Apr 29, 2013

I Need A New Blog Name

I need a new blog name.

I've never been happy with the name of my blog, nor with the URL - especially since the two don't match.

When I set up my blog I wanted to convey these themes: that I'm a working parent, that I do salaried work, that I work(ed) full time, that I sometimes struggle to manage work and parenting. I also wanted to reference that I love reading and researching and working things out and wondering about things.

Every title I tried was already in use or a bit lame.

Finally I went with "Working Through It" and tried to ignore the connotations of drudgery and being a "hard worker" (ugh) that went with it. I meant it to mean like, I'm working it out as I go, and I'm also working, while being a parent. (Yes, genius, I know). I figured I could change it later.

I have registered a new domain name some time back that I quite like (but don't love) but the title is a complete change and here's my stupid little problem with it (talk about your first world problems - check this one). You see that little icon up on your web browser (hopefully) above my blog - the little black handbag with the "WTI" on it? That's my Favicon which I am really fond of. And I quite like "WTI" even if I'm not mad keen on "Working Through It". And see, my new domain name has two words instead of three, and a two-letter abbreviation doesn't work as well as a three-letter one. Also, those two letters that would form the initials in my Favicon would be "SM".

That's not good, is it.

So I'm a bit stuck, because (a) I can't change both my URL and my blog title, or my few but wonderful followers may lose me, (b) I don't like either my blog title or my URL so I can't decide which one to dump, even though I really want to dump both, and (c) I still can't think of a good blog name.

Have you ever regretted your blog name?
Ever considered changing it?
Have you ever changed it?

Apr 28, 2013

Science with Kids: Jelly Taste Test

Here's a fun activity that is cheap and easy to do, and the only call on your planning skills is to make the jelly ahead of time.

My kids know I love a few things that I'm often trying to foist on them: drawing, reading, walking, sky watching and science (whenever something is fun or interesting I point out how it relates to art, science or maths - in a probably vain attempt to avoid them thinking these subjects are too hard or too boring when it's time for them to choose electives in high school).

So I presented this as a fun thing and an interesting thing: "I wonder if we'll be able to tell what flavour is what? Gee, it's kind of like an Inquiry [school science] activity, huh?"

The Jelly Taste Test

Hypothesis: that we wouldn't be able to distinguish all the flavours blindfolded.

Test method: blindfolded taste test

  • children
  • jelly made up in various flavours, in separate containers
  • blindfold 
  • spoon(s)

  • I chose 4 flavours that were very different to each other, to make some of the guessing easy. But you could devilishly try blueberry and bubblegum (blue and blue), or raspberry, strawberry and port wine (red, red, red), or lemon and pineapple (yellow and yellow).

Beware of:
  • attempts to peek, grumpiness at failing to guess correctly

Pretty much as you'd expect:

We first did this about 6 months ago and the kids loved it, and last week they requested it again.

This time I let them each choose 2 flavours of jelly crystals and made up the jelly one colour at a time, pouring each one into 2 jam jars, before rinsing the mixing bowl and starting the next one.

We got through the first round pretty quickly, and found the same results we had last time: citrus flavours and lighter colours are easier to distinguish than reds and blues.

We added a second difficulty level: two colours per bite.

Then a third: three colours. This was impossible.

When we'd exhausted all taste test possibilities, we overlapped colours on the spoons and examined the  new colours produced.

Jelly is so pretty!

After that, the kids just got stuck into eating the rest of the jelly.

Yeah science!!

Apr 26, 2013

Motherhood and Autonomy

Here is one of those fantastic one-line quotations that just says so much:

Forced motherhood is a kind of slavery, because motherhood and autonomy can never coexist.

This was in the closing paragraph of Tanya Gold's excellent piece "The Anti-Abortion Lobby is Barbaric" (The Guardian Comment Is Free 22 April 2013).  (Thanks to Glosswatch for the breakaway quote and link to the article).

Leaving aside the abortion issue, just focus on this portion:
motherhood and autonomy can never coexist.

