looks got more and more intense, until one finally came over to me and said, "Was that your kid making a racket downstairs?"

I flushed, and said, "Yes, yes it was. I'm very sorry she was so loud..."

The woman frowned at me. "You should have taken her outside. It's not fair to the gymnasts or the parents to have to listen to that carry-on. If she can't behave better, you shouldn't bring her here."

I was devastated. It was all I could do not to burst into tears. I stammered something, but she had already turned away to her own friends.

One of my own gym buddies saw the look on my face and came over. I didn't repeat what had been said to me, but I didn't have to, she knew. She told me it was OK, that no-one except these three had been anything but sympathetic, and that the noise wasn't even audible in the gym itself.

So here's the thing:

I made some bad calls with managing C's propensity to tantrum on that day. I did it in the hope that the 7 yea old would not have to miss her class. I hoped to get away with it, but I didn't. I own that.

Once the tantrum was underway, however, I had little realistic choice but to wait it out, or give into her demands and worsen my injury. Taking her outside would've been risky, given the busyness of the road on which the gym is located (in this mood, C is a runner).

I did the best I could. And unpleasant as the noise would have been for everyone else, it was worst for me, and it flattened me out. To cop this broadside in my exhausted state was just more than I could handle.

I guess what I'm saying is - when a child is tantrumming in public, it's not always possible or realistic to immediately remove them, and it's not always possible to "turn them off". It isn't fun for others around - I get that, truly I do. But it is sure as sugar a lot *less* fun for the caregiver dealing with it, and sometimes, just a modicum of slack - like that extended by all the other parents that day - is such an act of human kindness.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


(This is a poem I wrote almost 4 years ago, on the occasion of my middle daughter's first haircut. It makes me a little melancholy even now.)

On Saturday her hair was cut. It had been coming for some time
her honey-shaded ringlets tangled, wild
down to the small of her back when wet
forest creature hair. and hair that hurt
snarls and knots too deep to extract
or not easily, anyway. only with time, patience
and tears, hers and ours
as she protested furiously the persistent tugs of the brush

Enough, we'd all decided, time for it to end
She most eager of us all
sitting up smiling in the barber's chair
her small chin resting on the smock
her graceful head relaxed into the hairdresser's hands
as the scissors cut away her curls
her dark sunshine tips
as the hair fell to the ground
my baby's baby hair, to be swept away quietly

and her face, emerging within its new soft brown bob
shaped and framed by the clinging tendrils of shining hair
suddenly, was not the face of a baby
but of a girlchild, knowing and mysterious
smiling into her own eyes in the mirror
looking upon the future there in her reflection

the only tears shed were mine. of course they were
as I collected a whisper of ringlet to put away in my box
and lifted down my daughter from her high perch
and kissed her somehow-older cheek
and sighed.

- 4/08/08

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Today has been a day of wrong notes and stress, tears and little traumas.

A cold day, icy, uncomfortable. A hurried morning rush, complete with shouting and messes and unhappiness. A preschooler who didn't want to go to creche, and me without patience to soothe her through it. A silent drive with a partner with gloomy things on his mind and no wish to share them. A wheezing chest, asthma getting the better of me until hosed down with medication that then made my heart turn cartwheels for an hour.

Then, a meeting that went well enough, followed by complications and projections that make me feel slightly panic-stricken, gazing down the barrel of three months of extremely hard work, during which I will need to maintain focus, energy and health so I can bring my A game to each document I write.

Then, instead of my craved-for quiet late afternoon at the shops and at home with my girls, we had a sudden fall, a sliced-open chin and a dash to hospital, believing we'd need stitches in a 3 year old's soft skin. The day's mercy was being seen quickly and treated with steri-strips and skin glue instead - I am so very grateful for that.

As I might have predicted, this drama was then followed by reactive crappiness from the big girls, sniping at each other, mouthing off at me, being generally disagreeable in their tiredness and relieved anxiety. Partner and I also talked about what was troubling him, which, while a good thing, opened up another can of worry-worms in my gut.

