Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en in Australia- harmless fun or the forces of evil?

I wrote most of this then ran out of energy that evening to upload photos and press the final "publish post" button then saw that "everyone" in the blogosphere was writing about Hallowe'en then decided to press publish leaving the date stamp intact. Better late than never...

Has anyone else in Australia- or at least Melbourne- been surprised by how much exposure Hallowe'en is getting this year? The supermarkets and department stores seem full of "stuff" (mostly plastic and/or brightly coloured) and my Facebook updates are going wild with indignation about it. There was pumpkin carving at kindy (supplied by a Canadian dad, to be fair) and they had a dress-up day. I even caught onto the spirit by helping the boys indulge their passion for safety scissors and paste, and we made orange paper lanterns and drew faces on pumpkin shaped cutouts. And I've coordinated the laundry so that the boys can wear their Gymboree glow-in-the-dark skeleton pyjamas tonight- bought not with Halloween in mind but rather as a vague anatomy lesson (they have loved them for several months- picture adapted from the Gymboree website because my glow in the dark photos never worked)
The boys won't be trick-or-treating because I am too lazy and they don't know what they're missing they are too little to take out, but in future years I would consider using an idea from Maxabella of doing a pre-Hallowe'en letterboxing with a subtle "opt-in" sign for houses to put out to show they are welcoming to cute and ghoulish visitors. And if any trick or treaters show up at the door we have something to offer (other than boxes of sultanas which I discovered last year were definitely not considered treats!)

Our Halloween activities have all been very harmless- or have they? With all the complaints my friends have been registering I started to feel guilty that I was falling into some greater social trap. The major arguments against Halloween are:

- "it's American" Well, actually, at lot of the traditions originate in Britain and Ireland, and looking at posts like Little Garden Helpers and hearing from a few Scottish friends I think that the Brits and Celts are underrecognised in these parts for their Hallowe'en contributions. While the US has certaibly built Halloween up into a huge secular event (which it isn't, see below) with Halloween specials on the telly, Hallmark cards and the rest, plenty of people elsewhere celebrate Hallowe'en or similar occasions like The Days of the Dead in Latin America. I also note (with respect to my friends!) that a number of the naysayers apparently have little problem with Glee, Hawaiian holidays, Thanksgiving, many of the other good things that come from the US...

- "it's promoting devil worship" So witches, evil ghosts and other anti-Christian scaries are central to Hallowe'en, and certainly it has its roots in Celtic festivals. However the early Church were happy with (and had their own motives for) including elements of pagan festivals into the religious festival- just like they did for Christmas and Easter (holly and bunnies, anyone). Hallowe'en- All Hallows Eve- is the leadup to All Saints (Hallows) and All Souls days. In darker and more superstitious times, getting scared silly by seeing the spooks and scaries coming out was probably a great way to make the congregation thankful for the good guy saints, and also think about the saving of their own souls. Classic good cop-bad cop.

- "it's commercial exploitation of kids and a money making exercise" This is, to my mind, the most valid criticism and one to which I half subscribe. I have no doubt that a lot of the increased interest in Hallowe'en this year stems from the increased exposure we have through the shops. Carvable pumpkins for $25 and all manner of plastic crap down to purple and black tinsel are all pretty clearly intended for us to spend money- before they get us to spend money on chopped down trees, all manner of plastic crap and red and green tinsel. But I think kids can get the spirit of Hallowe'en without the big spend. Maxabella's awesome $2-shop-with-modification costumes are a good example, and the internet has a zillion more home made costumes that aren't at all difficult. And correct me if I'm wrong, but most kids have something along the lines of a dress-up box. It's not whether your child looks like their character (who's ever seen a person in a white sheet and thought it was a ghost?) but whether they feel like it. Our decorations cost a few cents for the paper and glue, and about 10 fun minutes to make all of them (I know it was no longer because my kids wouldn't sit still longer than that). If parents are feeling pressured to spend more than they want on Hallowe'en, then- like the Christmas pony- they can just draw limits. And as for pressuring the neighbours, the opt-in system for receiving trick-or-treaters I mentioned is a great way to only include those who want visitors. I'm actually looking forward to meeting some of the older kids in the neighbourhood if they want to stop by our house tonight.

