Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thankful Thursday!

I've been inspired by Kate at Kate Says Stuff to post my own Thankful Thursday post today.

I have so much to be thankful for today, I just couldn't resist posting about it!

  • I'm thankful today is payday, and therefore we will be having spagetti bolognese for dinner tonight, instead of the toasted cheese sandwiches we've had to have the past three nights!
  • We've had a full week of glorious mid-autumn weather this week, it's been mild and warm with brilliant blue skies and light breezes - if I could bottle it, I would!
  • Term two has started so the kids are busy, busy, busy, and at night they are tired, tired, tired!
  • Having broken my phone and discovering it'll cost $240 to repair it, which I won't have for at least another month, I've discovered I'm coping very well without it - I'm not as addicted to it as I feared I'd become!~
  • I *may* have organised a walking partner for my weekday morning walks (at least some days), which will make walking all the morning fun!
  • We have a plan of action leading up to Dave's driving test.
  • Dave is raring to get himself into work!
  • I have a block of chocolate in the house with my name on it!!!
What are you thankful for today?

It has nothing to do with being a Royalist...

Yesterday, it was announced that the Queen had banned The Chaser from providing commentary on the upcoming royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Most of my friends are pretty upset by this announcement, they should probably not read this blog post (because it might offend their sense of democracy further) <-- That's it, that's you're warning ...

I cheered when I heard The Chaser commentary had been banned!

I have never been a fan of The Chaser's brand of humour, even when it was directed at worthy causes.  Satire is defined as:

1. The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues

The Chaser claim to be satirists, and possibly they are when it comes to political or celebrity figures, but I fail to see how Prince William or Kate Middleton have managed to draw such attention except that they happen to be either born into the British Royal Family (through no choice of their own), or marrying into it (which has doubtlessly more to to with being in love with a royal, than actually wanting to be a royal). My family (my various parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins) have said and done stupid things and exhibited vices, which in NO WAY represent me (and likewise I them). Why should Wills and Kate be judged by association?

Okay, I do understand that many Australian's feel we should be a republic (I wholeheartedly agree!), and feel that we are being thwarted by old-fashioned royalists in our attempt to liberate ourselves from the Commonwealth, but well, isn't satirizing this wedding just a tad like misdirected frustration? If royalist annoy you, have a go at them, not at some poor couple who just want to get married and be left alone.

Perhaps this is some left over tall poppy syndrome - which, by all accounts, took root in the sense of rejection which came from being the dumping ground of the Motherland. Seriously though, when is Australia going to grow up and stop thumbing it's nose at England like a petulant teenager whose just been sent to their room without their mobile?

Princess Di was hounded by the paparazzi, hounded to death. Since then Wills has had a fairly antagonistic view of the media as a whole - and really, who blames him? I would be willing to bet that if he wasn't bound by custom, and the pressure of a global nosey Aunt Nellie attitude, he'd be more than happy to have a private wedding - sure as hell he's not going to let some snide, up-themselves, sychophant-fishing bunch of sociopaths (the ends justifies the means, and they are the authorities on all reality - if you don't agree with them, you're just naive or blinkered) drag down the tone of his wedding, would you?

The Chaser has reaped what they have sown. I know a lot of people think they're clever, but obviously they weren't clever enough to realise that their reputation would precede them.  Suck it up, Chasers, what goes around, comes around, and all that...

I'll be voting for a republic because Australia doesn't need the Royals, but I believe in a fair go for everyone, whether you're a 'commoner' or a 'royal' - no one deserves to have the piss taken out of them on their wedding day - no even Wills and Kate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The last day of our holidays...

I was going to post a post yesterday about the very, very, extremely long weekend we were still enduring, and about how flat and lethargic I'd felt these holidays due to a number of things, but by the time I reached the final paragraph of that post, I couldn't stand to listen to my own whinging for another minute - so in the bin it went, and I vowed I'd make the most of our last day of these holidays...  In the morning we played Monopoly and then later in the day we all walked down to our local park. I took a bunch of photos - it's a beautiful park! - so here they are (out of order, because Blogger images stuffed it up). Enjoy - we did!

Good Ol' Monopoly

We Play

We're big fans of board games in this house - some people call them bored games - but for us, they're a great source of fun, challenge, and well, FUN!

Monopoly is the all time favourite - we play on the board my husband and his parents played on (it's about 40 years old). We only ever play the short game (that's on a timer, usually 90 minutes, but we have been know to play a super fast 45 minute game), but one day we'll do a marathon game - when Ari is old enough to play, too!  The recommended age range for monopoly is 8 years and up, but our Bryn (who is currently 5.5 years) has been playing it since he was three years old and now at five, he's an old hand. When he was younger, we'd let him get up from the table and go do other stuff if he got restless and one of us would play his turn (which helped the older boys learn about putting themselves in someone else's shoes and playing as if it was their turn instead of their brother's turn - so learning to be fair!). I believe children younger than 8 can certainly play monopoly as long as they are supported and have their choices explained to them.

Playing Monopoly is a great social event and gives us all a chance to chat and muck around (without going completely silly). We are quite competitive with one another, but always mindful of 'good sportsmanship' - so the sight of someone 'praying' that another player won't manage to roll an eight and have the option of buying a street or station or utility, isn't uncommon in our house - but as I said, all in good fun, no pouting or spouting allowed!

Monopoly teaches a great range of skills including gross and fine motor skills...

Sorting, number recognition, counting, colour recognition, and basic maths. It teaches children social skills such as taking turn, waiting, sharing, sometimes having to sit out or lose, and how to win gracefully.

But most of all it's simply a lot of FUN!!!

Playing along with Childhood 101: We Play.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Things that have made me smile recently... The Easter Edition!

I have fond memories of Easter from my childhood. Mum always made a big effort with all the holidays, and we would decorate egg shells and hang them of native branches and there was always a wonderful chocolatey surprise on Easter morning as well. When we took the boys to visit my parents (mum and step-dad), they organised an egg hunt for the boys - which we tried to replicate last year.

