Saturday, July 31, 2010

Got something to sell?

On election day I'll be having a bit of a stall (sharing with some others) at the gala day at our school. I'm gonna be selling a few knitted things, but I don't have a lot. I was wondering if anyone had any handmade items they'd like to give me on consignment. If I sell enough of your stuff to make it worthwhile, I might hit you up for $5 or so to go towards paying for the stall, but not if you only sell $10 worth of stuff... Let me know if you're interested, even if it's just one thing you've made and then decided that you don't know what to do with it. You might pick enough cash to buy some more materials!


I've been thinking a lot about anger lately. It haunts our family with somewhat greater frequency than I would like, and I'm trying to teach a small boy how to handle his anger. I've always struggled to explain how to deal with anger, because I don't often have a problem with it, and I have trouble identifying why. So I've really expended some time and energy on working out what I do to avoid anger, what I don't do when I fail to avoid it, and how it all relates to what's actually happening in the world around me.

One huge confounding factor in any discussion of anger is that we mean a number of things when we say "I'm angry". We mean we're pissed off - an intellectual conclusion that a situation is unacceptable and intolerable, and we may also mean we are feeling the emotion of anger. The problem here is that while being pissed off is often entirely valid, productive and an important agent of positive change, feeling anger just disengages our higher order brain functions and generally makes us unpleasant to be around. It's the latter I'm talking about here, I've no gripe with being pissed off. The other confusion, is that anger is a sliding scale from the emotional equivalent of "Fuck that's annoying" to absolute blind rage.

The road from "Fuck that's annoying" to blind rage is the critical aspect of what's called "anger management". A lot of the conventional wisdom talks about not burying anger, about the dangers of suppressing it. I've often wondered if I'm just suppressing all this rage and one day it's all going to erupt in some Hollywood movie climax. But as I've been looking at my behaviour more carefully I've realised that I don't bury anger at all. I've not been taught (as I know some people have) that I must not ever show any anger at all. I feel, and show, "Fuck that's annoying" a lot. The thing is, I rarely move beyond that level, and it's not because I bury it, it's because I ignore it and let it wither on the vine, rather than nurturing it and making it grow. That sounds very noble and deliberate, but it's neither. It's just a habit. When I get angry, I distract myself by either going straight into problem solving mode or by constructing reasons why the thing that made me angry might be reasonable or understandable or whatever. The anger just sort of fades away as a side effect. I might still be pissed off, but the angry chemicals have gone from my brain.

Of course, this all sounds very nice, but it obviously doesn't always work. There are things that piss me off, have no resolution, and I really, really struggle to conceive of a way to frame them that's other than infuriating. Then I focus on the anger, and it grows. It goes past "Fuck this is annoying" to "How dare they!". At which point righteous indignation kicks in. At about this time, I become especially unpleasant to be around. My ability to think clearly and rationally is definitely impaired, and I need a completely external distraction to let it go - sleep or a total change of environment with genuine (and reasonable) demands on my brain.

Once, I've been so angry I've gone way past "How dare they!" into "Immobilised with rage". It's a totally useless state of mind, unless fight or flight actually represent useful strategies. In this case, they didn't, and I was as useless as I've ever been. I couldn't think. It was like living in the middle of a whirlwind, except only my brain was spinning.

What's worse, the further down the road to blind rage you've gone, or the longer you've stayed where you are, the longer it takes to get back to zero and the more sensitive you are to further aggravations. Anger is a feedback loop, and once you get more than about half way to blind rage, it takes an hour or more of no feedback at all to get back to zero. That can be all but impossible in some situations, and people can end up almost permanently angry. Even thinking about an irritating thing can bring back the full anger response. I've had days like that, in a general sense, but also, that one time I hit "Immobilised with rage" it was months, maybe even years, before I could think about it without getting angry again.

Anger is not a helpful emotion unless you need to be geared up for fight or flight. Anger can save your life in a physical struggle, but if you need to think your way out, anger fogs your brain. So I find myself getting very frustrated when I hear "You have a right to be angry". Of course you have a "right" to be angry, in the same way you have a "right" to be scared, but that doesn't mean it's helpful. What people mean by that, I think, is that you have a right to be pissed off, which I completely agree with (in appropriate scenarios), but by conflating the two, anger is glorified and justified. Instead of anger triggering thought, problem solving and positive action, it only triggers more anger.

