Friday, February 28, 2014

Intentional Play: February (the wrap-up)

February has been an interesting month for intentional play. I wrote halfway through February about the 'Emotions' theme and how it was playing out. There has been more of the same: more discussion, more books read, a little more TV watched, and far, far fewer photos than I normally take in a month.

In terms of craft, we did a few Winter Olympics activities, which thoroughly confused Dear Boy sometimes - watching the snow and athletes all rugged up, while sitting here in his nappy and a singlet. But it was too good an opportunity to miss. To get in the spirit there have been quite a few cottonball explosions in our loungeroom, shoveling 'snow' with his little gardening shovel and throwing blizzards of them at me and his toys. We made little peg people, both of whom he calls 'Mrs Peg', who've shooshed down mountains of bubblewrap and foam wrap rescued from posted packages. There was a half a cardboard tube luge track for the cars that gradually curled in on itself, becoming just that little bit too small for all the more portly competititors. Dear Boy nearly had a heart attack and died with pleasure when we tried this (I've bookmarked the 'Play Trains' blog to give me lots of ideas for my own little engineer - fantastic concept).

Mostly there was reading. And lots of love and happiness. And the usual periods of cars and trains and trucks.

Next month's theme is Autumn - and we'll be focusing on leaves, harvest, farm animals, fruits and vegetables and cooking. March marks a seasonal change for us, leaving the warmth of summer for the long slow slide towards winter. We've already been crunching through leaves on our walks, but fallen leaves that were burnt by the sun not falling because it's autumn. Autumn around here is beautiful. It actually feels like a whole other season - unlike our hometown up north where nothing really changed, nothing turned.

I'll pull the last of the summer herbs and tomatoes from the trug and consult Peter Cundall on what I should be planting for winter crops. It's probably too early in the season for actual harvests - nothing really comparable to the harvest season in the Northern Hemisphere, but we'll see what we can come up with.

We'll visit the Pop-Up Patch garden, on the roof above the Fed Square carpark, which was oh-so-summery when we trooped through a few weeks ago. We'll head back to the Collingwood Children's farm and see their crops, go to a farmer's market or two, pat a few cows. Maybe we'll even head out into the boonies to visit the other children's farms. Something new, something different.

Tomorrow I'll pull out our books on farms and animals, and sort through the caches of toys around the house for farm animals. Our visit to the library today didn't yield much, but I'm hopeful that the next one will be more bountiful.

Welcome to Autumn, southern folk; and have a lovely Spring, northerners. Have you got any seasonal activities planned?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

(Un)conventional: 10 tips for surviving Comicon with kids

One of my 'Before I Go' goals was to visit a Comicon-style geek convention. I would have loved a big trip to San Diego for the massive Comicon there, immersing myself in fandom after fandom and getting all swoony over the geek icons. But Dear Boy and a complete lack of international travel funds meant we were limited to the local area. But hey, no problemo. We've been so lucky, living in Melbourne, to have such a huge range of events and festivals at our doorstep. Sure, we don't always go... but it's nice to know we could if we were so inclined. Melbourne's geek-themed conventions and expos are plentiful with Supernova in April, Continuum X in June, Oz Comicon in July and Armageddon in October. Some are bigger than others and some are better but, whichever you go to, there are common issues if you're trying to make it a family affair.

After some great and not-so-great experiences, here are my top 10 tips for surviving a convention with a child along for the ride. Most of them are just plain old survival tips for first-time adults as well (give or take the extra nappies).

1. Do your research and plan ahead. This starts with picking the right convention for you and your kids. Will your favourite actor/writer/artist be attending? Are there family friendly events? Have a look at the online guestlists and programs and see which convention's going to offer you the most bang for your buck or the best quality experience. While you're at it, check venues for pram access, parenting rooms or child-friendly facilities. Once you've bought your tickets, you can start planning everything from transport to purchases to exit strategies. It also gives you an opportunity to prep older kids beforehand so they know what they'll be seeing and can get as excited as you. They might even want to make costumes. Essentially, introducing them to your favourite characters, artists, actors or writers means getting to relive all that same joy you experienced the first time round.

