Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weather-themed play: November (the wrap up)

'Mummy, come and rain on my head!'

Dear Boy seems to have enjoyed our month of weather-themed play. He finally discovered a love of craft glue when we made the umbrella and cloud, sticking in a frenzy of crepe paper and cotton balls. Since then, he's dragged out the little cloud and asked me to rain on his head so he can hold up his little umbrella to 'stay dry'. The rain cloud is blown away by the wind and our weird little stylised rainbow comes out.

I had thought we'd do more rainy walks and puddle jumping this month but rain's been a little scarce (or scarily intense); so instead we checked the bureau of metreology website to see if it's going to be sunny or cloudy or cold or hot before getting out our clothes for the day or packing a bag for childcare.

'There's raindrops, Mummy. Where's my blue jacket? Don't forget your umbrella.'

We've had a far richer time this month with songs than in other months - more universal theme, I'm guessing. Our list included:

  • Rain is falling down
  • It's raining, it's pouring
  • Rain, rain go away
  • I hear thunder
  • I can sing a rainbow
  • Rainbow connection - The Muppets
  • You are my sunshine
  • Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
  • Singin' in the rain
  • Meteorology - The Wiggles (yeah, I know, go figure... but awesome nonetheless)
  • It's starting to rain - Justine Clarke
And sanitised, non-euphamistic versions/belted out choruses of:
  • Rain - Madonna
  • Umbrella - Rhianna
  • Good day sunshine - The Beatles
  • You are the sunshine of my life - Stevie Wonder
  • Walkin' on sunshine - Katrina and the Waves
  • Riders on the storm - The Doors
  • Have you ever seen the rain? - Creedance Clearwater Revival
  • Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen ('thunder and lightning, very, very frightening...')
  • I can't stand the rain - Tina Turner
  • Here comes the rain again - Eurythmics
  • Only happy when it rains - Garbage
  • Love is like a heatwave -  Martha and the Vendellas
  • Ain't no sunshine - Bill Withers
  • Steal my sunshine - Len
  • Blowin' in the wind - Bob Dylan
  • Fog on the Tyne - Lindisfarne
  • Summer rain - Belinda Carlisle
  • Thunderstruck - AC/DC (although this is mostly because Dear Boy is digging on Planes 2 at the moment)
There are so, so many weather themed songs out there and it was fun trying to throw in as many as I could remember in various conversations and moments of play.

We weren't all that successful in finding weather-themed books. The real star of this month for me was this pair of books by Jackie French with the sublimely heart-rending illustrations of Bruce Whatley. Amazing and distressing, and probably far beyond where Dear Boy is at in terms of picture books, but he was thoughful and empathetic while we worked our way throug these. The fire book in particular was visceral.

They were really good opportunities to talk about extreme weather and their consequences: baking temperatures and hot winds; prolonged, heavy rain; blizzards (polar vortex?); tornados; drought. They're often difficult topics for kids (and parents) but introducing them early and taking a causes and consequences route helped us here. It's also been reassuring to me to start building that weather-watching culture that we know saves lives.

After covering the Boxing Day Tsunami in a tiny little newsbooth all by myself and getting closer to the graphic detail of that than I would have ever wanted - I know that a weather-watching culture is important. Where that isn't in place, where there is no system of weather/snow/surf reports with the news or people watching the horizon, the waves roll in or thinking about the drift of the clouds - then people get caught unawares and lives are lost when big weather happens.

It's so easy to do with kids - setting up a rain guage or a weather vane in the backyard, sitting them down on the sand for a few minutes before swimming and watching how the waves break, gazing at clouds, watching the direction the wind is blowing the leaves in the trees or the clothes on the line. All of those things build an awareness of weather and their environment that sticks.

Are you a weather-watcher? Can yourkids tell a Cumulonimbus from a Nimbus 2000?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lumberjack softie with pattern

It's Softies for Mirabel time again and I've been battling my natural urges to leap right into Christmas to put together a few cutie-patootie softies for a great cause.

Last year I shared the Mermaid pattern and tutorial I made. This year, I've gotten all brawny and attempted a Lumberjack. If you're interested in making your own bearded and flanno'd fellow, please feel free to download my free Lumberjack pattern and tutorial (in .pdf format).

The pdf includes the basic pattern with a list of optional extras like shirt cuffs and tattoos. I didn't include the detailing on the denim in that list, but I'm a little in love with it.

 Cute, n'est-ce pas?

Are you making a softie for Softies for Mirabel this year? Give it a go! I'm still a rank amateur in the softie stakes but it's a lot of fun and very satisfying.

