Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Month of Poetry #30: Made

the ballerina and the mermaid smoulder under the iron, their adhesion
a matter of heat and emulsion, no skill required.

next, the owls
yellow-striped and solemn, stitched in place
with large, tremulous white thread, bunched up and knobbled
a mess of knots and protruding wisps.

tigers dance, askew, across the red world, chasing fish
whose corners pull away, like aged tape
a promise of wreckage (soon) to come.

the letters of a name
waver under the eye, neither straight
nor even.

made, it hangs
on a hook, prepared
to carry food and coats, water and promises

made and marred, by my inept fingers
all my care and passionate love
not sufficient to make adroit my hands, my eyes;
not enough to paper over the gaps in knowing.

if I only could have woven it of words, this tactile thing,
drawn an air-satchel in the lines of this poem, and presented it to her
made beautiful with the only cunning I possess, a wheedling tricksy way
with phrase and song.

made, I show it to her
and grow warm in her delight
her knack of seeing not the flaws, but the hopeful love
that binds it together.
her tonic happiness a charm to ward off that devil
who whispers all the time of the falling-short, the gulf between what I want to be
and what I am, to them.

made, it waits
a crooked, merry thing
to live an imperfect life
and rejoice.

- Kathy, 30/1/13

Monday, January 28, 2013

Children in venues, and why this whole debate makes me sad

There is a Thing on Twitter and elsewhere at the moment that I've been following. It's rehashing a very well-worn theme that resurges from time to time, and provokes a strong division of opinion. It comes down to this: Some people think that children should be excluded / banned from either certain kinds of venues, or from certain venues after specified times, or from certain kinds of activities that are not R-rated. (I'm not even going to engage with the people who think that children should basically be NOWHERE AT ALL THAT I CAN SEE EVAH, because a) they are extremists, and one can't debate extremists and b) their arseholery and entitledness more or less defeats its own ends and they get little traction with people who are not of their own limited cast of mind).

I think it's not coincidental that this "issue" is being discussed again in the immediate wake of the David Koch breastfeeding in public snafu (if you missed it, Google it!) I also am not surprised that there is a strong correlation between those who dismissed the whole Koch thing as "not important" or "not a feminist issue" and those who think that childrens' presence in public spaces can be and should be limited. That some of these people are also self-touted feminist spokespeople makes me sad, but doesn't surprise me.

Having picked it to death in my head, there are two things that I find the most problematic about this argument:

1. It is inevitably and deeply discriminatory as currently argued.
Let's be really clear about this:

Venues already have the right to ask disruptive patrons to leave, whether the disruption comes from a shouty drunk, a party of merrymakers harassing the staff, OR a child breaking stuff. Whether or not they exercise this right is up to their judgement, and each draws the line differently.

But when you say "no children allowed" or "no children allowed after a certain time", you are not basing that exclusion on bad, damaging behaviour that's occurring. What you want to do is exclude a class of people based on an innate characteristic (age). The very presence of children, regardless of what they do, say or how they behave, is cast as an ill to be avoided, because their innate nature is unwanted, offensive or undesired. I cannot understand how you can argue that this is different from excluding, say, people with different skin colour, or people with disabilities, because, after all, some patrons would rather not look at / see those people. It's pretty sickening, isn't it, when you put it in those terms?

I know that there are reasons beyond taste why people may be very uncomfortable with children around. I feel for people struggling with child loss or infertility; being surrounded by children must be agonising at times, and I wish it wasn't that way. But, and I will wear it if this sounds harsh (and you may have at me in comments, I won't censor anything) - the public sphere and public venues are not lock-down safe spaces for grieving or traumatised people. It's absolutely alright to limit your private world in whatever way you need to, but to ask others - strangers - to carry the weight of your grief which they have in no way personally occasioned seems to me to be taking the point beyond what it will bear.

2. Whether this is understood or acknowledged or not, things that restrict childrens' access to public space also restrict parents' access to it, and in reality, often, disproportionately restrict mothers' access.

Parenting children is experienced differently by everyone, and just as every child is individual, so is every family dynamic. Some parents frequently take their children to public venues, others much less often, and that is for a million different reasons that are not important to this argument. Some parents and carers take their children to venues at times when the conventional wisdom is that those children "ought to be in bed", because clearly there is One True Way to Raise All Children, and All Children Have the Same Patterns, Cycles and Needs.

What happens if you bring down the ban hammer on childrens' presence at venues or at particular times? Yes, some parents get babysitters and leave the kids at home. Yes, some choose alternative venues (if available) instead. But some can't afford babysitting, or have kids that have issues that mean that they can't easily be left with others, or have no reasonable alternative venue available. So then one or more than one caregiver stays at home with the children - and in the standard narrative, this is often (although not always) the mother.

What's the message here? I'll boil it down for you:
a) When you have children, you should largely retreat to the private sphere, because
b) The public sphere is for grown-ups and their grown-up concerns, not for small persons and their carers; therefore
c) While you are parenting, you are not as fully adult as others are.

This is, of course, ten times worse when you add the breastfeeding crap into it. Women - when you breed, you cease to be proper grown-ups in the subtext of much of this debate. If you have the nerve to suggest that these are feminist issues ... well. They're not, because feminism isn't for mothers, you realise.

One of the blogs that I read often and really love is called Are Women Human? Grace, the author of that blog, writes about many feminist and humanist issues, using her central question as a locus for all her discussions, and it's astonishing how often that question - so simple, so profound - can point up the ways in which gender-based inequalities are manifested and justified.

What I'd really like to say to people who think that it's OK to ban children from places and spaces based on the fact of their age and nothing else is this: Do you believe mothers are human? I don't mean "sure, IN THE ABSENCE OF THEIR KIDS" - I mean as you find them, which can include plus-children. Do you believe that children are human? I don't mean "potential humans" or "one-day humans" - I mean human RIGHT NOW, in their current state of being.

I'm not asking if you like kids. I'm not asking if you want any, or if you enjoy spending time with them. I'm not asking if the sound of children chattering is pleasant to you, or if you would prefer to be in public without them. You can like whatever you like and prefer whatever you prefer; it's all good, not everyone is the same.

What I am asking though is whether you believe that your likes and preferences, and even, yes, your inconveniences, gazump the fact (if you so acknowledge it) that children are human, and mothers are human, and do not, should not, lose their human right to walk the world because you don't enjoy their presence.

What I am asking is whether you would support this kind of discrimination against any other demographic you care to name.

What I'm asking is whether you can believe that part of being human yourself is accepting the diversity of the world, in all its messiness and imperfection, and being able to see the richness of the whole that's woven from the many.

The many that includes children - their perspectives, their voices, their presence, their humanity.

