Tuesday, 31 October 2006

children of , um, men

I went to see Children of men last week. It gave me a lot to think about, not least of which was what the title was meant to mean. Not even in a post apocolyptal world do women get credit for doing the hard yards it seems.

I asked a friend to come and see it with me and D but he said his depress-o-meter was already on high, he didn't think he could take it. I've been wondering to myself whether I found it depressing or not and I'm not sure.

It depicts a depressing world for sure, and a world that seems dangerously close to where we are now, but in the last scenes there is some hope. If you don't know the story, it's set in London in 2027. The world has fallen into a state of complete chaos, with the UK as the last bastion of (relative) law and order. There are random terrorist acts and a major ongoing campaign to capture and expel illegal immigrants. Oh and every woman is sterile and no babies have been born for 18 years.

So yeah, it isn't much fun and there doesn't seem to be much to look forward to. But through the darkness comes the very human face of belief. The people who refuse to comply with an increasingly paranoid and heartless culture, despite the personal danger. The capacity of people to care for one another, no matter what the cost. The miracle of a child born, the tragedy of a child lost.

And it really scares me that I can see how this future might come about (except the sudden mass sterility, that seemed a bit of stretch to me). As the gap between those people who have and those who don't grows wider, and more end up onthe side of those who don't, could we be surprised that the grab for power and resources grows more violent and bloody?

When I think about the lengths we are already prepared to go to stop 'terrorism', to keep our borders 'safe', to eliminate those who 'aren't like us' I feel really alientated. Those lengths take us away from the kind of world I want to be a part of, and take us closer to a world I'm not sure is worth protecting. Is Guantanamo really what we aspire to as the weapon of choice?

But the other thing the film got me thinking about is how quickly the knowledge we take for granted, ambient understanding, can be lost. If you've never held a baby, would you know what to do with one? If you'd never known a pregnant woman, would you be able to recognise what was happening to you if fell pregnant? If you'd never heard it would you recognise a baby's cry?
Sometimes we complain there's too much knowledge out there, that our instincts (particularly as mothers) are clouded by the constant push to do things the 'right' way, according to someone else's idea. If all that knowldege was lost, what would our instincts look like?

But one thing I did think. I'm sure that if everyone saw this film there's be a few more people offering me seats on trams.

Monday, 30 October 2006

still here?

Wow these weeks are just getting shorter and shorter. There are times at work I am so tempted to sneak in a little posting time, but I've promised myself I'll be good. Consequently it's all quiet on the blogging front until Monday or Tuesday when I'm at home and Amy is sleeping or I am stealing some time.

But more and more all I want to do is nap and given the choice between the computer and sleep, it's hard to feel there's anything too interesting to say. I've hit that ridge between the second and third trimester where it is taking all I have to resist the headlong tumble into physical exhaustion and mental vegetation.

I really regret not writing down more of the experience of Amy's gestation and infancy, but of course now it's all coming back to me. The experience really creeps into the way you see and feel so gradually yet totally that it is everything and yet nothing. How many times can you say you are shocked by being so tired? What can you say when at 2pm everyday you virtually pass out on your desk in front of colleagues? How interesting is the 100th episode of primal hunger that leads you into the kitchen to stuff your face with whatever you can find, even though you don't feel at all excited about how it tastes? How accurate is it to list the various complaints and dicomforts that rule your days, but not necessarily your thoughts? How do I understand the drive to create in the face of that and my bitter diappointment that I just can't seem to get all the elements together to make it happen?

Because I knew it would be like this, I remember it being like this. It's normal, it's expected, it's what happens. And each time Imake comment about it I find myself rushing in to say the opposite - I hate being tired, but it's OK because it's what is right for what is happening to me. I want to be focused and productive, but I've let go of the anxiety that surrounds not being able to do that.

Perhaps I don't write about it because being pregnant is to me an inherently contradictory state. I willingly enter into something that takes me away from so much of what I love, I actually agree to feel unwell, to diminish my capacities and independence, to sap my energy. I do it because of all the great things that come from it. So you live with one eye for the joy to come and one eye on the difficulties you feel and it's very difficult to ever be able to draw that picture and feel like it's balanced.

So if I seem like a scattered lunatic, forgive me. I'm all over the shop but trying to be OK about that.

Monday, 23 October 2006

constant craving

Thanks for the mutual support on the tram seat dilemma. I am deeply impressed by the creativity some of you have for getting a bum shifted. I might write a letter asking our public transport gods to consider better signage and badges.

