Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I'm waiting for the bread to cook and doing other preparations for Christmas lunch (arduous tasks like unwrapping the blue cheese, laying fennel salami out on the plate and getting the oat crackers out of the box). The presents are unwrapped and have been lovingly played with, Frank Sinatra is crooning Christmas tunes on iTunes and Martin is reading Mr Men books.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas everyone. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women, and love to the babies who remind us that everything is always new, everything is filled with promise and life is truly a miraculous and wonderful thing.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Before Christmas

It's hard to believe that we could have a whole weekend free before Christmas, but as it turned out, we did. Which is a blessing because our girls are tired. The end of year madness is wearing them out and Una has reverted to sleeping in the afternoons, either crashing out in the car or secretly nodding off on the couch in front of the television. The days she doesn't sleep we try and give her a mid afternoon bath, which is the happiest place in the world to Una and we've had enough rain that the tank allows for some non-essential washery.

Yesterday we drove up to Kinglake, the next town down the road. It's a hairy drive, a narrow country road with lots of deathwish bicyclists and motorbikes carrying what an old friend in Adelaide used to refer to as temporary citizens. In fact the day we took ownsership of this house we drove up there and very nearly got wiped out by an errant log truck (they're supposedly banned from using the road). Anyway, it's worth it, partly for the exhilaration of survival but mostly because Kinglake is beautiful with some awesome views of the city and a real sense of being out out out of the city. Anyway, yesterday we had a destination in mind - a raspberry farm where you can do all your own picking because in Australia Christmas isn't Christmas without fresh berries. The PYO rasberries are $15 a kilo, which still isn't especially cheap compared to the raspberry prices in Tasmania but is good for Victoria where punnets remain well over the $5 mark for most of the season (cherries are cheap and delicious though this year, Christmas isn't Christmas without cherries either).

The girls are great pickers. Una ate all the 'broken' ones and Fred, I think, ate every single one she picked, while Martin and I filled up our buckets. I sampled a few too. They are delicious.

We stopped at a nursery on the way home with a real country cafe - I had a cold meatloaf sandwich and a caramel slice, Martin had a ploughman's lunch with thick slices of cold corned beef, tomatoes, apple, various cheeses. The girls had herb scones with cheese - at one stage I remarked that I felt like we'd stumbled into an Enid Blyton novel. And then we had desserts too - caramel slice and lemon tarts and jelly and icecream for the girls. We bought some pink flowers and pineapple sage for my little flower patch near the fairy door (this photo makes me realise just how far the garden has come), and then spent the rest of the day outside. Martin massacared the last of the agapanthus - we rejoice in its demise - Fred played with the next-doors and Una cried intermittently till we put her in the bath. I walked down to the barrow on the main road and bought a few more plants for $1 each, dropping my coins into the honesty box.
For dinner fresh pesto, made with basil from the garden and olive oil from the olive grove down the road. Which Martin and I ate outside, driven out by Fred's bewildering new love for Spongebob Squarepants (yeah yeah, sometimes our kids eat dinner in front of the TV).

I have been meaning to blog for a while about our lives out here, more than one year on after the move from the inner city (and a life we loved) to the fringes of Melbourne, in the bush. I knew that life out here would offer something we couldn't get in the city, but largely I saw the benefits as being for the children - that they would be able to live with a freedom and wildness they wouldn't get in a small terrace house in the inner suburbs. The simple fact is - we're all happier than we ever thought we would be. I am often overwhelmed by love for this place, and though I miss the city, and though going into North Fitzroy (which broke up with us years ago) makes my heart crack all over again, every time I drive home, once I can see mountains and horses and paddocks and large tract of bush, my heart starts to sing again. I love it here, I really really do. Which Martin and I talked about as we ate our spaghetti last night, outside, under the gentle summer evening sky, overlooking our hard work - the clothesline Martin made (above), the rumpled dirt under the paperbark tree where agapanthus used to be, the veggie garden, the bank we shored up where the succulents are taking hold and sending out new green shoots, and before we went inside, we visited the fairy garden and admired the pink and silver and green.

By the way, the pesto was the best I've ever had. And for dessert? Raspberries of course.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dorothy Porter 1954 - 2008

I often say I started out my writing life as a poet, which feels a bit cheaty, since I have had very few of my poems published (partly because I sent few out). I have a third of a verse novel in a box under my bed, called The Hanging of Frances Knorr (I lost a little heart for it when Jordie Albiston published The Hanging of Jean Lee the year I was writing Frances Knorr - Frances Knorr and Jean Lee were two of the five women hanged in Melbourne for murder, so it seemed that relatively speaking, the market was already flooded.)

My attempts to write a verse novel were an immediate and fannish response to Dorothy Porter's The Monkey's Mask, which I'd discovered a few years before during my first year at uni in Tassie at the age of 20. I remember being totally electrified at this fast and sexy way of telling a story.

I was devastated to hear of Dorothy Porter's death in the last weeks. At 54 she was young, especially for a poet, and to me Australia is a lot emptier without her. The poetry she should have written hangs in the ether somewhere, taunting us with its unavailability. I have read a few tributes to Dorothy Porter over the last week or so, but I wanted to pay my own respects.

I saw Dorothy Porter talk at Tas Uni. I was twenty and in love with the following: poetry, a boy called Ben, Classics. I was wide open, hungry for experiences. And so it was that Dorothy Porter, completely unknown to her, entered, and became a part of me, and in particular, a part of the writer I would become.

She said three things which have particularly stayed with me and I am going to share them with you now:

1. READING: She talked about the structure of her days - how she works. She said she reads in the morning and writes in the afternoon. As a writer now I often think of this. With my two little girls and my chaotic existence, there is little time to factor reading into my working time, though I often dip into poetry when my writing is lagging. But when Una goes to school and I have five days a week to work, I plan to develop a similar structure. I am woefully out of date with my reading. Before Fred was born, I had a fairly intimate knowledge of what books were in the bookshops, what was being read and discussed and debated, and I'd usually read everything shortlisted for the CBC awards at least, if not the adult prizes. I'd spend weekends leisurely perusing the review sections of at least two Saturday papers. Now, I admit, I often don't even recognise half the shortlisted titles. I am constantly getting books out of the library and returning them unread. To designate time for reading in my work day would be a luxury and a pleasure, however, I am also convinced it would make me a better writer.

2. WRITING: She said that she writes to music and that all her novels had a soundtrack (I seem to remember she wrote a lot of Monkey's Mask to Crowded House). Now I often have a song or an album for my novels (though I usually listen to them in my thinking time as opposed to my writing time). Drift's was 'Who Will Sing Me Lullabies?' by Kate Rusby. Little Bird's song was The Nicest Thing by Kate Nash (I know some people hate her accent but I adore it, and find her music incredibly touching and human). Only Ever Always has a song too: Burgundy Shoes by Patty Griffin (when she sings 'Sun' my heart breaks, every time).

3. VERSE NOVELS: Dorothy Porter said that in a verse novel, each poem should be like a haiku, capturing a single moment. I suppose you could say a verse novel is kind of like a photographic essay, moving from moment to moment, with the spaces between filled with the potency of the unsaid. I often remember this when I'm writing or reworking, even in prose, because I think there's a lot to be said for distilling a scene down to this single moment. This is what makes reading a verse novel such a compelling experience for me, these narrative stretches, where even the smallest things are noticed, but with the lightest of touches, the antithesis to the heavy quagmire of descriptive prose.

I have said before that my ideal of the afterlife is wandering around a library filled with books, one for each person - the story of their life written in a style or genre that best suits them - naturally Dorothy Porter's would be a verse novel, and I look forward to reading it. In the meantime I wish for Dorothy this: a morning of reading, and an afternoon of writing, and everything else an afterlife should supply, wine, conversation, music, mountains to walk in. I wish she finds her own peace, whatever that might be.