2. Be selective. Sit down with the program, pick your No 1 must-see event/signing/panel and then organise your day(s) around that one thing. At one Con, my only goal was a Patrick Stewart sighting. I knew once that was ticked off, I would be happy to go with the flow. So I highlighted all the Patrick Stewart events for the day, picked my "dream" session (with a few others as back-up) and then scheduled transport and arrival times, queuing times, etc to suit that one event. A jam-packed schedule isn't feasible when you have a child (young or old) in tow, but a little scheduling with lots of flexibility will work.

3. Be prepared for queues. Just surrender to the idea that there will be queues. Even if you purchase the premium tickets, you're likely to hit queues in the VIP areas as well (albeit slightly shorter ones). Showing up early might get you closer to the front of the queue but there'll still be a wait for every event. Organisers are generally super strict about times and will not allow entry before the official time.

The longest queues are usually for initial entry to the venue and ticket pick-up or registration so take advantage of any early or online check-ins. If they have a registration time the night before and you can drop in sans child, even better. One less queue for them tomorrow. Having said this, the queues are often where the magic happens and you can freely gawk at people in costume. There's also a sense of camraderie you can develop with those around you after a few hours stalled in line. Just don't cut-in. That's when things get nasty.

A corollory of this is to be prepared for all kinds of queues. Some will be indoors and some outdoors. Some will be squishy and some spacious. Some will be fast-moving and others glacial. With kids in tow this means having stuff on hand or strategies to deal with the waiting time. Which leads us to...

4. Just be prepared. Full stop. Pack light but pack smart. Here's our list of must-haves for us and our toddler:
  • Comfy shoes. Der.
  • Comfy bag. I take a padded laptop backpack. It fits everything we need and keeps things safe when there's bumping and jostling.
  • Wet wipes. Lots and lots of wet wipes. They do double-duty as hand sanitiser, public toilet/change table sanitiser, etc.
  • Nappies. Always two more than I think I'll need.
  • Extra set of clothes (and an extra t-shirt/top for me)
  • Sunscreen, hats, rain gear (depending on the weather)
  • Individually portioned snacks and water bottles. Food of all varieties is super expensive and generally crappy. To avoid having to queue or leave the venue for meals, I bring enough for grazing through the whole day. This includes toddler-friendly trail mix, fuit and veggie sticks (for early in the day), crackers and crispbreads, long-life cheese sticks, small boxes of sultanas, etc. Small things that can be eaten one-by-one are an entertainment in and of themselves. I also carry a small tetra-pak of long-life milk just in case we get stuck somewhere close to bed time.
  • Bandaids and tea-tree oil. (Combined with the wet wipes, this is our little first-aid kit. Anything more serious than a small cut or a graze can be dealt with at the first-aid tent). 
  • A sickbag (we use Chuckies travel sickness bags). Gross, I know - but vomiting children are bad enough without worrying about cleaning up said vomit as well. In a Con atmosphere, children can spew from nerves, over-excitement, smelling something gross (deodorant, people, please!) or from eating too much junk.
  • Well-charged phone; camera with spare batteries and a blank SD card. It's always a toss-up whether to bring a camera or rely solely on phone pics. It really depends on the quality you're after and the quality of your gear. 
  • Toddler apps or videos. We have episodes of Peppa Pig and Thomas the Tank Engine handy. Even with the sound down, they're great distraction material.
  • A charger (if it's small). Toddler apps can seriously drain battery life and sometimes you're lucky enough to be camped out next to an electrical outlet. 
  • Muslin cloth (about 1x1metre). Great for a playmat or covering a cold/sleepy/over-stimulated kid. Plus costume possibilities in a pinch.
  • Pen and notebook. For notes, signatures or colouring in.
  • Two or three small, wheeled toys for zooming around the floor.
  • A dummy with strap. We only use a dummy for sleeping, but always pack one just in case.
  • Earplugs or kid sized-headphones. If you're planning on attending anything that teenage girls love, they scream. Really loudly.
  • Walking around money. Literally. I tend to bury my wallet in the bottom of the bag, which keeps it safe from sticky fingers and overspending. Instead, I keep change and small denominations in a change purse or in a readily accessible pocket. 

5. Bring extra adults. Even if you're just taking one child, having an extra set of hands is a must. With two or more adults, you can take turns kid-wrangling, holding your place in a queue, dashing for the parents room, etc. It really takes the pressure off.

