30 April 2013

Mouse School

Ruby's present for Nina - a mouse school. (Nina pointed out that the apostrophe in 'shouldn't' was in the wrong place.  She is, afterall, the granddaughter of an English teacher).

Box Dolls

On the eve of Ruby and Nina's birthdays I realised that I had not made them anything. I usually try to give them at least one handmade thing and though it would not have been the end of the world if I hadn't been able to, I had on hand all the things I needed to make these little boxes of fun. I clothed the little wooden dolls in scraps of old jumpers, drew faces on with pencil and texta and painted the toadstool. They are very rough and ready but I was aiming for a folky autumnal look. The boxes are only about 2" x 2" and perfect to pop in your pocket when you've got a boring wait at the doctors or during your sister's tap lesson.

29 April 2013


On Anzac day the girls kindly let us have a lie in while they baked Anzac biscuits for us. Something was not quite right; slightly burned on the outside, somewhat raw on the inside - the oven had been set to 'grill'.

I don't think that grilled Anzacs will become a tradition, though they do embody something of the Anzac story - a lot of well-intentioned effort on behalf of a paternal authority for a disastrous result...

I am moved by these words of Kemal Ataturk. Can you imagine any leader today, of any nation, saying this about an invading force?

Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.

28 April 2013

Sleepover Party

Ruby celebrated her tenth birthday by having 5 friends sleep over for the night. We played the 'middle childhood' version of party games: the chocolate game - roll a six and then put on gloves, hat, scarf, cut up pieces of chocolate with a knife and fork and try to get them into your mouth before someone else rolls a six; the 'life saver game' - pass a life saver from person to person via toothpicks held in your mouth and so on. We went for a walk, and ran around the park and had a treasure hunt with rhyming clues. We watched a movie (The Parent Trap- Lindsay Lohan is good!) and had the now traditional icecream cake. Each year these get more and more slapdash but when it's good quality ice-cream with Cherry Ripes and Violet Crumbles chopped up inside and covered in marshmallows, no one really cares how imperfect the shape of the '10' is. It was all lovely but by collection time the next morning I was well and truly over it and may have been less than subtle in hastening the departure of the final guests. Still, you only turn ten once, and a decade does feel like a milestone. I've promised the other girls a sleepover party for their 10th and I reckon I'll need about 2 years in between each one to recover.

27 April 2013


After a morning at kinder and some hard play with the Sylvanians, it's easy to fall asleep in a patch of autumn sunlight on your big sister's new beanbag.

25 April 2013


Did you ever play this party game?

When you are ten, you are growing ridiculously tall and beautiful.
When you are ten your friends are the people that you want to spend most of your time with.
When you are ten, your tolerance for siblings is variable; you can take the greatest delight in their cute and amusing ways, but they can also irritate you beyond measure.
When you are ten you are living more and more in the external world but you'll still spend hours on your scooter making up stories.
When you are ten you are busy and tired and easily bored.
When you are ten you love your cousins and grandparents and family folk lore.
When you are ten you make up plays with friends and siblings and perform them for a not-always-appreciative audience (me mostly).
When you are ten you think your parents are unbelievably unfair quite often.
When you are ten it sometimes feels like your mother is not listening, even when she says she is.
When you are ten it is very frustrating having to wait for and explain things to your little sisters when you just want to get on with it. But it is also very satisfying teaching them new things and reading them stories.
When you are ten you are writing and drawing so beautifully and you still want to be a writer and illustrator when you grow up. You have a way to capture a scene with a few words that is enviable.
When you are ten your mother is feeling very pleased that nine is behind us. We're embarking on our second decade together, my darling darling girl. Happy Birthday Ru.

23 April 2013

How to Make a Crib (in one thousand easy steps)

I found this sheaf of stapled papers stuck up with blu-tac in the playroom. Nina has set herself a project to build a crib (what we would actually call a cot - see cultural hegemony) and has worked out her plan:  the days she will and won't work on it (I will not make the crib on my B-day....Ruby's B-day is the 21st and I won't make it on her B-day either), the measurements of the blankets, a paper model and 'ideas with chalk'.  She's got her birds eye model and her layered model (labelled).  This is more planning that I have ever done in my life.  Certainly more planning that I did for any actual babies I had.  Where did this child come from?  I am simultaneously awed and bemused by her.

21 April 2013

Things to Do When you are Bored in the Holidays (Pt 4)

Isn't this a great idea? It's not mine (thanks Kim). I reckon it's an amazingly effective use of Henry Buck's catalogues.

Other things to do in the holidays are here, here and here.

20 April 2013


drawing by Ruby
Recently I wrote a romance novel for fun. There was a competition which spurred me on to do it, though I'd tossed the idea around in my mind vaguely for several years. My heroine is a lawyer who is working on a pharmaceutical class action. She is not me. She does love to sew but she's not me. She rides her bike to work but she is most definitely not me. She falls in love with her boss and they win their class action, he declares his undying love and they go to the pub. Quite an Australian ending I thought, except for the bit about winning the class action, as anyone who has ever run a personal injury class action in Australia would know (bitter? me?).

