Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where are all the women?

After my gender stereotyping rant on Tuesday, I should say that this wasn't meant to be Feminist Week, but recently all sorts of gender gap issues seem to keep coming up in my mind.

There's a lot of talk around the blogosphere and beyond about "mummy guilt"- all to do with the awful consequences of not doling out to your children the right mix of proteins and fats, love and discipline, structure and unstructure, complex and simple carbohydrates, independence and support, socialisation and solitude....... Then there's the subspecialty, working mummy guilt, where you get to feel bad for not committing enough time to your paid work and not enough time to your children (and throw in neglect of your partner and friends for some extra side dishes of guilt). And within the working mummy guilt comes the feeling of "how can I do better?" which can morph its way to "what are women doing wrong?"

In my case I work in academia. Lots of well educated, reasonable, wonderful, enlightened people, lots of enthusiastic students and recent graduates- and a lot of people (half or more) at this early career stage are women. And then something happens and all the women stagnate or retreat or relocate or resign or die OR SOMETHING and beyond a certain point women become unusual and the ones that make it feel the need to run seminars and lunches about the issues women in academia face. I've attended plenty and read plenty on the topic, and have picked up some useful tips for success as a woman in academia:

- don't take maternity leave (from an Australian academic who brought her children to work from birth until they were old enough to attend daycare)
- don't have children (admittedly this is paraphrased by me, but from an interview with the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrum, aged 77, who said that in her youth she "had a clear decision and made a decision not to have a family because in earlier times that would have been a very, very difficult thing to accomplish.")
- learn to play poker (this is from a US academic who said she needed this skill to network via the weekly poker gatherings), or otherwise pretend to be a man (this from a NYT article on the topic)

Suffice to say, I fail in all areas.

So why is this getting to me today? Yesterday I attended a panel discussion seminar and there was an exclusively male panel. No big deal- I've been noticing this a lot recently at seminars and conferences. But the presenter wasn't so accepting and, slightly embarrassed, said "Oh... we didn't intend for it to be an all male panel given [the program in question] has more females than males in its intake." No need for embarrassment- it happens all the time without anyone realising....

Then on the way home I was listening to 774 ABC radio, and heard Stephen Mayne discussing the issue of gender inequity at upper levels of corporate life, which he has also written about in today's Age. He puts it down to "issues such as networking, perceived experience, blokey headhunters and the old boys' network." Perusal of the comments is fairly depressing- presumably in the potential anonymity plenty of people feel free to speak their mind, and I'm left with the feeling that whatever women lack to get to the higher levels of academia- whether it's intrinsic or extrinsic- is probably the same in many other professions.

And where does that leave me? Gloomy, I think. Resigned to my fate, whatever that is. I do what I can and at the end of the day I can hope people say about me, "she did well for a woman."

On a side note, on the topic of men-vs-women, I concur with Maxabella that very few blog readers are male, especially round here, and in the process of procrastinating over researching this I discovered that, at least in the field of entomology, women tend to blog anonymously (hell-o) much more than men.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Collingwood is for girls

I felt a bit guilty on Saturday that I didn't have any inspiration for an AFL Grand Final-themed post, but evidently I should have realised that this was a premonition, given the game was drawn and will be replayed next week. And I am grateful for a bit of breathing space to think about whether I had something to say on the topic!

Before I moved to Melbourne, I wasn't a big AFL fan- and I'm still not- and I didn't realise how big a deal the Grand Final is in the home city of AFL. Even for those like me who don't seriously follow during the regular season, it's hard to avoid Grand Final week- the stats, the allegiances, the peripheral events, the predictions, the personal stories that occupy the first few pages of the newspapers. When it's two Melbourne teams, even the least interested Melbournian is compelled to back a team. And this year the choice was between Collingwood, the team everyone loves to hate, and St Kilda, the team that hasn't won since 1966. It was a perfect mix for an exciting leadup to the game.

We watched the Grand Final with friends, as we do most years, so in preparation on Saturday morning I pointed out supporters of both teams to Big Bro. "I know" he told me, "we painted their jumpers at kindy." Then he added, "Julia says Collingwood is for girls. Just girls." My eyebrows raised and I tried not to smirk. "Does Julia like Collingwood?" "Oh yes, that's her team." Surprise, surprise.

