Dec 31, 2014

A Good Idea and a Happy New Year

The last few years I've done a "Fairwell current year, here's what I did, here's what was good/bad" post on New Year'e Eve (where's the party, right). But this year of course Facebook has done that for us so no need! (joke)

Kate Takes 5 has done a nice 'fresh start' post at her blog, where she makes one simple resolution: identify what makes you happy, and resolve to do a little bit more of it.

Excellent idea, thought I.

The things that make me happy, but which I already do a lot of, are:
  • reading
  • hanging out with my kids, just talking, watching a movie together, etc
  • driving alone
I already do plenty of those, so that will continue.

The other things that make me happy, and which feed me, but which I don't do enough of, are:
  • writing
  • drawing
  • enjoying art
  • walking
  • being outside

old Life Magazine photo from Barnorama

So those are the things I will strive to do a little bit more in 2015.  To make room for those things, I will have to:
  • do better at sharing the mental and emotional work of parenting with the husband
  • share the organisational and responsible aspects of domesticity with the husband, because that crap is exhausting and will deplete all your joy

I did enjoy my 12 Resolutions challenge last year, and who knows, that may pop up again - but I like this simple, new resolution a lot.

In the meantime, Happy New Year to you, and may your last evening of 2014 be lovely.

Happy New Year!

Dec 30, 2014


We have a new cat! This is Inky.

We adopted her right before Christmas from the Lost Dogs Home, at North Melbourne. Their cat adoption page is here.  I was surprised how many cats there were, and how many of them are absolutely lovely. No scroungy, mean scratchy cats these - almost all are cuddly and affectionate, which just goes to show you how misunderstood cats tend to be (or how good our timing was maybe).

What's a little sad is how many stray cats there are.  The day we went to get ours, there were three other families there taking home a cat, and more on their way. And yet, a week later the Cat Adoption page is still at 7 pages, filled with half the same and another crop of 'new' homeless kitties. :(

So if you're in Melbourne and you've been looking for a cat, look no further. Here's why you should adopt one from a shelter. And if you're looking for a shelter, the Lost Dogs Home is a good one. The staff there are great with the animals, which get walked/played with and are given plenty of attention, and they educate and assist new owners without lecturing or over-the-top requirements to adopt.

Inky is one year old, female, and very cute. She's curious, confident and playful, and has settled into life in our house quite comfortably. She follows us around, does a very cute jump-rub move against our legs, and sleeps on the kids' beds, seemingly taking turns, though perhaps slightly more often with M. For this I am very thankful. Poor M's heartache over Tia was just gut-wrenching, and had not really abated after three months. A few days before Christmas once the kids were on holiday and I had a week off work, I put aside our plan to adopt in January and we went to the shelter to get our new cat.

Inky was not the prettiest of the bunch. She is extremely thin, and has an odd-shaped head, an uneven coat and weirdly splayed legs. But she's young and friendly and playful and sweet, which is exactly what you want.

Also, as she sleeps with the kids, it's them she wakes up at 6am, and M has been getting up each morning to feed her.  Perfect!

 Harry is not so thrilled. The first day we had Inky was interesting. Both of them lunged at each other on either side of a glass door, each intent on killing the other. When we finally introduced them in the same room there was a brief but terrifying scuffle, growls, howls and spits and then a yelp and a whine and that was the end of the mutual lunging. Within three days they had reached an uneasy truce and now skirt each other warily, mostly keeping out of each other's way.  Friendship is still a good way off, I think.

Dec 29, 2014

Serial is interesting for many reasons

So did you listen to Serial? Were you hooked? Did you find it compelling? Frustrating? Awful? Entertaining? A bit of all of those?

In case you don't know (unlikely) Serial was a weekly podcast - now finished but you can still listen to it - examining the murder of a high school girl in Baltimore in 1999, for which her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend was convicted and is still in jail.  He has always said he was innocent, and the story is compelling because he seems like a nice guy and everyone who knew him is sure he couldn't have done it, so the reporter investigates the story, and feeds out the details and her evolving thoughts, each week.

