Saturday, 31 December 2016


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

Jimmy: Enjoying a spot of cricket on Christmas Day...

Christmas morning saw us heading down to the Condamine River and enjoying breakfast outside, followed by Jimmy opening a large match stick that was covering a cricket set. We had some fun trying to play normally, and then without wickets and with more running around. He quite likes it. 

This is the last entry in Jimmy's 52 Project. It's been fun, sometimes challenging, and rewarding to have this record of Jimmy, but he is going to be at school soon and to protect his identity (somewhat), lessen the effect on his ego (more so), it is time to stop. I know, I know, there are lots of children who are constantly on their parents blogs and that's the choice of their parents, but this is our choice. There will still be photos of Jimmy here and stories, but we hope to provide a gap onlne between our perception of Jimmy as a baby and small child, and give him the space to develop his perception of who he is and make it easier for him to choose how much of this self he wishes to share online when he is old enough to do so.

Yes, I know, it means that there will be less of record of him growing up here, but he has been saying no to photos more and more, and I find it challenging to balance my wants with his; it's his image I'm using, so his wants outway mine. And as he grows, he is more expressive and more aware of his surroundings and able to relate stories and events and sometimes photos just don't do justice to the storytelling of who this little boy is becoming. No, no weekly video of Jimmy, but call us or arrange a playdate - we'd love to see you!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Festive wreaths...

Wreaths. My earliest memories of wreaths have to do with Christmas, grave yards, and war memorials. While we were in Manhattan, KS, I noticed that many houses had wreaths on their front doors, wreaths which would change seasonally. It was kinda nice, but most of them were plastic *sigh* And then we were heading into our first Solstice and Christmas in Manhattan, KS, and I couldn't resist the temptation of a $10 bunch of branches... And a tradition was spawned! 

So, when a neighbour was doing some pruning, and that pruning included a wattle tree and a few olive trees, I couldn't resist making some wreaths for the festive season, even though they would probably be a bit tired within a week. He didn't mind – the branches were destined for a hugel mound – I just delayed that journey for a few branches.

In lieu of florists wire, I cut some wool to (hopefully) usable lengths, Michael cut the wattle branches into individual segments, and we got stuck into it!

Michael wound some short wattle branches together without the wool, while I made a bigger wreath of wattle using a combination of winding branches together and anchoring it all in some places with the wool – which turned out to be a good length. I also made an olive wreath by twisting branches together (no wool required).

In the course of 30 minutes we made three wreaths while drinking tea and enjoying the afternoon. It was a really nice activity and I kinda wish we made them more often but I know that the green branches last longer if they are on the trees...

We tied the wreaths together using the wool, making a string of wreaths and hung them from the front door so they hung largest to smallest. They looked lovely at first but now they are past it and we probably need to take them down and make some fresh ones next week, in time for the Solstice and Christmas. What traditions do you have for this time of year? Which ones have been passed down over the years and which ones are evolving?

Sunday, 18 December 2016


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

Jimmy: Hanging out with Auntie Kara at her old park...

One of the biggest problems with academia is having to relocate to where the work is or where the research is funded. Due to this issue we have been separated from our wonderful friend Kara, as we were living in Manhattan, KS, and she is doing a PhD in Finland. But for a brief time we are in the same country and we enjoyed a good long catch up, which included hanging out at a playground she used to visit on her way home from school.

Sunday, 11 December 2016


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

Jimmy: Bursting at the seams with joy...

Water, cool water, a hose, a new skill and comfortable for the first time since about 10 am. It was one of those really hot days (over 35 ˚C) and we went to the chooks in time for this little pool to arrive. Jimmy was invited to test it out, just to make sure it was acceptable for a grandson – it was intended for another 3 year old, who may or may not visit Warwick, but is visiting Queensland. Anyway, Jimmy was happy to test it out and the little pool proved very acceptable, and the slide heaps of fun. I'm not sure which Jimmy preferred: the pool or the hose and learning how to spray the water everywhere with only his finger...

Friday, 9 December 2016

A crash course in snakes...

It's snake season here in Queensland. It has been for at least a month now. A few weeks ago a brown snake was seen (and killed) less than 100 meters from home, but I did not see it. Having grown up in regional Queensland, in an area close to farms and with little pockets of bush between houses and paddocks, it might come as a surprise that I have only seen 2 snakes around my parents house and my old school. Ever. 

