Tag Archives: Family

Signal boost

Vibenna has put up his annual post. It’s about bureaucracy vs private business, exemplified by NASA and space exploration. Bureaucracy

My prediction – governments will be left behind. There will be private a moonbase by 2020. And the US will roar back into global pre-eminence.

Click through and read the whole thing.

It just shows that he is presently failing in his duty of making me another cup of coffee.

The compleat pageant experience

Adelaide is really just a giant country town. Everyone knows each other, everyone goes to the show every year, and everyone goes to the annual Christmas parade, or pageant.*

The pageant is a long, long parade, making its way from one side of the old city to the other, and taking about an hour to pass. In our first year here, we headed down town about half an hour before the parade was due to start, and stood in the back row. The girls were entranced. Last year I flatly refused to go: the overnight low was about 25 degrees, and it was due to reach about 30 by the time the parade started at 9.30am. But this year, our last in Adelaide, I thought that I ought to take the girls to see the parade.

We staggered out of bed at 6.00am, got dressed, had a hasty breakfast, gathered up the cushions and chairs and blanket we had organised the previous evening, and headed off at 6.30am. When I say, “we”, I mean me and the girls. Mr Strange Land stayed in bed.** By 7.00am I had parked in the Central Markets car park, and the girls and I had gone down to Victoria Square, and staked out a spot behind the blue honour line. This is a special road marking that exists only for the sake of the pageant, delineating paraders from paradees. Woe betide any school boy who elects to sit over the line; a passing police officer will hustle him back. I had thought that this would be a good spot on the parade route: easy parking, easy access to toilets, not too far from the start (the dancers and marchers and walkers and clowns always look very, very tired towards the end of the route), the chance to sit right on the tramlines, the possibility of excursions to find coffee. The pageant wasn’t due to start until 9.30am, but some people arrived at 4.00am to find a good spot, and by the time we arrived at 7.00, there were only one or two front row spaces left. We were just in time.

We set up our chairs and cushions and blankets, and then I went and got coffee and hot chocolates from the markets. Bliss! After that, the girls engaged in the fine pastime of defacing the streets of Adelaide.

Three girls, drawing on the street with chalk.

Defacing the streets of Adelaide

I thought that this was their best piece of graffiti.

My mum is the best, in chalk, alongside the tramline.

"My mum is the best."

Drawing on the streets with chalk has become part of the pageant ritual in recent years, so much so that the community aid tents hand out chalks to children who have come without. They also gave out water, and sunblock, and balloons. The girls queued for half an hour to get a balloon each. Of the three balloons, two were lost into the sky, and one popped, very loudly. Some children had brought bubble mix and bubble blowers, and hordes of children chased bubbles all over the place. Alas, one bubble popped right in Miss Nine the Elder’s eye, but a very young St John’s Ambulance chap helped her to wash it out. At 9am, we took part in an attempt to set a world record for the largest number of people singing Christmas carols at one time. Ms Twelve has become interested in world records, so she was pleased to have her name recorded as a participant. We listened to announcements, and interviews with pageant participants. I swear that the Pageant Queen must come from Taranaki: her nasal rising inflection as she said, “Hello” was a dead giveaway. Or perhaps it’s just the country connection. I chatted with the people next to us, and did some crochet. The girls asked, repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Is it time yet?”

At last, the countdown began, and at 9.30am, the parade started. 10 minutes later it reached us. Four mounted police officers led the parade, riding stately grey horses.

Mounted police officers

Mounted police

From then on there were floats and marching bands and dancers and clowns. Some of the floats were very hokey indeed. I liked the bands; I loved hearing the snatches of music, and seeing the different people engaged in making music. The girls liked the fairy tale floats, but they were disappointed that the snail float didn’t appear this year (the snail leaves a watery slime trail as it goes). Nipper and Nimble came by – two model horses, each ridden by a very small girl in fairy clothes. Apparently it is a great honour to be chosen to ride Nipper or Nimble, and the politics around the selection is intense. Those who miss out can go and sit on Nipper and Nimble in Santa’s Cave in David Jones, but it’s not the same.