To me, sitting in my podcast-listening chair on the other side of the world, with no journalism, legal or sleuthing experience whatsoever, it doesn't seem implausible to me that the convicted person committed this crime. I'm on board with what the podcast says about his conviction being wrongful given the slim evidence at the time, but whether that makes him innocent is a completely different question.

Serial has its detractors, who have criticised Sarah Koenig's naive-sounding spoken style, the lack of focus on the murder victim, packaging a murder as entertainment, and more. Fans love the compelling narrative, the sleuthing, the character studies, the details about the life of a group a high schoolers 15 years ago, and the phone interviews with the convicted subject of the podcast.

I found Serial really compelling and I found Sarah Koenig to be thoughtful, fair and a great narrator. But I found it a bit frustrating as well, for the same reasons I found it really, really interesting.  In short, these are:

  • Sorry, but WHY are you so convinced this guy is innocent? because he is likeable and well-spoken?
  • Did everyone have pagers back in 1999? 
  • The girl killed comes across as just a lovely, wonderful person. So awful her life was just taken. It's horrendous and terrifying that this is even possible.
  • The idea of the psycopath or sociopath is overused I think. People who think this guy is guilty posit that he is a charming psychopath. I don't think you have to be a psycopath to kill someone, and then steadily talk yourself out of having done it, for years after. I can imagine this happening to a fairly normal person. I'm not saying this is what happened, but just that the only possibilities are not innocent, crime of passion or psychopath.
  • How much store can we set on people's memories of events 15 years ago? Studies have shown again and again how fallible - and changeable - memory is. Memories of events so long ago are next to useless, I would think.
  • Our ideas of motive and wrong-doing might be shaped too much by crime shows like Law and Order, where everything makes sense. In real life, it seems people do things for stupid or hazy reasons, and have contradictory impulses.  
  • I would not make a good detective. I kept being underwhelmed by key pieces of Serial sleuthing like "the Neisha call" and whether or not there was a phone booth at Best Buy. Details, details, I kept thinking. Faulty memories, incidental lies, whatever? I'd be a terrible detective. 
  • People are strange and at times ridiculous. Was Adnan a nice guy or a killer? Was Jay a good guy, a thug, an innocent over his head, or a career criminal? Why would people get involved to the extent they did, or lie, or help bury bodies, or kill people without motive (depending on who is telling the truth)? 
  • Everyone does it - we all do it all the time - but trying to analyse what sort of person someone is, whether or not they "could do it" and whether or not they are lying, is pretty impossible. The times I felt most uncomfortable listening to Serial were listening to people theorise on these things, when really no one can actually know by analysing
  • Is this a particularly weird and messy case, or are many murders, when looked at in detail, like this? (Interestingly though, there is one episode where a detective asked precisely this question said no, this case is particularly weird/messy. Which makes sense, as this is the one that ended up as a podcast). It's fascinating how absolutely none of the theories and timelines put forward quite add up - no matter who you think committed the crime, none of the possible versions (that we know about) quite makes sense. 
  • It's interesting how some players remember so much, and others so little, 15 years later. (I find memory really, really fascinating).
  • This was quite a brave project. Sarah Koenig really laid herself bare throughout this, and it's easy to make fun or criticise, but her honesty on her thought processes and opinions is really likeable, even when you don't agree with her.

Did you listen to Serial? What did you think?

Dec 24, 2014

The Christmas Meme

My friend Pandora does at least one questionnaire meme on her blog a week, which is a good idea. It means she rarely goes a week without a post, and questionnaires on blogs are often a good read. We do love to read about each other's interests, opinions and foibles, don't we?

She has just done The Christmas Meme - which surprised me, knowing Pandora is not a HUGE Christmassy person... but a quick read reassured me that no, she hadn't had a commercial Christmas epiphany, and all was still right with the world.

I liked the questions, so I thought I would give it a go. Plus, obviously, it's a good day for a Christmas Meme post.