Dear little Julia. She's a very cute little kid with a cherubic round face framed by long blonde hair. She is one of Big Bro's Best Friends ForEVER, and evidently also his wisest friend judging by how many of her pronouncements he passes on to me.

"Julia says boys can't have pink" (and purple when Julia is being especially picky)
"Julia says only girls can like flowers or butterflies"
"Julia says that boys can't be pretty"
"I wish I could be a girl: Julia says only girls......"

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of energy refuting Julia's assertions. "Look at that man- he's wearing a pink shirt", "Look at that man on tv growing flowers".... I should just ignore it, but something about it really irks me- I think it's that I can see Julia as a product of so many gender stereotypes that, as the mother of two boys, really irritate me.

Clothes shops with three quarters of the shop devoted to girls, clearly by the pink, lace, flowers, and more pink. (When I was growing up, only prissy girls wore pink.) And boys seem to need skulls and crossbones, graffiti and punk rock guitar decorations.
Toys clearly branded for boys or girls- pink racetracks, pink lego, and the apparently obligatory fairy costumes. And even worse, the branding of books for boys or girls.
Comments like "girls sleep better (or insert other positive attributes)", "girls stay close to their mothers, boys don't."
Slogans on clothes like "little princess", "I love buying shoes", "spoilt rotten".

Of course there are gender differences, but I am sure the stereotypes are played up so much more these days that when I was growing up. And I guess Julia is just observant enough top notice them- and assertive enough to let Big Bro know what she's noticed.

For the record, during the game Big Bro accepted his host's invitation to dress up, and then engaged in a bit of drilling and chopping.
And I concluded that if Collingwood is for girls, then St Kilda must be for boys, and that was just another reason to cheer them on.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

This weekend I am grateful for... the National Library of Australia

Time for the next installment in the Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post, and this week I thought I'd put all my eggs in the one grateful basket and mention the National Library of Australia's Newspapers Service. Not that there weren't other things to be more grateful for this week, but when I discovered it I was swept up in how cool and simple a service it is. Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1954 have been digitised and can be searched online. Obviously there are a whole heap of educational applications (did anyone else spend hours after school searching through old newspapers in the library to find "primary sources" to photocopy for school projects?) But my grateful stems from the fact that it's complete newspapers that can be searched. When I discovered it this week, I quite easily found:
- birth notices for my father and my great grandfather
- my grandparents' matriculation results
- my grandparents' wedding photo
- various mentions of my grandmother's social activities, back in the days when who-played-bridge-with-whom, who-attended-whose-hour-of-music and whatnot were newsworthy. It's hardly rivetting reading, but it's fun to imagine Granny aged 16 wearing a "taffeta dress embroidered with tiny blossoms".
- mention of my great uncle's later called-off engagement (which wasn't a family secret, but it's a half-interesting story)

I barely learnt anything new- though there is plenty to learn elsewhere in the newspapers- yet to see the way these little snippets of life were reported does make something a bit more real about the Before-Me Era.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The eyelashes have it

One of the most frequent comments strangers make about Little Bro is how long his eyelashes are.

Big Bro has done better than average in the lash department, but Little Bro has hit the Maybelline jackpot. He hasn't always been blepharically* hirsute- during my mum's first meeting with her youngest grandson she observed "his eyelashes aren't as long as Big
Bro's were", and when i looked it was true- just a little stubble on each lid. But rather than start a fund for a future eyelash augmentation surgery (it exists- really!) we watched his lashes grow
longer and longer and l-o-n-g-e-r. I suspect as he grows they will come back towards the usual proportions to his face, but in the meantime I will sit back and enjoy watching Mr Luscious Lashes flutter his stuff.

*from blepharis

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Class of 2011: first planting out

Something in the air made me decide it was time.

Two zucchinis, a tricolour and a climbing tromboncino, looked like they were ready to stretch their roots indefinitely. And so out they went, dwarfed by the giant feral parsley.

Grow well, little zucchinis...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Bunnings Trap

I dropped into Bunnings with the boys to pick up some potting mix and dripper system fittings, and came out with a strawberry for each boy, a punnet of cos lettuce, chives, a silvan berry and a pack of Jiffy pots.... "oops".