Now onto something closer to my heart - in a good way. I was reading Loobylu and noticed she'd tagged a recipe for Pad Thai she wanted to try. Along with Som Tam, Pad Thai is one of my favourite Thai meals and I couldn't count how many plates of the stuff I ate whilst we lived in Thailand. Sadly, D isn't so enamoured of it, so I don't cook it much unless he's away.

Even sadder to me is how many really crap versions I've eaten here in Oz. It's not that I'm a purist, it's just that I love the dish as it is made in Thailand so much, I often find the variations a real disappointment. In Thailand the dish is common precisely because it's quick, easy and nutritious, packed with fresh ingredients whipped up in a minute by the side of the road. What we get here is a mixture of poor ingredient substitution and slack preparation - both totally unnecesary when you know how easy it is to do it the way the Thais do. The version Loobylu has tagged looks delicious, but is not the Pad Thai I know and love.

When I was living in Chiang Mai I had a great time going to Yui's Thai cooking school, and one of the dishes I learned a lot about was Pad Thai. So I thought I'd share the recipe and the tips I learned from her.

Pad Thai

3 tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup firm tofu, cut in sticks
1 tbs shallots (not spring onions), chopped
1 tbs garlic, chopped
50 gm minced pork (can be omitted for vegetarians, or substituted with chicken mince)
1 tbs dried shrimp
1 tbs sweet pickled turnip, chopped (optional)
200gms fresh or 150gms dried rice noodles (the narrow flat kind). Don't pre-soak them in water!
4-6 tbs water
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs light soy sauce
2 tbs tamarind puree
1 1/2 tbs palm or brown sugar
100 gms bean sprouts
100 gms chinese chives (the flat not round kind), cut in 3cm lengths
2 eggs
2 tbs ground roasted peanuts

To serve:
Chili powder
Extra bean sprouts, chinese chives and peanuts
Limes cut in wedges for juice
Shredded cabbage
Banana Flower cut in wedges

In hot wok fry tofu and shallots in 2 tbs oil until golden brown. Add garlic, pork, dried shrimp and turnip (if using). Cook for a further minute.

Add noodles to the wok and immediately add water, stirring rapidly until noodles are soft. Add the fish and soy suaces, tamarind, and sugar and cook for another minute.

Add bean sprouts and chives and toss for another minute or two until chives turn a bright green.

Push all the ingredients to one side of the wok and quickly drizzle the remaining oil over the empty side of the wok. Pour eggs over the oiled wok surface so they start to quick cook. When the eggs are almost fully set, tip the noodles back on top of the eggs and stir to mix egg through.

Remove from heat and sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with chili powder, limes, shredded cabbage, more bean sprouts and chives and if you can get hold of it, some banana flower.

Tips:
-In Australia anyway, all these ingredients (with the exception of perhaps the turnip and banana flower) are easily purchased from larger supermarkets, fresh food markets or Asian grocers. If you have trouble finding anything let me know and I'll see if I can help with other names or even get Yui to advise via email. In Melbourne you can do the full run of ingredients at the Vic market, in Richmond's Victoria St, Springvale market, Preston market or Box Hill. And probably lots of other places besides.

-Good dried shrimp should be plump but not too brightly coloured (the colour is added!), but any you can get will be fine. If you can't handle the dried shrimp thing you can use a couple of fresh prawns tossed in at the end.

-Don't try cooking a massive quantity of this at once, it is very hard to turn the ingredients in the pan and the noodles with either be hard or sticky. If you want more cook it in two batches. This amount should be fine for 2 for a light lunch or as one of a number of dishes shared between a larger group of people. Thai dinners usually include a curry, a stir fry, a salad, a soup and perhaps noodles.

-Cooking the noodles in the wok is the step most commonly skipped here in restaurants as they try to speed the process up by presoaking the noodles (often hours in advance) or by cooking larger quantities at a time. At home I can't recommend the wok process enough - they have a great al dante texture and don't stick together and you don't have to dirty an extra dish or drain hot water while you are trying to keep the food moving in the hot wok.

-It's worth getting the right noodles. The flavour and texture of rice noodles (as opposed to wheat and egg ones) are quite distinct and take up the subtle flavours of this dish really well. They can be bought as thin vermicelli, thin flat (somewhere between linguine and taglietelle) and wide flat (like Papardelle or even wider). Use the thin flat kind, or in a pinch the vermicelli.

