Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Crafting for a cause: Softies for Mirabel 2014

I took this image from Meet Me At Mikes, but it's okay cause Pip said we could

It's Softies for Mirabel time again. Are you up for a crafty challenge?

Last year, I started with a few vague ideas and a fabric stash. Two months later I crammed a lamb, a monkey, two mermaids and two girls into a box and shipped them off to Pip and the Mirabel Foundation kids. I am no expert crafter - I hand stitch everything with a single, bent needle and three callused fingers - but I like a challenge and the idea that something I make with love and purpose might be comforting to a kid who's having a rough trot. I'm also keen to show Dear Boy that Christmas isn't all about take, take, take and that giving freely of your time and skills is valuable.

The Mirabel Foundation supports kids (0-17 years) who have been orphaned or abandoned because of their parents' substance abuse, and works at restoring their sense of hope, belonging and self-worth to, ultimately, break the cycle of addiction in these families. If you're not a crafter, there are plenty of ways to help (including donating, volunteering, fundraising, etc) or getting involved through various events or campaigns. But if crafting's your thing, then the Softies for Mirabel campaign is a gorgeous person-to-person appeal.

I'm not sure how many I'll be able to make this year, but here are this year's vague ideas and riflings through the fabric stash.



A lumberjack: I was inspired by this fellow from Chick Pea Studios - I thought I could do a version of these with my old faithful Black Apple doll pattern.



Something with these constellations fabrics leftover from Dear Boy's quilt. There's a passage from Larry Niven's Ringworld where folks have genetically engineered themselves all sorts of colours and textures and one lady rocks an awesome constellation across her skin. I'm thinking simple, floppy-eared bunnies like this fellow.



A brown bear in polka-dot pants and braces like this Black Apple fellow. Not sure how to manage the braces at this point, but I'm sure there's a piece of ribbon or leather at the bottom of the craft box.



Yeah, a chicken. I've already made one of these fellows and it looks pretty cute with its Superman belly.

Do you think you could whip up something cute for a cause? Take a look at our special Softies for Mirabel Pinterest board if you're after some inspiration.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Intentional Play: September (the wrap up)



Springtime! It's been a lovely month of gardening and planting, bugs, birds and baby animals. Dear Boy's childcare centre helped us out quite a lot in the baby animal stakes, setting up an incubator and heated glass case for a dozen gloriously golden chicks as they hatched. They watched the eggs for days, catching the first cracks and then glimpses of beak and foot and little faces emerging. They gently stroked the downy fluff and watched as the chicks grew in their feathers.

At home, we cleared out the last of the winter garden, renewed the soil and planted seeds for cucumber, corn, basil and sunflowers. There were quite a few strewn around the garden and it'll be interesting to see if anything grows from what was left behind from the birds that feast across the lawn.



Inside, the themed play took a decidedly buggy turn. It seems we have an awful lot of books that feature ladybirds ('ladybirds, Mummy, not ladybugs') and quite a few versions now of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and caterpillar accouterments. Some favourites from our own collection and the library include:
  • Pull-back Busy Bug Book (by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Ben Mantle) - this fat tome that we got as a present when Dear Boy was tiny features a little pull-back ladybird, that wriggles itself along the trail across four scenes/page spreads. You follow the ladybird as she makes her way home, keeping a look out for all the other critters she spots along the way.
  • Peppa Pig: Little Creatures (from the Read it yourself with Ladybird series). Peppa and George pretend to be snails and bees, learning where honey comes from. We picked up a handful of these books at the ABC Shop and Dear Boy loves them. They're great for parents too with guided reading questions at the back so you can chat more about what's in the book.
  • A Melissa and Doug magnetic/wooden bug-catching game that I picked up on sale at Toys R Us. After science month, Dear Boy has been much more interested in magnets and catching these bugs has introduced him for the first time to grasshoppers, fireflies and dragonflies. He can also identity a Monarch butterfly. Clever clogs.
  • Pigs Have Piglets (by Graeme Base). This fold out book was a great library find that we took into childcare a few time when the chicks were hatching. Very different from Base's other books but good learning tools. 
  • Bug House (My Amazing Pop-Up Treehouse, illustrated by Dudley Moseley). This is the story of the Ladybird family who live in the branches of Big Old Tree. The book comes with press-out cardboard characters and the final pages unfurl into an amazing 360-degree pop-up paper tree house. Dear Boy's been amazing with it, playing for long chunks of time and narrating stories. I've only had to tape one door back on after some aggressive entrances by the younger ladybirds.