This year has been fairly low key. We had hot cross buns on Friday - and were pleasantly surprised when our neighbour across the road came and gifted us her excess buns because she thought, with all our kids, we'd enjoy them (and we did!).

We almost didn't have anything to give the boys on Easter morning this year due to tight finances (and needing to eat real food), but MIL came to the rescue and bought the boys a bunny each! Thanks Nanna! So, things that have made me smile recently...

1. The generosity of a neighbour!
2. MIL saving the day
3. The way Luey is so organised with his Easter chocolate - he doesn't just scoff it straight out the paper. He gets a cup and carefully breaks it into bight sized pieces and thereby avoids chocolate melting all over his hands!

4. The look of sheer BLISS on Bryn's face - he had a similar look on his face last year, and I thought I just caught him in an off moment but turns out this is actually his reaction to chocolate!

5. The serious business that Ari has deemed chocolate bunny eating to be! You can never take chocolate too seriously, says Ari!

6. The fact that I have no photo of Erik with his egg because by the time I'd taken a photo of each of the other boys, he'd ALREADY eaten his entire bunny! For Erik, [white] chocolate Easter bunny eating is a sport of speed! He assures me he tastes every bite and it was DELICIOUS!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's going to be great!

The future that is...

When Dave has a job and I'm a sucessful writer with a job as a lecturer, and we have our own house (with no landlards or house inspections, or impending development of the site), and Dave has a licence and we have a Kia Carnival.

It's going to be awesome when the boys can do extra-curricula activities like drawing classes and tennis, and guitar and dance!

It's going to be fantastic when we can book a holiday to Queensland and stop in and visit my rellos there, and send the kids off to the resorts kids activities while we have a massage and a soak in the spa!

It's going to be wonderful when I can buy that leather lounge I've been dreaming of for so long - the one with matching recliners - to set in front of the massive tv that I can see from fair across the room like a regular sighted person!

It's going to be terrific to be able to fly the whole family over to visit my parents in the Barossa, and hire a bus for us all to drive up to Whyalla in so I can show the boys where I live and went to school when I was there age.

It's going to amazing when all of this happens!

But it's pretty good right now, too!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Fiction Link-up: The Parts We Play

The Parts We Play by Sif Dal

‘Roy, please come and sit down. We need to finish this script by Monday!’ The strain in Sarah’s voice was irritating like the squirt of lemon juice in your eye. Roy dragged himself over to the breakfast bench and slumped onto one of the pedestal chairs.

‘I don’t think it’s fair to make Jim the patsy,’ Roy said letting his bottom lip jut out like a sullen teen.

‘He’s not the patsy; he’s just the weak link, the one they can use.’

‘Yeah, but he’s basically a good guy – he wants to be a good guy, and we’re going to make the audience hate him – what if he thought about doing it, but decided not to in the end, you know, like he had a weak moment, but came good?’

‘Okay, let’s look at that for a minute. He thinks about betraying Richo, but doesn’t and they live happily ever after, and then what happens to Lloyd, who saves him?’

‘I dunno, someone else?’

‘But what if there isn’t someone else, what if it has to be Richo?’

‘Well, maybe it does have to be Richo, but maybe Jim doesn’t have to be the one fingers Richo. You know, like in those shows about parallel realities, or about going back in time to change a bad event, and even though the hero changes the event, the outcome remains the same because something else happens that bring the story to the same point in the end?’

‘Hmmm,’ Sarah strokes her coffee cup and Roy knows she’s not going to budge, she’s completely convinced herself that the only way is for Jim to betray Richo, so that Richo ends up in a position to save Lloyd.
Roy drags he’s palms over his face, it’s not a big deal really, Jim is just a character, he shouldn’t be invested, it just doesn’t seem fair, is all.

‘Okay, I guess Jim will be the villain, someone has to be the villain.’ Roy says.

‘That’s right. Someone has to be the villain.’ Sarah says and smiles and pats Roy on the shoulder.

‘It’s just never that black or white, Sarah. People have their reasons for doing stuff they know better than to do, they’re not evil.’

‘No, they’re not evil, just weak.’

‘The world needs weak people, Sarah. Without weak people, we’d have no one to blame all our shit on.’

‘Yes, the world needs weak people, Roy.’

‘Stop patronising me!’

‘I don’t know why you’re taking this all so seriously, Roy, it’s just a play, a story, a bit of entertainment.’

‘Yeah, but it entrenches the idea of people being bad, without investigation into how - without them - good stuff might never happen. Jim fingers Richo, Richo goes to jail and stands in the way of the shiv that would have killed Lloyd, so now Lloyd can go on to become a social worker and prevent hundreds of kids falling into a life of crime. It’s all thanks to Jim being weak, but no one will ever thank Jim, he’ll just be the villain.’

‘So, you think he should be credited for fingering Richo?’


‘So, everyone should aspire to wrongly accusing other people in case, somewhere down the track, that leads to that person being killed in the process of stopping someone else from being killed so they can go on to do good stuff?’

‘Well, no,’ Roy gets off the stool and paces the floor, ‘I just felt bad for Jim.’

2011 © Sif Dal

Things I know...

  • You might even manage to protect your mobile for 11 years, but sooner or later, one of your child is bound to break your phone...
  • Self-doubt is not my friend, but certainly is my regular companion...
  • A mobile phone screen never shatters when there is money in the back to fix it.
  • Hot cross buns with melted butter is the food of gods!
  • No matter how prepared you are to receive one, a rejection letter from a publisher still smarts.
  • Even though you may be completely devoted to your darling husband, it doesn't hurt to be chatted up by a younger man!
  • Band-aids are a walking girl's best friend.
  • They can be at the park, they can be in the back yard, they can be napping but your kids will still manage to descend upon you with eardrum splitting screams the second you try to sneak a phone conversation.
  • The fact my son managed to break my phone in the shape of a love heart is kind of NAWWWW!

