Sunday, April 28, 2013

Where to go next...

You may or may not have noticed that my blog posts have been a bit sporadic of late. It's not that I don't have anything to say. I have plenty to say. It's more that I'm in a space where the things I want to say are deeper and sometimes darker than what I've written about here previously.

I guess I'm getting to an age where I'm thinking back on my life a lot. I used to say that I would not change a single thing about my life because it has all brought me to where I am today, but I've been thinking about that and I'm not so sure that is true. I think some of the things I've done or experienced could have not existed and I would still be where I am today - so long as other people lived their lives the same way.

I have regrets.

I regret that night in late 1991 when a couple of girlfriends and I downed a bottle of Spumante each and went wondering the streets of Warilla.

I regret letting myself be beguiled by the baby-faced boy at Uni who was so desperate not to be alone that he was willing to get into a relationship with me that he wasn't that invested in, but I was.

I regret not making more of an effort to get a job with my undergraduate degree because now it's not worth the paper it was printed on.

And other things.

Do I really want to get into all that on this blog. Does anyone want to read it. Who is this blog for anyway. Who will be shocked and possibly upset by the things I have to say on many aspects of my own life. These are questions I'm turning over in my head now. Chances are I'll go there, ultimately I have nothing to hide. Still, I teeter on the edge, not quite ready to jump yet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Talent vs Skill or Talent AND skill?

Lukas received his high school enrolment forms today, which is pretty clever considering we haven't even lodged his preferences yet. Guess they want to 'lock him in' before the influx of applications - I'm quite happy to do that!

This time last year we were still just hoping Erik would get into this high school and we'd already invested some time and money in showing his 'special interest' in art. Things are different for Lukas because Erik is already at the school, but also because Lukas hasn't really shown a special interest or talent to the same degree as Erik. He is interested in music, but doesn't play an instrument. He is interested in robotics but hasn't showed a special talent for it, as such.

He's started on his 'Local Landscapes' painting and is going to paint using this photo from our Brighton Beach trip.

I took some photos of him starting the sketching stage last weekend.

It made me nervous when Lukas said he wanted to do Local Landscapes. Erik did it last year to much acclaim. Lukas hasn't really shown as much interest in drawing or painting as Erik. When the school had drawing incursions with Joffa, Lukas has shown he has some drawing ability - he is certainly not without his own level of talent, but I guess we've always viewed Erik as the one who draws and paints.

Last weekend however, Lukas did show us that he has some abilities Erik doesn't possess. Lukas can focus for much longer and is more able to follow direction. He has a greater attention to detail, as well. I guess what I'm saying is what he may lack in raw talent compared to Erik, he makes up for his willingness to learn skill.

Skill is often under-appreciated in comparison to talent. People love natural talent. Self-taught people are admired. However, talent can only take any person so far, and at some point talent must be scaffolded by skill.

The Grumpy Old Man has a tendency to say that he has more skill than talent - I'm not sure I agree, I think he under-estimates his talent - he certainly is skilled. These skills are what he is teaching the boys. He's teaching them how to grid up a reference and use the grid to ensure proportion. Gridding has fallen out of favour in modern times - because people have a greater appreciation for natural talent and a natural eye for proportion - however, having skills can help train the eye, I think, and knowing 'the rules' is always the first step to intuiting when to 'break the rules'.

I'm excited to see what Lukas can produce and how his work will turn out!

Monday, April 15, 2013

And we're back...

Hellooooo readers - well, maybe that's just one reader now (hi mum!) - it's been a while.

School holidays, you know. I've been meaning to write, every day. We've been pretty busy with one thing or another and a couple of lovely photo opportunities, but I've been so sleepy all the time!

It's these anti-anxiety meds, they've left me feeling a bit like a zombie.

Not so much in that I can't feel anything, I can, though a lot of the anxiety has been well and truly reduced, but I'm just so sleepy all the time, despite actually sleeping at night for one in my life. It makes it difficult to concentrate and compose.

I'm really hoping I will acclimatise, but I don't know. I've started feeling a little more anxiety creeping back in and I'm concerned that when I mention this to my GP or Psychologist, they might want to increase the meds dosage, and then I might feel even more sleepy!

