Tuesday, 23 February 2016


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2016

Jimmy: Bursting through the doors!

Yep. That's my boy. His enthusiasm for the playground at the local school never ceases to amaze me and Michael. Even when it's really cold out and he should be wearing his fluffy coat. Thanks to Michael for the camera work, the timing, and for braving the cold.

Alain's children

I usually agree with Alain de Botton, and a lot of his videos are very touching and insightful, and he never shies away from the taboo 'negative' topics. I think he might overstate the negatives here though. Parenting is pretty cool. 

And yet.

Tonight Jimmy told me I was mean.

I wasn't even doing very much, and I don't think he really even meant it that seriously. In fact I laughed. A lot.

What prompted the criticism was that I had spent some time trying to pry an answer out of him, regarding the source of a mysterious abrasion and swelling on one of his fingers. A scratch, irritated by orange skin? A spider bite? A burn?

It was ouchy and he wanted me to kiss it better. I did, but I wanted to know what had happened. He wouldn't say. Or couldn't. Instead there was a lot of evasion and deception (he's getting good at that - nothing serious) and so it became something of an issue.

I pressured for an answer, hoping it wasn't as serious as a spider bite or something like that. I put a toy away that seemed a source of distraction. I tried to reason with him. I tried to get him to see my point of view.  I asked him why he thought I was being so insistent for an answer.

He said "Because you're mean".

Once I had picked myself up from the floor, I gave him a hug and we went on with our night. I never found out what caused the ouchy finger, but I'm pretty sure Jimmy doesn't remember either. The swelling soon went down everything was fine.

Later, Alain de Botton reminded me of our earlier interaction. It's nice to have a bit of warning about what to expect in the future.


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2016

Jimmy: Taking after his parents.

Life imitating art? Well, we have been taking photos of him his whole life, so it's no surprise that he will pick up a camera when given the opportunity! Thanks Michael for capturing this lovely photo.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

We really do love Tim Minchin (TM). He's like the Australian lovechild of Bill Bailey and Ben Folds*; where Minchin ended up with the best features of each of them and just enough angst about the odd parentage to rebel with a bit of eye-liner. 

Funny piano music men. We love them all. 

Anyway, by now most of our friends back across the pond have probably seen Minchin's latest offering regarding a certain conspiring cardinal in lock-down in the Vatican. If not, here it is:

Now, I'm in total agreement with those that would call this the pitch-perfect protest song. It has all the flair and humour and irreverence to disarm the anxieties about the very serious issue that lurks in the background here, while casting the spotlight rather firmly on what needs to be done.

Rather ironically, it was reported that at least one Jesuit accused TM of harming the victims of church abuse, though it's difficult to untangle the nebulous logic involved there, and it certainly can't do remotely as much harm as the cone-of-silence approach that the Vatican prefers. 

It is an uncomfortable issue with a lot of intense feelings and of course the cardinal and cronies have their own intense feelings about other people's intense feelings being freely expressed - which they've managed to prevent for a long time.

This work from TM may simply be part of, or may be (as TM intended) a critical catalyst for what has become a highly trending issue after a long, uncomfortable build-up. Regardless, the video itself is popular, thanks to TM's always-sharp wit and on-point talent for the catchy compositions. He's also raising money for the victims through the proceeds of the song - I don't really know how that works, but I think he gets money for all the hits on the video above, which he reportedly promises to give to the campaign

With luck, Pell will soon be fit and healthy, and able to take the arduous plane trip that he so fears, in order to tell what he can tell.

* The first time K'la and I were in the same room together was at a Ben Folds concert a few years before we actually met, but that's a story for another time. 

Review squared: Arrow.

Most people have read reviews for films or restaurants or whatever they don't agree with, usually (I think) because the reviewer comes down too hard, or is too pretentious, or too negative, rather than the alternative of being supportive of the thing they're reviewing.
Last week our favourite coffee spot (which has appeared in many of K'la's posts) was the subject of a critical review, which was only sparingly complementary. Even if not scathing, it still seemed more harsh than fair, and out of touch with both my tastes and those of most people.

The people at the cafe in question really are fantastic, and deserve better. So I took it upon myself to pen a small defence of Arrow, and may have gotten a little carried away, as the final reply ended up being almost as long as the original article:

Reviews come in a lot of shapes and colours, but this one is hard to place.
It is not the review of a connoisseur or expert in the field, as the author is clearly misinformed about coffee and has barely entry-level tastes. For example, the treatment of the foamed milk has some remarkable influences on the textural, flavour composition and crema of the coffee, regardless of the motif of the pour, the fact that a motif can be done is a good sign. The only other place that compares for coffee in Manhattan is Sparrow - while other cafes (even those that the reviewer has previously described as serving "good coffee") might as well be serving bland, textureless dishwater. Note well: I know Arrow pride themselves on the coffee blends they choose; the addition of a syrup is on the menu of a coffee shop is a simple courtesy, but is not the option for sophisticated tastes.
Nor is it the review of a populist, as Arrow is certainly popularly well-received: Indicated in the article by the tables-packed "complaint", despite the venue having recently doubled in size AND opened a new site. And also indicated by an almost perfect 5-star ranking on their facebook page.
Nor is the review something that a cynic might see as brown-nosing to the Manhattan commercial set, or having a marketing agenda. A negative review like this in a small place like Manhattan can have negative effects not just on the venue, but on people's perception of the town; but I think the worst reflection is on the reviewer.
Not sophisticated, not populist, not marketing. So I can think of two reasons for such a review to exist. Either the criticisms are the author's way of puffing their own alleged superiority, or this is some strange attempt to score hits by softly courting controversy. Well, in the case of the second scenario, you've got one hit.
Speaking of "one", I give this review one star. :)"

I really am quite intrigued about what motivates a thing like this. It seems a strange thing, to be a reviewer; especially so publicly. A negative review is doubly mysterious. Triply in a small town where at most people are separated by 2 degrees of separation, by and large. To do so without any real expertise is just... well... weird.

