Saturday, May 21, 2011

This weekend I'm grateful for... happy endings

Lousy blogger that I am, I forgot the update to the Protect Medical Research campaign.
This fortnight I've been grateful for good sense prevailing, and the medical research budget being maintained. Good news. I will hang up my activist pants for now...

Brought to you by Maxabella Loves.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

This weekend I was grateful for a familiar face

Oh, that's right, I have a blog. Fortunately it's safe to leave your blog alone for a bit while you're busy doing other things.

It's not quite the same as leaving your 4-ish month old baby asleep in your car at the local shopping carpark while you nip around the corner to do.... who knows what... for at least 10 minutes. 10 minutes being the length of time I stood there wondering whether you would be coming before the police arrived.

Fortunately for me, most of those minutes were in the presence of Andrea, a mum I often see around the area. We agreed that this had moved out of reasonable behaviour and called 000. Just as the police were dispatched, the mum turned up, was fairly uncooperative about the 000 operator's request that we check the baby was ok (fortunately bub wiggled for the first time just then), and rapidly drove off in tears.

It was an odd situation that I hadn't been in before- calling 000 is definitely an unfavourable judgement on someone else's parenting decision. I was really grateful that Andrea turned up when she did- I was never going to leave the baby alone, but knowing the point at which I could say "there is no reasonable explanation for this" was definitely a 'problem shared is a problem halved' situation.

Part of Maxabella's Grateful linky.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cures not cuts: protect medical research for children's health

Rest in peace, little Elliot- who was only a few weeks younger than Big Bro when he died from a brain tumour in February.

"Without medical research there is no hope for the families of sick children."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This weekend I am grateful for... humour

This week has been busy in the research world, and not finding cures- trying to get the government to listen. Rallies and all! And work itself has been hectic. When things are hard in the office, I love that release when suddenly it all gets too much and we collapse into giggles. Maybe that's how these reseachers felt at the prospect of losing their jobs? (One is my friend.)

So this weekend, inspired by Maxabella, I'm grateful for humour.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning about... medical research funding

I took the boys down to the Melbourne Rally for Research today, and tweeted in the twitter version at the same time. It was pretty exhilarating. We stood with 3 ladies who'd come down from the country, a KPMG health economist and a heart transplant recipient- and 4000 other supporters of research.

Big Bro had, unprompted, been talking about his version of the issue at Kinder on Monday- "Big Julia needs to STOP and start respecting doctors who want to make sick people better"- so much so that the teacher asked me for more information! She also asked me to discuss the rally with him in terms of "togetherness", a topic that they're starting to cover as a class. It was an interesting thinking point for me, too- the togetherness of researchers, clinicians, patients and patients' friends and families.

There has been a heap of coverage today about the issue of why medical research needs funding by the Australian government. The whole issue was addressed pretty well in this piece from 7pm project (which I have never actually watched in person, 7pm being prime bed-preparation time); it's from about 3-7 minutes (unless you want to see the QLD infomercial!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

This Weekend I am grateful for... playdates

This week my Maxabella-inspired Grateful post is for that wonderful currency of parents- the unaccompanied playdate. We've just started them this year, and that whole "it takes a village" mentality of sharing the occasional kindy pickup has been fantastic, both as dumper and host. One child down on Thursday, and when Little Bro took a nap I slept. And when Little Friends come here, they nick off to Big Bro's room and apart from the occasional update on where "dads and babies" is up to (we've sung six songs and the baby won't sleep) I feel like I'm juggling half a child less. Long live the playdate!

On a separate note relevant to a previous Grateful post, the medical research funding cuts were on the news tonight. Still on :( There are rallies in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Twitter on Tuesday at 1-2pm AEST (12-2 for Twitter). If you're around any of those then, why not make some noise for a healthy future for your family?


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

If you'd had breast cancer, would you want the government to help you?

So it's real: the Federal Government thinks that "ordinary Australians" won't care if 1600 medical research jobs are cut, research programs are terminated and clinical trials of lifesaving treatments are cancelled.

I bet ordinary Australians would care if medical research had helped their family survive a five generation history of breast cancer.

Discoveries Need Dollars. Protect Medical Research.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The weekend I am grateful for... my job, my outlet and some answers

Oh that's right- I have a blog.

I was reminded by this email from my kind cousin -which will be addressed in another post (promise)- and realised that it has been more than a week since I have looked at my blog, let alone two weeks since I have posted.

The reason, and subject of this week's Maxabella-inspired, MultipleMum-hosted Grateful Post is my new job. It's awesome and it's wonderful and it's super crazy BUSY!! B asked last week, "would you have imagined that there was a job out there for you where you can claim reading newspapers and books, and using Facebook and Twitter* were all part of a day's work?" And best of all, it was what I needed (but my blog didn't)- an outlet to write.