So that's what I think about that.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Month of Poetry #26: An Australia Day inspired villanelle

all the nations wave their flags and sing
on their days of celebration, wine and cheers
the cost occluded, no true remembering.

politicians stand on platforms, glibly bring
a well-worn story of smooth faceless years
all the nations wave their flags and sing.

from pubs and parks, anthems are blaring,
and pundits breathe out bile with their beers
the cost occluded, no true remembering.

the narrative is fractured with aching
and seasoned with the salt of all the tears
all the nations wave their flags and sing.

to own the darker weave is called bleeding
heartedness, as if that naming smears
the cost occluded, no true remembering.

to hope for better is a loving thing
a fierceness for potential, beyond fears,
all the nations wave their flags and sing,
the cost occluded, no true remembering.

- Kathy, 26/1/2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Feelingsdumps, Twitter, and the value of online friends

Lots of people in my life don't get Twitter. They don't understand what the attraction is, or why I both enjoy and value my interactions there. Some of them find it silly, or trivial, or annoying. (One, indeed, has pointblank asked me to give it up altogether, a move I am still considering, but with a great deal of reluctance).

I seem to be past the point where people who know me well question why I blog. My immediate family, including the kids, likes my blog - its existence, the enjoyment they can see it gives me, and the longditudinal family record it provides. But Twitter, ah, that's a different beast. The exchange / mutuality aspect of it, the transactional nature, the staccato prose required by the 140 char limit, the warp speed at which it moves, the king tide of garbage in which the stream of gold floats - it not only doesn't appeal to everyone, it's bewildering and repugnant to some. For others, it's the way that I use Twitter that they find objectionable - the fact that I talk to people I haven't met IRL, the fact that I join conversations and debates, and the fact that, according to one person at least, Twitter has a ubiquity in my life that none of my other online activities do.

It's hard for me to really explain to the sceptics what it is that being on Twitter gives me. I suppose I can best express it by telling you what Twitter feels like to me. It feels like a great, fast-flowing river of minds, into which I can dive and find myself part of something bigger than myself and my local concerns, and yet, paradoxically, where my individuality and my particular problems can find support and encouragement, no matter what time of the day or night. I feel like I can participate in the zeitgeist of my times on Twitter; that the veil between "important stuff" and me is thin and tattered there, that *I* can speak and debate and be heard.

Perhaps even more importantly, I can turn to Twitter for reality checks and emotional support. Last night I had a real dilemma, involving a situation that had occurred in my offline world. I was angry and confused and didn't know what to do. Absent Twitter, and the friendships I have made there - real friendships, whether or not I've ever met the people in the flesh - I would've stewed and stressed, my anger turning sour in my belly and poisoning my night and the days ahead. I would've been quite likely to explode disproportionately, causing srious harm to relationships that, temporary rage aside, I have no real desire to jettison.

Instead, two DM conversations with longstanding Twitter friends helped me to work through my feelings and the events that have inspired them, and to come up with ideas for how to move forward constructively. One of those women has also become an IRL friend, while the other is someone I feel I know very well, after many years of online interaction, but have never met face to face. Both were there, last night, to give me their wisdom, suport and validation, and it's hard for me to overstate how important that was to me.

So as I look down the barrel of maybe having to give Twitter up, it's not a happy picture for me. I will lose something that matters to me across more than one vector of my social, emotional and intellectual life. If Twitter's not your cup of tea, that's absolutely cool - but it definitely is mine, and I'll miss it chronically if I do sacrifice it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Venn diagrams of children-feeding pain

Is it just me, or does anyone else with more than themselves to feed come up against the problem of non overlapping pickiness?

To wit - I have three children, aged almost 4, almost 8, and 9.5. I also have a partner who is not ridiculously picky but has distinct likes and dislikes, and does not cook except for barbequeing. Devising and executing the daily refuelling operations is, therefore, almost exclusively down to me, and honestly I sometimes feel like I need an PhD in set theory and logistics to get it even roughly right.

It's not that any one of the other four people I feed, taken individually, is painfully picky (although I do have one child with sensory sensitivities that complicate her eating somewhat). Everyone eats across the five food groups, and most of us eat roughly enough to sustain bodily needs, most of the time.

No, the issue is that there is a wafer-thin margin for me in serving up food that most (let alone all!) of the people will eat. As Example A, I give you: The Venn Diagram of Fruit.

As you can see, Child A (let's call her Miss Orange) eats quite a few different kinds of fruits - 8 in fact, the most of any of them. That looks all very nice and fine, until you start to look at the intersections.

Miss Orange and Miss Purple will both eat banana, while Miss Purple and Miss Green both eat apples (albeit only if peeled in Miss Purple's case). The three of them all eat strawberries consistently, and will eat pear if it is absolutely perfectly ripe, peeled and quartered (Miss Orange is a little more forgiving here and will eat a skin-on pear as long as it's not discoloured).

What this means in terms of serving up shared snacking plates, or buying food for lunchboxes, is that if I want certainty that all the fruit will get eaten and not spoil, I end up sticking to apples, bananas, pears if perfect, and strawberries when in season. Don't get me wrong - I still buy other fruit, both those on their individual white lists and new ones to try. But when I am busy, or having a cash-flow crisis week, it's hard to justify buying lots of beautiful fruit that will either sit there til it rots or give partner and I the skitters as we desperately try to scoff it all ourselves.

The picture becomes even grimmer when we move to the Venn Diagram of Recognisable Vegetables.

The first thing to note here is the empty central segment. Yes, that's right - there is *no single vegetable* that all three will eat as a separate, including potato. (As an Irish-descended potato fanatic, I would never have believed it possible that I'd have a child who wouldn't eat potato ... but I do).

It's also a bit depressing that each kid has a vast repertoire of 4 vegetables apiece that they'll eat, and each one only eats a single green thing (broccoli in two cases, peas in one). None of them eat any salad vegetables in raw form, which makes doing dinner sides heinously difficult sometimes. This is not for want of trying, mind you, but that is where they rest at the moment.

I could go on and on, making Venn Diagrams of Despair about their meat lists, grains / starch eating, their lunch preferences, their breakfast cereals etc, but rather than go with the downer approach, I will tell you the only thing that has saved me from having to make foolishly complicated and tailored dinners with twenty-seven different components every night. It is this:

One. Pot. Cooking.

You might notice that vegetables such as, say, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, and turnips, and the staple cooking fruit, tomato, don't appear on anybody's white lists. This is so, but that doesn't mean I don't cook with them or they don't eat them, it just means they don't recognise them when they are mixed up in a larger dish. I don't tell them lies - if they ask, they get told - but nor do I draw attention to the fact.