We live in this society that is so exquisitely tone-policed by the algorithms of culture and society, such that "positivity" is something I find is liberally prescribed to me several times a day, regardless of the facts. And yet when it comes to published reviews by "official" journalists, I get the feeling that there is a tendency to err on the side of nastiness. I don't think this is a unique observation. It is something I'll continue to give thought to.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2016

Jimmy: Running, falling...

Daddy did it again! He managed to take this photo just as Jimmy was mid-fall. Jimmy was having so much fun and it was a lovely day to be outside.


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2016

Jimmy: Kicking a slush-berg in his sneakers.

Kicking piles of icy snow is a favourite pastime of Jimmy's and Daddy captured this great photo on a warm(ish) day making use of a recent slush-berg, that was once snow that covered the roads. We're probably not going to see any more snow this winter, so it was important to make the most of every last snowflake and every last crunchy, slushy pile of ice.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The winter funk...

[About 35 days ago this post would have been titled "daylight fading" after the Counting Crows song, but we're past the Winter Solstice and the days are slowly lengthening, so that title doesn't make sense.]

Yep. The winter funk.

Except that it doesn't start in winter. It starts around the beginning of October, about the time when we have to set alarms and wake and get ready for work in the dark for a few weeks until daylight savings is no longer in effect. The days are still warm, but there is a chill in the air and the first rays of light no longer reach the kitchen.

And then November first rolls around, no more daylight savings, and we're getting up with the sun again - winter might be coming, but getting up with the sun is good. For a few weeks.

As December and the Winter Solstice creep closer, we find ourselves getting up before the sun rises or short on time if we wake when our bedroom starts filling with light. By the time we are out of the apartment, the sun is up and doing its best to warm the air, but it sets quickly and we find ourselves coming home in the dark...

We're not so far north that the sun rises and sets between 9 am and 5 pm, but Michael and I are more used to living closer to the equator and this lack of sunlight hours really does have a negative impact on our mental health.

I noticed it in Michael last year, this winter funk. And the reprieve brought on by the turning back on the clocks. And I noticed it in myself this year. It doesn't help that we're homesick, cold, stressed, anxious, and feeling very down on our luck. It also doesn't help that Michael doesn't like December-January in general and I don't like being away from my parents and siblings at this time of year, for more than one year at a time.

Ah winter funk...

And then it ices or snows and we feel like the cold is worth it (although snow is preferable).

We made the effort to indulge Jimmy's recent obsession with Christmas lights, and realised that they're not just Christmas lights - they're Winter lights, bringing light into the dark, lifting spirits (as well as electricity bills and carbon emissions...).

Speaking of Jimmy: he is the only member of our little family who seems immune to the winter funk. He's a happy little Vegemite, for whom all this seasonal stuff is the norm. He also lights up our life in a way Christmas lights never will.

The winter funk is a little debilitating, a little draining, and takes a bit of effort to shake, but it's seasonal. It's temporary. Now that we are past the Winter Solstice and the days are definitely getting longer, little by little, the funk is slowly lifting, even if the coldest days are yet to come.

When daylight savings start up in March we have a small relapse, even if the days are warmer, getting up in the dark is not my ideal. At least there is more afternoon light. Around this time the morning sunlight will no longer hit the map over the dining table and will move back across to the kitchen. The days will be longer, warmer, and we will be closer to returning to Australia... And then, hopefully, winter funk will be a memory and no longer an annual thing.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Last week, in photos... (one week late...)

It was cold that weekend. Really cold. So cold we had to keep the blinds closed to keep the cold out. Somehow we managed to keep ourselves amused...

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Day and we all stayed home. Until we went outside to make an attempt to return the turtle... but the pond was frozen over (funny about that...).

We had fun anyway and enjoyed the not-so-subzero temperature (-6 C I think). That said, we were happy to get back home into the warmth of our apartment.

A day or two later it snowed a little in the afternoon. It was really nice to look out the window and see the snow falling... I left a little early because I thought I might have trouble getting home by bike - I took the bus, with my bike, and walked my bike, no riding.

But there was even more snow that night and the next day! So much snow! When we walked Jimmy to daycare he kept saying "It's snowing like in the Gruffalo's Child", it was really cute.

I would forget about the snow and then when leaving the laboratory I would see it and see the white blanket. It was wonderful. Michael and I seemed to be the only ones enjoying the snow. Everyone else was keeping to the paths while we walked in the ankle deep snow.

Snow it magical to look at, but I completely understand why people don't like it - it makes the roads slippery, and driving in the falling snow is worse than driving in torrential rain because it limits visibility, ice sticks to the windows, and the snow builds up on the roads, instead of running into the gutters... One nice big snow fall, like this one, is enough for me.