Archive for the Category »Deep Thinks «

Skyline

OK – in case it isn’t already glaringly obvious, I’m no photographer. So I am trying to distract from how terrible my photography is by prattling on.

Yesterday’s Photo a Day challenge was “Skyline”. I was out and about with my Dad yesterday, and didn’t really get a lot of opportunities to take photos of a skyline. Well, that’s not entirely true. There were probably several decent moments when I could have snapped a shot while we were driving, but when I’m a passenger in my Dad’s car I am generally trying to ensure he knows where we are going and we are not running into a bus to really pay much attention to the horizon.
So I snapped this pic when we were back on terra firma in a Westfield food court.


It’s kind of suburbia at its worst I suppose – overlooking a Maccas carpark with a stretch of “homemaker centre” behind. But you know what? I don’t actually mind it here, as much as I joke about ‘brick veneer land’ with my friends. I live in the western suburbs of Newcastle – which is getting a lot of attention lately for being a pretty cool place. Hell yeah! Newy is a great town, both to visit and live. Of course, the part where I live is not shown in the Lonely Planet guide – we have no hip cafes or funky boutiques. No nightlife other than the local tavern. No picturesque vistas over beaches and rivers. But there’s a lot of heart out here in the “bogan outskirts” (to quote an infamous bus), which belies the portrait painted of suburbia in the media. There’s community spirit, excellent public amenities and friendly neighbours. Not everybody is a kindred spirit, but people are more open-minded than you might think. No better or worse than anywhere else, I reckon.

Plus we have parrots and possums and eels and dragons in our backyard. Dragons!

Oh – and since I am posting a day late, here is Day 3: something you wore today. $3 Big W Thongs. Oh yeah, I’m classy.

Storm in an Athlete’s Cup?

Mia Freedman is copping a lot of flack for comments she made on the Today Show this morning about Cadel Evans’ Tour de France win. I think the levels of abuse and the name-calling she is being subjected to is completely ridiculous (really people, take a long hard look at yourselves!).

I am however a sports fan, and I do get grumpy when people roll their eyes when everyone is getting excited over a sporting victory.  Mia has explained herself pretty well here on mamamia.com.au, and asked “If you strongly disagree with me, I would genuinely love to understand how sporting success makes you feel.” I replied in the comments section, but thought I would share it here as well.

“Mia, I didn’t see you this morning, so can’t comment on what you said or how you said it, but I do respect your take on this. A lot of my friends who don’t follow sport feel the same way. I completely agree that it is frustrating to see sports heroes lauded above the other heroes working tirelessly at other jobs that make a difference in our world.
But a world without sport or the arts – two things I consider possibly at the two ends of the spectrum of ‘fairly useless’ human endeavour? Well – I don’t want to live in it. To celebrate the absolute magnificence of what we can achieve is the very essence of what it is to be human. And to have it come from someone as close to home as simply coming from the same country – well, the levels of inspiration just lift that little bit higher.
You ask to understand how sporting success makes me feel – as a sports fan. It may be impossible to describe in any way to make someone who doesn’t feel the same way “get it”. But I’ll take a shot. I am a Novocastrian, In 1997 my hometown was doing it tough. The steelworks – the city’s largest employer, and very much the backbone of this town – closed down, leaving many uncertain as to their future. Not 8 years earlier we had experienced a devastating earthquake, which left emotional scars to match the physical. That same year, the Newcastle Knights pulled off a magical, last second, underdogs victory to secure the premiership. Now looking back – it was just a footy game. It wasn’t even in a full comp as this was the time of Superleague. But that moment (I was at the game, with my Dad and my husband) it lifted spirits, it gave us something to cheer about, there was a party atmosphere that the town needed so desperately.I don’t follow the NRL much anymore, but that moment will live with me forever. I still get a little misty-eyed just thinking about it.
Onto the TDF and Cadel. You know – I just spent three weeks sitting up to stupid o’clock cheering on Cadel and also many other cyclists. I’m not an aficionado of the sport, but my husband rides and it’s easy to get caught up in it. It becomes emotional even when you’re not directly involved. Sure we should be talking about other people as heroes too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do both. Celebrating the triumph of the human spirit, what some people can do – be it with body, brain or heart – or oftentimes a combination of all three – well, it gives us a lift as we go about our own difficult little lives. And that aint nothing.”