I think that little phrase is perfect.

When I was a kid I never wanted children, and my kids say they don't either. This is a natural reaction: a child sees how hard its parents work and knows kids are all-consuming; a daughter sees her mother weighed down with the burden and responsibility of parenthood in a way her father is not quite - and baulks at taking that on.

Of course kids saying they don't want kids when they grow up means nothing much - most will want them when they're grown just as I did, suddenly and fiercely, in my thirties.

But it does point to the truth that everyone sees: motherhood is all-consuming and forever. Of course I should say "parenthood", and the rise of hands-on dads and fathers taking on primary carer roles and writing and talking about it is a wonderful, wonderful thing which is changing the world.  But all over the world and even in our corner of it, it remains true that motherhood for most mothers takes over a woman's body, mind and soul, her daily life, her working style, her choices and the trajectory of her life, more totally than it does for most men.

'Mother and Child' 2010 - Nationaal Archief via Flickr

I often think of all those writers and painters in the past, married to women who were also writers, painters, sculptors or dancers, and who had children. Funny how the men's art was not much affected, while the women were far less prolific.

'13th Century Mother' by Hans via Flickr

Of course many women, especially writers, weave motherhood into their art. And many find motherhood a source of joyous creativity.  Mothers who aren't artists often feel that creativity too: times when you are in lockstep with your child and buzzing with ideas and happiness and competence.

Sometimes motherhood can feel like a delicious, secret club that men have passed up.

But there is no denying that having children curtails your freedom. Everyone knows this, and you know it before you have them. 

But still, somehow, it is a massive shock when this hits you for real. You might be nursing a fussing baby, or realising you are stuck at home for hours while they sleep, or dragging yourself out of bed when you really, really, REALLY don't want to get up. Then you're suddenly, truly aware that you can no longer do whatever you want to do.

Then there is the even worse realisation, after the first few times you have worried or panicked or seen some horrifying future for your child: this worry and fear is forever. It is never, never lessening, and it is never, never going away. Oh f...., I remember thinking, as this dawned on me. No one would ever take this on if they fully realised what lay in wait. 

If you get some time to yourself, it is limited. Very limited. I still remember the disbelief I felt when pregant while reading some tips for mothers on how to relax and recharge in a 15 minute or 30 minute window while children were occupied. 15 minutes. 15 minutes?? 

Or you get a night off, and you go out for dinner. A grown-up dinner with your friends, or a special night with your partner. And what do you think about? Your kids. (At least part of the time).

'Mother's Day'
Mother and child in Ubud, Bali, 2008 - by purplbutrfly via Flickr

Of course, there is more freedom as kids get older. But you are never "free and clear". You are never a totally autonomous being, ever again.

'A Canadian mother, Mrs Jack Wright, says goodbye to her two sons
Ralph Wright and David Wright, whom she leaves in a day nursery
while she works at a part-time job' - Toronto, 1943.
Library and Archives Canada, via Flickr

But then, who is?

No one wants complete autonomy, because that only comes with no human connections and no responsibilities.  We need both to live and thrive.

'Mother and Son', Rio Juma, Amazon, 2006
by pellaea via Flickr

'Mother Love' by ulfhams_vikingur via Flickr

Apr 22, 2013

Everyday Beauty: Other People's Gardens

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I have garden envy, sometimes.

My husband and I are not gardeners. I have attempted garden beautification a few times, but I never follow through. Anyone (even me) can weed a flower bed, plant some stuff and throw down mulch, but the thing is you also have to stand there and water it each night for a little while, and keep up the weeding and the mulching, and remember to check on the health of those flowers every now and then.

That's the bit I don't do so well.

For a long time when my kids were little I defended myself with "time". "I've got no TIME for gardening!" "Who has TIME for that?" etc.

Now I have the time. But I have found, contrary to what I expected, I prefer to spend that time reading, tooling around on the computer, watching Breaking Bad and playing dumb games on my phone.