Sleepy isn't very good for PhD research.

On that...

How is it that I've been chaffing at the bit for months now to get into this degree, just drooling at the thought of getting my teeth into some research and now that I'm in, I have to remind myself I'm about to start a research degree in a few weeks and I must prepare? What is that???

Easter was lovely.

The Easter tree was decorated for another year!

 My brother came to stay with us for a few days and we all went over to my parents on Easter Sunday for lunch. Mum put on quite a banquet!

On Easter Monday we had the Grumpy Old Man's mother over to our place. It really felt like a family Easter. We realised on the Sunday that mum, Mike and I had not been together in one room since 2007! I look forward to many more family get togethers.

During the first week of the holidays we had play dates for kids and for adults and managed to catch up with a few people.

I was experiencing some sort of stomach cramps for that entire week and saw my doctor on the Friday when they hadn't let up. They were like gall bladder attacks (I don't have a gallbladder anymore), only not as severe, though the first couple of nights were quite rough and neither Panadol nor Neurofen seemed to even touch the sides. I thought possibly they were a side effect of the anti-anxiety medication but the doctor seems to think the problem is gastrointestinal and possibly related to my life-long reflux. I'm off to have a gastroscopy on Thursday, which means light sedation, which means a needle in my hand - hold me now!

On the second Saturday of the school holidays, we caught up with two of the Grumpy Old Man's cousins. One I had met years ago when Erik and Lukas were five and three. I had never met the other and the GOM hadn't seen his other cousin in over 20 years. It was really love to catch up with them. Both of them have art training and one is a practicing artist who runs courses here in Melbourne, so of course we showed them Erik's work. It was nice to see the boys getting to know other branches of their family and we hope to maintain closer contact with them now. These cousins are a little older than the Grumpy Old Man and have grandchildren around Ari's age, so it would be nice to meet them as well.

The second week of the holidays seemed as busy as the first, though sitting here right now, I can't actually remember much of it. Step-dad had a birthday on the Tuesday so we visited my parents for afternoon tea, and the Grumpy Old Man had a birthday on the Wednesday. We took the boys to the movies on Thursday, courtesy of mother-in-law. Two things I do remember clearly are talking to my psychologist about the interview she conducted with Erik last time I saw her, and then finally, after many years of talking about it, taking a family trip to the beach!

The conversation with the psychologist was enlightening and confronting. As I have mentioned before I have long suspected Erik has ADHD. Well, she doesn't think he does. However, she feels there is a strong likelihood he has Aspergers. She has not diagnosed him as having ASD, but we have set in motion the process for assessing him for having it. I can honestly say, I have never considered this. Of course, as soon as she said it, the pieces did seem to fall into place for me. The early hypersensitivity to his environment, to new people entering the room, the lack of understanding about personal space, the massive meltdowns between 15 months and 7 years, the hand flapping and jumping in circles when he was younger, the holding back in social situations... And now, the doggedness with rules (except where they apply to him). The fact that if I am not specific, he doesn't seem to be able to extrapolate.

But this may yet turn out to be coincidence. We shall see. The Grumpy Old Man isn't convince it even could be ASD, mumbled something about that being the 'go to diagnosis' these days, but right now, I'm open to anything that will help us help him.

Yesterday, we finally drove to the beach. We were thinking of going on Saturday, but the weather was craptacular. We made no plans to go Sunday, but then when we got up and the weather seemed mild, we went for it!

It was absolutely awesome! I would love to live by the sea again - such a pity the fabulous high school is no where near the sea. The boys had a blast, they're all water babies at heart. We were only going to paddle, because it wasn't the warmest of days but before the GOM and I knew it the boys were in the water fully clothed! Rascals!

Here are a few photos...

Happiness is...

Feeling grounded and peaceful!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Fire, fire! Getting your kids involved in your home's fire plan!

This post is sponsored by Nuffnang.

I was recently offered the opportunity to be involved in a Victorian Department of Justice Fire Awareness Campaign!

I jumped at the opportunity because I believe this is an important issue that every family, especially those with children, should seriously consider!