I thought that the panda float was a highly accurate representation of the wretched beasts: the papier mache models did absolutely nothing, just like the real things.

Model pandas, static, of course.

Why is there a kangaroo in the middle?

The nativity scene was much more interesting, preceded by three camels.

Three camels, each ridden by a "wise man".

Camels and kings

After an hour or so, Santa Claus came by, and then it was all over. There was an enormous traffic jam as 300,000 people all tried to head home, but that was to be expected.

So we experienced getting up early, the wait, sitting on tram lines, drawing on the street, takeaway coffee and hot chocolates, getting balloons, losing balloons, getting first aid, taking part in a world record attempt, counting down to the start of the parade, seeing the parade go by, and long delays in the traffic on the way home. Later on that day, I checked the photo gallery on the local paper’s site, and there we are in the background of one of the shots. It was truly the compleat experience.

* About 300,000 people, or nearly 1/3 of Adelaide’s population.

** And later got up to carry on with the mountain of work he has at present.

200 years later, and we’re still making the same case

Cross posted

The excellent Blue Milk has posted a quote from Andrea O’Reilly, in which Professor Reilly questions the nature of our arguments around improving the status and practice of motherhood.

While I do believe that empowered mothers are more effective mothers and that anti-sexist childrearing and maternal activism are worthwhile aims, I still wonder and worry why the rhetoric of rationalization has become the strategy of choice among feminist activists and scholars today and why our campaigns for social change centre on children, and not ourselves as mothers. Why can we not simply demand that motherhood be made better for mothers themselves?

Click through to read the whole quote.

Professor O’Reilly acknowledges that as a matter of rhetorical strategy, it may be a good idea to emphasise that making things better for mothers will make things better for children. But why, she asks, can we not just make things better for mothers, for their own sake?

It’s a good question, but one that can be discussed over at Blue Milk’s place. I want to tell you about the resonance I heard in Professor O’Reilly’s writing. It’s a resonance with Mary Wollstonecraft. In her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, Wollstonecraft argues that men and women are of the same kind, that although there may be differences between them, they are differences of degree, not kind, and that if that is the case, then women have a right to be educated, just as much as men do. That is, she argues for women’s right to education on the basis of principle.

But she also argues:

Do passive indolent women make the best wives? Confining our discussion to the present moment of existence, let us see how such weak creatures perform their part? Do the women who, by the attainment of a few superficial accomplishments, have strengthened the prevailing prejudice, merely contribute to the happiness of their husbands? Do they display their charms merely to amuse them? And have women, who have early imbibed notions of passive obedience, sufficient character to manage a family or educate children?

But these littlenesses would not degrade their character, if women were led to respect themselves, if political and moral subjects were opened to them; and, I will venture to affirm, that this is the only way to make them properly attentive to their domestic duties.

But it is vain to expect the present race of weak mothers either to take that reasonable care of a child’s body, which is necessary to lay the foundation of a good constitution, supposing that it do not suffer for the sins of its fathers;b or, to manage its temper so judiciously that the child will not have, as it grows up, to throw off all that its mother, its first instructor, directly or indirectly taught; and unless the mind have uncommon vigour, womanish follies will stick to the character throughout life. The weakness of the mother will be visited on the children!

In public schools women, to guard against the errors of ignorance, should be taught the elements of anatomy and medicine, not only to enable them to take proper care of their own health, but to make them rational nurses of their infants, parents, and husbands;

Besides, by the exercise of their bodies and minds women would acquire that mental activity so necessary in the maternal character, united with the fortitude that distinguishes steadiness of conduct from the obstinate perverseness of weakness.

Arguments from pragmatism have a long history in feminist thinking.

Yes, I know that patriarchy harms men too, and that in slowly, slowly, knocking away the patriarchal structures that oppress women, we create a better world for everyone. But as Andrea O’Reilly says, and as Wollstonecraft argues in other places, wouldn’t it be good for women to be educated, for women’s work to be valued, just because women deserve it, for themselves.

