Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Yesterday in politics...

... we saw the best and worst of Julia Gillard and her government. Her 15 minute speech condemning the misogyny of Tony Abbott was amazing (transcript here). She was strong and clear and there is no doubt we needed it all to be said. And we will need it to be said again and again and again if the general response we've seen is any indication. I've seen Gillard called a hypocrite for calling Abbott "that man", on the basis that people are criticised for referring to Gillard as "that woman". Honestly, if "that woman" was the worst Gillard and the rest of us had to deal with, I'd throw my own post-feminism party and invite everyone. Gillard listed many hateful, misogynist things that Abbott has said or supported, and she didn't mention being called "that woman". It really doesn't rate.

On the other hand, on the same day, the senate passed Labor's (and therefore Gillard's) changes to the single parent payment, meaning that once their youngest child turns 8, a single parent is no longer eligible for the single parent payment. Apparently children 8 and up don't need parenting - or perhaps parenting them is not regarded as valuable work, or is something that can be squeezed in between working for a corporation. This is a disgusting move, it lets down kids and it lets down people (and let's face it, by numbers, we're still talking mostly women) doing their best to raise their kids. Apparently verbal misogyny is not on, and won't be tolerated (as it certainly shouldn't be) but institutionalised misogyny is just fine - especially if it's popular with right leaning voters.

Labor and Gillard continue to lurch to the right. While I welcome and acknowledge what Gillard has achieved with the carbon price and some semblance of a mining tax, there are so many other decisions that have been all about pandering to exactly the kind of fear and ignorance peddled by talk back radio hosts and Mr Abbott. It's deeply disappointing. I'd really like to see a great deal more of the passionate, progressive woman we saw in Question Time yesterday, and a great deal less of the popular vote chasing woman that's cutting support to some of society's most vulnerable. Yesterday was the whole Gillard government encapsulated. Moments of brilliance, interspersed with horrid politicking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Torture? Really?

For days now my Twitter feed has been full of people asserting that I've tortured all of my kids. This cartoon was being retweeted all over, praising Leunig for identifying what controlled crying is all about. Since then I've seen a whole lot of commentary about how controlled crying is cruel and torturous, and about how it's used only by the ignorant or the poor victims of society. I'm sorry, but I call bullshit.

I understand that there are many ways to parent. I get that controlled crying, in any form, isn't going to work for some people. Attachment Parenting advocates, for example, are not going to find this helpful. However, we are not all AP people. AP would NEVER work for me, but it works for lots of people and produces happy, balanced kids. I've also seen AP fail badly - but that doesn't mean AP is a failure - it just means it didn't work for those people in their circumstances. It's not reasonable to condemn an approach because sometimes it doesn't work.

So WTF gives with equating controlled crying with torture, with our government's abominable treatment of asylum seekers, and with inevitable despair and hopelessness? Do any of these people seriously think those of us who used some variation of controlled crying did so by locking our kids in their rooms without support, without love, without a whole swag of strategies to teach our kids how to settle themselves and sleep? CC is one small part of how I'm living with, teaching and loving my kids. The way I used it varied considerably between each child, and at different ages for each child. I'm fairly confident none of my children are despairing, detached and hopeless.

My eldest child possibly owes his life to CC. A friend of mine told me she dealt with the endless screaming with earplugs. That's cool, but it wouldn't have worked for me. The details of his path to sleep and happiness are too tedious to go into, but I came close to losing my shit once, and I'm glad I had CC in my repertoire (along with lots of other stuff) to get through that stage. The other two were each very different kids, and I used different versions of CC with each of them. There was very little crying at all with second born, as it happens. We're now well past all that, although we're still working through teaching the youngest to deal with her nightmares on her own. I imagine we'll still be doing that for a year or two more.

I could go through all the complexities of the way sleep was managed in our family, what the benefits were for us, why those benefits matter a great deal to us, but may not matter so much for other people and so on, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. The point is, if you're condemning me for torturing my child, you are presumably not one of the people for whom CC can be a helpful tool. You are probably approaching much of your parenting from a very different angle. I salute you. I would not inflict my style of parenting on you any more than I would fuck up my family by attempting a parenting style that I would be doomed to fail with. However, if you want to pass judgement on the way other people do things, may I respectfully suggest you make sure you're not somewhere in the vicinity of the first bump in this graph? Please?

Image credit: Meanwhile In Canada

(I should point out I recognise Mount Stupid, I've climbed right to the top too many times to count, so I'm only asking people to slide on down the other side, no hard feelings.)


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eating - I can do this

My relationship with food has been fraught, to say the least. I don't do all the Oprah-y emotional eating, but I do some of it. Sometimes I eat because I deserve it. Sometimes (often?) I eat because the food is in front of me, even if I don't particularly like it. Sometimes I keep eating after I'm full because it's just so tasty, and who knows when I'll get to eat this again? (Answer: Whenever I want it - I'm a grown up, I can choose my own food! Duh!)

On the plus side, it's getting better. I do all those things less than I used to. However, I've been hearing about, and been interested in, health at every size (HAES) for a ages now, but never believed I could do it. I completely agreed with its philosophy - that weight is not what it's all about. We should forget that and focus on eating and moving to make our bodies work properly, not make our bodies look different. But I really didn't think that I could ever eat the way HAES recommends - to listen to your body's cues and not worry about anything else. Again, I was right there with the idea, but figured I had broken my body's cues so badly from decades of overriding what my body was telling me (ignoring hunger and ignoring fullness), that the whole system was beyond repair. I figured I could eat healthy, but it would require a conscious effort and control - so I set off trying to eat better and move more and gave no more thought to listening to my body.

Just recently though, I developed an inexplicable desire to massively increase the quantity and diversity of vegetables that I eat. Granted, this message is everywhere, and it's been everywhere for ages, but apparently my appetite just caught on. Could this be evidence of me being able to hear some of my body's signals? Maybe. Then today, a friend brought lunch and it amounted to bread, cheese & meat. It was tasty, I had what I wanted and stopped. An hour later I was hunting around the kitchen, looking for food. Conscious brain kicks in and says "You can't be hungry!" I was about to walk back out of the kitchen, and a revolutionary thought occurred to me. What am I actually looking for? Fruit, or something. Not an apple, too starchy. No mandarins, no oranges. Cucumber! I want a cucumber. I'm a grown-up, I can peel and eat a cucumber.

