Thursday 4 June 2015

I’ve been thinking about sympathetic magic a lot lately, since we moved house.

We lived in Glebe for a bit over three years, starting with a night of calling to two year old V wandering in the wrong direction on the landing searching for us. I finished my PhD thesis almost exactly three years ago, looking out the window over the autumn leaves in the street, just like they looked today when we walked through the empty house for the last time. For a long time, every vendor of food for half the length of Glebe Point Road knew V’s name and his taste in food (chocolate), especially when he was blond and his face was round. I slept in the house for years, I found out I was pregnant again there the day after my thirty second birthday, I laboured with A there in the middle of the night, we brought her home at lunch time that day and Andrew carried her in her car capsule up the stairs. She nursed there for the last time she ever would. The night after we moved our things out, our former neighbours invited us in for tea and sent us home with soup for dinner.

That’s a lot of work and grief and love and indeed some actual blood, in three years.

I had begun to think we’d stay in the suburb forever and we didn’t.

We’re quite close by still, and our new suburb is pretty similar in many ways. A few more pricey yoga studios and less failing bakeries. Bully for it. And I almost always feel like this for a while after I move, and it’s more acute this time because of the village feel and because we go back to Glebe most days because V is still at school and A still at daycare there.

It will help just to get settled here. To figure out what time we need to get out of bed and go to bed and how far it is to the shops and how long the daycare run is and unpack all our clothes and be able to walk into the room that the toys are stored in. (How do we have enough toys to completely carpet a room?) Walk to the nearest playground. Hang some pictures. Take some local photographs.

Saturday 23 May 2015

It’s been alternatively sunny and cloudy in our last week in our current house. Dark clouds gathered and thunder rumbled as we heard that second hand furniture buyers are booked up into June, and can’t come and help us with our nice wardrobes which we’d be sad to trash. The sun shone and birds sang when the friends we had over for dinner on Thursday turned out to be moving in the same week we are, only to an apartment with absolutely no storage whatsoever, and they would take our furniture from us. Little rainclouds descend every time some unreliable jerk from Gumtree fails to pick up stuff from our front porch. And so on.

Overall, at the moment we are proving to be a cheap way for other people to furnish. Earlier today two weedy young removalists came today and effortlessly hefted our sofa bed, bookcase and barbecue to Julia’s place. (I got to assume the risk of transporting the gas bottle for the barbecue; that they don’t do.) Our older bikes are off to Bikes For Humanity. Our largesse is getting down to a cheap white cupboard and some plastic outdoor chairs. Thank goodness.

Tonight the up and down reached amusing proportions. Because we will now have a cross-suburb childcare run to do, we’re considering buying a car again after several delightful years car-free, and tonight Andrew did our first test drive for a car on sale by a private seller. All went well with the drive, fortunately, well enough that we took the vehicle identification in order to run the standard checks. And so we sat in a McDonalds running the history checks… to discover that it had a write-off history. I guess there are situations where I’d buy a repaired write-off, maybe (although for the last couple of years that hasn’t even been a thing that’s possible to do in NSW) but buying from a private seller who didn’t disclose it isn’t one of those times. Then on the way home, A had such a nasty cough that we had to stop the car so that Andrew could take her out and hold her up so she’d stop sounding like she was choking on a fully grown pig. She was overtired and frantic and he had to fight her back into her carseat. Then we made it another couple of kilometres before I shut V’s window using the driver controls… right onto his hand, which he’d stuck out the window.

V’s hand is fine. A can still inhale. We don’t have a car that’s a undisclosed repaired write-off. Sunny day.

Photo circle shots

I recently ran a “photo circle”, consisting of a small group of people sending prints of their own photographs to each other. It was a fun way to prod myself to take non-kid photos.

My four photos were:

Photo circle: sun in the eucalypts

I took Sun in the eucalypts in the late afternoon of Easter Sunday, as the sun was sinking behind the eucalypts at Centennial Park’s children’s bike track. I tried to take one with the sun shining through the trees but didn’t get the lens flare right. I like the contrast between the sunlit tree and the dark tree in this one. It feels springlike, for an autumn scene.