6. Think carefully about how your kids are going to get around. There are lots and lots of people everywhere you go and the potential for losing a child is great. If they're older, work out strategies for keeping them close-by or an 'I'm lost' plan (complete with a clear meeting point, phone number written on arm or dog tags, etc). If they're older but still small, consider a restraint of some kind - you don't have to call it a leash, but that's the idea. One of those animal backpacks with a "tail" you can hold on to might make you feel a bit better.

If they are small, you may want to get them off the ground anyway and into a pram or carrier of some kind. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Both will get your child off the ground, potentially let them sleep while you keep plowing through or could be incorporated into a costume if you're into the cosplay. A pram gives you extra carrying capacity if you're buying up swag but they're not great when you're manueuvering through a crowd. A carrier will let you be a bit more mobile, but you're essentially a pack mule and will have the extra weight when you're spending so much time on your feet. After one round with the pram, we went with the Baby Bjorn and had Dear Boy forward facing so he could get his fill of all the sights and sounds. Now he's bigger, we're seriously considering a hiking backpack.

7. Don't buy all of the things. Because of the afore-mentioned pack mule status, don't buy everything you want there and then. Instead, grab a stallholder's businesscard and see if you can make a deal on an online order or for it to be delivered.

8. Hazard awareness. Cosplay is awesome but somewhat dangerous. Wings, swords, ears and tails, fangs, teeth: your kid will want to grab a hold of all the pointy-pointy things. Sometimes they're hard to avoid when you're all jammed in together. It's a safe bet one of you will get whacked in the face by someone's headgear.

9. Artist galleries are a great quiet zone. If you or your child need a break, head towards the artist galleries. They're usually quieter than the other areas and can give you a bit more space to rock a child to sleep or just decompress for a while. Just be sure to browse a few steps ahead of older children so you can detour around nudey-pics or slaughter scenes.

10. Be excellent to each other. Whenever lots of people are jammed together, tempers can fray and noses can be assaulted. Add in mama-bear instincts and the normal sleep deprivation/toddler-wrangling frustrations and things can get nasty pretty quickly. Just grin and bear it. No stabbing people in the eye with a pen.

You should also be polite when taking photos. Most cosplayers are there to be noticed and are generally happy to be photographed and have their costumes admired. They'll even work the queues and stop and pose with you, but you should still be respectful of their space and person. Don't touch or pose inappropriately unless you've asked first and don't expect everyone to want to pose with your kid. Also, don't get pictures of your kids with people in inappropriate costumes. You don't want DOCS to come knocking at your door if you post photos of your toddler with (toy) guns to their head or being strangled by a hideous monster. The one with the Leia slave-girl is probably also going to get comments for all the wrong reasons.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

DIY Banana Chips

I've had a love/hate relationship with bananas. Early childhood experiences on our family's banana plantation and the glut of bananas it brought into our life ruined them for me for quite a few years but I came back to them as a grown-up (I did a guestpost about it over at Better In Real Life if you want to read more about those traumatic fond memories).

Now that Dear Boy will eat fresh banana (hooray!) I've been trying to keep a few in the house - yes, I'm that person in the supermarket who breaks two or three bananas from the bunch. I keep them away from the other fruit but they still tend to freckle and overipen before we get around to eating them all. I keep a stash of banana pieces in the freezer for our favourite smoothies, but there's really only so many smoothies you can drink. I'm contemplating some banana-flavoured baking but, in the mean time, the bananas are getting pungent.

The answer?

DIY banana chips. Dear Boy is a fan of these crunchy little morsels but the commercial variety are fried in dubious oils and sugared and preserved with who knows what. They're pretty easy to make yourself though and you can be more assured of what's going in them.

In ours, there were just two ingredients: bananas (on the ripe side) and lemon juice (to prevent browning).

I used a slow-oven method so didn't use any oils, just sliced thinnish rounds, dipped them in the lemon juice and lay them on a wire rack over a baking tray. I left them in a 100-degree (celcius) oven and turned them every half an hour or so for four hours. These ones are crisp and chewy at the same time and you'll get the same sort of texture if you use a dehydrator. To get the super crisp variety, you really need to deep fry them in a good, non-hydrogenated coconut oil.

