The year. Otherwise your event for the 18th April might be in a few weeks, or it may be a stale webpage from your very successful and very over event in 2004.
The weekday. Otherwise I can’t intersect your event’s day and my (ridiculously complicated) personal calendar in my head and figure out if this is a Tuesday probably-I-could-swing-it event or a Wednesday nope-I’ll-be-in-Melbourne event without authenticating to some device and opening my calendar navigating to the day and… SQUIRREL.
If you are kind-hearted, you could add a few of very very many pieces of information suggested in the AdaCamp template lovingly brought to you by seven revisions of AdaCamps. But you can start off with the year and weekday.
Since last I wrote, I have been on a plane 18 times. It’s been surprisingly OK, or at least not the hardest part of my current work arrangements. Taxis on the other hand, taxis are annoying. The stale smoke, the air freshener, the heating that’s several degrees too warm, the windows open for fresh air at 100 km/hr. Some of this I can ask them to stop, but really the issue is that I’m tired and I really just want to sit, think, and not get carsick. Big dreams. Peak so far was the guy who knew I was late for a plane (no fault of his, it was traffic) who burbled reassuring fantasies in which I’d make the plane after all. Maybe the traffic will clear up around this corner? Or maybe this one? Traffic is really bad hey, maybe they’re holding all the planes for late passengers?
I don’t know that I want to live in the world where Melbourne’s traffic holds up all the planes on the East Coast.
And I did make the plane; it took me less than ten minutes from closing the car door to sitting down in seat 9D at the other end of Melbourne’s Terminal 4. No mean feat. I see the Australian Federal Police want to re-institute ID checks to clear security in Australian airports, so I look forward to my travel days getting an hour longer every time.
It’s a messy year too. V is at a new school to go with last year’s new house, which broke my heart to do (I attended five primary schools in five years myself). May it be his last for a long time. We have five different childcare arrangements, one for each day of the week. A is slowly transitioning to a new childcare centre as they have space. This does have the bright side that I don’t have to drive to Glebe, where I thought we’d live forever, every day any more. Glebe and I need a bit of space.
I spent half of January in SF. In order to approach a tiring new job in the most sensible of fashions, the second I was over the jetlag I left for Tahoe for three days. It did result in a fairly good morning of skiing, my first intermediate runs. Then the entire Nevada side of Heavenly got closed, we skiied to California, skipped lunch, and the afternoon wasn’t so great, but what I’m learning on the snow does seem to stick. I met a lot of people, got home, kicked off the school year, and we’re mostly settled in, just in time for holidays to mess it all up.
L&R visited Sydney in February, so lots of barbecues and beach trips and other things not available in Quebec in the winter. V got to visit McIvers Baths before he ages out of being allowed in them, and A threw a mysterious and epic tantrum until I finally worked out that she wanted to be piggybacked around the baths just like V. Lots of forgetting to plan to bring A home in the middle of the day for her nap, too, alas.
Around about that point, summer got repressive. It was a cool and rainy January, and then February came and sat on us for the entire month, bright and moist and overbearing. My hair must have been wet for the entire month. My niece N was born at the beginning of February, and Jette’s son L in the middle of the month, and they no doubt believe the world is a giant uterus.
I had a manicure which turned bright pink when it got cold, and the only ways I saw it happen were with ice cubes or visits to Melbourne. It’s hard to describe exactly how sticky and exhausted we were. I spent last weekend at Kiwifoo in Snells Beach north of Auckland, a North Island version of Jervis Bay, amid ludicrous shades of green and black and white cattle. It’s hard to dislike work travel when home is so unpleasant. Today, on the other hand, smells like the first day of autumn. The sunlight seems yellower and more angled. It’s warm when the air is still and cool when it isn’t. The first day of a season, the first real day, is always the best.
Welcome! This post is the 92nd monthly Down Under Feminists Carnival. This edition of the carnival gathers together December 2015 writing of feminist interest by writers living in Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to all the writers and submitters for making this carnival enraging, sorrowful, celebratory, and joyous in different ways and at different times.
Highlighted new(er) Down Under voices
I’ve highlighted posts that come from people who began been writing at their current home in 2015, such posts are marked with (new in 2015) after the link.