Dorothy Porter's beautiful poem The Fish Eagle is in Island's current issue and available to read on their website. The last breath of the poem hangs eerily in the air long after you finish the poem. Thanks Mum for the link.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Beyond Creative Challenge

Dear Frederique,
thank you for showing me your world, for taking me beyond the surface of places and into the centre of them, and out of the centre and to the edges. Thank you for being angry and happy and sad. Thank you for watching the tiny polysteirine balls bounce down the bridge over the Seine while I fell in love with the Notre Dame, and thank you for making me watch them too, as they swirled and dived in the wind.
Love Mama

I've answered this challenge with this video, a collection of photographs about our teeny little trip overseas (Hong Kong, England, Paris, Helsinki), to one of my favourite songs. For the first time in my travels I found myself, instead of hungry for the world, hankering for the scents and sounds and comfort of home. Going away was an adventure, but it was also always a journey home. Travelling the world with someone who doesn't understand borders, whose grasp of language is wholly intuitive and instinctual, who doesn't have a grasp on multicultures or diversity, but thinks the whole world is a product of her own brain is a dizzying and frustrating experience, as well as utterly informative and awakening. It took me beyond the limits of my own patience, and to places I admit I never wanted to go as a mother, like crying hysterically with my child (both of us jet-lagged and over it) in the middle of Kensington High Street (or wherever the hell we were, being mildly lost was part of the over it-ness) or being bellowed at by a man in a green hat on a double decker bus when Fred threw a tantrum in the aisle and I sat down without her (after which I wrote in shaky angry writing in my diary: 'I hope the green hat man dies in Windermere with his pants around his ankles'.)

But it was while we were away that we developed a deeper rapport. I told Frederique about my ex-boyfriend, Tom, and she realised that I'd loved other men before Daddy. She learned about kissing and that women can get pregnant without wanting to be (er, which has nothing to do with my ex-boyfriend), we talked about god and death and angels. We visited the Princess Diana Memorial and she learned about the dark ending to a real Princess story. The memories I have, both the ones I treasure and the ones that make me flinch (I came very close to biting Fred once in the street in England, when she was kicking me, with one hand pinching my neck and the other flailing in my face while I was trying to carry her. Soon after I came back I learned a woman had been given a prison sentence for this very act, biting her son, in the UK), will shape the mother I am yet to be.

I was also so proud and amazed by her moxy, the way she would walk up to anyone and ask directions, or where the toilets were, the way she said Bonjour! to everyone she saw in France, and ran to intercept all babies in prams (because babies didn't care what language she spoke). We drove each other crazy but at the end of every day we lay in each others' arms and whispered loving words to each other and every morning we woke side by side.

Some basic "rules":

1. Be creative. You could share a story, an opinion, your experience, a motif, a poem, a picture, a short video, a call to action, or…you decide! The idea is to share something that represents a way to think “beyond” and make a difference in the world

2. Place a link on your response to this original post. You could also mention that this is all about raising awareness and funds for a microfinance project in the Philippines.

3. Verify your entry by commenting on this original post with a link to your response.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Early Christmas Special

Little Advent House
I finished making this at about 5 minutes to December. I really wanted to do a calendar this year but the idea of making 24 windows or pockets or envelopes filled me with unspeakable ennui. In the end I decided on the house, which lacks a countdown aspect but does help inspire us to do Christmas related activities. Every morning we poke a new activity written on a piece of paper into the chimney. So far we've put the Christmas tree up, made a pie, had stories with puppets, and had dinner by candelight listening to Christmas music. Coming up is a trip to the city to see the decorations, a trip to see Santa at the shopping centre, present making, biscuit making for the neighbours, and painting daddy's toenails. Sometimes I get a bit blue around Christmas, because I miss the Christmases I had, and my own family on Christmas day. Every year I tell myself I'll get organised to start some of my own traditions and every year I let it slide. This year I managed to pull something together at the last minute and I'm ever so happy about it. My little wooden people have no names - anyone want to have a go at naming them? I think it is a boy and a girl, but Una and Fred swear it is 2 girls.

Waiting for Santa

Is he coming yet?

Peering bravely into the dark.

Of course it is an Australian Christmas cottage, so there is a water tank. Smoke in the chimney can be equally authentic at this time of year.

Friday, December 05, 2008

little bit country

Thing I learned today:
Turns out socks for four year olds make fantastic barbie clothes. You can make a boob tube style dress just by cutting off the heel and toe section, the band at the top fits snugly at the waist or over the boobs and you don't even have to hem it if you don't want to. Then from the foot part you can get another dress, I cut off the heel and the toe and sewed on a few cotton bands at the hips and then threaded a ribbon through it to make it tie on. For the first time nearly ever our barbies aren't nude. I also knitted a little top, just a square with six rows garter, six rows stocking, six rows garter, sewn at the back and again a ribbon threaded through to make it tie on.
Wish I'd learned this BEFORE I sewed the other top but ah well.
I also made this. (The activity in the girl's nativity set today, which is dang cute, must upload photos, was to make a pie. Una helped.)
And a delicious stew/warm salad from baby beetroot, white beans, garden greens, feta and pancetta for dinner.
Martin made a clothesline.
I knitted a horse.
We are sooo country (and a little bit rock and roll, I took my cleavage out to the A&U Christmas party to prove it, and made merry with the champagne, the boys* were rascals).
Tomorrow, will take photos of everything, except maybe pie if consumed.

*topping up the champagne that is. No other rascally boys in attendance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

She Don't Keep No Secrets

My clever friend Jazzy has posted an interview with me on her blog, about blogging, including sharing personal information online. It's long. It is looong. Memo to self - employ internal editor.

"As a writer it was never really an option for me to blog anonymously, since my blog is an extension of my professional identity. I knew from the outset that I wanted my blog to have a strong visual element and be personal rather than an ‘expert’ blog, which is why I post pictures of the girls and my home, among other things."

But enough about me, I'm curious to hear from what do you think about me? Ha ha. Seriously though, I know some of you blog anonymously and some are more open - have you changed your methods at all? How did you decide what your boundaries were? If you do blog anonymously, have you ever been outed?

When you've finished reading it, go and do Jazz's new creative challenge, deadline Sunday 21st December. You can win prizes AND help raise money and awareness for a fantastic, inspiring cause. What could be wrong with that? I love, by the way, that Jazz's generosity has another level, inspiring people to think and act creatively. Everyone needs a little nudge along in that direction once in a while.

Friday, November 28, 2008

soft rain falling

I write this as rain falls and the first of two homemade pizzas cook in the oven I do not love (electric, hélas, and half broken), a kid's pizza with cherry tomatoes, ham and basil. Later, when the children are tucked up, I'll make another for Martin and I, perhaps a caramelised leek, white bean and more basil and perhaps some silverbeet, because our garden is bountiful, hooray. Or I may use up the eggplant, and we have some green olives cunningly stuffed with parmesan which are from heaven.

Anyway, yesterday we were camping and today we are home again as if the beach almost didn't quite happen but we have brought some of it home with us and I'm not just talking about the ratio of sand to foot tucked inside Una's natty canvas yellow sneakers (acquired in haste from the cleaner in a closed op shop, because we forgot to take shoes for her. Could not have bought better shoes for her). Martin and the girls are making a wooden country mansion on the table beside me as I write, also acquired from an op shop (an open one), which seems a terribly wholesome indoor, rainy day activity. Last night as we ate our fish and chips on the beach the first rolls of thunder boomed across the sea. By the time the paddlepops were gone, we'd decided to come home. The girls were home in bed by 9, and it turned out to be a good decision since the girls slept all night in their own beds for the first time in many a long while, like years. Seriously.

Now it is hard rain falling, a good sound on our tin roof, when we know our tank is filling up and the pizza in the oven is filling our house with warm, comforting smells. I should get up and start caramelising the leeks, but I feel like sitting just one minute longer, listening to the rain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Because I don't have any ideas of my own...

