Sep 27, 2012

Work and Walk: NAILED IT

If you're like me and work in an office environment, in the city, work clothes can be a hassle. Unless you're very senior or in a very staid industry, you probably don't have to manage pantyhose (shudder), high heels, suits or full make-up, but you still need to look a bit corporate and moderately well groomed.

At the same time you probably catch public transport, which means walking a little, which means you also need to be comfortable.

In my head I have a hazy sort of ideal outfit that I call "Good To Go". The Good To Go outfit is dark trousers, a mid-season top, cross-body satchel bag and low-heeled boots or shoes. Possibly an artfully-knotted scarf or non-bulky jacket on top. It's something you can wear almost anywhere, and it is comfortable and hassle-free.  It's the kind of outfit worn by girls-on-the-run in spy movies, or hot lady cops in the better TV mini-series.  It doesn't have to be plain - it can be a sparkly top, or satiny pants - but the main requirements of Good To Go are that the outfit is streamlined, simple, stylish and walkable.

Unfortunately, though this outfit is my daily goal, I rarely come close to achieving it, due to limitations imposed by money (style is expensive) and body shape. Most days I settle for a pair of nice-looking black pants that are not too short (hard - very hard to find), a longish top and a soft jacket or cardigan. Oh, and the artfully knotted scarf.

I have three good quality bags, one of which is a cross-body satchel (though too small for everyday work use really), and the other two which are great-looking and were expensive but are not ideal designs for carrying. One is a good shape but too heavy, the other can only be looped over a wrist or carried by the handles, which gets annoying.

Shoes are tricky. In my youth I never found shoes hard. I wore what I liked and I walked everywhere. In the 80s I was a student and wore Doc Martens, brogues or flats. In the nineties I was living in Greece where appearance is everything, baby - this was my stylish phase, and I wore high-heeled ankle boots or very high platform heels, along with short skirts, slim dresses, leggings, fitted jackets and other gorgeous stuff I can no longer go near.

I never remember shoes being too uncomfortable back then. Heels were a bit, of course - but certainly not everyday flat shoes.

These days? It's IMPOSSIBLE for me to find a comfortable shoe. I think once you're past 40 no shoe is going to be totally comfortable, unless it's a runner. I'm also quite a bit heavier than I was in my youth, and I know that has an impact. But more than that, with age comes wisdom or perhaps grumpiness, and I have close to zero tolerance for sartorial discomfort as a result.

Since my accident and surgery I've been wearing casual pants and runners pretty much non-stop - that's almost 4 months - and that's been very comfortable, but I'm pretty sick of them.

This week I returned to the office for the first time in weeks, having worked mostly at home since we came back from Greece. Since I can't drive, I have had to abandon the car commute I was so fond of and return to public transport. Which I am quite enjoying, to be honest, though not loving the hour and a half the trip takes me most days.

But I am finding it seriously challenging to put work outfits together, which are also comfortable for my "walking bouts" in between buses and trains and the office.

Here's the thing:

  • I'm sick of wearing runners to work and carrying an extra bag for my work shoes.
  • I want to wear nice shoes which are also comfortable, and I don't want to break a sweat on my morning commute.
  • I want to carry ONE bag. And I don't always want that to be a giant tote or a backpack.

Another thing - and I blame my kids for this because it didn't happen before them - is that I find it very difficult to leave and arrive home carrying ONE bag. Even if I leave with one bag (e.g. having left my work shoes at the office so no need to tote them), I arrive home with two or three, by the time I've picked up emergency groceries, a schnitzel and veggies from a cafe to serve for dinner, or some, um, magazines and books (but I've cut that out now, really).

(The last 2 days I've had to stop at the quickie-mart on the way home, to pick up margarine, hair clips, lunch box snacks and the like which my organised self neglected to order from the supermarket).

Soooo.... you appreciate how difficult and unwieldy my life is, I hope.

Except today - thanks to a fortuitous combination of circumstances, I managed to achieve Good To Go.

The circumstances:

  • warm and mild weather. My favourite weather in Melbourne today: warm but not hot, mildy sunny and blowy. Perfect. No sweating, no freezing, no lugging around an umbrella or a coat
  • second day back at the office. This meant I had already lugged in my extra bag with notebooks and files from home the previous day, so I only needed one bag

The outfit:
  • slim straight black pants
  • long silky top with elbow-length sleeves
  • long, black sleeveless jackety thing (dressy, slimming, adds coverage and a little warmth)
  • taupe patent platform sandals - comfortable to walk in 
  • moderately-sized, non-heavy bag which loops comfortably over arm or shoulder, leaving other hand free for Myki card, phone or coffee cup. 
(I 'shopped my closet' and rediscovered a lovely bag which was not expensive but looks it, and which being mostly fabric is light to carry, while still being roomy [and bonus, the lining is pale caramel, making it easy to find stuff inside]).