And just now, a sobbing, contrite eldest girl, who'd not 10 minutes ago been loudly declaiming how she'd NEVER go ANYWHERE with me when she is a grown-up, cuddled up to my side and told me she doesn't like me working so much and that she wants more one on one time with me.

After that lot, I have just one question left:

Is it bedtime yet? Please?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Too busy to blog, so have some musical stylings instead!

I've been listening to some old and new favourites while I work my rear end off over the past fortnight.

Like this one:

Possibly the most perfectly beautiful song ever about sex, love, redemption and the irresistible thirst for connection that powers so much of human life.

Or this one, which is so, so earwormish:

This one lifts my tempo and my mood instantly:

And this one, for when I'm stuck and need a kick in the bum to get moving:

And this one. Whoever would've expected such a soulful version of a wonderful song from someone generally so funny.

Of course, speaking of the aforementioned artist, you can't go past zombie office workers for a bit of nihilistic escapism:

Working is much better fun with a soundtrack :-)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Caelo Usque Ad Centrum

(This is a poem I wrote to welcome in the New Year two and a half years ago. It hasn't been published publicly anywhere - only on my private blog, which has 39 readers! - and I quite like it, so I thought it was worth posting today).

The old year is dying. outside
clouds gather as the storm builds
the thunder low, growling like a distant predator
the lightning spitting ice across the sky. the dogs
are barking, insistent
thunder and firecrackers conspiring to unnerve them
the rumble of the faraway hunter, the sharp whining pop of the skylighters

two girls are awake. they are listening to the sounds
and restless in the stuffy heat of their bedroom.
Tell me a story, says one, her hand brushing her face
as the other wraps her braid around her finger, and nods.
A story about what? What do you want to hear about? says the mother
curling up on the foot on one bed
her eyes tired.
Scooby Doo! No, Tweety Bird! No, superheroes! No, Mummy, I want a story about you...
Yes. The secondborn agrees, nodding her heart-shaped face vigorously.
We want to know about you, Mummy. When you were young, like us.

Well, then. When I was young like you ...
I had another brother, you know. Two brothers I had.
I remember a New Year's Eve, I must have been 7 or 8 -
and the story emerges
teased out slowly
retrieved from long-term storage
the dust blown off it as the words unfurl
a sepia memory, this one
as much pictures as words
freeze-frame images, bright as paint
of a New Year's picnic under the stars
of home-grown fireworks dancing in pink, orange, green
of lemonade and pears, redolent with summer, juicy and fresh and huge
of a little brother who was not supposed to ever be able to laugh
chuckling enormously at a pear-wet chin and a sister pulling faces

the two small girls are sleepy now, relaxed
ready to bid the year farewell and slip the moorings, to slide out to the nightsea
Mummy did he ever laugh again? - from the younger
as she pensively strokes her toy cat
worn thin from many passes of her fingers

No, sighs the mother, kissing her, I don't remember that he did, really
but now it's time for sleeping, baby
I love you so
when you wake it'll be a whole new year!

The storm is rising, outside. But we are inside, and safe
The old year is dying. Bring birth to the new
Our arms are wide to catch it
Every year a benediction
Every new year we are vouchsafed
Every one.

- Kathy, 31/12/09

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reading Notes: Anne of Green Gables

(I'm flipping my book review post this week from Thursday to Tuesday, in order to join in with the Once a Month Book Club link up over at A Permanent Flux. This month's theme is A book with a colour in its title.)

My big girls and I have a longstanding tradition of reading a chapter or two of a novel before bed. Even though, at almost 9 and 7, they are both highly competent readers, they enjoy being read to; they like the quiet, snuggly time together, and they like sharing the books with each other in a way that they don't quite experience when they are reading to themselves in tandem.