So, dear readers, I'd be grateful for a couple of answers-
  1. is writing juice a finite resource? I feel like my reserves are low once I've fueled the work words. Or is that just my energy reserves?
  2. do your colleagues know that you blog? And do they read your blog? Mine know- because it came up in my interview- and it's been mentioned broadly, but (I think) they haven't seen my blog. Partly because I know it's got lots of unedited (in a bad way), rambly writing and isn't beautiful or highly successful or anything. Not that I'm ashamed of it... but it's just not that... professional. Is that just me, or do other bloggers feel like that?
*Yes, as of a couple of weeks ago, I tweet. @_vTg_ but so far it's been more about me than children and gardening, hence my lack of connections between here and there.

Friday, March 11, 2011

This weekend I am grateful for... medical research

I heard a rumour this week that the Federal Government is planning to cut medical research funding in the May federal budget, as part of the broader savings agenda needed to pay for flood rebuilding and other spending commitments like the NBN. While I have no problem with paying for these important projects, I do have a BIG problem with the apparent presumption that Australia can afford to cut medical research funding. Facebook and Twitter campaigns have already started to spread the word about why medical research needs ongoing funding- and as of Sunday there is a website! Things are moving quickly!! I thought it was worth using this week's Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post to say why I'm grateful for medical research:

1. Medical research improves our health and saves lives.
Case in point: this is Little Bro.

Born in 2008, saved in 1928. 100 years ago I don't know if Little Bro or I would still be around. When I was 37 weeks pregnant I had bacterial pneumonia and spend a few nights in hospital being pumped full of penicillin and other antibiotics. If it hadn't been for medical researchers who developed penicillin as an antibiotic, including the Australian Howard Florey , who knows how Little Bro and I would have fared. There's so much that we take for granted in our lives- immunizations, lying babies on their backs to reduce SIDS deaths, cardiac pacemakers, humidicribs, taking folate while pregnant, IVF- which are the result of medical research.

2. Medical research is good for the economy.

I'm not an economist, but those in the know (like Access Economics) say that for every $1 that the government puts into medical research, $1.17 is returned to the economy. Medical research improves the health of the country, reduces medicare costs and decreases hospital stays.

Medical research is the best investment in your life.

Are you grateful for medical research?

Disclaimer: my entire career has been paid for one way or another in large part by the Australian and US research budgets. But I'm grateful. Very grateful.

PS. And I'm top of Maxabella's linky list!! Howzat?!

PPS on Saturday. Thanks for your supportive comments. The Discoveries Need Dollars Facebook page has just posted a touching story about Ava, a little girl given the gift of hearing with the Australian-invented Bionic Ear.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is medical research funding small change?

I guess every mum has their moments of minor indulgence: for me it's 15 blissful, uninterrupted minutes of News Radio in the bathroom every morning (10 if the natives are restless). This morning it was very nearly my last 15 minutes as I choked in the shower hearing that the budget for promoting the Coalition's failed Work Choices legislation had been a cool $100 million.

One hundred million dollars. And what did that achieve? An electoral rout and a "never again" tag (for what it's worth). And I guess there were some jobs and profits made at advertising agencies and the media outlets that ran the ads as a silver lining.

The obvious question is, what else could the government do with $100mil?

I'm no economist, but I can spout what I know about: the cost of medical research. You know, that thing that saves lives...
Yesterday it was announced that the federal government would invest $107million over the next five years on nine largescale Australian research programs addressing complex research problems like how to improve the health outcomes of Australians with developmental disabilities or who have suffered strokes and developing new treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Maybe workplace reform is about as complex a problem as any of these... But is advertising a failed campaign worth five years of medical research?

Image from

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Justine Clarke for the Senate?

I am normally a believer in the procedure of the Australian parliament, but yesterday's efforts at a speech performance by South Australian Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher (below) really did verge on the bizarre. I thought politicians' staffers were meant to prevent massive gaffes like this... Fortunately in the twelve overnight hours they have woken up enough to remove the following from Senator Fisher's wikipedia entry:

"Fisher proved herself to be mentally deficient when she decided it was an effective debating technique to do the Hokey-Pokey and the Time Warp in the senate during a discussion about a carbon tax." (You can still see it in the "View History" tab)

If this is how the senate operates these days, may I make some nominations for the next election?

This works best if you can run the two videos simultaneously :)

Candidate 1:


Candidate 2:

Let's leave performing to the professionals, Senator Fisher. Your predecessor, Amanda Vanstone, could have told you that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Beauty in biology

And now for something a bit different: beauty in biology, from the Wellcome Trust Image Awards. If only I lived in London so I could see the exhibition for real; half a world away I'll settle for sharing the real pixels with you.

First, for my neglected gardening followers, a garden friend:



Next, a guess what...

Mouse retina


(Isn't it beautiful?)

Speaking of beautiful:

Ruby-tailed wasp


And finally, my favourite:

Blood clot on a plaster


Who would have ever thought there was beauty in a used bandaid?!

PS. Does any clever person out there know how to make my columns wider? I'm sick of good pictures being chopped off! In Blogger I tried Design>Template Designer>adjust column widths and got "this is not possible for this template".