To me, Hallowe'en isn't a big deal either way- it's one of those minor days on the calendar, like St Patrick's Day or Bastille Day. It's fun to celebrate, and to learn about why and how other people celebrate it, but- like St Patrick's Day or Bastille Day- it's not a threat to our way of life or our culture, but just an excuse for fun, however you prefer (or don't prefer) it.

That's my take on Hallowe'en- what's yours?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This weekend I am grateful for... the kindness of friends and strangers

Time for another Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post. This week I've been struck by people who have gone beyond my expectations, in the best ways.

First, I am grateful for the person who found my purse on the street and delivered it to the local police station before I realised that it was lost rather than misplaced.

Second, I am beyond grateful to friends who have gone beyond the call of duty. I am plotting some career adjustments at the moment and, without intending to, I have discovered the power of networking. Suddenly going from "oh dear, not sure what I'll do" to "wow, that might be a good option" has been empowering. So I am grateful to people who tell me "you can..." rather than "you shouldn't..." (even if the latter are saying it with the best intentions.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dusting off the Franciscus Henri archives

Thanks to the local library, we discovered Franciscus Henri through his final children's album, The Best of Franciscus Henri (2002). His website shows he's subsequently switched to adult music which is a shame for us as the boys loved his music. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube we've located music videos. This is Big Bro's favourite song:

Today we browsed a bit further, and discovered Franciscus Henri's alter ego, Mister Whiskers. Seven watches later and the boys were still in hysterics over this clip.

It's all very well for Franciscus Henri finding a new direction, but I think he's got a great aptitude for kids' entertainment. I can only hope he might consider a retrospective concert tour....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Edward Ardizzone

Big Bro has been getting into longer books with more writing and fewer pictures. This has opened up a whole new range of authors, including Edward Ardizzone, who I also enjoyed as a child- and still do.

Ardizzone wrote and illustrated many children's books including the Tim series, Diana and her Rhinoceros and Johnny the Clockmaker, all of which have been very popular with Big Bro. There is a "boys own" theme running through the books, of children-versus-adults, where the brave and spunky children are constantly held back by the majority of adults who think that the children are not up to the task at hand. Usually there is one adult who understands the capacities of children and allows them to enact their adventures in an adult world. In the Tim series, this is the boatman and the Captain, who let little Tim sail ships and defend lighthouses against wreckers; in Johnny the Clockmaker it is the blacksmith who is the only adult who believes Johnny really can make a grandfather clock, whilst in Diana and her Rhinoceros, it is the very pragmatic Diana versus the adult world as to whether a refugee rhino should live in the garden.

Ardizzone's illustrations are wonderful, and his sparing use of speech bubbles to accentuate certain actions or sentiments- like Tim's father responding to being woken up with "go away you horrid boy", or mundane comments from the mundane adults like "but is it wise?"- is very effective in bringing the pictures to life.

Ardizzone builds the same sort of exciting world as that in which the Famous Five and Hal and Roger live, where children who know no bounds, and it's completely appealing to children, young and old.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Kutz on the Block

My boys are not keen on haircuts- so much so that after a few attempts with Big Bro (in the last of which, the hairdresser snipped her finger in her valiant effort to give Big Bro a decent cut) we struck a deal- he would sit still for me to cut his hair, but if he couldn't do that then we would return to a professional. With the help of online tutorials like this, I managed a few passable cuts- never great, but not too bad. Then Little Bro's hair got to the "is she a girl?" stage, and I faced having to cut the hair of a wriggly one year old, which looked pretty terrible as Little Bro's hair is sparser than Big Bro's so my poor cutting skills resulted in a style somewhere between moth-eaten and horribly ill. Fortunately a friend had mentioned a hairdressers, Tabi's Kidz Kutz in Thornbury, which specialises in children.

They were certainly set up for the job- toys everywhere,DVDs on tap, and the choice of an adult-size barber seat, a child-size seat or a toy car for the kids to sit in while having their hair cut.
And the hairdressers were fantastic- they were able to get Big Bro chatting within a few minutes, which is no mean feat for a stranger, and managed a great cut on Little Bro, despite his initial apprehension. Even more amazingly, Big Bro decided that he might even let his hair be cut- as long as he could sit on my lap. Hooray!

Relieved of my tonsorial duties, I felt that $18 for each child was very reasonable for good cuts and a great atmosphere.

Tabi's Kidz Kutz, 58 Wales St, Thornbury- Tel 9416 9411- open 7 days.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The mango ad that heralded hope for our species?

