Friday, 31 October 2008

catching my breath

The munchkins are off at my out laws tonight, and although I had planned to use the time to actually leave the house, see a film and converse with another adult, plans have fallen through. Which is really quite fortunate since I am absolutely and totally buggered and not fit for anything more than passing out on the couch immediately after consuming the left over lasagne from last night. Wil has been doing a lot of night waking as well as early rising and without D here to share the load I have been eroded to a poor excuse for my former self.

And while it appears I may have slain the phone company dragon (the phone and internet both work!) I have found that whole battle somewhat depleting too. As have my kids. When I finally got off the phone to satan's lair last night and I apologised to Amy that she had had such a crappy evening she said, yeah. I wish I was with dad and not you. Ouch! So even though they have installed a voice mail system on my phone I don't want and have no options to customise to my lifestyle (like not making people who call me when I am on another call pay for the call instead of getting an engaged signal), for now I am just going to let panting dogs lie still while they get their strength back.

Now on to some more pleasant things. Earlier in the week Amy and I took advantage of a stolen Wil free moment to undertake our first joint sewing project. She's spent a bit of time lately sewing rows of various stitches on scraps of fabric she fishes out of my sewing bin. It's a bit nerve wracking for me and requires a lot of supervision, but I am just thrilled to bits she's getting the bug!

So after school on Monday she picked out some jersey from my stash and we copied a simple nightie I made her last year. We left the sleeves off (the nights are getting warmer) so I didn't have to try and do curved seams with her and it all happened very quickly. She handled the pedal while I steadied the fabric and she was thrilled to slip it over her head. Looking at her it occurred to me that a little gather across the chest would be nice and lo and behold the ever giving stash produced a scrap of pretty gathered elastic exactly the right size so I stretched that out and sewed it in place. Amy pulled out a scrap of ric rac for a bow.

When it was time for Wil to come home, Amy played with him while finished off the neck and arm hole openings with fold over elastic and added a really simple unhemmed gather ruffle across the bottom. Voila! Now it wouldn't win any awards for skilled sewing, but Amy walked away from her first project without getting bored or disappointed, and now she's champing for project number two so I think I accomplished my aims.

Last week I also continued my post craft weekend sewing with another good basic long sleeve T-shirt made out of the softest modal interlock, a 'the jury's still out' puffed sleeve T-shirt (see? even just writing puffed sleeve makes me feel all wrong), and a totally fabulous linen skirt. I used the same basic pattern that I used for the skirt I made out of the denim and stainless steel back at birthday time, and a piece of linen scored from D's mother's stash. I love the print on this one and the colours too, but most of all I love the heavy weight drape. I am pretty sure it is an upholstery remnant and is heavy enough that it doesn't really crease like linen can. Just wonderful on a summer day. It is a fraction shorter than I would normally choose for a bare leg weather skirt, but I used every last centimetre of the piece I had, and even used bias binding for the bottom hem and the waistbandless top of the yoke to save on length.

I was also the recipient last week of a lovely gift (I should have ironed it!) and first time visit from a long time internet buddy. Suzy was one of the first bloggers I read regularly back when I was living in Thailand and she was in Japan adn it was a treat to meet her in person. I love her style and taste and have enjoyed reading about her travels, move back home and most recently the arrival of her gorgeous babe Ali. I also love the way she's always learning new stuff, like the printing thing.
Aren't I lucky? By far the most stylish item in my kitchen - thanks Suzy!

And a gratuitous shot of Wil in his new favourite place. It seems like only yesterday that Amy discovered how to get herself in and out and swaying in the hammock.

And now I'm off to sleep and dream.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

funny how poo always gets a reaction

More comments than I got when I announced the birth of my child.

To answer the questions on everyone's lips:

No acrobatics required, the window ledge is in fact a low one. At a toddler's arse height actually, and he just happened to be standing there. It could indeed have been way worse than it was, as many of you pointed out. There were no feet, hands, mouths or carpets involved and the consistency was, while not perfect, far firmer than it might have been. Thanks for all that you guys.

The contents of the (water filled) bath were an array of high absorbency women's sanitary products. Oh yes, the cost. And the way, once finished doing that absorbing job they do so well, they filled the rubbish bin with their ballooned soggy weight.

Yes, I took a photo, in the midst of it all. I agree Suse, I feel like a real bona fide blogger at last.