The other three are a very different type of weather shot, taken during Sydney’s extreme rainfall of late April and very early May:

Photo circle: rainstorm

This one has the most post-processing by far: it was originally shot in portrait and in colour. I was messing around with either fast or slow shutter speeds while it poured with rain at my house; I have a number of similar photos where spheres of water are suspended in the air. None of them quite work but I will continue to play with photographing rain with a fast shutter speed. In the meantime, the slow shutter speed here works well. I made the image monochrome in order to make the rain stand out more. In the original image the green tree and the rich brown fencing and brick rather detract from showing exactly how rainy it was.

Photo circle: Sydney rain storm

This was shot from Gunners’ Barracks in Mosman (a historical barracks, not an active one) as a sudden rainstorm rolled over Sydney Harbour. The view was good enough, but my lens not wide enough, to see it raining on parts of the harbour and not on other parts. All the obscurity of the city skyline in this shot is due to rain, not fog.

Photo circle: ferry in the rain

This is the same rainstorm as the above shot; they were taken very close together. It may not be immediately obvious, but the saturation on this shot is close to maximum in order to make the colours of the ferry come up at all. I was the most worried about this shot on the camera, it was very dim. It comes up better in print than on screen, too. The obscurity is again entirely due to the rain, and results in the illusion that there is only one vessel on Sydney Harbour. Even in weather like this, that’s far from true. I felt very lucky to capture this just before the ferry vanished into the rain too.

Monday 11 May 2015

When I left you, I was hiding out in my hotel room in San Francisco feeling sad. I did end up having a perfectly nice time, that’s always part of travel too. A highlight was walking through the Mission and running into someone we knew, and then dinner at Bar Tartine. Oh, and chicken and margaritas at Zuni Cafe the following day.

It’s possible that I live to eat rather than eat to live.

It’s also possible that I’d leave the house a lot more if I didn’t have kids. Travel is my visit into a childfree world.

I also saw some sweet toy poodle puppies. I didn’t eat them.

I had fantasies of spending the Saturday driving out of San Francisco, but ended up spending the entire day in my very dark hotel room as well. No surprises there. I’d like to be the sort of person who flies to Canada, works really hard, flies to the US, works really hard, and then on her day off goes driving on unknown roads in search of wine, redwoods, beaches, or something like that. It turns out that after all that work travel I am the kind of person who huddles in a hotel room with a laptop. I regret nothing.

On the Sunday I walked up, I think, Octavia Street, quite quickly, or at least by Val’s measure. That was painful, but it turns out that walking up hills slowly is even more painful. Either that, or I’ve just grown tied of cajoling children up hills after all this time. Just think, I walked up a whole hill without having an argument with anyone and without anyone wanting me to carry them while I was already carrying their bag, nappies, toys, and/or bike. And then I sat up in Lafayette Park having surreal thoughts about what I would need to get done the next day in Sydney. Intercontinental travel is very implausible.

I increasingly find flying odd too. I was in the middle of a group of four on the way back, so I basically had a slumber party with three strange men, all of whom studiously ignored me, albeit one time with difficulty when I dropped a shoe on one man who had been sleeping up until that point. Of all the things you’d think to do imprisoned in a flying metal tube, would sleeping sandwiched between strangers and watching Captain America: The First Avenger while shoes rain down rise to the top of your list?

I arrived back in the pouring rain. The pilots warned us coming in that the wind was approaching 100km/hr, but, fortunately (apparently) right behind the runway. It seemed a smooth enough landing.

I had heard it was raining in Sydney and I should have thought more carefully about the source. When the guy in the electronics shop in San Francisco has heard about rain in Sydney, there’s quite some rain in Sydney. Not as much, and not as tragically, as in the Hunter Valley, but enough that rain blew through the taxi rank at the airport as people wrestled with their luggage to extract any coats they had.

You should know that I am burying the lede in all of this. As I wrote the last entry, Andrew was preparing our side of the contracts to buy a house, and the exchange of contracts took place the following day. At the moment it’s very strange and hard to cope with, as we have to do a lot of work (finance, removalists, getting rid of furniture, figuring out schools and such) without any of the pay-off of hanging pictures or having built-ins at long last or being free of our current rental and its endless mysterious water problems. I have dark memories of the fog we walked around in for weeks after we moved to this suburb. Not to mention decidedly mixed feelings about leaving the first suburb in Sydney where we’ve ever been on chatting terms with other adults as we go about our daily business.