I catch the train several times a week, and as I gaze out the window I am often struck by the near-universal junk food theme in station advertising for food. Chocolate, pies, chips, caffeinated drinks of various persuasion and a bit more chocolate- it's easy to know what the advertisers want people to feel like eating when they get to their destination.

So I was impressed today when I spotted this bright sign in a prominent location at Jolimont:

I love it: it tells you that a good mango is something special, and worth waiting for the season. And now that it's mango season, there are plenty to go around. Let's all go to Woolies Safeway and eat mangoes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some spring inspiration....

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can now get YouTube through our telly. I am an utter believer that this has redeemed the television set from obsolescence in the shadows of the PC- our TV is now the communications hub of the house, where we can watch YouTube, use iTunes and iPhoto, visit FaceBook, and if we had a webcam, we could Skype from it.

Having YouTube on the TV makes it much easier to watch clips with the boys- no keyboards to press, wires to pull or printers to plunder. Out of the blue, the other night B asked whether they wanted to see giant pumpkins. We then started looking for other vegies and realised that- like everything in life- if it exists it's on YouTube. My favourite were the jungles of 8m (24 feet)- tall corn. I wish I could beam the inspiration out to the garden!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The genetics of garden peas- with credit to Gregor Mendel

This year we are growing two varieties of pea (Pisum sativum) in our garden:

Early crop Massey (which I now find are also called Melbourne Market)
As I watched the two plants grow, I started to remember snippets of biology lessons: pea flower colour, dwarf or tall, Mendel's Garden... I looked up my favourite biology text, Neil Campbell's Biology (now Campbell and Reece- RIP Neil Campbell) and sure enough, I was observing the same differences between my pea plants as Gregor Mendel did, in an Austrian monastry 150 years ago.

If you don't know Mendel: he was an Augustinian monk, and I suspect he is one of the few monks who can lay legitimate and honourable claim to fatherhood? (Are there others?) Mendel is considered "the father of modern genetics" because of his studies of the inheritance of pea characteristics.

This was a fifty years before anyone had shown that it is DNA that carries traits between generations (thank you Oswald Avery), and a hundred years before anyone could see how DNA could specify different characteristics (thank you James Watson and Francis Crick). Gregor Mendel meticulously studied the characteristics of peas, and controlled pollination (peas normally self-pollinate) to study the effect of interbreeding different characteristics. From this he realised that there was something that was transmitted between generations that enabled the features of a parent plant to be transmitted to its offspring. More importantly, he realised that this something was independently inherited for each feature of the plant- for example, whether a plant had purple or white flowers didn't influence whether it had yellow or green seeds.

Mendel's genius came when he applied mathematical techniques to analyse the offspring of parents with different features, and realised that for each feature in a plant (eg flower colour), a plant inherits information from both parents, yet some versions are "dominant" so mask the effect of the "recessive" ("not dominant" version). So, for example, the offspring of a purple flowering and a white flowering pea plant will have purple flowers (purple is dominant over white). However, these offspring still contain the "white" information, because their offspring (grandchildren of the original white- and purple-flowering plants) can show the white flowering trait.

The characteristics Mendel studied included flower colour (purple/white), flower position (on a side shoot/at the top of the main shoot), seed colour (yellow/green), seed shape (round/wrinkled), pod shape (inflated/constricted), pod colour (yellow/green), and height (tall (2m)/dwarf (0.5m)) (the illustration to the left is taken from Campbell and Reece's Biology.)

This whole thought process about Mendel came about because the two pea varieties I have differ in five of these Mendelian characteristics:

Flower colour: Early Crop Massey- white, Golden Podded- purple
Seed colour: Early Crop Massey- green, Golden Podded- yellow
Pod shape: Early Crop Massey- inflated, Golden Podded- constricted
Pod colour: Early Crop Massey- green, Golden Podded- yellow
Height: Early Crop Massey- 0.5m (dwarf), Golden Podded- 2m (tall)

I have no plans to do the intercrosses to re-prove Mendel's findings, but it's pretty cool to think that peas haven't changed much in 150 years!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

This week I'm grateful... that I knew Jean Panton

Another Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post. This week I wanted to write about Jean Panton, a wonderful woman who died last weekend. I feel a bit odd about writing a obituary, but all week I have felt in that awkward position of feeling very sad about Jean's death despite the feeling that I didn't know her really well, and a blog entry seemed to be appropriate (I would be happy to modify or remove it at the request of people who knew Jean better than I- contact details in the right column).