And no, I do not yet have a functional phone line. Well, I can make calls and I can now receive calls, but my phones can't actually ring yet. Because of course, it is always a great idea to divide this process of switching on a phone line into as many constituent parts as possible so you can allow the maximum possible delays in getting the fucker up and running.

So when the very kind and sympathetic lady said to me last night after yet another interminable stretch of time on the phone re-explaining my situation that it would be a good idea for me to call back tomorrow morning and find out the current status of my account I was compelled to ask her

exactly what it would take for nasty big phone provider X to get up of it's big fat backside and take responsibility for giving ME a call to let me know whether they had yet fixed up the fucking mess they had made that had so far sucked up at least an hour of every evening stretching as far back as living memory to the point where my children barely had time to converse with me between when I got home from work and when it was time for them to go to bed (and surely she could hear that toddler in the background screaming out mummymummymummy and me saying shhhh darling mummy's still on the phone, yes, again, and bleeding from the ears already and no, daddy isn't here he's in Thailand?) and by the way while those fabulously skilled technicians you employ are out trying to work out how to do their job properly would they please fix the automated menu system on the incoming faults line so I don't lose 15 minutes of each phone call being directed to the wrong department of their massive empire, clearly so large it stretches all the way to India, where I have been told each and every time I have called that I am with the wrong department and I should call the number I did in fact already dial and have to argue for another 5 minutes before they agree to transfer my call all the way back to Sydney?

and she said, yep, OK, how about I get someone to call you tomorrow? Say between 8 and 12? And we'll use your mobile because, you know, we can't be sure the phone will work.

Um, yeah.

and would you be surprised to hear it is 11.30 and no one has called? (edit: Oh lookie, the time expired and no one called!)

I will now sit down and document this whole sorry tale in infinite detail (you think I've been boring so far, I guarantee I will beat these guys into submission with detail) and send it off to their complaints department AND the Ombudsman's Office (thanks for the tip Suzy) and make sure that I do my bit to swell their poor performance stats.

Or perhaps I should just package up one of Wil's little turds and post it off since they seem to get such a reaction.

Sheesh I am tired.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

don't think you can shut me up and other salient lessons

So a while back I hit the wall as a customer of one of the Big 2 phone and internet companies. Lots of money, crappy service. A deep and abiding annoyance at being one of a herd.

I bit the bullet and did my research, something I had been dreading. And over a few days and much internet browsing and phone calls and conversation with types nerdier than myself I came to a scary conclusion. The only way I was going to save any money without giving up a phone line and going VOIP was to switch to the Other Big Provider.

Today I realised I made the fatal error in my calculations of neglecting the TCO factor.

Total Crap Off.

My time is too precious to tell the story (we're on day 3 of a 9 day stint of solo parenting and I am already exhausted and tomorrow I work and it is past my bed time but I am so seriously crapped off I just had to drop in to say...) but don't bother calling me to ask about it because I can't receive phone calls right now. And god knows when I will.

Despite spending a total of approximately 4 hours on various tech support and customer service lines (a good quarter of it on hold) over nearly a week I have managed to get an outgoing line and an internet connection but no incoming line.

I think I did an excellent job of keeping the hysteria out of my voice as I spoke to a young gentleman just now at 9pm on a Tuesday about the clear insanity of not linking the job that says connect incoming calls with the one that says connect outgoing calls. But after 5 days without internet and wondering why the phone hasn't been ringing I was a little on edge. He seemed sympathetic and more than a little embarrassed to be on the other end of the line and not on my side.

I mean, for fucks sake, it isn't so crazy to think that a company of this size, providing internet and phone services to literally millions of people could flick all the switches at approximately the same time is it? Put a little of their copious spare cash into a little bit of process mapping and system re-engineering to work out how to actually do the thing they do everyday in something like the way everyone in their right minds would expect it to be done?

How utterly naive of me right?

So the great post I had planned about creative processes and my sewing marathon (another two tops and a skirt since the craft weekend!) will have to wait.

Instead I'll leave you with a couple of other choice lessons I learned this week.

Lesson # 1. If 2 toddlers are quiet in the bathroom and you suspect trouble, you are probably right.

And lesson #2? When you are juggling 2 kids just out the bath and you are all wet and slippery and it is bed time and chaos is breaking out all around you - prioritise getting the nappy on.

Monday, 20 October 2008

relax. or not.

Another craft weekend. Full of blissful relaxation combined with frenetic activity, which was, somehow, still relaxing.

