Aug 17, 2014

Sunday Selections #185

It's time for Sunday Selections!
Sunday Selections is a weekly meme hosted by River at Drifting Through Life. 

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented

I've been absent from Sunday Selections a bit of late, not through design but because Sundays have been fairly busy and by the time the evening rolls round I have thought 'ah well, next week' and trundled off to bed.  Tonight I am just making it, at twenty minutes to midnight.

This week it's another collection of 'slice of life' photos:

For my August resolution I resolved to be a bit more productive by curtailing time spent on my phone. One of the things I wanted to do with that time was clean out the linen cupboard.

Well mark that as done, y'all.

It went from this:

To this:

I can't work miracles. With only two shelves and that huge wasted space at the bottom for our old non-working ducted vacuum, it is never going to be amazing. But at least now I can open the door without a towel or two falling on my head, and I got rid of three garbage bags worth of donate-able and make-into-rags-able old sheets and towels.

I also cooked a bang-up meal yesterday: coq au vin!
Well, kind of coq au vin. I didn't have bacon so chopped up some ham instead; I didn't have mushrooms; I didn't have cognac; and I didn't have red wine so used white instead.

But still: bloody delicious!

Here is it simmering away:

And here's the finished pot:

A rather more prosaic mid-week meal:

Paving. Somewhere. Just because.

The dog has outgrown his tiny dog bed, so I splashed out on a new one for him. He loved it immediately.

Unfortunately so does the cat:

This from the cat who refuses to sleep in a cat bed provided for her.  Poor Harry gets a bit flustered when she parks herself here and only gets brave enough to bark at her when I come over to move her out. I might have to buy another one of these I think. 

Cartoon in today's paper (The Age), about the government's humanitarian aid to the displaced people on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Sadly spot on.

More from the paper. I enjoy this word challenge, but today I can only see one word here, can you?

How was your week?

Aug 13, 2014

Robin Williams

Like everyone else, when I heard the news yesterday morning about the death of Robin Williams, I was shocked and upset. I was so shocked I exclaimed out loud, even though I was alone at the time.

Obviously the worst part is the loss of Robin Williams - to his family of course first and foremost, for whom it's a terrible tragedy, and to the world, for which it is a great loss and terribly sad. The next worst part is realising that someone who everyone loved so much was suffering so badly.  Who wouldn't have wanted to help?

Of course depression is not like that. Robin Williams was open about his mental health struggles, he loved life and his children, and he did seek help during his life. There has been plenty of really good stuff written about the nature of depression and about Robin Williams this week, which covers all this ground and why depression is not "sadness", depression has little to do with how rich, famous or loved you are, and how it is cruel and ignorant to call suicide "selfish".

I've been amazed the last 2 days to realise not how many people loved Robin Williams (we knew that), but how many people have said he helped them or saved them, or changed their lives.  When you look back on his career, it's no wonder. Has anyone else ever made so many films and TV shows, of such variety, and covering such territory? A colossal talent, he could do smart, funny, impersonations, slapstick, serious acting and famously, improvised comedy. He was in so much - and of such variety. He made films that held meaning for a lot of people: The World According to Garp, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, Patch Adams, Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting.

Last night I listened to Paul Verhoeven who was a guest on 774 ABC Radio, talk movingly about how Mrs Doubtfire, of all films, had saved him during an awful period of his teen years when he was being bullied and was on medication for depression.

Pandora wrote about how Dead Poets Society changed her.  Numerous people on Facebook have commented similarly.

I grew up loving Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy.

As an adult I loved him in Aladdin (the harbinger of the new style of manic, very funny kids' movies that we know today), and in Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting.

My kids know him from Hook, Flubber and Night at the Museum 2.

Here are a few of my favourite Robin Williams quotes from some of these shows (with thanks to IMDB for filling in the gaps in my memory on a couple of the longer ones).

Mork and Mindy:
"Mindy, your mail has more windows than a Holiday Inn!" 

[Genie to magic carpet]: Yo, Rugman! Haven't seen you in a few millennia. Give me some tassel.
[explaining the three wishes rules to Aladdin]: And ixnay on the wishing for more wishes.

Mrs Doubtfire:
Mrs. Doubtfire: It was the drink that killed him.
Miranda: How awful. He was an alcoholic?
Mrs. Doubtfire: No, he was hit by a Guinness truck.

Good Morning Vietnam:
[making fun of army jargon]: Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P.

[doing a weather report]: The weather out there today is hot and shitty with continued hot and shitty in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a pissy weather front coming down from the north.