1. Do you send Christmas cards? 

Not any more. I stopped about three years ago. But I do feel a twinge of guilt for every card I get in the mail (which is not many - hardly anyone sends them anymore).
The Cranky Old Man has a good post about the slow demise of Christmas cards.

2. How soon do you start shopping?:

October for the kids, November for everyone else. I try to be done by mid-December. Try.

3. Who do you shop for?: 

My kids, husband and myself (our gift to each other - usually a token or something we need). My nephew and niece, and my cousins' kids. And a small gift like jellybeans or chocolates that the kids give their grandparents. Well, not "like". It is always jellybeans and chocolates.

4. Do you put up a Christmas tree?: 


5. If so, is it fake or real?: 

Fake. I love the real ones, and I always vow to get year.

6. Do you like tinsel?: 

I LOVE tinsel.

7. Do you use homemade or store bought ornaments?: 

Mostly store-bought, but with kids you naturally get a few homemade ones too. My mum still hangs the ones my sister and I made as kids on her tree.

8. Do you put Christmas lights outside your house?: 

I do! Nothing fancy, just some solar lights along the front garden path, and a string of lights hung from over the porch.

9. Do you put lights on the tree?: 

I do - but it took me a long time to come around to it, as I was always morbidly afraid of lights catching fire. I'm still a BIT afraid - I don't have the lights on very often or very long.

10. How about popcorn and cranberries?: 

No and I've never heard of doing that either.

11. Is there a wreath hanging on your door?: 

Mais oui.

13. Do you hang up your stocking?

No stockings for grown-ups.

14. Does your family read "Twas the night before Christmas?": 

Not as a tradition, but it gets recited sometimes. My kids prefer the Aussie version which I don't love, but whatever - it's all Christmas!

15. Christmas Movie?: 

There aren't really any Christmas movies that I love. I have to turn off Twitter when people start live-tweeting Love Actually. I remember finding Jingle All the Way very funny years ago, but I'm sure it is dated and unfunny now. As is Deck The Halls which we just watched last night.

16. Character from any Christmas Movie: 

Tom Hanks' conductor in The Polar Express.

17. Christmas Song: 

Silent Night is my favourite because it's so beautiful.
The Little Drummer Boy for the sense of shared community - it's naff but I've always loved it.
And for fun, The Twelve Days of Christmas.

18. Christmas Memory: 

Best ever: when we were kids we had a few Christmases at my grandparents down at Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula, with our aunts and uncles and cousins, and it was just so much fun. We kids all slept in fold-out beds in the car port - it was perfectly secure, it had canvas sides and a zip-up door (!) - while our parents drank and talked and laughed till late.

On the alternate years, we drove up to the NSW Central Coast to stay with my other grandparents. Those Christmases were a bit more low key but I still have great memories of them as I loved my grandparents and their house, and the semi-rural idyllic spot they lived in (as it was then).

19. Give or Receive?: 

Give, of course.

22. Ham or Turkey?: 

We don't do turkey anymore but my Dad used to barbecue it over coals and it was fantastic. We still do ham, and I love thick slices of ham off the bone on toast for breakfast on Boxing Day, and every day thereafter until depleted.

24. White Lights or Colored Lights? 

Why not both?

25. Blinking Lights or Still Lights?:

Still, definitely still. A couple of times I've set my lights to blinking and felt like I was going to have a seizure. They make you very dizzy.

26. Were you Naughty or Nice this year?: 

I was not naughty, but I was not very nice. I was a bit crabby this year.

27. What do you want for Christmas this year?:

I wanted a Fitbit, but then I had a brainwave. The kids are getting bikes this year and they are cheaper than Fitbits. In January I'm going to get a bike each for me and Y. Looking forward to it.

28. When do you open your gifts?: 

Christmas morning.

29. What's the best gift you've ever gotten?: 

My bike when I was a kid. So exciting. Independence!

30. What's the worst gift you've ever gotten?: 

I can't recall. One of my aunts was eccentric and she used to give us weird things she picked up cheap from markets. Sometimes they were great - like one year when she gave me a little yellow transistor radio. Other years they weren't so great. I can't remember the gifts themselves, but I do remember opening something and thinking 'huh?' a couple of times.