This is all kind of pathetic, but it feels vaguely like that intuitive eating thing might not be entirely out of reach. Of course, I may be 70 by the time I master it, but it's good to have a project to be going on with.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Understanding and excuses

Often when people say a kid has an attention problem, they really mean he has a problem pretending to give a shit about things that bore him
I saw this retweeted this morning, and at the time of writing, it had 48 retweets. It comes from @demand_euphoria. I don't follow her and I have no idea what the context of this tweet is, so I'm not writing this to engage with her or her intent, or to have a go at her. I'm more interested in the idea that it expresses, because I think it floats about a lot. I also think, when taken completely seriously, it's a huge problem.

The development of attention is really only about things one finds boring - paying attention to something you find fascinating is rarely a problem. (Although there might be great variability between how long different people can hold that attention. From a functional point of view, one needs only to be able to stay focussed for long enough to do something useful. I recognise that there may be conflict between the optimal attention span of any given person, and the requirements of classrooms.) The implication in the idea expressed above is that the fault lies with the material if it's boring. Last year, I heard so much about making classes interesting I was starting to wonder if we were being trained to be teachers, or circus performers. I do have some sympathy for the argument - if I had my druthers, I'd rip huge swathes of boring, unnecessary crap from the junior science syllabus in NSW.

However, we simply can't excise all boring stuff from our lives. There are excellent reasons to automate times tables, for example, but doing so is boring. Housework is boring. I can't imagine that there's ever been a profession anywhere that has no component which is life-suckingly dull. One of the main objectives of childhood is to learn how to apply yourself to stuff that needs to be done, in order to be able to get on with the genuinely interesting stuff. This isn't just a function of school, it's a property of life.

I would suggest that a child who has a problem giving a shit about stuff he/she finds boring has a lot to learn about life - which is ok, she/he is a child, learning is what it's all about. It's our job as parents to help them learn it, and not decide that the world needs to stop being dull for the sake our child. Explaining why boring stuff is important is the first step. Providing tricks to manage the boring can help too - like listening to music while cleaning, setting mini goals, or giving yourself personal rewards for ploughing through the dull stuff.

Learning to pretend to give a shit about the stuff you find boring IS what developing attention is all about. Understanding what kids have a problem with and supporting them where they are to get to where they need to be is what parenting and teaching is all about. Making excuses and blaming the world for being what it is doesn't help anyone.

(Please note, once again, that I'm not suggesting @demand_euphoria is making excuses or anything else, her tweet just triggered this more general observation.)


Monday, August 20, 2012

Cinnamon, berry & white chocolate muffins

Yesterday, I tweeted this:
Making cinnamon, berry & white chocolate muffins. I mention this only to taunt you.
Because I'm a bitch. In case I hadn't taunted people enough, I also tweeted this:

Photo on 2012-08-19 at 15:07.jpg

@captainpurr, presumably fed up with my taunts, asked for the recipe. It was based on a commercially produced recipe, but muffins are muffins, and I changed it anyway, so I'm deciding publishing it is ok.

2 cups plain flour
3/4 tsp soda bicarb
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup oil
80g melted butter
heaping cup of frozen berries
1 cup of white chocolate melts or bits or whatever

Mix the flour, soda bicarb, salt & cinnamon in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla until they are pale and add the oil & butter and mix well. Pour the wet stuff into the dry stuff and mix together. Add the berries & the chocolate and mix together. Spoon into muffin tins and bake at 200oC for 20-22mins. 

And to give credit where it's due, my inspiration and base recipe came from Baking bible, which has so many permutations of muffins, cakes, slices & biscuits that it's hard to imagine you not finding something close to what you want to bake there, to modify as I did.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

This is what a doctor should be

Today I saw a doctor, a specialist, because I have some weird respiratory symptoms. Nothing serious, but sufficiently disconcerting to warrant further investigation. He asked me hundreds of questions. He thinks it's nothing, but he's not going to say so until he's exhausted every avenue. He considers my symptoms a puzzle to be solved. That is very much what I want to see in a doctor.

But there's more. He asked me about my weight. What it is and how it's changed. I told him it is greater than it was 15 years ago, but stable for the first time in my life. I made it clear this stability is very exciting to me. Despite having made the standard "everyone battles their weight" comments, he dropped the weight discussion completely when I made it clear it was a non-issue.

And still more. He's referring me to another specialist based on family history, because he thinks it's important. He's recommended a doctor he thinks is thorough and I'll get on well with. It has little or nothing to do with why I saw him, but he thinks it should happen. He's having his secretary make the appointment for me.

This man used to be my boss in a former life, but I didn't get special treatment. I sought him out because when I worked for him I saw how he treated and cared for his patients. This is the gold standard in medicine. There is no doubt some of my joy today is based on seeing a man I always greatly admired again. Still, a goodly proportion was from being treated as an intelligent, valuable human being. This should be every person's experience at a doctor's office, every time.

Dr Peter Bye, you are an amazing, compassionate, intelligent and all round awesome man. I am privileged to have worked for you, and even more so to be your patient.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The case for educational veganism

I live in a part of Sydney with a strange selection of high schools. We don't have a local co-ed public high school - what we have is 2 public boys' schools (one with a good reputation and one with a bad one), a public girls' school, a 100% selective public school, a partially selective public school, a visual arts public school, a performing arts pubic school, about 4 Catholic schools and a couple of very expensive independent (religious) schools. Thus, it is written, that whenever two or more parents of primary school children shall gather together, they shall discuss Which High School Are You Sending Your Child To? Yesterday's instalment involved a number of people advocating one of the very expensive independent religious schools, and I realised (and of course tweeted) that I am an educational vegan. I believe that private schools are morally wrong, and I probably can't get past that.

I believe that private education should not only not be funded by the state, but should be banned completely. There's not a lot I want to ban in this world, so it's an unusually extreme position for me, but I really don't think there is an ethical way to run private schools.

This is not a question of choice, because only wealthy people get to make the choice. Also, the choice they are making is to segregate their children on the basis of class or religion (or both). The closest private school to us costs $30,000 a year, per child, in year 12 (it starts at about $18,000 in year 3). The argument that such a school can provide better resources for your wealthy child is a very weak one. Imagine how much better any local public school's resources would be if all the families who could afford that kind of money donated even half of it to the school and sent their kids there? By allowing children to be stratified based on parent income, we are ensuring that wealthy children have access to more resources than poor children, and thereby reducing the choice and options of the most disadvantaged kids in our community. That's wrong.