The fine print: as always, the pattern is being made available for sharing rather than selling (i.e. non-commercial, not-for-profit use only). Any 'copying' or alterations need to attribute both Lilybett and Boy, creator of the Lumberjack variation, and Emma Martin, who created the original Black Apple Doll pattern (I found that via Martha Stewart).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My top 8 least favourite drives of all time

1. Every Sunday afternoon drive home after parental access visits, across town or along the Pacific Highway.

2. In the passenger seat as Mama drives with a blinding migraine, me debating if pulling the handbrake will save us if we veer off the road.

3. Unbelted in the back of a panel van while my unlicenced sister hesitates then accelerates into the back of a parked car.

4. The first Ls drive with Dad, leaping out after a hundred metres and screaming at him to drive home himself.

5. The first un-supervised drive after passing my Ps test, stalling at the lights next to a police car.

6. The hospital drive in labour, in the back seat and climbing the walls, tangled in the wires of the TENs machine.

7. Driving myself to the hospital with a scary, stabbing sensation in the side of my chest, later diagnosed as pneumonia.

8. Taking a well child to childcare yesterday while wracked with gastro, a dark brown towel covering my seat and a sick bag in my lap.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dear Boy's Christmas wishlist

We've been asked for Dear Boy's Christmas wishlist so I thought I'd share it here. So far, he's asked Santa to bring him 'a firetruck and a cement truck with a going round tank'. He already has both of those things as well as what feels like all the cars and trucks and trains and planes in the land. So I'm trying to institute a no wheels and wings rule for this Christmas. He's getting a play kitchen and police/fire doll's house (okay that one comes with a few wheels but couldn't be helped) from us for Christmas and birthday. Here's what he needs we think he'd like or we'd like for him:

Dress ups and pretend play stuff

Dear Boy's just started getting very interested in dress-ups and pretend play. We have a doctor's kit that I made for our Intentional Play month on health and the body. He's been getting all 'Miss Polly had a Dolly', checking Baby's eyes, ears and mouth with a very kind bedside manner.

He also has a much loved dinosaur tail and an awesome range of hand-me-down hats and jewellery.

The Ikat Bag blog has some great free patterns and tutorials for dress up stuff. I love these crowns:

Crowns from Ikat Bag

I also like her twirling skirts,these gorgeous butterfly wings (which could be modified for all manner of bugs) and this Rapunzel/Elsa wig (probably the only way Dear Boy will ever manage long hair).

Dear Boy's getting a wooden kitchen from us for Christmas, so I've also been looking for cooking type pretend play stuff. We have pots, pans, cutlery and lots of wooden food but I've been browsing other bits and pieces including: this chef's hat from Whip Up and this enormous list of free tutorials for felt food from Apartment Therapy.

Art/prints for his walls (space themed or lovely quotes)

Dear Boy's room has a vaguely space-related theme, but his walls are a bit of a mish-mash of old posters and craft. I'd love a few really great prints to help cover the walls. Things like these simple Star Wars artworks/prints from Quite Contrary really tickle my fancy. I'm not sure where they come from but I don't think they'd be too hard for someone with a bit of a crafty flair to replicate.

Star Wars art works from Quite Contrary
I also like these space-related quotes: 'I love you to the moon'  and 'The earth has music for those who listen' from Yellow Button Studio on Etsy; 'I love you to the moon and back' from Not On The High Street; and this gorgeous 'Reach for the stars' watercolour print from Little Dreamer Prints on Etsy.

Dolls clothes for boy dolls

Dear Boy loves to push my old Cabbage Patch doll, Timmy, in his pram and doctor 'Baby'. At the moment, they're both dressed in Dear Boy's too-big baby clothes. It'd be great to have something that fit them. I've found some basic patterns and tutorials for 43cm dolls (like Baby) at Wolly Online and a few boy doll clothes for sale Rosie's Dolls Clothes. 'Vintage'/secondhand CPK clothes are cool too. Does anyone still have their original CPK clothes?

Homemade stuff

Whatever kind of homemade stuff you want to send is pretty cool by us (within reason, of course, and basic safety standards). Dear Boy would love a PVC pipe water fountain like this one from The Brooding Hen for the tub! I am so not kidding when I say we would welcome a box of PVC pipe bits and pieces that have a few suction cups drilled in.


We all love books here. Books are always great pressies. And they're easy to wrap. Bonus.

Charity donations or gifts that help others

Want to buy a bag of poo or a goat or make a microfinancing loan or a Softie for Mirabel in Dear Boy's name? We're down for that. Send us a link or a photo!