Fires scare me. Burning to death is my greatest fear.

I have one distant cousin who was badly burned while playing in a packing crate -in the snow! - with his friends.

As well as this, my brother and I, and our four year old cousin narrowly avoided dying in a fire when I was eleven. I joke about burning a house down, but the truth of the event was potentially horrific.

Living in metropolitan Melbourne, we often feel safe from fires such as the one Victoria witnessed on Black Saturday two years ago. This is a false sense of security. One of the Country Fire Association (CFA) fire myths states:

  1. MYTH: If you live in a residential suburban area you’re safe.

    FACT: Even on the urban fringe you are at risk of fire. In strong winds, embers can travel up to 35 kilometres in front of a fire, starting new fires. People who travel or holiday in high risk bushfire areas are also at risk of bushfire. Even people considering a day trip should be prepared. 

Many Victorians live 'on the urban fringe' in this ever sprawling city, and in a couple of weeks, many Victorians will also be taking off for the Easter holidays to make the most of the last warm days of the season.

Having a plan in the event of a fire is the smart move! If you're travelling, this is a good place to start your planning.

Other common myths include:

  1. MYTH: Code Red days happen all the time.

    FACT: Code Red days are rare. There have been two Code Red Days in the last three years. Code Red is the highest Fire Danger Rating. Houses in Victoria are not designed or constructed to withstand fires on these days.

    MYTH: If you live in a residential suburban area you’re safe.

    FACT: Even on the urban fringe you are at risk of fire. In strong winds, embers can travel up to 35 kilometres in front of a fire, starting new fires. People who travel or holiday in high risk bushfire areas are also at risk of bushfire. Even people considering a day trip should be prepared.

    MYTH: It will be safe to leave even if I can see fire.

    FACT: Roads might be blocked, thick smoke will make it difficult to see, the fire could travel faster than you drive and fires can leap highways. Every minute you wait, it gets closer. 

    MYTH: CFA will be able to send a fire truck or come to my rescue.

    FACT: If the CFA is fighting fires, they can’t be knocking on doors. It’s your responsibility to make the best possible decision for your family based on the current Fire Danger Ratings and official warnings for your area. It’s up to you to know when to leave. It is critical for your safety to check more than one source for warnings. On high-risk days, monitor the conditions around you. Get the most up to date information through:
  • 

  •   FireReady App

  •   Emergency broadcasters: ABC Local Radio, commercial radio and designated community radio stations

  •   SKY NEWS television

  •   Victorian Bushfire Information Line: 1800 240 667

  •   CFA social media such as Facebook and Twitter: @CFA_Updates

  •   You may also receive an alert sent to your landline or mobile phone based on its billing address or location (for Telstra customers only) through the Emergency Alert System.

    MYTH: I can easily defend against fires; I am prepared and have experience.

    FACT: You can’t prepare for all fires. You need a well thought-out bushfire survival plan which has been agreed and discussed with members of the household. Leaving early is always the safest option.

    MYTH: Fire Danger Ratings are just a weather gauge.

    FACT: A Fire Danger Rating tells you how bad a fire would be if one started, including how difficult it would be to put out. The higher the rating, the more dangerous the conditions. 

    MYTH: Winter has been very wet so there’s less chance of a fire in summer.

    FACT: Rainfall fuels the growth of vegetation, especially grass, creating more fuel for fire. In years of wet weather, Victoria often sees an increase in the number of large grassfires. It only takes two weeks of hot, dry and windy weather to create dangerous fire conditions.

    MYTH: All barbecues are banned on a Total Fire Ban day.

    FACT: Solid and liquid-fuel barbecues and ovens are banned on Total Fire Ban days. You can still use gas or electrical barbecues that are fixed appliances built into permanent structures of brick, stone or concrete provided you adhere to the guidelines for use located at Portable gas or electric barbecues are also allowed if they are commercially manufactured exclusively for meal preparation and you ensure they are in a stable position when alight.

    MYTH: If we do decide to leave early, we will be able to go to the local Neighbourhood Safer Places.