"It's hot. Damn hot! Real hot!" ... What do you think it's going to be like tonight? "It's gonna be hot and wet! That's nice if you're with a lady, but it ain't no good if you're in the jungle."

My family all still do "It's hot! Damn hot!" in a crazed fake American accent, at some point every summer.

As Russell Brand put it yesterday:
Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.

Photo: Shameek/Flickr

Aug 12, 2014

Ethics 101

What with everything going on in the world at the moment, there are far more terrible issues to contend with than the two local items below. But doing the right thing and taking responsibility for having done wrong are universally important. So, here are my opinions on two "case studies" (as both are no doubt already in text books by now), which highlight massive failures of ethics.

Essendon Football Club Supplements Scandal

The Essendon Football Club "supplements scandal" is in the news again (or should that be "still"?) because Essendon has taken its case against ASADA to court, and the case is being heard this week.

I guess it's inevitable when there are careers and money at stake, but it's amazing to me that Essendon/James Hird are fighting this at all.  The Essendon supplements scandal is a textbook case of unethical behaviour. They did wrong, and they need to accept it.

Let's put aside these aspects: the supplements were not effective; one of the prohibited supplements was not prohibited at the time; other clubs are or were using supplements too.

Those aspects are not really relevant to the fact that Essendon did wrong.

The charges against Essendon are listed here, and they can be summarised as:

  • putting players at risk
  • failing to adequately control and monitor the program
  • acting against internal policy
  • operating in a culture that was lax, uninformed, risk-taking, disregarding of rules and cavalier with players' well-being (2013 slogan: "Whatever It Takes")
  • using prohibited substances!

The Essendon management in general were bad, but James Hird has been appalling. The correct stance when caught out in a scandal of this magnitude is contrition, immediate and heartfelt concern for the players' welfare, and humble acceptance of what was, in this case, an incredibly lenient punishment (initially, suspension for a year with pay, with agreement to return as coach the following season).  Only a massive ego would reject and fight such a punishment, and consistently refuse to accept he did anything wrong.

It's simple ethics:

1. There are good reasons for all those annoying rules. Always do the right thing, even if you're swimming in a culture that doesn't. Eventually, the tide will turn - and then things will not be pretty.

2. If you have a duty of care towards others, exercise care.

3. When you've done the wrong thing, take responsibility and take your medicine. 


HSU expenses scandal

I'll tell you one thing that has seriously annoyed me: the number of people on the left willing to ignore or downplay the abomination that is the Health Services Union expenses scandal. I've always been pretty solidly left (lately more like "centre left"), but I cannot see how anyone can defend criminal fraud and theft.

Those on the left who defend corrupt trade unions or dismiss Craig Thomson's theft because "the government gives more money to Rupert Murdoch" or some such terrible argument, are not helping the left.

(Example: a tweet from Helen Razer dismissed the Craig Thomson case as "a handful of knock-shop change".)

Yes we know that governments have and have had questionable arrangements with Rupert Murdoch and other power brokers.  But like the defense of Essendon that "other clubs are doing it too", it's not a defence. It is actually almost irrelevant.

I am fully aware that the current government Royal Commission into trade union corruption is political and the Liberal party's ultimate goal is to sneak in Workchoices by another name. Again, that's not a defence.

Corruption is a cancer, and the audacity and level of trade union corruption, in this day and age, where we're still reading about events that sound like they should come from thirty years ago, should appall everyone. Funds stolen from trade union "slush fund accounts" and fraudulent expense claims are money stolen from workers, who are ultimately duped and abandoned by the union they depend on.

There is a tendency on the hard left (not the sensible left) to absolve any wrong, downplay any crime, for "the greater good" of keeping the left in power. Leaving aside the fact that any side in power for too long becomes at worst dangerous and at best useless, it's a terrible position anyway.

The thing is, while in theory I can often agree that an isolated or limited bad deed might be justified or outweighed by the greater good, in practice I can't think of a single time I've ever felt that way.

Corruption and theft are always bad. They always have victims, and they always do damage. And left unchecked, they always get worse and endanger more people.

Ethics cannot be elastic.

So that's my rant for the week. What do you think? I know passions are high on both of these topics; do you see things differently?

Aug 7, 2014

Me A to Z

Do bloggers ever get tired of talking about themselves?

Of course not!

So here goes: Me A to Z, a meme that's doing the rounds at the moment, though I first read it at Princess Pandora.

A If you were an ANIMAL, what would you be? 

I think I would be a Clumber Spaniel.