Monday, February 28, 2011

Book of the week: Marvin K Mooney will you please go now

I don't have a consistent rationale or criteria for selecting a Suburban Sonnet-inspired Book of the Week, so this week it started with this:

Which is of course a Zike-Bike to anyone who knows Marvin K Mooney by heart.

This "just" another rollicking, rhyming, nonsensical Dr Seuss- in this case the theme being:

the time has come, the time is now, Marvin K Mooney will you please GO NOW.

Marvin is then offered a series of suggestions, including:

"you may go on a Zike-Bike if you like". Big Bro often pores over the picture, trying to work out how the Zike-Bike works. Must say, I never had the heart to say that it was just made up- which is fortunate, given there is a real-life one out there in the world!

Friday, February 25, 2011

This weekend I'm grateful for peace and calm

Hello, strangers- yes, I've been MIA in the Real World. Funny how three weeks of "not working" was harder work than "working". I was actually quite looking forward to starting The New Job. And, I'm pleased to say, I really enjoyed the week!

The Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post brings me back to the Blogosphere. It's certainly been a week- and month- in which I've been counting my blessings. So this weekend, as they say in the classic blogs, I'm grateful for:

Peace: my friend T writes about living as an expat in Bahrain on her blog From Melbourne to Manama. Check out her posts this week about living through the protests there.

Calm: of the seismologic variety, in this part of the world. Christchurch, I am thinking of you. Again, but much more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Should relatives attend a baby's funeral?

Should family members attend the funerals of a 3 month old and an 8 month old baby?

Should family members be able to choose where the funeral is held?

If the family had no money to cover the costs associated with the funerals, should the taxpayer pay some costs associated with a funeral?

These were some of the questions that have been raised by certain politicians in the last 24 hours, most prominently Tony Abbott and the opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrisson. Of course, their view has been influenced by the fact that the funerals were for Zahra El Ibrahimy and Sam Husseini who were drowned, along with their mothers (whose bodies were never recovered) and about 30 other people while scenes like this were underway:

It disgusts me that this debate had to be a debate at all. We are in a country that already provides bereavement payments to the poorer members of our society; why does this even have to be a question? Let the families grieve.

I am relieved that some members of the Coalition have come out against this dirty piece of politics, and that the mood in the mainstream media (and even The Australian!) seems to be one of compassion (and common sense and decency).

Rest in peace with your mothers, Zahra and Sam.

Image from

Postscript- there is a much more thorough discussion and a lot of insightful comments at the only politically-skewed blog I read, Grog's Gamut. One anonymous comment I found particularly pertinent was:

I understand the Defence department paid travel costs for 60+ soldier colleagues to come from Darwin to Launceston for the memorial service for Corporal Richard Atkinson on Monday. Two of his closest mates were flown back from Afghanistan to be there. This seems as appropriate to me as flying seven people from Christmas Island to Sydney for the funerals of their families.

Hardly accurate to suggest there is something strange about the Australian Government paying for funeral travel costs in such cases.

Friday, February 11, 2011

This weekend I'm grateful for.... freebies and almost freebies

This week's Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post comes after a week in which my wallet was left a bit plumper than usual. So I'm grateful for:
- freebies: the postman came knocking twice this week, leaving a frequent shopper reward bottle of wine and a lucky winning of three recipe books (thank you Expatriate Chef, for whom the postage to Australia wasn't so free). Both are good things to have in the house once the kiddos are in bed.
- almost-freebies: it was the week that I rediscovered my old student hangout, Thresherman's Bakehouse in Carlton. A $5 slice of quiche was massive enough to feed two hungry boys, and $7 gave me a loaf of bread, four Turkish rolls and four mini-quiches for the freezer from the baked-today bargain table. Then, this morning we happened across a "megagarage" sale, and for the princely sum of $7.10, walked away with two "never hung" Maisy prints, a Captain Feathersword outfit and a My Little Pony coveted by Big Bro, who has already had his 10c-worth brushing out its Rapunzelesque mane.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book of the week: The Cable Car and the Dragon

The Cable Car and the Dragon- Herb Caen.
Big Bro and I brought this book out in honour of Chinese New Year; it's the tale of two exotic creatures who both wanted a taste of a a different life. Charlie, a San Francisco cable car, is on the top of Nob Hill late one Chinese New Year's night realises that after "running up and down San Francisco for sixty years, (he) has NEVER seen a Chinese New Year's Parade or a Chinese Dragon". So instead of turning left towards Russian Hill, for the first time in his life he turns right, and ventures off the tracks into Chinatown. There he meets the dragon Chu Chin Chow, who for sixty years has lived a reclusive life in the hills across the bay, emerging once a year to head the Chinese New Year Parade through Chinatown.

This is another of my childhood books, probably bought when we visited my aunt in San Francisco when I was three (or else sent from there later). It's quite a wordy book- the recommended age of 4-8 years seems quite appropriate- and goes into details of the history and mechanics of cable cars, which Big Bro enjoys. It couldn't be set anywhere else- it's very much a San Francisco tale, with mentions of Nob and Russian Hills and particular streets. If When we take the boys to San Francisco I'll be making sure we take the Cable Car over the same tracks, looking down over Chinatown. Who knows, we might even ride Charlie.

