Friday, October 24, 2014

Big universe (small world): Intentional Play

Out trusty 'small world' cardboard box (as featured in July's Intentional Play wrap-up) got a renovation when we hit space month. Dear Boy and I spent two afternoons painting it first white and then black so we could shoot off into our month of space play. We used regular non-toxic poster paint, so things have been peeling and scratching ever since, but Dear Boy loves it and, for bonus points, he isn't dead or sick from eating the paint.

I filled the box with a set of NASA figurines we picked up from Scienceworks back in September. I'm not normally a fan of plastic guys (err... cowboys and Indians, soldiers? No thanks) but dudes in space suits carrying spanners and walkie-talkies are much more my scene. The moon buggy that came with them is certainly Dear Boy's.

We gathered up a few space themed stickers and plastered away, then sprinkled in a handful of glow-in-the-dark stars. We may have also co-opted Lovely Husband's replicas of a Saturn V and its command/service module and lunar module. He may or may not get them back in one piece.

It's also entirely possible Dear Boy may be introduced to Star Trek original series, Next Gen, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise before the month is out.We have DVDs and are not afraid to indoctrinate.


Do you have any awesome space-themed craft, activities, books or songs? We're always on the look out for more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Culture Diaries: The pre-baby days



Have you ever read The Paris Review's Culture Diaries? They were short guest posts from all manner of interesting literary types (writers, editors, publishers, agents, etc), keeping track of the culture they consume across a week. They offered curious glimpses into these people's personal and working lives. I am such a sucker for a peek into someone else's lived experience. The culture they came across in their days tended to be quite high brow, way higher brow than what I read for pleasure and what I watch on the telly, but I love the contrasts between the purposeful and incidental consumption, and what captivated each person, which connections to culture had interesting stories.
 
I just unearthed my own version from a few days back in 2010, back before Dear Boy was even a glimmer, back when there was time. So much time. I've kept a list of every single book I've read since Christmas 2001 and know I've read about a third of what I used to. I thought I'd share the pre-baby days (and maybe keep track of post-baby cultural consumption in the near future). Here's what I counted as culture (coming from my media/communication/cultural studies background, I count a lot):
  • The written word (books, magazines, journals, blogs, news, etc)
  • The screen (TV, film, docos, DVDs, etc)
  • The wall (art, street art, home art, craft, etc)
  • The performance (theatre, seminars, discussions of ideas, shared games, etc)
There's a fair smattering of work in here, otherwise I suspect it would have been much heavier in TV and fast food fiction.

Day 1 (13 Sept)
7am. Reading Liquid Gold (by Australian writer James Phelan) over breakfast, then watching Today while I get dressed: Darryl Hannah in Australia doing two-week permaculture course. Sudden urge to watch Splash again.

9am. At work, checking emails/blogs. Monday mornings also mean new secrets up on PostSecret.com. Some are 9/11 themed, because of the anniversary over the weekend. Don’t want to think about it. Still losing at Scrabble.
 
10am. Make myself a coffee and bury my face in a pile of marking.

10.45am. Head of Section hands me Council’s response to the research we did for them. Must get back to marking; Feel bored just thinking about it, though.

12.10pm. Lunch with Canada’s Next Top Model cycle 3, episode 2. It’s make-over day and girls are freaking out about their hair.

2pm. So bored by marking that I have fallen into a pattern of doing one or two and then browsing something interesting online so brain doesn’t go completely numb. Discover new Leigh Sales column up. She puts out a column anywhere from every week to every four weeks, called Well Readhead, with a little story about something that’s happened or caught her eye recently. Then she has a vaguely related list of 10 interesting things to read, watch or listen to. Today she linked to that dance compilation to the tune of 'Footloose' and the speech JK Rowling gave at a Harvard graduation. I had Bryce Courtenay at one of mine. This pattern of marking and browsing goes on until 5pm. Am short of my target for today’s marking (by 8) but I can’t be fucked doing any more.

8pm. Dinner in front of the TV after Pilates class. Pretty sure it’s the last episode of the season for True Blood and want to throw my plate across the room at how completely unsatisfying the episode is. Neither of us feels like getting up, so we end up watching an episode of Cops on free-to-air. Head to bed and watch a little West Wing.

Day 2 (14 Sept)
8.50am. At work, checking emails/blogs. Nothing particularly exciting or new on any of them. Several haven’t updated in about a week. I do some prep work for classes today, glance over the readings and last year’s notes, then try and figure out what we’re going to talk about for an hour.

11.30am. Go to Terry Flew seminar and it’s as boring as I thought it would be. Who gives a fuck about what Foucault thought about neo-liberalism and what the hell does that have to do with communication? Okay, I know what it has to do with communication. I skip out early and head to class.

4pm. Come back and check my pile of assignments for a poor student who handed his essay in at the wrong campus and now can’t find it. Totally his fault but still. It’s not here. This will be interesting.