Sally Goes to the Jungle, by Fred
(aged five and not quite three quarters but more than a half)

Once upon a time Sally was taking her dog for a walk (Picture of Sally, with ruby red lips and her orange dog)
when she saw a man. He said. "How do you do?" "Very well, thank you," she said. (picture of Sally, man, both with red smiles, and her PINK dog. Possible inconsistency, possible unremarked upon capacity of dog to change colour at will. Frederique, please see me re foreshadowing/internal logic/consistency issues.)
Suddenly she stepped into a rock and when she stepped out of the rock she was in a jungle. When she touched the leaves they fell down and made a river. (I just touch typed all that - woohoo. Go me. Picture of Sally, a bit smooshed to the edge of the page, pink dog and green leaves and green river. Where does she come up with this stuff? The leaves becoming a river. I'm a bit jealous. Damn her and her unsullied access to raw Freudian imagery.)
Then she saw a friendly alligator. (You know it's friendly because it's red and it hasn't got any teeth. I must admit I thought Sally's dog had undergone another colour change until I realised it had seven legs. Dogs don't have seven legs of course, but possibly alligators do.) "How are you?" she asked. (Sally is a very thoughtful girl.) "Achoo!" he said. "I have a bit of a cold." (picture of a red alligator. There is a big scribble where his head should be, no doubt because the sneeze is of a particularly severe magnitude.)
"Crocodile, do you know the way back to my village?" "Yes, I do. Go back into the rock and come out in 15 minutes." (picture of a house, with a window and a disembodied head but no door. Despite the floating, featureless head, it is really quite sweet. Hmm, looking again it strikes me that perhaps it is a door, albeit rather high off the ground and with no steps, and the head is a door handle. Must check with Fred tomorrow.)
"Daddy, Mummy, I'm home!" (I like the way she used dialogue to imply action, also this is a good example of clever use of narrative time, where not everything needs to be told. Well done, Fred. Picture of Mum, Dad and Sally. Mum is very prominent, Dad has a jaunty smile. Sally's eye is outside her hair, which indicates a possible breach of containment, but does not concern me. After all, her smile is bigger than her body.)
And she went to bed after a nice dinner. The End. (A very tiny Sally in bed, her smile almost covered up by the blanket but you can tell she is still smiling. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the dog. I'm rather worried that it might be still in the jungle. And I have my concerns just how friendly the alligator will be without Sally around politely inquiring after its health. After all, just like Sally, it has Appetites, it might want a Nice Dinner too.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Christmas Goodness - etsy and homemade

I know it's still only November, but I've got the Christmas angst early this year.
Village by mummysam So cute! My girls would love this.
city mini blocks by fidoodle I want to sit down and play with this
nature babies by Baby Robots Don't you just adore them? On a similar note I CRAVE the custom families by Goosegrease
Pippi Longstocking by Isabella's Art Oh I love thee, how I do, and your little monkey too.

I dread to think how much of my life has been spent on etsy. Sometimes I think that on some level I am shopping all the time. *Shudder*. Oh that reminds me, better check my ebay auctions. Anyway, my trick with etsy is when I find something I like, I look at that sellers favourites and so on. It's a deliciously labyrinthine way to search and I've discovered heaps of little beauties I might not have otherwise found.

I find Etsy inspires me to make as much as buy (in fact I've never bought anything off etsy and now that the exchange rate is so ouchy, it probably won't happen this year either.) But I am very inspired by the beautiful things I find on there. I've actually bought some little wooden dolls to have a go at painting my own. And I've been knitting some toys for the gels from this book:
The patterns are incredibly cute (simpler and more 'stylish' than some knitted toys), and actually pretty easy. I've made a dog, which Fred has already claimed (so much for Christmas), and I've finished the knitting bit of a horse, just have to sew and stuff it. To give you an idea of how simple the patterns are, the chickens above are actually made from knitted squares, the shaping comes in the making up. Chickens are next on my list, when I've finished the sausage dog I'm making now. And big bonus, I got my copy from the library! So far I've been using yarn I already have, but I might have to get some fuzzy yellow yarn for the baby chicks. Though the thing I like about using 'stash' (craftlingo for stuff what you've already got from when you didn't knit other things you were going to) is that you end up with interesting variations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Beautiful Things - dolls

I've been busy online shopping for the girls. Or Notshopping. If the Internet was a shopping centre I'd have been drummed out by now - I keep filling up trolleys and then abandoning them. I think I have a problem. I'm a nonshopaholic.

There are so many lovely things online and I have quite expensive tastes, in that I like well made items with character as opposed to the mass produced stuff. While some of the below are probably more my taste than the girls, I am always surprised by the things they love. In particular I find that the Waldorf style dolls are immensely popular with my two, we have one of these and both of them love it. Anyway, I thought I'd share some of my favourite things here over the next few weeks. All the prices are Australian dollars and the links are mostly Australian sites, though I think the Lark doll is the only locally produced item - not sure about the twins. I am actually busily knitting away to make some toys and we're bidding on something for Una on ebay, but we'll buy a couple of special things too.

Fred has asked for a clothesline again, which we, er, santa failed to buy her last year and she hasn't forgotten so today we bought her some dollypegs, sturdy string for a washing line and a very sweet tin bucket to wash in (which probably won't do at all), and doll clothes to wash, presumably with a doll. We do have Feral Baby, but she's happier in the nude. So perhaps it's time for Fred to have a new friend. Though Fred is notoriously fickle in her affections.Lola by Esthex $53.50 (Do have a good poke around The Princess and The Pea while you're there). I adore Lola, but I have to admit, I want her for ME. She would be a good companion for Phyllis, Una's beloved present from Paris. Where does a 3 year old find a name like Phyllis?
Alexandra and Josephine $31.50 Aren't they sweet? Una would love these two. They come in their own little carrier with nappies and bibs.
Kathe Kruse Mini It's Me Doll about $100. Yeah well, I wouldn't spend that either, but if money were no object (ha!), I'd love to get one of these each for my girls. They are just so adorable.

Under the Nile Doll, buy in Oz here $49.95AUD. Very sweet and actually not too expensive for a well made doll that comes with two outfits, much nicer than a plastic doll.

Lark Mrs Rabbit $64 I love her. I had to email and check whether their clothes are removable (there's a Mr too) and the answer is yes. I must admit to having a slight aversion to toys with their clothes sewed on. I am not sure she would entirely be Fred's taste. Una would love her. So would I. Sigh. I love Lark. How great is that wallpaper?
Ana and Isobel $41 big $21 small. I love these Maileg dolls. Sigh. They just make me happy. I want the tablecloth too. And a big bright breezy house.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Last week we went camping to Balnarring. Koalas ahoy, right next to the tent (or our cubby as Fred and Una call it). Noisy growly things that they are, switching between insane bear cub noises to evil genius maniacal laughter (the koalas, not Fred and Una. They have their own brand of maniacal laughter, that falls more into the creepy possessed child category). We even saw a baby koala clutching his mama's back and I was as excited as Fred (for you international readers who may not know this, there are no koalas in Tasmania where I grew up, and this was my first encounter with them in the wild). It was a surprisingly relaxing trip, camping is getting easier, perhaps as the kids get older, or perhaps as we gain more experience about what works and what doesn't with little kids (what doesn't work is expecting the kids to entertain themselves indefinitely with sticks and stones, as much as the idea is picturesque, what does work is lattes from the shop). Balnarring isn't exactly a wild frontier, it's a coastal town that is really kind of a suburb (as a Tasmanian it took me a long time to get my head around the Mornington Peninsula as a 'holiday' destination when it still really feels like another part of Melbourne), but the camp site is huge and was deserted - we had it entirely to ourselves and the beach too a lot of the time. We're going back next week hopefully - and this time we want to go down to the beach at 5am (groan) and watch the racehorses practice in the water, with the dolphins diving around them (for serious).

Anyway, Fred has shown some interest in her bike lately and has been terribly frustrated since training wheels are crap on gravel, which we have a lot of around here. So Martin took the training wheels off and we took the bike down with us. She had a few goes on it, reminding us all the time in a very calm voice that she was just practicing. Mostly we held on to her, but once or twice we let go and she'd coast for a few seconds until she turned around to look if we were still holding on, get the wobbles and slam her feet down.