Good things will come of this, in the medium term, and if we work for them. Now to face into the wind.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

So many things about travel are only things I remember when I travel. Which is a shame, because some of those things I forget when not traveling are bad things about travel and I wouldn’t spend so much of the rest of my time puttering around being all “why am I so mysteriously averse to traveling? how strange!” Sure, I never forget the things about airports and aircraft being hostile to all things normal and human, I remember my three continuous days of insomnia after getting home from Romania in 2007, things like that. But that’s physical discomfort. I forget the emotions. I don’t remember the defensiveness of wanting to spend multiple consecutive days in dark hotel rooms (probably culture shock), I don’t remember the constant loneliness that nicely counterbalances that so that I’m unhappy even in the hotel rooms and I don’t remember the homesickness on top of it all.

I don’t remember the punch in the gut of “almost everything I love best in the world is somewhere else entirely”.

These memories obviously brought to you by being in San Francisco rather than Sydney right now. How else would I be accessing them? And you shouldn’t think of this as an unusual trip for me, this is pretty much every damn time. Not non-stop of course, or I probably would remember better why I have mixed feelings about travel. No. It’s an acute problem and I’m right in the target zone for it: more than halfway done with the travel, mostly done with the reason for the travel, why can’t I go home now?

As I’ve been telling people, last Thursday night was my first night away from A, ever. That Friday night through to this coming Monday night were/will be the second through twelfth nights, respectively. So that’s not helping either. Apparently she’s been pretty fine with it, which is in character. She doesn’t mind when we get babysitters, she doesn’t mind being dropped at daycare, it turns out she doesn’t noticeably mind that I vanished a week ago and that a couple of days later, V vanished too. (He’s gone to visit my parents.) C’est la vie?

On the bright side, I’ve finally been to Montreal! Which is actually part of this whole sad pattern too: I get this way worse when I travel as far as the US East Coast, or Europe, than I do otherwise. But still, I’ve finally been to Montreal! I didn’t really understand their seasons until I was flying in and I noticed that the waterways were still iced up, which I have never actually seen before anywhere, let alone anywhere in the middle of spring. I didn’t leave the city, but I did go and specifically look right at the river at Vieux Port. The ice was pretty slushy but it was extensive. I went to Notre Dame, which I wouldn’t have chosen for myself but am happy about; I wasn’t aware of the French Catholic history of Montreal and the cathedral is beautiful.

I was very Australian about the temperature, which is to say, it was above freezing, so why wear a coat? I run very hot in any case, even other Australians regularly look at my outfits and say “but aren’t you cold?” However by Monday, it was 22°C anyway (up from about -5 the week before) so I didn’t have to shock everyone for long. There was definitely much less ice visible on the way out.

Australian or not, I will admit that walking in the rain on Friday when it was about 3° and I had left my raincoat, conscientiously lugged all the way from Australia, in Outremont was a bit of a challenge.

I was there for PyCon and AdaCamp. The former confirmed that if I want to go to PyCon, some day I just need to go to PyCon and stop thinking that I can go on a work trip and actually attend the conference too. A number of people I know were very surprised to hear I was there given that they didn’t see me at all, and probably some more will be surprised when they read this. I have a more reasonable approach to AdaCamp: I can attend some of it and I do, and it is much as I picture.

I’m in San Francisco now. I think five hours or so is the worst length of flight. Long enough that I spend about four hours thinking “OK, surely we’re nearly there” and checking out the flight map to find out that nope, we are in no way nearly there, short enough that there’s no institutionalisation to the plane environment. Just non-stop outrage the whole way. Plus no one feels sorry for you afterwards, unlike my Sydney to Vancouver to Montreal itinerary which caused some appreciative intake of breath from Montrealers.

Four more nights.

Mary in San Francisco: come meet me at Double Union on the evening of April 18!

I’m in San Francisco from tomorrow (Wednesday) until Sunday! Most of the trip is a work trip, but I have figured out that I can make use of my Double Union membership when I’m in town and have fun, chill events in the space.

Double Union event: Button-making & crafts with Mary Gardiner

Mary Gardiner, our Australian member and a co-founder of the Ada Initiative, will be visiting San Francisco and wants to use our button-maker! Come make buttons and do assorted crafts (vinyl-cutter, 3D printer, sewing, etc.) and hang out with Mary and Valerie!

When: Sat Apr 18, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Where: Double Union on Valencia Street between 14th Street and 15th Street. See the visitor information.

This is open to Double Union members. It’s also open to non-Double Union members who are my friends!

For my friends

If you are not a Double Union member, and we’re friends, please email me at my personal address to let me know you’re coming. People of all genders welcome.