What's on your kids' wishlist this year? What's on yours?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Creativity wants to be paid

One of the questions on my students' exam last week was about the positive aspects of commerce for creativity. I put the question in there because, especially when we do our week on the music industry, students are very quick to call 'sell-out' and scoff at the idea of true 'artists' desiring to be paid for their work.

We do the week on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, we look at the social, cultural and legal systems in place, we do all of that, yet they still call foul on the idea of money and creativity, or industry and creativity being intimately connected. The next week, we look at copyright and illegal downloading. And they're pretty much of the opinion that they should be able to get music for free. That it's okay to steal them because it's culture, not commerce.

I call bullshit.

A few weeks ago, Iggy Pop gave a thoroughly depressing and eye-opening keynote speech (for the BBC Music John Peel Lecture), talking about how he can't survive on music alone. Royalties don't put food on his table; all the non-music things did (endorsements, smart investments, restaurant chains). That it was Iggy Pop saying it certainly made a bunch of people uncomfortable, but there was plenty of feedback, especially of the 'der - artists shouldn't make art for money' variety. 

There have also been some really thoughtful articles in response. I'd highly recommend this by Elizabeth Renzetti on Iggy Pop not being able to live off his art and how we (de)value creativity, and this one by Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature on the myth of the greedy artist and in defence of Taylor Swift saying 'no' to Spotify.

And because what's a creativity issue without a hint of Gaiman, here's Neil Gaiman talking about fan entitlement and demands that writers put away their lives and churn out the next installment of whatever series the fans are craving. As he puts so eloquently 'George RR Martin is not your bitch'.

Creators want to be paid, folks, and appreciated. That doesn't make them greedy. It makes them just like the rest of us. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Realities of the Emergency Department

A hospital gurney with thick, white sheets and no pillow. A pig flys an aeroplane across the ceiling.

Mums being wheeled by on beds, cradling babies with wires and tubes coming out of their tiny bodies; dads trailing behind, carrying bags and feeling helpless.

The girl screaming to be let go, her Dad smothering her in a bear hug as the doctor looks at the cuts she made up and down her legs.

The coughing, wheezing, rattling, gasping croupy toddlers, and the hum of nebulisers.

The teenaged boys with crooked thumbs and arms twisting away from their bodies at strange angles.

The mum pacing her open cubicle with a red-cheeked baby, half-asleep and whimpering on her shoulder. 

The grandmother pushing open the children's ward door with her bum, balancing cups of coffee in her hands and a brown paper bag between her teeth, late breakfast shiny at the edges from pastry grease.

The doctor with a dog-patterned shirt; nurses in blue scrubs, weighed down with jangling lanyards and hip bags of tape and gear.

The sign near the triage desk, letting us know that there have been cases of measles in the area.

My spotty, fully-vaccinated boy crawling into my lap, quiet and sad and still, ABC4Kids on the television above out heads. Crying with the babies, when the girl cries and yells. Laughing after hours of waiting and the meds sinking in, rolling cars across the sheets, reading Thomas books and Grug.

Thumbs up.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

11 tips for surviving exams (the Cranky Lecturer returns)

It's exam time round these parts and email after freaked-out-email has seen a return of the Cranky Lecturer. After getting tired of typing the same things over and over, I wrote up a list and pasted it on Moodle/Blackboard. Funnily enough, it's almost the same list I had on my powerpoint slides in the revision lecture a few weeks ago.

Exam survival really starts months before the actual event, so I've broken it down into time frames. If your exam's tomorrow, skip straight to the next part.

During semester

1. Build an awesome collection of exam revision material. This means:
  • Take good notes. There's nothing worse than looking back at your notes and not being able to understand a single thing. 
  • Summarise your lectures and tutorials as you go. Spend 20 minutes after class highlighting the highlights while they're fresh in your mind. Was there a key theory/theorist? Was there a phrase that really nailed it for you?  
  • Write a glossary of keyterms as you go, revising it each week as theories and/or your understanding develops. This is the best thing to take with you to the exam door, so you can just read down the list and keep the key points in mind. Mass notes will just make you panic. 
2. Ask for clarification of things you don't understand or don't feel you have a handle on. During class is the best time for this, not at 1am before a 9am exam. I also give my students an opportunity to test their handwriting legibility on me to make sure I can read it. Nothing worse than trying to interpret chicken scrawl.

3. Attend the review lecture. When I say that's an important one not to miss, I mean it. The last week of class is not the time to skive off. Not my class, anyway.  