Yesterday, using this momentum, we went down to the school and this time Fred did it, 'all by herselfus' (as Una likes to say). Watching her pedal freely, round and round the basketball court on her almost too small bike made tears well up in my eyes, and I saw, clear as a bell, Fred's baby face when she first learned to walk, and remembered with a jolt how I felt that day - how excited I felt for her lying awake that night, too wired to sleep, thinking about the possibilities the world now offered, the freedom and independence that walking represented.

For what is a bike but freedom? I was later to riding than Fred (about 10, on my sister's hand me down which dad spray painted gold for me). In my twenties a bike was my main form of transport. Now particularly I look back at me, completely contained on my bike, and marvel at how free I was, how little I had to carry around with me, just whatever would fit in my pockets, or in a small bag on my back, coasting between my house and the other inner city landmarks that mattered to me: various venues and cafes and friends' places and parties and Allen & Unwin's Carlton office and RMIT and the supermarket (to buy 600ml of milk that would last all week - ha!).

What impressed me most was Fred's dogged determination. She was so sure of herself, so sure that she'd get it eventually that she was willing to take her time, remindng us that she was 'just practicing' if she sensed we were going to push her further than she was willing to go. And I knew I had to blog about it, because I wanted a record kept somewhere of 'This is you, this is what you did, and this is how I felt about it. Signed, A Proud Mum.'

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Oh the lolz (or, more on digital narratives)

First for the SVH fans (and I know some of you are):
Best. Recap. Ever.
Prefer Shakespeare?
Here's Hamlet.
People rock.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ah, the eighties

So this popped up in my searching yesterday, and I thought it deserved an entry of its own. Australian readers might remember this, the rest of you can just revel in the sheer eightiesness of this clip. Could it actually be any more eighties?

From the TV show Sweet and Sour.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top 10 TV shows from my eighties childhood

A while ago I did a post on my personal top ten books from my eighties childhood, and it's my most visited post. At the time it did cross my mind that a similar post on television would be interesting. Keep in mind that in Tasmania we had two channels for most of my childhood, ABCTV and TVT6. SBS existed when I was in primary school because I remember Five Times Dizzy by Nadia Wheatley (who I utterly shamed myself in front of when I said in a completely fannish moment whilst working on reception: 'You don't look ANYTHING like I imagined you!' because I sort of expected her to be yiayia from the books, though I didn't admit that much) was made into an SBS miniseries in about 1983. I couldn't watch it because our two televisions - a small black and white and a big coloured clunker - couldn't pick up SBS. Seriously, if you holidayed on the mainland you were obliged to come back and tell everyone what was going to happen in Country Practice in three years time. I remember how excited my sister was when Bethany finally appeared on Tasmanian TV and she could get the resolution to the storyline. When I was 19 and living in Adelaide they introduced a second commercial channel, so I hurried back home to watch it. Well, I had been planning on leaving Adelaide anyway.

Anyway, so my 80s tv watching was probably heavily 70s reruns. The links are mostly youtube videos, so there's a warning for you. Argh. (That's pirate). (I don't know why I'm being a pirate but it seemed appropriate with the whole warning thing, and I guess also goes nicely with the whole illegally uploaded video thing as well.)

1. The Butterfly Ball - this was an obscure little time filler on ABC Kids. I was simultaneously in love with it and terrified of it. One of the reasons I am in love with the Interwebz is being able to reclaim this curious little object and insert it back into my life. I was quite fond of the filler as a genre. I also remember a local filler of footage of old people walking aorund Hobart mall with either the popcorn theme or music box dancer as the music. I adored both these pieces of music as a child so they've kind of blurred together. Anyway, that funny little two minutes always filled me with an aura of intense peace. Hooray for fillers.

2. The Famous Five This music fills me with such a rush of nostalgia, I can feel Mrs Dillon's warm honey crumpets in my belly (I often went to the Dillon's house after school and they were the closest thing to the Famous Five I ever met in real life - English and quite proper to me, with a dog. My friend Joanna could have almost passed for Anne and her older brother Michael definitely had Julian qualities). I wanted to be George, mostly because I wanted to have her special affinity with Timmy, but I loved Anne's swishy hair and I remember trying to emulate her poodly girlish running style. And Julian in those muscle tees. He was so manly.

3. Chocky I blogged about the book before and my mate Zose sent me this opening. It was deliciously spooky and all the better because I loved the book so much. I have dim memories of other books being turned into ABC dramas, like perhaps Carrie's war by Nina Bawden, but they never overwrote the book - this one the book and the show are kind of enmeshed in my mind.

4. Metal Mickey An amazing insight into the role computers would play in our daily lives. Not. Actually (and I'm fairly sure my brother doesn't read my blog on a regular basis) there's something about Metal Mickey that reminds me of my brother. Can't quite put my finger on it. But there you go.

5. HR Puffinstuff This show was so lame. But I loved it. I have fond memories of The Banana Splits too - same puppeteers? I recall watching The Splits with an expression of bemusement on my face.

6. I'm going to cheat and roll Sesame Street, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock into one. If I had to pick a favourite now it would be Fraggle Rock, but that's a bit cheaty since I was in high school by the time that started. As a kid, it was Sesame Street, pre-elmo, way back when no one saw Snuffy and I almost wet my pants with frustration and disappointment every time he walked off set and Maria and co walked on. But then he was revealed (which I've just realised coincides with the appearance of elmo! which seems psychoanalytically portenteous), and Sesame Street kind of jumped the shark for me.

7. Young Talent Time Before there was Aussie Idol there was this. Remember back when Kylie was just Dannii's sister? I dreamed of being discovered on YTT, or even of a boy like Vince looking into my eyes and singing earnestly at me (gawd, socially awkward much?)

8. Grange Hill or Degrassi? I can't pick. Maybe Degrassi because I followed it all the way through, even when they were the oddly melancholic Kids on Degrassi Street and Wheels was called Gryph and was being beat up by his brother which was weird because by Degrassi Junior High he was adopted with nary a brother in sight and his name was Derrick Wheeler. But my first vagely erotic dream was about Stu-pot from Grange Hill and I remember running home from swimming lessons (around the corner) every day one summer to watch it.

9. Well, of course The Goodies. And a quick nod to Bananaman, voiced by the threesome.

10. Dr Snuggles Ah, more crumpets. I had a music casette of the music from this show, and I remember one particular song that started 'we are the travelers and we're going somewhere, to the end of the rainbow...' and there my memory fails me. It is the best song ever by the way. This was another cartoon that vaguely unsettled me, despite the love it inspired. I am a many splendid thing.

Oh geez, that's ten already? But I haven't even mentioned The Magic Roundabout, Rentaghost, Worzel Gummidge, Catweazle (okay I admit I was a bit scared of Worzel Gummidge and utterly petrified of Catweazle), Little Blue (no link!), Morph, Danger Mouse (whole episodes await your viewing pleasure on the tube of you), Qua Qua (? a paper animation thing about a duck, kind of pointless but oddly soothing, ungooglable apparently), a cartoon called Ulysses, based on the Greek myth but set in the future with robots, Jem (truly outrageous), Astroboy, Happy Days (speaking of jumping the shark), The Wonderful World of Disney (best description ever of the sensation aroused in one whilst watching TWWoD at the beginning of The Secret History by Donna Tartt), not to mention all the American sitcomes, like the Brady Bunch and Different Strokes and some other one where the big sister was actually called Sissy. I bet I think of a million more (I didn't watch that much tv, promise!), but it's over to you now - what shows did you love as a kid?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Zombies can't run

Sarah Hazelton from Random House Aus drew my attention to the BEST ARTICLE EVER about Zombies, written by the hilarious Simon Pegg, creator of Shawn of the Dead. His notes on why 'the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety' follows:

"However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you're careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them - much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares - the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles."