The issue with these is that because they are essentially dehydrating in the oven, you're losing the filling bulk that fresh banana provides you when you munch down on them as a snack. Two bananas only made a handful of chips and, like any dried fruit, it would have been easy to eat too many. Banana bread (with a metric crap tonne of hidden veggies) is probably a better use of your bananas if you're wanting more bang (or bulk) for your buck. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Intentional Play: February (the mid-point)

Valentine's Day Craft, potato stamping

I was a little worried that this month's theme ('Emotions') would be a difficult one to pull together. With the focus for the month split between Valentine's Day and the Winter Olympics, there was always the potential for it to be quite disjointed. Sure, we been swapping between love hearts and fluffy cotton-ball 'snow', but threaded throughout our month so far have been some great library books and a lot of conversations about how we feel.

Watching a few Olympic events on TV, Dear Boy and I have talked about feeling scared by the alpine skiing, excited by the slopestyle and happy for the figure skaters. He hasn't said so, but I'm pretty sure he's felt bored senseless by the curling (although I love it). He's also seen more than one crash and competitors laying still and broken on the snow, so I've held his hand as we watch the medics at work, and talked about how frightened their parents must be and then how relieved when they sit up and shake it off. The emotional transitions are sometimes fairly intense, but they've provided a great opportunity to talk about how we deal with them in ourselves - how we might help ourselves and others feel less sad or cranky or frightened, how we might move towards happiness and joy.

The Bad Mood by Petz & Jackowski, emotions

Our favourite book so far has been The Bad Mood by Petz and Jackowski, with a grumpy badger whose bad mood spreads to all of his friends. Dear Boy may not be fully grasping the idea that his moods and actions affect the people around him, but when there's a tantrum in the offing and his cars have been thrown against a wall, offering to throw him a 'bad mood party' has made him smile again. He's also taken to our old copy of Sandra Boynton's Happy Hippo, Angry Duck, practising our happy hippo, angry duck and sad chicken faces - "can you sadly say 'cluck, cluck'?" Got to love a bit of Boynton.

All of these talks and books and heart crafts have made him an even more expressive little munchkin, not that I thought that was possible. He's sad, he's happy, he's cross. He feels.

Love him.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Gateway Reading: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Pawn of Prophecy, David Eddings, science fiction & fantasy, reading

At the end of high school, after I'd packed up my childhood bedroom and gone to live with my oldest sister in the outskirts of Sydney, I had the most splendid fifty-minute commute to attend a childcare course in the city. Most of the trip could be spent with my face in a book, pounding through chapter after chapter, and then a spark of blue would catch my eye and for one impossibly glorious minute or two, we crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, steel span above and glowing water below. It was a daily wonder that I still dream about, not just for the miraculousness of the view, but the uninterrupted reading time.

I quickly ran out of books to read on the daily commute.

Once I had reread my favourites, I would spend long moments staring at my librarian sister's shelves and stacks, head cocked and spine skimming, judging each book by its cover. Eventually she thrust a book in my hands and ordered me to read it. There were sorcerors and a castle on the cover and a boy holding up a sword. Really? "Just read it," she sighed at me.

And so I did.

And then I churned through the other four books in the series - the first series I'd read since I gave up The Babysitters' Club all those years ago. I'd forgotten the sugary sweet satisfaction of reaching the final pages and knowing there was more to come, and the itchy anticipation of waiting to get my hands on the next one. And then my sister pulled out the sequel series, another five books of magic and adventure and swords and weird and wonderful creatures. And then the thick companion novels. And the prequels. And that was it. I was hooked, not always on the stories themselves but the fat rows of matching novels stacked on the shelves and the promise that there's always an answer to "what happens next?".

There's a Neil Gaiman lecture doing the rounds about fiction being a gateway drug to reading. I linked to it way back when because it's awesome and curious and heartbreaking, all at the same time. David Eddings' Pawn of Prophecy was my gateway into fantasy. And science fiction and fantasy have been with me at some weird and wonderful moments in my life since. Reading fantasy was a stepping stone into Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying, which is how I met Lovely Husband (don't judge). And then later, Lovely Husband sent me spinning off into science fiction with David Weber's Honor Harrington series (Hornblower in space!) and Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series. I finished reading David Drake's 'In The Stormy Sky' moments before I went into labor with Dear Boy. Over the first six months of his life, I read The Hobbit aloud to him curled in my arm or stretched out beside me on the floor. I read The Lords of the Rings years earlier in white hair-net and gumboots, in the lunch room of the chicken factory.