I was going in a little late to the office after we dropped the kids at their holiday program, so Y. dropped me at the train station near his work, which is in a MUCH nicer area than where we live. There is a cafe across from the station so while I waited for my train I picked up a takeaway coffee and in my perfect outfit and large sunglasses I swanned stylishly down the street imagining I lived there and that every day I sauntered thusly across the road from my renovated Edwardian house to the train station.  I passed a boutique home furnishing shop which advertised 'Hours: 9.30 - 3.00', and I thought, Well, wouldn't that be nice.

I felt mobile, powerful, stylish and comfortable. I was Good To Go.

Now... what am I going to wear tomorrow?

Image by adamr courtesy of

Sep 23, 2012

Everyday Beauty: the Degas photo

Here is my daughter at her ballet photo day recently, suddenly imitating a Degas painting.

I was holding my phone and snapped at just the right moment.

What kind of everyday beauty did you notice this week?


Sep 22, 2012

Calculate Your Most Efficient Trajectory, and other walking games

Could not believe my eyes when I saw this madness on (er...) 9GAG the other day. 


Kids play walking games: 

Step on a crack, break your mother's back;  
Step on a line, break your father's spine

So do adults.

Here are the walking games I still play - cannot help playing - every time I walk:
  1. Even Stevens
  2. The Point of No Trace of Origin
  3. Most Efficient Trajectory

Even Stevens

I no longer try to avoid stepping on lines. Please! I managed to stop that madness in my twenties! But I do have a thing quite often where I have to keep track of how I step on lines and keep things "even" with both feet.

I've just stepped on a line with the ball of my left foot - therefore I have to do the same with my right foot. But so I don't stop short and shuffle my feet around and look like a weirdo I keep walking "naturally" but keep count of what I step on with both feet, until I can even the score of each item with the other foot. So the count I keep in my head might go something like: left one ball of foot, left one heel, right one middle of foot, left two ball of foot...
Of course at some point it starts to get too hard to keep track, in which case I DO quickly do a weird foot shuffle or stop and swap feet, so I can keep my feet even.

The Point of No Trace of Origin

I do this while city walking, when I've just passed through an intersection or turned a corner. Imagine someone got a snapshot image of you walking at a given point in or after the intersection. Based on your position on the footpath, distance from the curb or corner, length of your stride and angle of your body, at many points it must be possible to look at the snapshot and figure out whether you got there by crossing the street or turning the corner. At some point, as you go a little further, there is a point at which it would no longer be possible to tell which way you had come.  

As I walk I try to pinpoint where that point is. Sometimes I try to pass through an intersection in a way that would give away as few clues as possible as to whether I had come from straight behind or from around the corner. 

Most Efficient Trajectory

Like the 9GAG cartoon at the top - but in my case with frustratingly little math skill. Try and estimate or calculate the most efficient route between two points. That might not be the shortest one; it could be the one with fewest angles, the least foot traffic, more downhill slopes, etc. I spend a bit of time trying to figure out at what distance/number of obstacles a zigzag or series of corners is more or less efficient than a straight line, etc.  This is not to avoid walking, which I love - just another attempt to be more efficient through silly shortcuts.

Here's how I know I'm not the only one doing this:

Adult walking games in popular culture

I remember two references:

The first was an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry walks his date to his apartment door and tells her about a game he plays where he pretends he's being chased by murderers and when he gets to his door he has to unlock and open it as fast as possible to elude them.

Who hasn't played that game?

The second was a short film I saw years and years ago as a kid. When I was a kid, when you went to see a movie it went like this: ads; short film; interval; movie.  Shorts were a mixed bag. Most were boring, some were genius. This particular short one of the best I ever saw. It followed a Londoner on his morning commute into the city. All the dialogue took place in his head.  He is standing on a bus and looks around and picks three or four other passengers to "race" with. He assigns each a name like "Green Cardigan", "Umbrella" and "Bowler Hat". When they all get off the bus he starts narrating (in his head) in the style of a horse race: And they're off! Green Cardigan gets off to a fine start but Bowler Hat is way back... The narration continues as it shows him hurrying through the busy streets, taking little shortcuts, veering through foot traffic, all the while keeping an eye on the others as he tries to reach the finish first.  It's obvious these are all regular commuters going to the same street for work and he plays this game with different people every day. There are a couple of tense moments where he thinks he won't “win”, then he's on the home stretch and in front of everyone. Just as he's grinning smugly and striding to the "finish" he realises Bowler Hat is not behind him as he thought but in front. He gets such a shock at being about to lose the "race", that he loses his sanity – the film ends on a freeze frame as he cries out and grabs  "Bowler Hat" by the shoulder.

Do you play walking games? Tell me one!

Sep 21, 2012

Best Porridge Ever

This is how I make porridge. 
It is the Best Porridge Ever. 
You will never eat better porridge than this.


1 cup traditional oats
1 and a bit cups water
1 and a bit cups milk
one apple
handful of sultanas
brown sugar


Put the oats, water and milk in the saucepan. It works best if you have a heavy-bottomed saucepan, so you can cook it slowly over low heat.  (When I say slowly, it still only takes about ten minutes. No need for quick oats).