We stuck with the Logitech Squeezebox system for streaming home audio long long past discovering that Logitech was ending development of the ecosystem but inevitably it started to date. Our Squeezebox Classic didn’t survive our house move in May. Our Squeezebox Boom and Squeezebox Radio did, but over the last year Andrew subscribed to Google Play Music, I switched to a podcasting app (Pocket Casts) for my phone rather than a command line tool that downloaded new episodes (podget), and so more and more things became phone-only and unable to easily send audio to the Squeezeboxen.
We like whole-home audio (the ability to play the same thing throughout the house), so even aside from audio quality issues, Bluetooth wasn’t going to cut it. I started to look into switching to the Sonos system, but it was another all-in system where we’d be looking at replacing all of our equipment if Sonos went out of business or end-of-lifed their setup. Logitech, you’ve done a number on the hardware side of whole-home audio systems. So we’ve switched to using good speakers with fairly cheap and disposable ecosystem adaptors, ie, the Chromecast Audio.
ReadyMedia (formerly MiniDLNA), which we were already using to stream video to the TV, let’s us continue having access to the audio on our Ubuntu home server
BubbleUPnP to send audio from the home server to the Chromecasts
ReadyMedia has to be one of the easiest to configure Linux services I’ve ever dealt with. I’m intending to play around with BubbleUPnP Server in front of ReadyMedia shortly; shared playlists are still a Squeezebox feature missing from this setup so far.
We also needed speakers to replace the Boom and Radio (we could have used their line in function, but we’ll sell them to continuing Squeezebox users). Thus, new equipment to go with the set of Yamaha MSP5 powered speakers we already have:
The mixer is something of a revelation: we’re feeding the TV audio and a Chromecast into it, in order to be able to listen to either of them through the Yamaha speakers without having to press any buttons or even use any kind of remote. Obviously we pretty much never want to listen to the TV and the Chromecast outputs simultaneously; but we can now listen to them in very rapid succession and the energy needed to decide to listen to music in the lounge room is way way lower than it was. Long may the Hamilton cast recording, Justice Crew’s Que Sera, and Doctor Who podcasts be heard around our house.
Graphics have been spicing up my writing and slidedecks over my fifteen years as a writer and a public speaker; the simpler and more attractive the better. But it’s not easy to put them there.
I’ve had the good fortune to also have been an amateur photographer the whole time, and have taught myself some basic image editing skills, so when I find an image that’s not quite right but could be, I pop it in an image editor, twiddle a reliable and small set of dials, and out emerges something more eye-catching. Lucky me. And lucky you: the tricks to turn a photo into something simpler and more eye-catching are simple, and today is the day I share my version of them.
Are you a wordsmith more than an visual person? Are you a writer or a public speaker who appreciates the power of a strong visual in other people’s pieces and slide decks, and wish you could just twiddle a few dials and make it happen with your own images? Do you want to make featured images for a WordPress theme, or something to break up a millionty paragraphs of text, or a colourful image to re-engage your audience in your talk? Do you sometimes have an idea of what you want but the images your searches dig up are just a bit flat for your purposes? This is for you.
This entry covers two topics: first, finding existing images that you can make work for you without any further editing. Win! And the next level: when you have an idea of what you want, and you have a photo that… doesn’t quite tell that story… but could… it’s time to make some quick and dirty edits to liven it up. Make the colours a little stronger or stranger, eliminate some clutter, and pull out some detail. Your illustrations are complete!
Eye-catching photos for wordsmiths: principles
Eye-catching images accompanying to your writing or speaking should be brain candy: simple subjects that people can identify at a glance; high contrast so that most people can understand what they’re seen quickly; and understand at a glance; and brightly or interestingly coloured because it’s eye-catching and fun. Your illustrations will usually be a subtlety-free zone.
Luckily simple, colourful, and easy to understand is an appealing set of things to have in a photo, so you’ll often be able to find free photos that you can use without editing. But there’s also a very simple set of tools that will let you take an existing photo and up its simplicity and eye-catching for your work. Finding first; then failing that, editing.
Use photos that the photographer allows to be used and changed by other people! The Creative Commons system provides photographers and others with a way to give you this right.
To find images with Creative Commons licences that match my needs, I head on over to Flickr search, with Commercial use & mods allowed selected in the “Any licence” drop down. A couple of Flickr search tips:
search for generic terms. If you’re looking to make a point about time, first search for “clock” and “watch” and “sundial”, not things like “clock showing noon” or “bedside clock”. Images are often fairly generically labelled by their creator and you miss some good stuff by going specific.
use Flickr’s “Interesting” search tool. There’s a dropdown labelled “Relevant” — by default Flickr is trying to find images whose textual description and tags best match your search term. Try changing it to “Interesting”, to instead find somewhat matching images that are very popular on Flickr. This will often bias towards images that are already technically good, highly saturated, have an unusual subject or setting, and similar; exactly the kind of eye-catching things you want for your blog post or slide deck.