There was a really interesting moment in Gaiman's lecture where he talks about the power of SciFi and Fantasy in particular:
"I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls." (Gaiman 2013)
Someone had imagined a future with incredible technology and lives lived in space and these kids had been captivated by it, so much so they set out to create it themselves, to make reality what others could only imagine.

I'm very much looking forward to introducing Dear Boy to longer chapter books, to series we can read together all year long, to Harry Potter and a boy called Garion.

Are you a science fiction or fantasy reader?

Monday, February 10, 2014

The politics of the coin-operated ride

When the temperature hits the high-thirties and early-forties, Dear Boy and I migrate to the shopping centre, where the air-conditioning means we can leave the house and go for a walk without melting into the footpath. Some days I've done laps, steaming around the other red-faced folks with the pram and handing over cracker after cracker to keep him amused. Other days, we've wandered, letting Dear Boy take the lead and zip between the Australian Geographic shop's floor piano and the weird mirrored sculptures as many times as he wants. I lose track of the number of times I tell him to watch where he's going, to watch out for the people, to face the way he's walking - but it's a nice way to kill some time and beat the heat and cabin fever.

We inevitably end up at one of the three coin-operated rides. They swap them out quite regularly to keep the kids excited but there were tears when his beloved Thomas the Tank Engine ride was replaced by a three-person Wiggles number. Dear Boy loves these things - he loves running his hands over the smooth shiny surfaces and climbing into the seats and back out again; he loves steering wheels and flashing buttons; he loves talking to me about the characters.

He does not like when they move. Not at all. He will sit quite happily in a little car or digger or train for half an hour, chatting and toot-tooting and driving off into the sunset but he'll leap out at the first sign of motion. We've fed quite a few $2 coins into these these to then sit on the side-lines and watch them whizz round or judder unattended. Now I don't even offer because he'll say no.

He's also not particularly fond of sharing (what two-year-old is?). He loves to venture from one car to the next and back again, but he's learning that he needs to take turns and let the other kids play as well either consecutively or concurrently. I'm strict about him not pushing the other kids away, and empathetic when his little face crumples as I peel him away when his turn is over. I try to be fair about the amount of time that he plays, giving him just a few minutes when another child is waiting for a turn.

Unfortunately, I've found these kinds of courtesies are rarely returned by other parents. People with the $2 coin seem to think they own these machines. Perhaps they do technically "lease" them but if my kid is occupying a seat, surely there are squatters rights we could claim?

A few parents are lovely and ask if Dear Boy wants to ride with their child, to share the experience on their dime. I'm happy to let him try, but it generally ends with me running alongside trying to jerk his legs out from under a joystick or steering wheel as he whimpers. Other parents don't bother and just throw their child and money in without another thought to whether my kid is seated safely. I've even had a few set the machine in motion then disappear into a shop, leaving behind a mystified toddler or child.

This last weekend my boy was enjoying his promised clamber over the Wiggles' toot-toot chugga-chugga Big Red Car (and Plane and Boat) after our grocery shop. He was investigating a propeller when a mother deposited her two children into the car and plane and an unrelated grandmother, seeing a free ride was in the offing, thrust her infant into the boat. Dear Boy, clinging to the outside of the plane, was perplexed. Where just seconds before he'd been happily playing, now he was being ejected without his usual minute's warning to give him time to do his roll-call and say goodbye. The plane's new pilot peeled my son's fingers from the door and pushed him away. Her mother just looked on as Dear Boy looked to me for an explanation and a cuddle.

A bargain was struck between the mother and grandmother and the ride started. Without my boy. Without asking either of us. Without checking to see if he was far enough away. Without waiting for their turn. And then more coins were slotted in and the ride kept spinning while we waited, round and round while my Dear Boy sobbed.