I tend to choose books for the read-alouds that are just a fraction beyond their capacity for reading alone, classic stories that they enjoy but might struggle with if my voice wasn't there to make meaning. When they were younger, we worked our way through Enid Blyton's Famous Five books, the Trixie Belden mysteries, the Narnia books, several George MacDonald titles, The Secret Garden, The Little White Horse, A Wrinkle in Time and several others in this way. They have both revisited these titles and loved them as independent readers too, but their first introduction was via bedtime read-alouds. I was very excited, therefore, when my eldest suggested that the time was ripe to start on my set of Anne of Green Gables books (I have the full collection from my own childhood).

Let me confess here and now that I am an Anne-o-phile. I loved these books with an enduring passion as a child and teenager, and even as an adult I revisit some of them often. (My favourite book in the series is actually the last one, Rilla of Ingleside, which confronts Anne and her family with the pain and loss of war). I hoped that my girls would love Anne, that dreamy, dramatic, fiery "red-headed snippet", as much as I did.

And they did. Like me, they loved L M Montgomery's gift for evoking place, the rich, vibrant language with which she invokes Prince Edward Island in all its beauties. They loved the fully realised supporting characters, all drawn with humour, depth and real personalities that make them jump off the page. (My eldest's favourite character in the book, aside from Anne, is gentle, shy Matthew Cuthbert, while my 7 year old has a tendresse for both apple-cheeked Diana Barry and nosy, bossy, kind-hearted Mrs Rachel Lynde. My own favourite of the supporting cast is, and will always be, Anne's beloved teacher, Miss Stacey). They liked the rise and fall of the plot, the funny and sometimes sad incidents that Montgomery crafts to show the life of a small rural community nearing the close of the 19th century.

Above all, though, they loved Anne herself. Anne Shirley, red head, dreamer, passionate, intelligent, prone to dramatics; Anne the unwanted orphan who worms her way so thoroughly into the affections of everyone in Avonlea; Anne the developing girlchild, who passes from childhood to young adulthood as the book progresses. Unlike my husband, who developed an annoying habit of snorting in disbelief at some of Anne's more overwrought outpourings, they saw the humour AND the pathos in equal measure and empathised wholeheartedly with her.

We have now read Anne of Avonlea, the sequel, and have just begun the third book, Anne of the Island. My eldest has also read on ahead and is soaking up Rainbow Valley, the second-last volume, on her own.

There are elements of the Anne books that don't resonate with me or with my girls - the of-its-time view of gender roles, the casual prejudice against non-English-background people (French Canadians are unremittingly portrayed as stupid, menial and servant-class only), the particulars of the moral and romantic codes that Anne and her peers adopt. Like me, though, my girls have shown themselves able to look beyond these things to enjoy these books for their many strengths and delights. I think I have made two lifelong Anne-o-philes, and I'm very happy about it :-)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reading Notes: Floundering

I had never heard of Romy Ash, or her debut novel, Floundering, before attending the Emerging Writers Festival last month and hearing her speak as part of the Writing About Difficult Issues panel. After the panel, I went downstairs and bought Floundering, along with the Festival's own publication, The Emerging Writer. If the EWF had given me nothing else (although it did - so, so much), the gift of being made aware of these two book would have been enough. Because The Emerging Writer, which I intend to review soon, is wonderful; and Floundering is still haunting me, two weeks after I swallowed it whole in one sleepless night.

I bought Floundering because, hearing Ash speak, it sounded like it might resonate with two of my key writing and reading interests - writing authentically in a child's voice, and writing trauma obliquely rather than explicitly. One of my absolute favourite books of the past 5 years is Emma Donoghue's Room, which takes on a myriad of social, cultural and abusive issues through the lens of a five-year-old boy who's lived his whole life inside a locked garden shed with his mother, herself imprisoned by her stranger-abductor. My own two completed novels, while not covering such significantly dark issues of trauma, are written in the voice of an 11 year old girl, Frankie. I wondered if Ash's 11-year-old protagonist, Tom, would be someone I could "hear" in the same way, and if his story would grip me tight, as Jack's did in Room.