Y. is not much better. He has grand plans for vegetable patches and fruit trees (in the FRONT yard of course - he is Greek after all), and every now and then he will do a blitz, attacking overgrown trees, bushes and rockeries and making an impressive improvement in a two day rampage. But again, that tends to be the end of it for six months.

So gardening is not our thing.

In contrast, our next door neighbors have a beautiful garden, with lush soft green grass, pretty flowers, a rosebush hedge and gorgeous little rockeries. Our neighbors across the road have a plainer garden (probably more my style to be honest), which is trim and neat, with soft green grass and tidy green stuff around the edges.

Our kids nag us a lot, to the effect "I wish WE had a pretty garden", and "I wish WE had flowers", and "Why don't WE have a nice garden?". And I tell them, a garden is a lot of work (or money).  You see, the thing that does reduce my envy somewhat is that every second day you can see our neighbors working quite hard in their gardens, mowing, trimming, weeding, mulching and planting. It's a big, ongoing thing.

Once upon a time maintaining a nice garden was part of the deal you accepted when you moved to the suburbs. Saturdays were spent washing and maintaining the car, mowing lawns, scooping up dog poop, raking leaves, sweeping porches, and weeding and trimming the garden. It was part of the package and you had to do it if you didn't want neighbors like my dad talking about your house looking "like a rental property".

These days that social pressure is... well, not gone, but lessened.

Hence, our garden.

But I do enjoy the beauty of my neighbors' gardens, on our walks around the blocks.

Thank you neighbors,
for beautifying our walks.

Next door

This one is from my garden

Apr 15, 2013

Dear Daughter: This is Why I Work

Wow. This post, on the Huffington Post parenting.com site: Dear Daughter, Here's Why I Work.

Some snippets:
Although it felt surreal to walk out the door and leave you behind the day my maternity leave ended, and I couldn't quite believe I was doing it until I was, it was also a relief to relax into some normalcy after the wondrous upheaval you brought to my life.
There is a great little list with the reasons the author works, including because it makes her happy, because they need the income, and more. And then this:
I work because -- despite my being the parent who's almost always the one walking through the door at 6 pm, the one who rarely travels for the work, the one who's keeping track of the fact that the permission slip for the field trip is due tomorrow -- you'd never ask your father why he works. His love is a given that long hours at work do nothing to diminish.
I work because even at your young age you've absorbed the subtle message that women's work is less important and valuable -- and that the moms who really love their kids don't do it.
I work because by the time you have your own daughter, I cross my fingers this will not be so.

Amen to that.

Apr 13, 2013

Reasons My Kids Are Fighting

I loved this blog post "Reasons My Kids Are Fighting" by Free Range in Suburbia. Outstanding.
Shae kindly agreed to let me copy.

So here goes.

Reasons my kids are fighting:

  • because one is playing with the iPad so the other has to make do with the iPhone 
  • because they can't agree on a DVD to watch and I make the SPECTACULAR mistake of allowing one of them to watch a DVD on the TV and the other to watch one on my laptop - then they fight over the TV or fight over the laptop - and I have neither TV nor laptop
  • because it's Sunday and there is only one newspaper delivered so they can't both go out and pick up one section each like they do on Saturday

Here are more, in their own words:

  • because she's singing along to my favourite song and I didn't sing along to hers
  • because she's playing too loudly
  • because she always wants to watch Tinkerbell and I hate it
  • because I never get to watch Tinkerbell
  • because she's looking out "my" car window *
  • because she always says "me first" 
  • because she sat in Daddy's chair yesterday and now it's my turn 
  • because she made her teddy bear the girl and she says mine has to be the boy and that's not fair
  • because we're playing Power Rangers and she wants to be the pink girl but I said it first 
  • because she said she's good with cats and she's not 
  • because I gave her one of my magazine pictures and she didn't give me anything
  • because she's stretching out in the bath and I'm all squashed
  • because she used all the bubbles in the bath
  • because she scratched me by mistake and didn't say sorry
  • because I had that idea and now she's doing it too
  • because I liked One Direction first and now she wants a One Direction CD 

Additional, 14 April 2013:
  • because she drew herself pretty and drew me funny 

All siblings fight. Mine aren't too bad. They play together and get on very well. But they still fight every day.