31. Who gives you the most gifts?: 

Look, we cut out gifts for grown-ups in our extended family a few years back, and it was such a relief. We don't need anything, and we don't waste time, stress and money buying each other things we don't want. I am happy not receiving more than one or two gifts at Christmas these days.

32. Have you ever had a secret Santa?: 

We've done Kris Kringle at work in the past. It fell away a few years ago, and no one really wants it back I don't think.

33. Do you like wrapping gifts?: 

I do! I'm a very good gift wrapper. Give me any shaped item, I can do it!

34. Do you put change in those red buckets?:

I always have, but I admit since the institutional child abuse horrors have come to light there are certain organisations which I decided this year will never receive a penny from me again, so I have stopped dropping coins in certain red buckets (I know, that's depriving the needy based on my own outrage - I don't feel sure about it). But every year I give to The Smith Family and I buy a few toys or gifts for the Kmart Wishing Tree or the ABC Tree.

35. Do you burn a yule log?: 

Burn a what now?

36. Can you name all the reindeer?: 

Dasher, Dancer, Donna, Blitzen.... Prancer....


37. Do you bake cookies?: 

Not for Christmas, but other times yes.

38. Have you ever seen your mommy kissing Santa Claus?: 


39. Have you ever gotten a kiss under the mistletoe?: 

No mistletoe ever encountered.

41. Do you drive around and look at the Christmas lights?: 

Okay, yes we do. But only in our local area. We have a few houses here that do a LOT of lights. I can't get a good photo, unfortunately.

42. Have you ever left Santa cookies?: 

Right up until this year.

43. Have you ever sat on Santa's lap?: 

As a CHILD, yes.

44. Who do you celebrate Christmas with?: 


45. Where do you celebrate Christmas?: 

Usually lately it's been at my sister's house. As my brother-in-law is one of seven kids, he always hosts for his extended family, and they have included us all in that.

46. Have you ever had a white Christmas?: 

I've had one proper white Christmas in Boston as a teenager which was amazing. Every lovely White Christmas visual and experience, all come vividly to life. And we had snow in London on New Year's Eve once during my two years there. And... do the TWO times we got hail on Christmas Day here in Melbourne count?




47. What part of Christmas do you look most forward to?: 

Meeting up with extended family in the evening. It's getting to be the only time I see my cousins, which is a pity.

48. Have you ever had your picture taken with Santa?: 

As a CHILD, yes.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Kevin Dooley/Flickr CC

Dec 23, 2014

12 Resolutions: December (and November recap)

This year I'm playing along with #12Resolutions on Twitter and Facebook. The idea is to set yourself short-term, achievable goals, one each month. 

For November my goal was to tidy and clean the house, in preparation for the kids' ninth birthday party.  

Tick! It took a lot of work, but for a short, sweet time (two weeks) I had a thoroughly clean, tidy, decluttered and sweet-smelling house. 

Even a tidy front and back yard.

It's still not bad, but it is on its way back to normal, unfortunately. I don't have the effort or will to maintain the way it was forever. I tell myself I hold other things in higher importance to a tidy house. I tell myself kids and pets are messy and life is messy. But really, I just hate cleaning, and I am lazy. 

But the kids' party was a success, and I only gritted my teeth a couple of times (for a couple of kids - one not even invited - who push my buttons every time as they never say please or thank you, and their parents never get out of their car while dropping them off and picking them up).

We had a fairly traditional, low-key party, with cheap, homemade games (jelly bean blindfolded taste testing, dance statues, and the bloody mandatory Pass the Parcel). My prizes for the games were the cheapest $1 crap I could source, the lolly bags were filled with cheap toxic sweets and a couple of useless trinkets, and I only offered two drinks to all the kids: cheap fruit cocktail cordial poured from jugs, and water.  