One of my favourite bits of the book, which I always make sure I read, is the dedication:
For my son Christopher, who, having had the taste and judgement to be born in San Francisco in 1965, knows quite a bit about cable cars and dragons. He also knows enough about his father to listen to the following tale with an air of polite disbelief.

Book of the Week was devised by Suburban Sonnet

Saturday, February 5, 2011

This weekend I am grateful for.... handymen

This week's Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post is about that wonderful species, Handy humanis, the common handyman. B and I are not at all handy when it comes to home repairs, and we are quite happy to contract out. It's definitely worth the cash, cuppa (always, always white with one) and two biscuits.

This week we decided it was time to have our front door trimmed to fit our house's La Niña dimensions (which evidently have a different lean from the El Niño version). This was all achieved, and I was grateful for Jon the Handyman's handiness. Even more so, as I swept away the wood shavings and collected the offcuts I realised that I am even more grateful when I encounter that rare subspecies Handy humanis cleanupafterwards. Even so, it's nice to have a front door that opens.

Image from, which I didn't use to find a handyman.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

This weekend I was grateful for... Happy endings and beginnings

Better late than never to get in my Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post? TenTwelve busy days went by, but somehow blogging (much) wasn't part of my busy schedule. I'm was left with lots to be grateful for, like:

- happy endings: my long awaited "out with the old" part of my career change finally came, and I was surprisingly calm. I realised I had been subconsciously preparing for it long before it was decided. When you leave a research lab, you are definitely expected to have your affairs in order. (for reasons explained by Lady Science, whom I'm still laughing about). I made lists, sublists and lists of lists, and when my last day came, somehow I was able to calmly stroll down for lunch with a bunch of lovely colleagues, and head out the door on time. And it was all good.

- happy beginnings. Not coincidentally, my end of old job coincided with Big Bro starting at "Big Boy Kinder". He had been looking forward to it since the open day last August, when he discovered they provided scissors for the pupils' use (big plus point for Big Bro). I had been looking forward to it for, oh, almost two years when I visited it and decided it was THE kinder for us. (Because, y'know, attend the wrong kinder and your life goes down the toilet... Not). So I was very grateful for Big Bro having a happy- if tiring- first day.

- oldie-but-goodie recipes. We ended up hosting two lunches last weekend so I happily applied myself to the oven, stovetop and drinks cabinet. I'd forgotten how much of a doddle pavlova is, and also got round to making a Pimms cocktail, which went down very easily in 38 degree weather (fortunately I realised this would happen and went half strength). Good food, good company: it's the Good Life :)

- time to cross some items off the never-ending list. I'm currently in-between jobs (!) and discovering that even without children there are only so many things you can fit into the day. And the internet hasn't been one of them- I've barely been home! It's nice to feel productive, but at this rate I'll need a holiday from my not-quite-holiday!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Learning about.... space travel

Better late than never to post about our third "learning about" topic. Big Bro's choice again, space travel. It ended up mostly being an internet-based project, with us printing pictures to paste together to make a book about space travel, and watching movies on YouTube. The text of the book went like this:

The first rockets did not carry people.

Sputnik was the first satellite to fly around the earth.

Animals like Laika the dog went into space before people did.

Before people had flown in rocket to space, Joe Kittinger flew to the edge of space in huge balloons called Excelsior. To get back to earth he had to jump with a parachute.

Yuri Gagarin was the first person to go into space in a rocket.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first people to go to the moon in a rocket.

Space shuttles are spaceships that take off with a rocket
and land on earth like a plane.

There is an International Space Station
for people to live in space. To get there you need to go in a rocket or a space shuttle.

Some spaceships have flown to other planets
to take pictures for us to see.

Some people think aliens come to earth
in flying saucers from other planets.
One day people might be able to have holidays in space.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Book of the Week: Wynken, Blynken and Nod

I've mentioned before that I've been lucky that my mother has kept many of my picture books which are now gradually relocating themselves here. Eugene Field's Wynken, Blynken and Nod has been one of these, which I often bring out when the boys are in need of a calming book.

Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew....

It's a dreamy verse about three boys sailing into the sky, and I love its rhythm and quiet tones. Our edition is illustrated by Barbara Cooney, with beautiful monochrome scenes which match the quietness of the verse.

The internet is a wonderful place, and in writing this I discovered a Denver link to Eugene Field, who was a journalist there for two years and managed to leave his house. The statue in the picture at the top, of the Fishermen Three, Wynken, Blynken and Nod, turns out to be located in Denver's Washington Park near Field's house. Of course I never saw it while we lived there.....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An insight into my former life?