This article actually reminds me why I love Simon Pegg's movies. He's a smart and empathetic writer, his subject in his movies is really the most essential elements of humanity - he understands vulnerability and while he can be funny about it, he doesn't take the piss out of people for being afraid of things like death and love. He is a compassionate writer, a kind of film-making, funny Raymond Carver - heightening the everyday to the point where everything is bizarre. And really, everything kind of is bizarre, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Handing Stuff In

So all of a sudden I realised that if I wanted to qualify for a scholarship I had to get my PhD application done now now now now now in order to get people to approve it and so forth. So I had to stop rewriting Little Bird* (sorry guys) and suddenly cook up a thesis proposal. I've had several half-baked ideas swimming around my skull for a while - something about adolescent sexuality in YA and Bill Henson's photographs, something to do with indigenous spirituality and Australian fantasy and the problem of investing magic in a sacred landscape, a novel about a mother's group with a Kristevan bent. This last one was my favourite if I'd been applying for a PhD at a university that lets you to write a whole novel and then an exegesis. But the Melbourne Uni model is 50/50, that is about 40000 words critical and the same creative. Which meant, for me, it needed to be a whole short novel, because writing half a novel? That would just be annoying.

Anyway finally I went back to this question: which novel am I ready to write next (after Little Bird and Only Ever Always)? The answer I came up with was Ida Sparrow**, my faux Edwardian fairytale. Ida Sparrow is a thumbelina type girl, teeny tiny, with a human sized sister, Florence. Their mother tells them cautionary tales of The Collector, who, given the whisker of a chance, would take Ida Sparrow and put her in a display case. But one day it is Florence who disappears. Ida Sparrow, knowing The Collector has come for her sister, sets off an expedition to find her (accompanied by morally ambiguous insects: a cockroach perhaps and a butterfly). In terms of publishing, I think this novel will set well with Only Ever Always. I also think, being a fairytale, it's multidisciplinary and transcends traditional notions of audience (well that's what I said in my PhD application anyway). Anywho, so I'd been trying to come up with a critical component and it came to my via a slightly odd path.

This story kind of consitutes an aside, but it does have a point. I've been going into schools a lot more this year and developing a kitbag of exercises to do with kids, and thinking about a possible Artist in Schools grant as well (I've got an ace idea with some great outcomes for the school if any teachers in Victoria read this and want to collaborate for next year), and as part of all this I began to think about Wunderkammer as a writing trigger***. I love Wunderkammer. I love the whole idea of this odd, disjointed narrative of random objects clumped together by enthusiastic amateurs. Sounds like blogging right? Yeah, well that's what I thought. So anyway, once Wunderkammer sprung into my head it became the perfect way to connect up the critical and the creative.

So my proposal is this: My critical essay will be on blogging as Wunderkammer and in particularly the representation of objects online as opposed to books (for example, objects online are different from objects in books because you can often buy them). But also looking at hyperlinks as artifacts, the way information sits side by side on a blog (for example I could link to this right now and incorporate into my narrative, even though its presence here verges on surreal). I might look at 'real' objects with a narrative too, like Patrick Hall's work.

And my creative (this is a doozy) will be a digital novel. Yes, I'm going to write Ida Sparrow to be a digital novel (ahem people, I'd quite like it to be a book as well.) Because that will be sooo easy given I'm not an artist or a computer whizz.

Look, I just figured that, assuming I get the scholarship, when else am I going to be funded and supported to do something so outside my comfort zone, with teachers and resources to help me? And in part this desire comes from the fact that the future of the book SCARES me. I don't like game narratives, I find them static and limited, no matter how far ranging the world is. Ebooks trying to resemble a real book experience are just going to always be a synthetic version of the real thing - like nutrasweet. But I also dream of a sustainable world, where millions of books aren't spat out and pulped, where the books will become a precious artifact sit alongside other aesthetic models for reading. For me the closest thing so far to a really satisfying online reading experience is blogging. So I'm going to make a digital book that incorporates some of the things I love about blogging.

This is assuming I get funding. And also assuming I hand my application in. And if I don't go now (first to Clayton to pick up a copy of my transcript, then to Melbourne Uni to hand in all the bits and pieces to various people) it will never happen since I'm back up to Bendigo tomorrow to workshop with 7s and 8s. Good kids those Bendigoans. And then back on Friday to (fingers crossed) finish Little Bird. Ah Spence. You miserable cad.

*The novel formerly known as Sunday Girl, formerly known as Ruby-lee
**No you're not mad if you've read this before, the title has changed.
***For example, getting them to describe or draw a collection of objects, then getting them to either pick an object and write from its point of view, or connect two objects together with a story, or write about the person who has collected all these things, or write from an alien archaeologist's point of view and what they would make of the collection.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

So what do you know?

a) a recession
b) not a recession
c) a recession
d) not a recession

Stocks are
a) up
b) down
c) up
d) down
(tip - answer this one quickly before everything changes again)

It's the worst day on the stockmarket since:
a) 1929
b) 1987
c) stocks were invented
d) the day before yesterday which was the worst day since Friday

It's all the fault of
a) fatcat executives with their overblown salaries
b) subprime mortgages
c) single mothers, teenagers, ethnic minorities, people who vote green and families with more than two less than two no children
d) George Bush (pick me! pick me!)

Kevin Rudd is:
a) saying 'oh bother'
b) giving out free money
c) Santy Claus

The Australian dollar is worth
a) .66 US Dollars
b) .383 British Pound Sterling
c) a handful of seashells

We're all going to
a) spiral towards oblivion, crashing and burning in the environmental and social disaster that is capitalism
b) live in tent cities eating bootlace soup
c) keep spending money like there's no tomorrow, but only on essentials like plasma tvs and Queensland holidays
d) get bloody sick of being manipulated by the media
e) plug in our ipods, put on our pretty sequined blinkers, and plant a few more veggies in the garden

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chapter Books

Frederique has always really really loved being read to, and has always engaged with the world through literature (my favourite example of this is at 14 months on our first night in a new house she woke up at 3am and wanted us to read Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten over and over again, which begins with Rose moving into a new house, more recently, while we were away she chose a Ladybird book called Topsy and Tim go in an Aeroplane and was terribly soothed by it's fairly functional story of going in a plane).

Until recently her preference was far and away picture books. I love the way she engages with illustrated texts and we haven't pushed a progression to extended texts because I think this engagement is actually a great precursor to independent reading. We had read longer books, like when she was too sick to sit up and look at pictures I read Teddy Robinson to her, and last year in Queensland we worked our way through the The Big Book of Tashi (which are an absolutely inspired intermediate step between picture book and chapter book, since they have illustrations on every page and the stories are actually quite short and manageable) and she's also shown interest in another good intermediary, Martine Murray's Henrietta books. But mostly she was restless with the idea of pictureless books (I'd tried Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie without success - she was very distracted by wanting to skip ahead to the pictures and then losing touch with the narrative).

Still as our OS trip loomed I began to feel a bit fidgety about taking a pile of picture books with us. Luckily about a month before we went away I spent a rainy afternoon reading Ramona the Pest to Fred and she was hooked. We've since read Enid Blyton's The Enchanted Wood, The Folk of the Faraway Tree, Ramona about three more times and Teddy Robinson several times over, we're now reading Martin's mum's copy of the The Wishing Chair. Something I've really noticed is that these extended stories have really entered her playlife in a way picture books haven't so much. Together we played the Faraway Tree all round England, Ramona in France, and Teddy Robinson in Helsinki. We also acquired some picture books on the trip - at the moment Fred is equally happy with both, which is a nice stage and something I'd like to continue to promote - I feel I am not as image literate as I would like to be, and Fred seems to be very visual and really enjoy the tension between illustration, design and text.

Anyway, is there something you observe about the above list? Yes, these are all books from my childhood, in fact all published before I was born. What's more, none of them are Australian. I've blogged about my struggle to find books in this market before and got heaps of responses.