Exam prep

4. Do practice exams. Most lecturers here release past exams to the library. These is helpful not just to revise content but also to see how much you can write within a set time frame. Can you write three good essays in two hours? Also, if you're lucky, your lecturer might reuse old exam questions.

5. Be aware of the rules and what support services are on offer. Can't handle being in a room full of people? Can't write with a pen or pencil? Have a physical issue that means you can't sit down for long periods of time? Most universities will offer a range of services to help you. It's also a good idea to check what you're allowed to take in with you. We don't allow language dictionaries in the exams anymore because of cheating issues. We also have a very limited amount of time to apply for a deferred exam if you miss the main one. Check out the rules and procedures so you know what to do, just in case.

6. Don't email me asking how many marks you need in the exam to pass the subject. Aim for 100%, or at least let me pretend that you are.

On the way to the exam

7. Have a backup plan for getting to the exam on time. Cars inevitably break down; trains are late. One year, my exam was scheduled on Melbourne Cup day and twenty students missed the exam because of public transport chaos. Have a backup plan (and $50 stashed somewhere in case you need to take a cab).

8. Don't get drunk. See previous experience of Melbourne Cup day exam. Also, don't drink a bucket load of water beforehand.


9. Use your reading time wisely, then write a plan. Use the 10 minutes reading time to think of everything and anything that might be appropriate for the questions you're seeing. As soon as you are able to pick up a pen, write down every single thing you remember from the frantic cramming you did. Use that mess to write a plan for each answer/essay. Write a timing schedule too, while you're at it, so you know exactly how long you have for each answer.

10. Attempt every single question, leaving a page or two blank between each one. If you made yourself a little schedule this won't be a problem, but if you get to the last five minutes and you realise you've missed one, put in a quick list of points that you would have talked about. You may get one or two marks from kind lecturers like me, which is better than a guaranteed zero. If you have the opposite problem and finish with time to spare, leaving ablank page gives you space to add extras if you want to.

11. Don't cheat. Invigilators have eagle eyes and, anyway, cheating kills rainbows.

I could add in all the usual advice about eating well and getting some sleep the night before but how many uni students do that normally? Perhaps a better piece of advice would be to just breathe.Take a minute, breathe... and then get stuck in.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Learning to use the sewing machine (Resolved)

I switched on a sewing machine for the first time in 23 years tonight. I haven't used one since a botched pair of floral shorts in Year 7 Textiles class, where the crotch was too short, the waistband lopsided and the seams crooked and holey.

I pulled out Lovely Husband's IKEA-branded machine tonight. I swore at it. He read me the instructions on how to wind a bobbin, thread the bobbin and sew a straight stitch. Then he muttered under his breath for an hour and a half while I clattered my way through first stages of our advent calender (more on that later) and he tried to watch TV.

Tick that off my list of resolutions for this year.

After three years of pretty intensive handstitching, I made something on that sewing machine.

Boy, that thing is quick.

Monday, November 10, 2014

New baby, new quilt

On the weekend there was a very fresh little baby sleeping so sweetly on his new Aunty Lilybett quilt. Dear Boy lay beside him, zooming pointy trucks perilously close to his very soft fontanelles. I had several kittens.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Taking Lovely Husband's name

It wasn't until three years after I got married that I changed my name.

I was teaching at the time and changing my name during semester seemed like a weird thing to do, something deeply personal that would be suddenly shared with students. Without changing my name, nobody knew we'd eloped to the park; it was a secret we could keep to ourselves and amongst our friends and family. 

Then three years later when we were moving to a new city, a new state, and new jobs, it felt like a time of transition. When I told Lovely Husband I was thinking of changing my surname to his, he was both amused and confused. "Why?"

For me there were a few reasons: firstly, I was coming to the end of my PhD and would soon become Dr Lilybett. The window was closing to try on Mrs for size. I'd been Miss and dabbled with Ms. Why not add Mrs to the list? Secondly, I knew I didn't want to have a different surname from any child we'd have. I've heard plenty of playground stories of mums (and dads) who've been Mr or Mrs Child's Surname, regardless of who they actually are. Thirdly, almost every other woman in my family had done it before me. That weighed on me more than I thought it would. Fourthly (fourthly?), I was ready for something different.

I tossed up whether to hyphenate (Lilybett MaidenName-LovelyHusband'sSurname), to double-barrel (Lilybett MaidenName LovelyHusband'sSurname) or to just go official with the mash of names we'd been known by (Lilybett MaidHusband'sSurname).