From Wikipedia:
"Their temperament is described as gentle, loyal and affectionate, but dignified and aloof with strangers.They can appear to be a sedate breed and enjoy curling up on the couch, eating and sleeping.
"Clumber Spaniels are large boned"
"They have several habits which could be considered disadvantages, including...snoring..."
"Clumber Spaniels can suffer from heat sensitivity."
"...although the Clumber is rather slow in the field compared to other spaniels, it is a quiet worker with a fine nose and good stamina.


 B BOOKS: What's on your reading list? 

On my Kindle and not yet read are:

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua 
Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch, by Rob Dobreski 
Arlington Park, by Rachel Cusk 
Forecast: Turbulance, by Jeanette Turner Hospital 
1912: The Year the World Discovered Antartica, by Chris Turney
Steve Jobs: the Exclusive Biography (I suspect I may never get to this one)

In book form on my bedside table are:

1927, by Bill Bryson 
The Great Unknown, edited by Angela Meyer (supernatural short stories)
Ranger in Danger - Decide Your Destiny: King Cobra's Curse by Sean Willmore and Alison Reynolds (a kids' novel I picked up because it seems to be a modern version of the 'choose your own adventure' stories I loved as a kid). 

Not yet bought but I want to read, are:

Lost and Found, by Brooke Davis (new novel. The plot doesn't grab me, but she's a beautiful writer)
In My Skin, by Kate Holden

 C COMPULSIVE about anything? 

It's not anything to be proud of, but I can't help myself: I have to pick at scabs, fingernails, peeling skin, etc. It's gross and unsightly and creates scars, but I haven't managed to stop yet.

 D DREAMS - Do you ... dream in color? remember your dreams? keep a dream journal? 

Yes, I've always been a big dreamer. I love the dreamworld. I usually remember at least two dreams a night, though I forget some dreams later in the day. I used to keep a dream journal, but not anymore. I do think about and analyse them though, and notice recurring themes and patterns.

 E EATING - what's your usual snack? 


 F A Few of your FAVORITE Things: 

Scent of lemon
Aqua di Gio perfume
Collecting clean sheets off the washing line in summer
Popular science 
Kids' cartoons
The sky
Bill Bryson
Tall trees
Mug of flat white coffee in the morning

 G GIGGLES! What (or who) makes you laugh? Do you have a good sense of humor? 

Steve Martin
Steve Carrell
Ben Stiller
Amy Poehler
Flight of the Conchords
30 Rock
My kids - kids are hilarious
My sister's text messages - she's very funny

I believe myself to have an exceptionally good sense of humour. (Don't we all?)

 H major HOT Button: 

Snobbery; smugness.

 I I am ______________ ... 

...typing this while watching Steve Martin in The Pink Panther with the kids.
(this has been sitting in my drafts for a few days)

 K Also KNOWN As... Aliases? Screen names? A non de plume perhaps? 

Jack (I like it - friends and people who obviously feel comfortable with me use it naturally)
Jackster (I don't like)
Fruito (joking Greek term of endearment by Y - meaning muddle-headed and silly like fruit)

 L I LOVE ... 

See F and add my family and friends and pets.

 M How do you feel about MEETING people? Do it all the time? Rarely? Parties or 1-on-1? 

I am fine meeting new people, but always a bit nervous. I don't do it that often these days, which is not good, I know.

 N What's the story of your NAME? were you named after anyone? Do you go by a nickname? Any aliases? 

It was a compromise name, as Dad didn't like Mum's first choice, which I think was Jodie. 
I strongly suspect Jackie Kennedy Onassis had something to do with the fact that Jacqueline was a very popular name in the late 60s when I was born.

 O OBSERVANT - What's around you right now? What do you see? 

Messy desk, dog toys on the floor, shopping bags to be unpacked in the kitchen, my daughter's creepy Furby (thankfully sleeping), on the shelf next to me.

 P Who are the special PEOPLE in your life? 

Those who read this blog of course! 

And kids, husband, sister and parents, I guess...

 Q Any Little QUIRKs About Yourself: 

I hate the word quirky. And I hate it when people describe themselves as quirky, odd, whimsical or crazy. And I know that's not quirky of me at all.

 R What do you like to do for RECREATION?

Reading, walking, coffee with family or friends, watching a good movie or DVD series.

 S Do You SING in the Shower? In the car? For your friends? 

In the car definitely. In the shower sometimes. For friends, never. It would be cruel.

 T What's at the Top of your TO DO list?:

Clean out my kitchen pantry.