For our adventure this month, we headed back to Melbourne Zoo, but hung out for quite a while in the butterfly house. Dear Boy was fascinated, and perhaps just a little freaked out by the enormous ones. Lovely Husband was a butterfly magnet, attracting the randy mating pairs that we had to shake off when we exited. Just outside the enclosure they've set up a new exhibit for the Lord Howe Island stick insect (freaky and weird enough for Dear Boy to check it all out but the exhibit itself was pretty uninspiring). We also had a lovely time in the sandpit near the tortoise enclosure, digging for the (concrete) turtle eggs at different stages of hatching.





We didn't get to watch much in the way of movies this month (Planes and Cars featured prominently) but we had A Bug's Life and Antz on hand. ABC4Kids provided us with: Maya The Bee, Tree Fu Tom, Peter Rabbit, Timmy Time to help us keep the TV spring-themed.

In terms of songs, I had Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on repeat in my head - very hard not to get my Jane Powell trill on. For Dear Boy we had a few loud choruses of
  • Justine Clarke's 'Doin' It' - one of my favourites of hers.
  • 'Five Little Ducks'
  • 'Galumph Went the Little Green Frog'
  • Sesame Street's 'Ladybugs' Picnic' - total classic from my childhood.
  • 'The Ants Go Marching One By One' - although I'm slightly suspect of the theme or the politics behind this one.
  • 'Incy Wincy Spider'
There wasn't a whole lot of craft happening as Dear Boy was preferring free form drawing, but we did recycle some tissue paper packaging and a pipe cleaner or two into a butterfly and a caterpillar. They've been crawling and flying about the small world box with some little plastic critters, our leftover green paper grass/straw and leaves and nuts from a walk through the urban bush nearby. If you're interested in spring-themed activities and craft ideas, check out our Intentional Play board on Pinterest. 

I suspect there'll be a whole lotta crafting going on next month. We're all a little excited for our universe theme - stars, planets, comets, astronauts, earth and maps - although daylight savings starting next weekend will make that interesting. There may be one or two late nights to come or a trip to the Planetarium. 

Have you been doing any Spring-themed play (or Autumn themed - hey Northern Hemisphere folks)? Do you have any favourite family-friendly spring activities?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Taking stock: The marking blues



The lyrics from the wrong Paul Simon song have been rolling around in my mind for the last few days, the same way they do every time I get into some serious marking phases at work. There's always the marking blues, descending somewhere in there where you just can't read another damned word but the pressure is mounting to get them back to the students, and you start timing how long it takes to get each one done and then your brain just explodes. Or mine does. 

So the lines from the wrong Paul Simon song have been rolling around in my mind and haven't left because I've had the marking blues. Diamonds on the soles of your shoes are one way to cure the marking blues, but it's lines from Graceland that keep on spinning through: 

And I see losing love
is like a window in your heart
everybody sees you're blown apart
everybody sees the wind blow

I'm not altogether certain why these ones. Maybe I feel like "the human trampoline, falling, flying or tumbling in turmoil". Maybe marking makes me feel blown apart. It certainly hasn't left much brain space for blogging. I have half a dozen half drafted posts and nothing to give them this week. And then I re-read Pip's Taking Stock for this month, and then Sonia's and Stacey's. It's time to take stock and think of something else. 