I may have run out of superlatives to describe this happy communal crafting gig but boy I am no less enamoured of these retreats than I was when we started way back when. And the company, as always continues to make me think and learn, get inspired, feel all warm and fuzzy and make me laugh so hard I darn near wet my pants and pass out from oxygen deprivation. Oh and eat and drink more than enough and sleep not nearly enough. Thanks to Di, Suse, Janet, Sue, Maria, Cath, Jill and SallyRose my drinking, oops I mean crafting mates.

So lucky for you I have something new to rave on about.

On this our seventh craft weekend we have added to the love by finding the last word on craft retreat venues.

To be honest I hesitate to share this with you in the way one guards with one's life the bestest ever sponge recipe on the eve of a CWA get together because I WANT TO KEEP IT ALL TO MYSELF. But because I am so generous and because the secret is quite frankly too good to keep I'm going to tell you all about craft nirvana.

If you live a long long way away from Melbourne avert your eyes now lest envy render your life pointless.

15 reasons to love Sew Journ:
  1. your host Jan not only makes really really nice quilts and blankets, she has left one on each bed and a couple strewn about the place to ensure you can be wrapped in handmade love every moment of your stay.
  2. there are separate sleeping and crafting cottages so you don't need to pack all the work away for meals or for post meal relaxes in the lounge room.
  3. there's a proper kitchen with nice glassware, crockery , stainless steel cookware and sharp knives. And a dishwasher.
  4. there's flowers in house. Live ones.
  5. the studio comes equipped with the most fabulous enormous mobile work tables that can happily fit 6 sewing machines or lay out and cut a whole garment's worth of fabric.
  6. the decor is a delightful mix of understated tasteful basics with wonderful hand made and retro flourishes - like a real home instead of the glorified caravan aesthetic most venues have.
  7. rather than the standard op shop rejects, the beds are all comfortable and come with doonas (as well as the aforementioned quilts - this was my favourite).
  8. the studio has its own toilet and kitchenette with an urn and fridge and glasses and mugs so you don't have to drag yourself those 15m back to the house for a cuppa or a wee and lose valuable crafting moments.
  9. Lancefield is only an easy hour's drive from Melbourne. I only knitted about 5 rows on my stole on the trip!
  10. Lancefield is also a really nice town with an excellent bookshop (scores for both Amy and Wil there), an op shop which was well utilised by our group, a bakery which makes silver award winning pies in the National leagues (I had one for lunch and it was great), and a number of other establishments well worth a look if you need a craft break.
  11. and if you feel like a craft break and can't be bothered leaving the property, there are countless craft books and magazines, the odd trashy mag and some lovely gourmet mags to flick through whilst sitting on the verandah of the studio or cottage or under the vines in the garden in a wicker chair.
  12. the studio has such good lighting that you can work late into the night without stabbing yourself with a needles. But since the studio is also thoughtfully equipped with its own supply of wineglasses you may be in no state to work with needles after 5pm anyway.
  13. there are electronic locks so you don't need to organise keys or remember where they are or spend ages looking for them when you lose them or get half way back to Melbourne before you realise they are still in your handbag.
  14. the studio also has cutting mats, 2 ironing boards with good irons, proper gas lift chairs and couches for more relaxed lap crafting.
  15. Jan has her own blog. She's one of us! It feels particularly good to be supporting people who are enriching the crafting community in so many ways.
Now there's other reasons too, as I am sure will keep popping up in my mind, but I am out of blogging time for now. Suffice to say even if you've never considered a crafty retreat before, if you live in or around Melbourne, it is time to get your arse in the sling. It is so good in fact that we're going to up our annual quota of retreats from 3 to 4, and there was much talk of extending our weekends to three days, and even the odd joke about week long retreats. Believe me, I'll be fanning those flames.

And just before I go here's what a weekend in crafting heaven can bring (rather hurriedly photographed sorry).
I'd like to post more about these pieces because some of them are significant departures for me, and one at least was a total disaster reclaimed and then turned into an experimental idea that I'm still thinking through, but not today I'm afraid. I'm off to attempt to reproduce the dinner a crafty lady served up for me on Saturday night that I just can't get out of my head. Wish me luck!

PS the super easy lace biscuit recipe can be found in this post here.

Monday, 13 October 2008

local and or general

Last week I watched two shows on TV that made me think. About parenting, about children and about how to constructively explore and debate Big Issues.