For more on what I think about the “hero” tag, here is what I wrote on Jessica Watson last year.

 

So, hero or no -  did you watch the Tour? All of it or just the last few nights? How did you feel? And most importantly how are you even coherent right now?

Aussie Bloggers Conference 2011

As many of you know, I attended the inaugural Aussie Bloggers Conference in Sydney last weekend. There have been so many posts about how it all went from so many different bloggers, but they have all been overwhelmingly positive and any criticism has been constructive and is making me look forward to the next installment.

The live blog readings in Crowdsourced Keynotes were excellent examples of how blogging is “real writing”, because I know sometimes it is easy to feel like it is not. A theme which Jodie Ansted  explored in her own reading (found here at her blog, Mummy Mayhem). It was wonderful to see the Sydney Writers’ Centre there backing up the quality of the words that can be found in the online spaces. Their Best Australian Blog competition was launched yesterday, and I would not be surprised to see many of the conference contributors and attendees up for nods.

On a personal note for me, the conference made me want to write more. The amazing personal stories told in the My Blog, My Story session showed me that personal blogging can be raw, inspirational and uplifting; an amazing way to reach out to a community of like-minded people.

I don’t know at the moment what community I most feel a part of when it comes to blogging. So far I have been enjoying a dip in and out approach to other blogs and my own efforts have been somewhat half-hearted, so I didn’t have that full-blown OHEMGEEIT’SYOU moment that I witnessed over and overat the conference. As an onlooker, there was something really beautiful about seeing lots of small groups of people who had supported eachother across the miles finally having the opportunity for real rather than virtual hugs.

However it was definitely a delight to meet so many twitter pals for the first time. Seems we Newcastle tweeps are envied for our regular and varied “tweet ups” around town. And of course I had my old mate Susan at Reading Upside Down to keep me company. I wont be at all offended that many more people recognised her than me. I’ll just tell myself it because I am indie and she is mainstream – and we all know which is cooler. ;)

Here we are all quivering with anticipation on the train ride down on Friday:

I’d also post the After Photo that we took on the way home, but lets just say that, after two mostly sleepless nights, a little too much gin and champagne on board, and schlepping through a rainy Sydney day with suitcases and swag bags in tow, it might be best if I spared you that image.

 

 

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Had Enough of Homework?

Over at Sunny Days last week, editor Jayne Kearney pondered the relevance of homework. I did leave a brief comment, but since I wrote it in Russian and kept mentioning viagra, it seems to have disappeared into the ether of the Wonderful World of Web. I have however been ruminating over the whole homework topic this week, so now a mere comment wont suffice – you get a blog. Aren’t you lucky?

I reckon teachers are kind of stuck when it comes to homework. It seems that half the parents want it, and half despise it. The half that want it, perhaps feel that the world these days is moving pretty quickly and kids are thrust into success or failure a lot earlier than previous generations. Nobody wants to feel that their child is being left behind because of a lack of effort on their part. I have noticed that as children come closer to high school, there are more parents worrying that their children wont be prepared, and that perhaps getting into a good study routine beforehand will help.

The argument against homework is possibly promoted by the battles that parents have to wage on several fronts in order to get it done – battles against time, resources and, of course, unwilling participants.  Even if a worksheet should only take five minutes to complete, there is the half-hour of arguing beforehand that needs to be factored in! Many people also believe that six hours of sitting still and learning is plenty for kids in early primary school, when play is still so incredibly important to their overall development.

Personally I feel that as with most parenting and educational practises, there is no one-size-fits-all model for homework. Some kids crave learning and/or routine, and will approach a homework task with zeal. Other kids just occasionally need a little bit of extra practise to get those dratted times tables or spelling words to stick. Some kids of course need a lot of extra help to get them up to a functional level of literacy and numeracy. Homework is not the only solution in this case, but it can be one more opportunity for parents to work with their kids.