For the grown-up guests I had a cheese-cracker-and-dip platter and some homemade spinach and cheese pies (fancy!), packets of homebrand potato chips, two bottles of soft drink, one $5 bottle of cleanskin wine and 6 bottles of light beer. I usually over-cater, but this year being on a tight budget forced me not to - and sure enough, there was still plenty of everything to go around. 

More surprisingly, I heard from both grown-ups and kids that it was a great party - not that it seemed so to me, but you can't really tell when you're in the thick of it, running round hosting, and are also a hybernating introvert not well-practiced in hosting anything.  


So anyway, on to December.

We're almost at the end, but my resolution for December was to have a well-organised, stress-free and on-budget Christmas.  This year for the first time my kids are not expecting Santa, so they have automatically lowered their gift haul expectations, which is advantageous (if a little sad!)  They are still going to do alright, but we are scaling down. 

Christmas this year is going to be pretty easy for us. My sister and her husband are hosting Christmas lunch, and for the evening we are going to my cousin's place. Hence, as I don't have to do anything more than bring a couple of platters and salads and some drinks, there is no reason for me to feel stressed at all.

Except you do, of course. It's a busy time of year with lots going on, and the expenses keep climbing as the day draws near. Chocolates for work, candy canes or tiny gifts for school friends (I hate that one), teacher gifts (suddenly there are a lot of teachers.... I went with boxes of chocolates this year for everyone), endless trips to Kmart and the supermarket as you remember something else... and meanwhile life's ongoing obligations and expenses continue.

So yes, it is stressful, and I am SO thankful I am not hosting Christmas in any way, and I am VERY grateful to my sister and cousin who are.

But the good news is, I am almost ready. Almost.

How are you managing the last days before Christmas?


January: walk 5 times a week (achieved - I now walk daily)
February: write 2 short stories (failed - wrote none)
March: write 1 short story, and start Project Management course (done)
April: visit GP and complete or schedule the follow-ups (done)

May: complete one module of Project Management course (failed)
June: working day money savers: public transport and packed lunch (done)

July: pay attention to needs, moods and emotions to manage reactions (done, and ongoing)
August: limit time-wasting activities on my phone (done - and still going pretty well)
September: 15 mins floor exercises daily (nope)
October: get more sleep (yes)

November: tidy and clean house for December entertaining (done)
December: an organised, on-budget and stress-free Christmas!

Dec 2, 2014

How things have changed

I tell you it's uncanny. A couple of months ago I was thinking about music over the years and about how songs have changed since the 80s. I mused on two things: one is how no one does the "fade out" anymore. Until quite recently all pop songs always ended in a fade out, to the point where it was just the standard way to end a song. That no longer is the case. The second thing was how singers used to do their own "special effects" such as repeats and echos - e.g, Rod Stewart in Young Turks towards the end going "ti-ti-time is on your side, side side side" (etc). It's pretty funny when you hear it in an old song now, but back then it was, again, just standard.

Then a few weeks ago I noticed Slate did a whole article on the demise of the fade-out in pop music, and BAM, I can't talk about this now.

Slate has a way of capturing what we used to call the zeitgeist: things you were thinking or almost thinking yourself which means probably everyone was thinking them. Right there now are articles about how the internet has made us constantly "obsessed" with things ("cultural manias"), how popular Taylor Swift is, and how we should not attempt to bring back extinct species (in case you missed it, some guy wants to bring back dinosaurs, as if Jurassic Park never happened).

Anyhoo, then in the last few days I've been playing with a post in my head about listing all the ways that life is different now compared to when I was a child... Well, I know that's not hugely original. But still, now I see Neil deGrasse Tyson has just done the same thing. What's more, the first thing in his list is about toothpaste tubes, which was one of mine.  So therefore, before I have to delete all my draft posts and come up with something new (of which I have nothing), I'm just going to NOT read any more of Neil's list and I'm going to go ahead with my list as it is.

Things that have changed since I was a child

H is for Home/Flickr CC

Toothpaste tubes were made of metal, and would develop very sharp points where you squeezed them, which could give you a nasty scratch. They were also messy, because they had screw-cap lids which also tended to roll lazily off the benchtop and onto the floor while you cleaned your teeth.