The first was Life at 3. You can watch this show via the web site and I thoroughly recommend it, along with the predecessor show, Life at 1. This is the very public and localised examination of a very large and general longitudinal study of child development. The TV shows follow the same 11 children and their families and explores the specifics of their lives in the context of what this and other research tells us about averages and generalities. They put topics such as stress, obesity and bad behaviour under the microscope.

What I really really like about this show is the way the individual life stories of the children are told through a range of lenses. The aim of the study is described as the search for what it takes to give a child the best shot at life, but it doesn't seek this out merely through the generation of a range of statistics and norms. Rather the show looks at what a kid has going for them in a theoretical way and then proceeds to look at the reality of their lives to find the things which might be helping them to do better, or presenting unexpected barriers.

In watching the show I feel like I learn a lot about the theory, but also about its limitations. About the kids who defy the expectations and about the many opportunities parents have for making a difference, and for changing the course of development in all kinds of ways. It explores really complex and vexed issues without either dumbing them down or losing their unique and human dimensions.

I also watched Insight, a high brow audience participation current affairs show. Last week's show was called Holding the Baby, on child care and parental leave (also available to watch online). I watch this show quite a bit because the format allows them the opportunity to draw on a wide range of views and expertise, they cover interesting topics and the presenter is pretty good. I thought their coverage of the issues of child care and parental leave were thought provoking and host Jenny Brockie's comment that given how many people this effects we haven't really had this debate was right on the money.

But the show was distinctly unsatisfying and conversations I had in the following days showed highly polarised views had in no way been moderated by the discussion. Child care is good, childcare is bad. Maybe quality of care makes a lot of difference, maybe not. Maybe the age of the child or the number of hours of care a week make a difference or maybe not.

And lots and lots of people think that merely asking some of these questions, or voicing opinions about them are dangerous or disrespectful and certainly inciteful, rather than insightful.

Now I have opinions about childcare, as I am sure most parents do. And I have moments of doubt, as I am sure all parents do, about whether I am doing the best job I can raising my child and whether my choices are as good as they can be. And I feel, as I am sure many parents do, hurt and sometimes angry when I feel that other people are telling me I am making bad choices, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Particularly questions about the balance I strike between my needs and those of my child, about how and where I take the inevitable compromises of family life.

But how are we to ever really gain the best possible understanding if we close our ears? Not to the findings of a single study, not to the views of someone else, but to the questions themselves? You only have to look to how Michael Leunig or Mem Fox have been treated for saying they think childcare is bad bad bad to know there is far too much heat in this, and far less evidence. People state unpopular or ill informed views all the time and generally get ignored, but those that do it about child care get whipped, or in the case of Leunig, threatened with death. I mean can that be right? To kill a man for disapproving of childcare, in the name of his lack of caring? Why do so many people care what he thinks anyway?

It seems to me that to really understand how good, bad or otherwise childcare is you really need to look at the question a bit more like the Life at 3 team would and a bit less like the gladiators in the amphitheatre would.

Start with the research and evidence that already exists. Not just one or two studies that support your own intuitive feelings, but the whole shebang. The good, the bad, the contradictory, the inconclusive. And not just the exec summaries and media briefings. Understand the methodology and how the findings were made. Look at the things that emerge from the data, even where it was outside the scope of the study. When you fully grasp the body of knowledge that has already been captured, then look for what you can know, not just what you can conclude.

Armed with the general now look at some specifics. Why does one kid thrive in full-time care, while another seems to be living up to every stereotype of what can go wrong? Understand that for every kid experiencing care there are all the variables of the care (length, quality etc) and all the variables of the kid (age, personality, family situation, genetic and physiological factors etc). So while the general info is a great starting point for making decisions, it can only ever be of limited value for understanding the individual situation.

Plus, and this is a really big plus, the general body of knowledge has to assume a kind of generic starting point of possibilities. By which I mean evaluating care is something a study most likely does with no alternative point of reference - or at least a point of reference which may be unattainable for many. Is child care better or worse than full time loving maternal care, or is child care better or worse than being on the floor of mummy's office while she works, beside her on the couch while she tries to care for brand new twins and post natal depression or juggling knives while she turns tricks to fund her crack habit? Does care at home feature siblings or peers or activities or outings or 8 hours of TV?