Jean grew up in Hobart, trained as a journalist, and was employed for a period within the University of Tasmania. With no formal scientific training she recognized that there were families in Tasmania that were prone to leukemia and with little support from the scientific community she took it upon herself to trace the family trees of these families for over 30 years- all on an unpaid basis- believing that one day the data she had collected would enable the discovery of the genetic causes of leukemia susceptibility.

Only recently, scientific technology has advanced enough to allow scientists to start using the data that Jean collected to start to discover new leukemia susceptibility genes. Jean was also passionate about the Tasmanian community and environment, and- even as an 80 year old grandmother- was a an unlikely campaigner for the Tasmanian Greens party and other environmental, heritage and community causes in Hobart. Her commitment to these causes was recognised by awards including a Medal of the Order of Australia, and Hobart Senior Citizen of the Year.

I knew Jean through my mother, who had worked with her occasionally and had formed a long friendship. I remember coming along to Jean's house as a child, and listening in on conversations, often about Jean's excitement at having scoured the newspapers and connecting two leukemia-prone families (the larger the family, the easier it is to find the leukemia-susceptibility genes) and her modesty about winning prizes- I recall one in the late 80s or early 90s, when few people would think about recycling, Jean won a prize for her strategy of covering cardboard boxes with used wrapping paper to make blocks for her grandchildren.

I also have a vivid recollection of another occasion when I went to my mother's office and the talk was all indignity about how a thoughtless researcher had been allocated an office that Jean had used while it was vacant. He had found boxes of records related to her research- irreplaceable medical records and notes collated over years- and had sent them for disposal. At the time that I walked in, Jean had driven up to Hobart Tip in the hope of locating the papers.

This incident was a perfect illustration of two sides of Jean- the dismissive contempt with which too many in the research community treated her because she was not a traditionally trained researcher, and the data she was fervently collecting were not immediately yielding results (because the requisite technology was not powerful enough), but more impressively, the dedication that Jean showed to her voluntary cause- at this stage she would have easily been in her 60s, yet believed in the importance of her work so much that she would dig through the tip rubbish to salvage the data. I didn't know so much about Jean's involvement in the Tasmanian Greens, and the Hobart Community Centre, but I have no doubt she showed the same zeal and vigour in every cause she believed in.

As a person, Jean was intelligent, modest and thoughtful. I saw her several times on visits to Hobart, because she had heard I would be around and mentioned that if we had any time would we like to drop by. When my mother told me of her death, she added that she had been her usual active self up until then. A notice from her school- another community she actively supported- sums up what I want to say about Jean:

Jean's untiring, active commitment to the Tasmanian community, the environment and her School made a difference and will remain an inspiration and example for girls who follow her.

Rest in peace, Jean. You made many differences.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

This weekend I am grateful for... rain

This week's Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post, and (beyond the usual family and friends) the easy answer was that this weekend I am grateful for:


Lots of lovely, deep, soaking rain, undoing the effects of the drought here. (With apologies to people for whom the last 36 hours has had too much rain...) I tried to grab some pictures from the Melbourne Water site to show how Melbourne Water storages are their fullest since Big Bro was born. Of course this is great for gardeners, but also means that every sports ground can be watered rather than the 1-in-4 of last year.

A friend commented to me last year, "do you ever think- one day we will have to explain to our children that we used to use drinking water on the garden?"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More on online shopping

My mention of online shopping last week spurred a few off-blog comments from other people about their favourite online retailers. I am clearly not alone, judging from this article in The Age yesterday. I like to support local businesses on the truly local level, but when I'm choosing between purchasing from two large companies that both use developing world labour forces, economics and quality are my major deciding factors.

Does that make me a bad Australian?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The highs and lows of a vegie patch

It was a gorgeous, warm, sunny weekend- well, gorgeous if you were human, not so gorgeous if you were one of three tomato seedling that had been potted out on Friday and neglected.

I felt a bit bummed to see their withered corpses when we got home on Sunday evening. Even more bummed when I found Minnesota Melon #2 with a broken neck and bite marks within 24 hours of being potted out. Bummed enough to not take any photos- that's bummed! Melon #1 had withered unexpectedly when I had potted it up, so I was feeling pretty down about my prospects of getting a melon this year -continuing my failures from previous years.