Snippets from home

I went home for the weekend, for a party to celebrate my aunty’s 80th birthday. It was a great party. My cousin estimates that there are about 400 of us who claim descent, or descent by marriage, from our grandparents, and a fair proportion of those were at the party. I saw cousins I hadn’t seen for quarter of a century, first cousins twice removed, all three of my godchildren (Casey, Caitlin and Katherine – I specialise in people who begin with a ‘k’), saw the joy in my aunty’s face as her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered around her. I was so pleased to be there.


New Zealand is very green.


I met a friend for lunch in a cafe in Wellington. We were very good, and we didn’t start singing until about 15 minutes before she had to go back to work, and we sang very softly, just to compare notes on some songs we have been singing. We were sitting outside, so I think that excuses us.


That ‘h’ seems to be spreading. For people reading this who aren’t from New Zealand, the New Zealand Geographic Board recently decided that a town called “Wanganui” which is in the Whanganui region, and on the banks of the Whanganui river, should be called, “Whanganui.” The h-less spelling seems to have been an error by the missionaries who first started writing Maori language, so it’s more-or-less a correction of a spelling mistake. But the good burghers of Wanganui are incensed – how dare anyone gainsay what them white folks want. In the meantime, the Wanganui Chronicle has decided to fix its masthead problems by becoming the Whanganui Cronicle (the ‘h’ doesn’t do any work in ‘chronicle’ anyway), Mt Cook has become Mt Chook, and Thames (not the English river, but a small town in NZ) is at last being spelled as it is sounded, because Whanganui will be needing all the spare h’s it can get. I think that over time, the recalcitrant people of Wanganui will be brought round by humour.

(For the record, I think it should be Whanganui. My farming cousins would disagree. But then, they think it should still be Egmont.)


I met a friend I had not seen for six years. He is recently home from the UK, taking up a position at Auckland University. We had coffee and cake and gossip in a cafe in Auckland. With a bit of luck, now that he is back on this side of the world, I might see him again soon, instead of in another six years time.


I stayed overnight with another friend. We talked late, over a bottle of wine, and ate cheese and crackers and strawberries, and had another drink. It was so good to spend time with her, to talk knowing that there was no back story that I needed to explain.


I miss home. Still. Perhaps forever.


I came home to find my darlings in fine form. The Misses Eight had put a note and some flowers on my bedside table, welcoming me home and saying they had missed me. Mr Strange Land said they put it there the day after I left. The first morning I was away, they got up and unstacked the dishwasher, had breakfast, got dressed, and made their own school lunches, and their big sister’s as well. This is a wonderful innovation. On Saturday morning, Ms Eleven made breakfast in bed for her dad – warmed croissant, jam, butter, coffee, fruit juice, all nicely presented on a tray.


As for the tawdry sex scandal surrounding the South Australian premier – I’m bored with it already. M-H has said what I would say, were I to get around to saying it.

Dinosaurs thundering by again

“Wife wins in court property shock” shrieks the headline in the New Zealand Herald today. The shock? On the dissolution of marriage, the wife got to keep a significant share of the property. What’s the shock in that? This is normal procedure when a marriage comes apart.

But it seems that some barristers in New Zealand are of the same opinion as a m’lud in Australia I wrote about last year. The Australian judge opined that where one person has made a “special contribution” to a marriage (i.e. made lots of money), then the other partner shouldn’t get a share of that on dissolution. The New Zealand barristers go a step further.

Barrister Anthony Grant has described the case as involving “the annihilation by stealth of separate property”. He says the case is “shocking” and “a stunner”, not necessarily because it was wrongly decided, but because people had not been aware that “indirect contributions” involving something as ordinary as household chores could convert a spouse’s separate property into relationship property.

