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.

Photo by Jazz

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Travel Plans - your help please

In less than a month I am off to Europe with my girl, Fred. We're flying to Hong Kong first for three nights, into London for two nights, then train up to Manchester for the wedding, Lake District for a few days, train back down to the south of England to stay with more family and then Paris for a week, and 2 nights in Helsinki on the way home (we're flying Finn Air so that stop was a last minute throw-in).

England is pretty much sorted, I've been to London before, so I'm happy just to hang out at the park with Fred and maybe ride a double decker bus. There's enough family stuff going on that I don't think we'll be looking for ways to entertain ourselves and I'm hoping she'll enjoy the train travel. We were booked into a expensive-for-the-rest-of-the-world-cheapish-for-London hotel but I've just cancelled our booking and switched to the YHA in Earl's Court, because I think Frederique will appreciate the social qualities, and we won't have to be so best-behaviourish, and it's on the Piccadilly line. And it's cheaper. We have our own room of course.

Hong Kong
In Hong Kong I'm thinking about doing the Peak and maybe an island visit. Fred is allergic to shopping and I don't love it either, so while no doubt we will do some low level acquiring, it won't be an activity as such. Can anyone else make any suggestions? Zoos, museums, botanical gardens - Fred actually likes museums, as long as they're the sort where you can run a bit and be noisy and interested and touch things. Disneyland is probably out (see below).

And Paris. We've booked an aparment in the Marais (3rd district). Apart from eating pastries and drinking hot chocolate and gawping at the Eiffel Tower (not sure if we'll go up it), I have no plans. I think the Louvre might be a bit overwhelming, and probably frustrating for me if we do it at Fred's pace. I'd quite like to take her to the Notre Dame (well, I want to go and she'll have to come). My rough idea for each day was Do Thing in the morning, lunch near or at Thing, then lose ourselves in a park somewhere. Dinner in our apartment probably. Again, Disneyland is probably out (The part of me that is still six years old sitting in front of The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night wants to take her. The part of me that knows it will be hyperstimulating for both of us, overpriced and crowded and full of cheap crappy Disney stuff says stay away. Fred doesn't really 'get' Disneyland yet anyway, though I did tell her we could go to Cinderella's house. Do you think it would be wrong for me to pick some random fancy house and just tell her that that is Cinderella's house?) Any other suggestions, including making a case for the Louvre with kids, welcome. I'd love to get out of Paris for a day and take her somewhere more naturey or beachy - but it has to be somewhere we can get to without a car.

We're in Helsinki for two nights. I have no idea what to do. We're booked into a private room at the Eurohostel. I'd also love suggestions for a good playground.

Any suggestions for good travel toys we can take away? I'm not too worried about the plane cause they'll be tiny tellie and plane packs and little toothpaste and the crash safety booklet (she loves that). But there will be hotel time, train travel, and other time to fill, and a good toy will help her get clear headspace and rejuvenate her energy (though what makes a good toy for Fred I STILL don't know. Pity Bedda is dead.) So far on my list I have:
*Books (A couple of easy, lightweight chapter books or short stories I think, we read the first chapter of Ramona the Pest the other day and she'd have happily had the same chapter read over and over. And we'll buy new books or magazines or comics on our travels.)
*A travel journal
*Pencil case chockers with new pencils, gel pens etc
*Colouring/Activity Book (one like her Charlie and Lola that encourages her to draw in the rest of the pictures)
*I thought maybe a little bag thing, with some make up and bits and pieces of jewelry and a little mirror and the like. I can give it to her on the plane perhaps.
*A favourite soft toy to cuddle.
*The French flashcards (we can BOTH do some intensive training on the Eurostar)
*A walkman or ipod?? (I can't decide about this, I'm also vaguely tempted to get a handheld game thing, but that way madness lies).

Anything else - non-toy - I should pack that I might not have thought of?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Una: I love you, Mum.
Penni: I love you too, sweetheart.
Una: Can we not talk about this? Cause it's keeping me annoying.

Friday, August 01, 2008


In very good company, Indigo Girls has been longlisted for an Inky, which is very excitement. Yay!

And if there's a really cool competition you can enter (any age can enter but to win the big enchilada you have to be under 20) (the prize is probably not an enchilada).