I doubt am not sure whether I have any readers with a science background, and if I do, she they have probably already seen this Lady Gaga sendup from an Alzheimers Lab at a prestigious research institute in Texas, which has "gone viral". There are a lot of "in lab" jokes, but it's too good to not share.
(Warning- a few bad words)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The golden rules of childhood- according to the parents

A comment I made on Facebook, and some funny comments I received back led me to collate what I think are the only things about children you can count on- the golden rules.

1. The only time children sleep in is when an early start is required. Adapted by babies the "s/he never naps thing long" rule when parents base their day's activity around a certain wake-time.

2. A baby's first all night sleep will invariable coincide with the insomnia of another family member.

3. The penultimate five minute rule: groups of children play most happily and cooperatively five minutes before departure from the scene is required. Mothers have adapted this rule in the playdate setting to the "time for one more cuppa" rule.

4. Food always tastes better at someone else's house, or especially at childcare. Especially especially when the same recipe or product brand is used. Or an extra-large box of said product has been purchased.

5. The whiter the clothes, the darker the stain. Stain tenacity is also proportional to cost, parental fondness and intended use of the outfit.

6. The likelihood of a vomit is inversely proportional to the ease of cleaning the target surface. In a similar vein, toilet training accidents only happen on sofas and carpets, preferably those belonging to childless adults.

7. Telephones and doorbells are programmed to ring in the five minutes following a child settling to sleep. When of course they're not really asleep. Those annoying "sign up your credit card for a charity so I get my commission" doorknockers also sit on your front lawn waiting for this critical moment at which to strike.

8. Inappropriate words, body noises and non-verbal communication (read screeches) sound best at loud volume in churches (ideally funerals), restaurants and critical work functions when the babysitter falls through.

9. The likelihood of a contagious illness striking a home on a particular day is related to the urgency of the parents' work appointments, or desirability of their social commitments. Needless to say, children are always in the best of health to support parents through times of boring seminars, avoidable deadlines and OH&S reviews.

10. Spontaneous kisses and cute smiles always precede the discovery of a huge mess, either in the front hall or the last nappy in the house.

Am I right- are these the truths as we know them? Or have I forgotten the truest of the true?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book of the Week: The Snail and the Whale

I’ve started this post several times on the screen, and more than that in my head, wondering what I should pick as my second Book of the Week (courtesy of Suburban Sonnet). After too much mind-changing I’ve finally settled on….


(Yes, I HAVE settled on it. No more changes now.)

We have all become big Julia Donaldson fans here. First there was The Gruffalo and Toddle Waddle. Thanks to his birthday and Christmas, Little Bro now has an expanded and very popular collection filed in the “D” section. (No, not really.) Big Bro is also a fan, but Little Bro is obsessed. And B and I don’t mind the books, so they keep getting read , and not lost under the couch. No don't admit to that..

All our favourite Julia Donaldsons have catching rhyming text, and a clever story, mostly starring humbler animals becoming unlikely heroes. The Snail and the Whale fits this exactly- a snail on a rock with an “itchy foot” hitches a ride on the tail of a helpful whale who shows him the world. Diaster strikes when the whale is beached (as I write that Little Bro's high pitched, dramatic "Oh no!" comes into my mind), and only the snail can save the day.

The illustrations by Axel Scheffler, who has illustrated many of the Julia Donaldson books, are bright and detailed, and it was no wonder that The Snail and the Whale repeatedly receives Little Bro’s highest honour- “read it again!”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Learning about.... New York

Big Bro and I finished reading James and the Giant Peach last week, and with the finale of the peach's skewering on the Empire State Building and the seed ending up in Central Park as James' house. I suggested we learnt a bit more about New York this week. We managed a bit less than I had planned as Big Bro wasn't well in the middle of the week, but still learnt a bit- certainly enough for Little Bro-the-parrot to exclaim "wook, Empire State Building" as we walked through the (Melbourne) city.

To learn about New York landmarks we looked at photos B and I had taken on trips to New York, and watched a few YouTube clips, including:

This sight-seeing montage set to New York, New York - the boys enjoyed the limousines and black town cars.

The Wiggles' Central Park

New York State of Mind by Alicia Keys

We also watched clips of On the Town, which for whatever reason can't be embedded- but it did bring back memories of the D-Gen's Late Show spoof of the song (which is embeddable)

We also located some New York coloring pages and downloaded paper models of New York landmarks from a cool free site called Paper Toys- including the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. These four structures, plus Central Park seem to be the top five recognizable New York landmarks.

We were going to make a few New York foods, but illness and time got in the way. In the end we used the leftover frankfurters from last week to make hot dogs in honour of the ubiquitous street hot dog carts, and didn't make Waldorf salad or a New York cheesecake, or have a bagel at the New York Bagelry. I got stuck with New York picture books- any recommendations?