I got exactly nowhere in the competition, nor did I deserve to, but it was a most enjoyable and educational experience. In my brief foray into the world of aspiring romance writers I discovered what I suspect must plague every writer or artist of any description; a complete lack of any ability to judge one's own product. In my actual field of endeavour - the law - there are relatively objective parameters of success. Winning a trial is a good indicator that you haven't stuffed things up really badly. Discussing cases with colleagues and finding that others share your view on a matter, debating issues with counsel, analysing a legal point and finding your opinion validated by a judgment all give you indications that you are on the right track. I imagine that if I took on case after case and kept losing, or if I routinely missed the issue, or asked the wrong questions or overlooked a crucial point of law, I'd probably realise that I was not much chop as a lawyer.

But how do you know if you are a good writer who just has to weather the rounds of rejection before your talent is recognised, or if you are simply a hack and should leave well enough alone? (I ask this as a rhetorical question, I'm not proposing to quit my job and attempt romance writing as a career). I wrote this book and I liked my heroine (who is not me) and I adored my hero, who was dedicated to social justice and spoke fluent Italian. However after finishing the novel, and reading plenty of genre fiction and some of the other competition entries, I could not for the life of me tell if mine was on the side of 'kind of okay and shows promise' or on the side of 'stick to being a lawyer and never ever enter this realm again'. I really couldn't tell. A few friends said nice things, but frankly, of course they would.

I'm taking all the positives out of this experience - I learned a lot, I really enjoyed the process, and I can now say that I've written a novel (though to be honest I cannot imagine the occasion when I actually will). I discovered that it is not easy to impart crucial plot information in an interesting way. It can be difficult to avoid 'he said' in conversations, but annoying to have your characters constantly 'snapping' 'riposting' and 'opining'. Writing the actual romancy bits, the kissing and so forth, was quite bizarre. And trying to stick within the conventions of genre fiction but to transcend cliche was a challenge. To real writers, of real, published books, in whatever genre, I tip my hat. It's a hard job with lean rewards and I'm very glad that someone does it and that that person is not me.

19 April 2013

Pirate Grace

Not actually a pirate but with a piratey feel.

18 April 2013

Baby Orangutan Mummy Orangutan

At last, Lily gets a bit of a look in on this blog. I ought to note that Lily's infrequent presence here is in no way indicative of her actual presence in our lives. She looms large. One might almost say a dominating force in the family...

17 April 2013

Self Portrait in Bowler Hat with Ears

How much am I loving Ruby's art at the moment? She painted this little self portrait in photography inks. It captures so much of her nearly-ten-year-old self.

16 April 2013


The weather isn't that cold yet (and in Melbourne it never will be).  But who can resist snowball babies? Made out of old jumpers and scraps of felt, with little knitted shawls.  For the harvest festival of course.

14 April 2013

Cultural Hegemony

It interests me, the extent to which the idea of America permeates my children's creative play.  They often use American accents (or poor attempts at them) and what they think is idiomatic American English - they'll say things like 'that'll be three dimes please'.  Even imaginary business cards have American addresses.

12 April 2013

Leaves, Nuts, Seeds

Gum nut babies, gum leaf babies, seed pod babies.  Made from wool felt, yarn and old wool jumpers.  For the harvest festival.

10 April 2013

Things to Do When You Are Bored in the Holidays (Pt 3)

(you can find earlier installments here and here)

Arrange a puppet show; rope your sisters into front-of-house duties; prepare programmes and tickets; perform for your mum before breakfast.

08 April 2013


Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat –
the one you never really liked — will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up — drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice — one white, one black — scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

Ellen Bass

Thanks to a moon, worn as if it had been a shell for introducing me to this poem.

07 April 2013

Getting Out

the curvature of the earth

the waterfall that wasn't

checking out tadpoles (stripes semi-compulsory)

interesting fungi (and pesky blackberries)

giving a sister a hand (or a back)

stair work

special guests

I know that getting out is absolutely essential. Despite the grumbling and reluctance that sometimes (frequently) accompany a suggestion to 'put your shoes on' or 'grab your bathers' it is always, always worth persevering. The bickering vanishes. Ruby and Nina most often will walk along, arms around each other, or urge each other deeper into the surf. Lily, it has to be said, frequently begs a 'carry' from someone or other. She has pointed out that her legs are only little. Grace has always been our most willing and uncomplaining walker, abandoning the pram at twelve months, even when it would have made things easier and faster. I myself don't naturally incline to the active and can be seduced by a comfortable chair and a cup of tea , but I know that getting out is always worth it. It's especially good when you can get out in the bush, even if the water is absent from the waterfall . There are still interesting lichen and fungi to look at, or tadpoles to find, or rosellas to feed, or stairs and bridges to do silly things on. Even in the city it's fun exploring the cobblestone alleys that still run behind most of the streets in our neighbourhood, or checking out other people's front gardens and gathering a posy from the flowers that hang over fences. The advantage of our hot summer and hot start to autumn is that the sea temperature remains mild. We found ourselves having an unscheduled ocean swim at dusk after a wander led us inexorably to the beach. Ruby overcame her fear of sharks (she's been told they feed at dusk) and lack of swimming gear and we founded a new tradition - skinny dipping on easter Sunday.