More generally I was wondering why I bother trying to grow vegies from seed when I could just roll down to Bunnings and pick up some fruiting beefsteak tomato plant

Then yesterday I pulled up two thumb-size carrots and picked three pods of peas.Not much at all, so I popped them in a bowl for my no-raw-vegetable boys to eat stare at. Little Bro sampled a pea and a carrot, and rejected them as usual. But Big Bro declared the peas delicious and snaffled them up.

Then, wonder of wonders, one long carrot became this:

And suddenly I remembered why I have a vegie patch.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Not-Quite-Fridge Chronicles

Maxabella, Queen of Linkies (by my estimation), has been running The Fridge Chronicles for several months, which I excused myself from on the basis that we have a non-magnetic and therefore barren fridge door. I have been granted an exemption from the letter of the linky law, so I'll show a couple of pictures of what might be on my fridge if it were stickable... the fact that I don't blutac anything onto it probably suggests I'm not a fridge door type personality... and besides, the kitchen cupboards have way more surface area for covering...

Most of what we post is kiddie art work. I put up my favourites of the reams that come home from kindy (do us parents reduce their recycling costs?)

First up, "My weekend" and Untitled, both by Big Bro, and which I liked in a Picasso-esque way. They demonstrate two stages of Big Bro's artistic evolution: Untitled is his abstract style, which explores the textures and melding of the media (ie, he evidently spends a lot of time testing of mixing colours and different ways to colour, as well as creating abstract masterpieces like "Blue Pencil Line on Recycled White Invoice Sheet"). "My weekend" is a response to the demands of institutionalization for normalcy and representative art (ie, when I complimented him on the people in the middle, Big Bro replied "the teacher told me I had to to draw pictures, not scribble any more". Fair call, I thought.)
Next, a bit of ancient and modern: the top are Big Bro's pre-2 art, while the bottom was fairly recent. I thought it was a digger and a truck, but apparently the purple is a rainbow, yellow is rain, the green is a house and the blue is water running off the roof into a rainwater tank. Atta boy!
A bit more art, in a picture of Dada- glasses and all, drawn in one line by my experimental artist (he needs an etcha-sketch?), plus the most exciting things we get in our letter box- the occasional post card, in this case all from my mum. Big Bro still doesn't understand the postal system, and wonders why she dropped them off without saying hi.

Then there are recipes around the place. Ilipilli's sourdough bread is on a postit elsewhere for quick reference, while this caramel slice recipe from the side of the condensed milk tin was intended for a guest who hasn't yet come back... And the (few) birthday invitations Big Bro receives take months to remove. I only removed last year's version of this invitation a couple of weeks ago.... did I mention this will probably be my only Fridge Chronicles, as things won't change for ages?
Finally, odd little notes and aide-memoires, again without expiry dates. This book recommendation- Cinnamon Gardens- is from a Sri-Lankan-Canadian visitor in early 2009. I have actually bought it for B's parents who didn't say whether it was any good so I suspect it wasn't... (hmm, must read it myself?) Evidently the stick of the postit ran out so rather than discard such a vital piece of paper, for some reason I used extra sticking. Y- why- indeed?

I think by this point you're seeing why a non-magnetised fridge is a good thing for clutterbugs like us?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

This weekend I am grateful for... freesias and technology

Time for another Maxabella-inspired grateful post. This week I'm grateful for:
1. Freesias, with their brilliant colours and amazing scent, heavy in the morning air. They could nearly convert me to an ornamental gardener.
2. Among many things I am grateful for in B is that he is a technology adopter. It's a nice wake to follow it. What makes this week special? He's set up AppleTV, which means that these days our tv is not just a tv. It YouTubes. It iTunes. It iPhotos. It rocks.

What are you grateful for this weekend?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mysterious pinks

One of the things about having a camera phone is that it's an easy way to make visual memos of interesting things you spot out and about. In the past week I see that I've noted two unusual pink plants. Not sure of the names, but they're both pretty stunning.

This is a bush that was grown as a rough hedge, covered in these ribbonny pink flowers:

And this tree was sprouting new pink leaves, which have me stuck even after scouring Google Images....

Any ideas?

Update: the bush may be Loropetalum (Chinese Fringe Flower)

Who says boys don't like dolls?

Having got started on feminist rants, may I introduce you to two important members of our household:

the creatively named Baby Dolly and Noddy.