Then there's the other option - a family name like Lauren from I'm Better In Real Life and her husband Kamel who both took on the hyphen or writer Teagan Bennett and her husband, who both took on Daylight. Lovely Husband refused. Scoffed and refused. He was quite happy for me to stay Lilybett Maiden Name.

But I changed it anyway.

It took me a while to get used to it, for it to stop feeling like an itchy woolen jumper someone had loaned me. There was some internal shuffling that needed to be done: some grieving, some embracing. Now we have Dear Boy I like that we have one name to teach him and that we match. Do I feel submissive to my husband? Hardly. Do I feel like I let the team down and caused feminism to backslide into the 50s? Not really, there are bigger battles to fight on that front. Should everyone do it? Not at all, especially if you're going to be lumped with a name you hate... but it should be another option for change if you want it. I am generally resistant to change, but I felt brave and new when I did this in my own way, in my own time.

Are you a name changer or a retainer? Did it cause any controversy in the family or amongst your friends?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"He's holding my hand"

Crap photo but there's a new little love in our family. Born this morning and already a joy in the world. He made my little brother a Dad and my Sister-in-law a Mum. I can't wait to see them all again. Big love, littlest nephew. Big love.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Intentional Play October (the wrap-up)

I'm not going to lie. Our month of space-themed play has been pretty fun. We got to do some awesome craft together, including our toddler-friendly planets-on-a-stick as well as our old favourite - the painted paper-plate. We hung planets from the picture rails and moons and stars from the mantelpiece.

We also did a lot of blasting off, and half-got the concept of counting backwards from five to zero. Even our new swimming teacher got in on the act and let us countdown and blast-off, splashing around and rocketing out of the pool. Mooching Lovely Husband's rockets also helped, making our little big universe pretty cool (and accurate).

The universe also cooperated, granting us a blood-red lunar eclipse (sorta/kinda). I showed Dear Boy footage of the moon that had been plastered all over the news. I did not show him footage of the Antares rocket Cygnus exploding seconds after take-off on its way to resupply the international space station. We watched the successful launches and talked about the men who touched the sky. I may or may not have quoted one of my favourite episodes from The West Wing.

That and CJ's monologue to the president about why he should do the open classroom anyway, even after the mars rover fails:

We have at our disposal a captive audience of schoolchildren. Some of them don't go to the blackboard or raise their hand 'cause they think they're going to be wrong. I think you should say to these kids, "You think you get it wrong sometimes, you should come down here and see how the big boys do it." I think you should tell them you haven't given up hope and that it may turn up, but, in the meantime, you want NASA to put its best people in a room and you want them to start building Galileo 6. Some of them will laugh and most of them won't care but for some, they might honestly see that it's about going to the blackboard and raising your hand. And that's the broader theme ('Galileo V', The West Wing).
I refrained from Star Trek, but only marginally. It's just a matter of time, really.

Finding space-themed books in our local library that didn't have a bedtime or lullaby theme was actually quite hard. Oliver Jeffers won the day (month) with The Way Back Home (although we were already fans of his Lost and Found).We also dug out a copy of Playschool's Jemima to the Rescue, where the biggest emergency on the space station was running out of honey for their bread.

We had a marginally easier time of it with the songs:
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • Bend and Stretch, Reach for the Stars
  • Zoom, Zoom Astronaut (this is actually a new one for me, which Dear Boy brought home from childcare - it's a little sad) and reminded me a lot of...
  • Rocket Man (Elton John) and...
  • Space Oddity (David Bowie).
  • and the Giggle Galaxy and Twinklify (bless ABC 4 Kids)

Giggle and Hoot were a fairly good resource for this one, with quite a few short clips of the gang and their Giggle rocket and Hoot and Hootabelle zooming around on stars.

Other (young) kid-friendly space-themed shows include Q Pootle V and Cloud Babies, which are both a little weird but, you know, g-rated and not at all violent.

Dear Boy isn't quite ready for them, but movies I would have liked to revist with him would have been: ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Flight of the Navigator, Lilo & Stitch, The Last Starfighter, Spaceballs, Wall-E, Zathura.

Our only real investment in this month's play, besides some styrofoam balls and a Peppa Pig wooden rocket ship (which is really a block of wood on wheels), was a Night Sky Projection Kit from the Australian National Geographic shop.After piercing out what felt like a billion holes, we lay put that sucker together, plugged her in, lay back and watched the constellations blaze across the ceiling of Dear Boy's room. Now we just need to find a time to hit up the Planetarium.

What activities, books or movies would you add to a month of space-themed play? 


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