My top five one-pot dishes, in which I can load a multitude of stuff, are:

- Pasta sauces, especially bolognese and napolitana
- Stew - Lamb or beef, loaded with veg, also contains lentils (another thing none of them eat as a separate)
- Risotto - I make tonnes of different kinds.
- Soup - ALL sorts.
- Shepherd's / cottage pie - I will admit that Miss Purple, the non potato eater, still scrapes the mash meticulously to one side, but given that there is lean meat and at least five veg in the base, it doesn't matter so much.

If you cook for a few people, do you come up against the overlap problem? How do you deal with it? Suggestions very welcome!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Month of poetry #20: Summer, beyond sun

More haiku. Because I love it so :-)

Summer, beyond sun

summer moon rides high
a fat gold coin in the sky
a torch for live nights.

restless, children stir
hair dark with sweat, slick upon
hot foreheads and necks.

gin and lemon fill
nightcap glasses, as the heat
chases sleep far off.

no hibernation
under comfort blankets now,
bare-legged we lie.

the line dividing
day from night trembles, dissolves
melted by hot air.

such nights carry fire
and frenzy in their gift, such
pellucid knowing.

awakening, we
roll, dishevelled, from damp beds
headache in flower.

- Kathy, 20/1/2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Reading Notes: Behind the Night Bazaar

This review is part of my commitment to complete the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013. I have signed up to read at least 6 books by Australian women writers and review at least 4 of them, and I'm actually hoping to do a little better than that - I'm aiming to read one a month and review half of them. All of the books will be by authors I have not previously read.

Angela Savage's 2006 crime novel, Behind the Night Bazaar,was an accidental find for me. Visits to the local library with three kids in tow are something of a close-your-eyes-and-grab proposition when it comes to choosing my own reading material; I snatch up three or four things with nice covers, interesting titles or a familiar author's name and hope for the best. This has sometimes disappointing and sometimes hilarious results, but about half the time, I end up with at least one really good thing in my potluck. Savage's book is definitely one of the better ones that rolling the library dice has delivered.

Behind the Night Bazaar (Text, 2006) is Savage's debut novel, and introduces her series detective, Australian ex-pat PI Jayne Keeney, who lives and works in Bangkok. Much of the action of the book takes place not in Bangkok itself but in Chiang Mai, the northern city best known to most Australians as a tourist destination par excellence.

Now, I have read a lot - an awful lot - of crime fiction in my life as a book nerd. Crime is one of my two favourite fiction genres (the other being hard science fiction) and while my preferred sub-genre is Golden Age-style classic-puzzle (think Christie, Marsh, Sayers, Allingham, Wentworth), I also have a fondness for PI stories and the occasional well-written procedural. I don't tend to like stories that go for very violent or blood-soaked crimes, though, and yes, I do understand the irony inherent in that statement. (Crime stories are almost always murder stories. There really isn't a polite and kindly way to homicidally dispose of someone, at the end of the day).

So in reading Savage's book, I was bringing a couple of different lenses, one of them my fondness for the PI genre when done well. On this score, I would say that Keeney doesn't disappoint as a central protagonist. She comes across as very human, flawed, intelligent, curious and driven, but not at all fearless - in fact, her fear is palpable at several stages in the book, and it adds an edge to the perception of danger that the book evokes. I didn't feel, at the end of the story, that I was at the bottom of her either - Savage has left herself plenty to do in future stories to fill in the complexities of the character, which is very smart and shows there is a depth to Keeney that will support a nice long exposition.

Keeney reminds me a little of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, in that she is a bit emotionally stunted, confused, doesn't seem to make clear-eyed decisions about relationships, and avoids commitment at a frantic pace. As yet, Keeney isn't as layered or rounded as Kinsey Millhone, but as Grafton has had 22 novels so far to develop Millhone, that's hardly a fair comparison. In time, I could see Jayne Keeney being every bit as compelling as Millhone.

On to the plot, in which Savage pulls no punches whatever. Instead of going for a nice uncomplicated shooting or knifing, motivated by a personal application of one of the Big Three (money, passion, revenge / protection), Savage weaves a labyrinthine tale of corruption, child exploitation, and entwined evils. Triggered by the murder of Nou, who is the 24-year-old lover of Jayne's friend, Canadian ex-pat AIDS worker Didier, Keeney ends up embroiled in a dismal conspiracy with systematic child exploitation at its end.

I normally dislike stories involving the exploitation of children quite intensely, and in fact have been known to stop reading them mid-paragraph at times. Not only is the subject matter inherently upsetting, especially since I've had my own children, but it just feels like too many writers use it as the Death Star Device to convince you that This is A Really Serious and Dark Story, OK? I really detest the way the real world pain of vulnerable people is sensationalised as a useful plot meme for Ultimate Evil.

However, I think Savage avoids this trap, albeit quite narrowly, in the way she handles the events of her plot. (I'm trying not to spoil too much, so forgive me if this part is a little vague). It's obvious that she's thought, and carefully, about how to balance storytelling and authenticity, and has crafted a plot that is at once quite depressingly realistic in its compromises and venalities, and also a coherent, fast-moving story. The exploitation aspect of the plot is not, for want of a better word, exploited for cheap pathos points. Rather, she weaves it into the master plot in a way that feels naturalistic and valid. And the emotional content, when it comes, packs a huge wallop precisely because of this skillful deployment.

I have really only two quibbles about this book. The first is the relationship, for want of a better word, between Keeney and the Australian Federal Police officer, Mark D'Angelo. To me, this felt forced, unnatural and a bit weird, and I think it was mostly an issue of timing - Mark was introduced far too late in the book, and under far too invidious conditions, for the subsequent relationship between them, developing at red hot speed, to be plausible.

However, this is ultimately a minor issue; my second quibble is a little more significant. It's this - I wonder if Savage conflates "practical complications" with "moral ambiguity". What I mean here is that while the ending felt very likely to me, I thought Savage let Keeney off the hook far too lightly for the machinations she employed to achieve posthumous reputational justice for her friend. There was a lot of talk about how the issue was complex and that this was the only possible outcome that could be achieved, so we are strongly invited to give Keeney a pass for her interventions that lead to corrupt police escaping without consequence, because, it's implied, there are moral ambiguities involved.

The thing is, though, there really isn't any moral ambiguity here at all. Selling children is morally repugnant, The End. There are not two (legitimate) sides to that message. There may be - and Savage convincingly shows that there are - significant practical complexities involved in preventing and punishing this trade, but that does not translate to any real ethical doubt about what the outcome should be. It bothered me a little that Keeney is not shown as experiencing any remorse, or even reflection, about the fact that she effectively sabotaged an opportunity to bring down a house of cards in this area. She might have engineered the most possible solution, but it's a grey and compromised one, and I guess I would've liked to see more awareness of that.