“In a typical marriage where, say, the husband has separate property from an inheritance or a prior relationship he is now liable to lose it if his wife can say that her doing the housework helped him to increase the value of the property. While he was at his desk working on his separate property affairs and his wife was doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, feeding the kids, and so on – she was simultaneously taking the separate property!”

Oh noes! Women’s work is actually valuable!!! No matter that the wife’s work enable her husband to pursue property development, no matter that in addition to running the family home and rearing the children, the wife in this instance also earned over $300,000 during the 24 years of marriage, money that kept the debt-wolf from the couple’s door, no matter that even though the husband brought some assets to the marriage, a huge proportion of the increase in value of those assets occurred during the marriage, not before. According to this barrister, all she did was ordinary old housework, and that is utterly worthless.

This is in incredibly vicious view of marriage. When people get married, they are setting up a long term partnership, agreeing to go ahead in life together, as a couple, not as two individuals. They agree to share homes and property and daily life and children. It’s a complete merger of interests, not a series of arm’s length transactions. All the more so when a marriage has persisted for nearly quarter of a century.

Grant has some solutions though.

Grant suggested three ways for spouses to avoid the loss of separate property: [(1)] A Section 21 agreement that specifies who owns what before the relationship and ensures indirect contributions don’t affect that arrangement. [(2)] Vesting separate property in a trust at the outset. [(3)]Get a nanny or housekeeper do the housework.

(1) and (2) – meh. That’s fine if marriage is just a transaction. But in that case, why get married at all. And in any case, why block your ex-partner from being entitled to owership of a fair proportion of the increase in value during a marriage. But (3) stuns me. A full-time live-in nanny, and a full-time live-in housekeeper? Not only does that cost an incredible amount, but it says that all that is involved in rearing children is cleaning and feeding and supervising them. It takes loving, engaged, commitment to rear children, to ensure that they are happy and secure, that they know they are loved for themselves, they know that a parent will be there for them, not for a wage. The loving commitment of parenting can of course be combined with childcare. But it cannot be replaced by full-time (as in, 24 hours a day) care.

Then the final little dig, but this time, from another lawyer, Andrew Watkins.

“It will certainly put the owner of the land on the back foot. It’s sending a signal to husbands, or people who have separate assets, to sign an agreement first. That’s the first and best thing to do.”

Spot the little slip of the tongue there? It’s men who own property, and it’s men who need protecting from those rapacious hordes of women who think that their work, and their contributions to a marriage, should actually be valued.

Dinosaurs. Alive and well in New Zealand.

It’s the wobble and the cut

A couple of months ago, I had a go at making quince jelly, with assistance over the phone from my lovely mother. The batch I made wasn’t too bad at all, but not up to my mother’s standards. Then Mum and Dad came to stay a few weeks ago, so I bought some more quinces, and Mum and I made jelly together.

I learned so much from making jelly with my mother. She had given me clear instructions (‘though I managed to miss the bit about not squeezing the jelly bag), and I am an experienced cook, quite capable of following a recipe, and adjusting it as needed. As a child, I had hung around in the kitchen while Mum was making jelly, so somehow I knew how to fill and hang a jelly bag, and how to sterilise and seal hot jars of jelly (jam / chutney / pickles / whatever it was that Mum was making that day). I knew a lot. But, it was not enough.

The critical bit of knowledge that I could only gain through working with Mum was the “glassy” stage. Mum had told me to start testing the jelly once it started to look glassy. It turned out that what she meant by this was not what I had understood. I had seen the jelly getting glossier, but when Mum said “glassy,” what she meant that the jelly was thickening a little, and instead of looking liquid, it was starting to look a little heavier, and denser, a bit like the glass in old window panes. My parents live in a very old house, in New Zealand terms. It was built in 1863, and some of the panes of glass in the windows have been there since then. They are a bit thicker and heavier in appearance than modern glass, and there are bubbles in some of them. That’s about the look of the jelly when it reached the glassy stage, and it was time to begin testing it.