Eventually we left because these are not the lessons we want our boy to learn. We don't want him to see that money beats manners. We don't want him to see that grown-ups can be arseholes and they're well on their way to teaching their kids to be arseholes too. We don't want him to see that a lot of things just aren't fair. Not yet anyway. Not when we're trying to teach him manners and to not be an arsehole and to be fair.

There are just too many parents like these in the many playgrounds we inhabit they days. I need to brush up on my confrontation and negotiation skills so my boy can eventually learn to deal with them too.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

An honest day's work

I am currently unemployed.

I've technically been unemployed for the same three months of the year for the last five years. It seems to be the nature of the new academic, the average academic anyway, that there are years of this in-between-ness before obtaining an ongoing position (I want to say 'tenure' but it's not tenure in the US use of the term). It's a state described well this The Higher Education article on para-academia or the 'casual periphery', where you have the full responsibilities but little of the stability of your colleagues.

The bureaucracy of the university has essentially given me a series of 9-10 month contracts (Feb-Nov), slotting just neatly around the teaching semesters and a little left over to cover the exam periods. This effectively shuts me out of university policy to "upgrade" to an ongoing position after three years because I haven't been working continuously over that three year period. Loophole.

Instead of the promised land of an ongoing position, I have self-funded holidays imposed upon me each Christmas season because the university doesn't want to pay me to do research. Three months that I save for each year to keep our family afloat. Three months out of every twelve that mean we never really get ahead - we simply keep treading water.

But this year is different.

This year it feels like unemployment. It feels more and more intense and scary as these three months tick past and our savings drain away because the promised contract hasn't arrived. And it's not going to. Not this time. Instead of another fractional appointment or a full-time load, I've been offered a half-handful of casual hours - not even enough to make up a day but just enough to cover the cost of a day's worth of childcare. To be honest, the offer made me feel like a whipped dog, crawling back to its master because I want to take it; I want to grab at whatever crumbs they're giving me because I don't know where else to go or what else to do.

So I've been applying for jobs.

I've been fiddling with my CV, and writing cover letters and long pages addressing the key selection criteria. I've been applying for academic jobs at other universities for which I am well suited and moderately well-experienced for, and for local and state government jobs that I'm qualified for but lacking in experience, and 'real world' jobs for which I am infinitely over-qualified but terrifically under-experienced. I've been shortlisted and pipped at the post and I've been ignored and outright rejected.

I've applied to study, taking up my back-up plan.

And I've been accepted. Full time study by distance doesn't scare me but the arrangements for the compulsory practical components (five weeks in the first semester) are next to impossible to fit around academic work and looking after my boy. We aren't eligible for government support (Austudy or Family Tax Benefit payments) because I've already earned too much this financial year (ironies). So I might have to decline or defer. Or we'd need to move far, far out of the city where the rents are cheaper, doubling or tripling Lovely Husband's daily commute and losing any time with his boy during the working week.

I know this all sounds a bit whiney. I want to work. I love my job. I just wish someone would be willing to pay me to do it. A lot of these are first-world problems and pretty luxurious ones at that. But these are the problems I've got at the moment. The ones that keep me awake at night (literally) and make it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Through all of this, I feel inordinantly lucky and panicked at the same time. We have our belts cinched in but we aren't struggling to breathe, not yet. We've done this three month stint before; I've worked shit jobs before to make ends meet. But the closer to the start of semester we come, the more I worry I'll miss the boat - and that's half a year to wait for the next round of work. The closer to the start of the semester we come, the more I feel like a failure that I haven't been able to pull the rabbit out of the hat this year. The closer to the start of the semester we come, the more I feel like my life isn't going to be measured by semesters for much longer.

I'm looking for advice and answers and solutions instead of all the problems I keep seeing. I'm tired of only seeing the problems. So my questions are these:
  • How long do you hold on to or hold out for the job you love before you give it up?
  • Where does one go from academia? What's next?
  • How do you move on without feeling like a failure?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Olympics: The Movies

I love an Olympics Opening Ceremony. I love the pageantry, the fireworks, the weird cultural choices each country makes. I love the parade of nations. No, seriously. I watch from Afghanistan Greece to Zimbabwe, and all the footage of their shining faces, their flag waving, their 'hi, moms', their hilarious dancing in the marshalling areas. But Sochi's Opening Ceremony hits the world at 3am our time, and I'm not that insane when I have a two-year-old that'll wanna get up and party at 6:30am. Plus I'm feeling more than a little 'meh' about Russia's take on their own culture after the pretty ugly treatment of their culture makers.