Please read the Double Union visitor information and the anti-harassment policy if you are coming along.

Thursday 12 March 2015

A few scenes from the end of our week off work:

After dropping off a load of computer games we were donating on Thursday (OK, it isn’t only Diablo, Civ IV was a huge part of our lives in the late 2000s, so much so that it seemed like we had purchased more copies than strictly necessary), we went to the cafe at Bathers Pavilion, Balmoral. In the process we remembered why it is we never ever go to Balmoral despite it being so ridiculously beautiful, viz, the traffic on Military Road and the parking at Balmoral itself. But we were given the last table in the cafe and had pizza with cheerful napkins in bold beach colours and that made it all worth it.

Friday was our official day off together, and we started by going for an ocean swim at Coogee. This is a sneaky activity, evidently: years ago Alice went for an ocean swim and ended up spending a few years doing Can Too training and life-saving, because it turns out you just can’t say no to ocean swimming. As a SCUBA diver, I was sceptical; how can ocean swimming be anything like as appealing? But we went swimming with Martin once over the summer, and suddenly, here we are, choosing ocean swimming to open our morning off.

On the way there, I made a remark while changing lanes — “bad choice of lane, Mary, no lane biscuit for you” — and Andrew responded that Lane Biscuit sounded like a romance novel hero. We developed the idea fairly rapidly: an entire series of parallel universe romance novels, in which Lane Biscuit can be the hero in every single one. If you’re a literary agent, call me.

The swim was not quite as sublime as the one with Martin in Janaury. The shorebreak was pretty looking (tall thin waves) and dangerous, so it took us a while to pick our moment to get past it and then we swam back and forth between the flags and again needed to pick our moment to come back out of the surf. Plus, I really need new goggles as my current ones flood all the time. But nevertheless walking around afterwards was a happy time.

We went to The Boathouse for lunch afterwards and had our usual experience with Sydney dining, namely that one of the entrees was the best part of the meal and so the mains are great, but not quite as great, and the second half of the meal is thus a puzzle. But that was some lovely sashimi indeed, and where else does “a selection” of oysters?

Overall, I think it’s time to escape from our suburb a little more.

The Sydney Project: Wild Ground

Last year was my sonÂ’s last year before he began full time schooling in 2015. I have spent the last year reviewing child-focussed activities in Sydney as “The Sydney Project”. Because V has begun school, the Sydney Project is concluding here with an activity he went to with Andrew in January. You can view previous entries throughout 2014 and early 2015.

Wild Ground

In mid-January, Andrew took V to a Wild Ground experience morning. Wild Ground is a new Blue Mountains business that conducts “creative nature-play” activities, and V had a morning adventure courtesy of us supporting their crowdfunding campaign to launch the business (see disclosure at the end). The event was at Minnehaha Falls Reserve; they began in the park with some singing and music before walking down the trail to a creek. Wild Ground’s Rick Webb laid out some “treasure” (coloured sticks) on the trail to encourage the kids to look around; they collected both the coloured treasure and anything else of interest.

Wild Ground art

The group walked further down the trail to a small watering-hole and then back up the creek itself; Andrew was taken with the lesson here about micro-geography (I guess you’d say), I’m not sure if that was deliberate. After returning to the top the kids snacked on fruit and had a chance to try slacklining and did some crafts with natural paints. Andrew says that V initially mistook the slackline for a finish line and thus had to enact a spontaneous running race, but that he was also the child who was most into the slacklining proper, which otherwise got a bit of a mixed reception from the children.

V fell asleep in the car on the way home, Andrew summarises as “Outdoor activity that wears kids out. Tick!” He didn’t think that V was enchanted with or overwhelmed by the experience, but that it was a fun day outside for them both.

Cost: an equivalent experience doesn’t seem to be available now that the crowdfunding is over. Wild Ground’s Creative Bush Adventures for older children are $60, and term-long Bush School programs start at $115.

Recommended: a bit hard to say, since I don’t think this precise program is an ongoing part of their activities. But it suggests their programs would generally be a happy and interesting day for children.

More information: Wild Ground website.

Disclosure: Andrew and I have known Danielle Carey, one of the Wild Ground founders, since university. I supported the Wild Ground crowdfunding at the Little Adventurer level, and V’s Wild Ground experience was part of the Little Adventurer reward. No review was requested in return for the experience.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Andrew and I took some time off work this week to declutter our house in a very serious way: we emptied piles of boxes remaining from our last house move (3 years ago), we donated about ⅔ of our books and nearly all our computer games to the Lifeline book fairs, we assembled the Ikea wardrobe that’s been in flat packs for over a year since I impulse purchased it.