This is an excessively long ramble, but I need to clarify this to come up with better strategies for teaching my kids how to stop anger running their lives. And "When I'm Feeling Angry" really doesn't cut it. (I really can't imagine how you can feel angry without letting it hurt others in any meaningful way.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

For the record

I feel the need to record for posterity the fact that Ben and his two besties call each other "Bo Bo", "Mo Mo" and "Jo Jo". This is so that when he denies it in the future, I have proof.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Family secrets

On the way to school Friday morning, Ben asked about which schools are where in our general vicinity, and then which high school he would go to. I have no idea which high school he would go to anyway, but there is the added confusion that we have a family fantasy that we will build the uber-house somewhere on a large lump of land and live with our extended family.

Since walking to school is all about chatting, I told him about our vague plans and what they might mean to him. To his great credit, after I explained that moving away still allows for train trips to mates' houses and Internetz connections, he was totally down with it. He was enthusiastic about having more time and space to play with his siblings.

Ok, I admit, this child is the offspring of space aliens, because there is no way I made a kid who takes the suggestion that he move 2 hours away from his best friend in his stride, and then sees spending more time with his siblings as a bonus.

For some reason, I'm taking this as a positive sign that we should take this option seriously. Of course, this may be because blaming Ben is a really easy way out.

No, I'm sorry, there is no point to this post. But if you feel like donating a lazy mil to our cause, I'll take it. Failing that, I guess we'll continue to agonise over pros and cons forever. That, and design floor plans. I'm very good at designing floor plans.


The conversation in my lounge room this evening:

Ben: What will you do if I win?

Charlie: If you win, I'll hate you and if you lose I'll love you. So if you win, you lose and if you lose, you win.


I kid you not. This is exactly what transpired. I honestly don't know if Charlie (aged 5) actually understood this statement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Quickie scarf

I bought some purple rope wool acrylic yarn to make myself a quick scarf. I was going to make this scarf I found on Ravelry, but it looked awful with this stuff. Instead, I decided to use a modification of the shrug I made. I started Sunday evening, and finished it today. I didn't even knit all that much. Very, very quick and only one 50g ball of Moda Vera Hope which I paid a huge $5 for.

It's not elegant, just all loopy and snuggly and warm.

This is the world's easiest pattern:

Cast on 11 stitches.

Knit 2 rows.

K1, *YO, K2 together*, repeat *..* until the last stitch, K1

Repeat that row until you have only enough wool for 3 rows.

Knit 2 rows.

Cast off.

Weave in yadda yadda.

A doddle, in other words.

And I've got some other wool which I'll use for the "Oh No" scarf.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Can't blog. Knitting.

I've got my knitting mojo on, and have been knitting at night instead of blogging. I finally finished the bolero cardigan I was knitting for Elissa. It's a bit big, and the sleeves are folded up in the photo, so you can't see the cuffs. It should still fit next year. It was an easy knit (a pattern I found on Red Heart), all stocking stitch and simple knit stitch decorative edging. It doesn't matter if you like it, she adores it. I'm having trouble making her take it off.

As you can see, dirty clothes that clash violently are no object.

I also finished off a very simple headband for Elissa, which she also loves. It's knitted sort of sideways - 40-odd stitches and about 5 rows. It's stocking stitch, but I like the reverse side better. You can't see it, because she refused to stand still.

Clearly I was being tiresome....

But she's still wearing the cardi....

Friday, July 09, 2010

Enrol enrol enrol!

And just to round out the political posts for the day - are you correctly enrolled to vote?

Have you turned 18 since the last election? Have you moved house since the last election?

The election looks like it's about to be called, and once it is, you have only THAT DAY to enrol, or 3 days to change addresses. So get on over to the electoral commission and make sure your details are correct. You really can't join in the whinging if you didn't even vote.

My "concerns" about asylum seekers

Julia Gillard has made her speech about asylum seekers, and the media and the opposition have pulled it apart in all the usual ways. I have to admit that I've only seen the media reports of Abbott's responses, because I can't bear listening to him in person. None of it, speech or response, was very edifying.

However, Hack looked with some more care at the queue jumping argument, and that, combined with such information as GetUp have provided previously, has clarified my "concerns" about asylum seekers.

Gillard has publicly recognised a little more complexity in the issue than previous leaders have, but still not nearly enough. The constant portrayal of people smugglers as evil money grubbers who risk people's lives to help rich people jump the refugee queue (populated with virtuous and worthy asylum seekers) is a ridiculous over-simplification. The queues certainly exist, and Hack had a story about a girl who came to Australia from the Sudan via just such a queue (that link is an mp3 of the interview). It's also true that for every person who arrives by boat and is granted refugee status, one person is not taken from those queues. But before we go condemning those who arrive by boat and those who bring them, a few things need to be considered.