Making: a special quilt (still – on the last of the quilting then a quick bind and I’m done, yippee!).
Cooking: more chicken than I really care to.
Drinking: soda water. Cold and savoury.
Reading: some sci-fi before I start on my Time After Time loaner.
Wanting: more time and more books to fill that time.
Looking: forward to summer.
Playing: pretend with Dear Boy. His little imagination is taking flight.
Deciding: what new laptop I’ll get to replace the one that killed a whole heap of my files and then burnt out its power pack.
Wishing: my tax cheque was slightly larger so I could replace said laptop, get the car serviced and take a trip to see the family (but feeling grateful, nonetheless, to receive a tax cheque and not a bill).
Enjoying: sunshine.More, more, more.
Waiting: for replies to job applications (again).
Liking: re-listening to Paul Simon's Graceland album. I just gave myself up to it. 
Wondering: why the hell Coles has its Christmas goodies on the shelves already.Pondering:
Watching: new season pilots (Madame Secretary, Scorpion, NCIS: New Orleans, The Mysteries of Laura - some good, some meh); I am saving the first episode of new season Downton Abbey for laters).
Hoping: my next student consultation doesn’t take the whole hour so I’ve got enough time to pick up Dear Boy from childcare on foot rather than in the car
Marvelling: at the medicinal qualities of a toddler's sloppy kisses and 'love you's.
Needing: a holiday. A long one. On a beach. With a nanny.
Smelling: coffee. It’s decaf, but the smell’s the thing, really.
Wearing: something I ironed this morning, which is different because I never iron.
Following: too many people on Instagram who upload photos they’ve taken from proper cameras; so many gloriously lovely and light-riddled photos.
Admiring: lovely Sash for getting nominated and then stepping up to do a TED talk. So excited for her and can't wait to watch/listen if I can find a copy.
Sorting: all Dear Boy’s t-shirts and passing on all the things he’s outgrown since last summer
Buying: Star Wars quilting fabric
Bookmarking: this (again). It's my happy place. I know some of you reading will understand.
Disliking: the thought that the current anti-terror laws are going to end with internment camps for various religious/cultural groups 'for their own safety'. Because we don't really seem to be very good at learning from history.
Opening: my first long, scrawly letter in such a long time. I've been saving it too for a time when I can sit down and actually translate said scrawl. Thanks J.
Giggling: about this and this. Farts and Unicorns. It's been a long week.
Feeling: productive but thoroughly spent.
Snacking: blueberries and carrots. Together.
Coveting: books. I think Book Depository's gonna get a visit from me soon.
Wishing: for patience and resilience.
Helping: myself to Dear Boy's chocolate custard (bit of a rarity in these parts) 

Have you taken stock lately? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

A cranky academic's guide to plagiarism (and avoiding it)

It's mid-semester marking season and I've come up against my first case of plagiarism for this semester. I'm sure there'll be others but the first is always so disheartening. There's any number of good reasons why this bothers me:
  1. The student doesn't care enough about the subject to be bothered doing the assignment properly;
  2. The student is panicking and doesn't feel like there's any other option;
  3. The student didn't pay attention when I spoke about proper referencing and the penalties for plagiarism;
  4. The student didn't bother to read through the subject guide and take note of the plagiarism/referencing policy;
  5. The student doesn't understand the material but is too embarrassed to ask for help;
  6. The student doesn't understand plagiarism/referencing but is too embarrassed to ask for help;
  7. The student thinks they can get away with it (or at least deserve to);
  8. The student thinks I'm an idiot and won't notice when their written expression changes or that they've just taken great big chunks out of texts we've set them.
It's probably the last one that bothers me most. I'm used to students not caring and not paying attention but when they assume I'm stupid, it's disheartening. When I call them into my office for 'counselling' and they shrug and roll their eyes and get all 'whatevs' with me, this is when they become filthy, filthy plagiarists (in my head, at least) and I become the follow-the-letter-of-the-law lady instead of using my discretion to waive any penalties. (It does also bother me if students feel too embarrassed to ask for help or they're freaking out - I'm a big softie and generally help whatever wayward souls cross my threshold... if only they'll cross the threshold. I have a box of tissues right next to my consultation chair and everything.)