Australia makes claims to multiculturalism, but allows kids to be segregated on the basis of religion for 13 years of their young lives. Understanding is crucial to successful multiculturalism, but it's hard to achieve if you have little contact with people from differing backgrounds. School is the primary source of social interaction for most kids, and should involve a diversity of people. If we're going to live together, we should be learning together.

Private schools promote themselves as a better choice, providing a better education. The truth is that the range of educational experience is as great in private schools as it is in public schools, however I've never heard a public school graduate argue that they would never consider sending their child to any school other than the one they attended. There is a fine line between pride in your school and the smug belief that your school is inherently superior to all others. I'm not arguing that all private school graduates believe this (I know that is patently false), but a system in which schools are competing for students is going to breed an increased rate of superiority complexes.

Educational outcomes are highly variable across both the public and private sector, but the private sector faces a significant roadblock to good education - they are a commodity. Parents are paying for education as a service, and as such are far more likely to demand the outcomes they want, as opposed to those that their children have earned. This happens in the public sector too, but the demanding parent doesn't have a financial hold over the teachers and the school. Education is too important to be caught between a teacher and the finance department.

Education as a commodity also has the potential to undermine education at the systemic level. If schools are competing for the educational dollar, it's in their interest to make their school look the most attractive. A tried and tested method to do so is promoting year 12 examination results, but to do that, a school needs results that look good. One way of doing so is to only allow students to take courses they will do very well in, rather than those in which they may be competent, but not outstanding. For example, a student working at a fair to middling level in an advanced level maths course may be required to take the intermediate level course so they get a high mark in lesser course, which looks better on the school's published results. I am certainly not arguing that all private schools do this, but some do, and it wouldn't happen if education was not allowed to be bought and sold.

Other systemic problems can arise from a school's marketing department. A great way to get good exam results is to teach students how to pass exams. While I understand the usefulness of that skill, it should always be secondary to learning how to learn, fostering a love of learning and promoting independence. We don't spend all this public money on education for exam results, we spend it to have an educated society that is able to continue learning their whole lives. These qualities, however, are very hard to measure, so it's easy for a school to claim to promote such values, while spoon feeding their students to pass exams really well and make their self promotion that much easier. Same caveats apply - not all private schools do this, quite possibly some public schools do this, but if education was not a competitively sold commodity, it wouldn't happen. Public schools are explicitly told they need to compete with private schools and market themselves to the community. This is wrong.

Perhaps the most abhorrent argument in favour of sending a child to a private school is that they'll make connections that will make it easier for them to get ahead socially and financially. It's probably also the most accurate - at least for the very expensive schools. Schools should not be a government funded and sanctioned process for ensuring rich people look after other rich people and maintain the divide between rich and poor. I really would have thought that was self evident. Of course, our government is largely made up of people who have benefitted from that process, which probably explains the bipartisan support for maintaining the status quo.

This is one of the greatest issues of equity in Australia at the moment. It gets no press. Occasionally there might be mention of funding, but it's quickly swept under the rug (how many media owners went to public schools?), and nobody ever questions the continuing existence of education as commodity. It's not an impossible dream (however unlikely), Norway (brain fail) Finland did it. They have no private schools (and almost no standardised testing) and they consistently rank in the top 3 education systems in the world. The changes they made were driven entirely by equity, but in the end, they didn't just bring up their tail end, they improved education standards for every kid in the country. It's not a zero sum game, there doesn't have to be losers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Riffing off MsElouise's Identity post

I've been mulling over this since I read it as a submission for the DUFC. Identity, and labels for it, is something I've always found intriguing. MsElouise provided a different way of thinking about it for me. She concluded that claiming a label can help you feel that you belong and give you a voice, but it can also be a trap. One reason it can be a trap is that some people may hold quite different ideas about the identity you claim than you hold yourself. When "some people" is a large chunk, or even a majority, of society, the identity ends up a constant source of mis-identification and outright prejudice. This can be a damn good reason to reject a label, although it sucks to have to acquiesce to prejudice and ignorance and for some identities (race, gender & sexual identity for eg) is the basis of activism.

In thinking about the reasons why people might reject an identity, or at least the label for it, I think she's nailed one of the reasons. However, I think there's another one that relates to fear of rejection and impostor syndrome. In part, I don't say "I am a feminist" (while having entirely feminist ideology) because I worry about being trapped in what other people think a feminist is. This is the aspect I've focussed on in the past. I've never been happy with all the connotations of any label, so I've rejected all of them. But another part is that I fear being rejected by feminists as not a good enough feminist. I wouldn't call myself bisexual because "real" bisexual people would laugh at my married-to-a-man arse. If I don't claim the identity, other people who share it can't reject me.

Any given label I reject may have elements of both reasons, or be based entirely on one of them. I think there are probably more reasons too. My disinterest in my surname probably has more to do with historical accident and perversity than anything else.

Also worth noting is that some labels I don't have the right to reject - the ones that are given to me by society and luck and provide me with a head start over people who don't share them. White, middle class, educated, cis, perceived as hetero. Those labels I need to remain aware of until such time as other labels are afforded the same advantages and opportunities. Only then will it truly be meaningful for people to have a choice as to whether they want to embrace those socially loaded identities and labels or not.

Monday, April 09, 2012

47th DUFC

Welcome to the 47th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Insert usual claims of it being very hard to restrict to only 2 posts each] Please do go look at other posts on these blogs, some seriously good stuff is missing for the sake of preventing unwieldyness. Thanks to the contributors, I've had a fantastic time reading all the submissions.

Also, I haven't been reading nearly as many blogs as I'd like lately, so I'm not familiar with some of these people. Please let me know if I've failed to highlight any new bloggers.






Literature



Image of a drawn girl reading "Of Mice and
Men" and wondering "Am I the troublesome
whore... or the mouse?" from
Confessions of a Stuffed Olive's post.
Confessions of a Stuffed Olive - Where are the English texts about girls? 
Pointing out that encouraging boys to read by choosing only texts with boys in them doesn't help anyone.

Gill Polack - Women's History Month: Anita Heiss
Anita writes about the women who helped her become who she is.

Gill Pollack - Women's History Month - Lucy Sussex
Lucy remembers her mother in vignettes.

The Banana Lounge - AWW 2012 – Australian women writers of diverse heritage 
A handy list thereof.