4.15pm. Play my turn at Scrabble, which I forgot to do this morning when I checked Facebook. I have q’s and no u’s in both games.

6pm. 20 minutes early for my Zumba class so pull out my copy of Mindfood, that I still haven’t read yet. Try to do the cross word but brain is fried so do the sodoku instead. Am almost finished when I realise I’ve got two 9s in the one column. Fuck. Zumba makes me feel a little less dumb because there are plenty of other people in the class who can’t copy movement, move to a beat or avoid tripping over their own feet.

8pm. Lovely Husband cooked dinner. Sit down in front of Rizzoli and Isles, and it’s yet another unsatisfying season ender. Lovely Husband flicks watches latest episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation. They filmed it in Spain just after they won the World Cup and the food is heavy on the offal (tripe mainly) and pork products (ham central).

10.30pm. Have a late shower then catch about 5 minutes of West Wing before I’m out.

Day 3 (15 Sept)
7.30am. Nothing too dramatic on the news this morning, although one item caught my eye. Daniel Valerio’s killer is up for parole. He’s served 18 years of a 22 year sentence.

9.15am. Check emails, websites, play Scrabble (am slowing closing the gap, but probably not quickly enough to snatch victory). Have a look through a pile of newspaper pages that I’d collected two years ago and can’t for the life of me figure out why I saved half of them. I can’t even figure out for most of them which story on the page was the one that caught my attention. Figure this is a good enough reason to chuck them in the recycling box.

10.40am. Doing the reading for tonight’s class, looking at the movie industry, a comparison between Hollywood and Bollywood. Also need to mark their assignments on whether government should fund/support the creative industries/the arts.

11.30am. Interesting idea in first reading on economics of the movies and whether star actors are really worth $20 million. Apparently, movies with superstars often make less profit than those with lesser known stars because of the star fees and associated costs, but producers still make star-driven films because they get a better guarantee of some/any profit than they can get from films with lesser known stars that may risk no profit at all. They also talk about stars’ inflated prices actually being the producer’s curse. As in any bidding war, you don’t know beforehand what value other bidders have associated with the product and therefore the winner of the bid has most likely overvalued the item in the effort to win. Apparently the best strategy when going against multiple bidders is to undervalue slightly in order to keep prices lower. Economics makes my head hurt.

12pm. Models over lunch. Having pumpkin & carrot soup and the models are having a meltdown.

1pm. Quick check of emails before going back to reading and marking

5pm. Interesting discussion with student on the research project she wants to do next year on literature in China.
 
7.30pm. Watch episode of Covert Affairs (which I mistakingly called Undercover Lover a few times and the name has now stuck). Lovely Husband only half watches and spends the rest of the time muttering and swearing as he tries to install software on my new laptop. He’s still muttering when I head to bed.

What culture did you consume today? Did you do it on purpose?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fast Food Fiction and a Shared Reading Experience

This arrived today, along with a sci fi novel, an urban fantasy and a fistful of children's books. I can't wait to consume it.


I spent quite a lot of time in my 20s reading the books I was 'supposed' to, the Classics with a capital C, the literary ones that were only sold in independent book stores, the ones that were heavily subsidised by the Australia Council because no publisher makes a profit from them but we need them to "contribute to the development of Australian culture", the piles of new ones I was sent to review for a book magazine. And I didn't particularly enjoy it.

There were moments of delight in a particular turn of phrase, in minor characters or a glimpse of a world I might want to inhabit. But not a lot.

Now I read for pleasure as much as I can. I read for the act of reading, to spend time (hours, ideally) turning pages and consuming words. But that's okay, because Rick Gekoski likes Jack Reacher too, for much the same reason I do. He also reads a bunch of fast food fiction, the stuff you mindlessly devour that's enjoyable at the time but not particularly nutritious or memorable. 

He talked a while ago about missing a shared reading experience. Unlike previous generations, there are fewer and fewer books we have in common, as a grounding for our cultural experience. This might partly be because of the diversity of books available or the diversity of cultures in most middle-class areas of society. I know I am having fewer discussions on literary type novels these days (although J, I owe you a long phone conversation soon about Kate Atkinson's Life After Life - it took me a while to want to plunge in but plunge I did). I miss my book club although it was incredibly hard coming up with a list of books to read. The thing is, do we currently have an equivalent list to the one he talked about, spanning from the 50s to the early 70s? What's our equivalent now of The Catcher in the Rye or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or The Second Sex or Catch 22 or The Female Eunuch or On the Road? Is there an Australian equivalent (and does it include all of Tim Winton's works)?

Interestingly, this list of the greatest books by women was circulating recently and, to be honest, there's quite a few cheeseburger reads in there. This both delighted and amused me. Despite that, I'd still only made it all the way through 15 of the 102 on the list.