Peel and grate an apple; add the grated apple to the saucepan.

Chuck in a handful of sultanas, unless you have kids who get mad when you include sultanas, in which case only include this step about a quarter of the time, when you really want sultanas.

Add a sprinkle each of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Stir with a wooden spoon over a low heat, until porridge is cooked, thickish and bubbly. This should take a few minutes, but not too fast - enough time to cook the apple and nicely absorb most of the liquid but still leave the porridge a good, liquidy consistency.

(I trust you have separate wooden spoons in your drawer for sweet and for savoury? You should. Do NOT use the same wooden spoon you have used to stir spaghetti sauce or curry).

Pour the porridge into bowls, add a splash of cold milk and a sprinkle of brown sugar to each bowl,and eat.

At our house the dog gets to lick the kids' bowls afterwards. 
There's never anything left to lick in mine.

With thanks to my long-lost university friend Katherine, who taught me how to add apple and cinnamon to porridge. I bought that pretty blue and white bowl then. I was in my second year of uni and living in a uni flat with Katherine and two others. It was decreed that we each needed a lovely bowl for our porridge.

Sep 20, 2012

Listography: Top 5 Truths According to Women

Listography time. This month's is an interesting topic - what are your Top 5 Truths? What have we learned as women of a certain age?

Here are mine:

1. There is no such thing as work life balance, unless you are very rich or very lucky. There is just life, and you have to try and make yours work for you. We all have our trials and crosses to bear; we all have times of bounty and times of crisis, and we all struggle to make it all work. Find your way, know that it won't be perfect, manage stress, depression and difficulties as best you can, and enjoy the good bits. For that is all you can do.

2. The Internet is a major time-suck and must be managed. There is so much cool stuff out there, and so much to read - you will never read it all so do not try. And once you start participating in it - blogs, Tumblrs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, parenting forums, LinkedIn, Google Plus, StumbleUpon, meme generators, linkys, news article commenting, education platforms.... aaaaaarghhh, you can get lost in it. Limit your internet time to a small window each day. (Note to self: why don't you try doing this yourself before you preach it to others?)

3. Kids will always demand more of mum their primary carer. It doesn't matter if you both work; it doesn't matter if it's unfair; it doesn't matter if you're tired - it's just the way it is. Most often you will feel glad and smug about it; sometimes you will feel annoyed or overwhelmed by it. Doesn't change it either way.

4. Women's Weekly cakes you make will never look as good as the ones in the book. But your kids will love them anyway.

5. You don't need a lot of clothes, shoes, bags or make-up - just ones that you really like. When you go shopping for clothes, shoes, bags or make-up, you are really trying to purchase a new, invigorated, different or younger you. Good purchases are few and far between, so don't buy too much.

Linking up with Kate Takes 5 for Listography.
Want to play? Click here to add yours


Sep 19, 2012

Real Life Wednesday: Snack Foods

Because I am fearless and searingly honest, I am going to break one of the last remaining parenting taboos - right here, right now!

Parents - give - their kids - UNHEALTHY SNACKS.

Yes we do!

Once upon a time, when I was a kid, this was normal. You came home from school and had biscuits. Kids' story books were filled with luscious descriptions of cakes, cookies and ice-cream. We didn't eat raw carrots as snacks. Crackers were salty and greasy and most of the time we ate them with butter. It was perfectly acceptable to have sugar and cinnamon on toast, or jam and cream on bread.

These days, things are different. Yes, we know more about nutrition and yes, we all want to avoid obesity, heart disease, etc. So the whole "healthy food" thing has permeated into everything in kid culture. The reader books my kids bring home from school are filled with kids in daggy trackpants making butterless sandwiches with raw vegetables and grinning like they're eating cakes.

It's funny now to read the childhood classic "There's A Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake", with the reference to Mummy on a diet eating salad, and the little girl who eats honey sandwiches every day.

At our house here is what my kids eat on a typical school day:

Breakfast (when at home): Sultana Bran, Weet-Bix or Cheerios cereal or two pieces of white toast, one with Vegemite, one with jam.

Breakfast (when at before-school care): Cheerios or raisin toast or pancakes

Morning tea: cheese and crackers for M; a "Stringers" cheese stick for A

Lunch: white-bread sandwich with margarine and jam; or with tzatziki; or wheat/rice wrap with butter and Vegemite; or wrap with cheese and tomato.  Sweet snack: mini muffin or two biscuits or pack of My Little Pony/Scooby Doo biscuits or muesli bar or homemade cake/slice. Fruit: apple /strawberries / grapes / banana, etc

After school snack (when at after-school care): Cup-A-Soup, crackers and fruit

After school snack (when at home):
3.45pm: two biscuits and a glass of orange juice or chocolate milk
3.50pm: "I'm still hungry":  Cruskits or rice cakes or rice crackers or popcorn
4.00pm: "Muuum I'm still HUNGRY": cut-up apple or orange
4.30pm: children attempt to steal sweets from cupboard, I (usually) notice and stop them; tell them to eat fruit or nothing
5:00pm: "still hungry". I tell them dinner is coming soon and to wait. Often end up giving them another rice cake or Cruskit, or if things are bad and I am starting not to care, a sweet biscuit
5:30pm: Ditto

Dinner: Mostly not eaten (Big surprise huh).  Includes cut-up carrot sticks and apple or orange on the table to make me feel better when their only other plant-food intake is two negotiated bites of broccoli (which they used to love).