It certainly wasn't an exhaustive study- which isn't the idea- but more a hope that in the future if Big Bro hears mention of New York he'll have an idea of what's there. B is off to New York later in the year so it will be a good test of what has stuck.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book of the Week: A few good first chapter books

Suburban Sonnet has started a Book of the Week segment with the invitation to join in- which has inspired me to finally put fingers to keys and tell you about our recent favourites (ok, so it's Books of the Week... you'll survive)

Big Bro's ability to follow stories has steadily increased over the past year, meaning that we've been able to venture into longer picture books like the Tim series, The Velveteen Rabbit, fairy tales and Aesop's Fables, and also into chapter books. Moving into chapter books has been an exciting development for me, as I have lots of fond memories from my childhood as a voracious reader (I wish could say that I read as much these days...)

It started with Enid Blyton's The Wishing Chair, which I couldn't pass by when I spotted it at the local library. It was a good place to start as most of the stories are self-contained, the edition we were reading had pictures on most of the pages, and I think Big Bro enjoyed the general theme of a flying chair. They're pretty simple good-versus-evil stories, with the occasional unfortunate mishap thrown in. I wasn't quite sure how well it was being received until he made this origami wishing chair (either origami or wishing chair is a slightly steep claim, I admit).

Our next adventure was Joan Robinson's About Teddy Robinson. It's a collection of short stories about the adventures of a girl and her apparently-alive bear. They're nice mundane real-life adventures like going to a party or shopping, which children can relate to. Teddy Robinson was a big success, but unfortunately it seems to be out of print so I am still stalking eBay looking for copies that aren't priced for the "collectors' edition" market.

Next on the menu was a return to Enid Blyton- The Enchanted Wood, which is the first of the Faraway Tree series. Jo, Bessie and F(r)anny (the "r" is a post-1980s inclusion) and their friends Moon Face and Silkie have adventures in a magical tree that is a bridge to other lands. It's the same formula as The Wishing Chair, but often the adventures span several chapters. Big Bro initially lost track of some stories, but by the time we launched into books 2 and 3 he had the idea of the multi-chapter story, and was disappointed when it finished. There are heaps of other Enid Blytons I think he'd enjoy- and from my childhood collection and second hand bookshops I've accumulated a queue that includes Mr Pinkwhistle, Bimbo and Topsy and the various Tales... short stories. However, I've been trying to mix them up with other authors so we don't turn into exclusively Enid readers (which is tempting given how many of her books I loved!)

After The Enchanted Wood we tested the Winnie the Pooh water. The first couple of chapters were alright, but even I got a bit lost in the subtleties of the next chapters and it remains half read next to Big Bro's bed. A.A.Milne's children's poetry was much more of a success, and thanks to Lines and Squares Big Bro is "ever so careful to watch (his) feet" whenever he walks on a Melbourne street.

More successful have been a few "real world" classics- My Naughty Little Sister was very popular, as was Milly Molly Mandy. They're opposite ends of the slightly moralistic spectrum- I never realised as a child that My Naughty Little Sister uses the protagonist to illustrate what not to do, while Milly Molly Mandy is unbelievably virtuous- the closest to sin that she ever reached was to briefly consider ignoring the "trespassers will be prosecuted" sign that protected someone else's blackberries before realised that was wrong. That being said, MMM is a very sweet picture of 1920s village life- horses and carts, the occasional excursion to a market town.

By this point I was aware that our repertoire was completely based around books I read as a child, which even then weren't that modern, so to try to get Big Bro a few post-1950s literary experiences I ventured into The Hill of Content bookshop in the city. There I came across Lucy (subject of a Grateful Post) who reassured me that there haven't been a lot of post-1980s classics in the early-chapter book department. Between Lucy and responses to a Facebook enquiry I came up with a few more modern books to try: the Tashi series, which has gone down well so far, and Madame Pampelmousse and Aussie Nibbles which are on the to-read list.

I like the routine of reading a chapter book over several evenings, but part of me wonders what we've forgotten to read in the picture book department- and we're certainly including plenty of picture books in the mix. While I never seem to manage to read enough books to myself, I'm relieved that we have plenty of time to work through the children's section. What are- or were- your favourite first chapter books?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Chinese Mother Theory

Maxabella beat me- and very eloquently- to raise a fascinating article, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, an excerpt from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It's about a style of parenting- and the Chinese-American author, Amy Chua, points out it isn't exclusively a Chinese style- whereby parents expect the utmost from their children. As I commented to Maxabella (excuse my laziness in the cut-and-paste department), I'm half-interested to read the book and I couldn't decide how much of the article was tongue-in-cheek. I agree with the "assume strength, not fragility" strategy, but there were points at which it went too far (Lulu's Piano Saga, for one). Pick your battles, and live your own life. Certainly children need parents' time invested in them, but maybe they also need to see their parents have a sense of perspective.

Postscript: there is a great response, also in the WSJ.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This weekend I'm grateful for the basics

Feeling winded after a particularly punch-in-the-gut week, it's good to have a focus on the positive with my regular Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post.