Overall, though, I thought this was a very good book, and the start of what is probably an extremely good series. I grabbed another one, The Half-Child, when I changed my library books over today ... this time on purpose!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Month of Poetry #16: A kyrielle

Still waxing poetical, and I'm finding that I'm quite enjoying trying my hand at different verse forms this month. Some, such as haiku, I deeply love writing and will work at improving my technique further. Others, such as the sonnet form, I've discovered don't really suit my poetic voice.

Today I tried a kyrielle. Kyrielles are poems written in 4-line stanzas that usually rhyme aabb, although abab is also permitted. The key feature of a kyrielle, and the source of its name, is the repetition of the last line of the first stanza as the last line of each subsequent stanza. In this way, the poem follows the pattern of a kyrie-form prayer, which is a prayer in which each section closes with the same words (eg "kyrie eleison": "Lord have mercy on us").

The rhyme pattern is less challenging than, say, a villanelle, because the aa lines don't have to have the same rhyming sound in each stanza (the bb lines do, naturally, to preserve the kyrie as the final line). The syllable counting is far less rigorous than haiku, and the meter is not as fixed as sonnet. The main challenge is to find a powerful enough kyrie line to hold the poem together.

So here is my attempt at a kyrielle. My poems have been revolving around summerish themes this month - from my haikus on new year and bushfires, to my free-form, Snake, and the villanelle on a summer schoolyard - so I am trying to do a seasonal flip and invoke some ice with this one.

Winter Without

Concrete skies are bringing far-flung sleet
Torn boots will not today protect sore feet
In summer young, now looking bitter old,
The day is short, the night is such hard cold.

Hot soup in mugs, with seeded bread to soak
A hint of moving blood in hands invoke
Leaving, ghostly, gone before you're told
The day is short, the night is such hard cold.

Morning ice is beautiful and hurts
Thin keening of ice-wind in sharp concerts
So little left to barter, still unsold
The day is short, the night is such hard cold.

Wandering is strangest, harshest now
Past what love and reason can allow
Rain-bearing sunsets shine with trickster's gold
The day is short, the night is such hard cold.

Folded up in rugs and clothes and mud
A daily war with in and outer flood
Epic stories stay, it seems, untold
The day is short, the night is such hard cold.

- Kathy, 16/1/13

Monday, January 14, 2013

On not dreading going back to work

I woke up this morning at 7:45, a little wobbly after a night filled with disruptions (of both the asthma / sinus and children variety). I had a nice cup of tea, and went out to hang the washing, while the older kids watched cartoons and the 3 year old slumbered on, making up for lost night sleep.

As I was pegging up the clothes, I was thinking about the day and the week ahead, and I realised that I was shaping my thinking around (self-imposed) writing-productive goals again, such as blog posts, book reviews, poems and an unpaid article I've volunteered to write for an NFP publication. I was feeling energised, rather than intimidated, by this, but something still seemed a little lacking, and I realised it was the fact that none of the writing things I aim to do this week are actually "compulsory", in the sense that, if I don't do them, it's only my unpublished inner agenda that's let down, not anyone else. Intrinsic motivation is great, but I am the sort of writer who benefits from extrinsic motivators as well (such as deadlines and, ahem, money), and enjoys the challenge of meeting other people's objectives for a piece of writing, rather than being entirely self-directed.

That's when it suddenly occurred to me that I am starting to feel almost ready to get back to work. I've been off for 3 weeks now, with no work related tasks barring the issuing of one invoice and a couple of email exchanges setting up project meetings for my 2013 booked projects. It has been wonderful and sorely needed, and I'm still not quite there with letting go of my relaxing endless-summer-vibe with my kids, but I can see clearly that by the time my next work project starts up on 4 February, I'll be eager to get going on it and to have that structure, external focus and challenge back in my life.

I've always known I am lucky to have stumbled into my life as a freelancer, which allows me to work primarily from home and work very flexibly. I am just now realising I'm lucky in another way, in that the work I do (writing business and government documentation) interests me and feeds me in important ways. That's not to say that it's all rainbow kisses and fairy clouds floating past fluffy kittens in a sunshine sky, because, obviously, it isn't. It is, however, something I feel I can do with reasonable aptitude (most of the time) and enjoy doing (most of the time!), so that makes me very lucky indeed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Month of Poetry #13: Another haiku

I'm in a haiku kind of mood today. Still sticking with 5x, 7x, 5x traditional syllable pattern, although I'm going to try a more intricate form soon.


the breath of summer
smells hot and dark, smoke-curled, snarls
with savage intent.

summer storms half-crazed
little rain, and cracking light
a tree lit up, red.

the eucalypts burn
with patience; born to it, they
foresee green ahead.

built things cannot hold
flame eats all, leaves soft charcoal
the sound of keening.

heat in the cities
signals danger in the fields
one match, all aflame.

fighting nature hard,
human malice harder yet.
uneasy days here.

the waiting summer
brings fire in her phoenix wings
terror in the haze.

- Kathy, 13/1/12

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Month of Poetry #12: A Pleiades

Still going with Month of Poetry, and today I decided to try a modern verse form - the Pleiades, developed in 1999 by Craig Tigerman, lead editor of Sol magazine.

The Pleiades is based on initial letter repetition rather than rhyme. 7 lines in length, Pleiades have a single-word title, and that title sets the theme and subject matter for the entire poem, as the initial words of each line must start with the same letter and all be words connected to or suggested by the title.

So I decided to write one called ...


Chasing light, small dancer,
Cabuchon of brittle flame.
Casting darkness a little aside, just a little
Cavernous-mouthed black beyond the
Circle of warm orange. It grows
Candescent, the heart-light birthing
Canticles and chanting, hopes and prayers.

- Kathy, 12/1/13

The luxury hotel night - one on one time with my middle girl

My 7 year old middle girl, E, had one burning wish for this summer.

"I want to stay at a 5-star hotel with you!" she proclaimed. "One that has a pool and room service, and you can watch a movie in the room! Just you and me together."

I talked to my partner and we decided that this was something we'd like to give E, if we could manage it. So I kept a weather eye on Wotif and was able to snaffle a night at the Grand Hyatt, in the middle of Melbourne, for a great price on the Wednesday just gone. My partner arranged to take the day off work on the Thursday, and we were set.

E's excitement, on being informed of this, knew no bounds. She immediately started making a list (and decorating it) of what we would do on our hotel stay.

She was also packing for the trip a good week before it was to take place, and by Wednesday morning, she was at a fever pitch of impatience, asking me every 15 minutes what time her dad would be home from work "so we can GO!"