Australian Women Writers - "In defence of books written by women for women"
Why is romance, as a genre, so dismissed and denigrated?

Smile... It confuses people - Fairytales
How to rewrite fairy tales and infuse them with some feminist values.

Body image

Zero at the Bone - Loss of Weight or Fellow Feeling
Highlighting the hypocrisy in the claim that fat hating is only about health.

Settle Petal - Frustration
How misogyny gets in our heads and makes us hate ourselves and other women.

Fat Heffalump - WE DON’T IMAGINE IT, WE SEE IT
On the impact of a fat hating culture.



Image of a seated women,
legs apart, naked from the
waist down, wearing a striped
top, high heels & veil behind
 her head. Her hands rest in
her lap. From Lip post. 
Sex


Fatandslutty - My Clitoris is Offensive
The war against good sex, and how to avoid it. (The war, that is, not the good sex.) New Blogger! 

Lip - submissive sex - anti-feminist or not?
Self-explanatory really, but with an interesting comment thread about how our preferences might be influenced (or not) by prevailing culture.

Lip - (sex)uality: next stop, masturbation station
Why masturbation is good for you.


Politics

News With Nipples - But they’re women, they should be nice
Why does anyone ask why women on opposing parties aren't nice to each other when they don't ask the same question of men?

Settle Petal - Feminist Guide to the Queensland Election
*lolsob*

The Lady Garden - Welfare "reforms"
NZ National Government thoroughly rejects the notion that caring work matters and is valuable.

Crikey - Nanny Sends Tracey and Tony to the Naughty Corner
Regarding the exploitation potential of nannies after Tony Abbott's announcement of his plan to subsidise nannies.

LGBQT

blue milk - How to do a homophobic political ad
So many layers of fail.

Opinions @ bluebec.com  - Submission to the Senate on marriage equality
Self explanatory really! :)

Opinions @ bluebec.com - Biphobia
What it is, and how we're probably all guilty of it sometimes.

The Lady Garden - IME
On the disconnect between most people's ideas of bisexual people and those people's experiences, and more generally on the need to listen to other people's experience.

All My Penguins - queer chinese things!
A round up of queer goings on in China.

All My Penguins - queer australian teevee
Joy in seeing not only queer people on TV, but some of them aren't even white.

Media & Culture


Hoyden About Town - Girls speak: on Harry Potter, Radio National, and how to fix a sexist screwup
A radio national presenter gets it wrong, but then gets fixing it really quite wonderfully right.

Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony - What century are we living in, again, Fairfax?
Regarding the constant mentioning of women's reproductive status in the media. - Trigger warning for rape

The Banana Lounge - Screening diversity
On the overwhelmingly white world of Australian television.

No Place for Sheep - The battle for control of the sexual discourse
Arguing that anti-porn activists are also attempting to dictate what sex should and shouldn't be.

the news with nipples - The conversations women have
Why much of what's in the women's section needs to be read as much, if not more, by men, and marketing to women in general.

Women in the workplace

The Hand Mirror - Too few women leaders
A commentary of Sheryl Sandberg's TEDWomen talk.

The Hand Mirror - This isn't what we're paid for
A very difficult day made worse by casual objectification of staff.

the news with nipples - Germain Greer and body-shaming
Recognising that nobody's perfect, but also that when appropriate, we all need to say WTF?

Social Justice


Stargazer - you're angry at the wrong people
Pointing out how people have been fooled into directing their blame down the social hierarchy rather than up.

Stargazer - building morale
A followup post discussing how engage and empower those most in need of societal change.

Image: 2 women and a man in a row boat, all dressed
in North African-style clothing. From Penguin Unearthed'spost.
Penguin Unearthed - Missing girls
Discussing a fascinating paper that examines the missing women in various parts of the world by age.

Fat Heffalump - Bullies - You don't get a cookie for feeling bad
Response to an interview with an ex-bully.

Maybe it means nothing - When will you stop being a feminist?
Some markers of what a post-feminist world might look like.

Choice & Anti-choice
(I can't help being astounded that we still need this heading, but we do - increasingly even!)

Ideologically Impure - Abortion is a real issue, right now
Discussing NZ abortion law, intersections with mental health and a plea to move forward.

Ideologically Impure - On the front lines of the NZ abortion rights struggle
Regarding the Supreme Court battle over Abortion Supervisory Committee.

Disability

No More Training Wheels - The Dreaded Future 
Considering the future with a disability.

No More Training Wheels - Public Yet Exclusive Transport
Highlights why providing access for people with disability is part of our everyday social obligation, not some special extra effort.

Relationships


Zero at the Bone - The direction of desire
Why our restricted notions of sexual desire make a mess of everyone.

Spilt Milk - The how of getting through
A beautiful appreciation of the things that get us through tough times.

International Women's Day


A Bee of a Certain Age - International Women’s Day on Stuff: All you old hags should wear make-up 
More examples of women being made responsible for their own discrimination, and some atrocious advertising.

fcollective - WORDS FROM IWD: ELIZABETH MORA
Elizabeth Mora's IWD speech.

Parenting


blue milk - Running on empty
Remembering how hard the first year of a baby's life is.

Port workers and their families on the picket line.
Child holds placard saying "All my daddy wants is a roster".
From The Hand Mirror
Hoyden About Town - From the back to the middle and round again
The constant readjustments parenting requires in action. Also, teaching schools that all children are not alike.

Ariane's Little World - Sins of the Father
The only post I managed to write in March, so it's here regardless of merit! Regarding the cycle of bad parenting and how breaking it isn't all down to the individual.

The Hand Mirror - Of children and protests and taking the former to the latter
Apparently taking kids to protests is another thing that only Bad Mothers do. I was sad to have my ignorance on this rectified.

A Bee of a Certain Age - Since when does a guideline become a rigid rule?
On breaking guidelines while parenting.

Racism

The Antibogan - Racism exists in Australia – are we doing enough to address it?
Article by Dr Helen Szoke about some racism facts. Some polite but slightly infuriating arguments over academic vs social definitions of racism in the comments.

Miscellaneous
(Or I Can't Work Out Where To Put It)

feminaust - Identity ~ Afghan or Terrier?
Is identity a source of strength or a trap? Chally figured I'd like this, and she was right. :)

feminaust - Smile Sweetheart ~ public demands on gender conforming women
On being told to smile by random men.