How much fast-food reading do you do? Are you keen to talk more about books? How many of the "greatest books by women" have you read?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ranger Kids at Werribee Zoo: A lesson in educational play



We’ve been on a few adventures and special outings since we started our year of Intentional Play. Dear Boy still talks about Scienceworks – “with the science, Mummy” - especially the CFA demonstration (Big fire engine! Fire!) and the Nitty Gritty Super City exhibition 

On the weekend we headed out to Werribee Zoo (I know it’s not space-themed, but we wanted something fun for him to do with his Grandma M). Dear Boy was disappointed with the animals – too early, too cold for most of them so not much for a toddler to look at – but he loved the Ranger Kids zone, an indoor themed-play area where kids can be rangers on the African savannah. Yes, the big wooden helicopter probably sealed the deal, but the whole play zone was a great example of an engaging and educational play space (and a good spot for little people to take a break or escape from the weather).

Ranger Kids is broken down into several play area:

  • A helicopter;
  • A field hospital;
  • A feeding station;
  • The savannah;
  • A village.

Dear Boy headed straight for the helicopter, slipping straight into pilot mode. After we pointed out the first-aid/medicine cross on the side of the chopper and he listened to a few of the radio messages that fire off when you press the assorted buttons, he started to look out for injured animals that he could load up and fly across the savannah to the hospital.

A quick stop at the dress-up station for a ranger jacket and a set of ‘noculars’ and my little ranger headed into the field hospital where he got to diagnose and treat small and large soft toys with a variety of conditions and ailments (cuts, broken bones, pregnancy, etc). With encouragement from one of the zoo’s own rangers, he bandaged an open fracture, checked out a monkey’s x-ray, stuffed the organs back into a sleeping lion, and delivered a baby giraffe (I have no idea where a giraffe's vagina is... but I'm guessing there's a little poetic licence with the anatomy on the toy above). 

Outside the hospital, Dear Boy learned the difference between carnivores and herbivores at the feeding station, selecting and weighing up a bucket load of (wooden) meat for the lion and lettuce for the monkey. 

Dear Boy wasn’t keen to change out his ranger outfit, but several other kids were dressed in the traditional garb of the Melako people, planting crops around the village area and racing in and out of the stick hits.

At two and a half years old, there are always limits on what Dear Boy’ll take away from these adventures and outings, but when the exhibitions are well-designed with kids’ ages and interests in mind, they stay with him. Ranger Kids offered plenty of little moments where Dear Boy could learn and engage more deeply with the issues surrounding the animals of the zoo, rather than simply observing them through glass or over a fence.

For your info: Ranger Kids is open from 10:30am-2:30pm daily and is free with the zoo admission price. We became members after our trip to Melbourne zoo a few weeks ago ($88 for me with Dear Boy registered free on my ticket), which will give us great savings if we visit a zoo again (here or interstate). It also gave us 15% off at the gift shop where we got dear Boy his own set of ‘noculars’. 


Have you come across any awesome kids outreach activities or exhibitions?


P.S. Hippos are the cutest. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The coming of the child



My biggest little brother's going to be a dad soon... in a few more weeks or perhaps a few more days. I've been reminiscing about that zone, that time between being almost full-term and the birth, between the end of work and the beginning of the hardest work I've ever done, between the last days of being a child-less couple (although the elephant was in the room, so to speak) and being responsible for the welfare of a human being full time, between nights out and weeks in.

I had a whole passle of time to just hang out before Dear Boy was born. My full-time contract finished in mid-November and, even with a few Honours theses to mark and special consideration requests and deferred exams to approve, there were a lot of long, slow, bone-melting days spent waddling through the shopping centre, squatting in front of the library shelves, curling up on the couch devouring books, wallowing in the local pool or the blow-up pool in our back yard.

I nested as much as I could, waiting for the baby's crib to be driven down from NSW, a lovely, dark wood hand-me-down from Dear Boy's cousin. I went a little nuts at the last minute on a bassinette and change table from Toys R Us because I felt the lure of the 'should-haves' and 'must-haves', all those things kids don't need but everyone seems to have.

I paid a strange Ukranian couple to come and blitz-clean the house although I didn't know they were strange (or Ukranian) when I booked them. They didn't vacuum behind or under any of the furniture but I was too embarrassed after a half day of polite conversation to ask them to finish the job.

I washed all of the baby clothes.

I worried about my waters breaking at the shopping centre but not enough to stop going there and soaking up the air-conditioning.

I dreamt of sleeping on my belly.

I took a lot of vitamins.

I wondered what Braxton Hicks would feel like - like nothing apparently because I never noticed them.

I peed a lot.

I slept badly.

I tried hard to feel Christmas-y but we had a completely awful time.

I read a lot of Pam England's Birthing From Within (although der, where else are you going to birth from).

I thought of this picture and used it like a mantra, a meditation for the upcoming labour.

Now I making making a baby quilt, a little patch of love for my new nephew. And we've started a pool on just how big this little boy will be. For the record, I'm guessing 3.2kg, which is a good half a kilo lower than the next nearest guess.

How did you or your nearest and dearest 'nest'? I missed the whole scrubbing floors urge entirely. 

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