-It's common here to try and up the veggie content for the health conscious by adding broccoli, beans or other greens. The Thais would rather have a healthy no oil salad on the side or add an extra handful of raw bean sprouts and chives to achieve the same end because the flavours are really overwhelmed by the addition of other veggies. Similarly it is common to Westernise the dish by adding extra meat, usually chicken. Really, there's no need. If you must add more, toss in a few uncooked prawns towards the end.

-Have all your ingredients out and ready to roll, either premeasured or in containers with appropriate measuring spoons already in them. I usually line them up in the order you need to add them and then the whole cooking bit is really simple and quick.

-Thai food places a great importance on balancing sweet, sour, salty and hot flavours. As all ingredients have variations in intensity, you should taste and adjust for your preference. This is why Thais serve dishes like this with lots of side garnishes like chili powder, lime, fish sauce and sugar. Once you have made this dish once or twice you will adjust the quantities you use quite by habit.

**Kay - Pickled turnip is sold loose by the weight in Thailand. If you ask for it at your market and get an alternative name in English - please let me know! Banana flowers are the flowers from the banana tree, probably from a variety that doesn't produce edible fruits. It is a very large cone shaped flower that is cut in wedges and eaten as a side garnish to a number of dishes. In this picture the small yellow fringe around the top near the stem would develop onto a row of bananas (if it were an edible variety). There are many tree varieties in Thailand, some produce amazing tiny pink bananas! I'm pretty sure they aren't edible and I never saw them used as decorations either.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

can't let it go

Total commutes: 16
Seats obtained through vacancy: 4
Seats obtained through voluntary* surrender: 2
Seats not obtained: 10

I am OBSESSED by the dilemma of how to get a seat on the tram to and from work. Perhaps I should throw up on said passengers when I feel nauseous, or pass out on their laps? I take on board the comment left on the previous post that you can't always know when an adult has a need for a seat that isn't obvious - but could it possibly be that of the 40 or 50 people seated on every tram I catch that every single one needs their seat more than me?

I've also spent a fair bit of time contemplating why I find it so hard to actually come out and ask someone to stand up when I feel so strongly that they should. This kind of contradiction is not like me and I find it puzzling. The best I can come up with by way of explanation is that I just can't put myself in the weaker position - can't say actually I need you to be kind to me. Seems pretty pathetic but there's obviously something deeply rooted in me that says I can't need it that much if no one else can see that I need it.

Hopefully I'll be able to get over my obsession soon. Hopefully.

* I use the term lightly. In one case I actually stared daggers at a young man for a good 5 stops before he reluctantly offered me his seat.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

the rhythm of life

To KT and the others who have asked after how things are panning out with the job I realise it's probably about time to have a post on something other than my project list. With so little blogging time left in my days I am falling into that nuts and bolts way of mine that I really don't much like. So it's time for a little reflection.

Of the job I can only say good things. My new workplace seems better than average in terms of minimising effort wasting, which means I feel like I go to work, I do stuff and go home. Nothing more, nothing less. When I'm there I think through some interesting problems, complicated and conflicted problems to be sure, but I don't feel overwhelmed or frustrated or pessimistic. Perhaps I am getting older and wiser, or perhaps it's the perspective of the temporary part-time worker, but it's how work should be. Engaging without engulfing.

I am also deeply impressed with the building in which I work. It's a brand new high rise, which by nature is not my chosen environment, but it's got some fine features. It makes me realise what a significant influence D has had on me that I can spot the differences. The ceiling heights are higher than average and it's amazing what a difference it makes. The windows run from floor to ceiling on all sides, and the partitions between workspaces are low and topped with glass, so the whole floor is awash with natural light and fantastic views (yes, I'll take a camera when I can).

And I love that there are no bins at desks. If you have something that needs to be tossed you have to get up off your butt and walk over to the waste stations, labeled recycling, paper, compost and landfill. Hear that? They COMPOST in a 40 storey office tower and they tell it like it is when it comes to non-recyclable waste. Makes me think twice every time I have something I no longer want.

I'm loving the chance to read and knit on the tram ride into work, though I am significantly less impressed that I often don't get a seat despite being obviously pregnant. My tram route is through a very large park with more than its fair share of winding and wobbling and I need both hands to hold on and if I try to read I feel nauseous. As I stand above the packs of loud school boys and girls who hog the seats when they are supposed to stand for ANY adult, let alone a preggers one, I start to feel really cross.

More so because I chastise myself for not standing up for my rights by asking for a seat, but somehow I find that really hard. I really believe I should take on the role of enforcing community standards, as members of a community it is a job we all share, but I just can't do it. It's not exactly that I'm scared of them, the whole thing just makes me uncomfortable. So I feel cross and guilty and basically it's a crap way to start the day.

