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Monday, 29 October 2012

Twas the fright before Christmas

I used to love Christmas. I loved the build up, going into town to see the windows, decorating the tree, giving and getting presents, the food and the parties. Over time however, I find I go through all the traditions, but it seems to be fraught with obligation and a lot of the joy has been taken from it. We have a busy festive season, and I sometimes find myself juggling two simultaneous Christmas events for the kids, then racing home to get hurriedly dressed for an adult event. I should enjoy all this socialising but I get tired. I could say no, but then I feel mean if I deprive the children of their social occasion for the sake of my own.
Then there’s Christmas Day itself. We rush all over the countryside to accommodate both family events – a lunch and a dinner. Both families are fraught with a dysfunction (no different to any other family) that I find stressful – it’s a matter of waiting for someone to be unhappy about something, someone to throw out an unintended but hurtful barb, some minor drama to unfold.
I like to take the kids into town for the big city Christmas festivities, but we rush after school and in part, we see Santa to lock in the xmas wishes.
I know all those things are not the actual reason for Christmas, but for those of us secular types, that is the celebration, all those Christmas traditions. I also dare anyone to try saying to their family "We won't come to lunch because we're only going to celebrate the birth of Christ". Even the most committed Christian grandparent would probably not be happy with that.
All of the obligation and minor pressure is why Halloween has far eclipsed any other celebration as my favourite. It’s all the good things of Christmas without the bad. I decorate the house – it takes a few days to get everything up, as over the last ten years I've amassed quite a collection of display materials. I order in the USA seasonal candy – so we have ‘special’ festive food. I have a big party, where I invite my friends and their children (if they have them), and there is no obligation or expectation ruling who I must celebrate with or what I must do. We get to dress up, as we like – and it’s fun. The kids are so excited, but without any greed (well, maybe a little, for the ton of candy but it’s more about the decorations and the carving of the pumpkin and planning of elaborate costumes).
We read Halloween stories nightly for the two weeks leading up to it (the wonderful Judy Sierra's works are my favourite), craft activities revolve around making decorations for the party. Selecting the pumpkin has become a tradition like going off to find a tree was in my youth. We drive around the week before singing along to Halloween songs. My three year old is delighting in all the light up, moving, singing, dancing ornaments that are appearing around the house.
However, I’m the one who is most excited – the whole extravaganza is driven by my enthusiasm for the event. And I guess that’s the indicator of my own dysfunction. It’s my gift to me, as Christmas and birthdays seem to have become about pleasing everybody else. For me it’s like the Christmas of my childhood, where it’s festive and fun, and purely about enjoyment.
To all the anti-Halloweeners, who see a decorated house and complain we are taking on American traditions, consider the possibility that there may be more to it than that. Perhaps it’s reclaiming the lost joy of celebration for the sake of enjoyment and pleasure, that the commercialism of Christmas has stolen.
So Happy Halloween to you all – I’m off to stencil ghosts onto the grass.