The P.I.T.A. that is self-doubt...

Photo from Brandmaker News
In this day and age, we often get to see biographies in movie form, and in recent years there have been biographies about women writer's such Beatrix Potter (Miss Potter - 2006) and Virginia Wolfe (The Hours - 2002), and I found I could relate so well to both those women - at least as they were portrayed in those movies.  Both women lived for their writing, and their characters and were awkward in society, but were sustained by their work. I can relate.

Virginia Wolfe had such strong ideas about her writing that she self-published (through the publishing company she and her husband built). She wanted editorial control over her words. Ms Potter was, likewise, headstrong and knew what she wanted. Both (in these films, at least) came across as standing a little outside of society, though, not necessarily having many friends, and suffering greatly from mental afflictions such as anxiety.

I can relate.

I was talking to Dave about this tonight because for the past few weeks I've been struggling with the idea of figuring out what the market wants, what publishers want (you know, besides good spelling and structure), and whether or not I can do what is wanted. It is a struggle for me because I don't read a lot - I don't read a lot because I read slowly (I've seriously considered learning Braille to find out if I couldn't read more quickly that way, but then again, it's not easy to get new releases in Braille either), and also because I struggle to maintain focus for any length of time.

I bought a copy of the Sleepers Almanac No. 6 and have been reading the shorts in that to try and get a feel for what the editors there are moved by. I absolutely adored Grey Sky Morning by Jack Cassidy. One other story, I won't mention the title of, did nothing for me at all - it seemed to have no point to it. So, it's a mixed bag. I haven't read all the stories, or even half of them, so I can't say what the mood of the anthology is yet. Still, I found myself wondering if my writing would fit at all.

Writers are often encouraged to write for themselves first and foremost, but that is some sort of cruel joke in many ways. Publishers definitely have a concept of literary fashion, 'This is in, but that is so 2004, and no one is reading that kind of fiction anymore, it's been done to death!'

In order to do the kind of work I want to do (for an income) - teach writing to others - I am compelled to get published, which means I have to know what sells, because what sells is the bottom line, right?

The thing is, a big part of 'what sells' these days is the author.

At the Melbourne Writer's Festival last year I attended a panel on 'Author as Brand', where the panel discussed the phenomenon of authors presenting themselves as a brand, with both its advantages and disadvantages. A strong point was made for 'being yourself'...

Do you see my problem?

Okay, well, how many authors are socially awkward, introverted and possibly even off-putting when they open their mouths? How many are not funny or charismatic? Maybe quite a few? How would Beatrix Potter and Virginia Wolfe fare in this bold new world of self-promotion - where 'networking' is a catch word, and you've got to have the X factor when you walk into a room? If publishing is a popularity contest and the writer has never been socially popular, how does the writer manage?

I wonder if the Emerging Writers' Festival or the Melbourne Writers' Festival will ever run forums on 'How to Make Friends and Influence People for the Socially Inept'? I'd be first in line to sign up for those forums!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How we talk...

I had a bit of a wake up call while on the phone with my mother-in-law last night. We were talking about family matters; health, money, you know, the sort of things that concern families. She and I were trying to work strategies for various things which would require me putting ideas to Dave that he might not necessarily be supportive of. Anyway, the conversation was coming to a close and I said I would talk to Dave and she said, "Alright, but don't let it come to words." I assured her I wouldn't and she said, "Sometimes you two say things to one another that [FIL] and I would never have said, and it upsets me to hear you both speak to one another that way."

She did, in fact, sound upset - which gave me pause.

This conversation has sat like a lump of luminescent lead in the middle of my brain space since. I've tried to push it into a dark corner somewhere so it wouldn't sit there shedding light on things I would rather not think about, but like lead, it's heavy and is going to take some effort to lift. This blog post is my attempt at lifting it.

Dave and I have a pretty good relationship. I'm quite pleased with it, in fact. My mum and dad's relationship left a lot to be desired. It wasn't pretty. I know it probably started out pretty enough and like most children of divorced parents I like to think that somewhere under all the bitterness and resentment they probably still love each other on some level, but to be blunt, they weren't very nice to each other most of the time.

Compared to that, Dave and I have a fabulous relationship. We both feel a very strong sense of commitment to one another, and we enjoy each other's company. There is a lot of affection between us.


Well, I don't know what mother-in-law might have heard us say to each other that upset her so much. Maybe it wasn't actual words that upset, maybe it was a tone of voice, or perhaps the volume in which we sometimes speak to each other. I don't know. What I do know, and this is what weighs on my mind, is that unless she has our house bugged, I can guarantee she has never heard us at our worst.

Life can be stressful at times. We have four children. We have an extremely low income (even for a family with only one or two children). Neither of us drive (yet) and so we don't go out much because we're reliant on public transport and it is extremely draining to go anywhere on public transport with four children in tow.

I would say the past 2.5 years have been tough and we've probably let it all hang out more than before in our relationship. The thing is, when you break the seal on speaking to someone else disrespectfully, and they respond in kind, it is easier to do it again next time, and so it does tend to escalate.

What mother-in-law said to me last night has shaken me because I know it is true. I know I have let familiarity breed contempt in my relationship with my life partner, and that is an infection that can't lead to any kind of good. So, I'm going to be more mindful of how I speak to Dave, because even though it's nowhere near as bad as my mum and dad used to be, it's not nearly as good as it used to be for us, or as good as I know it could be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some days as a writer are EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING!!!

Yes, I am yelling. My apologies for that.

Today I received a rejection letter for my novel. It was the first one, and on the whole I'm okay with that. They said my novel didn't suit their list. That could mean anything, of course. It is the most polite way to say, "You have to be kidding, right? As if we'd publish THAT!" I'm okay with that, many fabulous writer's have been told the very same thing over and over and over again. The answer is to keep assessing and having the novel assessed by people who know, and to keep working on improving the novel. I found some lectures I'm going to sign up for in May to do just that!