I think my sister and I were worse. I do remember my dad one day getting completely exasperated with us, and yelling at us about how much we fought, saying, "You two fight MORE than other kids, MORE than NORMAL. It's not NORMAL. You're NOT NORMAL!"

Most of the time my kids' fighting doesn't even bother me - much. Until suddenly it does. Then I snap and yell or say something like "Oh for god's sake, can you two NOT play a SINGLE GAME without FIGHTING?"

And in the back of my head echoes my dad's exasperated cry "It's not normal!"
But of course, it is.

* That made me laugh when I read it on Shae's blog, because my kids just had the exact same fight this week.   In fact I think my sister and I fought over this one too. It's a thing!

Apr 11, 2013

If Your Kid Gobbles the Marshmallow, Take Heart

If you have ever watched a video of kids being given the marshmallow test and had the feeling your kid would not pass, you're not alone. I have too.

The marshmallow test was devised in the 1960's and is one of the most well-known experiments in psychology. A child is offered the choice between one marshmallow now, or two if they wait. The researcher explains the test, places one marshmallow in front of the child, and leaves the room for 15 minutes. Children will either succumb to the "now" and eat the marshmallow, or will wait (most with much difficulty, providing extra amusement for viewers of the experiment on YouTube videos). Those who wait are rewarded with two marshmallows when the researcher returns.

This test has been thought to hold ramifications for life success. Successive studies and theories have posited a biological basis for delayed gratification, with correlation between how well children delay gratification and how well they do in life; longitudinal studies showed the children who waited for the two marshmallows had less obesity, higher academic performance, better relationships and more successful careers.

Cue uncomfortable feelings of parents like me watching these tests and just KNOWING their kid would fail.

Thankfully for us and our kids, more recent studies have put a different spin on this test.

A study last year concluded that kids who have experienced upheaval or unpredictability in their lives tended to eat the first marshmallow, and that this was for them the most rational choice - nothing to do with will power.

A study published last month has concluded that most examples of the marshmallow test were flawed, because the children did not truly understand how long it would be until the researcher returned. Therefore, with the timing of the two-marshmallow payoff uncertain, it made rational sense to eat the marshmallow available now.

And we all know how terrible children are at estimating time. Whether a child is told "15 minutes" or "in a little while" little kids have no idea how long that is going to be.

I'm pretty sure some kids are born with better self-control than others. Some probably also like marshmallows more than others. Some have more of a desire to please. And some get hungrier faster.

I guess the real take-away here is not to worry too much about these psychological tests. They are fascinating and can tell us something, but they don't tell us everything.

Here is a clip of kids doing the marshmallow test.
And be warned: it is not very scientific to do this test on your own kids!

Apr 10, 2013

Marissa Mayer, Telecommuting and Workplace Flexibility

This is not a sponsored post but the link to the telecommuting benefits video was sent to me by OnlineMBA.com

So by now we're all aware of Marissa Mayer, new CEO of Yahoo, who has banned working from home. Reaction has mostly been negative. Richard Branson notably disagreed with it.

Donald Trump tweeted his support for Mayer's policy, but he has been in the minority. So either most people value workplace flexibility, or perhaps many secretly agree with Mayer but are hesitant to voice up and align themselves with someone like Trump. (And in fact others have written that his praise is probably not helpful for her)

Quite often when a woman rises to a position of power, there is surprise and disappointment that she doesn't do more to champion women, flexibility, etc. But the women who rise to the top are much like the men who rise to the top: driven, ambitious and very hard-working, with little understanding or tolerance for those who are not.  Why should they be otherwise? How would they have reached where they are, if they were otherwise?