Telephones had three sounds that don't exist anymore. The lovely soft brrrrr made by the rotary dial, which I loved, the lovely soft brrrr-brrrr made by the telephone ringing at the other end while you waited for the other side to pick up, and the horrible, jangly, nerve-wrackingly loud ring at your end when someone called. From the time I was little until the fairly recent advent of soft-tone phones, I HATED the sound of the telephone ringing. Remember that tiny little sound it made right before it started ringing, almost as if it was taking a breath before screeching? Like nails on a blackboard.


Classroom work-sheets from mimeograph machines (mmm, that lovely purple smell...) *

Teachers thought schoolyard bullying was an inevitable part of childhood and didn't do much about it.

Corporal punishment in schools - remember that? We didn't have "the strap" from my parents' days, but boys got a slap with a wooden ruler on the back of the legs, and girls on their open palm. Or girls were told to "touch your toes" and then a slap was delivered to the bottom. Creepy.  I still remember a teacher on the first day of class showing us a wooden ruler with black marks on the back which she said were made by "boys' legs".

More things were made of wood. Rulers, strawberry crates, even some kids' pencil cases (thanks Mum for reminding me of that one). Strawberries were only available once a year.

Our parents and teachers sharpened our pencils with a knife.

We ate less. I'm pretty sure I passed most of my childhood in a state of mild hunger, being fed only with three square meals and two small snacks daily; my poor deprived childhood....

Takeout every Saturday. Fish and chips, occasionally hamburgers, Chinese dim sims with rice and soy sauce, or my favourite, Kentucky Fried Chicken (that's KFC to you, kids).  We rarely ate McDonald's, but when we did, I always had the box of fried chicken. No nuggets in those days.

In school I learned that brontosauruses were real, dinosaurs were covered in scales, and there was this ridiculous new theory that a meteor might have wiped them out. As if!  We also learned that the global temperature was cooling and we were headed for another ice age.

Expensive, special-treat colouring books made of white paper instead of the normal scratchy brown paper. Expensive, special-treat comic books made of white paper with the occasional coloured page in them, when Dad shelled out for the 75c one.

Two-colour printing. Common in children's books, flyers, and posters. This was still a thing, just, into the early nineties, when in my early twenties I worked briefly for a university printing and publishing office.  People would bring in their floppy discs, let us know if the work was formatted or not, and we would book in some desktop publishing followed by some thrifty two-colour printing.

Book pages that had visible wood shavings in them.

I remember when toast-slice bread became available. It was so decadent! A sensible friend eschewed toast-slice bread on the basis that you will always eat two slices of bread so with toast-slice bread you are eating too much bread - thus giving me a lesson in moderation which I remembered but alas, have rarely practiced.

No one I knew got up before 7.00 am. That left ample time for breakfast and the work commute.

If you were lucky enough to have a trampoline or a friend with a trampoline, then you were unlucky enough to pinch the skin of your palm in between the springs around the edge. OUCH!

There was hardly any air-conditioning. Summers were spent sweltering in unbearable heat and bathed in a constant film of sweat. Car rides were torture. School days spent in boiling hot portable class rooms, where the only air came from louvered windows right up near the ceiling that the teacher had to open with a two-metre pole.

We drank less water I suppose, because we didn't carry water bottles around. Or we drank hot water out of drinking taps. Make no mistake, I don't miss this. When I was a kid I used to wish you could buy water in a can (soft drinks were my only reference for purchased drinks).

Homemade clothes. My mother made many of our clothes, even doing a Knitwit course and making us t-shirts and sweatshirts.  So when I grew up I made myself skirts, dresses and once even a pair of cuffed trousers. Then suddenly, at some point in the 1990s, it became more expensive to make clothes than buy them.

What else has changed in your lifetime?

* As Andrew points out in the comments, I might be thinking of a roneo/spirit duplicator ( which I have for years thought of as a mimeograph ( - similar, but different.


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