Flickr isn’t the only Creative Commons game in town: there’s also Wikimedia Commons or Google Images (after your search, go to “Search tools”, then “Usage rights” then “Labeled for reuse with modification”.
Caution: often images found this way must still be credited to their creator. Learn more here. Caution: be careful of images with recognisable people in them. The permission you got to use the image was from the photographer, not the subject. Ethically, the person in the photo may not wish to have their likeness appear with your content, and in some cases using images of people may be restricted by personality rights or privacy rights. It’s usually best to skip images of people, or to buy them from a reputable stock image site.
The point of this tutorial is to make adjustments to some of the most common “knobs” you can twiddle on digital images. If you want to start making edits, and you already have a tool in mind, look up how to crop, how to auto adjust levels, how to change saturation, how to change contrast, and how to change brightness in your chosen graphics software.
In this tutorial, I’ve made the edits to images with Pinta, a free and comparatively simple graphics program for Windows, Mac, and Linux. I haven’t used them, but Paint.NET is a widely recommended equivalently straightforward Windows image editor, and Pixelmator seems highly recommended on Mac.
Editing photos to be eyecatching: short version
crop the image so that the subject of interest comprises most of the image, and is off-center
try auto-level colour adjustments
try somewhat increasing one or more of contrast and saturation, perhaps while twiddling brightness up or down
also try decreasing saturation
That’s it! If you want examples of what this looks like in action, read on!
Editing photos to be eyecatching: with examples
Meet our original images
Old Computer by Sean MacEntee. Old Computer is a surprisingly rare beast: a freely licenced photo of a computer that is being discarded. I find it easy to find great photos for search terms like apple or pen, less so for “computer in trash”. It’s a problem when you write complaints about computers a lot.
Old Computer has two major limitations if you wanted it for your condemnation of the tech industry or your rage at discarding electronics into landfill:
it’s “flat” colour-wise: there’s a lot of very similar beige-y colours in the image
there’s a lot of classroom in the shot and not a lot of computer-in-bin
PC270246 by NickDun (hereafter called SCUBA). This is a very evocative shot of what scuba diving in a group is like and would be a great addition to your story of getting your mask kicked off by that so-and-so who probably certified yesterday, but:
it’s a very typical shot taken with an underwater camera, that is, it’s extremely blue-tinted
there’s a lot going on in it; if you want to talk about sunlight and freedom, or if you want to talk about crowds of divers, you may only want to illustrate your post with part of the image
Big Rubbish Project: Eden Project 2011 by University of Exeter (hereafter called Big Rubbish). What can I say? Garbage is a versatile metaphor and images of garbage are useful. This image is visually striking: there’s lots of repetition and patterns, and not a lot of extraneous clutter in the surrounding scene. But it also has rather dim, flat colours.
Step 1: crop
Old Computer has an issue with a lot of surrounding space; and SCUBA has two separate things going on in it. This we are going to fix by cropping the image. Cropping means cutting out some of the photo. Where possible, you want to cut out other unrelated objects, and large expanses of foreground and background.
Cropping principle: have the object of interest filling most of the photo, slightly off center.
In Pinta, select the Rectangle Select tool, drag to draw a rectangle over the bits of the image you want to keep, and then go to the Image menu and select Crop to Selection.
Old Computer, cropped so that the computer and the bin occupy much more of the image:
And two crops of SCUBA, the first showing the divers snorkelling at the top of the image and the second showing the divers grouped at the bottom:
Honestly I’m a bit sad to crop SCUBA, because the full image is so evocative of the last two or three minutes of SCUBA dives. Let this serve as a lesson: none of this editing is compulsory. Sometimes let less be more.
I’m even more loath to crop Big Rubbish, since as I noted at in its introduction I quite like its current framing. But one possibility with cropped is to change the message of the picture a little. For example, here’s a crop that implies that the extent of the garbage could be much larger:
An even tighter crop, taking out the edges on the bottom and right could imply that it wasn’t well contained.
Having made that illustrative crop, I’ll go back to working with the full version of Big Rubbish in future steps.