Before bed: HUNGRY again - because they didn't eat dinner. I serve up the warmed-up dinner but unless the dinner includes plain rice or plain spaghetti, this isn't successful and I end up relenting and giving them a piece of bread and some fruit.

Things that frustrate me:
  • My kids used to eat only multigrain bread. Since they discovered white bread awhile ago keeping up the multigrain has got harder and harder and I've now abandoned the effort - we've moved on to white bread 
  • I cannot buy enough bananas. Every week at the supermarket I buy two or three bunches. Between Y and the kids, they're gone in three days
  • My kids used to LOVE broccoli (seriously). It's also my favourite veggie. We still serve it often but now have to push them to eat even a little
  • A used to love wraps with Vegemite for lunch. Now apparently "hates" them and won't eat them
  • The kids like Vegemite on toast but not on sandwiches
  • I'm not strict enough and struggle to get them to hold off snacks before dinner - then they don't eat dinner
  • I have the only child in the world (A) who hates mincemeat. Won't eat homemade meat pie, lasagne, spag bol or any other normal family go-to meal. I have the only two kids on the internet who don't like Mexibake

Things I don't care about:
  • a sweet snack after school
  • once a week I make them macaroni and cheese (from a box) for dinner
  • on weekends they often have a Nutella sandwich for lunch
  • icy-poles every day during summer
  • a chocolate milk or Milo every day

Things I have got a bit cleverer at:
  • So they eat their fruit in their lunchbox, I give them a smaller sweet snack. 
  • A is put off by whole fruit so I cut up fruit and put it in a little box in her lunch box. E.g., I cut up one apple and one banana, or one apple and four strawberries, and split it up between two boxes for the two kids
  • I sometimes make up a little snack bag containing sultanas, a couple of mini Oreos, and a handful of dry Cheerios; I try to sneak in a couple of almonds or walnuts but they don't fall for that
  • Sometimes I make up an after-school snack plate of crackers, tzatziki, cut-up fruit, carrot sticks and two biscuits - so they can graze while watching TV and the entire snack amount is controlled
not available every day
  • I use a million chicken recipes for dinner - butter and soy chicken, lemon chicken, honey baked chicken, orange chicken, apricot chicken, crumbed chicken, chicken in tomato sauce, homemade or frozen chicken nuggets...
  • Sometimes instead of steaming veggies I boil them in water with butter, orange juice and honey, for a bit of flavour. It makes it easier for them to choke down those vital two bites.

And that's REAL LIFE in our house.

Linking up with Picklebums for Real Life Wednesday.

Real Life Wednesdays

Sep 17, 2012

Everyday Beauty

Garden flowers in a jam jar on the draining board.

My first Everyday Beauty post.
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Sep 16, 2012

Sunday Fun Day: Paper Pizza

A few weeks ago, trying to get one of my daughters out of her doldrums, I started a thing called Sunday Fun Days. Every week the kids agree to get their homework done and completed (without tears or tantrums) by Saturday, and I get all my tasks out of the way by then too. Sunday is then completely free for a FUN DAY.

The first week was A's turn to choose an activity, and she was excited and specific. First, we would go and see a movie. Then we would come home and make people out of construction paper. Then I would sit in my rocking chair and they would sit on the floor and I would read them two stories.

Well, okay then.

On Saturday night before the big day, A very carefully chose and laid out her favourite clothes to wear the next day, and went to bed smiling and happy. It broke my heart! My poor unhappy child, were things this bad for her? (Have I mentioned I have a pessimistic streak?)

On Sunday morning, A, who normally sleeps in on weekends and has to be coaxed out of bed (and out of a foul temper) most mornings, was the first one up. She dressed herself, brushed her teeth and brushed her hair, then came and woke me up, eyes shining with happiness.

She enjoyed her day immensely.  We saw Ice Age 4, made our paper people, and generally had a fun and relaxed day. I even enjoyed it myself.

The next week was M's choice. She chose to go to her favourite play centre, and then make a fairy garden at home (leaves, sticks, plastic container).

Last week was their friend's birthday party. So that was our Sunday Fun Day taken care of quite nicely.

Today was A's choice again, and she chose swimming, followed by more paper craft - this time making paper pizzas.

I so did not feel like going swimming. But the kids just love it, and it wears them out and makes me feel good that we all get some exercise. Also, because the girls are doing dancing classes and Greek school every week, I cancelled their swimming lessons this term so they wouldn't be completely over-scheduled, and they miss the swimming lessons. (You can't win. Well, I could if I cancelled Greek school but that's not really an option, sorry kids!)