So I've been putting together a little movie night week to help me get in the mood. Turns out, there aren't really that many Winter Olympic themed movies about. So I've trawled through my memory for anything Winter Olympic sports related and come up with my favourites (and not so favourites because the list was a little lean).

Ice Skating/Dancing

1. The Cutting Edge (1992). Yeah, you read that right. 1992. I'm feeling old. But this is a classic. Actually, no, it's not... but if you're a total romantic comedy sap like me and like a bit of DB Sweeny - you'll love it. It's essentially two douchebags sportpeople (DB and Moira Kelly) who screwed their individual careers in Ice Hockey and Figure Skating respectively coming together to compete at the Olympics and fall in love. It pretty much qualifies as an 80s film. 

And if you really love it, guess what? There are three sequels (The Cutting Edge: Going for Gold; The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing the Dream; and The Cutting Edge: Fire & Ice) with essentially the same storyline but with decreasingly well-known actors (except for that last one, which stars Brendan Fehr of Roswell, CSI Miami, Bones, Xmen and Nikita fame).

2. Ice Princess (2005). This one is pure Disney schmaltz, but it's got a great cast of leading ladies (Michelle Trachenberg, Kim Cattrall, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere) that more than makes up for the fact that this is a movie about a girl geek who using physics and maths to become a champion figure skater. For reals. Does it help to know it was written by Meg Cabot?

3. Blades of Glory (2007). Don't stone me, but I'm not a Will Ferrell fan. This is a marginally funny movie about two douchbag skaters (hmmm, a theme?) who get banned from the sport but find a loophole if they skate with each other. Two dudes skating? Haha, right? Will Arnett and Amy Poehler are so wasted in this movie. 

4. Ice Castles (1978/2010). I haven't seen the original of this or the remake but from what I've read, they aren't the worst skating movies around. In a nutshell though - champion skater takes big risks and ends up blind then takes up skating again. Need a little cry and a boot up the butt of inspiration?


5. Cool Runnings (1993). "Jamaica, we have a bobsled team". Says it all really. Except, this was also one of John Candy's last films, and I loved that man.


6. Men with Brooms (2002). Did you ever watch Due South? The one with the Canadian Mountie? Yeah, he's in this but without the hat and the red coat and the Sam Browne belt. This is actually a bit of a sweet flick. The guys from a curling team reunite to fulfil their dead coach's dying wish. It's part mid-life crisis bloke movie and part romance. Leslie Nielsen's in it as Paul Gross's estranged father.

I'm going to try and find a copy of this one again, in honour of Norway's men's curling team's pants (geez that's a lot of possessive apostrophes).

Ice Hockey

I am less fond of Ice Hockey than I am of other Olympic sports. So much more meatheadness than I really care to watch. But there are a stack of Ice Hockey movies out there, so they make the list too.

7. Mystery, Alaska (1999) - Okay so this is actually a pretty good movie. Russell Crowe isn't atrocious. And Burt Reynolds, Mary McCormack, Colm Meany and Hank Azaria are great. It's about a small town obsession with Ice Hockey that leads to an exhibition match against a major league team. There's more small town interactions and relationship stuff than hockey though. Sports fans might not wanna tune in.

8. Mighty Ducks (1992); D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994); D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996) - I can't believe Emilio Estevez is in all three of these. Those must have been some lean years. Actually the first two aren't so bad. I managed to sit through them anyway.

9. Slap Shot (1977 with Paul Newman) and Slap Shot 2 (2002 with one of the Baldwin brothers) - pretty sure I know which I'd prefer watching.

10. Miracle (with Michael Keaton) - Don't know it. Never seen it. Probably never will. But 10's a much better number for a film list.

Are you a year round sports fan or a four-yearly enthusiast like me? Are you going to rune in to any of the Sochi events?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Drinking his greens: The smoothie that changed his mind

Green smoothies, Boost Juice, Grape Escape

What kid doesn't like smoothies?