Eventually the moment arrived, and, just before 5, we set off for the Grand Hyatt to have our night of luxury and one-on-one time.

The Grand Hyatt is a tastefully opulent place - clearly premium, without being flashy. From handing our car over to the valet onwards, E was entranced ("They will park it for us?" she asked incredulously.)

After checking in, and riding the elevators to our 17th-floor room (another big excitement), she was delighted, and I was relieved, to find that our room was gorgeous and had magnificent city views from two angles (we were lucky enough to get a corner room, which I highly recommend if you can swing it).

Next on the list after exploring the room was a visit to the hotel pool and spa. E was completely thrilled with the experience and even found a boy her own age to have swimming races with, while I enjoyed every muscle-easing minute in the enormous hot spa.

Back to the room, showered and dressed, E decided it was time to start pointing her camera at me. As you can see, I was feeling pretty good by this stage! In the pool, E and I had had a chance to talk and to play together, with her as my sole focus - something she rarely gets, and often craves. Her delight was infectious.

It made me wonder and reflect on when it was that I stopped playing with my older kids, in the sense of just mucking around and being a bit silly.

I still play lots of structured games with them - we are a Scrabble and Pictionary family, and my eldest and I do the chess thing with great regularity - but free-form play is not something I tend to do with the older kids anymore, and I think I need to change that. I still play like that with my almost-4 year old, and it's clear to me now that E also needs this kind of interaction on a regular basis.

Down to the hotel restaurant for dinner, E and I had a lovely meal - an asparagus salad with chickpeas and quinoa for me (very delicious) and pasta bolognese for her. ("It's yummy ... not as good as your bolognese, though," she whispered).

Because we had no fidgety Miss 3 to be working around, E and I were able to eat slowly and enjoy both our food and watching the activity on the street (we sat in a window booth, another excitement for her). We talked and she snuggled into my side, and it was great.

Back up to our room, we ordered room service for dessert (ice cream for her, a cheese and fruit plate for me) and settled in to watch a pay per view movie. E had selected the Katy Perry doco / film, Part of Me, and I admit I was a bit sceptical, but my cynicism was unjustified; I found the film quite interesting and engaging, in fact, and it gave me a different insight into an artist that both my older girls adore. (Especially her song "Firework", which, it must be said, I also have come around to quite liking).

I had no idea, for instance, that Perry is from a very evangelical Christian family with extremely conservative values, or that she began her career as a gospel singer. Nor did I realise that Perry was on the road touring for the entirety of her short-lived marriage to Russell Brand. Perry herself came across as a likeable, albeit driven, person, and it wasn't a hardship to have to sit through this with E.

Both E and I were quite tired by the time the movie finished around 9:30; we'd had several of the kids friends sleep over at our house the night before, where "sleep" is defined as "lie down and giggle a great deal for many hours", and we were a bit sleep deprived.

Snuggling down in the comfy bed, E fell asleep within minutes clutching my hand to her chest (in lieu of her forgotten sleep cuddly, a toy cat). I also dozed off quickly, but did stir in the night a few times - not due to noise (the room was so blessedly quiet, I could hear nothing from the street or neighbouring rooms) but due to asthma induced by the highly luxurious, but not very Kathy-allergy-friendly, down quilt we were sleeping under.

Still, it's a small thing. I did still sleep quite well - even with the Ventolin breaks, I would've clocked 8 hours overall - and I woke at 7:00 feeling pretty good.

E was entranced with the morning cityscapes from our windows, scurrying from sill to sill like an exciteable squirrel. She was only dissuaded from this project when our breakfast arrived - pancakes and berries for her, and gluten free amaranth based muesli for me with added fruit. (We ate every bite and it was very good!)

We popped back down to the pool for another swim and soak, and this time we had the entire spa and pool to ourselves, which led to much hilarity and also much relaxed floating in the warm water.

As we checked out, E squeezed my hand. "It was wonderful, Mum," she said.

It was a really great experience for us both, one I hope we'll be able to repeat one day. Lovely one on one time for me and my beautiful E.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Month of Poetry #10: On the train

MOP note: I haven't missed a day yet, but poems 7-9 are all not for publication at the moment - one because of its subject matter, and the other two because they are extremely rough and I want time to work on them.

This poem also feels quite raw and unfinished, but I wanted to put it up anyway.

On the train

oh, I don't know, seems to me that
if they wanted to they -
yeah, jus' bludgers, right? I mean I -

gotta dollar, lady? I needa get home, I haven't got the fare

mama, look! lookit! a big roll of grass, out there!
- oh, come down, you'll fall, we're going round the bend

if I close my eyes and sway with the motion no one will see me here
I will melt into the metal skin of this train and be no more

excuse me, young man, but I believe that is a disabled seat

he don' look too pleased about that!
but he moved, though -

are they meeting us under th' clocks?
nah, at the Maccers, you know, the one that always smells like chuck-

oh God, I wish he'd stop crying
everyone is looking at us

hush little baby don't say a word

I reckon we can score at th' station, there's always a guy-
sssshhh you idiot

I wonder how much it would hurt, to step out and embrace it
stand on the tracks with arms wide open and meet the oncoming steel with a smile

not long now, not long, honey-
we're almost there.

- Kathy, 10/1/12

Monday, January 7, 2013

Amanda Vanstone thinks you should stop whingeing and get on with it

Australian parliamentarian Amanda Vanstone has an op ed piece in the Age today entitled Stop Whingeing and Get Up Early to Beat the January Blues.

Now, it's fair to say that it is not my usual practice to read op eds by politicians, even if on ostensibly non-partisan subjects. They are, almost without exception, offputting exercises in (very) thinly veiled pot-stirring of one kind or another. If I want to read poorly-written, badly-argued, tone-deaf, simplistic attempts at addressing ish-ewes, I can always dig up my own year 10 essays and treat myself to a feast of Why Euthanasia Should Be Banned, Why Beauty Pageants are Great for Self Esteem, and Why Affirmative Action Is Unfair, to cite three of my more cringeworthy efforts. (I cite my 15-year-old self and her obnoxious, simplistic views as solid-gold evidence that people can change with time and maturity, for the better, if they are open to it).

However, I did read this little gem by Vanstone, and I even read the comments, of which there are many. I found it, predictably, offputting and hackle-raising, but there was one aspect of both my own reaction and that of some of the more thoughtful commenters that I found rather interesting. I'll elaborate on that in a moment.

Before I get into what I thought was the one complexity worth unpicking in the piece, I should provide a brief summary. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the article is not a model of clarity and logic, to say the least. However, I think the take-home points can be characterised thusly:

- You should work harder. And longer. Don't forget longer.