And then I watched as Mum tested the jelly. First she put a teaspoonful onto a chilled saucer, per her original instructions. After about 30 seconds or so, she drew a spoon through it to see how quickly it flowed back together. But then, she did something that she hadn’t told me about. She picked the saucer up, and tilted it this way and that, looking to see how viscous it was, how quickly, or slowly, it flowed down the saucer. And after that, she carefully dripped it back into the boiling pot, again looking to see how quickly drops formed. “Hmmm,” she said, with a thoughtful look on her face. “A bit longer yet.”

Eventually looking quite satisfied, she said, “That’s about right now.” At that stage the teaspoon line in the jelly held for a few seconds before the sides creeped back together, and it flowed begrudgingly down the saucer. I have a clear visual memory of what it looked like – still liquid, but thicker and heavy. But not too thick and heavy. There’s a moment when it’s just right. When I made my first batch of jelly, I boiled the mix for a bit too long, and although the jelly tastes good, it is a bit sticky.

Dad was watching the whole process too. Like my mother’s mother, his mother made pickles and jellies and jams too. Apparently, my Granny used to say that you should be able to cut a good jelly, and it should wobble. “You can tell a good jelly by the wobble and the cut.”

The jelly Mum and I made together is glorious. It’s beautifully clear, it wobbles, and it can be cut cleanly with knife. And it tastes superb.


Jelly and jam and pickle making is a lovely skill to have. I like being able to make jars of preserves, some for our own use, some to use as house gifts when we go to someone’s home for a meal, some to give to friends. I don’t know that it’s an essential life skill, but it is certainly one that I want to pass on to my daughters, partly to preserve the old knowledge, partly to give them a gift that has come to me from my mother and my grandmothers. What I have found fascinating about this whole experience is just how much I needed to learn from the process of doing, rather than from recipe books. I suppose that with enough attempts, I could have learned to judge the right stage of the jelly mix, but watching my Mum do it made it all so much easier.

I have memory boxes for my daughters, and for me. The girls’ boxes have their school reports and pre-school photos and diaries, and copies of birth announcements and so on. My box has some of the girls’ baby clothes that I couldn’t bear to give away – a beautiful seersucker babydoll dress that Miss Ten wore when she was about three months, the yellow 0000 suits that the Miss Sevens wore in the first few days of their lives (those tiny suits looked very big on them), some small hats that my aunty sent for the babies, which we thought would never be worn, but they were just the right size for my newborn twins. These are my treasures, the tangible connections to the people I love most. My mother has written out a list of instructions and hints and tips for making jelly. I’ve kept her handwritten list of instructions, and put them in my memory box.

More on making jelly

This is from my mother (though I couldn’t resist making my own comments, in italics). It goes with my earlier post on making quince jelly, and it has come about because while Mum and Dad were here recently, I bought some quinces, and Mum and I made quince jelly, together. Before, during and after the jelly making, Mum wrote a series of notes about how to make jelly. Over three or four days, she wrote and then added to these notes, as she recalled pieces of advice about jelly-making. I have also written about the experience of making jelly with Mum.

– Wash fruit.
– Remove major blemishes, bruising.
– Cut fruit into chunky slices. Don’t peel, core.
This is because she caught me peeling and coring the fruit. “Oh no!” she said. “You need the core and the peel for the pectin.” The pectin helps the jelly to set. We rescued the day by peeling a granny smith apple, and putting the peel into the mix.
– Place into large pot, preserving pan.
– Barely cover with water.
– Bring slowly to boil.
– Simmer till fruit is really well cooked.
That means mushy, but still holding its shape.
– Leave to cool a little.
– Pour fruit and juice into jelly bag sitting in large basin.
– Move fruit in bag and basin and hang from hook to strain.
– Leave overnight or several hours.
– Don’t squeeze jelly bag!
My first batch of jelly tasted good, but it was cloudy, not clear. This is because I squeezed the bag. Neither Mum nor I could remember whether she had told me about this, but my guess is that she did, and I just forgot.
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