I'm progressing through the pregnancy, increasingly aware of the presence of the baby and it's invasion of my body. The kicking is really different this time around. With Amy the placenta was on the front wall, and she seemed to prefer being head down from as early as I can remember, so I felt the kicks up high. But this little tyke is most definitely a head up guy with a back wall placenta, so the kicking is always down. When I'm sitting or standing it feels like it's right on top of my cervix or public bone, when I lie down it's always just inside my hip on the low side. It's frustrating the hell out of D I can tell you that he can never catch a feel of the drum beat.

I'm not complaining, I'm actually in fine form. We've been illness free for weeks now and despite the waddling and niggling and the periodic waves of fatigue that keep me struggling to stay awake, I feel great. Nothing like that first trimester misery or that third trimester where you can't wait for it all to be over but you're kind terrified at the same time. Right now I can just relax and be pregnant, which makes a nice change.

visits

After working out that the yardage of my 4 balls of red yarn was around 320 and the yardage of the 5 balls of Rowan wool cotton called for in the Relish pattern was around 600 I decided it was time to go shopping. So yesterday Amy and I took 2 trams to make it down to Albert Park to visit Wool Baa. I know I'm the last person to make it onto this bandwagon, but I am really in love with this store.

Why?

Well for a start they have a big box of toys and sunny little landing at the back of the store where Amy was invited to come and play. It is so smart for stores to do this I am astonished more don't, but they don't. So I was free to browse the shelves for as long as I wanted.

The stock is really amazing. They have all the yarns I read about in patterns and a fantastic array of colours, fibres and yarn weights. The shelving is organised by yarn size and fibre, so it's easy to compare your options when you have something specific in mind, and their prices seem to be lower than the ones I could locate on the internet for specific yarns.

They do mail order and have a loyalty program - though if I spend $500 on yarn in the next year I will be concerned!

The staff member who was there yesterday - not the owner - was increadibly nice and helpful. Not in a pushy sales way, but in an honest and informative way. She was prepared to tell me which yarns pill, which yarns she had lots of feedback about from customers, yarns with particularly good yardage, yarns that were pricey. She encouraged me to think about garment design and helped me negotiate yarn choices with Amy. And as we left she pointed me in the direction of a great nearby park, without alerting Amy to ensure she didn't trap me. What a winner!
Amy was instantly and unwaveringly drawn to this extremely hot pink Jo Sharp yarn - so much so that she couldn't even come up with a second choice. Despite my personal opinion (ew yuk) I figure if she loves it this much at least it should get good wear so last night I started on the Rowan Relish cardi. I'm a bit slow and it wasn't until after I started that I realised the yarn is in fact the same fibres as the red I had sought to match!

As soon as I finish Relish I'll be having a go at the Yoda after I fell in love with Nicole's version here. Lucky Pia!! I'm even thinking about having a go at making a larger version since it seems like a pretty simple pattern.

This morning as we were all getting ready to start the day a stunning little bird flew onto our deck and started twittering away in the grape vine. I've never seen anything like this one in our backyard and I was just wondering if it was actually an escaped pet when it decided it would rather be inside than out.
So it sat up on the top shelf in the kitchen and refused to move. We opened the doors and made the outside as accessible as possible, but to no avail. It took quite a while before it moved and came over to the top of the ceiling fan, where it seemed to be right at home. I confess to turning the thing on to try and encourage it out, but still it refused to go outside. By this stage D and Amy had left and it was holding me up (I had to cover the laptop on the kitchen table for fear of droppings so I couldn't get anything done). It took close to 30 minutes before I got it out and even now it's sitting on the vines just outside the door. So despite the lovely weather I'm sitting inside with all the doors closed!

Saturday, 14 October 2006

what might have been

Yesterday might have been the day I gave birth if things had worked out differently. Instead I'm 22 weeks pregnant. I spent some time thinking about it yesterday, but I can't say I feel struck down by the grief any more. How could I? With a constant thumping in my belly I can't go more than five minutes without thinking about the new baby. So much to do, so much to dream about. There are many things to be sad for but much to celebrate as well.

One of those things is NOT these booties. I am disappointed by them. Despite the fabulous bitty booties pattern, and all the wonderful examples other people have made, these just don't do it for me. Time to retreat and regroup. Perhaps I'll try another version, or perhaps I won't.