I'm not going to do too much spoiling in this review, but the broad premise of the plot is the story of Tom, his 13-year-old brother Jordy, their mother, Loretta, their journey across Australia to end up at a remote caravan park by the beach, and what happened next. Tom is the only narrator; there is no shift in POV or voice, which is key, I think, to the successful winding up of the spell that this book casts.

I found Tom an intensely sympathetic and authentic character. Seeing events, people and crises through his eyes lent this ultimately quite sad story a sometimes unbearable layer of poignancy that I think may not have been there if an adult narrator was the voice. Because Tom is 11, there are things he relates without necessarily making the connection to meaning in the same way that an adult or a teen might; this adds a sense of menace, of impending danger just out of view, to the narrative. Tom's confusion, sweetness and half-despairing love for his deeply troubled mother give this tale of loss such a pathos, but also a kind of detached innocence that Loretta's voice, or even 13 year old Jordy's, wouldn't have.

There are many things I admire deeply in this book - its evocation of a certain very recognisable Australian aesthetic, its beautiful and never heavy-handed symbolism, its portrait of brokenness and survival and the terrible resilience of love, its stubborn presence even after seemingly unforgiveable betrayals. It is an achievement of no mean proportions that, despite sparing us nothing in her picture of Loretta as an unstable and ultimately neglectful mother, Ash doesn't allow the reader to quite hate her or demonise her; rather, for all her feckless damaging missteps, we feel for her, just as her sons do.

The anti-hero of the book is a character about whom I want to say very little, because I am so deeply conflicted about his role in the story. I realise that Ash wants us to see complexity and nuance in him also, and has deftly painted it there for us to see, but, possibly due to the lens I bring to this (and any) book involving children, I do not see him as less than monstrous. Human, yes, but a monster all the same, and my largest problem with Loretta was that her actions brought her sons into his orbit.

I found the final few chapters of the book, with Jordy and Tom's ultimately ill-fated effort to save the gummy shark (the unspoken stand-in for the marooned mother that they may never be able to save), to be absolutely tragic. The ending was inevitable, but still deeply, deeply sad, and I read the conclusion with tears in my eyes.

This is a powerful book, a beautiful book, a book that stays with you for a long time and simmers away. I highly recommend it, only not if you're feeling fragile; it will demand an emotional investment of you, and it will hurt your heart a little, in the way that true tragedies do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The easiest gluten free cookie in the world

Gluten free cookies are not as hard to make as, say, gluten free sponge cakes (ugh, sponge cakes), but it's still the case that they can take a bit of fiddling to get right. So I thought I might share my failsafe easy everyday cookie recipe for gluten free sugar cookies, which I've developed over time and tweaked until it's basically bulletproof - and, more to the point, toddler-proof! I make these cookies often and they are my go-to baked sweet treat in busy weeks like this one, because 3 year old C and I can make them and have the kitchen cleaned up afterwards in half an hour.

These sugar cookies are quite plain and, despite their name, not too sweet, with a basic cookie texture and a firm smooth surface. The dough is quick and non-fiddly to prepare, they cook in 6-7 minutes, and they are perfect for icing or decorating. They keep well in airtight storage for up to 3 weeks. What's not to like?

Gluten free sugar cookies
3/4 cup butter or margarine (I usually use margarine)
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups gluten free plain all purpose flour
1 teaspoon xanthum gum
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder

Cream the butter / margarine with the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and xanthum gum together, then mix into the creamed butter mixture. Keep mixing until it forms a dough ball.

(You can then chill the dough for an hour but I usually can't be bothered and it still works fine if you don't.)

Roll out the dough onto a well floured board and cut out your cookies. Transfer to flat baking sheets lined with baking paper. Bake in a preheated hot oven (190-200C) for 6-7 minutes.