Big Bro decided the strawberries were called Mr Strawberry and Mrs Strawberry. Mr Strawberry brings two developing fruit with him- maybe inspired by our recent library borrowing, Eric Carle's Mr Seahorse?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Up a wadder

Little Bro's language is suddenly getting very adult-like, relatively speaking. He can tell you things from the immediate past; "Come on!", "Big Bro plane (etc)! See it!", "Big Bro pushed (etc) me", are three of his most common phrases. A couple of days ago while I was reading blogs not paying enough attention I suddenly heard a cheerful little voice saying:
"Up a wadder, up a wadder".
Which was of course exactly what was happening...

At least he hasn't yet learnt the art of secrecy...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

This weekend I am grateful for....mentors, memories and history

Maxabella has been writing a weekly "grateful" post which is a great structure for a positive post and I've joined her linky list. There are lots of things I am always grateful for- a loving and wonderful husband and family being top of the list, and a wonderful circle of friends being a close second. But rather that restate this every week, I'll try to think of single defined events to be grateful for.

I was going to write that I'm grateful for mentors, music and television, but that sounded rather too shallow for my maiden post.... hence the retitling , m
entors, memories and history. So here goes. This weekend I am grateful for:

Professional mentors- who will park their egos at the door and say the right thing when necessary. I am lucky to have several.

John Denver and his music
(and I'm grateful to B for loading it onto iTunes!)- a loop of Rocky Mountain High and Take Me Home, Country Roads kept me going through a tedious manual exercise at work, and had me thinking about the incredible beauty of the United States.
We saw the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen, and that whole part of the Rockies would be an amazing place to live- as the song suggests. I've never been to the Appalachians, but from what I know they are similarly beautiful, in constrast to hard life of many West Viginians, depicted in fiction like The Bean Trees and The Memory Keeper's Daughter, and the real-life horror of events like the Sago mine disaster (and others; I just remember being transfixed by the unfolding Sago drama in January 2006). All very tangential to the music, but it was a great way to divert a flat mind for an hour or two!
A Digital Video Recorder- which let me watch the excellent Seven Ages of Britain weeks after it aired. And it was worth it- almost a potted tour of British historical artifacts. I wouldn't say I'm a history buff but I love books like Our Island Story and A Little History of the World which are full of facts presented in a concise, readable way. That they are both intended for children shows the depth of my interest in history!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Steamin' in Fitzroy Gardens

A walk through Fitzroy Gardens a few days ago brought us past workers laying down mulch to summer-proof the massive trees. It was steaming away (hard to see in my picture) and reminded me that last year I topped off the beds with steaming mushroom compost. I'm still not sure whether to repeat this or go with some other topping for a bit of nutritional variety.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Chooks on the Block

Ok, so they're not exactly new, and they're not at our place, but we have scored *the best* neighbourhood favour: feeding our neighbour's two chickens for two weeks, and collecting their nicer byproduct, two eggs a day.
I've never kept chickens, but so far it seems they seem to have pretty straight-forward short-term needs. The information we were given by the owner was:
1. Chickens need a constant supply of water, which needs to be changed every few days as it tends to get dirty.
2. Feed the chickens layer pellets and a seed mix every day. These chickens seem to eat the seed mix in preference to everything else.
3. They can also be fed other kitchen scraps, apart from citrus and banana peel.

A quick check online and I can supplement with
4. Chickens are happy to eat anything humans eat, but avoid salty or sugary foods, and avocado. So far the favourite kitchen scraps have been yoghurt and lamb chops.
5. Chickens will also eat leafy plants like dandelions, oxalis and clover. These chickens seem to especially like salad greens.

They're certainly better recyclers than worm farms or compost!

Two weeks seems to be a great length of time as it's not long enough that we get lumped with the dirty jobs like cleaning or worming, yet it's long enough to get lots of eggs and get used to the chicken routine, and for the boys to get used to the idea that we'll get more eggs home by sharing the egg-carrying job than snatching the eggs away from each other!

Hence our egg carton in an egg bag... seems a bit excessive for two eggs, but better than broken eggs!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Learning to play cards

Big Bro is gradually learning to play card games- so far he can play a fair game of Go Fish or Snap. I enjoy playing card games- my favourite was Racing Demon, best played with my mum, my grandmother, and several other aunts and uncles, around my grandmother's big dining table. Each player had their own pack of cards and the table was so big that it was hard to keep track of the common piles in the centre. Even the sorting out of each pack at the end of each game was cheerfully rowdy. As fun as that was, my mum would say that playing with her aunt's fiercely competitive family was even better. These days I lack card-playing partners, so I am very enthusiastic about Big Bro's interest!!