Then I came across an announcement for a publishing competition, it was PERFECT for my novel! Unfortunately, one of the rules of the competition is that to manuscript should not be under submission anywhere else. Bugger! While I received one rejection letter today, I haven't heard back from the other publisher - but here's the REAL RUB - if the other publisher rejects my manuscript they WILL NOT get back to me. Basically, when you submit to this other publisher, if you haven't heard from them in three to four months, you can assume they've rejected you.  They may have already rejected my manuscript (making me eligible for this competition) but I still won't know until August (well after submissions close for the competition). The chances of me a) winning the competition AND b) being accepted by the other publisher are very slim at best, but I'm still stuck waiting to not hear back from the other publisher until August.

This is extremely frustrating because it's so difficult to get published in the first place, especially when publishers don't even confirm that they're not interested in your manuscript and other publishers don't want manuscripts that have been submitted elsewhere.

Today, I feel like pulling my hair out (lucky I don't have any hair to speak of).

Public service announcements!

I thought I'd better do a bit of housekeeping (I may post something else later today because I know how many of you loathe housekeeping... Gimme a B, gimme an O, gimme a R, I, N, G!)...

As many of you will have noticed, I've taken down the link to my World's Greatest Shave page. The finally tally was an AWESOME $281!!!  I'm so proud of all my friends!!! That was a great effort folks, and causes me to walk with my bald head a little higher than I might have had shaving it not contributed to such a worthy fund!

I think it's especially important to model charity for our children. Erik was wondering what his class mates might think about his mum shaving all her hair off, and I suggested to him that to avoid feeling bad if he was teased about my lack of hair, he could choose to take the stance that he is proud of the fact that I made this choice to raise money and awareness for people and their families who have NO CHOICE but lose all their hair because of the cancer treatments they have to undergo in the hopes of fighting of the disease of cancer. I am looking at other options for raising money for various charities in the future as it feels good to do something positive like this! You should all be proud of yourselves!!!

While the World's Greatest Shave button is gone, you'll notice two new buttons have turned up in the right hand columns of my blog. These are a little more self-serving, but bear with me, please! The first is the Sydney Writer's festival Vote For My Blog button which is a portal to a page where you can vote for my blog (and others you might know), if you think I should be in with a chance to win a prize in this competition. So, if you love my blog, please go there and vote for me!!! (if you don't LOVE my blog, please send me an email and suggest how I might improve it!)

The other addition to the right hand columns is my new Facebook Page button. This will take you to the Facebook Page I've set up to promote myself as a writer, and blogger. This is where you can receive all the regular updates of my blog posts, as well as news about my most recent writing endeavours, publishing acceptances and those inevitable rejection letters. I will also post there about interesting links and events I've discovered or am attending which relate to writing. Please head over and 'Like' my Facebook Page!

I promise my next blog post will be a little more interesting reading!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Children who up-the-ante...

Is upping-the-ante a issue of personality or respect?

What makes some children do it and some children not do it?  I've always wondered about this as my children don't do it. Quite frankly I wouldn't tolerate it if they did. When my children do something I am not happy about, I let them know and I explain, but I never live in fear of this making them do the offensive thing MORE, and yet I constantly hear other parents say that they ignore behaviours that frustrate them because if they pay those behaviours any attention, then the child will doing the offending behaviour more often or with greater fervor.

Is this really a personality trait?

I guess I would view it as a lack of understanding or respect, or perhaps my child being so desperate for attention that even negative attention is worth upping-the-ante for?

Gun play is one behaviour I've heard several parents say they aren't happy about - particularly in boys - but when they have told their boys they aren't happy about the boys have only become more insistent about gun play.

I know a lot of modern parenting eschews battles of wills with children, but I guess I'm not a modern parent in this respect. I don't see setting boundaries so much as a battle of wills as me doing my job (setting the boundary) and them doing their job (testing the boundary to make sure it is secure and will keep them safe). I am more than willing to enter into such a "battle of wills" over issues I feel passionately about. Gun play is one of these areas. I have had some disturbing encounters with guns in my life time and don't see gun play as harmless in any way. I refuse to tolerate my children playing at shooting one another or others, even with 'stick guns'. When Erik and Luey were 5 and 3 they started making guns out of lego, and I said that wasn't okay. I sat them down and told them why I didn't like guns and why I wouldn't tolerate them pretending to shoot with guns in our house. On occasion since then, they have attempted to create guns or engage in gun play and I've immediately and decisively shut down all such play.

When they have been given guns, I've very quickly disposed of them.  I will not tolerate them.

I would definitely not tolerate my children not respecting my issue with guns. To me "guns" could be almost anything. As they grow into teenagers, "guns" could be "drinking alcohol" or whatever you like, really. Unlike so many parents I've heard, I don't believe that setting boundaries will "make them want to do it even more". Kids and teenagers already want to do things we don't want them to do, us not wanting them do stuff, doesn't make them want to do it more - otherwise we'd all desperately not want them to go to bed early, eat all their vegetables and be considerate of others...

If they were not able to respect that this was important to me, I would view that as a sign that I needed to teach them more about empathy. I model empathy and respect to them (you know, most of the time, I'm no angel), I take seriously their issues with dogs, clowns, and mushrooms, and I expect the same sensitivity from them. There is no room for upping-the-ante in that dynamic.

Children live up or down to our expectations of them.

So, maybe when parents says, "I ignore the behaviour, or it gets worse", what they're really saying is, "It's really not that important to me", or "I can't be bothered battling with the child over this even though it is important to me", or even "My child will taunt me and that scares me".

Upping-the-ante as a personality trait is not something I would wish on any of my children and it goes against my understanding of children as innately social creatures.

The bug that bit me...

I was just asked by Jen at Jemikaan which bug bit me to make me start doing all the walking I've done in the past week.

The quick answer is that I've always loved walking - I'm a Sagittarius and we're well known for our love of movement and particularly for our muscular legs (don't everyone fall over laughing at once, I have muscles in my legs, they're just well camouflaged so other people don't feel intimidated by my great sporting physique).