The Filing Cabinet - IWD picnic in photos; reflections on community activism
On some of the unintended positive consequences of activism.

fcollective - F FOR FEMINIST: THE F COLLECTIVE
Who the F Collective are and what they're trying to do.

Hoyden About Town - Housing and Dreaming Community
Dreams and thoughts about communal living, which continues into the comment thread.


And because fighting oppression can be rage inducing, please go look at some gorgeous baby bunnies, courtesy of Mim: And to think I used to complain about stuffed toys breeding

Edit: Sorry, in my excitement at having finally got it all together, I rudely forgot to mention who's hosting next! The next edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival is planned for 5 May, 2012 and will be hosted by brownflotsam at contradictory multitudes.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Conversations with Elissa

Elissa just came to tell me the back of her knee is hurting.

Me: Have you been sitting on it?

E: No, it just started hurting.

Me: Then I'm sure it will stop hurting if you sit comfortably with it.

E: No, it's been hurting for YEARS.

Me: I don't think so, you've been running around for years.

E: No, I only just recognised that it was hurting.

Me: Then it can't have been hurting that much. Go and rest it.

E: [Runs into the next room, then realises her leg is hurting and starts to limp]

Thursday, April 05, 2012

High School Science - If I ran the world

A wee while ago I was eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation in which people were debating what could be done to improve junior science in high school. There were suggestions about teaching styles and syllabus changes, but I think the problem is much deeper than that. I kept returning to the question posed by one of our lecturers last year "What do we want all students to know before they leave school?". This, we were told, was the basis of the new national curriculum. That, right there, is the problem with high school science.

It seems like a sensible enough question, until you start to answer it. Science is huge, and what I think is valuable and fascinating is yawn inducing to you. But even more importantly, it isn't possible to scratch the surface of science at school. If our aim is provide kids with the science they'll need for the rest of their lives, we are doomed to fail. Anyone that's set foot in a junior science class in NSW recently knows that we are, indeed, failing. Spectacularly.

We're asking the wrong question. The right questions are quite different. "How do we want our kids to be able to think?" "What do we need to do to teach them to think that way?" "Is any content actually more important than engaging students enough so that they can be persuaded to think critically?" "How do we teach students to teach themselves science for the rest of their lives?"

We don't need students to "know", we need to them to enquire. The only way to fix the syllabus is to throw it out the window, and not replace it. It's absolutely useful to have a document with suggested topics and ideas for ways to approach them. Text books are handy. Programs are a good basis to work from. But all of those things should be secondary to the interests of the class.

My personal interest is physics. Electromagnetism is the area in which I excelled at uni. I find it fascinating and essential to all sorts of aspects of my life. However, standing in front of a group of utterly disinterested year 9 students with a bunch of circuit diagram handouts, all I could think was "WHY are we teaching this?". All they need to know about circuit theory is electrical safety, which they've pretty much covered in primary school. There is absolutely zero spirit of enquiry in a lab full of leads and lightbulbs. This was demonstrated eloquently when my fellow teaching students and I attempted basic year 7-type circuit theory experiments. We all immediately tried to find the "right answer". There was no playing. There was no investigation. There was quite a lot of blaming dodgy equipment. And we are now teachers. Why on earth do we think high school kids will engage with these "experiments"? At the end of the topic, they might well be able to recite V=IR, but they won't have learned a thing about science. What good is knowledge if you don't know how to assess its validity or usefulness?

We see hints of how it should be done in senior science. There are requirements to look at current issues and to understand science as a work in progress, rather than received knowledge. There's no reason why junior science can't be conducted on the basis of some current controversy, or recent scientific finding. Pick some article in the newspaper that describes a scientific concept. Work out what you need to know to be able to critically assess that article. Help the students learn what they need to know and then really pull apart the article or issue. This is what context based learning really looks like, and it doesn't require (although could include) more than one traditional discipline.

You want to teach what a "fair test" is?* Find some reporting of an epidemiological study and show them what it isn't. Encourage them to think about why me might do epidemiology anyway, while getting them to really think about its limitations. Give them lots of opportunity to discover than correlation does not equal causation. Show them lots of bad science as well as good science and help them to tell the difference. The content is irrelevant - just pick what they're interested in. The content is out there, it's on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. It's in senior science and university courses. Bugger the knowledge, teach them to think, to analyse, to really get how science is done. Then at least whatever content you use to demonstrate all that has some chance of being retained.

By all means, let the bureaucrats make up a syllabus, but it should be a reference document, not a prescription.

* For the non-teaching world, a "fair test" is a made up name for an experiment in which only one variable is manipulated at a time. ie a very rare beast.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sins of the father

When Ben was 4, we had a conversation about the differential workload between mothers and fathers, and how the situation was improving, but not yet equal. I explained that Ben's dad was a much better dad than his father was to him. He vowed then to be a better father again. As a mother trying to raise sons to challenge the patriarchy, there's not much more I could have asked for.

Ben's grandfather's name was Ross. He was an alcoholic who was frequently violent, especially when his family was young. And yet, he wanted to be a better father than his father had been. Ross told the story of seriously considering killing his father when he was 8 or 10 years old because of the violence in their house. He knew it was wrong. Nevertheless, he grew up to repeat it, if not quite as viciously as his father.

Crash, by contrast, has broken the cycle far more effectively. He isn't violent, but his language still includes violent rhetoric. The ghosts of fathers past still linger in his first reactions, despite his own force of will stopping him from acting on those impulses. Feminism gets some of the credit for this too. Ross knew the violence was wrong, but society as a whole didn't really back that up. He was brought up in Broken Hill, where women were decorations, not people. His conditioned responses had only his will standing against them, while Crash's have his will and that of a society that is finally beginning to condemn violence as a response to anger and frustration.

I feel a deep sadness for Ross. I don't know the history that precedes his father, or how many generations this legacy has affected. However, I have hope for the future. The sins of the father need not continue to be visited upon the sons. Understanding and compassion hold the key. Anger is necessary to recognise the problem, but it isn't enough to stop it repeating. Ross had every reason to be angry with his father, but without trying to understand him and identify why he did the things he did, Ross ended up repeating it. Crash still has habits of thinking that were influenced by the way he was raised. However, each time he gains more insight into his father, each little bit more he understands, he gains more power. Understanding doesn't excuse, but it's a hell of a lot easier to break habits whose origins make sense.