So I've been trawling the net looking for books for Fred to put on her Christmas list. And here is my list so far (with a * next to Aussie books). Most of these books, by the way, are Allen&Unwin books, which is not just because I have love those Alien Onion folk. It's also because, as I've just discovered, A&U have a kickarse website, the only publisher I've found so far who lets you search for books by age (or even, in any respectable way, by category):

*The Bonnie and Sam books by Alison Lester, illustrated by Roland Harvey. (Alison Lester is a brilliant illustrator, but if someone else is going to draw all over her books, then who better than Roland Harvey?)
*Frankel Mouse by Odo Hirsch (it has the Aussie star because he's from here and he's an A&U author, but worth noting that Frankel Mouse is set in the London Underground.)
The Quigleys by Simon Mason
*The True Story of Mary who wanted to stand on her head by Jane Godwin
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (actually I 'm not sure what age this is written for, I just want this for me, there's a movie coming out of this too - yay! I heart Kate DiC so much I want to meet her and frighten her with intense adoration)
*Thora by Gillian Johnson

Okay, so she might not get all of these, and some others might leap out before then. And there are still some old faves that I'd like to pick up for her, like Amelia Jane, and The Naughtiest Girl books and My Naughty Little Sister and the Gobbolino books and Little Grey Rabbit and...etc

Well, she did ask for a million books for Christmas.

Anyone else got any suggestions? Questions, comments?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Photos of the trip

Fred at the Princess Diana Memorial in Kensington Gardens. It was an interesting experience for both of us and I could tell Fred was really thinking about what it all meant. I don't know what sort of counter-narrative it was though, in some ways the tragic true story of Princess Diana reinforces all those terrible Princess myths - no happy ever after, but look what happens to you if you break the mould and divorce your 'rescuer' prince. Later I discovered Fred actually things getting married and being rescued are the same thing, she says 'but did you and Daddy get merried?' and when I say yes (she's seen the photos) she says 'well, he rescued you then'. Her voice had an edge of nervous uncertainty, the way she sounds when she's suddenly not sure she's right.

I have so many photos of Fred darting away from the camera or just generally running about, but the colours in this delight me. This spontaneous walk in the woods ended well when we discovered that we'd emerged not far from our hotel in the Lake District.

Fred carried this basket all over Paris much to the delight of everyone who saw us. This was taken at the Musee Carnavalet, devoted to the history of Paris.

We bought this crown in Helsinki and Fred wore it for ages. She walked with such poise, giving out gracious smiles, and all who saw her beamed. She had people craning their necks watching her progress until she was out of sight. I walked some way behind her, snapping photographs, like her entourage.

Architecture in Helsinki - ha ha. They were redoing the facades of an old apartment building - that's newspaper, like giant papier mache. In the late afternoon autumn light the buildings looked amazing.

Photos from the trip here and some more here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Playing with PIMPAMPUM

The writing above is too teeny tiny to read on my computer, so if you have the same problem go look here:
Fairies in the Garden by Penni

Link found via The Digital Narrative.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sweet Valley High Obsession

When I was in grade six at Mount Nelson Primary School in 1986 (see the pattern? It was always so easy to remember what year it was/what grade I was in. Lucky me. I really feel for all those people who wander around school in a daze not knowing cause the numbers are different) I had what one might call a minor SVH obsession. My friend Lisa Donahoe (shout out if you're googling yourself) who lived across the road from the school owned all of them. Zoe and I would borrow three each at a time, take them home, read them with the energy of the fanatic IN ONE NIGHT and then swap the next day. I still sneakily read them right up until my early twenties, I think I've even read them since Martin and I got together (cough *research* cough), because the first SVH Senior year wasn't published till 1999 and I know I've read a few of those (Jessica Wakefield gets called a slut. I KNOW!)

Anyway, I stumbled across the Best. Site. Ever. last night and I had to come and share it with my lovely Cake readers because I KNOW some of you are closet Jessizabeth fans. Warning this site contains totally addictive and hilarious recaps of the SVH series. I never knew there were so many of them - Junior High, Middle School, Sweet Valley Kids (is that primary school??), as well as of course Sweet Valley High (which was the first), Sweet Valley Seniors, Sweet Valley University and then some series called Elizabeth which is apparently about her going to England and being a servant or something to some rich Duke dude - oh you funny Americans with your weird arse anglophilia. Then there are the specials and the thrillers...what a franchise. The community has a few different contributors, all of them funny, all of them sharing the same passion for the pure, unadulterated, beautiful crappiness of the series.

But wait, there's more. Apparently Francine Pascal, creator of the series (who lives in France, hated high school and never went to her own prom), is creating a new series - oh yes oh yes - called Sweet Valley Heights Confidential about the SVH clan living in a gated community in their late 20s/early 30s - omigod. How do I sign on to be a ghostwriter for that? Who do I send my resume to? I'd do it just for art's sake, you don't even have to pay me. She's been waving this tantalising idea around for a few years (since about 2005, when it was called Sweet Valley Heights) and the most recent mention I found online was from April '08, which sported the name change to Confidential. No sign of it on Amazon yet. Which is weird because the idea is so HOT I would have thought the books would practically write themselves.

Monday, October 06, 2008

I know a girl from a lonely street

My new novel (due out next July) finally has a title. It's working title for ages has been Ruby-lee, which is the main character's name, but I always knew this wasn't what was going to be on the front cover. There's something weird about having a book with no name, especially when you're onto the two and a halfth draft. But as of today it is called something.

Sunday Girl.

K-nick-ered from a Blondie song.

"I know a girl from a lonely street
Cold as ice cream but still as sweet
Dry your eyes Sunday girl"

Heh heh heh. I just pasted the French bit of the song into a translator.

Hey, I saw your guy with another girl
It seemed in another world
Cacher Sunday Chorus girl goes to you
When I saw again you to the summer I decided
If your love was similar to Mien
I can remain Sunday chorus girl
Hurry up
Dispatch you and wait
All week absentee and however I waits*
I am down in the dumps, I ask you come to see
What your love represents for me
Hurry up, dispatch you and wait
All week absentee and however I waits
I am down in the dumps, I took it to you come to see
What your love represents

*sounds lolcattish

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Una has a birthday

It's been go go go since we came back from overseas. I've got more overseas photos to put up on Flickr and I'll cross-post a couple here. But life doesn't pause for a moment and days after we returned it was Una's birthday.

Wearing a dress Freddy has outgrown, the same dress, in fact, that Frederique wore on her third birthday, looking so grown up...

Waiting for friends to arrive
Fred celebrated joyfully, including a squeeze for a brand new cousin, Owen Ferguson T, born while we were away...
And 0f course cake, with marshmallow fluff many levels of wrong.

A few days after this and I was down in Tassie, touring school groups with James Roy, Lili Wilkinson and Kirsty Murray and it was heaps of fun, and heaps exhausting too.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Home at last

Listening to trees in the Enchanted Wood, looking for the Faraway Tree

Well, here I am again, home at last...phew. It was an amazing trip, with incredible highs and some shattering lows as well. Traveling with a child is is different from traveling without a child. I mean, der, but it really, really is.

For example:

As Fred and I sat quietly sobbing in the Bird Market in Mongkok following a huge tantrum and fight, I became acutely aware of what a male space the bird garden is. It's a market, but also a place where men gather socially, while their birds twitter and sing. It really is an amazing atmosphere, but the longer I spent there (and we were there much longer than the average tourist), the more I realised how uneasily it sits with tourism, especially when that tourism consists of a mother and her female child, their emotions exceeding all boundaries, like uncaged birds.

Apart from the bird market meltdown, Fred enjoyed all the attention her blonde hair, freckles and blue eyes attracted her in Hong Kong, and how all the women called her 'baby'. She also had a ball charging around all the interconnected shopping centres and hotels in Central (in fact she was happiest whenever she led the way). We didn't get on the Peak Tram - it was just one more piece of transport to be resisted for Fred, but we did catch the Star Ferry.

In the UK, I really enjoyed watching Fred move through the storybook world of England, with its impossibly green fields and woods and endless rain - wow, said Fred, what's that water falling from the sky? Not really, but just about. It was kind of amazing to be in Kensington Gardens with her and think about Peter Pan and Mary Poppins as she led me on this long narrative search for her imaginary grandfather, a game complete with 'friends', goblins, keys, witches and cats. Parts of Kensington Gardens seem to have been planted up indigenously with gorse and heather, and Fred loved the wildness. The photo above was taken on a walk, an entirely felicitous day where, with no particular plans or organisation skills, we happened across a series of experiences that amounted to what was basically a perfect day, including this walk in the woods.