Linking up with #IMustConfess

Sunday, 21 October 2012

“ You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” - Ansel Adams


I read an interesting quote on snapshots last night.  “We take photographs not so we can remember, but so we can flesh them out with the rest of our lives. That’s why there are snapshots that are true, that hit the mark directly, and snapshots that aren’t, that don’t. Snapshots are images that time sets in their right place, giving significance to some and denying it to others, which fade on their own, like colors over time.” I can't think of any of these photos that I’ve taken,  off the top of my head, but I know when a friend of a friend died in an untimely fashion, everyone looked at the photos of her at a recent wedding, where she’d worn black, not remarked on at the time, but seen as an omen in hindsight. Can you look back at a photo and see the future that unfolded caught in time?
Which then, of course, got me thinking on memory, and how sometimes our memories are not really the memory of the actual event but the image a photo taken at the time has captured - it's really the photo we remember, but we think it’s the event we remember...
This in turn, leads me to wedding photos. The amount we spend, both financial and in time is completely out of proportion the event itself. We get false poses, or photos with family we hardly ever see, in a dress most of us never wear again, and in my case with a hairstyle I'd never worn before or since. So what exactly are we documenting?  Are we trying to create memories, in case the actual day is not up to our standards? Or do we want a lot of photos of when we are looking fabulous, for some of us at a level we will never repeat? Originally wedding photography was to capture the day, now it’s more like portraiture – and often called such. It’s just the done thing, so we do it.
A woman I worked with,  had her wedding overseas but didn’t like her photos, so got someone else to take more on her return. She actually said “I’m busy this weekend, I’m having my wedding photos redone.” Not judging that she did that, but I do wonder how you explain that to people. ‘That’s not my actual wedding, it’s us in our wedding clothes’. It’s no different to people that get married in one location then drive elsewhere for photos, which is common enough, just not normally two weeks later.
When our second child was born, we had a photographer come to the house – I looked fat & with rings under my eyes, and barely had time to put on make up. Our eldest refused to not hold up Bruce the shark in every photo, no matter how much we coaxed. In the end, the photographer did a great job, I looked great and the shark was missing in all but one photo. But the photo that makes me smile, and seems the most real to me, is the one with the shark The glam family is not us, the stubborn boy with the shark in his fist and the laughing parents is the real us.
My husband said if the house burnt down he’d grab the passports and some photos. I used to always say that, but now I think I’d just grab the kids – let’s face it, getting three kids out of the house from a deep sleep is going to take some time and effort, and realistically, we don’t look at our photos much after we take them. If we have the kids, can just take new ones, and then not look at those either…We dug out our wedding photos to show the kids on our tenth anniversary. We’d not looked at them for nine years. After an initial interest, the kids got bored and wandered off. My husband and I continued looking at them that morning but then they were packed away and not looked at again in the last two years.
My eldest son has a million baby photos not looked at since, the second has less but equally ignored after being put in the album, and the third has so few printed off, that there’s not even a specific album for her.
I love seeing them when they were little, when I stumble across a photo of them, and I love being reminded of the fun we had together on a holiday or at a museum, because how I ‘remember’ them is as they are now. The snapshot is almost of another time and person, when I was another person.  But I don’t actively put aside time to look at the photos. I’m usually hunting for a particular photo of a place or country to show someone. The flipping through the album is a by product.
Yet I keep taking them. I document the kids and our adventures together, but I’m not sure to what end. I like to take them, I like to email them to my husband at work, and I like to show people if it’s particularly interesting. But then the photos are stuffed into digital file oblivion.
As the photographer of the family, I’ve only just insisted I be in some of the photos – I don’t really like photos of myself (because in my head I’m much better looking than I am in reality, so the photo always jars with my perception of myself) but a recent death made me realise the importance. I was looking for photos for the funeral, and I realised how absent I was from the frame. I guess I think the kids won't remember I was around, or what I looked like, if they don't have an image to hold onto.
I guess I think it’s important to take photos, and I like to take photos but I don’t really know to what end? I suspect I’m not one to dwell on the past, and perhaps that’s why I’m not as attached to the images as I used to be.  .  As Imogen Cunningham said “ Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow. “

I don’t know what I make of all this, still pondering on it, but I am curious as to what others think and feel on the subject.
Feel free to disagree or even add a different aspect that I’ve overlooked.

Linking with #ArchiveLove



Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Shh, Randy! Not in front of the children!


I listen to a lot of hip hop and rap – and I have a few rules about it. I never play it with other people’s kids in the car, and my kids and I have had plenty of discussions about the inappropriate attitudes or swearing and they even understand the issues around the “N” word.  My 11 year old informed me he’d refer to Ni**as in Paris as ‘Track 3’ and he was quite horrified when he heard it on the radio “But Mum, what will they say when they back announce it? (eyes wide in alarm) What will they CALL it?”
So I thought nothing when I dug out the Randy Newman Songbook CD – lovely, melodic grand piano sing-a-long music…or so I thought.
My 8 year old had endless questions – “Why does he love money so much?” (It’s Money that I Love), “Why did they kill them if they were gay?” (Great Nations of Europe), “How can they be holy if they kill people like that?” (Great Nations of Europe) and midway through Rednecks, “Why do you like this guy? He’s weird.”  (I did realise Rednecks is TOTALLY inappropriate but it’s so catchy I can’t help it. I thought I could explain it but I failed miserably. )
He’s not weird, he’s clever and a satirist. He points out the hypocrisies of mankind, and that is harder to explain to a child than a few warnings about swear words and offensive or sexist/racist words. There is apparently some age when you don’t get it, and then you magically do, that concept that what the words are saying, and what the songwriter actually thinks are not the same.
Kids hear and see such adult things these days - I hated that Katy Perry could sing about getting so drunk she blacked out and having a three way and every little girl merrily sings along. Jesse J says not to dress like a 'ho' and that gets beeped out. What do our kids make of all this? I don't know what to make of it!
For the record, by the time I got to Leave your Hat on, I just pressed skip. Even I wasn’t brave enough to go there.  Political Science, on the other hand, I loved as a kid.  It came out in ’72 but I didn’t hear it until after Short People (I was slightly nuts about Newman as an 8 year old.) I figure if I could understand it was a joke at 8 (in the less savvy '70's), then my kids can too. Otherwise I’ll just have to dig out his Toy Story soundtrack….at least I KNOW those songs are safe!