My kids have a massive advantage over the generations who preceded them. They are being raised by people who understand how our patriarchal society fucks with men, as well as women. I want them to be angry about what has gone before them, but I want them to direct the anger to the world that allowed and encouraged it. Another man in Ross's position might not have repeated his father's behaviour, but Ross in another time and place might not have either. We are social creatures, and our job is to create a society that makes it easy to break the cycle. We can never be responsible for another person's actions, but no person's actions take place in a vacuum. If we are to be an inclusive society, we have to be able to support the Rosses of this world, as well as those people who have been able to break the cycle on their own.

There is no argument I hate more than "I went through that, and I survived without ever doing X". As much as I admire the folks who can say that, it is completely unfair to those who a hellish childhood has broken. The problem is not that the kid failed to rise above the turmoil in their lives, the problem is that we failed to help them do so. As a society, we are damn lucky that many kids manage to do it themselves, but it doesn't excuse us for failing those who can't find the strength or the way.

The way forward is not through blame, but through understanding what went wrong. The only way to stop something happening again, is to understand why it happened the first time and what needs to be done differently to stop it happening again. You can tell a person not to lash out violently until you're blue in the face, but it you don't tell them what else to do, and how to control the emotions that drive it, no punishment or consequences will ever stop them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

DUFC coming soon!

I'll be hosting the Down Under Feminists Carnival for April - showcasing posts from Aus/NZ feminist bloggers during March. I've just finished a secondary teaching degree, so I may show a slight bias towards education and young people-related submissions, but I won't go so far as to say it's the theme - if it's good, I'd love to include it!

The standard procedure to submit posts for the carnival is to submit them here. At the moment, however, Blog Carnival is refusing to let me register, so please email me your submissions as well, if it's not too much of a trauma - I'm not sure if/when the problem will be resolved. My email is ariane @ m8s.org.

So, get reading and submitting! I'm not at all daunted by this task. Not at all. :)

UPDATE: Blog Carnival has allowed me to register, and the submission form is working again. So, have at it!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Rudeness in the classroom

Yesterday Ben (9), in a fit of melancholy induced by many dramas, announced that, on top of it all, his teacher had taken his handball off him. Ever one to leap to my children's defence, I asked him what he'd done to get her to confiscate it. He'd been tossing it in his hands while the teacher was talking. Well, no freaking wonder, thinks I. I explain to him that pretty much all teachers are going to think that tossing a ball around in the classroom is extremely rude. Ben has some difficulty understanding why, since he was listening more carefully than usual while he's tossing the ball around.

This kinda throws up a red flag. Lots of kids listen and think better when they've got something to occupy their hands - particularly kids with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. This doesn't apply to Ben, but it's a perfect example of why considering the needs of kids (or indeed adults) with disabilities is actually about accepting diversity generally. It's not some grand gesture made out of the goodness of the heart, it makes the world a better place for everyone, regardless of whether or not they currently fit the category of having a disability.

What this teacher should have done, was ask Ben why he was playing with the ball. She should have considered that he may listen better if his hands are occupied, and offered more appropriate options that don't distract the other kids (because tossing a ball in the classroom is always a Bad Idea)*. She should have considered that not everyone is the same. Of course, almost no teachers would do that. Most think of accommodations for kids with special needs as a separate category, that they only need think about when someone hands them a file explaining a child's diagnosed situation. We really need to change this.

This was no big deal for Ben, we discussed it, we discussed other options for keeping his hands busy, and today he apologised to his teacher and asked for his ball, which was returned. However, if Ben had been a child with undiagnosed ADHD or Aspergers, or a kid who doesn't fit any boxes so doesn't get the "protection" of a diagnosis, this could have been a Very Big Deal Indeed. Teachers (and all of us) need to consider diversity all the time, not just when a kid is stamped and approved for special assistance.

Last year, I did an assignment about what I'd learned about teaching, as a result of having a child diagnosed with Aspergers. In the assignment, I quoted the blog post I wrote the day after he was diagnosed. To bring the whole incestuous thing full circle, the video that constituted the "physical" part of the assignment is below. The take home message, though, is that what I learned is that we need to understand kids, not just manage their behaviour, and that this is true of all kids, not just ones with labels. And, perhaps more importantly, this is actually the easier path. Working with a kid is a lot easier than working against them, even if it involves a steep learning curve when you first meet them in your class.

It needs to be said that I understand teachers already have too much to do, and I think some serious changes need to be made to give teachers more time to do all the things they need to do, but that's a rant for another day. In the meantime, any steps we can take in this direction will help.

This conversation need not have happened at the time she took the ball, it could have happened in a quiet moment later.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Open letter to "fat" kids

Dear Beautiful Little Person,

I hear someone's been telling you you're fat. It might have been someone at school, or your brother or sister, or your parents. They've probably also been talking about how much exercise you do and what you eat. They've almost certainly been telling you what shouldn't be eating. Most of them are probably genuinely concerned about your health.

But here's the secret - it's your body. It's an amazing, strong and beautiful body. It can do all sorts of cool things. And because it's yours and yours alone, it's amazing and wonderful in its own unique ways. If you look after your body, get to know it really well, teach it new tricks and give it every opportunity to show off the tricks it knows, it will look after you. And it will look after you, and be able to learn new tricks, regardless of what shape it is, or what it is or isn't able to do compared to other people. This is what exercise is really about. Doing what you and your body love to do. Your body has different needs to everyone else's. It might need more rest than other people. It might prefer to go crazy for half an hour, or it might prefer a long walk. The new tricks you teach it might be cartwheels, or spins in your wheel chair, or playing handball. Get to know what you and your body love doing together, and do it as often as you can.

People also make a big fuss about food. There's a reason for that - it's important to be good at eating. But being good at eating isn't about what you shouldn't eat, it's about what your body needs. Just like exercise, different bodies need different food. It can be really hard to work out what your body needs, so a good place to start is to try to eat as many different kinds of food as you possibly can. That's hard when you're a kid - lots of kinds of food taste yuck when you're younger, and seem to taste better as you get older. While you're waiting for broccoli to start to taste good (and it really does!), keep trying different foods, and remember the ones you like. The more variety you eat, the happier your body will be.

As you grow up, try to pay attention to how foods make you feel. Which breakfasts make you feel good at school, and which ones leave you starving even before recess? Do some foods make you feel terrible a couple of hours later? (Drinking fizzy drinks gives me a headache about 2 hours after I drink them - I don't know why, but I mostly don't drink them anymore!) Eat the things that make you feel good, give you energy and have a huge variety of good stuff in them. Then you'll be good at eating, and you'll be looking after your body.

