Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Today's TED talk

Love this one. Check it out. What happens when clever nerds use clever technology to see what we can learn from all the data in digitised books? Cool graphs and some funnies. Also, a line specially for Matt and mathemetician friends... not that they'd be suprised by it.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Don’t stand still or Jude will pack you

There are two things I have learnt from Oprah. The first is that it feels good to declutter your life. The second is that I’m currently a shlumpadinka. The latter doesn’t bother me too much, given I’m spending most of my time with a three month old (happy three months for yesterday, Martha!). But I am amid a mad whirlwind of decluttering. As a friend said many years ago, when he was staying with us when we found out our lease wasn’t to be renewed and I immediately began a flurry of activity, “don’t stand still, or Jude will pack you.”

The first target, our bloated book collection, did actually start with an item on the list; to prepare some space for Ikea storage I’m coveting to complete item #33 organise all my craft stuff and my work space. This timing coincides nicely with me starting to re-collect classics on my ipad. We culled our books a few years ago but still have about five large bookshelves crammed full, mostly double packed. Books I hang onto seem to fall into a these categories:
  • those I loved and will probably read again
  • those I loved and will never read again
  • those I got half way through and still have bookmarks in them, but I gave up enough to put back on the shelf (mmm... Salman Rushdie)
  • those I really do mean to read and may
  • those I really do mean to read but won’t
  • those I have because of a misplaced feeling I ought to read them, but won’t
  • those I think would be good to have around just in case the kids feel like reading them someday
  • books I’m emotionally attached to for some reason; and
  • gifts.
Clearly I have given too much thought to the fact that I’m a certified Book Hoarder.

There’s also the strange category of books I didn’t like, or authors I don’t like, that still manage to hide during cleanouts. Ernest Hemingway, I’m looking at you. You shall not escape my clutches this time! As you’d expect, this flurry of ruthless activity is making Dave nervous. Already fellow Book Hoarders have asked me to whizz a title list past them so they can adopt my off-casts. I’ve also had second thoughts about a few and popped them back on the safe shelves. But I have to say, it does feel very liberating to admit I am really never going to read Dostoyevsky and damn it, I don’t care.

My other decluttering has been in the wardrobe department. This afternoon I’ve filled ten bags to take to charity, with another sizeable pile of maternity and winter nursing clothes still to be washed and bagged. Yes, I did say TEN BAGS! Like most women I have multiple wardrobes: from my skinniest adult time, my most corporate period, the before-child clothes, the inbetween children clothes when I lost baby weight but not all of it, the maternity clothes, and strangely, the smallest of all - those that currently fit me that I intend to wear.

It bemused me to discover I also must have odd emotional attachment to clothes that I’ve hung onto but not worn for years. At some point I also felt, tragic as it is to remember this, like Helen Hunt in an episode of that annoying show with Paul Reiser when she quit her job and then started pulling all her work clothes out of her wardrobe saying, “why do I own so many clothes?” Mind you, I remember doing a cleanout after my last maternity leave where I was saying, “why do I own so many pairs of tracky pants?” Shlumpadinkas unite! Today I did try to remind myself that I will have to go back to work eventually and perhaps I should hang onto a few corporate clothes that I will realistically fit into by then. I did hide those in a side space though. And I kept my suits, because I do have that rule, “weddings, funerals, and job interviews...”

Some highlights of the destash included:
  • two shirts I bought when I first joined the public service, circa 2002
  • a beloved brown jacket I bought sometime in the first year Dave and I were together, circa 1998; and
  • the Elmo pajamas I was wearing the infamous time Dave locked me out of the house when he went to work and I walked down Majura Ave at peak hour trying to find a neighbour who was home, circa 2005.
I was also a bit horrified to find that among clothes I’d forgotten I owned were a few items I’d never actually worn. Tags on. Oops. Perhaps I am a material girl after all?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Oh Eve, is it all really about you? Or am I too tired to get it?