Further reading:Rule of Thirds for a guideline on centering or not centering your object of interest.
Step 2: auto level
At the start, we saw that all of Old Computer, SCUBA, and Big Rubbish have “flat colours”. “Auto level” commands are the simplest way to get a good variety of colour levels to diminish this effect.
In Pinta, go to the Adjustments menu, and select Auto Level.
The effect on Big Rubbish is most dramatic and most of an improvement for eye-catching purposes (original on left, auto-levelled on right):
Contrary to (my) expectations, the effect on Old Computer is extremely subtle (original on left, auto-level on right):
But don’t worry, we’re not stopping here with jazzing up Old Computer.
The effect on the two SCUBA shots is dramatic, as it often is with underwater shots. Here’s the top one (original image at top, auto-level at bottom):
You’ll notice that while the range of colours in the auto-levelled picture is wider, it has not ended up looking especially realistic. Realistic high-fidelity underwater photographs are not easy to produce… but luckily realistic is not our goal here; our goal is striking.
Sadly, the bottom crop of SCUBA is pushing the limits of colour adjustment: if there’s really only blue in the picture, auto-level will find red where-ever it can, no matter how ill-advised (original image at top, auto-level at bottom):
Not so great. But give auto-levelling a go with any picture you are trying to edit; there’s always an Undo command.
Step 3: increase contrast and saturation
Increasing contrast increases the distinctness of the colours in the image (beyond auto-level); and increasing saturation increases their richness.
In Pinta, go to the Adjustments menu, and choose “Brightness / Contrast” for a contrast slider, and “Hue / Saturation” for a saturation slider.
Here’s Old Computer, with the Saturation slider (which starts at 100) increased to 150, and the Contrast slider (which starts at 0) increased to 30 (auto-levelled version on left, higher contrast and saturation version on right):
And here’s Big Rubbish, with three adjustments. I took Saturation to 130, contrast up to 20, and brightness down to -50 (auto-levelled version on left, higher contrast, higher saturation version, and lower brightness version on right):
Since I’ve made it darker again, and thus more like the original, let’s keep ourselves honest and compare with the original too (original on left, auto-levelled with lower brightness, higher contrast, and higher saturation version on right):
Our version has a lot more red: the bottles are white rather than blue, and the rusty bin has a warm red tone (partly due to auto-levelling and partly due to increasing the saturation dramatically). So auto-levelling and messing with the colours paid off even though I went and reduced the brightness back down to close to the original.
Saturation is a very powerful slider: make your colours richer by increasing saturation.
That said, sometimes you can do a lot just with contrast. Remember what a mess auto-levelling made of the bottom SCUBA picture? I didn’t give up there. Here’s a version based on the original, with brightness increased to 20 and contrast to 70 (original crop on top, higher contrast and higher brightness version on bottom):
Here manually fiddling with brightness and contrast has pulled some detail out of the picture that auto-levelling didn’t manage to find, and made it much more striking while retaining the other-worldly darkness of SCUBA diving. (Spoiler: your eyes are better than cameras at adjusting, it doesn’t seem that dark while you’re doing it. But you might want to convince your readers or listeners that it is spooky-dark…)
Step three alternative: decrease saturation
Upping saturation to make your rust warm, and your water an inviting sunny-day blue can be very effective, but it’s also worth checking out what effect you get from dialling saturation both ways.
Here’s the top of the SCUBA shot (top version auto-levelled, middle version auto-levelled with contrast increased to 20 and saturation increased to 155, bottom version with contrast increased to 35 and saturation decreased to 25):
Both of the edits have something to recommend them: the more saturated version in the middle looks like the sunniest dive day in the history of time, and the less saturated version at the bottom looks ethereal and dramatic; my favourite edit that I produced for this post. Try dialling saturation down sometimes, not always and forever up.
And that’s it: you have your basic dials to catch eyes now!
Two minutes to more eye-catching photos
Full disclosure: you’ll have to do a bit of practice to develop your own taste. But here’s your quick steps when you have a photo that could use a bit of “pop” before being added to your writing or your slide deck:
crop the image so that the subject of interest comprises most of the image, and is off-center
try auto-level colour adjustments
try somewhat increasing one or more of contrast and saturation, perhaps while twiddling brightness up or down
also try decreasing saturation
And so wordsmith types: go forth and give people brain candy!