 U Any UNUSUAL Experiences: 

I once flew a plane and then completely forgot I had done it, until I was reminded of it years later. Seriously: I was reading a blog about someone's amazing experience flying a plane, and thought 'I'd like to do that', and then I remembered I had. It was part of an excursion with a group of English-language students when I was teaching English; the flight instructor let me take the controls for a bit.

I lived for 3 years in Greece on a tourist visa, going in and out every 6 months.

It's a tourist thing, but it was still great: I went horseback riding at dawn to Mt Bromo volcano near Surabaya.

 V VEGAS, Vienna, Venice, Vladivostok... How far have you traveled? What's your favorite City? 

I've been to Vegas, Vienna and Venice but not Vladivostok. I've been to the US (east coast, west coast, Florida and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, UK, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Switzerland, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, Vatican City, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

My favourite city is Thessaloniki in Greece.

 W WINTER, Spring, Summer, Fall... What's your favorite season? What makes it special? 

Autumn. It's still warm but not hot, it's beautiful, and it's one of the middle seasons which are nice because they are transitional.

 X EXes - Things You Don't Do Anymore (but did, once (would you, again?)) 

Ride on the back of motorbikes. (No)
Visit art galleries (Yes)
Walk for hours (Yes)
Wear short dresses (No)

 Y Any secret/deep YEARNINGS? 

Not so secret, but to be published writer.

 Z ZERO to ZENITH - Where are you in your life? Still growing? On an upward (or downward) curve? Just skating along? 

Hopefully still growing. 

Aug 6, 2014

Old Tech

Last Christmas one of the things we gave the kids was our old iPod Nanos. I wiped all the music, loaded heaps of the kids' favourite songs, and bought $10 headsets from Kmart to replace the old Apple earbuds.
It was their favourite gift and they still love them, and use them every day.

Recently they've got into playing 'spy games' so last weekend I handed over all our other old gadgets for their toy boxes.

They now enhance their games with my old Motorola Razr flip-phone, Y's tiny silver Nokia, a hand-held voice recorder and my high school scientific calculator (which is still a good calculator!).

"What is this, a phone for ants?"

Hello, old friend

State of the art!

Circa 1986. Note my restraint not making
it say HELLO or BOOBS

Oh, and Y's first mobile phone, the massive and heavy Philips Fizz.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

The phones are their favourites, and they were mystified by the voice recorder and the portable tape deck. The voice recorder was purchased years ago while I was doing a teaching course, to record interviews and record myself teaching classes.

"How does it work?" asked the kids as I handed it to them.

"Easy," I said. You open it here, see, and load in a blank cassette..."

"What's a cassette?"

"Uh... you know, those plastic things that they used in the old days to play music?"  They looked at me blankly and I realised they've probably never seen one.  "Never mind."

So I went on the hunt for some blank cassettes, so they could record things.

Not too long ago (I think), you could still get them at supermarkets. No longer. JB Hi Fi don't seem to have them. An online search brings up a few online stores that sell them, but nothing else.  Then the other day, I dropped into our local Quickie Mart for milk and found some very dusty TDK 90 minute cassettes on the hardware shelf. Who would have guessed twenty years ago, that you would eventually be able to buy the coveted TDK 90-minute cassette tapes for $2.90 each?

Do you still use any of these old gadgets?

Aug 5, 2014

Things I hear when my kids are playing Minecraft

Things I hear when my kids are playing Minecraft:
Otherwise known as, Maybe I should be paying more attention to this?:

"How did you do that?"
"No, that's my house, you can't go in there!" 
"Let's kill some cows." 
"Can you make me one of those?" 
"Oh dang it, I lost my door." 
"Do you want a TV in your bedroom? How about torches?" 
"No, that's MY idea, you can't make the same!" 
"No don't go down there, oh my god oh my god ZOMBIES!" 
"Do you want to go hunting?" 
"Where are you?" 
"What world are you in?" 
"Are you in my house?!" 
"Mum, M went into my village and killed all my villagers, so I could live in any house I want. So I chose a beautiful house. But it's a bit boring now, I kind of miss the villagers."


12 Resolutions: August (and July 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 July my goal was to pay attention to my moods and feelings, and to take a moment to consider them, before I react.

I think this was successful. I wasn't overly taxed, I have to say, and I was sick for two weeks (one week of which I spent most of my time sleeping), so this has seemed like something of a short month.  But I don't recall any messy scenes or reactions that I regretted, for this month. Yay!

So anyway I am going to continue with this one, as I think it's a worthwhile ongoing exercise. 