It’s an exercise in saying goodbye to some of the dreams and beliefs of the Mary of 15 or so years ago. Or not. For example, I’ve well and truly accepted that I won’t ever play judo again (my right shoulder would need a reconstruction first) and so giving away the gi was fine. I was sort of surprised we still had it. But apparently I am not willing to accept that just because it’s been 15 years since I took a recorder lesson that I will never seriously play again, and couldn’t bear to throw out the instruments or the sheet music. Perhaps next time. Giving away our games was somewhere in the middle: I’ve wanted to be the kind of person who finishes Dragon’s Age (or Baldur’s Gate back in the day) for most of my life, and I just never quite do. I can finish games in the Diablo franchise and that’s it. That said, it’s hard to know long term; the big problem with hobbies is, why would I have them and squeeze the very little time I feel I have with my family even harder? Once the children have hobbies of their own, it may be different.

Right now we’re in a bit of a maelstrom of change as it is. Still getting used to V being in school, which is further away than his daycare was and so the commute is longer. Still getting used to packing lunches, finding uniforms, managing his schedule for after school care, drama lessons, sports day (Tuesday), news day (Thursday). Work is churning a bit, I’ve spent my holiday flipping in and out of work tasks surrounded by seas of books and broken baby equipment on their way out of our house.

I think I may have started on a nostalgia kick going to see The Grand Budapest Hotel with Andrew at the Moonlight Cinema. Not because of the movie, but the venue. It’s an open air cinema in Centennial Park; I first went there in 2001 to see Lantana with Sandra. Andrew and I saw Secretary there, Yo Mama Tambien, Casablanca, Gosford Park, Priscilla Queen of the Desert… But all many years ago, mostly lugging one of my ludicrously over-catered picnics there from a Bondi Junction supermarket. (It’s not a picnic unless there’s cheese and dips and a few varieties of fruit and some cold meats and at least two breads, am I right?) It was always a good reunion for the university crowd who weren’t as naturally in touch over summer.

But when we moved to Hornsby we were about two hours on public transport away from it, and by the time we moved closer again, we had kids. Our kids are not the out-after-dark type: A in particular sleeps extremely well, but if and only if she’s in her own bed. And the last thing I want to do with my supposed free time is spending it interviewing babysitters and negotiating their availability with them so we haven’t gone out at night much at all in the last five years. But, I was under the gun over summer with V’s daycare shutting down for a break, and finally connected with a babysitter agency, and so now, as a side-effect, we can go out at night and the agency worries about finding a sitter.

And so, back to the Moonlight Cinema. It was a bit spooky, not least because the park has now been altered to suit the cinema rather than the other way round. I’m pretty sure they’ve removed an awkwardly placed tree, and very sure they’ve flattened the ground and laid new turf so that it’s not a game of claim-your-own-dusty-rut before the movie begins. It was already true the last time I was there that there was catering and so there was no burden of cheese-and-dips-and-fruit-and-all to lug in and to feel around for awkwardly in the dark. But it was still odd.

I’m still a young enough adult to be continually surprised how long ago some of my adulthood was.

Tomorrow we are having a post-clutter day, and going to the beach together in the morning followed by lunch at The Boathuse. Andrew and I have almost never gone to the beach alone together. Less nostalgia and more creation.

Importing a large blog to WXR splitting tools

I am about to import a very large WordPress blog (not this one) to

There’s two issues:

1. The WXR (WordPress eXtended RSS) export from the site is 105MB uncompressed and 22MB compressed (with gzip -9). This is too large to upload to, which only accepts uploads of 15MB at most.

2. This site has 4000 media file uploads (and 6000 posts). The original host is going away: those 4000 media files (mostly images) must also be imported into

The obvious solution to #1 is to split the upload into multiple files, but I have just tested on, and in order to get it to change the post contents to refer to the imported copy of the media files, rather than the original externally hosted copy which is about to go away, the media file and the post must be uploaded in the same XML file. The scripts that I’ve found that will split WXR files into multiple XML files do not attempt to put media files and the posts that refer to them in the same XML file (eg doesn’t do this), they just split the contents of the export file up in the order they appear.

Anyone got leads on this one?