In Paris Fred adjusted quickly to saying Bonjour to everyone instead of hello but became particularly fixated with babies and toddlers, who would smile at her whatever language she spoke (older children were cool and remote, and perhaps even a little afraid of her, with her gabbling English, her wild unkempt appearance, her filthy bare feet, her tendency to charge into their personal space...) In Paris we went to the same park every day (Square du Temple, about a minute from our apartment on Rue des Archives), and even made a friend each. Fred played with M while I hung out and chatted with her mum, a journalist originally from London who now lives in Paris who - well what do you know? - has a blog. I talked to other mothers at parks as well, usually other 'outsiders' - American and English mothers who had married French men and made a home for themselves in France. Their insights were amazing, traveling with Fred gave me a window into ordinary domestic life (and politics that extends from ordinary life, like health and education) that I never would have had the opportunity to experience on my own.

By the way Paris was enchantingly beautiful, everyone was captivatingly gorgeous and the food was superb. I know, it's such a cliche that your eyes are probably bouncing right off the words, but it's still true.

Helsinki was a strange city, handsome in an austere way. There was a real sense that people were preparing mentally for winter, even though while we were there the weather was actually very pleasant, warm in the sunshine, with long low autumn light. I saw quite a few disaffected youths wandering around, the supermarkets were sort of gloomy and depressing... The day we left there was a school shooting, news of which I haven't yet caught up on. I had the odd intuition that it would be hard to be a young person in Finland even before I heard about the shooting, but that's really just one of those sudden impressions, I wouldn't pretend to know anything about it.

Our lasting impression of Helsinki will probably be the Found Objects office, where we had to go to retrieve a lost basket and umbrella, left behind on the plane. This was a concluding chapter in a drama of tragedy and woe, a drama Fred asked if we could put on the radio and put into posters and put up around the city, the tale of how a basket and an umbrella were left behind on the plane...she whispered it to people as they passed. Thankfully at the Found Objects they were restored to us. The Found Objects office was filled with things, things lost on planes, trains, buses, in restaurants. Drawers stuffed with gloves, buckets filled with umbrellas, each one individually labeled. I loved it. I wanted to be left to rummage, to explore each thing and wonder at the narratives they held.

Anyway, that's enough for now. I will post more photos in the days to come. We took a bunch.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

oh and

Thank you everyone who posted suggestions and tips for our trip! It was such an incredible wealth of suggestions and information, and I love yas all.

On our way

The writer's festival was wonderful, great audiences, had a wonderful lunch with a star-studded cast of YA writers on the Monday (snaps to Simmone for organising it) and with the divine Ariel on the Wednesday, loved meeting Margo and presenting with her (her new novel sounds FANTASTIC.) Loved it all.

And now we're getting ready to set sail, to ride the light fantastic, to take to the skies, just me and my girl Fred. Am excited, sad, prehomesick, manically packing, already missing Una, calm, thrilled,'s a beautiful afternoon, warm sun, daffodils, wattle, lorikeets, galahs, cockatoos, kookaburras... Why am I leaving all this beauty?

Oh yeah, to see my sister get hitched.

And Paris. Don't forget Paris.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Things to do in Melbourne for (almost) free (TRAVEL MEME)

This is my first attempt at inventing a meme. So anyone who wants to do this (and I'm tagging you all) needs to list at least five things to do for FREE in their city or town. Other Melbourne people feel free to do this meme too, because Melbourne is a different city for everyone. My list is an inner city Melbourne list...maybe later I'll do one for St Andrews. Please SOMEONE do it so I don't feel tragic - the girl with the meme that nobody did. I'll be like that girl in her best party dress, whistle in her mouth, surrounded by streamers, slowly realising that none of the 100 people she's invited are coming. You know, that girl. Or maybe you don't know, cause you didn't even bother to show up for her party and shame on you.

If you do it, drop by and tell me about it, so I can feel unpathetic.

I'm doing this because as you all know I'm about to whizz off on an overseas jaunt, with very little moola. (Well you might not know that bit, you might think I'm terribly rich, because I am such a bestselling author. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.)

Drumroll please for the inaugural:

Here are the rules (because it wouldn't be a meme without rules):
1. List (at least) five things to do for free in your city or town, not just well publicised touristy things, but things YOU might do too!
2. Write it with a visitor in mind.
3. Tag three people* - extra fun if they live somewhere you'd like to know better or you're going to sometime soon.
4. If you're anonymous/coy about where you live, choose another town or city that you know.

1. Catch a train to Clifton Hill station (Hurstbridge/Epping line) and walk through the little streets then the river walking trails to the Fairfield boathouse and have a coffee or iced chocolate, overlooking the yarra. Very peaceful and quintessentially Australian. When you walk to the end of Spensley Street go left on the bike/walking track. If you have kids, there's a brilliant playground in Clifton Hill to your right. For a quicker walk, get off at Fairfield station (Hurstbridge line). You can actually walk all the way back to the city along the trails, and it's a great walk but it will take you quite a few hours (it's been ages since I've done it).

2. Catch the train to Sandringham station (Sandringham Line) and walk along the foreshore path to Brighton Beach station (or for the more energetic, you could walk all the way to St Kilda, perhaps getting off at Brighton Beach Station to start. If you have a bike, you can take bikes on the train and ride back). If it's hot, don't forget to buy a lemonade icypole! And bring your bathers for a swim. Great day with kids even in winter, there's a few playground and parks along the track. There's places to have a coffee or a glass of wine or beer overlooking the water on the way, especially as you get into St Kilda. You could also catch a tram to Port Melbourne and walk towards St Kilda the other way. (Consult a map).

3. If you have kids, the best playground in the city is Birrarung Marr, behind Federation Square (down near the river, adjacent to Artplay, which has some workshops and programs for kids). In the Birrarung Marr park, if you go for a wander, there's a sound bridge (very odd experience the first time) and the Federation Bells which is a bell sculpture that rings three times a day (I think one of them is midday, we were just there at the right time once and the kids were blown away). It's also lovely to just wander along the river. I love the view of the city from the park.

4. Fed Square has exhibitions and things, and different markets (a produce markets on Fridays I think, books on Saturday). It's worth a walk through and I for one love the architecture and the fact that it seems to be serving its purpose as a bit of a cultural/meeting point for Melbourne. There's also the Ian Potter gallery and ACMI (the centre of moving images). When Fred was little and I was pregnant with Una I used to meet a friend in the city and we'd spend a few hours at Fed Square, drinking coffee, eating food (that we'd usually bring ourselves) and at some point, when we needed a break from conversing, we'd end up down at ACMI, just watching flickering pictures in an otherwise soothingly dark space.

5. Wander around the arcades and lanes in the cbd (start at Flinders St Station or the mall if you need a focal point). Window shop, there's lots of little curiosities. Have a coffee anywhere, or a hot chocolate in one of the many chocolate shops. You might catch the lollies being made in Royal Arcade (and there's always free samples). My mum has potent memories of Gog and Magog in the Royal Arcade from her childhood. Or poke around the laneways near Melbourne Central where Melbourne feels like a dynamic Asian city.

6. The botanical gardens (including the Children's Gardens - which is truly sensational for kids - bring bathers, spare knickers or nappies on a hot day because there's lots of water and for sanitation reasons the kids aren't allowed to be in the nude, even babies and toddlers). There's colonies of bats in the rainforest section in the main part of the gardens, amazing to look up at. Pick up a coffee at the Observatory Cafe (good child friendly, midpriced cafe).

7. Catch a train down to Williamstown. It's like an English seaside town, and you can walk right round the harbour to a great open beach. Worth buying a few dollars worth of chips to eat overlooking the harbour. (To get back to the city there's the option of catching a ferry to southbank It's not almost free at all, but it is a very interesting way to see Melbourne's West from the river, a sight not many people experience).