The fact that boat arrivals displace those in other queues is a government policy, not some law of nature. We take a comparatively small number of refugees on a global scale, and the government could choose to take boat arrivals over and above that number if they so wished. Whether this is good policy or not, at the least Gillard should be acknowledging it as policy.

There is an assumption that the people in the queues have got there by..... I don't know? Magic? People smugglers don't just steer boats, they get people to refugee camps as well. People smugglers got the Dalai Lama out of Tibet. One person's people smuggler is another person's resistance worker.

While the queues certainly exist, not everyone has access to them. It's not reasonable to assume that those arriving by boat had any alternative at all. It may not be possible for them to access the queues, or they may simply have no idea that they exist.

So what of this regional processing centre idea? Well, at some level, it kinda makes sense. It's something of an attempt to create a queue for those who don't have access to it. I think that there is some merit in contributing to a UN run facility which provides reasonable accommodation for people while they are processed in the same way that those in the other queues are processed. It makes sense to consider it in a regional way.

It makes no sense to put it in the poorest country in the region. It makes no sense to announce it before you've got any kind of consensus. It makes no sense to continue to vilify people as "unauthorised arrivals".

I'd like to see a policy that says that processing will be sped up, and that people arriving by boat will be processed the same way as those arriving by plane (without prior refugee status having been granted). I have no problem with those few arrivals determined not to be genuine refugees (by UN standards, not by Howard standards) being promptly returned to their (real) country of origin.

I'd like to see a policy that recognises that people coming from violent places need help to settle here, including mental health assistance. I'd like to see a policy that recognises that where, within our borders, these people are settled matters. They need to be settled in places with appropriate facilities, other people from the same background, social support services targeted at their particular circumstances and sufficient infrastructure to not be putting further stresses on already overcrowded places. All of these things need to be created when they don't exist. Investment in the start of their new life here works for everyone. People who have already been persecuted beyond my understanding get the help they need and deserve, and they are able, in turn, to contribute to our society as they regain their strengths and their lives.

I'd like to see a policy that understands that the only way to actually reduce the number of people arriving here in need of our help, is to address the root causes of the persecution in the first place. This is obviously not always possible, but that doesn't mean we can't have a policy of putting political pressure on places like Sri Lanka to lift their game and stop the abuse of Tamil people.

I'd welcome an approach that comes closer to considering all those looking for asylum on equal terms, regardless of what method they've used to seek that asylum. An approach that ensures that those most in need are considered first. However, such an approach needs global vision, considering the all the variables, including the total number of refugees we accept each year.

Julia, you've done better than "Turn the boats around", but still not enough.

Credit where it's due

K.Rudd is busy feeling the sand between his toes now, but I think it's worth remembering what he did for Australia in his short time. Think about 2007 - we had a government that had traded almost exclusively on hatred and fear for three terms. The country was committing human rights abuses all over, and was proud of it! Any organisation that received federal government funding was not allowed to speak out against Howard and his party. We were being urged to have more children (remember "Two to replace you and one for the country"?), while using population control arguments to treat asylum seekers like the worst of criminals. The mood was one of fear and gloom.

In two years, K.Rudd didn't change the world, but he started a mood shift that was genuinely impressive. Some of that fear and gloom changed into hope. Within weeks of being elected, the gag on federally funded NGOs was lifted (by Julia Gillard, but still under Rudd's leadership). That's a really big deal, it would have been easy to quietly leave that in place and enjoy the protection it gave the government. It certainly received minimal coverage when it happened.

Work choices went. That mattered, a lot. It was even replaced with something fairly reasonable (as judged by the fact that all sides complained about it, but not very loudly).

He ratified Kyoto! Ok, not much has come of it, but it would never have happened under Howard, and we'd be even further behind in the battle to make government take climate change seriously if Kevin 07 had failed.

He finally said "Sorry". Again, not enough has been done. I know it's only lip service, but without even that, there would be no hope of moving forward and really redressing the damage.

Then the GFC (Global Fuckupus Corporatus) happened, and surprisingly, Labor steered us through that really well. We were in a better starting position than most, but the reality is that the rest of the world hailed Rudd's stimulus package as clever and effective. The criticisms of the way the money was spent are a little beside the point. Yes there was waste, but anything that moved that fast (and let's face it, government projects operating in timetables of less than many years are very rare indeed) was going to be open to rorts and waste. By all means, name and shame the companies that rorted the system - taking the piss with money being offered to bail you out is, dare I say it, unAustralian - but for once, I don't think much of the blame lies with the government.