The rules to avoid plagiarism are pretty simple: if you use someone else's ideas or words, then you have to say so. The problem is maybe the rules aren't so simple. Firstly, by the time you've researched the hell out of your essay question, your head is more than likely swimming with ideas and it might not be so clear anymore if you once read something like that in a book or journal. Secondly, the standards for what constitutes acceptable practice and plagiarism actually differs from country to country and culture by culture. What's okay in China is not okay in Sweden. This makes life that bit harder when half my cohort are international students.

So maybe the rules should be:
  1. If you use someone else's words or ideas, then you have to say so;
  2. Be careful and take meticulous notes of everything you read;
  3. Ignore all of your previous education and cultural programming and just listen to what I'm telling you is the right way here and now;
  4. Paraphrasing does not mean changing one or two words in a sentence;
  5. Direct quotes need "quote" 'marks';
  6. Direct and indirect quotes need to be referenced (I like an in-text citation system that shows the reference right next to the idea/quote - keeps it simple);
  7. Only cite work you've read (i.e. don't add references for the hell of it);
  8. Don't use internet sources you haven't checked for plagiarism yourself (i.e. google every phrase you quote - if it lights up in any other pages, don't use it - find the original source);
  9. Use the referencing system you've been asked to (Harvard, APA, etc);
  10. If you have trouble keeping track of everything use a program like End Note to help keep everything straight;
  11. Assume you won't get away with it. 
If you're still determined to plagiarise, for whatever reasons, don't look so shocked when you get told you're busted.

Have you ever busted a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater? 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spring Cleaning: The story of my stuff (part 3)

Spring cleaning, clothes


It's spring and I'm going room by room and culling all of the things I don't have mental or physical space for anymore. But culling is sometimes hard when attachment remains or the stories behind the stuff run deep. These are those stories.

Going through my dresser drawers is sometimes like gazing at a cliff face, with layers of sediment from different phases of life and sizes of body. Fat clothes, normal clothes, skinniest clothes, fat mum clothes, healthy mum clothes, wedding clothes, one-off-wear clothes, old favourite clothes...

There are now two large purple garbage bags of clothes sitting next to the drawers, clothes I haven't worn in quite a while or probably won't wear again in the future. Here's some of what I'm giving away:
  • Flowery navy blue maxi skirt with a waist band that I sliced at the side to accommodate my expanding girth when I was pregnant with Dear Boy. I held onto it, thinking I could convert it to a maxi dress but it remains possibly the frumpiest thing I've ever seen on my body.
  • Mustard coloured tights that look great in the drawer but look nude-coloured when I wear them. I'm not going there
  • Three collared business shirt with girly ruching across the chest. The ruching just emphasises how much they gape at the moment. Plus ironing.
  • White linen collarless shirt. White. Linen. Impossible to keep clean. Plus ironing.
  • Two pairs of men's boxers that are near translucent after approximately eight years of wear as PJ shorts. I added my own button to the gaping fly and they were the comfiest things ever. But after stretching them to their limits while pregnant over the summer months, those babies don't stay on. 
  • Approximately one million long sleeved black tops from Cotton On. I found a good thing and stuck to it through many a Melbourne winter, layer upon layer. Then I outgrew their sizing options. Sigh. 
  • Fourth trimester stretchy fat jeans, the only pants I could find that fit my ballooned and deflated shape. Except they came with sparkles. I. Don't. Do. Sparkles. So I picked off all the little rhinestones and coloured in the sparkles with a Sharpie. 
  • Assorted skinny woolly scarves. Skinny scarves are just utterly pointless, especially in Melbourne. 
  • Skinny belts, never worn.
  • And, with much shedding of tears, my most favourite Lululemon yoga top with a ruched back that they don't make anymore. The perfect size and the perfect length. Except after a few years of wear, the straps have disintegrated (see below). 