Baby Dolly joined us two years ago, inspired by the widespread advice that a "baby" of their own is a good toy for siblings-to-be. Big Bro had plenty of stuffed toys, but no baby dolls, so I made my first venture into the doll market, and quickly discovered that the vast majority of baby dolls are (a) clearly baby girls, (b) intended for little girls and (c) blonde haired and smiley. Given that we knew Little Bro was going to be (a) a baby boy, (b) sibling to a little boy and (c) likely to look like Big Bro, who was most definitely not blonde haired or smiley initially:
(I love his myopic "whacha lookin' at?" expression)
Fancy toy shops had "ethnic" dolls of various racial backgrounds, but they all seemed to be pretty expensive for a toy that may well be consigned to the back of the cupboard, so when I spotted the rack of non-feminine, non-blonde dolls at ten bucks apiece at the (otherwise) awful Toys'R'Us, I forgave them their flaws and grabbed one. Big Bro was interested, and a few days later I had one of those irrational moments of relief, realising that yes, Little Bro-to-be might even be Big Bro's friend one day, when Big Bro offered Baby Dolly a prized toy train.

Baby Dolly soon became an important part of Big Bro's life. We took him on adventures in the pram, showed him toys, dressed him, undressed him, dressed him, undressed him... And once Little Bro was on the scene, there were all sorts of other ideas Big Bro came up with- breastfeeding ("mipple, Ba'y Do'y?"), patting, sitting in baby seats, carrying in a sling (brilliant idea by my mum), and offering Ba'y Do'y to Little Bro for a cuddle. These days Baby Dolly comes and goes a bit more, but when he's in-da-house, he gets plenty of attention from both boys. Little Bro is especially interested in those self-shutting eyes; Big Bro likes wardrobe changes (and let me add, finding new clothes for a baby boy doll is even more difficult than finding the baby boy doll in the first place!)

Noddy, on the other hand, has one job- guardian of the cot, keeper of the nocturnal peace. I think the Little Bro-Noddy duo are pretty cute together- if I were going to make a Little Bro doll, he would come out pretty much like Noddy- round face, button nose, big eyelashes and a cowlick. Bring on the Book Week Parade 2014!

Noddy is permitted the occasional wave or photo op, but Little Bro is very strict about him knowing his position. I must say I encourage it- the hoo-haa when Noddy absents himself from the cot really makes me think he may need a stage double...

Of course, when you have dolls in the house, they occasionally need visitors. Like Akeema, let out of a friend's kindy on weekend release. It's a clever idea they had- Abeena visits a different family each weekend with her diary, (parents slave away to live up to the previous weeks' efforts!) and then on Monday Abeena's adventures are the subject of show and tell.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parity, parity, parity, oi oi oi! OR Be still my throbbing credit card

I'm usually not that excited about economics and finance, but at the moment the Australian dollar's rise-and-rise (or the US dollar's fall-and-fall) has got me captivated. Will it cross the 1:1 "parity" exchange rate?
Why does this interest me? Pure self interest: you see, somehow in the last month or two, I've found that online shopping suits me. It's not that I haven't shopped online before, but suddenly I've found myself shopping online rather than going to a physical shop.

I think it started with discovering The Book Depository. Like Amazon in having way better prices than elsewhere, but with free worldwide shipping. Take the original Railway Series (aka Thomas the Tank Engine; the original Rev W. Awdry books are by far the best written)- I'm looking to get a few for Little Bro's birthday. Borders Online, which now I see has a price guarantee- meaning it should be the cheapest of Australian shops- stocks each of these books for $15.95. The Book Depository price is $7.61- half that. By the bye, while you're checking out The Book Depository, for some mindless entertainment for which the web is legendary, click onto the Live site, where you can watch people buying in real time. Complete time waster, but completely addictive!

Meanwhile, across the pond, The Little Aussie Battler's strength suddenly opens up the world of US online shopping. Never let anyone tell you otherwise: American retailers know how to make you spend. Offer excellent websites. Offer lots of sales. Offer incentives. Offer (almost) unlimited returns. Oh, and offer a huge range of "stuff". And from B's recent shopping expeditions work trips I know which children's brands I like. A friend was taking advantage of the Gymboree sale a month or two ago, and asked if I wanted to share postage. Why not? I thought, as I like Gymboree and I found a few cheap items and a few items that would make nice gifts (like girls' dresses in colours other than pink). All well and good, but then came the Gymbucks. $175 of them, to be used in the first two weeks of October. Suddenly I remembered all the cute Gymboree items I hadn't thought to get first time around, and with $25 off every $50 their value escalated.