Lionel Shriver wrote a great column in Slate about Margaret Thatcher, arguing that these women are in fact good for feminism:

Margaret Thatcher was a real feminist. Not for what she said but for what she did. She did not pursue justice for her gender; women's rights per se was clearly a low priority for her. She was out for herself and for what she believed in. If we had more feminists like Thatcher, we'd have vastly more women in Parliament and the US Senate, as well as more trees and fewer tedious television talk shows. More ''feminists'' like Thatcher, the first woman to lead a major Western democracy, and young women would be clamouring to be called one, too.
(Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/muscular-feminist-the-sisterhood-despised-20130409-2hjc4.html#ixzz2Q3FX1pZr)

My own immediate response to Mayer's ban on working from home was annoyance. She is having a two-week maternity leave, no doubt employs a nanny, and is planning to set up a nursery in her office. Three points here, obviously.

One: It would be nice if the occasional high-level women took longer maternity leave so the idea is not perpetuated that this type of leave is a 'holiday' and taking longer than 3 months means you're not committed to your job. Her choice though, of course. I've nothing against the short maternity leave itself - her child will be more than fine.

Two: It's much easier to manage work without flexible options like working from home when you have the top job with high pay and perks that other women in your company don't have.

Three: the nursery in the office: how is working from home worse than baby-ing at the office? I know, at the office you are "present" as Mayer argues everyone has to be. But how "present" are you going to be while settling or feeding a baby?

My second reaction was doubt about my first reaction. After all, Marissa Mayer is not a newbie or an idiot. She's an extremely experienced high-level manager. I have no idea what the culture at Yahoo is like; I can imagine a company that has stagnated a little and may be struggling with morale and engagement. Perhaps in that context some changes need to be made. I am sure she's made this decision from a smart place.

I can't speak for everyone, but here's how telecommuting benefits me:

  • I don't want to work full-time from home. I prefer being in the office, as a rule.
  • Working from home is fantastic for getting the sort of work done where you need to concentrate and work uninterrupted.
  • When I work from home it's usually because I have a specialist's appointment or something on at the school (and no, I don't attend every special event at school). On those days I love the chance to work at home, because it means I can prepare a slow-cook dinner, do a load of laundry, walk the dog and pick up my kids soon after 5pm, and still get a full day's work in.

I would love to work one day a week from home, as a regular thing. The main reason I don't is my internet connection is not reliable enough or fast enough to make it work on a regular basis.
And there's a cat.

Also, because despite the hassles and cost of commuting, I do like going into the office and working there.

But plenty of people can and do work full-time from home and this has been around long enough that we know it works.

For those who do predominantly technical or phone-based roles, there's no reason why they can't work at home, as long as the support and tech is there, and they are accountable for producing good work.

It should go without saying, if you work from home you still need childcare. That's a big one, and essential for both getting enough work done and keeping the trust and respect of your colleagues. You have to put in a really strong day's work if you want people to trust you with it and believe you're not sitting on the couch watching TV.

(Perhaps at this point picture in your head an image from The Oatmeal's brilliant cartoon 'Why working from home is both awesome and horrible')

Online MBA have put together a short video about the benefits of working from home. These include increased productivity and morale, and reduced costs. You can see the video and read the transcript here.

I am a big believer in working from home and in workplace flexibility (with accountability).  I enjoy my job and my workplace and I have a lot of respect for my manager and boss at work. I generally only work 8.30 to 5, but I'm available on the mobile anytime (including my day off) and I will regularly work overtime on projects including some nights at home. I really, really appreciate the flexibility I am allowed to get my work done in a way that suits both me and the company.

For an opposing case supporting Mayer's stance, read here.

What do you think? Do you / could you / would you work from home?

Apr 8, 2013

The End of Cursive

Recently in a doctor's waiting room while flicking through a National Geographic I found a little article about the decline of cursive writing ('Disappearing Act', National Geographic, July 2012).

I learned cursive writing in school in the US where I went to primary school in 1979, 1980 and 1981 (Grades 4 and 5 and a bit of Grade 6).