Makes 25-30 cookies depending on the size of your cutters. Enjoy! (We do :-)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

MSO Classic Kids with Jay Laga'aia

Yesterday my family and I were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend one of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's wonderful MSO Classic Kids concerts, featuring Jay Laga'aia, actor, performer, and (to the kids at least, most importantly) beloved Playschool presenter.

We have been to two of these concerts before: long ago, in the dim dark past before C was born, we went along with the two older kids and some friends, and last October we all enjoyed the lovely Clowning Around with Melvin Tix performance. The kids were pretty excited about going to see the MSO perform with Jay, especially as this concert was held at the Melbourne Town Hall, a venue that they were curious about following my two days there at the Emerging Writers Festival Conference.

We almost didn't get there - winter being winter, and Melbourne being Melbourne, the day was icy-fingered and I had two out of three children sporting heavy coughs. Inspiring the family to crawl out from under their blankies, turn off cartoons, dress in warm clothes and pile into the car was a less than optimal exercise, and I seriously thought about abandoning it several times before we eventually drove out of the garage.

I'm so glad we persisted, though. The Town Hall is such a lovely venue to listen to live music, especially when, as was the case yesterday, it isn't over-full. There was plenty of room to move about and for the kids to feel comfortable.

The MSO is always such a pleasure to listen to, and the 3 year old in particular was just beside herself at the chance to hear Jay Laga'aia singing his childrens' songs live, accompanied by the orchestra. Her favourite parts of the show were Jay's lullaby (a sweet, gentle little song, which, he wryly assured all the parents in the audience, "doesn't work") and the beautiful, lilting Peer Gynt. My almost-9 year old was quite taken with the tour of the orchestra sections, while the 7 year old was, as ever, mesmerised by the harp, and delighted by the William Tell Overture.

I never cease to be impressed at how accessible and enjoyable orchestral music is for children when it is interpreted by skilled and enthusiastic musicians. My three girls, aged 9, 7 and 3, were all engaged and interested in the performance, and at times ecstatic as each of their favourite sections or pieces were played. The hour-length show was just about right too - much longer and I think the littler kids would have become restless, any less and the older ones would have felt a bit jibbed.

After the performance, as everyone was still looking fairly bright, we headed to Rathdowne Street to try to have an early lunch at Black Ruby, the gluten free cafe that G and I so enjoyed back in April. Mildly chagrinned to discover it closed for the long weekend, we wandered along Rathdowne until chancing upon a nice-looking little place called Mister Bojangles.

Upon learning that they could accomodate my gluten free needs, we settled in for a relaxed, very enjoyable brunch - poached eggs on toast for C, hashbrowns, toast and smoked salmon for the big kids, bacon, eggs, spinach & mushrooms for me, and eggs benedict with sausages for G, washed down with milkshakes for the kids and the most delectable hot chocolate for us.

(The hot chocolate comes as hot milk and a ball of chocolate on a wooden spoon - one self-administers chocolate to milk, and, naturally, indulging in surreptitious licks as the chocolate melts is expected! We bought extra hot-chocolate-sticks to take home for a midweek treat).

As you can see, the kids were rather taken with it - and with the friendly, approachable staff. As I said to G on the way home, Rathdowne Street is rapidly becoming my go-to place for relaxed meals out in Melbourne - so far it's batting 100% in terms of successful outings.

Overall, this was such a good winter morning out, full of music, fun, food and togetherness. 9 year old A, walking back to the car, remarked that she'd had such a good time, she'd forgotten about her cough altogether. Any morning good enough to do that has got to be a winner.

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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Who are you? (A poem)

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade

the rainmaker said, Who are you?
as they squatted in the half-light around the new fire
faces flicked by blue and halogen
the light colder and deeper than before

Who are you? and I could not think
I could not say, for a long time
my bones would not speak it or hear it spoken.
So I stepped back, into the dark
where blue birds and books and the many truths (and lies) people speak do not reach

but it nagged. it nagged and nagged and would not be silent
this question: Who are you? Who?
so I opened the door, and let the words flow through
and they said:

I am a mother, to my core I am, down in the deeps; but
The way I love these my children is beyond speaking. Words are pitiful.
All I can say is It is, and send it out.