And then I wondered whether Old Navy ship to Australia. Well, it turns out that, as of last week, all the Gap family of brands do. Suddenly there are a heap more nice clothes at good prices within my reach. The wonders of online...

Please don't overestimate my shopaholic tendencies. I'm not really that much of a shopper. I was surprised that in five years I've bought fewer than 20 things from eBay. I do what's needed, and that's enough. I certainly don't have the nous to buy clothes online for myself, but when it comes to children's clothes (or books for that matter), wherever I shop the deciding factors are going to be: style (what is it?), size (what format is it?) and price. If you give me a package with those criteria met, then I'll take it. And if it's online, all the better, and I'll spend the afternoon with my kids at the park rather than at the shops. Any day.

Go on, tempt me- I'm hooked: where's your favourite website for spending money?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

10 things I love to do in the garden with my children

Little Garden Helpers issued an open invitation to post about 10 things I love to do with my children in the garden:

1.Run, jump, roll and everything else you can do on a lawn. People might call it "green cancer", but by watering it with bath water it's not using too much water and it's worth the effort of mowing when we have a space to play.

2. Discover hideyholes. I love the idea of secret gardens, walled gardens and sunken gardens- that idea of your own secluded space to commune with nature. Growing up in a fairly free-range manner I would find spaces under bushes or up trees to hide. My boys live in a much more constrained garden complete with fences and gates. We don't have a permanent cubby house, but instead occasionally put up our beach tent (which has been used more in the garden than at the beach). Better still, I hope the boys can find their own spaces; at the moment they are enjoying crawling in and out of the Westringea hedge.
3. Planting out seedlings and seeds. Currently not the easiest activity, given Little Bro's quest for dominance in the shovel department, but we manage and I still enjoy being part of this cycle of plant life.
4. Pick fresh food. One day the boys might even eat a leaf...
5. Talk about how plants "work": the leaves breath and make food, the roots drink water and eat dirt, etc. Big Bro is fascinated by plants' favourite food being animal poop.
6. Find critters. Worms and earwigs seem to be appearing in droves. Yay for the former, boo for the latter; at least someone enjoys seeing them.
7. Watch birds. Even though most of the birds visiting our garden are mundane introduced species like Indian mynahs and blackbirds, there's something exciting about seeing them. The boys go quiet and stare; the awe in which we watch reminds me of D.H. Lawrence's "A snake came to my water trough..." poem, except we try not to scare the birds away. Once the boys are bigger, we'll take a torch out on summer nights and spotlight the ringtail possums that run along the fence and the flying foxes that plunder the fig tree.
8. Dig, dig, dig, and better still, find buried treasures from bygone eras. Well, I like the treasures best; I think the boys just like to dig...
9. Put a flower in my hair. The boys think this is hilarious; I find it quite charming that they will bring me flowers to wear.
10. Eat outside. Barbecue. The weather has warmed up in the last week and the temperatures have crossed my threshold for outdoor dining. We're lucky enough to have a covered deck meaning that you can enjoy the outdoors without the full blast of the elements. With Little Bro being an enthusiastically independent, and thus messy eater, I can't deny enjoying the easy cleanup outside via the hose. And the same goes for the barbecue- carbonizing the hotplate is much more relaxing than scrubbing pans. And there's also Famous Five motto, "food always tastes so much better outside".

What are your 10 favourite things to do in the garden?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

This weekend I'm grateful for...

Where is the year going? It's October, and already time for another Maxabella-inspired Grateful Saturday. So this weekend I am grateful for:
  1. Spring weather- our week was split between cool, rainy days and sunny, warm days. I was going to just be grateful for the warmth that let the boys roll pasta and eat dinner outside, but I should put a plug in for rain. Do come again another day...
  2. Friends- who go along with my quirky ideas, who share postage on mail orders, who listen to my minor crises and who arrange a catchup after 15 years (NB this load was spread amongst several friends. Just so you don't think I am a completely high maintenance friend.)
  3. Tiny heartbeats- a just-pregnant friend whose family has had a ghastly year for health problems went along to an urgent ultrasound expecting the worst and messaged me afterwards to say she saw a tiny heartbeat. Grateful is an understatement :)
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