Swimming was actually quite nice. The pool was heated to a lovely warm temperature and because it's not summer it wasn't all sauna-like inside. My lovely mother came along so we also got a lift. (Following the surgery to pin my broken arm two weeks ago, I still can't drive for another 6-8 weeks)

So we did that, and then it was home for paper pizzas.

After the pizzas, the girls decided to make a giant paper girl.  I drew the outlines for the t-shirt and skirt, the zigzags for the sneakers and the ball, but the rest is their own work.

She started off a basketball player, then a cheerleader and finally a soccer player - hence the weird uniform.

I like to think these Sunday Fun Days are having an impact on my kids. A does seem happier, and we do all have fun.  On the first week, inspired by this post, I also promised I would not look at my phone or laptop one single time, ALL DAY. I admit I didn't do this today as such, but I didn't use my phone much, and next Sunday I'll go back to not using it at all.

How do you spend "quality time" with your kids? 
How do you manage special times in your busy life?

Sep 13, 2012

The Meaning of Kids' Birthday Parties

Last weekend my kids went to a birthday party. Like all kids they were excited about it and the coming party infused the whole preceding week with excitement.

As at every party, there were highs and lows, but overall the kids enjoyed it immensely.

I find children's birthday parties fascinating. My kids have been to parties before where they seemed overwhelmed with it all from start to finish - scraps with other kids over time with the birthday girl, scrapes and bruises from accidents on play equipment, grumpiness over not winning a coveted prize, tears from feelings of exclusion, alternating with moments of excitement and joy.

As a parent you watch all this and cannot believe the kids actually enjoy it. Yet after it's all done and they're riding home in the car eating lollies and talking excitedly, you ask if they had a good time and it's always "YES!"

So what "purpose" do children's birthday parties serve? What benefit do they give children?

I think it's these things:

  • They are a milestone marker. All cultures have ways to mark rites of passage in a child's life and mark him/her as "older".
  • They allow parents to bestow love and fuss on their children 
  • They allow children to congregate and socialize together, which is vital for them
  • The games teach children valuable socialization lessons: getting along, competing, being a good sport, playing by the rules, winning and losing gracefully - even, I think, life lessons in accepting rigged games
  • They allow kids to be energetic, loud and a little wild, things they can't usually be at home
  • They are an outlet for all the emotions: your kid during the course of the party will likely experience excitement, shyness, happiness, jealousy, joy, disappointment, fear, sadness, relief and more, all in a couple of tumultuous hours
  • They allow kids to try new things. Shy kids are coaxed to join in, nervous kids are encouraged on the big slide, children are helped to meet kids they don't know and encouraged to see the bright side when things don't go their way 
  • They strengthen the child's protective circle by allowing the adult friends and family members to mingle and consolidate their relationships

What about all the criticisms leveled at today's kids' parties, that they are overdone and parents are too competitive and everyone is running around fainting with anxiety about sparing the feelings of all the children?

Competitive Parties

It probably depends where you live, but I haven't experienced this. Most sensible parents try to reign in the expense, happily do the traditional home party for little kids, and don't spend a fortune on "goody bags" or entertainers or gifts for other parties.  However there are 3 factors at play here, that lead to more expense and more catering over time:

  1. These days both parents usually work, so planning and executing a stay-home party is not nearly as easy as it used to be
  2. Even if you have the party at home, at a certain point once you've factored in the food, drinks, games prizes and lollybags, once you hit a certain number of kids it is not much more expensive to do the party at a venue
  3. There are more and more party options available, so your child attends parties and is exposed to more and more cool venues and entertainers, making them less and less keen on Musical Chairs in the loungeroom and Statues in the backyard. That's not parents "competing", it's just evolution.

Pass The Parcel

Pass the Parcel is the lightening rod for modern complaints about over-the-top children's parties and mollycoddled kids. It's a rare occasion that today's child-rearing is discussed without a complaint about Pass the Parcel and how "these days every kid has to get a prize".

Blah blah blah.

OK, there IS a little something in every layer and every kid does get a turn, but the main prize is still at the end, and is still the most special.  Plus, Pass The Parcel has always been rigged. When I was a kid the usual way was to have a few small prizes in some of the layers (not usually all), and it was a given that the birthday child would never win the main prize. Every kid got a turn to unwrap a layer, as they do now. At some parties, every layer had a prize, as now.

I will say, for the parent running the birthday party, Pass the Parcel is a bastard to execute. You need to have the right number of layers, and enough little generic gifts, to make the job as easy as possible (don't try and alternate "boy" gifts and "girl" gifts). If people don't RSVP or don't turn up, you will have too few or too many layers necessitating a quick count and desperate dash to the bedroom to whip off/add layers before starting the game. You need help from other parents to ensure each child only unwraps one layer, and the discarded newspaper layers don't clutter up the floor and cause confusion. You will have every parent watching and making little anxious comments every now and then pretending they are not watching hawk-eyed to make sure their kid gets their turn. And then you have to carefully stop the music at the right child each time - though after some time the kids will start to help, as they all know it's rigged and they all keep track of who hasn't had a turn. It's a strange game - a mutually maintained fiction between parents and children where no one admits that everyone knows what's going on.