Two TED talks this morning to fire up my brain. Linkies one and two

I find engaging with the rapid fire Eve Ensler challenging but I know others really love her so thought I'd give these talks a go. My reactions to her feel instinctive (perhaps, she would say, ironically) which makes it hard to articulate why I'm annoyed. Watching Ensler, I swing like a pendulum. I admire her passion and energy, her righteous words and sway over the audience. For a minute I find her fabulous. I too want to say I love love love being a girl with all that goes with it. At the same time I'm confused by the 'girl cells', the scientist part of me is trying to work that out, while the poet says, let it go, Jude, she's not being literal, just go with it. I know they're not really cells (duh) and of course I understand she isn't talking about girls but about an abstraction, a set of feminised values and emotions that belong to all of us; but there's something uncomfortable under this. Maybe it feels like there's a touch of the old essentializing trope that if women ran the world there'd be less violence and stupidity... Oops, she's moved on... Never mind.

While I agree with a lot of what she's saying, and god knows there's a need for greater compassion and all the rest of the girl cell stuff in the world, there's a dense set of issues in here she skips across. Generally I enjoyed the first talk but there's much jumbled in there I haven't unpicked yet. At this point I'd like to engage with her work more but I don't think I have had enough sleep to do so intelligently. I feel like the kid in There's a Wocket in my pocket who's whiplashed watching the Zall zip past him down the hall. What happened? Or as Elly would say, why does he have so many eyes? You try explaining that to a three year-old. Also, I feel awful about the Congo. And a bit ashamed I put that sentence after one about Dr Suess.

Still, Martha is happy on my lap so I click on the next one. Then the pendulum swings and I find myself agreeing with those who say she seems self-obsessed. Are all the worlds' woes really analogous to Ensler's personal experience of cancer? Intellectually I understand what she's saying but something repels me about this part of the second talk. Is it self-centered to talk this way, almost implying that all of the terrible things you've seen around the world have helped with your journey of self-connectedness? But this makes me pause, for isn't this the thing we say about women, call them selfish? Ensler herself mentions this in the first talk when she says we've taught girls their most important verb is 'to please' and how she wants us to replace it. And isn't that how intelligent people live in the world, reflexively, making connections? How would you expect her to react to the god-awful things she's seen done to women in dozens of countries? Or what she's been through herself? So I swing back to thinking of her words less literally, and remember also that the only way we can engage with the world is through ourselves. I liked that she explores the concept of being out of her body, or should that be not of her body? and her journey back into it. Also, why the hell shouldn't she be angry? I'd be angry if I wasn't so tired.

It's hard not to get swept along in her hurried and excitable prose. At the same time the part of my brain that values structured analysis is distracted by the leaps her narrative makes from one story to another, while part of me is still inwardly arguing with what she was saying two paragraphs ago, now we're onto something different. Slow down, Eve! I've missed the logic train and stand annoyed on the platform as she puffs into the distance.

But what a performer she is. Mostly I like that Ensler is the kind of talker I find my mind returning to later to chew over something she said. Also, I felt oddly guilty for admiring her boots. Is that a kosher thing to do when one feminist is supposed to be listening to another? Probably not.

Monday, 19 September 2011

#27 favourite movies

The next fave movie to get a rerun - The Hairy Bird. I may possibly be the only person I’ve met who has seen this. Plot is fairly simple: in 1963, an exclusive girls’ school considers merging with a boys’ school to end its financial woes. The odd girls out at the school have their own club where they assist each other to achieve goals; ultimately including stymying the co-ed merger plans. Mostly it's a lite n' funny movie with lots of strong female characters. I love Lynn Redgrave as the headmistress, particularly the scene where she throws her tea cup against the wall. Go Lynn!

Favourite quotes:

Miss McVane (Lynn Redgrave): Ah, the master race has arrived.

Verena (Kirsten Dunst) to Odette (Gaby Hoffman): You really do have quite a way with words. You should be a speechwriter, or a demagogue, or something.

Verena: Most of the girls here at Miss Godard's, they've got all the opportunities to become something: a good upbringing, a great education, they're loaded. But in ten years they'll all be married with three kids and two cars and a Colonial and a collie - they're finished. That's why it's called a finishing school.

Verena: Where would we be now if President Kennedy had said, "Oh, well, we'll just have to adjust to living in the shadow of nuclear warheads on Cuba"?
Odette: They’re just boys, Verena, not communists.

Friday, 16 September 2011


Elly and I had a lovely morning making our non-listed scarecrow and other outdoorsy activities. First we made the scarecrow.