Our family has an unreasoning love for Wet’n’Wild Sydney so this year we bought season passes for Andrew, V, and me. New Years Eve was our second visit of the season. A was at daycare — her daycare’s usual enrolment is 120 children, and on the 31st 30 showed up — so it was the first time there that one adult wasn’t tied to a pre-water sliding child. It’s also the first season V has passed 120cm in height, which means he is tall enough for all but two rides.
And it went pretty well! V is patient enough now for the queues, the worst of which may have been about 45 minutes in length, and was thrilled by the scarier rides with the large “bowls” of water rafts get shot into to churn around. It was very much less good that I did come off a raft and he nearly came off one too at the end of the day. It turns out to be a fatigue-sensitive day out. My one was very calm although I was glad it was me and not V; I slid off the raft straight into the churning pool at the end and couldn’t surface for a moment because the raft was on top of me. Try and try again. V nearly fell onto the slide half-way through a ride, which would have been very frightening for the next ten seconds for us all, but luckily Andrew caught him. The next time we ride the big ones we’ll weight his legs down with ours.
A having daycare let us do more than one V-only thing; we also took him to see The Force Awakens. I liked it a lot, and that’s from a non-fan. V found it both scary and long but surprisingly warmed up towards the end.
This is my last week of unemployment; I’ll be travelling for my new job a week from now. So this is the last Mary-and-V week for a long time. It looks like it is mostly going to rain, so we’ll see how we do. The Good Dinosaur is planned and that’s all so far.
I haven’t worked since the end of September; it’s been a quiet time. I’d like to think about taking occasional sabbaticals throughout my working life but I don’t know if I’ll have that luxury. This time I semi-chose not to launch any serious projects or undertakings. Semi- because job hunting itself is a lot of work. More emotional than hours, I found, but hours too, preparing for job interviews in an industry I haven’t worked in in the usual way since I was 24. Things got more settled from mid-November onwards and then it was about taking a break. I knew I was mentally winding up for activity again when my break included seeing Maxim Vengerov at the Opera House and King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company. I wasn’t familiar with either the virtuoso violin repertoire or Lear, and I am not that high brow; apparently it was time for an adventure. The woman next to me at Vengerov was there because she tries to see something at the Opera House whenever she visits Sydney. I had a front row seat to Lear and hadn’t realised. Regan’s facility in heels was quite something. I think I will try harder for company at such things in future.
In the short term though, my plan for the next couple of months is “survive and settle”. We’ve had so many changes, with moving and my business closing and my job hunt, that another period of holding our breath until a life pattern emerges is worrying me a lot. As always, we’ll see.
I shared some podcast recommendations a year ago and wasn’t expecting to update them a year later, but my listening has turned over rapidly. I haven’t spent quite as much time on it in 2016 as my older child now objects to listening to “talking” in the car. Drat! I’ll be commuting more in 2016, watch for an uptick.
New this year:
Startup. In a year I shut down a business I was naturally going to listen to the “starting a business” podcast, and to do something I’ve never done before, ie, go back and listen to it from the beginning. I found 2015’s Season 2 about the company Dating Ring a bit of a mixed bag for reasons largely outlined here, but I still enjoy the episodes about Gimlet Media itself. From 2014, Episode 3: How To Divide an Imaginary Pie in which they negotiate a co-founder equity split is a highlight. In 2015’s episodes, I enjoyed Episode 12: Burnout and Episode 16: The Secret Formula about podcast production. They’re going to profile a third company in Season 3, I am curious to see whether the episodes about external companies are ever as good as the ones about Gimlet itself.
February 2015: V’s first day of school, calling to get him to pause at the gate for his first day of school picture.
April 2015: sitting in a dark hotel room in San Francisco recovering from AdaCamp in Montreal and travel in general, while Andrew used my power of attorney back in Australia to buy a house. (Yes, after much discussion. Still. It was a weird way to have it done.)
July 2015: lying in bed in a sunny Airbnb room in San Francisco, my first day in town, hot and tired and sweaty from jetlag and mosquitos biting me all night my first night in town. Around 7am Val told me online that she had news that Nóirín had died.
Three meals of 2015
Tapas at MoVida, while the couple perched next to us at the bar had a very awkward first date conversation about themselves and we hoovered up chorizo because one day, there may be no more chorizo. More than the meal I remember the freeing feeling of wandering around after dark, something I do so little of now.