However, it is true that I haven't had this level of walking lust for a while, probably for about five years actually. Back in 2006 I went on quite the walking bender, and walked many kilometers every day - I lost about 32kg that year, too! In the intervening five years I've been less inclined to walk and have put all that weight back on (plus an extra 3kg, of course, because that's the law - google it and you will see!).

Mind you, I've also been pretty busy in the last four years. I found myself all caught up in baby lust in 2007, and late that year I also started the Masters I've just graduated from. I love studying as much as I love walking, but let's face it, studying is draining, maybe not physically, but emotionally and mentally and I found it hard to "get out and walk".

Then I fell pregnant, and I have to admit, I kind of thought I didn't need to walk then. You see, in my first three pregnancies I lost weight, so I thought I'd just sit back and gestate and lose weight. Murphy had other plans and for the first time ever, I gained weight, not much, but some.

After Ari was born, I was quite sick for a few months, so didn't walk then - I tried odd bits here and there, but I just wasn't feeling it.

Then I started to stress out about my studies, and about trying to get a job, and so on, and all that stress meant that walking looked like a burden rather than a release.

This year, this last week, something has changed, and the change has been so drastic that I have had people comment. I've gone from not wanting to move at all to walking at least 6km a day. Six kilometers isn't that hard for me, really. As I said, I think I'm innately physical, even though the lazy is strong within me! I'm an endurance, uh, what's the word I'm looking for here - not athlete - person? I'm not fast, but I have the mental capacity to "just keep going" even though it feels hard in the moment. In fact, I thrive on the challenge. And that there also explains why I'm walking right now...

I have no other challenge in my life. My baby sleeps at night - all night! I'm not studying. I'm not working. I am trying to do some writing, but writing is like breathing for me, I have to do it. So, as soon as I graduated and returned home last week, I realised I had this great open vastness of nothing in front of me. I do have to prepare for my PhD next year and I do have a toddler at home, but those things aren't enough of a challenge.

Walking pretty much keeps me from going completely insane from boredom, I think. It provides a challenge, a goal, an outlet for my frenetic energy. As Dave said to me last week, "This is when you're dangerous, before you find a new focus, when you might decide to focus on me and make my life miserable!" I'm a driven person who needs a focus or I become unbearable to live with!

The bug that bit me was the "I need a goal' bug.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My happy place!

Today I went to my happy place.

I feel a bit guilty about it because it's not at home with my boys (who are fantastic and I cherish them!), and it's not with my husband (who is my rock!).

Today I went to Deakin Uni, and Deakin itself is not necessarily my happy place, it could have been Melbourne Uni or Canberra Uni, or almost any University really.

It was a sunny day, and Jayne and I had coffee and sushi (her) and an apple and cinnamon muffin (me) and we sat by a grassy lawn under a brilliant blue sky with a light breeze on us. Then we went into an auditorium with two huge white screens adorn with words projected from plastic sheets and listened to a man tell us what other men and women had thought and written about sociology.

The topic could have been anything, really - philosophy, law, communications, writing - okay, maybe not programming or physics - it was the act of learning that made me so happy!

I feel so at home on a campus amongst the young people trying to find themselves and each other. I'm old compared to most of them, but that doesn't matter. I don't FEEL old! I feel ALIVE!

I am so grateful to have a close friend going to my local university so I can live vicariously through her until I can find an excuse to get back there myself!

Where is your happy place? Where do you feel alive?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Things that have made me smile recently...

I've had many reasons to smile recently, but here are just a few!

Getting back into walking and walking 25km in the past four days! I've been needing to do this for my health (physical and mental) for a long time, and this week I decided none of my excuses were good enough for NOT walking, so I just needed to get on with it and do it!

My youngest's screeches and giggles of delight over being tickled!

The sound of my eldest complaining about people making a mess in the kitchen - because he's been doing the dishes for the last few days - I knew the day would eventually come when he'd feel my frustration!

My second youngest's rich imagination - sticking a googly eye to his forehead so he can be a three eyes alien!

Hot showevers on cold days! Amazing!

The way my boys can (sometimes) be so sweet with each other - especially on cold days during the holidays!

My eldest helping me erect some shelves!

Said shelves standing in my hallway! These made me smile a LOT! I had wanted EXACTLY these shelves (some colour, style and brand) for this space for the past couple of months but there was NO WAY I could afford to buy them. Then yesterday a friend put a message on Twitter that she was GIVING away these shelves to anyone who wanted them. I responded with an enthusiastic YES! before even considering how I'd haul them back to my place, but she was happy to bring them over the same day. PERFECT! Thanks Jen!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sydney Writer's Centre Best Blog Awards - People's Choice!

Something I hear often these days is that it is so hard, as an individual, to make a difference.

Well, here's your opportunity to make a difference! Over there on your right, you'll see a lovely, bright blue and yellow button, and all you have to do is click on it, and then tick the box next to my blog's name and vote my blog the best!!!  Go on, you'll make a huge difference to me if you do!

Thanks (in advance)!!!

Things I know... The Walking Edition.

Things I know about walking...

  • It's free! So, a person on a limited budget can afford it!
  • You do it at your own pace and there is no obnoxious guy or girl in spandex yelling, "Go hard or Go home!" at you - well, unless you pay through the nose for a personal trainer.
  • It's a great way to reconnect with older children - you know, by dragging them along!
  • It's a great way to get older children out of the house, away from the screens, and using up some of that pent up energy during the holidays!
  • Vanity doesn't pay when you walk - just ask my blistered and aching feet!
  • It's a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and then repeating that process a few thousand times - it's a lot of like life, it can feel overwhelming at time, especially if you set yourself the goal of 6km a day, but in the end it's just one foot after another and each step gets you closer to the goal, so if you just focus on each individual step, you'll get there before you know it!
  • Walking is a form of meditation (you know, once the kids are back at school and there is less talk).