Lolly Bags

When I was a kid, your lolly bag included a piece of birthday cake and lollies, and you were sometimes handed a balloon on a string on your way out.  Now the kids eat the cake at the party, and the lolly bag contains lollies, an un-blown-up balloon and a couple of trinket toys that probably cost less than the lollies. Same difference really. Like Pass the Parcel, today's "goody bags" often attract criticism along the lines of "these days every kid has to get a gift" but the reality is the "gift" is a plastic ring and a mini water pistol, so it's not a big deal.

In fact when I was a kid our lolly bags used to sometimes contain this stuff too - I have dim memories of super bouncy balls and those little mini plastic men with parachutes attached to them.

So I think what I'm saying is, parties like everything have evolved from what they were in 1975, but they still have the same meaning and serve the same purpose in a child's life as they ever did.

Kids' parties. Love em or hate em?

Sep 12, 2012

Barbie Science

One of my favourite science bloggers on Twitter, Christie Wilcox ("NerdyChristie"), retweeted a story from Scientific American last night which had been picked up by biologist Miriam Goldstein.
(As you can see, attributing stories found via Twitter can get quite complex)

The Trouble With Barbie Science
Recruiting women into the sciences with girly images can backfire

READ this if you have girls, or are a girl, and RELATE.

With all the best intentions in the world, there are attempts being made to attract girls to "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and maths) using "girly" aesthetics. The intention is not evil but to get girls away from thinking "that's boring" or "that's a boy thing".

Any parent (that's all of us, right?) who has sighed in frustration at the "pinkification" of everything for girls, will probably be gritting their teeth a little by now.

On Twitter, Miriam Goldstein compared the pinkification of science to [unintentionally] saying to girls: "See girls? It's OK to be smart as long as you conform to the feminine ideal!"

But not only is the message going out unintentionally problematic - it appears not to work.

Two scientists ran a study gauging the impact on girls' interest in STEM after viewing different types of female role model: "girly" STEM women, non-"girly" STEM women, "girly" other women and non-"girly" other women.
You may or may not be surprised to hear the outcome of the experiment. Girls became LEAST interested in STEM after seeing the "girly" STEM models.

The scientists' conclusion was that the "Barbie Scientist" role models were too daunting - being super-smart and successful PLUS girly and sexy is just too damn high a bar to reach. Girls see this and doubt they can do it, so they abandon any interest.

I absolutely agree with this interpretation. I have never articulated it like that, but have had the same heart-sinking feeling myself on occasion and hesitate to present some of these types of images to my girls for the same reason. It's the same reason I feel conflicted over Barbies with cool careers.

Between the ages of 5 and 35, girls are swimming in pressure to be hot. Not just pretty - but glamorous and sexy and confident and flirty, as well as organised, healthy and cool. Once upon a time, applying oneself to "neutral" or "tomboy" pursuits was a way to get a pass on some of this pressure. No longer.

So... You mean I STILL have to be sexy even if I'm successful and super-smart? Do I NEVER get a break from this stuff?

Poor girls!

The only good thing? I sense we're at a tipping point on the pinkification thing. Change, at last, is a-coming.

Cartoon by Zack Weiner at SMBC Comics (embedding allowed)

Sep 11, 2012

New Glasses

Two years after getting my first reading glasses, I have just replaced them. In the last few weeks I was reading without them more often than with them, so it was time for a new prescription.

I have loved my reading glasses. I've had minor eye-sight problems since my teens when I contracted a flu-related virus which scarred my retinas and made me intolerant of sunlight for years. Anytime I went outside without sunglasses my eyes would weep and hurt, so I had to wear sunglasses all the time, even if the sun wasn't that strong.

Which sometimes made me look like a bit of a try-hard.

Image courtesy of

That was the end of my twenty-twenty childhood vision. But while my eyesight was no longer perfect, it wasn't bad enough to need glasses. I have an astigmatism and for nearly twenty years I used to read with one eye shut to focus (at least when I was alone at home).

Once I started Working With Computers it all went to hell. My weepy-sore eyes hit me more often and I finally twigged that I needed glasses after realising I was exhausted and headachy every night, and my eyes stung by Friday.

My first reading glasses, two years ago, changed my life. It was like a miracle - I could see like I used to! I could read easily! Without headaches! What a dork I was that I hadn't checked this out earlier.

But as we all know, once you start wearing glasses, your eyesight only gets worse, so after eighteen months I felt my glasses becoming less effective and began reading more often without them. Because I'm an idiot I did this for another six months before realising my eyes were sore and I was putting off reading for pleasure because it was getting too hard.

So, I took myself off for my overdue eye test...

Cartoon via

...and got two new pairs of glasses.

One in New Hipster:

One in Designer Steel:

Yeah baby!

What has changed your life lately?

Sep 9, 2012

Listography: Top 5 Songs I Grew Up To

I've missed the last couple, but it's Listography time again - yay!