- Employers are entitled to expect this extra effort without extra remuneration. And
to base promotional ("getting ahead") decisions on it.

- Volunteers are great! So are people in caring professions! They do what they do *for the love of all humanity* and aren't they GREAT! (PS That's why we don't need to pay them at all / more, or listen to them when they express the need for better wages, because they are doing it for the love and that's GREAT!)

- If hard things happen to you (like, say, cancer), you shouldn't sit around and feel sorry for yourself; just get on with life! Keep on keeping on! No one rewards a malingerer (even one who's actually, well, really sick...)

- Parents should raise kids not to be spoiled brats. The way they should do this is to run their own businesses, and / or work a lot. This is the one right way to be a modern parent. Sorry, I meant a mother, not parent, of course. My bad! Suggesting outcomes for children might be based on both parents' input as well as lots of other factors! Sheesh.

She also throws a bone to the anti-parliament sentiment abroad, by noting (correctly) that the general behavioural level in Australian parliaments is pretty poor, and that we shouldn't use parliament as a guide for decency and common sense. (Truefact. Hard to disagree with her there).

Putting aside the little bit about parliament, it's a pretty paint-by-numbers conservative bootstrappin' wealth-is-success poverty-is-cos-you-just-werent-trying rant. I would've dismissed it as such without a second thought, except for the sub-theme that Vanstone employed, which was:

"Australia is turning into a nation of whingers."

I think this is false and a really damaging characterisation of people expressing genuine dissatisfaction with their lives and the polity in which they live them; buuuuuut, strip away the pejorative language and unpick the idea behind it (and behind all of Vanstone's "heartwarming stories of ordinary folk" schtick) and there is something in there about self-motivation and the ability to change your approach, if not your circumstances.

And that's where I have difficulty, because I know, I can smell, that this is a completely disingenuous trick being used by Vanstone to camoflage her Tory agenda, but I sort of agree that prolonged negativity is not a helpful approach to life for most people, and that to achieve goals, you need to work at them and want them and believe you can reach them. (Belief and aims aren't enough, as I wrote about last year, but without them, and without work, you probably won't even start to climb the mountain).

A lot of the more reasoned commenters seemed to me to be struggling with this same thing - an acceptance of the core notion that attitude matters, and work matters, while completely resiling from Vanstone's shifty right-wing morphing of this into the idea that this therefore means that everything you (don't) get financially is your own fault, coupled with and also, stop being sad and hurt about sad, hurtful things, because it makes me uncomfortable, and I would rather interact with you as a Strong, Stoic, Survivor type, mmmm'K? One commenter sliced through the spin really incisively but concluded by noting that he himself felt that changing his own attitude was what had led him to the place in his life where he's now happy. (Importantly, he didn't say "rich" or even "successful" - because these are not universal measures, funnily enough).

I wonder - and this is not the first time I've wondered this - if there is a compassionate, human-honouring way to phrase the ideas that attitude matters, and that chosen work of all kinds - paid, intellectual, volunteer, domestic, nurturing - where one has the capacity for it, is primarily an individual and social good. I would like to be able to express this without judgement of other people's choices, lives, or realities. I would like to be able to hold this position without the grim conviction that it's usually (always?) parlayed into a critique of people who don't or can't do things in the same way.

One thing I'm sure of, though. If there is a respectful, inclusive way to capture this thought, Vanstone hasn't done it in this article.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Month of Poetry #6: A villanelle

(Month of Poetry note: I am keeping up! I did write poems on the 4th and 5th as well as today, but have decided not to post them, in one case because it's really quite bad, and in the other case because I think it might be rather good with more work, so I'm holding it back to massage it a bit.)

So today I'm trying my hand at a villanelle, another set poetic form that I really like but haven't been game to attempt before.

The villanelle is set form that originated in French poetry, although the word is derived from the Italian villanella, which, descended from the Latin for farm, traditionally referred to a rustic song or dance.

The villanelle pattern is:
5 x tercets (3-line stanzas) which rhyme aba
1 x concluding quatrain (4-line stanza) which rhymes abaa
There are also repeated lines in villanelles - the first line of the first stanza becomes the last line of stanzas 2 and 4, and the third line of the concluding quatrain; the last line of the first stanza becomes the last line of stanzas 3 and 5, and the last line of the quatrain. This repetition helps to tie the themes of the poem together in ways that can be quite beautiful and haunting.

One of my favourite Australian poets, Les A Murray, wrote a villanelle called The Commercial Hotel which I have always admired for its ability to draw poignancy and big truths out of the most apparently prosaic and unpromising material. Following in Murray's footsteps, rather than writing a villanelle that sets out to be Very Deep and Meaningful, I started with something commonplace and familiar, and let the ideas flow from that.

Hence ... Schoolyard.

ground worn thin by tides of black-clad feet
running to the sound of wailing bell
the air remembers, trembles with the beat.

nets, white on green, invite them to compete
balls fly from toes while onlookers yell
ground worn thin by tides of black-clad feet

a garden, quiet, hidden near the street
gives solitude for drinking like moselle
the air remembers, trembles with the beat.

the wafting ice and baking sausage mete
out their tithe of hunger with each trailing smell
ground worn thin by tides of black-clad feet.

critical mass of human, sour, sweet
stamp out their futures, winding up the spell
the air remembers, trembles with the beat.

the eucalypts nod, blossoms fall replete
on sand and concrete, hats and hands as well.
ground worn thin by tides of black-clad feet
the air remembers, trembles with the beat.

- Kathy, 6/1/13

Friday, January 4, 2013

Cruising on the river

Yesterday, for something different, I took my three girls and their friend, who holidayed with us for two nights this week, on a boat trip.

I've always associated boats and cruises with holidays away from home. We did a family holiday in Echuca back in 2010, and the riverboat cruising was the highlight of that, with all the kids (even then-infant C) loving it. For some reason, it's never really occurred to me to think about water experiences that don't involve swimming here at home. This is kind of odd, given that Melbourne is a bay city served by several rivers, one of the largest of which (the Maribyrnong) is close to my house.

So when a friend told me that she and her kids had done a Maribyrnong River cruise and really enjoyed it, I thought, why not? The prices are extremely moderate - $20 for adults and just $5 for kids - and all four girls were intrigued and enthused at the idea.

Thus we set off yesterday morning, heat beginning to rise (it would eventually peak at 37, although it didn't exceed 34 down on the cool river), to take a 2-hour tour on the Blackbird, a pleasure boat that has been touring Melbourne's rivers for 33 years.

