Monday, February 23, 2015

It's O-week: what I won't be doing but probably should


Ah, Orientation-week.

From an academic's perspective this is when the relative peace of summer is shattered - gone are the long days of research and grant-writing and here is weird cacophony of a million students in the quad, searching for freebies and friends amidst the noise and haste. It's the week of rushing to get the late subject outlines out, setting up the online class sites, writing and re-writing the first lecture, preparing handouts, double-checking your lecture hall hasn't been double-booked by the Engineering faculty. Again.

From a student's perspective, especially a first year student's perspective, it's the mad slide in a largely unfamiliar world with largely unfamiliar people and largely unfamiliar tasks to perform. It's crazy and fun and scary and overwhelming and holy shitballs somebody pass me a paper bag to breathe into.

It's my first week back in coursework study in a long while. In fact, I haven't done the lecturer-student-assignment relationship from this side of the fence in 10 years. I should probably brush up a little. 

If it's your first time at uni, or your first time back in a loong time, O-week is well worth attending. It's both a week long party and hand-holding session: the academics and administrators run formal welcomes, the student services let you know what they can and can't offer, and the student organisations vie for your membership (or, you know, whatever, only if you want to).


Here's what you're expected to do in O-week from the official point of view:

It's time to get your studentcard
O-week is usually when the student service centres have express lanes to get through the million or so students who need photos taken and student cards processed. Check a mirror before you enter the queue, because you'll be living with that photo for a few years (and it'll also be available to your lecturers on a photo-roll so they can figure out who you are). I had to renew my staff card a few weeks ago so managed to do the student card thing early and avoid the rush.

It's time to buy textbooks
Ideally, you would have had access to your reading list weeks ago, but in reality academics won't post these things till the last possible minute, which will force you to buy your textbooks on campus at huge mark-ups instead of online.

It's time to put together your class schedule and study timetable
Bahahaha... no, really.

It's time to scope out where everything is
Sometimes the maps are unreadable or the thoroughfares newly blocked. Taking a campus tour looks and feels a bit dorky but it's pretty handy for knowing where the cheap eats are and avoiding being late to your first class.

It's time to take a library tour
These are handy not just to know where the books are (books? huh?) but they're also an introduction on how to find things within the virtual library. Never used PubMed or Expanded Academic ASAP,? Get thee on a library tour!

It's time to find out about all the support services
If you know you'll need additional support, this is when all the student services are out flaunting their wares. It's okay to just know what's available in case you need it, but you are usually expected to register with the Disability Liaison Units in O-week to save hassles and delays later. 

It's time to brush up on your study skills or learn how the big boys do it
Think you learned how to write an essay in high school? Yeah... no. Learning and assessment tends to be a different beast at the undergraduate and then again at the postgraduate level. Language is different, standards are different, policies are different. Just trust me that it's different. Most libraries or learning centres have a whole suite of classes and online tutorials to help make the leap in this new learning environment. Having been the big meanie with the red pen for the last 10 years and published academic works in that time, I'm reasonably confident I don't have much to brush up here.

It's time to get to know your Faculty-specific information and expectations
Each faculty tends to have their own unique structure and standard practices. This might be in terms of what phone number you call, where you submit essays, what referencing system you use, how you get special consideration, and so on. This will probably be the only event I'll attend because of work and the fact that it's the only bit that's really new for me - new Faculty, new modes of assessment, eeep!

And the less official stuff? Hoo boy.

It's time to booze it up
Der. It's the first week of university life. Of course, you're meant to spend it pissed and yelling about the current government's poor record on environmental protection (for the record, in my typing haste I left the r off 'poor' in that sentence. Still works).

It's time to join
Clubs! Groups! Societies! There are heaps of them for every flavour of the student rainbow. Nationalities, cultures, sexual orientations, sports, fandoms, study help, games, dressing up, taking it all off... I may or may not have met my Lovely Husband in one of these. Just saying.

It's time to join in
So many events and shows and lunches and protests. 

It's time to explore
Never been to Melbourne Gaol and tried on Ned Kelly's helmet; never paddled boarded on a dead-flat bay; never played chicken with a tram? If you're new to the city or never bothered to look around, most unis organise tourist-type events or trips to show off their home turf.