Morning tea break... that scarecrow making is hungry work.

Elly hid inside for a bit to watch some telly while the noisy lawnmower man was at work. Then it was back to the grindstone... up he went.

Next job - hat selection. I thought this old one of mine would do:

Elly disagreed. His choice...

We spent some time admiring our newest whimsical windy-things.

Then it seemed like a good time to clean out the water play table which hadn’t been used all winter. Elly was inspired to scrub other things too (note the scarecrow's rejected hat). The chair, the wall, the floors...

Also my feet and stomach, but sadly no pictures of that. Then bubble time.

Whew... I need a rest. Some yawning on cue for the camera and a pretend nap.

Great morning, mummy!

#2 sunflowers with elly

What’s this by the fence, could it be sunflower shoots? I think it is!

Yesterday I also worked briefly on #6 fingerpicking practice while Martha was kicking around on the floor enjoying some pants off time. I was so tired I was struggling with a simple thumb thumb thumb index-finger thumb pattern; I kept forgetting which was my index finger, and then using a finger instead of moving my thumb to the second string. Sigh.

Not listy related, but also cute. Yesterday I went into town to get my haircut. Lovely weather for a stroll, and a good opportunity to use a birthday voucher for urban cow I’ve had gathering dust for a shameful amount of time. Martha and I spent some time admiring all the pretties, and came home with this:

Thanks, Marg!

Now if only someone could hold the baby so I could enjoy a leisurely cup of earl grey...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Off list craftyness

I’ve been working on a new project since yesterday. It’s a mobile for Martha’s bedroom, inspired by this tutorial. Oddly, I had a strange inner brain argument about whether I should be using precious free time to progress something that wasn’t on the 40 list. Surely the list is my priority? Clock’s a ticking, and all that. It was a strange thought and it made me pause.

I have felt a bit like I’ve been in a flurry of activity lately, and for the most part, it’s been a lot of fun. But I’ve also found that the more I spend my little parcels of free time on creative projects, the more creative projects I keep dreaming up. It reminds me of when I made the transition from phD-land to working full time in an office.  As well as being thrilled at the prospect of earning Real Money in an occupation not at the mercy of grants or contracted positions, I thought I’d have the luxury of all that time after work to spend on creative projects; at this time four years BK (before knitting) I’d been trying to practice short story writing. Ha! she says, with the luxury of hindsight. I also used to write in my spare time at uni, but thought I’d be able to do more when I wasn’t reading and writing all day.  What I found was the opposite - office work sapped my creativity. Here, hindsight helpfully says, well duh. When I’d been researching and drafting chapters day in day out, that productive word-loving part of my brain was continuously being fed. In cubicleville it was starved. No surprise really that I produced only a few strange stories about the creatures who live in office photocopiers stealing stationery before I gave up and started watching Desperate Housewives of an evening instead.

It feels a bit the same now. In the shower this morning I had ideas for three different knitting patterns. After I’d worked on weeding the veggie patch, erecting the new trellises, digging in some water saving crystals, and then planting, as documented in yesterday's pictures, I quickly became sidetracked with ideas about decorations. I’ve been thinking about some community gardens Dave and I visited in Melbourne some years ago (I shall have to dig out some photos) which had wonderful whimsical touches throughout. So I put in a few little windmills, ostensibly to amuse Elly, but really I think they amuse me more. We also talked about building a scarecrow. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, we should build a scarecrow. What do you think?
Elliot: Yes! I like scarecrows.

Now that’s also on the agenda for this week. It’s not on the list, but it’s certainly in the spirit of the list. This morning, looking at one of the wheel-flowers spinning around I also pondered how hard it would be to connect up a little motor and maybe power something small, like a garden light. Enough already, brain! Too many ideas! Too little time!

But back to the mobile. I’ve found it relaxing to trace and cut out these little balloons. I’m trying to use a bunch of things I already have and only bought a few odds and ends. Being a bit obsessed with all things crafty “things I already have” is a broad church from which to choose. It includes things I have bought but not used for their intended purpose, such as little split pins I originally got for lace blocking that are perfect loops for the tops of the balloons, and things I can’t remember why I bought, like double sided photo tape. I’ve got a wire ring ready to string up all six, once I figure out how I’m going to attach it to the ceiling. Dave helpfully told me not to hang them upside down “because they’ll look like bombs”. Geez. Next he’ll be telling me to take those mushroom cloud photos off the nursery walls...