Linking up with 'Things I know' at Yay for Home!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Fiction Link-up: The Cleaning Fairy

Marion cradled the glass in her hand as yet another guest bounced in front of her exclaiming how they had no idea how she managed it all.

'You have two children, a career and look at your house, it's immaculate! How do you do it?'

'I don't–‘ Marion started in a dry undertone, but the bright eyed red head in front of her wasn’t listening, and had already turn away to gush at someone else.

Marion glanced out the corner of her eye and there he was, her cleaning fairy, sitting in a huff in the corner of the room. He’d done nothing but barrage her with complaints from the moment she walked in the door this afternoon – No one had bothered to mention to her that cleaning fairies stood behind the door when God was handing out grace.

Somehow she had to pass him on to someone else, but this was not easily done because she couldn’t tell anyone about him. Someone else had to wish for him in his presence at the stroke of 1.23 a.m. Marion’s mission for the evening was to make that happen.

Marion had always loved throwing dinner parties – she loved mingling and chatting with people.  She preferred to be the hostess, to be the one plotting the course of the evening, but didn’t mind being a guest once in a while and letting someone else run around behind the scene making sure everyone had someone to talk to and a glass of something refreshing in their hand.

It had been on one such evening, six months earlier, that Marion had attended a work dinner with her husband at the house of one of his colleagues. Marion had been amazed at the detailed work the hostess had done to ensure a marvellous evening. Nosey as she could be at times, Marion had found herself casually opening the bathroom cabinet to find out what really went on in this perfect house behind closed doors and had been surprised to find the cabinet as neat as a pin.

She opened a drawer and found all the wife’s makeup laid out as if in a glass cabinet in David Jones. There wasn’t a grain of dust in sight, not a single smear of hand cream, or even a sprinkling of blush powder. In that moment Marion knew she had to find out who Chloe’s cleaner was.

Downstairs, Marion sidled up to Chloe, ‘Darling, you’ve done a marvellous job preparing for tonight, you’d better watch out, you don’t want to go putting the boss’ wife to shame!’

‘Why thank you – I think.’ Chloe had raised a thin dark brow but smiled to reassure Marion that she wasn’t offended.

‘You have a new cleaner?’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’ Chloe had whispered.

‘Oh come on, don’t be coy, you couldn’t have done all of this by yourself, not with your brood and all your charitable commitments.’ Marion felt the flush of impatience rise up her neck; she needed details, a name, and a contact number.

‘Stacy is still working for me, Marion.’

‘Tosh! We both know Stacy is as lazy as Uncle Fred after Christmas dinner. Are you trying to tell me you have a cleaning fairy?’ Marion had scoffed at the idea even as she had said it.

I didn’t say that,’ Chloe said, smiling, her eyes suddenly and inexplicably bright.

‘Well, I wish–‘ Marion had started, but before she could finish her thought, Chloe had grabbed her by the hand and started pulling her across the room. ‘Hey! Chloe, what the hell are you doing?’

At the opposite corner of the room Chloe had put her hands to her lips, and then whispered furtively, ‘Hang on a minute...’

Marion had watched her scan the room, then once again Chloe grabbed her hand and this time led her to the kitchen.

‘Chloe, are you mad?’

‘Shhh, just hang on a minute.’ Chloe had clamped her eyes on the kitchen clock; it was twenty past one in the morning.

‘Chloe, I’ve got to go find Adrian, the sitter is expecting us home by 2 a.m.’

‘No, just a minute, this is important, you’ll be so surprised!’

Marion remembered thinking Chloe should probably lay off the vino a bit in future. Then Chloe giggled, and Marion’s focus was back on the tiny woman clasping both of Marion’s hands as if her life depended on it.

‘Okay, say it now!’

‘Say what now?’

‘Say what you were going to say out in the dining room a couple of minutes ago.’

‘Oh, I can’t remember what I was going to say, I can’t even remember what we were talking about – what’s going on, Chloe?’

‘We were talking about how clean my house is, and you said you wish...’ Chloe’s large blue eyes danced like Chinese lanterns on a breeze.

‘Uh, I wish I had a cleaning fairy?’’

Chloe looked into a far corner of her kitchen then back at Marion. ‘No, no! That won’t do, you have to say it like you mean it!’

‘Why, what is this about?’ Marion had tried to pull her hands from Chloe’s but Chloe had locked her grip even tighter in response.

‘Just say it like you mean it!’ Chloe implored.

‘Okay, okay, I wish I had a cleaning fairy!’ And deep down Marion did wish she had a cleaning fairy to make her house immaculate and her life easier.

‘Yes, it worked! I can’t see him anymore!’ Chloe had let go of Marion’s hands and was hopping about like a school girl.

‘Who can’t you see, Chloe? Really, I think you need some coffee, dear.’

‘Him!’ Chloe had pointed to the corner of her kitchen, and suddenly Marion had notice a sullen creature sitting there glaring at her.

‘Well, I hope you’re cleaner than she is!’ It had declared before stalking off to the dining room.

‘Wha–, what was that?’ Marion had said as she felt a trickle of cold shock run down her spine.

‘Your cleaning fairy! Enjoy!’ Chloe had called back as she skipped out of the room with a giggle trailing behind her.

The creature had followed Marion home and the next morning her house was immaculate. It was always immaculate, even when the children had sleepovers with their friend - involving popcorn battles.

The fairy was not what she had imagined though. He was surly and cranky and abusive. He constantly sniped at her for the state of her bathroom and kitchen. If she discarded a cup beside her computer or left her slippers on the ensuite floor, he would be in a foul mood for days and keep her away at night as he bashed pots and pans and slammed doors (and no one else ever seemed to hear him!). He was a right, royal pain in the rear.

Marion had begged Chloe to take him back, but Chloe had explained the only way to get rid of him was if someone else wished for him at 1.23 a.m.

Marion glanced over at the clock in the hallway – 1.14 a.m.