I wasn't sure what to expect, or how well the four kids, aged 9. 8, 7 and almost 4, would handle the extended time cooped up on fairly small boat with nowhere to go, but as it turned out, I need not have feared. The cruise was wonderful, relaxing and engaging for all of us, and the first thing the kids asked when we eventually disembarked was whether we could do it again :-)

We stopped at the Footscray Market on the way and bought sweet Vietnamese rolls, croissants, strawberries, apples and cherry tomatoes to picnic on the boat, and this turned out to be a really smart idea. The boat's captain was cool with eating on board and the flow of snacking helped punctuate the trip nicely for the kids.

Once we were on, almost straight away, the feeling of stepping out of the everyday world began to take hold. I have seen the Maribyrnong River so many, many times - heck, I drove over it daily when I was still working in North Melbourne - but I've never seen it as part of it before, and it really looks different at water level.

The extremely knowledgeable captain provided a fascinating commentary as we glided upriver, pointing out landmarks that, again, I know from a different perspective - the Buddhist temple, Victoria University, the rendering and tanning plants (eugh) and so on. Hearing about the historical uses of the land, versus the attempted gentrified reuses now, was both entertaining and engaged my inner cynic - when former munitions dumps and waste facilities are turned into luxury housing, you *know* you've stepped through the looking glass.

The kids were very, very taken with going under bridges - especially the Vline train bridge, where, to our delight, a train thundered overhead as we slipped along below. C, my youngest, was fascinated watching the life of the water - ducks, swans, a few flashing fish, and the human life brought by the river; other boats (a few), fisher-people on the banks (a lot), people cycling or jogging along waterway paths, and even some swimmers. We passed through a stretch in Maribyrnong itself where we even saw several dogs cooling off in the water, an occasion for much delight from my canine-loving C.

One landmark that we went past was the wonderful Living Museum of the West at Pipemaker's Park. I have read so many good things about this place and somehow have unaccountably failed to take the kids there yet. Seeing it from the water, I am resolved to remedy that this summer.

I think that one of the best parts of the trip for me was getting to see the water-side life of houses of which I could only have seen the road side in other circumstances. I had no idea so many houses had little jetties, or densely treed backyards that make the settled side of the river look almost as wild as the unoccupied side. We even saw a tent and campsite in one steep backyard, right next to the river and boat dock. It was so appealing and gave me a real Wind in the Willows sort of feeling. After all, “there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

The kids all got to have a turn at steering the boat, with the captain's genial assistance, and on the way back, we all drifted into contented, dreamy silence, broken occasionally with a request for water (of which the boat was plentifully supplied, with a large icy cooler full of water to keep guests hydrated) or someone pointing out something they'd spotted.

I would heartily recommend this boat trip to anyone in Melbourne. It departs at 1pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and returns you to dock at Saltriver Place (near the Footscray Arts Centre) by 3pm. They also offer another cruise, at 4pm, in the other direction, towards Docklands (we have tagged that as a future family expedition, as my husband wants to come too!)

Overall - great fun, amazing value for money, very informative (I learned all sorts of things I didn't know before!) and a really relaxing way to spend time together.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Month of Poetry #3: Snake

the first snake of the summer skimmed through the dog-paddock yesterday.
in the brooding twilight, it flashed through the dry grass
the angled sun catching copper from its skin, sending back
small semaphores to the sky.

first snake seen means many snakes hidden, he said, as he called the dog
back to the lead. These tigers
oh, they love the hot summers.
especially after a wet winter, which fosters mice, and frogs,
and other small, edible things.

My eyes narrow to slits.
a function of viscera, not thought,
all the things I know about the shyness of snakes, their place in the chain of life
swallowed whole by gut-deep disgust
fear, and a memory
of another dog stiff in his death agony
foam on his lips, and the marks of the snake in his side.

a memory
of my daughter, not yet five years old,
screaming, screaming, her panic, her agonised love
as she pulls at the dead dog's head, begging him
to come back to her.

a memory of finding shed skins
under my washing line, where
my children play barefoot in the hot summer haze.

a memory of a hissing tiger snake,
louder than gas escaping a valve, rearing up
fangs down,
facing my oldest dog in his near-blindess
before a well-thrown rock
caused a rapid slither away.

an ancient enemy indeed, of me and mine
its reptile motives unfathomable
its crystalline beauty unseeable
its poison all I know, all I fear

in the hot summer
the dry summer
the brittle, yellowed grass
as the sun begins its slow, red descent
to night.

- Kathy, 3/1/12

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Month of Poetry #2: A Shakesperean Sonnet

I'm still playing around with set verse forms - which is unusual for me, and thus a good challenge - and today I tried my hand at a traditional Shakespearean sonnet.

The sonnet is a verse form that has always intrigued me partly because it looks hard. (As a free-form poet, most set verse forms look hard to me :-) Sonnets have 14 lines, typically divided into an octet (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines). Usually, the first stanza poses a question of some kind which the second stanza answers.

The sonnet has several recognisable rhyme patterns, from the Petrarchan or "classic", which rhymes in the pattern abbaabba/cdecde, to the better-known (in English) Shakespearean pattern, which rhymes ababcdcd/efefgg. I quickly discovered, as I started to try to construct one, exactly why Shakespeare, the author of over 150 beautiful sonnets, diverged from the Italian rhyme pattern - because the classic pattern is really fricking hard to write in English! The modified Shakesperean pattern lends itself much more easily to the vagaries of my native language, and so that is the one I persisted with.

So here is my attempt at a Shakesperean-form sonnet. Next challenge, when I get my courage up, is to have a go at a sestina...


Beyond the borderlands of waking thought
Are creatures swimming in the buried deep.
On their backs they carry all that's fought
Away in daylight; all that makes you weep.
Are they ribbons of the overload, ragged strings
Of sounds and smells not processed, not brought in?
Are they heavy-snouted, slimy fear-grown things?
Are they truth, in their heart-stopping din?

Born in darkness, they force-own the night
Red in tooth and claw and silent scream
Lingering, they slink away from light
Tainting dawn with their most frightful meme.
They are the terror sealed within the heart
Freed by sleep, to play their bloody part.

- Kathy, 2/2/13

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Month of Poetry 2013 #1: Sun-born

I missed the boat on signing up as an official participant of this year's Month of Poetry challenge, but I think I am going to try to do it all the same. Not all of my poems will wind up here, I'm sure, but I've mentally committed to writing one each day this month, for my own interest and enjoyment if nothing else.

So, to get things started, here is a New Years Day haiku for a summer country. I am not very good at haiku although I would like to be; it's a form that appeals to me immensely. I carefully counted out my syllables on this one (I went with the traditional, 5x, 7x, 5x syllables) so I think it is technically correct, even if not beautiful and graceful!