Palmer script as I learned it in the US as a child.
I still remember it perfectly.

Before that I'd been learning the simpler 'Victorian Modern Cursive' that is taught in schools in Australia - my kids are using it now.

Victorian Modern Cursive, from the back
of my daughters' school writing books

On my first day of school in LA we were given a writing assignment, and I looked at the curly cursive letters on the board and freaked. I put my hand up and when my teacher came over I whispered, in shame and panic, that I couldn't do that kind of writing. She told me it was fine and to just use my normal writing. So naturally instead of doing that I invented some weird hybrid between the writing I knew and what I could see on the board, and I decided that I would be using the same writing as everyone else by the next day.

I don't write like this naturally anymore, but it easily comes back to me:

In 1982 I started school in New Zealand. I was in Form Two (grade six equivalent) and I think from memory they were doing some sort of cursive, but I was allowed to stick with my American writing which I did, though again I changed it a bit to fit in. I dropped the curly capitals for straight printed capitals, and I gradually dropped my cursive r's and s's for versions closer to print.

Once I was in high school, I don't think anyone cared how we wrote, as long as it was legible. At university, we took notes by hand in all lectures and tutorials, and all our essays were handwritten. I could write for hours before my hand cramped up, unlike now.

I now write in my own confused scrawl.

I write in Victorian Modern if I'm writing with my kids, but I still find it a funny, ugly-looking script. I always think it looks weird when I see adults writing it (people my age and younger). It looks like children's writing. And can I share how much I hate the lower-case p?

My kids are using the non-joined up version, and it's probably the only version they'll ever use.

These days, more schools are dropping cursive, as there is no longer any need for it. I'd be surprised if kids growing up now ever use handwriting in future for anything other than very short simple notes.

If you grew up learning cursive, your first reaction might be sadness or outrage at this calamity, but you would be wrong. You might be surprised to learn (as I was) that cursive only came about because it was the easiest way of writing with a quill and ink, to lift the pen off the page as little as possible. Ever since the printing press, cursive has been on a decline in favor of block printing (National Geographic, July 2012).

Even my American Palmer script is a simplified version which was no doubt reviled in its day. My mother writes her name in lovely old-fashioned cursive prettier than mine, and my grandmother used to have even lovelier handwriting.

Spencerian script - via Wikipedia Commons.
Beautiful but am I alone in associating this with
drafty old school rooms and slaps with a wooden ruler?

So farewell, beautiful cursive. I'll miss you sometimes. You've given me some good memories. But times change and so does writing. If it didn't then where would we be?

Apr 4, 2013

Be A Late Merger, But Don't Be A Dick

Apparently, road rage has increased dramatically in recent years. I don't think that's surprising news to anyone.

I think the way people get angry on the roads has changed.  I'm pretty sure that in the past people yelled and honked and gestured at each other more, but there was less getting out of the car and attacking the other driver with fists and baseball bats (which you just happen to be carrying in the boot).

These days there's less of the former but a lot more of the latter. In fact I think there's less of the former BECAUSE there's more of the latter. I myself no longer engage in angry beeps, drag races at the lights or angry headlight flashing, because it no longer seems wise to do it.

Or perhaps I'm just getting old.

Last month Fairfax ran a poll asking readers what behaviour angered them most on the roads. The top voted items were:

Late "push-in" mergers..........27% 
Drivers on the phone and not paying attention..........17%

"Failing to indicate lane changes", "cyclists flouting road rules" and "drivers travelling too slowly" all pulled just 8% each. "Travelling at the speed limit in right hand lanes" got 7% and "parking aggression" 1%.

If I had to nominate the things that rile ME the most, they'd be:
Sudden lane changes that force you to drop back
Failure to indicate
People merging badly onto freeways
Drivers running red lights

Until fairly recently, I would have nominated late merging. But I'm a late convert to late merging. In fact, I was converted by reading Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), the first chapter of which is all about how the author became a late convert to late merging.