I am a lover of people, oh yes; but
I am tied tight with the ropes of self-doubt. It is easier, by far,
To connect without connecting, here in the shadowlands, than in the real.

I am full of dreaming, yes; but
My dreams are so transparent, so soft and frail, like summer flowers, that
To speak them kills them. So I hold them in secret.

I am a humanist. I believe in the humanity of everyone; but
Though I lift my voice (and my life) where I can, it is not enough
and it falls like seed in stony ground, to be eaten by birds.

My body is not brave; like
A house-mouse I hide in corners, seeking safety and solace,
Fearful of being hurt, or causing it.

I am a writer. I am a poet.
There is no hesitation to these words,
I know them to be true
to be my truth
the only one I can say and shout and own in my heart
the only one words can express, because it is the only one born in language
the words making real
the words I make
making me.

so I creep back to the campfire, and I say:
I am mother, lover, human, timid,
and writer. And that is my song
for now and for tomorrow
for as long as the words break free.

- Kathy, 9/6/12

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Change of pace, routine, rhythm, or something like that

So this is more a housekeeping post than anything else. BOR-ING! Or maybe not. You be the judge.

I found out today that I have picked up a large contract work project which is going to keep me very busy - close to fulltime-busy - over the coming 3-4 months. It will kick off on Monday.

This is good in most ways and I think I've worked out how it's going to happen logistically (to wit - a second day per week at creche for C, husband cashing in some leave to take a day per fortnight off, taking time off from volunteering roles, and strictly limited weekend social life / evenings out). It's a really interesting project, so I think it'll be worthwhile and it is, after all, a limited time. It is also a good chance for us to road-test how we would go if I were to return to steady employment next year, which is something I'm considering. I'm lucky in that this project will be mostly home-based - I'll only be onsite a half-day per week, on average - so that gives me a lot more play with how I organise the time.

One thing I've had to think about, though, is the blog, and how I manage it during this busy period. I thought briefly of taking a blogging break but decided, nah, don't want to. However, I do have to be realistic about things - I can't give the blog endless attention while balancing the work.

So I had a look at what I've got in draft and jotted down a few ideas for posts that are mostly written in my head, and when I went over the list, I found that most things could be loosely classified as:
- book reviews / poems / reading or writing related
- gluten free / cooking posts
- children's conversation type posts
- opinion pieces, mostly feminist / women's issues ones

This seems to me to impose a sort of loose structure on things, which will help me to manage things mentally. (The busier I am, the more I crave structure and order, I find).

Thus, starting from next week, I'm going to post on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays - gluten free /cooking or children's conversation on Tuesdays, book reviews / poems / reading/writing-related posts (Reading Notes) on Thursdays, and opinion pieces (aka rants :-) on Fridays (I'm thinking of labelling this one Soapbox Fridays, but we'll see). Any week that I get the energy and have photos to share, I'll link up with Kim at frogpondsrock for Sunday Selections as well.

Also, as part of this, I would be very open to any offers of guest posts. They do not have to be about books, food or ranty things, either - anything you like! I do not have a vast readership here but it is not infinitesimal either (I will share stats on gmail if you want to know) and I welcome other voices.

Hopefully this'll be fun - maybe I'll get to like my structure so much that I never go back to blogging by whim again :-) Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Drinking the wind

I'll drink the wind, she says
her face against the cold glass
winter waiting to bite outside the door.

I'll drink the wind, and I'll
run with the dogs
my toes will fill with sand, then
you will wash me clean.