This is what makes Life at 3 so great and Insight so deeply unsatisfying. While the former truly explores what it means to be a parent in a unique and complicated situation and attempts to inform as much as possible the choices parents face within their own landscape, the latter plays one unique situation against another as though all choices exist in a uniform way. And this quite simply creates a range of divisions which are as ridiculous as they are unhelpful. There is a real difference between looking at and talking about the evidence and forming a judgement about what it means in any one situation.

I also finished watching all of Underbelly, which taught me nothing at all but was really engrossing.

Both the kids were also sick again.

Both the kids are also fine again and we are expecting a car park with a hand engraved name plate in the parking lot of our doctor's practice.

And I suspect this little attempt at a light hearted ending is sinking fast...

Monday, 6 October 2008


School holidays are over. Combined with Amy's prolonged school absence with the scarlet fever it feels a bit like a whole new year.

And Wil has been yabbering his head off. He's been pretty slow so far on the talking front but in just the last few days the pieces seem to be coming together and new words are popping out all over the place.

The advent of words signals the end of the part of infancy I find hardest. The terrible frustration of not being able to communicate. Just yesterday morning when Wil woke instead of the usual barrage of crying and sooking there was just this little voice - dad? daddy? daddy! daddy?

Cause for celebration!

As was our recent trip to the beach. Kicking the footy is now a regular afternoon activity whenever we find the space although it takes some negotiation to work Wil into the picture.

I also did a spot of dyeing for the Hey Teach! cardi. A big load of white knitting cotton I picked up at the op shop is now a really lovely shade of grey, with just enough irregularity to stop it being boring but not so much as to give it a variegated look.

Sadly it isn't going to work with the Hey Teach! since the yarn I bought to combine it with is too heavy. I am now so sick to death of this saga I'm thinking I might knit the Hey teach in my DK weight cotton and just adjust the pattern. I know I'm asking for trouble, but a least it is a different set of trouble than the one I've got with the endless search for suitable yarn.

Also cause for celebration was the discovery another great bargain fabric shop on the route home from the beach in Geelong. Full marks go to Joy's fabric warehouse both for excellent well priced fabric and a really choice selection of toys in the big basket that kept my kids so happily occupied while I fondled that they didn't want to leave even after my purchases were paid for and wrapped up.

You'll be seeing more of those fabrics after the next craft weekend. It is only 2 weeks away and I am so thoroughly organised for this one. A big pile of fabric and a big pile of patterns, some of the fabric is even cut out already! This weekend will be all about new clothes for me. I am trying to be strategic about using the weekends for the things it just seems too hard to get done at home. And since the venue is specifically set up for sewing and crafting I expect high productivity.

Now a couple of other things.
I was totally delighted to spy this on the tram on the way home form work the other day. Finally guerrilla knitting comes to Melbourne. My tram had at least three of these little knitted sleeves on poles (it was hard to see too far in the crowds). The other commuters were somewhat bemused not just by the knitting, but by my attempts to photograph it between legs and handbags while the tram jostled along.

And Aussie Farmers Direct is my new next big thing. I love bypassing the duopoly big supermarket chains who screw every last buck out of farmers and punters like me. I love that my fruit and veg is actually fresh because it hasn't sat in some distribution warehouse for who knows how long. I love that it hasn't used up tonnes of extra energy by being cold stored for an age and shipped to multiple locations through multiple hands before it gets to me. I love that it's seasonal, Australian produce delivered to my door. I love that it is great value and every fortnight I get a bunch of stuff just waiting for some good ideas for meals. Next week I'm going to start using their milk/cheese/eggs/bacon and juice delivery too.

If you live in Oz please consider using these guys for at least some of your fresh food needs. You can get small as well as large boxes weekly or fortnightly so there's ample opportunity to use them for just a little or all your needs. And I'm sur eif enough of us get on board their offerings will expand pronto.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

show and tell

The Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show.

Despite the fact that pretty much the entire showgrounds have been demolished and rebuilt since my childhood, it still makes me all nostalgic.

For primary school excursions and the wonder of getting to pat farm animals.

Squashed sandwiches in string bags carried around all day.

The relief of getting to sit down in the grand arena to watch woodchopping and working dogs and show ponies and rest your feet while you ate that squashed sandwich.

For teenage years and a prideful independence. Friends spewing after too many goes on the really crazy rides and too much show bag junk food.

I hope that Amy has fond memories of the day. I hope we get to go to many more.

She had both her mum and dad all to herself and I think that may well have been what she loved the most.

Totally unprompted I swear.