Your body is beautiful and wonderful and powerful exactly as it is. It doesn't matter what shape it is. It will change shape over and over again through out your life. That's not what matters. Look after it, don't compare it to other bodies and enjoy it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What's an insurance company to do?

It looks like the Gillard Government might get their health insurance reforms through, and there is the standard "Our models are better than your models" stoush. Labor are claiming that 27,000 people will leave private health insurance as a result and Libs claiming it'll be 1.6 million. Whatever, private health insurance is largely a matter of philosophy - some people believe it is essential, others see little benefit in it. Personally, I'd much rather pay a higher Medicare levy so everyone gets the same access to health care, but we all know I'm a raving, bleeding heart lefty.

However, it seems both major parties agree that private health insurance is a Good Thing. Given that's the assumption they're working from, rather than fighting over how many people will drop out as a result of increased costs, why not consider options for offsetting the increased costs due to not subsidising rich people? One way to do this is to look at the costs of various kinds of medical care. An obvious candidate for this is obstetric care. I couldn't find any data on obstetric fees, but I had 3 children over 5 years and my fees tripled in that time. At the same time, many private OBs ceased practising in less affluent parts of Sydney. Newspaper reports and my OB suggested this enormous increase was due to insurance. If insurance has become that impossibly expensive, it's time for the Government to look at the causes. Without turning this into an epic, I'd suggest universal disability insurance would go a long way to addressing this problem. OB insurance is heavily affected by tragic outcomes during birth. If something goes horribly wrong, even if the OB wasn't actually negligent, everyone wants to see the family looked after financially. This is an expense that should be borne across the community. No doubt there are plenty of other areas of medicine where costs are artificially inflated for whatever reason. Don't misinterpret me here, I am not suggesting that health insurance companies should be working to reduce these costs. I believe the US has adequately demonstrated how disastrous that path is. But I do think this is what we have a Health Minister for.

All of that, though, is fraught and messy. It's not hard to imagine an inquiry into some area of health costs turning into a witch hunt and just making the whole situation worse, and I repeat, I don't want the health insurance companies themselves having opinions on how much health care should cost. So what's an insurance company to do to keep these 27,000/1.6 million customers? Well, if you can't reduce your specific costs, reduce your scope. Cover less. And here it gets really easy. Ditch the woo. Despite my total disrespect for private health insurance, we have the topmost, most expensive health care in the country (or close enough to it). This is a result of inertia after inheriting it from a previous employer. Here are some things it covers:

That's a bit fuzzy, it says "Naturopathy, Western Herbalism, Homeopathy, Iridology, Nutrition, Remedial Massage, Shiatsu and Bowen Therapy". Righto. I'm not entirely sure what "Nutrition" means here, because qualified dieticians are covered elsewhere. The sum total of evidence for the efficacy of these therapies would probably fit in the box that names them. This policy allows every single person covered by the policy to spend $700 per year on them. For our family, that represents $3,500 we could rip out of our health fund for therapies that either don't work, do actual harm, or work as well as Klinger's Keep Cool sugar pills. There's also this (included in the same $700 cap)


Whilst there is evidence for the efficacy of some chiropractic and osteopathy therapies, there's a whole lot of non-evidence based therapies provided under these banners as well. If we need to reduce the cost of health care, let's cut loose the stuff that has little or no evidence to support it. I've used acupuncture, and it worked, dammit! But if I want to go kick start my body's placebo effect, I don't think the rest of the community should be subsidising it. I can pay for my own woo.

While the individual costs for these services are an awful lot smaller than an average hospital admission, for example, they tend to be used much more often. Not least because they don't actually work. I was told by a physiotherapist that the nearly all complaints require no more than 3-5 visits to resolve. How many people have you heard describing months or years of chiro, osteo or other natural therapies? This study found that the average lower back patient made 10 visits to a chiropractor. That same study shows that chiropractic services are the most expensive way to treat back pain. If we want to reduce the cost of medicine, let's stick to funding evidence based medicine.

Every time my insurance company asks me about the service I got from a provider, they also ask me how they could provide a better service generally. Every single time I tell them to stop subsidising woo. Tell your insurance company too.

Monday, February 06, 2012

I am a looser

A week or so before school went back, when saying goodnight to Ben (aged 9) I saw he'd written "I am a looser" on his drawer. He's always been a "glass half empty" kind of kid, so I'd been expecting this kind of thing at some point. Still, my heart broke a little bit.

A bit of probing suggested anxiety about going back to school and being bad at stuff. The particular stuff he flagged was drawing, but I'm guessing it was sort of a generalised fear of publicly sucking. Still, drawing was an excellent example. Sucking at drawing is quite different to sucking at spelling. No-one hangs your spelling list on the walls in the classroom. In fact, even the person sitting next to you is pretty unlikely to look at your spelling. The things Ben sucks at are dancing, singing and drawing*. Everyone in the class is gonna know you suck at those things. Therefore, there was absolutely no point in attempting the whole "You're not that bad at drawing", because if he was already feeling bad, condescending to him, when he knows the truth, was only going to make it worse. Further, pointing out what he's good at doesn't help, because his talents don't stop it feeling awful when his stick figures are hung up next to a perfectly detailed scene.

I was going to go with my go-to solution when feeling bad about not being able to do something - "If you want to be better at it, you just need to practise" - but he hates drawing. At which point, the answer become obvious. Ever since he was tiny, he's had no interest in drawing, colouring, or pretty much any visual art. Which, of course, is why he's crap at it. He's never done it. I explained to him that I could get him books that show the basics of drawing, and he could do lots of practice and his drawing would improve, BUT, he doesn't want to. Outstanding talent aside, the main thing that makes a kid good at something is interest in it. He was looking pretty skeptical, so I switched to his talents. He's good at science. He protested that he doesn't practise science, but he does, and has done since he could talk. He asks how everything works. He's been building and refining his model of the world since he was two. He's been practising incorporating new information into his models and beginning to identify dissonance for years. Kids that don't share his interest in that sort of understanding (possibly because they're too busy capturing the awesome beauty of the world), find science much harder.