He hasn't mastered holding his cards in a fan- which brought back memories of my mum repeatedly helping me to arrange my card fan- so I used a shoebox to make a alternate confidential-card-holder.
Go Fish today, Racing Demon tomorrow? Not quite, but I can hope!!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

If I were a boat...

Big Bro: Mama, if you were a boat you would be a house boat.
Me (thinking of a house boat as cosy if a little odd-shaped, just right): that's nice- and what sort of boat would you be?
Big Bro: I would be a rescue boat, and Little Bro would be a life boat. And Dada would be a sinking boat that we are coming to save!

How's that for family dynamics?

Postscript, a few hours later: I should add that Dada is not the personification of a sinking boat!! I just thought it was cute that Big Bro wanted to help him.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Root Crops

The radishes were ready to be pulled, but the carrots have a while to go... but thinly sliced they make a crunchy topping for a salad.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Decisions decided

I haven't been holding my breath for the 17 post-election days, but I did feel my lips turning blue in the final 20 minutes before we knew the outcome- that is, the 20 minute ramble of Australia's new Hippie-in-Chief*, Rob Oakeshott. Finally, we have a government (ok, so we always did, just one in caretaker mode...)

And to all those people who said they'd vote differently if it came to a second election: next time, vote for who you want to win. You never know, they might fall over the line.

I can't guarantee that I will be putting the politics label to bed for the next three years- we do have a state election in a few months- but hopefully This Growing Life can get back to the important business of parenting and gardening, and everything in between. Once the writs are returned, I will unlink to my favourite statistician, but as a final tribute to Antony Green, here is a song from Keating! the musical.


*full credit for this wonderful term goes to my friend Upulie, who really needs to restart blogging! I am hoping that by linking to her she might be inspired..........

Monday, September 6, 2010

DIY indoor washing line

Household chores are such a mundane topic, but they do seem to occupy a sizeable chunk of my time and energy. Nothing unusual about that, I'm sure. My big love-hate relationship at the moment is with the laundry. Of all the chores, I really don't mind washing (helped by my love of our front-loader!), and hanging out the washing is a good excuse to stand outside and ponder the garden... and it's even better when I remember to bring the radio and listen to a snatch of News Radio! That's all well and good, but my problem with the washing is how much there is: we're up to around 6 or 7 loads a week. And when the weather is as wet as it has been recently, that's a lot of washing to hang up inside.

This rather cluttered cupboard-under-the-stairs is a great size for housing our clothes horse where it won't get tripped over or bumped or climbed on. However, our clothes horse isn't a great size for our family and recently I keep finding myself guiltily directing some of the washing straight into the dryer. A visitor suggested getting a ceiling-mounted clothes rack for the laundry, but they all seemed pretty pricey.

I had some eyelet screws left over from a trellis wire kit and combined with some $5 washing line from Kmart and four drill holes I was able to make some extra hanging space out of the way in our under-stair cupboard.

Total cost under $10, total time under 10 minutes.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Happy Fathers' Day!

We weren't as crafty as last year for our Fathers' Day gifts (B will be getting a new fleece jacket without the old scratchy velcro bit that bothers Big Bro). But I did like Big Bro's efforts in the card and wrapping paper (recycled paper bags) departments.

I like going to Officeworks with Dada and Little Bro.

Little Bro and I like playing with Grandad; Grandad only has hair on his chin. (true!)

Pushy mother confession: I added the apostrophe... I cannot stand wrong apostrophication.
Cue a zillion comments showing posts where I have mucked up the apostrophes.....

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thinking of Christchurch

Seeing the pictures of this morning's earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and hearing that it was more powerful than the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, I can only think it's a miracle that no one appears to have been killed. We visited New Zealand as newlyweds and I found myself looking over the photos. Thinking of everyone affected by it...

(Yes, that is a wizard addressing the crown in the last picture!)

On an aside, for a long time I've wondered whether the seismic activity occuring at one place on a fault line triggers seismic stress elsewhere on at connected area (for example, around the Pacific Rim). The idea came to me when someone pointed out that two days after the 1989 San Francisco quake there was a earthquake in China that killed 20 people but was barely reported on. Teachers and lecturers always pooh-poohed this suggestion (over 10 years ago) saying that earthquakes are completely unrelated events, so I feel quite vindicated to read now that some seismologists now believe that there can be a connection. So if this is the case, we can only hope that any other activity related to the Christchurch quake occurs well away from any populations.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Technicolour salad

Pretty, isn't it? This was adapted (downsized) from Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion.