For August, my goal is to set myself daily limits on time-wasting activities, such as internet surfing and playing dumb games on my phone, and to spend that time doing productive things instead.

I'm still allowed to read Twitter, check Facebook, relax with 9Gag before I go to sleep, and read blogs, stories and news online. But these things are to be limited to 10-minute blocks, not half-hour (or longer!) stretches.

What will I do with all my extra time? Well, here are some things I've been meaning to do. Who knows, maybe one or two of these will get tackled this month:

  • clean out the pantry
  • clean out and sort the linen cupboard
  • sort and tidy my bedside table
  • write some short stories
  • read some of the books in my to-read list
  • get eight hours' sleep every night

What's on your to-do list this month?


January: walk 5 times a week (done - 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

Aug 4, 2014

Retaining optimism in front of Pandora's box

When I was young, I was pretty optimistic.

Not so much when I was a kid - my parents will tell you I lay awake at night worrying about the plight of the elephants in Africa and whether I'd grow up to be poor (guess what, I did!!)

But in my twenties, I do remember I was pretty laid back, tended to look on the bright side, believed that people were good, found everything fascinating (that part I still have) and was confident that everything would turn out well.

I'm a person now who is more pessimistic, but I do still tend to think things will work out okay. Except when I am engulfed by panic that they won't.

I think one of the jobs you have as a parent is to try and instill an optimistic frame of mind in your kids. I say try, because of course life is hard and circumstances can be bleak. But I do think most parents try.

But in this digital, 24-hour, instant-access world, and in the face of war and strife all over the world, how do you retain optimism and instill it in your kids?

It often seems now that we know too much. We are no longer cushioned by parochialism or ignorance - Pandora's Box has been opened and all the awful information of the world is constantly in our heads.

How do you retain optimism in the face of that?

Now that my kids are eight and a half, I don't shelter them from the news as I used to. It's important they know about climate change, war, asylum seekers, poverty, corruption, ineptitude, hypocrisy and the like. Though perhaps not all at once.  In the last year or so we've had discussions about all these things, and the kids have heard more through school and friends, and often ask questions.

But lately, just in the last couple of months, I have found myself once more switching off the news when they're around, as I used to when they were younger.

The last couple of months have been horrifying: the loss of flight MH30, the shooting down of MH17, the ongoing atrocities in Iraq and Syria and fresh ones in Gaza. The pictures circulating on Twitter and Facebook are truly horrific. And that's not even to mention the depressing state of politics at home, and growing poverty everywhere. Or how about the surrogate baby abandoned by its parents in Thailand? (The baby is arguably in a much better place with his loving surrogate mother, but what about the impact on both children when they grow up and learn what happened?)

If only...
Taken from The Age, Sunday 3 August

I know, I know - bad things happen all the time, and people have always despaired at the state of the world. I truly don't know if we are in a Dark Age right now, if it seems that way because of the constant global information and because we know so much more, or if the state of the world is no better or worse than it ever was. I can't tell. No one can, it seems. But I know, anecdotally, through conversations, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, that plenty of people are finding it all quite overwhelming.

image encountered in Facebook and all over internet

I guess the way I try and do it is to limit the bad news to my kids when it seems there's been too much, and to focus on the good stuff in my conversations with them. Every now and then of course, a topic is truly bleak, and you can't shy away from that or pretend there's a "bright side". All you can do is talk it through, or minimise it if appropriate, and otherwise throw as much positive, good stuff at them as you can find.

How do you retain optimisim?

Aug 2, 2014

Words for Wednesday: The Good Shot

'Words for Wednesday' is a writing prompt held by Delores at Under the Porch Light.
Use some or all of the week's words, write a poem or a story or part of a story, and visit Delores' current week's prompt to let her know you've joined in.

This week the prompt words were:







Here is my story:

The Good Shot

Austin was new to shooting, but his marksmanship was improving by the day. Yesterday his performance was stellar; he had stunned his team mates with his accuracy and ruthless cunning. Approaching stealthily, he had blindsided local legend Danny Frank with a shot to the heart that felled him, wide-eyed and silent, in front of shocked on-lookers.

The impression Austin left was indelible. He went home exhausted and triumphant, the power of the weapon and his unexpected skill making him feel slightly crazed, almost dizzy.  But there was still plenty of work to be done. Only an imbecile would relax now, when there was so little time to practice and improve. The Grand National Paint-Ball Championship was less than a week away.

* * * 

So silly - but this was fun anyway.  Thanks for the words, Delores!


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