Even as his popularity and grip on his party slid, he was still doing stuff. Rethinking how things are done. Suggesting change. Moving somewhere. He's left this country in a very different place to where he found it, and much of it is better. It isn't fixed - the human rights abuses are still happening, but at least it's not longer a point of honour. It's probably fair to say that in many arenas, all that's changed is the rhetoric, and I find that deeply disappointing. However, it's still true that there's more hope for action when a government is talking about it than when it isn't.

I never had very high hopes for K.Rudd. He always looked way too conservative for my liking, and we saw that again and again in his leadership, but he surprised me with his actions, doing more than I thought he would. At least when he spoke in international forums, he didn't make me cringe and wish I was pretty much any nationality but Australian.

So thanks, Kev, for what you did. Thanks for being a step in the right direction, even if the step was smaller than many of us would have liked.

K.Rudd for foreign minister!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


It took a whole term, but the two scarves for Toni's girls are finished!

You gotta love school uniform green. My mother kindly put their initials on them to avoid the inevitable arguments. So now, to finish the cardi for Elissa before she grows out of it.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Iron Chef Chen Kenichi

Recently Crash and I performed a miracle, aided by the self-sacrifice of a large proportion of my family. We did a job in Tokyo together. Aside from actually spending some time together, and remembering how much better it is to work with someone else, we also snuck in a visit to Iron Chef Chen Kenichi's restaurant.

My Japanese hasn't improved much, which means that our communications with our waiter, whose English was pretty limited (and yet infinitely better than my Japanese), were amusing to say the least. The whole situation was helped no end by the fact that the set menus had no pictures* - only long pages of Japanese script(s). So we waved our fingers at the pages and said "That one". With no idea what we were about to be served, we ordered a beer (fortunately "beer" is understood almost everywhere) and settled in for our magical mystery tour.

I failed to take my camera charger with me, so these photos are from my iPhone, and therefore very dodgy.

First course came out, and we were told that these were, clockwise from top right, fish, mushroom, chicken, something whose name I can't remember but I recognised it when I ate it, and in the middle, meat.

The thing I can't remember was pretty tasty, but the chicken and meat were the highlights. The chicken had a sauce vaguely reminiscent of sweet and sour, but beautifully balanced and the meat was deep fried to a crisp (I couldn't tell you what kind of meat it was from the taste, although it was probably beef) and coated in a rich, sweet sauce.

The next course arrived with great haste.

This was the first thing to arrive. A separate bowl had the dish itself, which we were told contained shrimp. We were somewhat baffled - does anyone actually decorate a prawn dish with a lobster shell? And if not, had we actually signed up to pay enough for lobster? It was divided up and served to us as this.

That is an excessively bad photo, but the orange flower is carrot - all one piece! The bowl did, in fact, contain lobster and cucumber and a very gentle sauce. It was divine.

The pace didn't slow, and this one - "beef with a bit spicy" - was promptly served.

This had a classic Schezwan flavour, perfectly executed. There were fried red chillies that I was going to move aside, but they tasted amazing. Hot, but more tingly than painful. At the risk of sounding like an Iron Chef judge, it stimulated the palate rather than burning the mouth. The basket was a deep fried wonton wrapper and that flower was daikon. The daikon was a perfect palate cleanser at the end of the dish. Another massive winner.

Still no pause, the next dish was announced as shark fin.

Um. Ok, so here is the flaw in pointing at a language you don't understand. I considered the appropriate response and two things occurred to me. One, the Dalai Lama teaches that if you are offered food that you don't eat on principle, you should eat it, both out of good manners and respect, and because the food is already prepared, and wasting it would be a greater ill than eating it. And two, it's pretty hard to make a moral stand when you don't speak the language of the people to whom you are directing your protest. So I figured now was my chance to at least try to understand why people kill so many sharks for this dish. In short, I still don't. I've had it once before, in a dodgy place in Bangkok and I suspect it was merely "shark fin flavour" and it was essentially tasteless. This one had more flavour, but the flavour was mostly the soy sauce and it really didn't rock my world. I will have no problem avoiding shark fin in the future.

The next was deep fried fish and mushroom. The night was overtaking me by then, and I completely failed to take a photo, but it looked pretty much like two fish cocktails and a deep fried mushroom - one of those ones with the frilly edges. I can't tell you what that tasted like, because I gave mine to Crash. The fish pretty much tasted like fried fish. Not a stand out.

They were still going. Another dish quickly replaced the fish. The poor waiter got half way through describing this dish - "Crab egg sauce with...." - and had to dash back to the kitchen to be reminded of the English word for.... "abalone". Once again we wondered if we had missed a zero on the cost - lobster, shark fin and abalone in one night! Apparently the whole concept overwhelmed me so much that I forgot to photograph it until I was half way through.