So what can schools do to cater to all kids? My kids’ primary school has a “home learning  (note the name change) is optional” policy. Home learning is sent home in the form of a home reading in the early years, then works its way up to a weekly times tables sheet and perhaps some spelling list practise. In the later years there is also a small activity – which could range from doing a “random act of kindness” to finding five facts about a  topic they are studying at school. There is no punishment for not doing it. No reward for excellent work. Not by the school at least, because it is home learning. Of course parents can reward (or punish) at home if that is their thing.

So how has this worked for us? My daughter was never keen on homework. She was the kid who was always straight back outside the minute she got home. I was thrilled not to have to fight the homework battle.  I left it entirely up to her. If she got bored, I would suggest she look at her home learning. She would occasionally play Mathletics or Spelling City online (through her school). When she struggled with remembering her times tables, we’d get out the practise sheets.  Sometimes a topic would grab her interest – she made an awesome powerpoint presentation about penguins, made several posters and wrote a hilarious speech for public speaking. She played netball and had flute and piano lessons as she was in the school band. But most afternoons she did nothing but ride her skateboard, annoy the cats or play with the kids across the road.

What about high school? It can seem a big leap from ‘all play’ to the more rigorous demands of  secondary education. Personally I think assessments and assignments are fantastic things. Much better than a single test at the end of each semester to give a final mark in a subject. I’m pleased to say that so far, despite the distinct lack of formal homework in late primary school, my daughter seems to be handling the juggle of assignments quite well. She can budget her time and activities with only a few “gentle reminders” from mum. Also she wants to do well for herself.  She has already, just three months in, learned that it is satisfying to get a decent result on an essay for one subject, to put together a good brochure for another. And best of all, she still fits in the skateboard and plays with other kids, and the cats are still well and truly annoyed.

How do you feel about homework? Would you like to see a “home learning is optional” policy at your kids’ school?

Parenting Milestones

shoes‘Tis the beginning of the new school year in Australia, and many parents are watching their little ones head off to the wonder that is formal education for the first time. Watching our children take this big step into the world can be bittersweet. It is normal to feel excited for them and yet still mourn the loss of their baby and toddler years. My own Little Miss Wasn’tSheJustBornYesterday starts high school on Monday, so I do understand the emotions.

But our kids growing up doesn’t have to be all sadness and nostalgia. Buck up, little campers! Here is a list of milestones that parents can look forward to over the years:

Getting Up in the Morning Without Waking Their Parents – Picture this – you wake up, fresh from a full night’s sleep. The birds are singing, the sun is shining and the day seems full of endless possibilities because nobody has prised your eyelids open at 6 am to bellow “You awake Mummy?” or climbed into bed beside you to perform a tapdance on your full bladder. Your loungeroom will of course look like a thrash metal band has been partying there over night, but this is a small price to pay for that extra hour’s sleep.

Doing Up Their Own Seatbelt – I swear doing up child restraints requires some sort of formal qualifications in engineering science, and we are expected to do it while balancing on one leg, lying across a backseat full of Miscellaneous Crap. One day, your child will be able to “click-clack front and back” themselves. Of course lack of designated car seating means beside the car becomes a battlefield as they all attempt to enter by the same door, but at least your back wont be aching so much.

Turning the Shower On and Off – No more “Soggy Sleeve”! I know! Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Many kids are taught this just before they head off to school camp for the first time. I wouldn’t bother if you have boys, because they wont shower anyway. You’ll be lucky if they change their clothes.

Make a Sandwich – Bugger filling the pantry with healthy and tasty snacks over the school holidays. All moans of “I’m huuuuuungryyyyyy” get met with “Make a sandwich”. No need to cook a separate meal for fussy eaters, as if they don’t want dinner – “make a sandwich”. Be prepared though – the loaf of bread will be squooshed from reaching for the freshest slices in the middle, there will be goobies in the butter and the nutella jar will empty daily.