Charlotte caught Marion’s eye, ‘I’ve been meaning to compliment you on your house all night, Marion, it’s amazing, how do you do it?’ Marion smiled a little smile to herself as she led Charlotte to the far corner of the room where that pesky fairy sat scowling, all the time keeping the clock in clear view.

‘I can’t explain it, it just gets done, Charlotte, like magic!’

2001 © Sif Dal

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No lady of leisure here...

With the graduation behind me, it's time to turn my thoughts to new ventures.

Mum was saying she envied me my options at the moment because she is working full time and trying to do a PhD full time as well - that's quite a load, especially considering social engagements as well (and there are always social engagements!).

On the face of it, I'm a free agent right now. I'm not doing any courses. I'm not working. During term I only have one child at home between 8.45am and 3.45pm. I could be a lady of leisure.

Those of you who know me personally are probably guffawing your coffee all over your keyboards right now.

Yeah, sitting around twiddling my thumbs is not my style.

No fear, things are not as they appear to be!

I have a few goals I need to achieve by the end of this year - all of which take considerable effort.

Getting Published

I need to get a few things published; short stories and poems mostly, because my portfolio is almost nonexistent and spread out over nearly two decades. Getting published means writing - I have to write! I also need to know the market I'll be pitching my writing at, so I need to read!

Preparing to Apply to do a PhD

It turns out that it's not just a matter of filling in an application form (those days are certainly gone now). No, apparently I need to do some research even before I can apply and have some idea of what already exists with regard to research in my chosen area and how my research would differ and be appealing. I need to find two supervisors who would be willing to take me on before I apply, and I need to show that I have contacts in the areas I'll be researching. In other words, lots of preparation there.

Improve my health and fitness

I'll be forty at the end of this year and for a few years now I've been concerned about the foundation upon which my future health (in my middle age - eep!) will be based. Forty seems to be the age after which health issues start to surface all over the place. In particular, I'm thinking of diabetes (which many people in my family have developed in middle age), but there are other family specific issues that I won't go into here. At the moment my health and fitness isn't very good. I'm not completely unfit (I walked 6.3km today with the biggest and smallest child), but I could certainly be fitter. Dave has noted that I'm snoring lately (delightful, isn't it - but it's a clue about my physical state that I need to heed) and snoring means sleep apnoea and loss of oxygen to the brain etcetera. I've never really snored before, so I want to fix this little problem - and maybe I'll wake up more refreshed.

I've been told that I'm an all or nothing sort of  person, and this may be true to some extent (though, I doubt I'm ever really a nothing person, I alway do something, I just don't do anything consistently).

In order to attempt to gain the most ground in the above mentioned areas for the next eight months, I've decided to approach it with little changes, rather than big sweeping changes. So for example...

Getting Published - each day I'll either do some reading of the publications by the publishers I want to submit to, or some brainstorming for a piece, or some writing, or some actually submitting. I'll do at least ONE of these things every day.

Preparing to do a PhD - each day I'll do some research, or some journaling, or I'll contact a person or organisation relevant to my research proposal, or fill in the application form. I'll do at least ONE of these things every day.

Improving my health and fitness - each day I'll make small, better choices with what I each (it doesn't have to be at every meal or snack, just generally every day) and I'll go for (at least) a half hour walk every day.

As you can see, my time is fairly well accounted for until the end of the year. No lady of leisure to be found here!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Narcissism - a parenting concern...

Narcissus by Caravaggio
There was an interesting discussion on Insight last night about Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Apparently, narcissism is a normal phase of human development which peaks in toddler-hood, and then subsides for a while, and has another resurgence in adolescence before finally giving way to understanding of empathy and compassion in adulthood. In some adults, however, it lingers - sometimes only in areas where it is acceptable, such as in business and commerce - sometimes in many areas of the adults life. It is only defined as a disorder when it interferes negatively and destructively with the relationships of the sufferer of the disorder. At it's extreme it transitions in psychopathy. It is considered both a hereditary and environmentally induced trait or disorder.

The term "emotional vampire" was bandied about on the show, and it caused me to smile a wry smile because I thought I'd coined that term several years ago (yes, I probably have narcissistic tendencies myself) when dealing with one or two people who I am fairly certain (nay, 100% certain) suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder as medically defined. Something to keep in mind is that, as master manipulators, narcissists are usually good at feigning empathy for a while (while it represents a means to an ends for them personally), but the veneer of empathy is thin and brittle and doesn't stand up to being challenged. When their fa├žade is challenged they will defend it vehemently and viciously. However, with each challenge they adapt and become better able to account for their lack of compassion (usually blaming other people's ignorance for their own lack of patience) and so, in some circles, treatment is considered counterproductive as it's pads out the narcissistic toolkit.

The specialists who were being consulted on the topic were very concerned that many parenting practices today - while not causing the traits - can encourage narcissism in children. Specifically they spoke about the trend in parenting that describes parents being overly concerned that their children should have high self-esteem.

In attempting to assure this in their children, parents pour a lot of effort into endlessly telling their children that they are special, unique, and entitled to things/their opinion/their feelings being considered first and foremost. A lot of "empty praise" is heaped on children - consisting of meaningless phrases such as "Good girl/boy", "You're so clever!", "You're great!" etcetera. The issue with this kind of praising being that it doesn't inform the child about what it is they are DOING that the other person appreciates so much, or encourage them to being kind or considerate of others needs as well as their own.

There was mention of how children used to receive a trophy for being the best player of a sport in a season, but now the entire team receives a trophy simply for turning up - rendering the achievement meaningless.

There was also mention of how parents can't bear for their children to feel any negative feelings and avoid this at all cost, so children grow up expecting to feel good all the time.

This reminded me of the blog post I wrote several months ago about Chinese parenting practices (according to one writer), and how the Chinese believe self-esteem is built through overcoming difficulties, not through pursuing activities that come effortlessly.