Listography is run by Kate Takes 5. This time the theme is songs we grew up with.

Here are mine - but man, it's impossible to stop at five...

Abba, Hasta Manana

It wasn't their best, but it was very popular in Australia in the 70s, and was often heard in the background during musical chairs games at kids' parties, or on TV sung by an earnest child in a dinner jacket on Young Talent Time. It was also the first words of a foreign language I learned. My dad had travelled South America on business and told me Hasta Manana meant 'Until tomorrow' - he was so learned and sophisticated...
MEMORY BONUS: the video has the cat dresses!!

Rod Stewart, Do You Think I'm Sexy?

Massively popular song in the mid-to-late 70s, and I still like it.
Was not keen on mullet-headed Rod dancing around the stage in tights during this period, but my older cousin was in love with him.
MEMORY BONUS: like most videos of the time, contains a soft-focus image of a blonde lady with very glossy red lips

Michael Jackson, Thriller

The mini-movie video; the scary special effects; the dancing; Vincent Price and the way he pronounced "eeeeviiilll".... It was revolutionary! It is also entwined forever in my memory with my cousin's jealousy-inducing new "ghetto blaster" which had TWO tape decks and the impressive new "soft eject" feature. Technology overload!
MEMORY BONUS: the girl in the video is wearing stretch chambray pedal pushers!

The Knack, My Sharona

This has very specific memories for me. When I was 10 and 11 we lived in Los Angeles and I went to Jean Thorman elementary school in Tustin. The school was connected to a junior high school campus, and on some mornings before school my best friend Teresa and I would go and sit there and listen to the songs the high school kids played on the jukebox. (Yes, they had a jukebox). As it was 1980, the songs were always either Devo, Whip It, or The Knack, My Sharona. Still love them both.


Olivia Newton John, Physical

Olivia Newton John had been trying for some time to shake off her "good girl" image, but it was this that finally did it. 1981 - we were all in shock. SHOCK I tell you! The suggestive body language (for then, and for her, it was), and those SHOCKING lyrics: "you know what I mean", and even worse, "horizontally" - oh my gosh.
Watching it now it is funny how completely UNsexy the video is.
MEMORY BONUS: sweatbands!

Honorable mentions - another 5, ok 6:

Johnnie Wakelin and the Kinshasa Band, Black Superman (Muhammad Ali). MOHAMMAD ALI. He was huge. He had a song about him!

Jim Croce, You Don't Mess Around With Jim. Family drives in the Ford sedan. Silver seat belt buckles burning hot from the sun. 8-track. Whole family singing.

Phil Collins, In The Air Tonight. 1985: Live Aid!

Sting, Russians . Cold War memories.

Men At Work, Downunder. 1983. Australia winning the America's Cup. Vegemite earrings. Australian flag tote bags. And this song everywhere.

Split Enz, Six Months In A Leaky Boat - I was 12, living in New Zealand, and this was banned on the radio during the Falkland Wars. Oh, such different times...

And the rest:

Abba, When I Kissed the Teacher, Voulez Vous, Money Money Money...
Joe Dolci, Shaddap You Face
Leo Sayer, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing
Adam Ant, Goody Two Shoes
Shakin Stevens, Behind the Green Door
David Bowie, Putting Out Fire With Gasoline
Tears for Fears, Shout
Real Life, Send Me An Angel
Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights
Tim Finn, There's a Fraction Too Much Friction (shut up, I liked it)
Stevie Wonder, I Just Called To Say I Love You
John Denver, Country Roads
Neil Diamond, Holly Holy, I Am I Said
Air Supply, Making Love Out of Nothing At All
Carly Simon, You're So Vain
Helen Reddy, I Am Woman
Johnny Mathis, Chances Are
Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Simon and Garfunkel,The Boxer, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Cecilia, El Condor Pasa
Fleetwood Mac, Dreams, Second Hand News, Rhiannon
Peaches and Herb, Shake Your Groove Thing
Chic, Le Freak
Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive
Dave Dobbyn, Slice of Heaven
Billy Idol, Rebel Yell
Billy Joel, Piano Man, Allentown
James Taylor, Witchita Lineman
Elvis Presley, In the Ghetto
Suzie Quattro, Devilgate Drive
Queen, Another One Bites The Dust
Blondie, Call Me
Madonna, Into The Groove
Sheena Easton, Morning Train
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Islands In the Stream
Prince, When Doves Cry, Let's Go Crazy, Sign O' The Times
Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown
America, Horse With No Name
Little River Band, Lonesome Loser
Juice Newton, Queen of Hearts
Kim Carnes, Bette Davis Eyes
Bonnie Tyler, Total Eclipse of the Heart
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, I Love Rock and Roll
The Go-Gos, Our Lips Are Sealed
Aha, Take On Me
Wham, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (shut up, you know you did too)
Duran Duran, Hungry Like the Wolf
Coconut Rough, Sierra Leone
The Police, Every Breath You Take
Toto, Africa
Laura Branigan, Gloria
Dire Straits, I Want My MTV

... I think I now need to load up my iTunes with some of these.