Leaving Them at Home – There was a bit of a kerfuffle about this in the paper recently. I have to say I was surprised to read a lot of people saying 14 was the youngest a child could be left unattended at home. I was working a McJob at 14. It depends on the kid. The first time you duck down to the shops for groceries without the row of ducklings dragging their feet behind you is absolute bliss.

Riding or Walking to Friends’ Houses and School – I hate organising playdates. Hell, I hate the word playdates. I am so glad that my kids are old enough now to 1. organise themselves and 2. call it “hanging at so-and-so’s house”. As for walking to school (if you live close enough) – well any parent who has battled the school drop-off and pick-up will understand completely. Added bonus for those of us who work from home – PJs all day. ‘nuff said.

What parenting milestones have you most rejoiced in?

Poetry Wars – the continuing saga…

1148656_vintage_fountain_pen_4As the poetry war shuffled further into January, Susan [@ReadUpsideDown to twitter folk] and I found our themes and styles branching out considerably. Sometimes it was inspiration from the other regular posters at the blog. Other times we couldn’t help but be influenced by the world around us. We hope you enjoy more of our efforts. At time of posting, there are only 4 more days to go, and I think I might have to sharpen my blade for a bit more fun at Sooze’s expense :)

Thanks again to Kat Apel at Month of Poetry, for the opportunity to try something neither of us has really been involved in before!

Day 10 – Meredith

The Virtuosos

Once a week down the street we strolled,
Each blithely clutching a violin case;
Laughter dancing across each face,
Couldn’t imagine we’d ever get old.
Our teacher’s expression was carefully controlled
Not a twitch or flinch could we ever trace
As to the end of a piece we did race.
“Please practise, girls!” she often cajoled.
Our squeaks and squawks she always endured
With beatific grace and saintly goodwill,
Through discordant versions of songs tried and true .
Susan, I remain to this day reassured,
With our horrible tones ringing in my ears still,
That I was never (no never!) as woeful as you!

Note: Not true. We were definitely equally terrible violinists, but Susan plays the flute AND the piano quite well, so she has much less of an excuse.

Extra note: This is a petrarchan sonnet. Bow down before my awesomeness!

Day 11 – Susan

We Talk

With our children we talk and talk and talk
Sometimes heard, sometimes ignored
Sharing our thoughts, our instructions, our love

With our workmates we talk and talk and talk
Sometimes heard, sometimes ignored
Sharing our time, but not ourselves

With acquaintances we talk and talk and talk
Sometimes heard, sometimes ignored
Sharing facts and smiles, skimming the surface

With friends we talk and talk and talk
Sometimes deep, sometimes light-hearted
Sharing the meaning behind the words

Day 12 – Meredith

A small diversion. This poem was written during the Queensland flood crisis. The news from Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley stunned us all, and the images of Brisbane battening down the hatches brought back memories of another city in crisis.

Novocastrians

In ’89 the earth shook –
Trembling, crumbling, tumbling down.
Under our feet the concrete heaved.
We were tossed
Like surfers on the swell.
Soot streamed down the walls,
Painting the legacy of a steel town.

Sirens pierced the shocked silent city.
Radios clattering and chattering.
No good news today.
Rosaries fall softly from the lips of the devout
Carrying thoughts and prayers to the suffering.

Cracks opened our houses to the world.
The world opened their hearts to us.
We steeled ourselves to stand
And rose from the rubble.
A community forged by disaster.

Now we turn our faces to the north
And send our message of courage
And hope.

Day 13 – Susan

Two dear old friends, sitting down to share some tea
The clever one is you and the quirky one is me
In twenty years when our hair has turned to grey
Will we still fill endless hours with the things we want to say?

Day 14 – Meredith

Although we’ve got friendship down to a fine art
Much remains unsaid.
It’s time to reveal my innermost heart:
I really love …
your shortbread!