It's too cold, I say
too cold today. the trees are shivering, look
and the dogs are in bed, tucked up with their tails

Pink, indignant, she wipes her scarlet nose with her hand. It is not,
she says, gazing through the glass with her wide ocean eyes.
It is not too cold, and, 'sides
the trees are not shivering. they're not.
it's the wind.
and I'll drink the wind.
drink it all down to my belly

And will it make you fly? I ask her, watching an Indian minah
alight on the washing line, its feathers sleek and dark.

She looks into the gathering dusk. Oh, yes, she says
I will fly! Like the big crows do, the ones
that eat the rubbish from the bins, those two
big an' black an' they say caw, caw, caw

And they fly, I say, wrapping her in my arms. Like you will
with your bellyful of wind.

And she whispers, Yes,
as I hold her against ice and flight both together
safe, and warm, and battened down
for just today.

- Kathy, 5/6/12

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reading Notes: Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter

When we were asked to review the first book in a new adventure series for middle-graders, Arkie Sparkle: Treasure Hunter, my girls were super keen. They love adventure / mystery books generally, and books with strong female protagonists in particular. And the premise of these books sounded interesting - Arkie Sparkle, whose parents are archeologists / treasure hunters, has 7 days (or 7 books!) to find a series of treasures in order to ransom her kidnapped parents. Throw in a smart best friend, exciting machines and devices, a little history, plenty of action, and a cute dog, and surely that's a winner, yes?

We all three read it, and here's the verdict:

7 year old says: "It was good, and funny. Arkie Sparkle is a good explorer and really funny. I like Cleopatra the dog a lot. I want to read all of the books in the series!"

Almost-9 year old says: "The book leaves you in suspense! I think it would be great for ages 8-11. My sister read it at 7 but she is a good reader. I think it was very exciting. My favourite character was TJ, Arkie Sparkle's cousin. She is my favourite character because she's smart like me and has restrictive parents like me who won't let her go out so much." (Bwahahaha, Miss 9!)

I say: It was engaging, witty, and it had a decent plot. I am actually keen to see where the trail goes next, which means it had genuine dramatic tension, so it gets a big thumbs-up from me.

Overall, it's a really great kids' book; very enjoyable, nicely paced, intelligently written, and the start of what will no doubt be a much-devoured series around here.


Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter, through no fault of its own, arrived in our household and was read at the same moment that I was attending the Emerging Writers Festival, including the thought-provoking panel discussion on Women in Writing. In that session, Emily Maguire and Anna Barnes led a fascinating conversation about the gendering of books and stories, and how it starts in childhood. Emily, who teaches creative writing to school students, talked about how little girls will write stories with half-half male-female protagonists, and will read books about (and "for") boys as well as "for" girls, whereas little boys write stories where all the protagonists are male, all the time, and only read "boy books". From these seeds (and so many others, of course) grow the pervasive undervaluing of stories about women, stories told or written by women, stories identified as "women's domain". Books about men and by men are for everyone, because Man is the default human, in which women are enjoined to see themselves also reflected; books by women and about women are only FOR women, because men can have nothing to learn from a female voice.

So one thing, only one thing, I wish was different about Arkie Sparkle, and it's this: I wish it wasn't being marketed as "an adventure story for girls." I wish it wasn't selling itself short like this, because I actually think it's a great book that would be enjoyed by boys too, if that were "allowed". I wish it was OK for boys to look admiringly at a character like Arkie or TJ and see themselves reflected there, just as girls do all the time with the male characters they read.

Here's what I say to you - if you have children aged 8-11 who enjoy a good adventure story, give Arkie Sparkle a try. She's really great, and really worth it. We'll be snapping up each new volume as it comes through, that's for sure.

Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter: Code Crimson is available from 26 June for an RRP of $6.99 (ebook version $5.99). The second book in the series, Time Trap, is due for release in August.

Disclosure: I received not one, but TWO, complimentary copies of Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter #1: Code Crimson (one for each of my two big girls, which was greatly appreciated) courtesy of Pan Macmillan. No financial payment was offered nor accepted for this post. All opinions expressed are purely my own.