Let me know what you think...


born in heat, the year
is greeted with bright kisses
the sun triumphant.

a summer country
welcomes the new with cold wine
laughter, and blown roses.

grass lies brown, brittle
citrus runs rampant, ripens
while gentler buds close.

days are long, the sun
rules sky, sand, and sea, coaxing
diamonds from water.

fair-skinned girls pinken
under its imperious
far-flung stellar mouth.

hot days and warm nights
a new year rung in by bells
of cicada swarms.

born in heat, the year
signalls its promise like scent
a musk in the night.

- Kathy, 1/1/13

The year that's gone

Well, well, well. 2013 is upon us, with a rocket (or, more accurately, several rockets, given the amount of backyard fireworks that were popping around here at midnight).

I always like to take a backward look on New Year's Day; take stock of the year-that-was, what was great, what was terrible, what worked and what didn't. It helps me get a bit of clarity in thinking about the new year to come, not to mention serves as a family record for us. Sometimes it really helps to count your blessings, too - name them one by one, as the old song says. Whenever I'm in danger of allowing myself to get whiney about trivial things, reflecting on the fortune that has me firmly in the "most of my life is good" camp helps restore some perspective.

2012: A year in review
Looking back over 2012, a few themes and shifts stand out in my mind. The biggest were:

- Music coming into our lives in a much more serious way. In January, we were lucky enough to be given a beautiful piano, and my 7 year old, E, and I have been taking lessons since March, while my husband and 9 year old continue to gain proficiency with the guitar.

We are now at the point where we can enjoy playing together and jamming on simple songs, and what a pleasure it's been.

- Social and couple / personal outings have increased exponentially for us this year. From 40th birthday parties featuring the DeLorean from Back to the Future, to music concerts (3 of them!), a Comedy Festival show, non-kid movies and even occasional meals out, my husband and I have been able to get out together much more this year than in any year since our eldest was born 9 years ago - on average, once every 6 weeks or so. This has been a welcome and enjoyable shift, and I put it down as one of the unexpected bonuses of being through the baby and toddler stages now.

- Birthdays were once again a big deal in 2012, from C's 3rd birthday party on a scorching 40-degree day last February, complete with Dorothy the Dinosaur cake, to E's art party for her seventh in May and A's movies-and-sleepover with her friends in August. We also celebrated parents' and siblings' birthdays (in January, April, May and November respectively), the family-friendly 40ths of several friends, and G's birthday in March. My own birthday, in June, slipped by unremarked this year, due to the next factor, which is:

- Work became a major part of my life again. In January and February, I completed a medium-sized contract work project, which both provided some needed and welcome income, and gave me the confidence to try to develop a freelance business in professional writing and policy development, my fields of experience when I was a salaried worker. Not much happened in March, due to a combination of family holidays and a transient heart problem that forced me to go slow for a while, but by late April I had several small jobs in, and in late May, I picked up a major contract for a big client, which was to run, as it transpired, until Christmas.

That contract also led me to another, which ran concurrently from August til November, and I have been able to lock in follow-on work with another client from November til Christmas, and already have two jobs booked for February-June.

Working has allowed me to build my professional portfolio and pay for things that we have been hoping to do, but couldn't afford - from our 4.9kw solar panel system, installed in June, to our new air conditioner, new BBQ and new book shelving. (Reorganising the shelves was the occasion for much delight for Miss 7, who thought lolling about on a pile of books was some kind of wonderful :-)

- Daddy time: Me working again has necessitated some changes in the way we do things in our house. Although my work has been primarily performed from home (I have averaged only one half-day a week onsite with my clients), I have worked between 25 and 50 hours a week since late May, with the average week being around 35 hours. With C, my 3 year old, only in creche 16 hours a week, this has meant that I have had to rely on working evenings and weekends, so that when she is with me, I can engage with her and meet her needs. In turn, that has meant that my husband has picked up much more of the care of the children, in a day to day practical sense, this year than ever before.

So this year, the girls have gotten used to - and loved - having much more consistent Daddy time and seeing their father as a primary caregiver, as well as me. Saturdays have been Daddy and girls days, as he's picked up sole responsibility for the swimming lessons and grocery shopping with them.

He also took a week off work in the term 3 school holidays, when I was especially snowed under, and was definitely the Fun Dad that week, introducing the big girls to Luna Park among other things. I could not have built my business without the teamwork that we've deployed this year, and I am really grateful for it.

- Family times and holidays were once again important for us in 2012. We holidayed in Anglesea for a week in March, and had a great time; as it turned out, with work, it was an ideal time for a break, as my schedule made getting out of Melbourne for any length of time after that quite difficult. That holiday gave the girls their first experience of horse riding, which was a wonderful thing, if ever so slightly hair raising for me!

We got to the snow for 4 days in July, which was a novel experience for the kids. Getting caught in a blizzard on Mount Hotham was ... interesting ... but we made it out OK and it was fuel for story later on!

We also made the most of day trips - family days at Southgate, eating Yum Cha and watching street performers with friends; a visit to the Zoo and to Scienceworks; a trip up Eureka Tower to admire the city from on high; a fun freebie day at the Adventure Park in Geelong.

I would've liked more such days, but at the same time, I acknowledge the benefit of (and our need of) downtime days where we just don't go anywhere or do anything, especially in Term 4, aka The Term of Doom and Overtired Children.

- The rest - which was way too much: If the things I've listed above were the highlights and top notes, there was a constant buzzing bass provided by our welter of volunteer, community and administrative things. I waited far too long to adjust my volunteer commitments appropriately when work went into full swing, and paid the price with several weeks of overstretched, cranky, exhausted juggling. It's important to do these things, I know, but I need to be more realistic in 2013 about how much I take on, for my own sake as well as the family's.

- Writing, especially poetry, was once again a major part of my year in 2012. Writing professionally (business and government documentation) and being paid to do so has freed me, in an odd way, to be creative and poetic again; it's as if, released from any expectation of or need for "marketability" in my creative work, I can just let my mind run free again. I can "wash my own face" with my business writing, so the poems are just for fun and expression. I am feeling more sure in my voice and I am liking that.

Lots of other things, major and minor, happened to us in 2012. My middle girl, who is extremely bright, has soared academically and struggled in other ways; my 9 year old has shown signs of becoming pre-adolescent, and has rediscovered a passion for dancing; my almost-4 has had dramas with creche and delighted in art and gymnastics. We had stressed times and happy times, we all had at least one major-ish illness apiece, and there were plenty of things, in our family and the wider world, to cause worry and fear and sadness.

At the end of the day, though, 2012 was a great year. In many ways it was a watershed year, marking the transition between our baby-toddler parenting years and the next stage. I can only hope 2013 is as varied, challenging, rewarding and bright.