Day 15 – Susan

You Love My Shortbread?
Simple
Homemade
Offering
Representing
Traditional
Baking
Requiring
Eating
And
Digesting

Day 16 – Meredith

Another teen memory. I really don’t know why Susan & I felt a debut was necessary, as it really wasn’t either of our styles. The re-emergence of some old photos recently proved that in fact “style” was not present at all at the occasion!

Debutante Ball

Taffeta butterflies
flit about
the ornate corridors
of the town hall.

Black moth partners
lurch about
the dancefloor,
trapped in a strange place
dazzled by our white light.

A curtsey to the monsignor
and a curtsey to the lord mayor
before we may fly
about their carefully tended garden.

Tonight we flutter
underneath their artificial light
but the wild world calls
and tomorrow
we will fly away.

Painting the Silver Screen

interior-paintingI have recently come to the sad realisation that nothing in life is like how it is in the movies. Late in life to work this out, I know, but there you have it. Most folk can guess that indulging in light stalking of a bloke in Seattle will probably get you an AVO not a romance. Smart people know that small children left home alone will probably not foil would-be burglars. And yes, someone who spends most of their time “whispering” horses probably stinks like manure.

I did hope however that some things would be a little more like their celluloid depictions. Painting for example. For the last few weekends my husband and I have been painting several deceptively large rooms in our house.  On Saturday I stood brush in hand in our semi-demolished dining room while the penny dropped. These weeks of inhaling paint fumes, climbing ladders, stretching, grunting and cursing were nothing at all like how loving couple paint in the movies.

Being a loving wife, I called him on it. “If this were a movie, we would not be spending our time moaning about the other’s lack of proficiency at ‘cutting in’ and the state of commercial radio playlists. You would reach down from your ladder and lovingly wipe a smudge  of paint from my cheek and I would playfully swipe a daub onto your nose. Then we would laugh and kiss and sigh among our artfully draped matching dropcloths.”

“Ah,” my husband replied pragmatically. “But then the bad guys would swoop in and shoot up our house, and you would die in my arms, and I’d be recruited by a government agency to track down the evil scum and avenge your death.”

“What?”

“Come on, whenever they show a couple painting a room, usually for a new baby, the wife always dies and the husband has to avenge her death. I’d probably hook up with some hot scientist or government agent though, so there would still be a happy ending. For me, at least.”

“Right… Hey,  you’ve splashed some paint on the cornices! And I can’t believe they’re playing freaking Nickelback again!”

OK – so maybe it’s a good thing that life isn’t like the movies. But a girl can dream. What part of life would you like to be more like in the movies?

Just runnin’ down the road’s her idea of having fun

norm

I  love sport.  But it’s about time that I faced up to the fact that my sporting regime of kicking back with a cold beer and watching some cricket/soccer/rugby isn’t quite keeping me as fit as I would like. In fact, I’m starting to resemble Norm from the Life. Be In It campaigns of the 80s. And I’m a woman.

So with the change of season, I have decided to put a spring in my step (HAW!HAW!) and have started the Couch to 5K that I have heard so much about. It works around a 9 week series of podcasts that slowly build you from mostly walking to mostly running. So far (OK I have done it twice, but I only started this week!) I have found the podcasts very cool. I wasn’t sure if it would be someone yammering inspirational messages in my ear the whole way, but the chatter is kept to a minimum. Just basic instructions really with some good rhythmic music to accompany them. Best of all, it takes less than half an hour which is easy for me to fit in to my morning.

road runnerI am not the hardest taskmaster on myself when it comes to staying motivated, so I have brought along my own personal drill sergeant to keep me on the straight and narrow. She’s full of energy and enthusiasm and excellent at nagging. She’s also better at working the iPod, like most twelve year olds. It’s also a nice mother-daughter bonding time. Well it would be, if I could stop puffing so much to hold an actual conversation. That’s next week’s goal.

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Superfriends

SuperfriendsMy daughter has been having some friend problems lately. To be honest, I think we are lucky to have come right through to Year 6 with this being our first real issue. It is nothing major (although I’m sure it seems that way to her) and she is mostly a happy resilient kid, so I am not marching out to champion her cause. Not yet, anyway.