It's time to talk to strangers and make friends
Mostly O-week is a chance to start finding your tribe. Chances are your old friends aren't on this crazy ride with you and you've forgotten how to make new ones. It's easy: just say 'hi' to the person sitting next to you... if they launch into a drunken tirade about the current government's poo record on environmental protection and that's not your scene, try the next person.

Have you ever survived O-week? Any war stories or recommendations?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Outdoor adventures: an introduction to camping with kids


Over the weekend we eased ourselves into camping (and when I say 'we' I mean 'me' because I seemed to be the only person worried about it). I've never been camping proper - I never made it past Brownies; we didn't do it as a family and there was an aborted attempt with Lovely Husband in the early days but there was a small issue of missing poles from the borrowed tent. Needless to see, I was feeling a mite anxious about camping with a three year old.

So we I enlisted the help of my brother and sister-in-law, who are seasoned campers (and parents to my super-fresh, squeezy-cheeked nephew), to hold our my hand the first time and we went all-in and kitted ourselves with tent, camp stove and self-inflating mattresses when they were on super-sale. Lovely Husband stocked up on gadgets and I started making lists in my head.

My bro picked the place (a caravan park on Phillip Island) and we headed south east for an overnighter. They were cruisy and chill and I was a mess after a last-minute dash with Dear Boy to the doctor. All my plans for a cruisy and chill couple of hours to finish packing disappeared, so we I ended up getting super snappy and stress-sweaty - lovely - and forgetting things. Namely pillows.

We I forgot to bring pillows. Forehead slap.

Here's what else we forgot or didn't think to bring but might have been handy to have around:
  • sponge/scourer for the washing up
  • dish washing liquid (luckily the seasoned campers had plenty to share)
  • plastic/garbage bags
  • dustpan and brush (to try to keep some of the grass and sound out of the beds)
  • rubber mallet for the tent pegs (some of those suckers just couldn't be banged in with a shoe; again, seasoned campers to the rescue)
  • big container of water (to save multiple trips to the taps; yup, seasoned campers to the rescue)
  • some kind of bright, fleuro ties or markers for the tent pegs and guy ropes (the small person seemed blind to all of these)
  • pegs (we had wet towels slung on the back of chairs and over guy ropes - they mostly stayed damp)
  • cards or other simple entertainment
  • nibblies (because sitting around in camp chairs needs nibblies) 
  • books for bedtime for Dear Boy (he can live without everything else from home; we ended up scrounging a tiny old Mr Men board book from the car, but it just didn't cut it)
The pillows were the real killer; our mattresses were super comfy and I could live with the stereo-snoring from Lovely Husband and the guy in the tent next door but no pillows was wretched for getting a good night's sleep. Dear Boy coped fine.



Here's what else was fine even though I had some concerns about it beforehand:

Safety: Dear Boy getting out of the tent and disappearing without us realising (haha, no ninja skills could mask the sound of those zippers opening); that something would happen so close to the water (he wandered off to the fence line quite a bit but the worst thing that happened was his foot slipping down a little hole and he banged his chin - he also got a splinter but who knows where from); he'd burn himself on the camp stove and Trangia (he was curious but steered cleared after we told him it was hot).

Toilet training: the progress on toilet training would fly out the window (we set the potty up in the tent and he used it several times, Dear Boy isn't keen on peeing al fresco); how the hell do you clean a potty when you're camping?! (I'd found a pack of potty liners last week and threw them in at the last minute; any plastic bag would probably do, but it was super simple to lift off the potty seat, tie up the bag and toss it, no cleaning necessary).

Boredom: how to entertain a three year old while camping (we took a few small wheeled toys but he pretty much entertained himself, throwing leaves and sticks and stones into the water, chatting with his cousin; the only real problem was when he woke at the crack of dawn and wanted out of the tent befor eeveryone else was awake - if we'd had a small supply of books, this would've been easier); how to entertain adults while camping (the seasoned campers were right on the money with this one - you're usually busy with the business of camping - cooking, washing, exploring, etc, that you need the downtime to just sit around and chat, maybe play some cards).

Weather: I am no good sleeping when it's hot (we kept an eye on the BOM and were prepared to cancel if the temps got too high - ended up perfect weather though with warm days and cool nights - it was super hot and sweaty when we were putting the temp up but cooled down in the afternoon); rain and thunderstorms (both were predicted and I didn't want a wash-out to marr our first camping experience - we got some sprinkles but no downpour, and some mighty black cloud cover but no storm); too cold at night (I brought lots of blankets and socks).