8. Catch a tram to Ceres (either the West Preston or the East Brunswick, consult a Melway) or even better, catch the train to Rushall and walk up to St Georges Road, through the North Fitzroy streets and then up the Merri creek path to Ceres (again, consult a map first!). Ceres is an urban farm, nursery and cafe. There's a great playground near the cafe (you don't have to order anything to use it, but if you do, this is the place to have a soy chai). On Wednesdays and Saturdays it's also an excellent produce market.

*or everyone you know, like me

Friday, August 15, 2008

Read While Waiting Project - psst, pass it on

Brought to my attention by my good mate Kirsty.
Even if you're at home, read while you're boiling the water for the pasta. Do watch the video, Sean Connery rocks.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bluemilk's Feminist Mother Meme

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
Feminism is part of my poiesis - the poetics of who I am always becoming, and of how I am transforming the world.

(It took me frikkin' ages to come up with that, but I am very happy with it.)

I became a feminist at the age of 20, my second year of uni, my first year in Melbourne studying at Monash University. I'd always been for equal rights but I have a cringeworthy memory of me at the age of 16, sitting on the steps at my school, agreeing with my boyfriend (who went to university) that feminism was innately sexist and we were humanists. Without going into details, reproduction was involved in my journey towards feminism. Mostly I became a feminist for all the reasons a lot of people think women become feminists - some man did me wrong, in addition I was treated appallingly because of my biology by ‘the system’, left adrift afterwards, and I was angry and bitter and sad and scared and grieving what I thought was a Humpy-Dumpty heart - all the king's horses and all the kin's men couldn't put my heart back together again. My heart was put back together again eventually – a DIY job – but the fine cracks remain. There is rarely a day that goes by that I don't see some article or image or hear some sentence drop from someone's mouth that reinforces to me that the time for feminism is now.

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
I always thought when I had kids I'd be Penni + kids. I thought feminism would protect me from any kind of identity loss. In reality there's an enormous chasm between who I was before motherhood and who I am now. Motherhood is an extreme, physical and emotional and psychic metamorphosis, and it keeps threatening your identity, even as your kids grow up – actually in some ways more so now that the kids are older. I yearned for a baby, and always knew I'd love being a mother (and I do), but I didn't know I'd hate it too. Having said that, I didn’t know that I would be such a creative mother, nor that it would so completely and perfectly connect up my imaginative, intuitive self with my analytical, pensive side.

I was also surprised by how invisible mothers are, the whole madonna/whore thing…yada yada yada. I mean I probably shouldn’t have been surprised but I was. And I was surprised at how much I devalued the work of motherhood.

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
I think the biggest change is that I've gone from being an academic feminist to a practical, ordinary, everyday feminist - apart from the incident I mentioned in the first point, I moved in feminist friendly circles, I wasn't really ever challenged on a personal level. The way that mothers and fathers are received out in the ordinary world is a constant source of frustration. Single dads are heroes. Single mums are welfare cheats. Not once in my life has anyone stopped me in the supermarket and said I was ‘amazing’ to take both my children shopping. Martin practically gets a standing ovation. On the other hand, people often tell me how incredible I am to study and write and have young kids, I doubt Martin gets the same admiration.

I notice different things now. I'm not just critiquing magazines and films anymore, I'm critiquing culture as a whole, and in particular I am very aware of material objects, the things we surround ourselves with. I think you enter the materialist big league when you have kids, and it's very easy to invest emotions into things, to divest yourself into the objects you own, to try and reorder yourself and identity through acquisition and possession. I really try and deconstruct my own desires and that of my kids. I think the entire (western) world has been afflicted by a melancholic, consumerist, unfulfillable desire, and it’s killing the world. And it often boils down to the ‘oikos’ – the household as a social, economic and political entity – and its destructive collective wants repackaged as needs (a deck, a playroom, a family room, furniture for the family room, a harmonious couch, an inclusive big screen television, a democratic second television, computers for all).

Also watching my daughters develop powerful imaginative lives, I realise more and more that the answer to the world’s malaise lies in the restorative power of the imagination.

4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I really don’t know the answer to this. Obviously I try and limit the girls' access to prescriptive models of femininity (they don’t watch commercial television for example), while creating the space for them to explore their own girlhood, including via the objects I don’t particularly like (such as Barbie). But I think all parents have limits about what their kids can or can’t eat/watch/wear/play with.

Feminism has not necessarily made me a better mother. It’s made me a self-critiquing mother, given me an alternative, perhaps kinder model for self-critique (instead of worrying about whether the house is clean enough, I’m thinking about whether or not I’ve met my own social or intellectual needs, in order to ensure I’m fulfilled and happy, which in turn makes me a better, more resilient, more patient mother). I think hope I’m less critical of the way other mothers parent because of feminism – motherhood is sadly one of those arenas where women actively participate in oppressing each other. As a feminist, I attempt to accept difference in parenting techniques or people’s emotional responses to their children – I try to fight the notion that there is a right way and a wrong way to love your children or perform daily tasks. Motherhood is a relationship, not a job. It’s not a series of fixed moments that make your child into an adult, it’s a state of flux, of everchange, of constant compromise and negotiation. It's a learning curve, mistakes are permitted, perfection strongly discouraged.

5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
I guess, looking at the above, there is no ‘failed’. That’s kind of the point of feminism for me.
I do feel compromised. I feel like my time and my space is always crowded by other people’s needs. We’ve always worked on that as a family though.
And I’ve made compromises along the way. Things have trickled in, princesses and fairies and Dora and pink…I’ve had to accept that K-Mart will play a part in shaping my daughters' experiences of their femininity and I try to be okay with that.

6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
It’s hard to disentangle this from being a mother who is also a writer. I am always all these things – a feminist, a writer and a mother. And that is full of pitfalls and problems and headaches and frustration (as well as, of course, great joy and immense satisfaction).

7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I think any kind of communal living involves sacrifice. There’s a difference between sacrifice and martyrdom. I guess we just constantly reassess whether or not things are working for us and address the issues as they arise. I have made my fair share of sacrifices, but they are for the greater good and we’ll all benefit in the long run. And my family has made sacrifices for me too.

8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
I don’t know if Martin is 100% comfortable with me calling myself a feminist, he used to find the term quite confronting, though in practice we’ve always had a very equal partnership. I think he understands the term more now, and he certainly sees and resents the discrepencies I’ve talked about here. I know that he would absolutely hate to be the kind of man who didn’t contribute to the household. He sees men like that as oppressing themselves, he despises that kind of learned helplessness that many men trade on. And in his opinion they’re missing out on the joy of family life. He reckons you’ve got to step up, get involved, get physical and be part of things, or your kids will see you as a lump, a part of the furniture.

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
When Fred was a baby I identified with AP more than any other style – we attempted natural births (and, apart from a little whiff of syntocin th first time, succeeded), coslept, I breastfed until she self-weaned around 2, we both carried her in a sling, and we believed in gentle discipline – in her first year I did everything I could to make sure she never cried, and she rarely did (and she’s grown up bold and brave). But I found myself retreating from identifying with other APers as it seemed laden with extreme expectations and a lot of guilt and judgements (as if there wasn’t enough maternal guilt in the world!). By the time Una was born, I was a lot more concerned with holding on to my shattered sense of self before I drowned completely in motherhood than I was with being an attachment parenter. I am now soothed by Winnicott, 'good-enough mother' who gradually withdraws from her total preoccupation to the baby to create a space in which the infant can develop a healthy sense of self.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I don’t think feminism has ever really reconciled its relationship with mothers. I think it’s still uncomfortable with motherhood as a threat to identity and autonomy. There are so many crappy old stereotypes attached to motherhood, plus a whole bunch of new ones (MILF, yummy mummy, Supermum, and the whole celebrity mother push). It's hard to maintain realistic expectations of yourself when you have that to contend with, let alone garner support from society to just make it through the day.
I think feminist theorists like Kristeva have given mothers a poetics of experience, and I for one find her writing redemptive and empowering. Because motherhood rocks. It attaches you in the most vital way imaginable to the mysteries of the universe.
Women have more choices now, and higher expectations about their own quality of life. I think feminism has opened up a family dialogue about how the family will work, there are fewer assumptions about roles.