22 September 2013

Questions for Americans

In November we are heading to America for three months.  It's a 'sabbatical'.  The inverted commas are because, though initially our intention was to have an extended stay combined with work or study, after browsing online various courses that would be professionally advantageous, I decided that a course in  Advanced Advocacy Skills or a three day Negotiation and Witness Preparation workshop sounded like not much fun at all.

I've decided that I prefer this definition from Wikepedia: "In recent times, "sabbatical" has come to mean any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something. In the modern sense, one takes sabbatical typically to fulfill some goal."

I have some goals, at this stage all fairly vague. Think. Read. Slow down. Listen. Contemplate. Decide.
I am not much of a planner, in life or craft.  I am thinking, though, that some planning about what I want to achieve is in order, otherwise I can see twelve weeks slipping through my fingers in a delightful, indulgent, sleeping-in-and-staying-up-late haze.

It is easy to think that we know all about America.  I was raised on American TV and movies, I've figured out what 'riding shot-gun' is, what a 'rookie' is, when you'd use a  'side-walk' - all terms not at all familiar to me as a child.  I remain appalled at the normalisation of 'gotten' but I know this marks me as an old fogey.  When I delete it from draft letters at work the young solicitors look at me as if I'd just requested they use 'doth' or 'whence' or something.   But the cultural familiarity with America must, I suspect, be pretty superficial.  If your idea of Australia was derived from watching Australian films  you'd think the place was full of knock-about larrikins living in the outback and murdering people.

If someone came to my home town I'd take them to a house auction for the bizarre drama and the ability to sticky beak someone else's life we'd go to a footy game at the MCG, even though I'm not a huge footy fan, and I'd buy them a four'ntwenty pie with sauce, and maybe we'd go out for dumplings in Box Hill, or yum cha in town and time permitting I'd take them on a drive down the Great Ocean Road and stop in at Freshwater Creek bakery for a passionfruit sponge or a strawberry kiss, then maybe we'd go to the japanese bathhouse in Collingwood for a soak and a shiatsu massage and finish up with a paella at the Robbie Burns.

My American friend has given me some names of icecream to look out for.  She bemoans the (poor) quality of Australian icecream.  My other American friend told me I have to have a Philly steak which I have to confess sounds disgusting to me (he insists the cheese must be fake to be authentic).

So if you are American, or know America well, what would you tell me that I absolutely have to do in the twelve weeks we will be there?  We'll be in Hawaii for a week and then based in Boston, but will be travelling around, including to Arizona for thanksgiving and to New York in December.

Any thoughts, ideas, tips, suggestions greatly appreciated.

15 September 2013

Scenes from the Weekend.

My oldest girl is big enough to read the newspaper,

My youngest is still little enough to show you her belly button.

Ruby made bickies (and pom poms);

Grace made something out of blu tac and a button (and pom poms);

And Nina made pom poms and spent most of the weekend in a world of her own which required ballet clothes.

Our local council refuses to provide 'green bins' for garden waste and instead requires us to cut everything up into box size pieces for collection. It's a bit annoying. The scorched earth of our front garden will soon be planted out. It only took a year longer than planned.

We finally put in a lemon tree. I can't believe I've lived more than 15 years without one. One day I'll be able to stop swiping lemons from Sheryl and Bruce next door.

Craig trimmed the jacaranda, though we won't be around to see it flower this year.

The playroom fluctuated from messy to messier.

And the weather was kind enough to dry the woollen blanket I scored for $9 at the op shop. My kids are always asking for an extra blanket on their beds.

It was a very quiet weekend. I started and finished a book I had been eagarly awaiting. I was almost reluctant to start, knowing that I'd be unable to stop and swept up into its world. I'm a bit of a sucker for a well-done dystopia.

I did a lot of reflecting on big and little things and reached some conclusions that helped to settle my mind. It is difficult, sometimes, to keep perspective and I think I wrangled a few things back into their proper place. Mostly it is a case of recognising that what seems overwhelming rarely is, and that there are very few things that are actually important.

13 September 2013

Playmats and Elephants

I haven't quite got the whole cloth quilt thing out of my system. I am crossing fingers and toes that there will be some new babies in my life soon (not my own, babies of close friends) but in the meantime I've been doing some cheap and cheerful versions for the school fete. These are Ikea fabrics, decorator weight and more suited as playmats, or pram covers than for cots. I really like some of the fabrics at Ikea and I really like the prices too. The elephants are old hat, but have a patterned side and a striped side for fun.

12 September 2013

Spoiled for Choice

I don't like to vote above the line. I don't trust the preference deals done and can't be sure I understand how they will pan out. The fact that Steve Fielding got in on the back of ALP preferences a few elections back was pretty disgraceful. However deciding where to place all 97 candidates below the line was not an easy task this year.