What I am doing is listening. Listening to her feelings, hugging her while she cries, listening to the things she isn’t saying, but is showing. I’m trying not to do too much talking, because she needs to come to some realisations herself. But one thing I did have to let her know. Next year – at high school -  it all changes. I think we focus so much on the negatives of the high school years and our own experiences, that we feed into the fears that kids have. “It’s so big.” “The teachers aren’t as patient.” “The work is hard.” “We’ll be the youngest kids instead of the oldest.” What I wanted my daughter to understand going in to high school, is that next year is an opportunity to make wonderful friendships. Yes, there are a lot more kids, but that increases your chance of finding the few true friends who you just click with. She seemed a little skeptical, so I told her my own story.

I walked into the local catholic high school with only two other kids from my public primary school, neither of whom I knew particularly well and ended up in a class where I knew nobody. So I stuck with my primary school acquaintances for a while, making the odd new friend here and there, but never really anyone that I clicked with. Slowly over the first few months I got to know more of my classmates and as we got to know each other better, particular girls began to stand out. Girls who always lifted me up and never let me down. Girls who I understood and who understood me.  Then I named three names to my daughter.  Three women who she knows so well because they are like family to her. She has heard me sit and laugh for hours with each of them whenever we get together – whether it is once a week, once a month or once a year. I saw her eyes widen, as she realised how long we have been friends.  And I think she got it. She was certainly a lot more confident and hopeful about her own problems.

So once again my friends have come to my aid. This time without even knowing. Thanks guys! (You know who you are.)

Snapshot

filmstripIf somebody took a photo of you right now, right this second, and then showed it to a complete stranger, what assumptions do you think they would make? What judgements could they form based on this one moment in time that they see you?

Forgive me if I get a little philosophical again, but it is something that has been on my mind of late. How often do we make judgements or assumptions about people based on the small part of them that we see?

I was talking to a friend yesterday, who was both amused and bemused at the comments made to her by a fellow school parent at a birthday party. My friend had been assisting in their children’s kindergarten class and had helped the other mum’s daughter finish reading her home reader because she wanted to change it over. The mum confessed to my friend that when she heard the story from her daughter, she had thought “Oh no, why did it have to be you. We just hadn’t had time to get the reading done, and you’re always there helping and always look like you’re on top of things  and have it all together.”

My friend and I chortled quite merrily about this. In fact I offered to call the other mum and set her straight about all my friend’s parenting shortcomings. But then my friend wondered, “Is this really how other people see me?”

I guess the answer is yes. People see what you project in the moments that they know you. This mum had only seen my friend in the few minutes at school. Now I know that books are a passion with my friend. She is an avid reader and not only enjoys sharing her love of books with her own children, but ensures that she finds ways to share it with her wider community. With two older children as well as a kindergartner, she has been involved with the school’s reading program for many years. No wonder she looks self assured and confident when other parents see her helping out in the classroom.

While my friend’s experience could be viewed in a mostly positive light, there are more obvious negatives to drawing conclusions about someone based on relatively brief encounters. In this particular situation, the other parent might not have broached the subject in such a light-hearted way or indeed at all. She may have allowed this one perception of a person colour any other encounters they had. Suddenly someone who helps out with reading because she loves books and hates canteen and sports carnivals, becomes an “Übermum” and a pushy parent.

Now look at other times we make judgements about someone with very little or even no knowledge about who they really are. Have you ever tsked about an overweight person in the shopping centre eating a donut and a milkshake? Have you ever rolled your eyes at someone speaking abruptly even angrily to their child or spouse or parent? Have you ever made an assumption about someone by their clothes or appearance? I know I have. It’s hard not to.

What we see of people we don’t know or only know a little is just a snapshot of their lives. And snap judgements are very often wrong.

Oh and by the way? If you see a crazy woman in her thirties in the local Westfield on a Wednesday berating a sweet little old man? Don’t judge. That’s me and my dad, and we bicker because we love. Right Dad?

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