Your turn! What are your top 5?
Join the linky here:


Sep 6, 2012

An Unscientific Study: Does Wild Wind Affect Kids' Behaviour?

Yesterday here in Melbourne town we had some very wild windy weather. Winds up to 140km/hr hit much of the state causing havoc.

Photo of St Kilda beach, not near my house,
and not taken yesterday. Similar weather though.

In my house some havoc reigned as well, albeit not as serious as those houses which suffered damage- not to make light of that by any means. The kids were unsettled all day, and a little freaked out at night-time when the winds picked up and we put the dog outside. M was frightened poor Harry would "get blown away", and while I assured her that could never happen, it did give me pause for our fluffy little guy for a moment.

Harry attends to the call of the mild

(He was fine, if a little alarmed).

Today I noticed this post from No Excuses! which grabbed my attention thusly:

"When ever there is gale forced winds, children (and animals too) tend to play up big time. They are rowdy, psycho, loud, full of energy and just constantly on the go (more so than normal).  To sum it up in one word they are WILD."

This reminded me that my cousin - who has had kids a bit longer than me and is a wise and practical mum - has always said the same thing, that kids turn rowdy in windy weather. And that, subsequent to her pointing it out, I had noticed the same thing myself. At least I think I have.

Intrigued, I hit Google with "kids behaviour and windy weather" and found quite a bit:

  • From the UK Daily Mail, an article from April 2011, "Strike-hit school Governor blames pupil anarchy ... on wind and rain"
  • From a Montessori pre-school in Maine, USA, a blog post from October 2011, "Windy Days at School" - which includes this lovely line: "After 5 years of observing children’s behavior I can accurately report windy days= silly days, even in a Montessori classroom"
  • a post on the blog of the author of What to Expect When You're Expecting, from August 2011, "Child Behaviour Problems: Rain, Rain Go Away". This post refers to "hot, dry and windy" weather and to a book which posits that "wind can make people psychologically unsettled because it changes the ion content of the air which in turn can effect blood pressure, allergies and a whole host of physical systems "
  • Discussion forums on ABC Online, where one person posits that wind represents "tactile, auditory and visual stimulation" and many report the same impact on horses galloping in paddocks on windy days
  • Discussion forum on Yahoo Answers, where the best answer referred to ions and chemicals impacting behaviour, and also (I like this a lot): "it is possible that truly windy days bring forth excitement from the child- i am a young adult and the strong winds excite me still as it is unusual and partially scary watching trees bend in odd ways. it may simply be a release of adrenalin"
  • Discussion forums on parenting blogs such as Essential Baby
  • Personal blog posts by parents, such as this one

So what to think, what to think? Is this a real thing? Or is it a myth, as most serious studies infer is the belief that the full moon influences behavior? (I know many, many people swear it does, but I admit I am not a believer on this one).

Does it sit in myth-busted but much contested territory like the idea that sugar causes kids to be hyperactive?

I am conflicted on some of these beliefs. On the one hand as a respecter of science, I'm not keen to argue with empirical evidence, and you have to listen when multiple studies show no valid causation link. On the other hand, it irks me when the real-world, long-term and consistent experience of mothers and teachers is dismissed out of hand because someone can't replicate it in a lab. That, I believe, happens a little too often.

Does the weather (especially wind) influence behaviour?

Well first, let me look to my own behaviour. There's wind and there's wind. Cold, blustery, rainy windy weather is not my thing, and it does not affect me, other than make me cold and annoyed. But I love hot dry windy days (though I know they're a fire hazard), and I do perk up and feel outdoorsy and energetic in them. As a teenager I remember my sister comparing me to our red setter on a windy day - which was flattering, as you can imagine. But I'll admit the comparison was fair.

Thank you, Microsoft clipart. Not a red setter but close enough.

So I relate to the Best Answer poster in Yahoo Answers and also to the poster on the ABC Science thread who wrote "I'm like a pixie on speed on a windy day".

What about my kids? Well, yesterday on our gusty Melbourne day my kids were a handful, but can I blame the wild windy weather?

A lot had gone on in our house of late. In the last 3 months, the kids have been on an overseas odyssey, I've broken my arm, our work and school routines have changed, and the kids have experienced some of the usual but upsetting schoolyard dramas that inhabit the world of girls.

This past week I had an operation to pin my arm and then was sick. Yesterday was my first day back working (from home thankfully), and it coincided with the Victorian teachers' strike which meant the kids were home too. My mother was on hand to manage the kids so I could work, but it was a strange day. The kids were unsettled and were not used to having me up and about. I had just resurfaced from a weird lost week that began with an operation and two days of drugged-out (blissful) recovery, followed by 3 days of illness, which took me out of our family's action for 6 strange, bedridden days.  The upheaval to our family life had left all of us tired and unsettled.

So... we are a long way from a controlled experiment into the weather's impact on kids' behaviour at my place.  But I'm not ruling it out.

What about you? Does the wind affect you or your kids? Tell me a story!


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