Here's what I can't part with, none of which fit me at the moment:
  • My $14 green wedding dress. Every time I see if hanging in my cupboard, I think of this. It's also still a nice dress to wear to other people's summery weddings.
  • The grey business trousers I wore to my first university graduation. Although I can't even do the zip up now let alone the buttons, these were some seriously awesome pants.
  • My size 10 jeans, quite possibly the only size 10 item I've ever worn as an adult. I felt triumphant in those things.
  • Black Bonds maternity skirt, which is pretty much just a tube of stretchy fabric, but quite possibly the comfiest item of clothing I've ever worn in my life (at what was quite possibly the most uncomfortable time of my life). Although my memory of this is fairly hazy, I'm 90% sure I wore this to the hospital when I was in labour, dropped off at the front doors and then waddling and groaning and leaning and then half-sitting in a wheelchair up the birthing suites. Eight hours after that I was a mum.
Even holding on to these (currently) unwearables, my drawers are half empty. I'm going to let the garbage bags sit for a week or so, just in case, but it's nice to shed some of the layers. It feels like there's room to breathe again, to adjust my image of myself, to rethink how I present myself to the world.

Have you done a clothing cull this spring? What have you thrown away and what couldn't you part with? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Middle Name: A rose by any other name



I've just heard of another baby girl being given Rose as a middle name. There seems to be quite a lot of them. Hell, Sylvester Stallone gave all three of his girls Rose as a middle name. I like the name, I do. But I'm curious as to why it's quite so popular but relegated primarily to middle name status (Scarlett Johanssen and Doctor Who aside). It hardly ever makes the top 100 baby name lists but I would hazard a guess it'd take out the no. 1 slot on the middle name list (with Grace as a possible second).

I'm always curious about people's baby name choices and the insights it gives you into the parents. There's such a lot of pressure to get the first name right. But is the middle one any easier?

The middle name was where we went familial. Dear Boy's middle name is his Grandad's, who himself was given it to commemorate an event on the day he was born (and the nurses insisted it be added in). 

My middle name, Jo, was given in a similar vein, presumably for my two aunts, Joanne and Joanna, one who died as a small child and one who didn't. I like the name for more literary reasons, with Little Women's feisty writer a Jo as well - "such a little name for such a person".

For other parents, though, the middle is where they let go, let their freak flag fly (Biggest Sister and Brother-in-Law, I'm looking at you). It's the name that can stay hidden on a birth certificate and not added to forms or put on business cards or desk plates. 

What middle name route did you go for your own kids? Does your own have a story behind it?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Spring cleaning: The story of my stuff (part 2)



It's spring and I'm going room by room and culling all of the things I don't have mental or physical space for anymore. But culling is sometimes hard when attachment remains or the stories behind the stuff run deep. These are those stories.

I haven't bought myself any new bras since having to relinquish my beloved underwires for those weird molded cups and nipple-exposing clips of maternity bras. Once the breastfeeding part of my life was done, I went back into my old-faithfuls, those beautifully comfy Berlei T-shirt bras. 

But Dear Boy is now two-and-a-half and those beloved Berleis have lost their structural integrity. The straps are no long elastic and the sides are worn transparent and the cups were in all kinds of strange shape. Things certainly were not where they should be.

So I bit the bullet yesterday and zoomed Dear Boy into Myer for a proper bra fitting, my first in almost four years. Ah, nothing like shaking and shimmying and being manhandled by a mature lady in comfortable shoes and a set of glasses on a neck chain. Doing it with Dear Boy in the dressing room added a whole new realm of fun. And yes, there was a size change (sigh) but I thought 'no problem, I'll just upgrade to the new lovely colours available in the Berlei range'. Double-sigh. Sometime in the last couple of years, Berlei did a redesign and narrowed the lovely comfy padded straps into thin, biting strips. Decidedly not useful for those of us with breasts of any great weight. 

So this is not just bye-bye to my old, worn-out Berlei bras, but bye-bye to Berlei altogether, and hello Triumph. And although I have hopes of returning to my pre-baby bra specs, it's also a very final see-ya-later to pre-baby boobs. Post-baby boobs are a whole new ball game.

When's the last time you bought yourself a new bra? Have you ever had a proper fitting?

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