Linking with #ArchiveLove


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Home, Home on the Gun Range - Part 2 (misconceptions)

So for those of you how came in late, I've set myself a challenge of trying new things - read more here. The first on the list was shooting. So yesterday we headed out to the Sydney International Shooting Centre, the 2000 Olympic site and tried pistol shooting.
Before we left for the hour drive, I was very excited but once we hit the centre, I became extremely nervous. I was jumpy every time a gun went off - not really the place to be for that! My friend then told me a terrible story about a person in America 'taking out' people on a gun range. This is not the story to tell someone with an already overactive imagination and anxiety issues.
We settled into the safety presentation, and this only made me more nervous. A lot of the discussion seemed to be about accidentally shooting people. I'm not sure if I was more nervous about being shot or being the person who killed someone by accident. All in all, I was very jumpy by the time I got the gun in my hand. The reality of the danger of the exercise had really kicked in.
It was a Luger .22 pistol and a target 25 m away, but I had an instructor by my side the whole time supervising, so I was, after the initial practice rounds, a little more at ease and able to concentrate on the target.
Initially I was off the target, then the outer rings. After a while I got closer to the centre. The highlight was a bullseye - not just a bullseye, but a 'bull' bullseye - which gives you 11 points in a competition, instead of the usual 10. Dead centre of the target!
It's a sport that requires patience and concentration (neither my strong point) but a skill that you can see instant results too. I could tell when I'd done a bad shot before I saw the target screen, and usually it was because I was distracted (in my head) or talking.
In the 'try shooting' group, there were 2 couples, a group of males and my girlfriends and me. Three women turning up without male counter parts is obviously a curiosity, as we were asked by the safety briefer 'who organised our outing?' (quite possibly because I was jumping when the woman shot the gun in the instructional video), and my instructor asked me if 'hubby had organised it?'. I explained my unhealthy interest in Nassar Al Attiyah and how I thought if he could get bronze at the Olympics with only 10 days practice, how hard could it be? The instructor found this hilarious, and given my final score, I can see why - though he was very encouraging about it as a first timer's attempt.
It was an interesting exercise in judgmental preconceptions - everyone there was normal. I was expecting the whole redneck gun crazed thing, in a dingy room. The facility is bright, airy, clean and pleasant. The people were just like us, and well dressed. There were a few high school kids in uniform for practice with their school rifle club. The instructors were friendly and encouraging. The whole experience, outside of my head, was enjoyable.
My instructor, when I was jumpy, informed that I needed to calm down, because I'd mess up my shots, and that for some reason women were much better shooters than men. No one knows why, they just are. I found this surprising as I tend to associate shooting as a male hobby. But there is an expression "God created men and women, Samuel Colt made them equal".
We've planned to return to try the rifles, and I might go early and take another shot with the pistol, to see if I can improve on my score. It's a really fun experience, and quite different to what my preconceptions led me to believe. And that is the important lesson of the day, our judgments cloud our opinions, sometimes based on nothing factual at all!

To conclude, I've added a few more experiences to the list:

Torshlusspanik List 
1. Shooting (check)
2. Fencing (got voucher, date to be set soon)
3. Play croquet at Croquet Club
4. Laser skeet



(was that what you were expecting of this gun totin' lady?)


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land


I spent eight hours on Friday at the EB Games Expo – as a non gamer, I saw it with quite different eyes to the majority of the crowd. Like any traveller, I think it’s good to explore other cultures with an open mind. There I witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly – but not probably as I’d expected.

THE GOOD
While not a gamer, and totally ignorant of most things techy, I am a distant cousin, the ‘comic book guy’. So the highlight of the expo for me, were the cosplayers, who had gone to amazing effort and the standard of most was exceptional. For those even less in the know than this old lady, cosplay is the term for those that dress up, or costume play. The amateurs had better costumes on the whole than the professionals sent out by the expo.

I love that there is a part of the culture that still has that enthusiasm and passion to throw themselves whole heartedly into a character, regardless of their age. There were Jedi, Dr Eggmen, Pikachus, Luigis – you name it, someone went as it.