With mention of deaths of friends and husbands in the blogosphere, and the shock of the Queensland floods, by Thursday I was definitely feeling grateful for the basics- a dry house and a loving and healthy circle of family and friends. On Friday I was grateful that the two personal stories of the Brishbane floods that I had been following ended- in both cases- about 2cm on the side of relief. One of the stories was via The House That A-M Built- I felt terrible on Friday to be checking a blog that is supposed to be about building beautiful homes, expecting mention of the destruction of a home. It was a little ray of sunshine through a dark cloud to read about a near miss.

I'm also grateful for 24 Hour Viruses- not that seeing your child go from healthy to listless and a 40 degree fever in 2 hours is anything good, but to see him pull out as suddenly the next day is something to be grateful for. I just don't know how parents of chronically ill children cope.

Coming up next week (whether I blog about them or not is another matter): the end if a career-era and a childcare era, the attack if the mystery seeds, how rockets make fire, and perhaps even a ripe tomato. And Lego Brickventures- bring it on!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Geeky/cool- electronic clothes, jet lagged mosquitos and why blogging helps

One of my favourite things about my current job is that I'm expected to read scientific journals. There are a lot of tedious technical articles (and more than enough crappy ones) but there are a few diamonds in the rough, which I enjoy finding. More often than not, they're unrelated to my field, so reading them is a bit of an indulgence, but I tell myself that I'm expected to have a broad general knowledge. (Too bad blogging isn't part of my job description...)

This week's crop of interesting stories was especially bountiful, and worthy of sharing. (I think!) They're all from, or mentioned in, the highly competitive- and thus high-powered and very reputable- journals Science and Nature, which unfortunately require a paid subscription for the full-text for most articles. (And no, it wasn't me who paid. It's called a fringe benefit, 'kay?)

This week's cool stories
1. Jet-lag protects mice from malaria (free text): researchers in Edinburgh had two groups of mice, one living a "day shift"- with lights on during the day- and the others living a "night shift", with lights on during the night, and off during the day (so opposite to the day shift mice). The mice on either shift were infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium, and their infected blood was transferred to other mice to transmit the malaria parasite to them (sort-of like a mosquito usually does). Parasites transferred out of one mouse into another of the opposite shift (so day-shift to night-shift or vice versa) didn't grow as quickly as those that stayed on the same shift. For a parasite that lives inside a mouse and can't see, it's pretty nifty! Whatever that means for humans- and whether people working night-shifts in malaria-affected countries are protected from malaria- is a whole new question.

2. Could electronic clothes be a reality? This story is way out of my league, but the outcome is way cool- scientists in Texas have used teeny-weeny pipes of carbon- "nanotubes"- to make teeny-weeny flexible threads or yarns that can carry electrically conductive materials. They can tie them in a knot, plait them, sew with them or weave them- and show how they can make a teeny-weeny thread-like battery. It's tempting to imagine a whole industry of electronics built into clothes- neon lights, body odour sensors and alarmed toilet-training undies, but to be fair I suspect the developers have they eyes firmly set on the bright lights of highly-technical applications that we'll never see. I'll hedge my optimistic bets on a foldable fabric iPad. But not too soon...

3. Why writing (hence blogging) helps us: something to store in my memory bank for about 14 years from now- that there is research showing that if students who are about to take a high-pressure exam are told to write about their anxieties before they sit the exam, they do better than students who didn't do the pre-exam debrief. "Simply writing about one's worries before a high-stakes exam can boost test scores". Expect more steam to be let off by this blogger.

Am I just a geek, or are any of those ideas cool?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Learning about... The New Year

Big Bro and I launched into the New Year full of enthusiasm for a new project, perhaps even a new resolution: to learn about something each week. The idea for this came from Little Garden Helpers' "Teach Your Toddler" series, where the Little Garden Helpers spent six weeks of their summer focussed on a different garden creepy-crawly. I haven't decided whether ours will be a summer activity or last longer- Big Bro starts at his new pre-school in February, so if he seems to be full to the brim with learning from there, we will slacken off at home. But I hope not- we've already had lots of ideas of things we'd like to immerse ourselves in for a week, including:

- caterpillars
- slaters
- Australia Day, Chinese New Year, St Patrick's Day, and other festivals/holidays when possible (takes up about half the weeks!)
- New York
- how houses are built
- sharks, or more specifically, "why sharks don't have bones" (I'll stick with the broader topic I think!)