Apparently the antidote to narcissism is teaching our children empathy, compassion and self-lessness. One thing commentators notice was the decline in voluntary work amongst young people. Everyone these days wants something for everything they do - be it (pocket) money, or acclaim, or preferably both because their time is valuable and they are important and unique - just like everyone else!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Graduation - the trip...

We got back home from out epic coach trip last night at about 8.45pm, after getting up at 4.30am and being on the go from that moment on!

The first thing I want to say about this trip is that I was BLOWN AWAY BY AWESOME MY BOYS WERE!!!

I honestly thought travelling with four boys aged 2, 5, 9 and 11 on a train and coach for 12 hours was going to be HORRENDOUS! It wasn't. The boys were so considerate of everyone around them that we received many congratulations and much praise for how lovely they were! On the trip to Adelaide one young guy loaned Erik and Luey his iPad to play "Connect 4" on - can you believe it! I was very impressed with his level of trust for them with his expensive toy!

I did get caught unprepared when four hours into our Adelaide bound journey, Ari coughed up a fountain of Up'n'Go mixed with passionfruit yogurt muesli bar and scotchfinger biscuits. I sat there a-gape, confused and horrified that one of my children had just vomited RIGHT NEXT TO ME! Then he did it again! It was only now that it occurred to me to grab the "sick bag" tucked into the pocket of the seat in front of us. He threw up two more times and I was reasonably impressed that I didn't follow suit! Then I had to mop up the vomit all over his seat, my coat, and his clothes. I stripped him down to his nappy, and put his hoodie (which he hadn't been wearing) back on him and that is how he had to travel for the next 8 hours. I don't want to think what bystanders thought of us when we piled off the coach for breaks and my baby was wearing nothing but a nappy and a hoodie (parenting FAIL).

But we did get to Adelaide in one piece and then made our way up to the Barossa with Mum and Lester.

Friday was spent resting and shopping for birthday presents for Lester and Dave.

On Saturday we were up bright and early to get ready to head down to Adelaide by 9am. Before we headed off Lester received his presents and cards, and then he and Mum had a suprise for me! They gave me this gorgeous silver Pandora bracelet with three stones representing my dress (red), my Masters hood (turquoise) and my Thesis cover(amethyst) and two charms - a double heart from them and a mortar board to represent my graduation.

I managed to get a photo of all of us together - this almost never happens as I'm usually the one behind the camera! Don't I have handsome menfolk???

Once we got down to Adelaide, after a lunch of Hungry Jacks (yum, yum!), I donned all the garb - which involved much pinning with safety pins and me affecting the walk of an emu with tetanus.

Erik was in charge of the camera, and considering he didn't get much in the way of instruction - because I was now bustling around like a tetanus infected emu with its head cut off - I'm not going to complain about the quality of the photos. (though more instruction will definitely be in his near future)

Once again the boys were fabulously well behaved! I listened to all the screaming and screeching going on around us by various children and ticked each one off, 'That one's not mine, nor is that one...".

We all paraded into the room, and then there was a song and a speech and we parade out of the room again and lined up out in the hall. There were five of us in the Masters degree but only four of us were in line and we weren't sure what had happened to the fifth until someone came by and said she was going to be late and therefore wasn't going to be allowed to participate in the ceremony. We were all upset by that, but there was some petitioning for this student behind the scenes and finally she joined us at the very last minute, so our little group was complete!

I wasn't really nervous until I got right up to the door, and then suddenly I felt quite sick. The heel on one of my shoes had broken and was getting caught on the carpet and although I'd done a practice run going up onto the platform and down again, this only meant that I knew I absolutely could NOT see the steps going down. I had been offered a guide to go with me, but I really hate that kind of attention being put on me - and the questions it inevitably leads to, so I'd opted to brave the platform alone. As you can see from the photo below, I did manage to get up there, and receive my papers and get my photo taken AND then I managed to step down from the platform without breaking anything - GO ME!

Once our entire department had gone through we all piled back onto the platform to have a collective photo taken.

Once all the departments were through, it was time for The Charge to the students, and none other than my very own mum read this out!

Afterwards I wrangled a photo with my supervisors, mum and the 2IC of the department (who had been head of the department when I started this degree and was a great supporter of my work).

from L-R: Rosanne Hawke (head supervisor), Ben Morton (main supervisor), Me,
Mark Worthing (2IC of the Humanities Department, Mum (lecturer)

I was disappointed to realise that I didn't take any photos of me with my good friend (and second mother) Ruth Jericho. Ruth and her husband Kevin came to the graduation and also came out to dinner with us afterwards. I did, however, get some professional photos taken with them after the ceremony, so I'll put those up at a later date.

After the graduation I had a terrible, terrible tetanus emu induced headache, but I took a couple of Panadeine and headed out to party! There are no pictures of said partying!

Sunday was Dave's birthday. After some present and card opening we headed out to Kapunda to give the boys a chance to run off some pent up energy and feed some ducks.

Ari thought better off feeding the ducks all that good bread and made sure he had some for himself!

From Kapunda, we drove a short way to the Wolf Blass winery where Mum and Lester gifted Dave a couple of bottle of DELICIOUS moscato. Then we decided it was time Dave saw Maggie Beer's Pheasant farm, so we drove another short distance and had some gourmet icecream and coffee - and I bought some fig and pomegranate jam (which is so gorgeous I can't even describe it!), and finally it was home again for a hot dog party and some cake to celebrate the two birthday boys! We adorned the cake with 11 sparkler candle to represent the 11 decades they'd been alive (combined, of course), but the sparklers should have been called Fizzers, because they sure didn't sparkle much!

Then there was nothing left to do but pack and set the alarm for 4.30am.

It was a BIG weekend, and none of it has really settled in my brain yet. I'm already thinking about the next big project (preparing to apply to do my Doctorate), but I won't get into full swing with that for a few days yet - I'm simply too exhausted!

PS. My apologies for not doing last week's Friday Fiction or Things that Made Me Smile Recently, those will be back on the regular schedule this week!

Oh, I almost forgot...  Today was the day I promised to shave off all my hair...


Good Job!