Here are some of the tips from the seasoned campers and others hacks I found online that are worth passing on:
  • Bring a pair of gumboots for the kids for hanging around the campsite - these are super easy for littlies to pull on and off so helped stop grass getting tracked through the tent - plus good for walking on campsite bathroom floors and great if it rains, and better protection than thongs if they're bashing through the bush.
  • Bring socks and at least one set of opposite weather clothes - I remembered this for everyone else but forgot to pack myself a pair of shorts and sweltered; also cold feet in a tent, not fun.
  • Do lots of the food prep at home - chop the veg, cut the meat, etc.
  • Let the kids get dirty and stay dirty - saves on the stress, just wash their hands before eating.
  • Wipes and hand santiser -because you don't want dirty to become an invitation for bugs (of the gut or creepy-crawly variety).
  • Spray or wipe the tent zips with insect repellent (of the human friendly variety) so bugs don't come flying in after you every time you open the door.
  • Pick a place with something to do - the seasoned campers like spots near water and walking tracks.
  • Invest in earplugs if you're a light sleeper - tents offer no sound protection whatsoever. Whatsoever.
  • Camp chairs are worth their weight in gold - avoids bugs, wet bums, spilling food, etc.
  • Invest in a lidded tub or two - this keeps all your gear together so you can just throw it in the car and go - cookware, crockery and cutlery, fire lighters or matches, batteries, head torches, small tool kit, first aid kit, hand santiser, wipes, paper towel, and small containers of basics like oil, S&P, tea, etc.
We still need to figure out the esky situation - what the ultimate cooling methods are for short and long trips - do you buy the bag of ice, use ice bricks, bottles of frozen water, etc? (Maybe there's a 'science of...' post there) - and a few other things that weren't really an issue at a caravan park with all the mod cons nearby (wildlife, al fresco toileting, no running water, etc)... but we had a good time. Pillows certainly would have helped, but we still had a good time.

We're going again soon.

Are you a n00b or seasoned camper? I'd love to hear any tip or hacks or excellent camping spots (in Victoria) you want to share with us me (especially if you've got the answer to the esky situation).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Nine things I wish I knew before toilet training kicked my butt



I'm not sure toilet training is any one's idea of fun. It's certainly not mine, although there are moments of hilarity and crazy, crazy laughter because if you can't laugh about the amount of wee on the carpet and the poo you've got to scrub off the undies, well, you'd probably cry.

We've been very relaxed about it, led by him because he was entirely uninterested in it and then, once he showed an interest, entirely disconnected from sensing his own body's needs. Then one day, at child care, he refused to put his pull-up on. Refused and demanded his Thomas undies that had been languishing at the bottom of his bag for months (hey, if they ain't used/dirty, don't mess with them). I was completely unprepared for it.

Now he suddenly looks like he's joined the Romanian gymnastics team, a little boy in a much bigger boy's body.

We have days with no accidents and days when I carry four plastic bags of wet clothes out of the child care. We have days with him jumping up and running to the bathroom by himself and days when I ask him if he needs to go and he looks at me for a minute and then shakes his head and a puddle forms at his feet (and inside his shoes).

Here are some things I wish I'd known or considered before we started:

  1. Go straight for a kid-seat on a big toilet (or just get them to use the big one from the get go). Cleaning poo out of a potty is a horror show much worse than simply changing a nappy.
  2. Not all undies are created equal. The size and cut varies wildly between brands and sizing for a little bum no longer in bulky nappies is confusing. If they're not comfy, it's going to set you back. If they don't have the right picture on the front, they might be rejected out of hand. Also, while super cute, the little shorts style undies don't do such a great job of holding anything in that may have accidently come out. Just sayin'.
  3. Elastic waisted shorts or pants are much easier for little kids than zips and buttons when they're in a hurry.
  4. Think about what might motivate your child and what you're prepared to do (or not do) to encourage them; then be prepared to use it at any time. We hadn't given it any thought before hand and ended up jumping straight into simple games on the tablet while he sat on the potty. This, of course, turned into 'hey I want to play games and not pee'. After this we moved to a sticker/reward chart (it's a Lightning McQueen potty race and when he gets to the end of the race, he gets to pick from my Piston Cup prize bag, in which I've got a few little toys, some craft things, a drink bottle, etc that I picked up in the after Christmas sales). This has had varied success for us - sometimes he just couldn't give a rat's arse about getting another sticker. In hindsight, I suspect a non-reward approach would have worked just as well.  
  5. Think about technique. Wiping a child's bum is very different from changing a dirty nappy. Do you use toilet paper or wipes? Are they leaning forward on the potty or bending over and touching their toes? Are you going to teach them to pee standing up first or wait til they're older? How exactly are you going to clean the potty? How are you going to handle visiting other toilets? Will they pee on the grass? Figuring out all of this stuff on the go is both horrific and hilarious.
  6. One pack of undies isn't going to cut it. Unless you can wash and dry those babies in a day, get several packs.
  7. Don't push them to get toilet trained too early and try not to compare. Almost all the girls in Dear Boy's class were ready by about two. His best mate from mum's group decided he was ready at two and a half. Dear Boy's three and a bit. Some kids in his group are still in nappies, others are in pull-ups. Some are dry through the night. Pushing too early can have the opposite effect and lead to a long, drawn out power battle. We had enough of that with his eating and his sleep, so I want to skip it here if possible.
  8. Listen to their bodies and help them listen too. Think about their diet and activities and how these correlate to when they need to use the toilet. If they have a big drink or a meal, you can't put them in the car half an hour later and expect to keep the seat clean. Make opportunities to use the potty happen at the right time and get them to stop and think about what their body feels like. Is there pressure in the bladder? Are those farts trying to tell them something? These conversations are hilarious. Our son of a neuroscientist has gone straight to 'Mum, my brain says I feel fine' - technically correct but unhelpful.
  9. Make sure you're being consistent across the board. We've been wiping for him but childcare don't, which has led to a few surprises for everyone (and lots of washing). Some centres have toilet training policies you have to follow, others might go with whatever method you'd like. Just have the discussion.
What's your toilet training advice? Any tried and true methods?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Taking stock: the Early February edition


Making: Plans for camping (yay, first foray into camping; and by camping I mean sleeping in a tent rther than roughing it too hard).
Cooking: Haloumi and Chorizo for dinner.
Drinking: Dry Ginger Ale because I wanted a tumbler of Bailey's on ice and yeah, no, we don't have any of that round these parts.
Reading: Much more about American Football than I care to to get to the story I wanted.
Looking: forward (finally).
Playing: old DVDs (and by old, I mean 2004)
Wishing: it was going to be slightly cooler tomorrow for the kids party in a park we'll be going to.
Enjoying: laying in the grass with my boy.
Waiting: for the right time to fix myself (I know it's never the right time. The time is now, der).
Liking: the portable air conditioner.
Wondering: why I keep saying I need sleep but never make it to bed earlier than midnight.
Loving: little downloadables. (Yeah, I've just nominalised that sucker and there's nothing you can do about it).
Watching: real-life adventure movies and series.
Pondering: the busyness of a year that hasn't really started yet.
Hoping: the family business trip to Cairns in August ends up being a tiny holiday as well. I would at least like to swim in a lagoon like pool, although not so much if the entire work delegation is hanging out at the bar.
Needing: Dear Boy to get a better handle on the 'if you don't swim, you sink' thing before getting in said lagoon-like pool. 'I want to swim' is usually followed by wrestling himself out of my arms and blub, blub, blubbing straight down to the bottom.
Admiring: folks who blog every day, or even regularly.
Sorting: the couch-wardobe (yeah, it's time to put the clothes back into their drawers)
Buying: groceries without going insane with things for a very short camping trip (want to chuck all the bottled water into the trolley!)
Getting: antsy to start studying again. I know how long it takes for the unit guides to come out, but I still want them now, now, now so I can get revved up and go.
Bookmarking: quilts I'll never make, recipes I'll be making this week and kids concerts I'm still debating about.
Disliking: feeling cruddy but unmotivated.
Snacking: on the baklava we bought today. Yeah, gotta finish that quick so it's not hanging around anymore. (See how that works).
Coveting: a much younger, sportier lady's metabolism
Hearing: my mother's voice in my head (yeah, yeah, I know, Mama).

Linking in late with Pip from meet Me At Mike's

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