Orange, Mint and Radish Salad
1-2 oranges
4 radishes, grated and squeezed to remove moisture (about 1/2 cup grated)
1 tbs (or so...) mint leaves
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
salt, to taste
1 tsp chilli powder (optional, or to taste)

Cut the peel from the orange, then use a knife to cut the flesh out of each segment, leaving the membranous skeleton behind. Reserve any juice. Arrange the orange segments on a plate, scatter over the radish and mint. Whisk the olive oil with about 2 tbs orange juice, adding lemon juice, salt and chilli powder to taste, and pour over the salad.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Maisy's birthday party

Did you know Lucy Cousins' anthropomorphic mouse, Maisy, is 20 years old?

We found that out last weekend when we attended her birthday party at a book shop in the city. Big Bro was thrilled- and all day wondered whether it was Maisy's party time yet. When we arrived there were a couple of warmup acts- book readings- before the party girl emerged. (It's evidently not the world's best designed costume, as Maisy had to be led in and out, and a couple of times whacked her guests on the head with her nose!)

The kids played "Maisy says", there was a well-regulated photo-op for each family (Big Bro was nearly ejected by a bouncer because he had almost completely rubbed off his official entry stamp!) and there was cake and singing. What else could a mouse want for her birthday?

Big Bro of course wanted to invite Maisy to his birthday party, and I reminded him that he and Little Bro had of course had a Maisy-themed party last year (subtext- I am out of Maisy creative ideas!)

At the time I showed you the Maisy cakes:

I realized I didn't get around the showing the other Maisy themed components, mostly made using pictures from the Maisy website. First we had the invitations:

I printed pictures from the Maisy Fun Club onto coloured paper bags to use as lolly bags

and onto coloured paper which I cut into triangles and threaded on a string to make a banner.

The official party had Maisy balloons, but apart from those it was pretty easy to make our own Maisy-themed party from scratch.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Spring showers bring...

It's the official first day of spring in these parts, and we celebrated with a good soaking of rain.

The nectarine celebrated by opening its blossom, incidentally about two weeks later than last year.
Happy Spring!

Consumer science: the ALDI nappy change

For a variety of reasons we have chosen to use disposable nappies for the boys. About 3 years ago we switched from Huggies to ALDI (Mamia) nappies, and found that for about 60% of the price we could get a nappy which, on our boys, performs as well as (or even a bit better than) Huggies nappies.

I'm still happy with ALDI nappies, but a few weeks ago we noticed a change in the design of the "Junior" nappies- which we used as night nappies for both Big Bro (16kg) and Little Bro (11kg). Suddenly one kangaroo became several. This seemed pretty minor, but for the first time in ages, Big Bro's nappy leaked overnight. And again a second night. Instigating some "micturation mitigation methods" (toileting before going to bed) stemmed the flow (literally) but the suspicion remained that the nappies had changed in more than just design.

So Big Bro and I did our first formal science experiment!

Our hypothesis was that the nappies had changed in a way that reduced their capacity. To test this we poured water onto two opened out nappies and measured how much was absorbed before the water leaked out. The cost precluded any replicates, but I suspect ALDI qc would ensure nappies are highly similar. For comparison we also tested an ALDI "training pants" pullup and a Toddler Nappy (the koala-branded size below Junior)

Sure enough, the capacity had decreased from 3 cups (750mL) in the old to 2.25 cups (560mL) in the new. (This not to say they hold those volumes when being worn). The design change resulted in the new Junior nappy being closer in capacity to a Toddler nappy than the old Junior nappy- quite a substantial change!

Our next step was to determine why the capacity had changed. We weighed each nappy, and sure enough, the new version of the Junior nappies weighed 5g (8%) less than the old weight.

As for why... was this just a small cost saving, or was there more to it? Interestingly, the new ALDI Junior nappy pack also promotes a new extra-large training pants pullup.... coincidence or causation?

And in a postscript, a few weeks after our experiments I found Little Bro's ALDI Toddler nappies had gained more koalas.....

...and when I weighed them they had shed 5g (10%) of their weight with the design change.

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