Umm... my kid.

I used to buzz up gloriously pink and purple concoctions with berries and yoghurt and milk. And his little nose would turn up at them all. When he wouldn't eat any food, I thought it would be guzzled down. But no. His Dad's milkshakes, full of icecream, yes. Our home-whizzed smoothies, no.

And then it hit 40 degrees, and Dear Boy and I spent hours wandering through the air-conditioned shopping centre. And I succumbed to store-bought smoothies. And then he succumbed to the want of whatever I was having. Smoothie downed. And that was my in. I dusted off my blender and piled in all the good stuff from the fridge. More smoothies downed. Success.

The best ingredient for our smoothies, by far, are frozen grapes. Not only have we been living on them on the super-hot Melbourne days, but they ice up the smoothie beautifully. They're best in non-dairy smoothies like our current favourite, a tropical green beauty.

Green Smoothies, Boost Juice

There are no real measurements or rules for the ingredients - just keep the banana to a minimum as it will overtake the flavour of the smoothie. The more ice you add the more like a slushie this becomes - some days that's exactly what we're after.

This basic recipe lends itself to extras: mint is perfect, but coriander or parsley work if your kid is used to more savoury drinks; avocado, mango or even a dash or two of coconot milk will help make it extra creamy; celery, kale or other green leafy veg would work too but take the flavour profile a little too close to "dirt" for my boy's tastes.

One step at a time.

On the rare occasion that there are any leftovers, I stick them straight into an ice-cube tray and freeze them. Dear Boy is loving his "green hearts, Mummy" at the moment - finally getting some use out of this cute little number I found at IKEA over a year ago (the fish version remains resolutely useless).

IKEA heart-shaped ice tray

Sunday, February 2, 2014

How do you teach a toddler about emotions?

I cried yesterday. Somewhere between worrying about the past (did I screw up my job interview?), the present (why haven't they called my referees yet?) and the future (will they give me the job?), I hit a big old patch of worry and skated straight into 'woe is me' and a big fat puddle of tears. I've been wondering for a little while how you teach a toddler about sadness. But as I write this, he's in the bathroom with his Dad, fresh from the tub and something's gone awry. "I'm sad!" he cries. "I'm sad". Maybe he already knows.

This month's Intentional Play theme is 'Emotions', and it's the one I'm the least sure about in terms of ideas for craft and activities and books. I chose emotions because of the weird combination of events and 'days' in February - Valentine's Day, the Winter Olympics... and the need for some deeper meaning. At two, Dear Boy can articulate emotions... he talks about happy and sad and cross and worried, but he seems frightened of them, and rushes back to 'happy' in any conversation about feelings. He insists people be happy. I think this month is a good opportunity to explore some of those emotions a little more - how we feel, how we manage those feelings, how we can choose to react to them in others, how we express them, and how we might make ourselves feel better.

It's also a good opportunity to attack pinterest  (our IP board is here) and shower my boy in love hearts.

I think the music part is easy. I know there are a million love songs out there, and a million more country and blues songs, and plenty of angry, cranky, thrash-on-the-floor tunes. In terms of videos, there's these lovely little Small Potatoes snippets about all kinds of feelings - pride, joy, love...

In the craft department, we'll be making lots of faces from our leftover paper plates, attempting to paint our emotions, and decorating, cutting and pasting lots of hearts. I'm also going to attempt this little curly piece of sweetness for the boy's room.

We've already borrowed a small stack of books from the library. I found two about sadness and quite a few about love. Dear Boy's already quoting one - busting out in the car this morning with "I love my Dad" - the title of one of his new books. He's never been an 'I love you" or an "I love you too" kid, so it was the sweetest little moment.

I think we're also going to watch a bit of the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in a few days. I think I've mentioned before that we are not of a sporting people. I was a sporting kid, but I've never picked a sport, or a team, and worn their colours and barracked for them. But the Olympics get me. There's a national pride there that I enjoy - something that's so much less about boganism and monoculture and racism and much more full of support and love and hope and joy. Plus there's ice-dancing, and those awesome Norwegian curlers and their crazy uniforms.

If you've got any ideas for my emotions theme, please leave me a comment below - or post on the Lilybett and Boy facebook page


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