That sauce was pretty fab - quite rich but I am completely failing to come up with any way to describe the flavour. The abalone was quite tasty - not quite like anything else, but closest to a cross between scallop and squid - but it was just about as rubbery as you have always heard it is. Considering the texture and the price, I'd rather eat scallops.

(As an aside, the next night we had abalone sushi, and it was far better, although I still reckon I'd rather a cheaper alternative - please don't tell my host! He was most gracious and it's probably just my uneducated palate.)

We were, at this point, marveling that we had come to the end (as no dish appeared the moment we had finished the last) without a single rice dish. We were also commenting that we were incredibly full, and no rice had been necessary. We sipped our beers and wondered at the strange phenomenon that every single woman in the restaurant (except me) was sitting with her back towards the windows, while all the men faced the windows. Even those sitting three rows away from the windows. Even across a couple of sittings. I offer no explanation for this.

We were content, we were relaxed, we were very full. And then we were fed more food. With rice.

This one was fiery hot, but still with that weird tingly sensation. It was probably awesome if I could have eaten it properly. If I had spooned it onto the rice and eaten it all mixed up, I'm sure it would have all balanced out, but I was so full I could only put tiny morsels in my mouth at a time. The dark red parts of the sauce were really hot, but unbelievably tasty. In the end, my stomach defeated me. The waiter looked a little shocked at how little we'd eaten and asked if it was too spicy. "No", making the universal sign for full stomach.

As we sat and and stared over our tummies, dessert arrived.

Fortunately, neither Schezwan nor Japanese cooking is much into your chocolate mud cake for dessert. The martini glass had a coconut pudding, which was mousse-like. The berries and mint and lemon on the top mixed in with it magnificently, and I patiently slid tiny amounts of it into the gaps between the previous 7 (!) courses. It took a while, but I ate it all. The little snow ball at the bottom was a rice ball with bean paste (I think). I've never been a big fan of that style of dessert, and full as I was, I only managed a nibble. Lastly, on the plate on the top right, was a lychee sorbet. Wow. Just wow. The perfect way to end this meal.

Even though I didn't love everything, the meal showed me all sorts of dishes and flavours I haven't had before, which pretty much nails the brief for a visit to an Iron Chef restaurant. I would go back, I think, and order from the a la carte menu (with pictures!) to select the things I discovered I loved, and avoid the shark fin.

A word of warning though - it's easy to find on a map, but nothing we found in English mentioned that it's on the 6th floor. Also, beware small roads that look like short cuts - they may be closed for reconstruction and it's a long way back to the main route.

* This is pretty unusual for restaurants in Japan.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Master 5

My bub born on the 4th of July turned 5 today yesterday, and we celebrated in the traditional way, with his friends, too much food and a cake. Well, I call it a cake, you can judge for yourself below.

I have a formula for kids' birthday parties, and I rarely deviate. Kids, backyard, food with as little nutritional value as possible, Sunday, 2-5pm. And a cake that I make, with way more confidence than actual skill.

Today Yesterday started out pretty wobbly. It was too wet on the back deck for the kids to go out at the beginning of the party, so I tried to get some party games underway inside. I had no luck at all, and was not assisted by the birthday boy who had an attack of the shys and was hiding under a chair. So I sent them to the table to eat and we reassessed the outside situation. We finally got enough sugar into Charlie to loosen him up and we released the mob to the backyard.

There they stayed until I called them in an hour and half later for pass the parcel.

That finished, they bolted back outside and I had to round them up again for the cake. *Cough* Erm, the cake. It was supposed to be a cake with a chocolate dome that gets smashed to reveal the cake with goodies underneath. Sadly, the chocolate didn't come out of the bowl at all well. It ended up more of a mudslide than a dome. Still, I turned it to its slightly better side, and seriously covered it with lollies, to produce this frankenstein.

Yes, in case you're wondering, those things holding up the candles are bits of pineapple, I failed to make the cupcakes that I had intended to use for this purpose. First class disaster all round. And then I remembered we needed a hammer. A trip to the garage and some foil, and voila:

And so I took it all to the table and after the blowing and the singing, there was the smashing.

It was hard work, and they were all willing him on.

In the end, I had to help him, and then finish it off with a knife. It was worth it.

I had approximately 7.2 seconds to take this shot before this happened:

Once they'd all eaten, they disappeared outside again and I had to round them up again to come in and open the presents. I don't have a photo of that, but it looked pretty much like the one above, but with a present in the middle of the fists instead of a cake.

Another party executed. Smiles all round at the end of the day. And it wiped me out so badly I couldn't even manage to blog it last night.

Four months until the next one.