The really quite good sushi I bought several times from Walgreens at 135 Powell St San Francisco. It got me through the dark and tired period of buying the house in the gloom of Hotel Union Square in April; and it got me through my two night stay in San Francisco in October for a job interview. Fatty, slippery, and tasty. Goes down well when you want to hide out in San Francisco with a blanket over your head.
Fish tacos at Verde in Kapaa. The fish of the day is always `ahi or makimaki — and why not have both? Verde is a physically non-descript restaurant, but the tacos are memorable. It became very clear to me that I need to seek out a lot more Mexican food before having an opinion on it.
Three photos of 2015
A vastly inadequate photo of the best sunset I’ve ever seen, over the equator flying from Sydney to Vancouver:
Goodbye to San Francisco, after we shut down the Ada Initiative:
“Child piles”: encouraging both my children to flop on top of me. They also like to hug each other. V has got bony but he’s also got a lot more considerate in the last year, so we’re having some great hugs.
Returning to the slopes at Thredbo and not falling down. And the feeling of getting my skis back under me occasionally when I started to lose it. And hot doughnuts after skiing wrapped up each day.
My two visits to Dolores Park in summer and autumn, enjoying sun and grass and sometimes slightly too many people, and nice views of distant fog, and even, one time, a rainbow. I want to go to Northern California with my family someday. Someday!
The entire Syria and ISIS and Middle East and global terror catastrophe, but particularly the Paris and San Bernardino attacks; and France’s frightening response with regards to civil liberties. I don’t feel, from this distance, like the US has responded as intensely after San Bernardino, but after Paris they had less far to fall. And in contrast to many other countries, especially mine: Germany.
Three sensations from 2015
The sea spraying in my face for a half hour standing at the railing on a motor boat between Niʻihau and the Nāpali coast of Kauaʻi, to a degree where my eyes were stinging. Blood was dripping down my ankle from a previous fall on the boat. Nevertheless, it was exhilarating; my happiest moment alone for the year.
Motion sickness as I haul giant floating rafts up five flight of stairs for V at Wet ‘n’ Wild; wishing there were queues there that day so that I could get it to subside between rides.
Some of the first times my daughter has really hurt me: leaning too hard on me, jumping on me, squeezing my fingers tightly. She does this so little still that I get excited about how she’s growing up.
“Mixed feelings” is the right characterisation of how I felt about shutting down the Ada Initiative but sadness is in the mix. Specifically, I wrote the business case for shutting it down. It was very convincing. Sadly.
Cutting people who’ve died, and people I’m not in touch with, from my Christmas card list. Relatedly, recalling a three-person conversation to which both the other parties have since died.
Three plans for 2016
Work in the technology industry again, in the technical hierarchy. I’ve never stopped coding, and I’ve learned a lot about project management since I last worked in this way (in 2005). Even interviewing for positions has taught me what a different person and employee I am now. Watch this space!
An intermediate run on skis. I’m skiing twice in 2016, this really should be do-able I hope. My long term ambition probably ends at “can ski the bulk of blue runs on Australian mountains”. That’s lots of variety.
Getting to grips with Melbourne, which I will be visiting a lot. My familiarity with Melbourne right now is so low that I got a takeaway coffee there this year and had no idea where people go to sit down anywhere inside the CBD. A place I like to go and sit would be a good start.
Three hopes for 2016
So prosaic, but I would love to get daycare for my daughter in the suburb we’ve moved to, and resume our walking childcare run. It got me outside and moving every day. That’s really really turned out to be something I miss. I guess a broader version of this is integrating into the neighbourhood and suburb more, since we plan to be here a long time. Having V in the local school will help a lot.
Growing my circle of adult friends in Sydney. It is, as always, somewhat more healthy in San Francisco than it is here.
And… the continuing emergence of a persuasive economic reform plan from the left. Basic income and wealth tax experiments!
And down came the rain. The storm of early December was slightly exciting fun, standing with an excited baby watching the rain swarms fall in the street light. The storm of the 16th a bit less innocent fun. The forecast was bad and the sky gloomy when I dropped V at school for his very last day of kindy ever; I wasn’t surprised the end of year picnic was cancelled. In fact, if it hadn’t been cancelled, I probably would have put him back in the car and taken him home. But they had a day of games in the school hall instead, which must have been absolute hell on wheels by all objective and right standards, but he reports enjoying it.