The thing is, you're supposed to merge late. The most efficient way for all traffic to move is to use all lanes until a lane ends. If you're like I was, you would see the left lane ending up ahead, think "Better do the right thing and move over", and merge right, silently seething at those who zipped up the left and merged only at the last minute. Who do they think they are, I'd fume.

But I was wrong. It creates more inefficiency merging early, because those who do make the other lanes move slower, and the left lane goes to waste.

So now I merge later, BUT... there is still a right way to do this. I still get irked by those who try to zip past you when you are merging and sneak in ahead, or those who try to push in after a car you've just let in - it's supposed to be like a zipper, one car from each lane in turn.

I'm a big believer in doing the right thing on the roads. It's good karma: your tolerant, polite behaviour reduces stress for others and increases the total sum of goodwill on the road, and may have a butterfly effect preventing an accident somewhere down the line. Or as The Plastic Mancunian says, "pay it forward".

My anti-road-rage philosophy can be summed up as follows:

Anti Road Rage Philosophy:
1. Apologize if you make a mistake (the little wave, the little grimace, the exaggeratedly mouthed "SORRY!")
2. If someone else makes a mistake, think (a) it's just a mistake and (b) have you ever done the same thing? (because at some point you have)
3. Be a late merger, but don't be a dick 

photo by PDXdj via Flickr Creative Commons

Apr 2, 2013

My TV Obsessions

The first one was Life on Mars. It was 2006 and I was often alone with two babies and at that stage I wasn't much into the internet. TV was my companion, and stuck in the house I watched a lot of it.

One night I stumbled onto this insanely good British mini series, a cop show with a twist. It was cool and dark and nostalgic without being camp or cute - there was no irony, just smart writing, a compelling plot and characters, and funny reminders of everyday life in the 1970's ("White dog shit," says Sam, staring at the footpath, "That takes me back.")

At that stage we had Foxtel (cut along with other non-essentials a couple of years later), and I think it was on UKTV. It was a repeat and they were screening each episode multiple times a week so I managed to catch most of the episodes of that first series over the next few weeks. Some time later, I bought series one and two on DVD - my first box set DVD series. The second series was as good as the first, and the ending was fantastic. I have to say, these British series that finish in two seasons are very satisfying.

I've watched Life on Mars probably 5 or 6 times - it was that good. I immersed myself in every episode and drank in every detail.

I spent some time briefly then with Vincent and Hustle, and got into Lost before abandoning it after two seasons in disgust. My next proper TV obsession was Mad Men. What's not to like? Everyone's favorite show and for good reason. I came to it late, as we'd cut Foxtel when it first came on and by the time it was screening on SBS some years later I couldn't get to the TV at the times it was on. I finally bought the first series on DVD, and was hooked immediately. I watched series two and three in quick succession, and finally got series four when it came out some time later.  I have recently bought series five, but haven't watched it yet, as I've been diverted by other obsessions....

Next was Homeland. I don't think I'd ever been as riveted by a TV show as I was by Homeland. By this stage I had found Twitter and found some fellow obsessives who tweeted funny and insightful things about the show and likely plot points, and whether or not Damian Lewis is hot (he is). There were also criticisms of Homeland and it's portrayal of Islam, and fair enough - but it's not as gung-ho as 24 and only almost as ridiculous. Anyway, I loved it.  The wait for series two seemed interminable.

But then I was done with season two of Homeland, and as season three was not coming any time soon, clearly I needed something else.

I was given two DVD box sets for my birthday last year: The Thick Of It and Boardwalk Empire. I had little knowledge of either, and it was a little while before I picked up Boardwalk Empire. I knew it was supposed to be good, but it didn't really grab me.  But that was only until I started watching it.... Obsession triggered! I got through seasons one and two pretty quickly and since I couldn't buy season three in the shops yet, I read the episode synopses on IMDB (not really as satisfying, but you do what you have to do).