And I'm thinking of kntting this cardi from Rowan Junior next. The fringing is increadibly frustrating to do (based on my itty bitty sample sqaure), but you know I am a glutton for punishment. But here's my dilemma. The pattern calls for 5x50gm balls of Rowan wool cotton. What I have is 4x50gm balls of Angora mohair 8ply (83 m/91 yards per ball). It's a lovely mix of 50% wool, 25% angora and 25% mohair - soft, fluffy without being hairy and a great shade of red. Of course the yarn is no longer available and I can't find anything with the same mix of fibres. Do I go ahead and hope to god I have enough yarn (based on previous experience I always have left overs), buy another differnt yarn and somehow work in a stripe - perhaps for the fringing? Do I just waste the lovely yarn I have and go out and buy 5 balls of something completely else? Does anyone know the yardage for the Rowan wool cotton? Has anyone knitted this?

And while I was looking for patterns I saw this in the Rowan Babies book. Looks familiar, I thought to myself. Sure enough the fabric on the model's dress is the same fabric I used to make myself a dress a few years ago. Isn't the global market amazing? Truth be told it never really suited me so now I'm planning to cut it up and make something for Amy.

Monday, 9 October 2006

doing my head in

The learning curve stretches ever upward.The pattern says 5x 50gm balls. I used a 100gm skein and have 45gms left over. I also used a little bit of the 150gms of grey I bought to make up the required amount of wool, probably about 10gms all up, to make the bands. I know I am not using the exact yarn specified in the pattern, but I used the same needle size and pretty much made gauge. If I was out by more than 10% I would have been surprised, but to use less than 25% of the yarn I was supposed to need just leaves me speechless. Life is indeed full of the unexpected!

Knitting is a great mystery grasshopper.

And another garment in Amy's new summer range made from yet another piece of fabric from the great Japan haul from Ellen. The gift that keeps giving Ellen! Thanks!!

Note: As requested - the knitting pattern is from a feature on Baby Knits for Beginners in the March 2003 edition of the Australian Women's Weekly Magazine (p173-4, 235-237). I've knit the largest of 3 sizes, which is 6 months. You might be able to get a copy of the pattern by contacting the Women's Weekly direct.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

sign, sealed, committed

It's official so I'll tell you all about it. Despite being 21 weeks pregnant my long search for meaningful part time employment appears to have paid off and tomorrow I start a new job. It's only temporary - for obvious reasons - but I don't care. Simply getting on the tram first thing in the morning with all the other depressed city workers sends chills of excitement down my spine.

I know, it's a sickness.

The thing is, and I might write a bit more about this over at the washing line, I love working. I know it's work and I know it can be frustrating and boring and at times downright despair producing, but I really feel to my core that paid work is a central and important part of who I am. Being out of the mainstream of it for a few years has been a daily sadness.

So as of tomorrow (yep we move fast around here) I'll be in the CBD for three days a week, working for my government to make my world a better place. Or at least trying hard to stop the forces of chaos from ripping the place apart. I'll sit at a desk, probably in my very own veal fattening pen, surrounded by people in suits and nice clothes and I'll step out for lunch in one of many fine establishments aimed just at people like me. Hear that - I won't be scratching at the bottom of the fridge looking for something to eat every day. And there will be conversation over those sandwiches and boxes of sushi, chances to catch up with other CBD bound ex-colleagues, and once a fortnight I'll even get a pay check.

Sigh.

In addition to my other work from home a day a week job and tending my shop I am going to be very very busy. I suspect the blogging world may slip a little and I'll be sorry about that. But it is a time limited craziness so I refuse to get all anxious about what I'll be missing. Life's all about swings and round abouts and I know that int he blink of an eye it will be Christmas and the whole adventure will be over.

Thanks to everyone who wished me luck or congratulated me when I first mentioned this might be happening. Clearly your good vibes paid off. Right now I'm off to clear the decks in preparation and enjoy my last day for a while lying in the sun.

Monday, 2 October 2006

you wish you were here (or 5 chicks, 2 sewing machines, 2 felters and a box of UFOs)

Isn't this the kind of place you wish you could be? A childfree weekend in a sunny room at the top of a hill with a 360o view,great company and food, and nothing to get between you and a long list of craft projects. Including summer clothes for Amy - a reversible wrap skirt and love heart T-shirt,a sun dress and capri pants. And for me? 3 tops and an almost finished dress. Poor D, nothing for him except childminding and domestic drudgery. Thanks so much for my weekend off - I hope I pay him back with my renewed sunny disposition.

We had such a great time we're planning on doing it again in late November. There may be a few spots for newcomers in the Melbourne area so if you are interested drop me an email.