After an hour or so of chatting, he was prepared to rub off "I am a looser" (once again, see footnote). It's quite empowering to realise that the main reason you're bad at something is that you're not all that interested in it. It's an unfortunate illusion created by those early years of school, that ability is innate. The practice is invisible, because it's just what the kids like doing. Kids see differentials in abilities, but they can't see the effort that went into it. If they focus on those examples, instead of the ones where they see the practice (like learning an instrument), it's easy for them to believe that if they don't pick something up straight away, they will never be able to do it. Ben has a tendency to ignore the visible practise, as did I when I was a kid. It took until I was much older before I realised that if I stick at things for long enough, I can be capable at them, regardless of whether I'm any good at them to start with. I believe many beers and games of pool may have finally illustrated this point to me. I'm hoping that I can keep this message explicit as the kids grow up, and make it very clear that if they are really bad at something, that's probably their choice, and that is a completely valid choice. There are only so many hours in a day.

Of course, he's still going to have to draw stuff. We talked a bit about how he can draw in a cartoon style that requires minimal effort, but looks both ok and intentional. Along with the deep and meaningful, he's gonna need some survival skills until he doesn't have to draw anymore.

* and spelling, as it happens, but that doesn't seem to stress him.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

4 year olds and belly dancing

There's nothing like starting your day with an ├╝ber tantrum from your 4 year old. I shared my exasperation with Twitter:

Honestly, there was screaming and gnashing of teeth for well over twenty minutes, because her brother had opened the flavoured straw she was holding. There was another, identical, unopened straw right next to her on the bench. It was, apparently, not an adequate substitute. When the screaming had finally abated, she reluctantly suffered through the identical straw and announced she was coming to belly dancing with me. She was still in her pyjamas and I had to leave in 4 minutes. Again with the totally rational requests. 

To her credit, she hustled and got dressed quickly and we only left ten minutes late. I love belly dancing, and I'd love to share that with Elissa. I tried to take her to some lessons last year, but the study made making it to classes impossible. She was very keen to go back this year, but my teacher didn't seem as relaxed about the idea as last year's teacher had been. So I was feeling more than slightly nervous, bringing my recently screaming banshee of a daughter into the class of a woman who was concerned she might disrupt the rest of the class. However, as 4 year olds are wont to do, she was the picture of delight. She did the stretching exercises with us, played with her toys a bit, and then danced her own dance in the corner until it was time to take off the coin belts. Nobody seemed perturbed, and she got lots of compliments. The relief was palpable. My day was looking up. 
Then we got back to the car park and I remembered the enormous huntsman I'd seen dart inside the front passenger door frame as we'd rushed to make the class on time. Have I mentioned I'm hopelessly arachnophobic? I have been known to call friends to my house to rescue me from spiders at 6am on a Saturday (eternal thanks Cate!). I'm very proud to say that I bought a can of spray from the chemist and dealt with the 8 legged horror (and many of his variably sized compatriots in other hidey holes in the car) on my own. Of course, this last part of the story has nothing to do with the point of this post - the best and worst of 4 year olds, but I felt the need to share. 

I kinda like four. The extremes are exhausting, but amusing too. Watching the bourgeoning capacity for logic, while weathering the episodes of total logic fail. Seeing the desire for independence translate into a real reduction in work for parents weary from a whole year of three. To quote Olivia's mother, Elissa, you really wear me out, but I love you anyway.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can a leopard change his shorts?

This afternoon this 1979 radio interview with Tony Abbott came into my Twitter feed, via @wiredjazz. It's interesting listening, but my gut reaction to it being tweeted about today, and posted in 2010, is that it's a long time ago and it seems disingenuous to criticise Abbott for (albeit horrific) attitudes he held over 40 years ago, when he was at uni. Or is it? To be fair, I was at uni a decade later than Abbott, but my core values haven't changed yet. However, my position on lots of things has. I tried to think back to what I believed in the early 90s and it's quite tricky. I suspect I wouldn't like to be confronted with an interview I did back then.

For starters, I definitely believed that men and women think differently. I know this, because I spent some time doing gender based research with respect to physics education. I still think that men and women have broad tendencies to difference (although I suspect I see it as much messier than I did then), but now I focus more on how that comes to be, and on how to cater to difference without worrying about how it lines up in terms of gender.

I've learned a whole hell of a lot about marginalised, oppressed groups of people. I've always held equality dear, and always felt that the Government has a responsibility to make equality and equity happen, but I've radically changed my views about how that's best done. No doubt I will continue to change my views as I learn more, hear more points of view and have more of my assumptions shaken out.

It's a little difficult to tell from an eight or nine minute interview the nuances of whether he's demonstrating deep seated values or his then current views on the best ways to achieve the fulfilment of those values. The former are, I would say, still relevant, whilst the latter would (should?) have been modified extensively over 42 years. The clear, strong commitment that Christian values should guide politics is probably the one thing that stood out for me in that interview. That sounds to me like the kind of belief that doesn't change, ever. I also think there's plenty of recent history evidence to back up that claim. The banning of RU486 is a stand out, but there's plenty more.

The other slightly chilling part of the interview was his obvious disgust at uni students "who seem to think of themselves as women, ... homosexuals or what have you" rather than "students". I don't know whether he's managed to crawl out from under this mountain of delusion that there is nothing that makes "women, blacks, migrants and homosexuals" any different from him, but as a serial student, and a member of communities, I still "seem to think of [myself] as a woman". In 1979 Tony Abbott was wary of and alarmed by people like me. Is 40 years long enough for that kind of leopard to change his shorts?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy New Year!

I know it's the end of January. It's taken me this long to recover from the B Teach last year, and then a family holiday in Fiji, and then Christmas. Then I played a lot of mindless games for a while. Today the boys went back to school, and I feel a little more inspired, a little more in control and ready to actually implement my word for the year. My word this year, as I mentioned on Twitter, is Community.

After a year of sitting in front of a laptop, I'm keen to get involved with people again. I'll be joining the band committee at my son's school, because the band has been tremendous for him, and I'd like to give something back. I'll be trying to catch up with the people who live close by more often - people I've met through the kids' schools and neighbours. I'll also be trying to reconnect with the online communities I've been involved with in the past. As well as writing some blog posts, I hope to be reading them too! So, if anyone is still reading, say hi, remind me where your blog is if you have one and grab me on Twitter (username Shonias) if I'm not already following you.

No doubt I'll also be getting my ranty pants on - so much fodder recently! I've written dozens of posts in my head, hopefully I can some of them out and onto the page.