By this stage I was a convert to the DVD box set (yes, ten years after everyone else). So I went and bought myself Once Upon a Time, as I'd missed it on TV and wanted to see it. Excellent! New obsession underway! Only problem was, that one was quite expensive, as it was new to DVD when I bought it. So while I do want to see season two, I won't be rushing into it, as even I find it quite silly to spend $60 on a DVD season and I won't be doing that again.

So once that was over, I decided I needed a series that had been around for awhile, which I could pick up cheap and have a few seasons available if I liked it. And thus I found my way to my current TV obsession, picking up season one for $20 and then quickly returning for seasons two, three and four:

"I am not in danger. I AM the danger!"

OH MY GOD. Is this THE best TV show ever made, or WHAT?

Actually I can't tell if it is or not - maybe it's just my current obsession. You see, when I'm in the middle of one of these, I have zero interest in any other TV show.  My previous TV obsessions fade to dim memory.  Why is that?  Well, you might respond, because you are a sad individual who needs to get out more. I will not argue that point, but I also think it is due to these factors:

1. Golden Age of Television. It has often been said we are enjoying a golden age of television, marked by original, clever writing and high production values. From The Sopranos onwards, TV drama series have never been so good. I don't think I found myself getting so obsessive before this, when the best that was out there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
2. Limited time for television. Unlike the old days (before children), these days I have very limited time for TV and whether I am scrambling to watch Homeland at 8.30, watching something on DVD or catching a missed episode on the free-to-air channel web viewers, I only have room in my life for ONE television show at a time. (OK, one plus Modern Family, which is my comedy extra). So that one television show has got to be extra good. And if they are extra good, they are addictive.
3. Fragmented attention span. The Internets have destroyed my concentration! I am still reading books, but fewer of them as my time is increasingly eaten away by Twitter, online news sites and, um, playing stupid games on my phone. Somehow at the end of a long day, a DVD is the easiest, most enjoyable option.  It's not just me. DVD box sets and downloading of TV series are booming. Can you even believe we used to wait a whole week between episodes in the olden days, when we watched shows on TV?

But anyway, there are specific extra reasons why Breaking Bad is my current addiction.

The premise is original and really well executed. The transformation of Walt from put-upon good guy to evil drug kingpin is compelling. The viewer goes from loving him to finding him firstly a bit off-putting, then unlikable and finally quite loathsome. His appearance changes too, so that by season four he is unrecognizable from how he was in season one. The protagonist starts off a good guy and ends up a really bad guy. I don't think there's been anything like it on TV before.

Plus it is funny. There's Jesse ("Yeah Mr White! Yeah Science!"). And there are scenes like this one from the season four finale, when Walt faces off against his crooked lawyer Saul's assistant:
Saul's assistant is shredding office documents, all the while ignoring the ringing telephone. There's a pounding at the front door, then the sound of shattering glass. It is Walter, who has broken in in hopes of locating Saul. Tired of another Walter White "emergency" she tells him he can have Saul's number for $20,000. Walter argues. She tells him $25,000. Walt advances on her menacingly, pauses, then says: "I'll be right back". He scrambles back through the broken door and goes to get her money. 

So at the moment I am HOOKED on Breaking Bad and I have no interest in any other show, including series 5 of Mad Men (sitting unwatched on my bookshelf) or hunting down series 3-5 of Boardwalk Empire.

ALL I care about is Walter White, Jesse, Skyler, Hank, Marie, Mike and Saul, and getting hold of season 5!

Meantime, I've read the synopses of every episode on IMDB, and watched every trailer and promo I can find on YouTube. So I know everything that happens, but still I am hungry for more. I must have season five!

Last night, in desperation, I bought season five on iTunes.

24 hours later, the first 3 episodes are still downloading, and my laptop is hot enough to fry eggs on. Will I blow up my computer in my obsession??

Meantime enjoy this Hardly Working video - which unfortunately I can't embed but which includes very good Jesse and Walt impressions, and which proves it's not just me addicted to Breaking Bad.

Do you have DVD obsessions? What's your current one?


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