    FACT: Neighbourhood Safer Places are places of last resort only when all other plans have failed, and do not guarantee safety. They are sometimes just an open space (e.g. a football oval) with limited facilities. There isn’t a Neighbourhood Safer Place in every community. 

In our house we had a 'Fire Plan Meeting' this week. We introduced the topic by talking about the fire drills the kids have done at school and kindergarten. I told them we were going to do something like that for our house in case there was ever a fire.

We told them that first and foremost, it is important you have working smoke alarms in your home! 

We're all encouraged to change the batteries in our smoke alarms at the end of daylight saving every year - this year, daylight saving ends on April 7. Here is a picture of the Grumpy Old Man testing our alarm - don't you love our spider webs; just keepin' it real, yo!

We tripped the alarm and explained to the kids what that ear piercing sound is all about; what it means, and what to do when they hear it. 

That particular alarm went off a few weeks ago while I was cooking late at night (there is a reason why I don't cook most of the time) and even though it is positioned directly outside the boys' bedroom, none of them woke to the alarm. It has been observed that children don't necessarily hear alarms in their sleep - so alarms during the night are important to wake adults! It is important to let children hear the alarm when they are awake and make sure they understand what it is for, so that if you wake them during the night, they understand what is going on and can react appropriately.

Next we talked about what to do in the event of a fire.

If you live rurally, or on the outskirts of the city, the CFA have a range of fire ready kits you can fill in to prepare a fire plan.

There are plenty of activities for kids on the CFA site; for example, you can get your kids involved in packing a relocation kit by playing the game Neville Numbat gets dressed for safety. Getting kids involved gives them a sense of confidence and understanding which will pay dividends if you need them to pack up and get in the car when they'd rather just play at home on fire risk days.

For older kids - like my 11 and 13 year olds who tell me they're basically adults now - there are interactive videos, activities, and information about paying attention to fire risk ratings, ember attacks and radiant here.

If, like us, you live in the metropolitan area, you can got to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade site and check out their home safety tips.

With our kids, we drew up a rudimentary home and garden plan. The CFA site has an awesome interactive game for kids which can help them design a plan of their own home and garden complete with doors, windows, fire extinguisher, fire alarms and fire blanket for the stove here! Our kids loved designing our house in this game!

As you can see, it's very basic. With kids, the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, smarty) really does apply. You don't want to bore the kids, but you want them to get the point.

For our kids (ranging in age from 13 down to 4), this meant:

  1. Let them hear the smoke alarm and tell them that means fire and to get out of the house.
  2. Tell them to get 'get down low, and go, go, go!'
  3. Explain where the exits to the house are - front door and back doors.
  4. Tell them where the 'Meeting Place' is; at the front corner of our street, under the street sign.
  5. Tell them to go there and STAY there - even if they are the only person there. They NEVER go back into the house. NEVER!
  6. Tell them to leave the front and back door open for other people and for the dog to find his way out - and don't try to find and save the dog, his instincts will guide him!
  7. Tell them don't cross the road (even though this might seem counter intuitive because, of course, we want out kids as far away from the fire as possible, our concern is that children running into the street might be dangerous with fire engines etc. driving around).
We told showed them how to feel a closed door to see if it is hot, and how that might mean there is fire behind the door and not to open it unless there is no other way out. We explained that it might be dark and hard to breathe, but they just have to keep moving until they get outside and to the meeting place.

We told them not to try and grab any of their favourite stuff or stuff they think they need to 'save'. The only thing they need to save is themselves - they are more important than any other 'thing' in our house, everything else can be replaced.

Then we did a drill because kids often need to 'do' to understand.

Bryn crawling to the front door

Lukas and Ari crawling to the back door and Lukas checking for heat before opening it.

Everyone gathered at the meeting place. Erik in his pyjamas, and Ari without shoes because when a fire happens you might not have time to find clothes and shoes, you just get out as fast as you can!

They all look very happy, don't they? 

A safe family is a happy family! So, get your fire plan happening! Go to the Country Fire Association site, plan and prepare, introduce your kids to Captain Koala and Friends, get your older kids involved as well.

Be safe.

Important links:

The Australian Emergency number is: 000

Country Fire Association information:


Metropolitan Fire Brigade information:


Good Job!