Yes, I have seen other snakes, usually captive snakes and at least one sunning itself on a country road, seen from the safety of a car or school bus, or carpet pythons. But I don’t count as actual encounters. There have also been other sightings of red-bellied black snakes around my parents’ house, and a school friend had a garden that was very attractive to brown snakes, especially for egg laying…

The snakes around here scare me. Why?

The last of these is actually a good snake to have around even if they are highly venomous – they attack brown snakes. Brown snakes have nasty venom. Really nasty. Blood clotting and paralysis.

Funtimes, right?

So, how did I go my whole schooling years only to see two wild baby brown snakes? I followed the basic rules for avoiding snakes:
  • Stay out of long grass;
  • Stomp around the bush;
  • Keep an eye on the path ahead. 
And now it's time to pass this on to Jimmy, who has no fear of snakes, thinks they should be killed if they're "bad snakes", and has not been discouraged to walk through long grass while we were in Kansas (even though there are rattlesnakes there – ep!).

We've been talking about snakes lately. It's timely and Jimmy is coming to terms with the fact that not all snakes are venomous but all snakes should be left alone. I even brought out the snake book my parents have (as pictured above), to show Jimmy the different snakes and to talk about them in a measured manner. He kept asking if the snakes we were looking at were "bad snakes", meaning 'will they bite me if I come across one' to which the answer was "no, they're pythons, they eat mice and frogs and even if they do bite you, they are not venomous, so they'd give you an ouchie but they wouldn't make you sick". He did really well, and we made it to the ... which is venomous, but highly unlikely to attack, unless provoked.

And that's really the main point: do not provoke a snake because it will bite, venomous or not - if you see one, walk away and tell an adult.

So, crash course delivered, Jimmy is now ready for summer, even if he needs reminding not to go into grass where he cannot see the ground (there are other reasons to avoid long grass, but that's for another time). We'll work on the stomping and keeping an eye on the path ahead, but we've started talking about snakes and other not-so-nice-but-still-important creatures we live with in Australia, and by talking about them I'm hoping Jimmy grows up with a healthy respect for venomous and potentially dangers Australian animals. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Knitting lace and US politics...

Note: the first draft of this was written about a week after the US election, the second draft a few days later. I liked the second draft, but it wasn’t properly saved before my computer crashed. I tried writing a third draft a day or two later but it was too painful, and then I came down with a nasty sore throat. So, here’s the third/fourth draft…

I don't like knitting with lace weight yarn. I like knitting and I like knitting lace, but preferably with at least sock weight yarn, preferably bulky yarn on big needles. The last (and first) time I tried knitting with lace weight yarn I was so frustrated by the amount of attention it required and that the ply seemed to untwist with every stitch. I took the work off the needles, rolled up the yarn and promptly hid it in my stash, deciding that I didn’t like lace weight yarn but acknowledging that I was not ready to part with the lovely yarn.

Fast forward a few years and I have been reunited with my stored yarn stash and knitting patterns and quickly discovered that somehow I have not one but four skeins of lace weight yarn. Oh dear… My preference really is for socks or things with lots of stockinet or garter stitch – the sort of things that are mindless and can be done while watching movies or the news.

And then the recent US election happened, and suddenly mindless knitting was just not cutting it. It provided no relaxation, no joy. Not even the challenge of creating a koala motif using yarn overs and knit-two-togethers for a vest for Jimmy was enough. I needed a distraction; I needed something to focus on that was not bad news or job hunting. I needed to make something.

Once we left the US, I almost stopped following the US election, until about a week out from the big day. Even though it seemed like Clinton had it in the bag (thank you algorithms), 44.4% of eligible US citizens did not vote. I’m not sure what upsets me more: that the US president it not elected through the popular vote or that nearly half the population did not vote in one of the most important and historically significant elections in their history.

Sometimes I am sick to my stomach and sometimes I am hopeful. Trump may actually improve employment and manufacturing in the US. Yet, deep down, I am glad we are no longer there, and my heart goes out to all my friends there, especially those who are foreign nationals. My relief is mixed with guilt and I hope they are alright.

With my stomach in knots, I turned to my stash and knitting patterns for something. I wasn’t sure what, but nothing easy. Nothing straight forward, but also something small enough that I would see results and receive some sort of satisfaction before the middle of next year. A lace pattern kept calling me. I wanted to use the lovely lace weight yarn for a shawl, but the one I had had in mind required 400+ stitches to be cast on (and I couldn’t find the beads I’d bought for it). A simpler shawl or at least something with few stitches to cast on was needed.