THE BAD
The queues were horrendous. I have been to Game On and Game Masters and I think the EB Games Expo organisers need to learn from them. The Black Ops queue was three hours, Halo was two hours and Nintendo Land was over 90 minutes. I will credit gamers as the nicest and most patient group of people on the planet. Most people didn’t seem to mind, people patiently waited their turn without argument. My son said of the Halo line “Oh, it was ok because people around me were talking about Halo, so it didn’t seem that long”. It was us non-gaming chaperones that complained loudest. It made me more grateful for the fantastic cosplayers, as that gave us entertainment while in line. In fact, instead of the VIP passes being for sale, the expo should reward the effort of those dressed up by letting them ‘express pass’ the lines.


THE UGLY
While waiting for my son to exit a gamecube, I watched a promotional film on a big cinema style screen. I didn’t recognise the game but it was a war type one. On second loop, I realised it was a promotional video for the Australian Navy, with a recruitment desk at the foot of the screen. Before I continue,  I need to clarify, I mean no disrespect to the Service men and women of Australia, nor to the Navy itself. I do, however, have an issue with the frankly horrifyingly underhand and in my opinion,  unethical recruitment tactic being used. Even my 11 year old thought it seemed ‘sneaky’ that they didn’t say it was for the Navy. They used terms such as “Combat Console Careers” and “online global game of hide and seek”. “Challenge friends” using state of the art technology (showing a missile “targeting”), top secret missions and the tag line was “The Globe is your Gameboard”. The armed forces, Navy or otherwise, is not actually a game. Advertise and recruit by all means, but don’t pretend it’s a game.
The US Military spends over $20 million a year on game development for recruitment and training, so these tactics obviously work. As this campaign is aimed at young teens, I think parents need to be aware that this is going on. Explain it carefully to your children, so they aren’t being duped or taken advantage of. Going into the Navy is a fine career choice, as long as you actually are making that choice, and not thinking you’re playing Xbox.

Exhausted, but with twenty minutes to go, we headed to the chill out area. The kids merrily fought over Pacman and Frogger while I played Pinball.  It’s old, but it’s still good! And at least with Pinball, I know where I stand.


Monday, 1 October 2012

The People of the faceBook

So one thing is clear, everyone has an opinion about what should be put on Facebook, how often, and what it means about the person posting...There are judgements flying thick and fast in the ether and in print. The latest craze in blogs seems to be the demonising of “oversharing” parents. My question is WHO makes these rules? Who says what is interesting? Who says what is needy or approval seeking and what is appropriate?

I took myself off because I was beginning to get irritated by my friends (no, I'm not innocent in this judgmental behaviour either), and because I was constantly being told I didn't use it 'properly' (I talked books, sport and movies, never posted pictures of the kids, rarely even mentioned them). Ironically, the same people who complained are the ones suggesting that I go back on...While my daily post was annoying them, they miss it now that it's gone.

A friend posted on his profile (ahh, the irony!) the Guardian article that stated if you have a lot of FB friends and post frequently, you are probably exhibiting Grand Narcissistic traits (or Gross Egotism). It was a criticism of frequent posters yet while he posts rarely, he's also on Twitter - so is a daily post on FB more narcissistic than frequent posts on twitter and occasional posts on FB?

There are so many shades on this new and ethereal beast - a friend’s teenage daughter said people looked at a girl’s FB page to see how many friends she had and how many likes their comments got before deciding whether to be friends with her. I was unsure whether this 'friends' meant on FB or in real life as well...I suspect it was both, which makes me shudder, given in 10 years we'll have a teenage girl ourselves...

Why do people choose to use it? Why do they choose to share what they share? Is it healthy? I know for me, there was a certain level of addiction, and I've had 3 friends take themselves off, only to come back on. I was chatting in an online forum about Fahrenheit 451 and one member posted the following " There was no Internet in the 50s, and here am I, in Edinburgh in Scotland, writing to you in where? California? Does this reduce the isolation, or increase it?" Does Facebook, with our constant chatter bring us closer together or divide us?

In a possible backlash, I’ve noticed some posts along the lines of “I may not comment on them, but I love to see the photos of your family and hear about your daily lives. Repost if you feel the same – I’ll be watching”. However, this post opens with “To prove a point”. Is the point that a lot of people are happy with the deemed over sharing or is the point that no one looks at what anyone else posts on Facebook and it is a purely egotistical exercise? I guess it’s all up to how you use it…