(Last comment a little bit self-referential to my phD).

Monday, 12 September 2011

#24 this week's TED talk

One of the things I love about TED is that I'm never sure what I'm going to learn today. Sometimes inspiring, sometimes funny, and some days, just really really cool.

This also made me want to say, "Be careful, Icarus" in a silly voice. Which won't make sense if you don't watch Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show; and may not make sense even if you do.

# 25 replant veggie patch

Saturday, 10 September 2011

# 27 re-watch favourite movies

This one’s gonna be fun. I’d love to start with something classy like Kurosawa’s Ran to give myself some cinema buff cred, but to be honest, as well as liking some very good movies I’m also a fan of schlock done well. So we started today with The First Wives Club.

Why? No real reason except that it without fail makes me laugh. I went to visit Dad’s plot in the cemetery for the first time today so a giggle was much needed afterwards. And what’s not to like? Three very classy, very funny female lead actors, strong support (who doesn’t love Maggie Smith in everything?), a likeable plot, and some cracking one liners, delivered artfully. Martha even had a little dance-along to Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.

Favourite quotes:

(Sarah Jessica Parker) “Talk about class-free dumpster woman.”

(Goldie Hawn) “You think I don’t have feelings? You’re wrong. I have feelings. I’m an actress. I have ALL of them.”

Best enjoyed with a glass of champagne.

In other listy news, I thought that #21 - knit 10 things from my Ravelry queue would be the easiest to achieve, but I seem to have lost my knitting mojo. So instead I’ve gone back to work on one of my own designs. These are a pair of fingerless mitts which use a technique I really love, some Bavarian twist stitch patterns. They’re like cables but smaller, and they come out looking a lot harder than they really are to work.

The other night while feeding Martha and web surfing at 4 am I discovered that a singer I really like, Stephanie Dosen, is also a mad keen knitter. She designs some cute and quirky little things. There is no logical reason this overlap of interests should matter, but it made me happy.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Show day

Unexpected progress made on #17 - fly a kite with Elly. He chose a Toy Story show bag with a kite. We may end up flying this one instead of making our own. He was most upset later that we couldn’t go outside and fly it in the rain. Or throw the Toy Story frisbee in the rain. Or blow bubbles. In the rain. I’m guessing the request made perfect sense to him given we went to the show in the rain. My favourite moment of the day was his excited little jig when he saw the ferris wheel up ahead as we were walking towards the gates.

Was great fun that Elly was old enough to enjoy us taking him on the rides. Or I should say Dave taking him on the rides, while I checked out the food and craft displays. Found some of the knitting ho hum but was impressed with these little mice on their little sofa:

May have misjudged timing... looking at cake and other foodie displays at morning tea time. Here are some phone snaps I thought Elly would like:

Then I ate donuts. Hurray showtime!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

#24 This week’s TED talk

Interesting little TED talk today from a sound expert on how we are losing our listening skills, and 5 things we can do to improve them.

I’ve had improving my listening on my list of aims at work for the last few years. It has struck me before that whenever we talk about communication many people focus solely on the talking. When I did communication training many years ago it was about public speaking, and different ways of writing to get my message across. Nobody suggested listening training. I’ve spoken in the past about how it frustrates me that some people assume those with extroverted natures, and big loud personalities, would naturally make better leaders and better communicators, because of their willingness to put themselves out there and talk in any situation. It seems intuitive to me that a key skill in working with people and communicating well is actually the ability to shut up. You’d be surprised how many people can’t do this.

In fact I’d go so far as to suggest that we’re actually trained not to listen. A key part of listening well is the ability to pay full attention to what the other person is saying, rather than focus on formulating your own response, and to let someone else finish what they’re saying rather than jumping in at what you assume is near the end of their sentence. Even though I’m aware of it, often I find the latter part difficult because I’ve been conditioned not to do this. In a meeting environment, and I’d suggest, particularly in a masculine environment, if you don’t interrupt you won’t get the chance to speak.  