And it was there, in a different magazine – the one that I had tried to knit all those years ago, but had decided that the yarn was not right for the pattern. “Cast on 17 stitches” was almost enough to have me hooked, but I still needed to think about it. Would my yarn produce the same kind of fuzzy, lofty and light shawl? Was the colour mine or someone else’s? A few days later I cast on those 17 stitches and haven’t looked back since.

But I kept looking back at the US election, and kept reading articles about why Clinton lost or did not inspire or that the establishment was the problem and Trump will change that, because he’s (apparently) anti establishment. In some ways though, whoever was chosen as the Democrats nominee would have been highly unlikely to win this election. Why? Because for the last 8 years the US president came from the Democrats and like a yarn over following a knit-two-together, Republican follows Democrat. Not always, but the pattern is there and it would have taken a Democrat candidate even more extraordinary then Clinton to keep a Democrat in the White House. 

How the Trump years shape up? Only time will tell. Like blocking lace work (soaking, stretching out, pinning in place, and allowing it to dry before removing the pins), the work has been done but the result (how good or bad) will only be known after the work has been soaked, pinned and dried. One hopes it will turn out alright.

Unlike life (or a Trump presidency), knitting can be undone and reworked. A dropped stitch can be picked up easily - a person who falls through the cracks is harder to pick up. And it is easier to forgive the wonky stitching of an early piece of lace work because it all takes time and practice. Usually a presidential candidate has cut their teeth working their way through various political pathways, i.e. independent senator or Secretary of State. A brash businessman with no experience in the political realm? Hopefully he has as a good (or better) team than Regan.

It’s hard to frog lace (frog: undo at least one row to correct an error) and it’s hard to wind back legislation one it has passed – although at least one Australian government has done so in recent years. It’s hard to know if the result will be as one hoped – only history or blocking will reveal whether or not it was worth it.

So much of this election had made me upset and angry and sick to my stomach, yet I am more determined than ever to be the change I seek in this world. Knitting lace with lace weight yarn has helped keep my calm, helped focus my mind and cleared my head when anxiety (job hunting and US election related) might have consumed me.

The therapeutic nature of knitting is well documented, but, for me, the therapeutic nature of knitting lace with lace weight yarn has surprised me: given that I nearly threw the yarn across the room in frustration last time I tried it. Now, all I want to do is knit this shawl. It’s coming along nicely and, as mentioned, it is the opposite of frustrating. I have less than half of it to go, and the ball of alpaca and silk seems to still be the same size as when I started – it’s not, I had to weigh it to make sure that it wasn’t a magic ball of yarn, somehow related to Norman Lindsay's Magic Pudding.

I am hopeful that it will be a nice shawl and that I, or whoever receives it, will like it. I am trying to be equally hopeful that Trump makes an alright president.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


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

Jimmy: Fascinated by water and drainage...

It had been raining and we were heading out for dinner with some friends and Jimmy could not resist watching the water running down the drain. He asked a question and Daddy was answering it and checking out the water too. I have fond memories of playing in the rain water at this very drain and it's something special to see Jimmy playing there too.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Dropping the ball...

Yep, it's December and I didn't post anything in November.

Thank you for checking in during the radio silence.

Yes, I dropped the ball and this space suffered.

No. There was no good reason. It just happened:

I was sick. Jimmy had a fever, but only for an evening. I had a job interview. The US election happened. A pizza oven that Michael and Pop have been working on was completed and used for the first time. Jimmy had a fever for a few days. Michael had a job interview. My brother wasn't going to be visiting Brisbane and then all of a sudden he was, so we went to have lunch with him. I did not get the job (Michael did not get the one he interviewed for either). I came down with an epic sore throat. Jimmy developed a blocked nose. There may have been another trip to Brisbane for some socialising, only Jimmy and I were still sick. Everyone in the household came down with sore throats. And now everyone seems to be better, but Jimmy's nose still runs.

And now the days are hot, there's a tray of mangoes on the bench, storms are rolling in some time after lunch and it's beginning to feel like Christmas time.

Heatwave aside, I'm trying to get back into things and manage my energy levels and sleep pattern and time, so that I can get through the hot days and cool nights and still feel like I'm achieving things. I'm trying to pick up the ball and get back into writing here and job applications and craft projects and advent activities.

It sounds like a lot, but it's not, I hope. Hopefully, with good health and good sleep, this month will be productive.