How to work out which of Family First, One Nation, Rise up Australia, the Citizen's Electoral Council,  Palmer United Party et al, should get pride of place at number 97? Then there were the candidates that I had no idea about: 'Stop CSG' was a mystery until I googled CSG - Coal Seam Gas - I probably should have known that. And how confusing was the name of 'No Carbon Tax Climate Scpetics'? Was that 'No' to sceptics about climate change and the carbon tax? Or was it 'No Carbon Tax - we are climate scpetics'? A judiciously placed comma would have helped. The Pirate Party sounded like something my kids might get invited to, and it is easy to be burned by parties that have words like 'social' and 'equal' in them. Is 'Socialist Equality' for socialist equality or are they actually a right wing conspiracy theorist group? Some made their platform clear - motoring enthusiasts, smoker's rights, legalise marijuana but I'm not sure whether to be amused, proud that everyone gets a chance to raise their issues, or despairing that our senate election took on a certain circus quality. I'm tending toward the latter but I'm as much to blame as anyone else. I could have done my homework, found out who was running and researched each platform, weighed my choices, made informed decisions. I was lazy, and bored, and disengaged.

Instead I spent the day cleaning out the bathroom cupboard and helping Ruby sort out the mess under her bed. It took hours and hours and was exhausting and cathartic in equal measure. I like nothing more than getting rid of stuff, a sentiment shared by many other Australians it seems. Out with the old, in with the new.

Whilst going through my bathroom cupboard I found a large bottle of Chanel perfume; a gift from my dear friend Nic, whose father bought her a bottle duty free every overseas trip he took.  As he went overseas frequently she had a shelf of unopened perfume and passed one along to me.  However I  don't really wear perfume, so it sat unused for more than a decade.  Can you already guess how this story ends?  I gave it to Ruby and Nina, with warnings that they use it only very very sparingly, very very occasionally and take special care not to spill it, as it has a wide open neck and a big glass stopper.

Yesterday I returned from work to find the house in an uproar.  Somehow Grace had got the perfume and managed to spill about three-quarters of the bottle on Ruby and Nina's bedroom carpet.  That was a lot of perfume, very strong, concentrated perfume.  Grace was beside herself, Ruby and Nina were convinced I'd be furious, and everyone had a developing headache from the overpowering fumes.  White vinegar, carb soda and strenuous mopping did little to dilute the smell.  The big girls slept on the floor of the playroom last night, their room being uninhabitable, but this morning the smell persists and permeates the entire house.  It is a little like living in a department store or the house of a lady of a certain age.

11 September 2013

Letter to Csilla

Sometimes your child makes a friend and that friend is just such an appealing person that, if the friendship fades, you feel a ridiculous sense of loss and disappointment. Sometimes you feel that loss far more keenly than your child, for whom the friendship has simply waned in the natural and inexorable way of childhood.
Grace's friend, Csilla, goes to a different school, and they see less of each other than they did at kinder last year. In place of thrice weekly meetings, they have intermittent playdates interspersed with occasional correspondence. I hope Csilla is always one of Grace's'Frans'.

04 September 2013

Thank Goodness for Blogs

How else would I ever remember that tonight, while reading the final chapter of 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' to Ruby and Nina, they were so excited when Sir Willoughby returned after being shipwrecked that they got up and started jumping on their beds for joy. And after we'd finished they re-told other especially wonderful bits - when Miss Slighcarp pretends that she was only joking about locking Bonnie and Sylvia in the dungeon but Mrs Brisket gives the game away by mentioning that two children are already locked up, when James sees them again, how Simon is going to be a painter. Isn't a great book a truly marvellous thing?


On Tuesday, as Lil and I walked the short distance home from kinder, we picked a little posy from the flowers poking out of people's front gardens. This is something I did endlessly with the older girls, but the rhythm and traditions of their early years are, I often feel, lost to me now. There was a certain cycle of work I was in - off work for a year with a baby, back to work for a year, off work for a year with the next baby - and so on for eight years. In my 'back to work' year, I worked part time, and even when work was at its most absorbing, I was either breastfeeding or pregnant, physically anchored in the world of early childhood. I'd cycle in to work and gear up intellectually for the day, and cycle home and wind down, ready to be reabsorbed into the countless daily tasks and minutiae of mothering small children.

Lil is still a very small child, not even four yet. And I still work part time and have two days a week home with just her. But our days together are not the same as my days with the other kids. When Ruby was four I had a two year old and a newborn. I think I gave myself over much more fully to the requirements of the job. I didn't expect to get anything done, other than to look after the kids; baking and visiting friends and making playdough and going to the library was the stuff of our days. With Lil, though, it can feel as though our lives have already moved onto the next stage and she has to keep up. She stays up later and watches movies the others would never have seen at her age. I don't put on funny voices or read stories at dinner time anymore to entice her to have another mouthful and I can hardly believe I ever did that with the others. My days standing at the swings and endlessly pushing small children are over. I can't do it anymore. I'm not interested in making the connections with other mothers that I once eagerly sought. I know enough mothers now. My cycle home from work no longer clears my mind and leaves me prepared to step back into family life. Work encroaches on my thoughts and emotions. It's like a magnet, or a vacuum, drawing me toward it and requiring energy to withstand its dark attraction.

Picking this little posy with Lil took me powerfully back to those early days, and left me a little melancholy for all that she has missed out on, from me. I assuage my guilt by assuring myself that she gets plenty of zoo and library and parks with Kim. Guilt is a useless emotion, anyhow, and I don't really feel guilt so much as wistfulness for that time that has now gone, and the knowledge that I can't go back to it, or back to the person I was and the mother I was then, even if I tried.