This week I suggested we learn about the New Year. It's nothing fancy, and mostly just comes from the internet, but by the end of the week we learnt:
- this year is 2011, so is (about) two thousand and eleven years after the time we think Jesus was born (the Christmas Story stuck this year)
- we say the New Year starts on the first of January, but other people around the world think it starts at different times, like Chinese New Year, or the start of Spring
- there are lots of ways to celebrate the New Year, including by saying "happy new year", with fireworks, and singing Auld Lang Syne (Little Bro thought this was the worst song ever!). Our family celebrates by having lunch with Auntie R.
- lots of people like to make New Year's Resolutions to say things they'd like to learn or do in the coming year. Big Bro didn't quite get this, but he did take much more to the idea that the New Year is a time that we can say "bye" to the bad things that happened- or we did- in the old year. There were lots of descriptions of traditions to do with farewelling the previous year with a fire, which I condensed for simplicity into us burning a small twig of our Christmas tree to "say bye to all the bad things from 2010". Big Bro took this to heart, and since then has, several times, either told me/Little Bro that we can't be crabby/rough (respectively, I point out!!) because we said bye to those bad traits over the fire.
- there are lots of New Year food traditions. We made Sesame-Honey cookies, where the sweetness symbolises the good things of the year to come, and the seeds symbolise fecundity, growth and all that (not fertility in our family, thanks!!) and were going to make Nigella's lentil and sausage soup until the weather turned hot, and we substituted pasta with pea and corn (fecundity and all that) and chopped up sausages (which look like coins). We also ate "the twelve grapes of luck" for the coming year (not at midnight on New Year's Eve), though Little Bro spat out several of his grapes, and I'm wondering what that symbolises.....

Incidentally, did you know that 2011 is the UN Year of Forests? I didn't until pre-school sent Big Bro a letter telling him to bring a photo of his favourite tree on the first day. Bless his little heart- he's decided his favourite trees are the silver birches he helped us plant. Eco-credits to us?! I see 2012 is the UN Year of Cooperatives- I wonder what that class will be invited to bring? $20 to invest in the class pyramid scheme?

This weekend I'm grateful for.... small milestones, and their makers!

This week's Maxabella-inspired Grateful Post, and it starts with an Maxabella-inspired phenomenon: I'm grateful for new followers after this lovely plug from the lovely Maxabella. Hello to all of you- it was a thrill to suddenly see my followers number jump, and enough to jolt me out of my summer torpor!

I'm also grateful for cool changes- to feel the temperature drop from 34 to 24 degrees in less than an hour this afternoon was a relief! Phew... now we just need some rain to top up the tanks.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Everybody needs good neighbours

I'm not a fan of the soapie, but I am a big fan of neighbours. I love our house and garden, but what money couldn't buy was landing in an altogether friendly pocket of suburbia. As well as lovely adults, there is a bunch of kids around our boys' ages with whom I'm looking forward to them growing up. And it's the sort of street, without us being overly chummy and all over each other, that there's no shame in asking a neighbour to collect your mail or feed the chooks.

The patriarch of the block is an elderly Sicilian gentleman (any lesser descriptor wouldn't be appropriate) who has been in the neighborhood for years (and spread his loquat seeds) who knows everything there is about everything. He's our real estate sales reporter, neighborhood watch and voluntary handyman, sometimes to the point of embarrassment: he ended up showing up, goods in hand, to fix our fence, then wouldn't accept a bottle of wine (he makes his own), or a cake (no good for his cholesterol).

Our next door neighbours were away for a few days after Christmas and asked us to put their bins out, and help ourselves to their ripe tomatoes. Good deal... until their bins migrated to the street without our input. Ok, we were too slow. Then, early the next morning as the boys and I waved to the garbage truck we caught a glimpse of the Sicilian rocket whiz out his gate in the truck's wake and return our neighbours' bins to their yard, still warm from the garbage truck's exhaust. With a small splutter I wondered, who needs good neighbors when you've got the Super Neighbour?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A couple of book memes

Holidays for me used to mean time to read. School holidays were my time for indulgent reads, like starting The Famous Five at book number one, and aiming for book 21. These days my hopes are a lot more sedate- like "read an entire book"- but I like to imagine that one day holidays will again be "time to read".

I'm not really one for memes, but these two came up in Facebook and I felt enthused about responding (apologies to those for whom I'm double dipping!)

Fifteen Authors in Fifteen minutes

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

1 Enid Blyton (anyone want to discuss the intricate plot details of the Famous Five? I am still excited to find an original Blyton I hadn't read- though not the crummy spin-offs!)

2 Alexander McCall Smith (I live from one Scotland Street instalment to the next)

3 Jane Austen

4 Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, Animal Vegetable Miracle)

5 Neil Campbell (Biology)

6 Nigella Lawson

7 Vikram Seth (I could read all 1000 pages of A Suitable Boy any day)

8 Bill Bryson (lots are good, but Made in America especially)

9 Cynthia Voigt

10 Thomas Hardy

11 Lewis Carrol (esp the Jabberwocky, Hit your baby when he sneezes)

12 DH Lawrence (Snake)

13 Samuel Shem (The House of God- B said "read this and you'll understand what I've been through")

14 Laura Ingals Wilder

15 Three way tie between CS Lewis or EB White or JK Rowling... not convinced which should be here and I am sure I have forgotten someone else!!!)

100 Books

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. (I add that if you like Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and/or Jane Austen you get immediate bonus points as they're represented at a high frequency.)

I've bolded the books I've read in their entirety, and italicized the ones I started but didn't finish, or read an excerpt.

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (all)

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton (and just read them all to Big Bro!)

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

I'm at a bit of a loss to single out particular books- lots of great ones in the list, and lots that I wish I'd read!

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