Now that Val and I don’t work together we talk on the phone every couple of weeks instead, and that day I decided to walk the Bay Run. As I was down near the bottom of the old hospital I passed a woman walking several dogs in the other direction; one was missing. “Oh well” she said, “the storm will bring them all back.” Sure enough, there it was, visible over the top of Callan Park, distant lightning strikes and all. I said something inane to Val about how most Sydney storms are just fun and it’s only very occasionally that there’s a supercell hell cloud that destroys suburbs, eg, the one on my 18th birthday. Oh yes, very glib Mary. I sent Andrew a message saying I was on my way home.
I got to the top of Callan Park before it started to rain in earnest, and in one of those moments that make me feel at home in my new suburb, my next door neighbour appeared walking her (single) dog and we shared an umbrella for the four blocks home. I shut the windows and then checked for a reply from Andrew, who was worried because of the tornado warning.
… tornado warning, oh. The fiercest parts of the storm all passed well to the east of us; all we got was fifteen minutes of very heavy rain. However, never let me sound blasé about Sydney storms again.
The next day was still and clear and blue and I took V and A out for one of Robert’s BBQs on Scotland Island, which he hasn’t held since I was pregnant with V. V the speed demon loved the water taxi ride. I inadvertantly exposed V to the Hamilton soundtrack while driving, which means he came out with “I am not getting my way: shut up” a few days later. Not the inspirational can-do lyrics Lin-Manuel Miranda was going for, but there being songs an Alexander has marginally helped reconcile him to his sister’s name. (He wants us to change her name to Isobelle on her second birthday.)
On Friday 18th I took V into the city to look at Christmas things; marred by a lot of whinging that he’d rather be going up Centrepoint. After a while I told him to stop complaining and he thought about it, did so, and forbore pointing out his lack of complaining until we got home after lunch. I was very impressed! We rode the ferris wheel at Darling Harbour, and looked at the Christmas trees in the QVB and Martin Place, walking most of the way. After we got home we went to the Google children’s Christmas party. I think after another year V will be too old for it, with Wiggles music and balloon animals galore. It seemed like a great party for a three and a half year old, somewhere around the average of my two children. But V was into it this year, winning double prize for cutting loose on the dance floor.
We headed to the Leichhardt carols on Sunday 20th. I like the size of the event; a few thousands of people rather than tens of thousands in the domain. I like going to the same thing every year too, marking off the memories as time passes. Two years ago I went to it ridiculously heavily pregnant. The choir director was about equally pregnant as I recall, and I hope vastly less tired. I took V on my own last year, one of the first evenings I’d ever spent away from A. Next year when we go, she’ll be talking about Christmas.
We spent Christmas with my parents, the first time in four years, since two years ago I was four days overdue with A and expected to go into labour any minute. (… any… minute… now…) Four years ago V was nearly two, and had a present throughout the present-opening, overwhelmed with the attention. This time he could read well enough to hand out the presents with some help, and had a good time. We gave him some pool toys; disks to skip along the surface of water, which are in theory aimed at a target and which I didn’t think would enable a very full-on pool fight later in the day while I gently surfed A around its edges. Lesson learned; supply not the weaponry Christmas morn.
The drive back on Sunday night left me unexpectedly tired; I have a cold and ended up spending Monday and Tuesday in bed. The plan is to work up to Wet ‘n’ Wild by the end of the week. We can only hope.
For the first four years of parenting, I had a lot of weeks alone with V while Andrew did work trips at the rate of four to six weeks a year. This year I compressed maybe a year and a half’s worth of revenge into seven months: two weeks away in April, two weeks in August, two and a half weeks in October albeit with the penance of flying back to Australia to spend six nights here in between trips.
Which means I feel all grumpy about this week with three nights of after-work socialising built in for him. Do you know how boring it is to do evenings alone with the kids Andrew? Do you? Do you? Oh, yeah, I guess you do. Huh.
Last night was a break in the routine of pick up kids, feed, bathe, bed, sulk, go to bed myself, because Andrew came home and we put up our decal Christmas tree. I am super proud of myself for joining the 2010s and buying it on Etsy rather than choosing between Kmart and my own dubious crafting skills and energy. The downside was putting up a decal with a 5yo, which was slow work. The upside is that we were all pleased with the result. The other upside was the awful humidity suddenly breaking with a thunderstorm that was just this side of the “how exciting” vs “I hope we will keep our roof” line, as all the best Sydney thunderstorms are. V got so excited and overwhelmed he started running in circles. A was evidently a bit puzzled about how this rain, drops arriving in swarms, was the same as normal rain that gently tickles her from the sky.