I have more thoughts on this but am too tired at the moment to be coherent. Instead some quick happy updates:

  1. Had the follow up appointment with the paediatrician this afternoon. He didn’t seem particularly concerned about Martha’s MRI report and said all indications are that it is not a serious problem. Essentially the short version is there are 2 options: either its a dermoid or an atretic meningocele. Given the very small size, 8 x 3mm, it was hard to tell which. All indications are that the rest of the brain is normal. The MRI recommended referral to a neuro specialist to discuss options - likely either to surgically remove or leave it alone (seems obvious when you put it like that!);
  2. My kidney scan came out all clear - still a small benign cyst and won’t require further action; and finally but not leastly
  3. Huge welcome to the family to my new nephew, Owen Benjamin. Choccies and good wishes winging their way to the UK!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

#2 plant sunflowers with Elly - done

I’m not sure whether the seeds will take, or whether they were a tad too enthusiastically over-watered. Still, as Dave pointed out, the goal said to “plant” them, not to “grow” them, so technically it’s achieved even if nothing sprouts. We shall be watching the Western fence for signs of new life anon.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Can’t help writing in dot points

On #35 - replant the mini-orchard area. I’ve used this patch several times for veggies and it has lovely quality soil, party due to lots of added organic matter and regular green manuring. This year I’ve let it lay fallow, which I believe is a legit term for not doing anything and letting the grass grow. I’ve pulled out most of the grass, as you can see.

My dilemma now is what to do with the jasmine. When we moved in it was a wee sickly plant and I nurtured it back to life. More fool me, it is now taking over the universe, or at least threatening to swallow the garden shed. I keep having to hack off bits to open the shed door. Which is sometimes difficult as the hacking equipment lives inside the shed.
Anyhoo, I see several options:
(a) get a chainsaw
(b) cut it back right at the root and let the rest die, then pull it out gradually
(c) keep looking the other way and let the bees be happy.


This looks like another mess I’ve made round the house but really is me progressing #38 (sew skirts).
I’ve been inspired by the lovely warm weather to get started on this. On saturday mornings Dave takes both kids shopping, leaving me about an hour to do whatever I like. Usually the “I like” involves the lazy boy, a novel, a haigh’s dark choccie frog and my second mug of coffee ‘o the day. This morning I realised perhaps I had erred by not putting “eat a haigh’s choccy frog” on the mega list. Still, the skirt is almost half done.

In other general listy news, have had a lot of most excellent suggestions that didn’t fit onto the 40. I’ve decided instead of chopping and changing I shall create a short substitution list, to be called upon when I realise that something on the main list is:
(a) nuts
(b) ridiculously ambitious
(c) not going to happen despite my best efforts
(d) a bad idea after all.

I’ll endeavour to replace like with like, ie not to remove a project that will take several months and replace with a five minute job. It might seem like cheating, but then, this is my list, so I get to make up the rules. Hurrah to being the boss of me! Or as Elly said to me yesterday, “Yes Sir mummy”. The boy is learning.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Maybe... you can never be sure, there'll be knock, ring...

I do love receiving parcels. Even though I’ve bought them myself, there’s something about the sight of them wedged behind the wheelie bin, the anticipation of opening, and the ripping off of the sticky tape that I adore. You’d think having been a nightfiller for years I’d have had my bloomin’ lot of box-opening, but no. Today there were two “ooh”s of excitement as cheese ingredients and seeds drew the race to arrive. To prove how excited this makes me, here is a photo I took of my lovely new starter culture, lipid and veggie rennet for #20.

Also, somewhat less exciting but still groovy, my green manures and some beans to plant out.

As tomorrow is too soon to excavate the shed in search of my millk thermometer and stock pot, I shall try to schedule the first batch of feta making for next weekend.

#6. In other progress, I dusted off my other beloved Marty, my sweet little martin, for some fingerpicking goodness while wee human baby Marty was having her pants-free time on the mat today. I shall count travis picking as progress although it’s technically not new to me, given I’m so rusty I need to work back to slower progressions.

Alas I quickly became distracted seeing which songs Martha reacted to. Am pleased to report she cooed melodically along to A case of you. She only started wailing at the end of Owensboro, which I shall take either as indication she was unhappy to hear that the rich will have to share their pickings with the working poor come judgement day, or she’d had enough music for the day.