Sunday, December 15, 2013

Commodification And The Sale Of Innocence

**Warning: this post contains my opinions, and a rant to go with them. If your family choices are different to ours, please do not hear me judging you. You know what is best for your family, just as I know what is best for mine.**

Every day since the first of December, our family has opened one of our little advent sacks and read the message inside, and have enjoyed completing the Christmassy activity or tasks each day. Yesterday's message read,

There are a lot of movies about Christmas. Today we are going to watch a Christmas movie.

In hindsight, I should have hired a Christmas movie from the video shop. Instead, we checked ahead to see what was showing on free-to-air TV and decided to watch 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas' on commercial TV. (Also, in hindsight, I really should have picked a movie that I had seen ahead of time. I found The Grinch to be a little too 'old' for our kids.)
Our kids rarely watch TV, and when they do, the only watch ABC2 or DVDs that we have handpicked. We keep them very sheltered from the media, as far as we can, as we believe that there is plenty of time for them to be bombarded with the messages and pressure of the media and modern society, and their innocence and childhoods are a gift to be treasured, protected and nurtured. 

Last night, I watched my girls watch TV. I watched them take in the ads, the suggestions that they should want this product or that, that this object or that one would make them happy. I watched them watch news headlines, and promotion clips for other TV shows.

I wondered why, in a G-rated family movie at a 7pm timeslot, the channel would feel the need to air news headlines about brawls and murders, complete with confronting images. I wondered why they would advertise M-rated TV shows, complete with clips that I feel were definitely not appropriate for children. Why would I want my young children to see that? If I, as a mother, make the choice to allow my children to watch something that has been deemed appropriate for young children, then shouldn't that child-appropriateness naturally extend to the commercial breaks as well?

Unfortunately, a little research told me that my stance is not shared by the governing bodies in charge of monitoring TV advertising standards and viewing safety. Apparently, it is allowable for TV stations to air promotion of M rated material during G or PG programs in an evening timeslot, as long as the promotional material meets the requirements of the G or PG rating. In other words, as long as the ad doesn't show too much, it's ok. A bit of online searching led me to a complaint made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority about an ad for a M rated show that was aired during an evening sporting telecast, which is legally assumed to be PG rated.The ACMA found in favour of the TV station saying that although the
"promotion does contain depictions of sexual behaviour and references to sexual activity... [it] is considered to be restrained, as the sexual activity is implied rather than explicitly depicted [and is] mild in impact."

Which leads me to question, were the images of a young girl involved in a violent brawl in Northbridge this weekend being roughly thrown into the back of a police van considered to be mild in impact? What about the news voice over detailing the discovery of a body in WA bushland, of a man presumed to be murdered? Even the news is a product to be sold these days - news images are chosen carefully for maximum impact as ratings are ruthlessly sought. Shock and sex sells, and our children are not immune to this.

How about the ads for fast food and alcohol? Should it not be a shared societal responsibility (media included) to protect our children from obesity, poor health and the normalisation of alcohol consumption? What about (and I fear I may not have as many supporters here) the messages that come through in product advertisement? The idea that Christmas is about getting lots of presents, that we should always want more? Or the ad that depicts two men competing with each other over who has the 'best' and 'biggest' camping gear?

Last night's foray into commercial 'family' TV reaffirmed for me the choice we have made to embrace a simpler, more mindful and definitely less commercial Christmas - or, indeed, any other time of the year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Week.....

.... we have enjoyed an early family Christmas celebration...

All very busy opening presents.
.... we have celebrated Eden's fifth birthday...

Please forgive me for the paper plates and cups - at least we could compost them afterwards!
Birthday Girl.
Enjoying the very talented face painting by a clever kindy mum.
Eden's tiara birthday cake.

.... we have done some Christmas crafting, by ourselves and with some local friends...

The spice angels we made with our friends.
Christmas cards the kids made with their Grandma.
.... we have coped with the current heatwave by going swimming and relaxing...

.... we have had Grandma over for a stay...

.... we have enjoyed cricket and homemade beer...

Even Brannen has taken his place on the couch to watch the 'kiyet' (cricket)
.... we have done some Christmas cooking...

Gingerbread Christmas tree decorations.
.... we have made some Christmas gifts...

Lined tote bags for the girls to carry their swimming gear to swimming lessons.
My first attempt at a reversible tote with box corners - happy!
 ....receiving my university results. One distinction, and two high distinctions. I am very happy with that. I am changing my course slightly for 2014 onwards, to a double major in Sustainable Development and Community Development. I am slowly hatching ideas and plans for my future 'career' (or not) direction and am very excited about what the next few years may bring.

.... the lead up to Christmas is so exciting! What have you and yours been up to?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chicken Business

Our first batch of little chicks grew up..... into five roosters and one hen. We couldn't keep all the roosters so they were destined for the freezer. Their father, our main rooster, also needed dispatching, as he is now directly related to most of the hens in our brood. We also have received roosters for eating from a couple of local friends, so Nath has spent the last few evenings killing, plucking, and processing chicken meat. Tonight will be a big night - Nath and a friend have the last of them to get through, nine roosters and a drake (which will end up on the Christmas table). We'll have enough chicken meat to see us through a few months I would say.

Killing our roosters left us with a role to fill. We selected one of the roosters we had received from friends to fit the bill of our new head rooster. He is currently terrified of us, and wary of the chickens, but he has been working his way up the pecking order, one by one, so I am sure he will settle in at the boss spot soon. He's quite a pretty little thing, too, so different from the Plymouth/Australorp roosters we have been used to. Eventually I will get another big meat breed rooster, and maybe run two pens of chooks, but for now this new fellow will do. He is a Rhode Island Red/Isa Brown cross. Hopefully he throws more girls than the last boy did!


A few years ago, when I first started sewing, I made a string of Christmassy bunting with pockets on the front to use as an advent calendar. The problem with early sewing projects, however, is that over the years you become increasingly aware of the not-so-little flaws in your rudimentary sewing, in a way that is only glaringly obvious to you, the sewer, but nonetheless has the power to drive you crazy whenever you look at it.

I decided this year, as we pulled the very rustic Christmas bunting out of the suitcase, that I would make a new advent calendar for our family. I've been struggling a little with insomnia recently, and therefore found myself at four in the morning looking through Pinterest at different advent calendar designs, and settling upon one that was actually far more work than my sleep deprived brain realised. In the couple of days since, I have cut and sewn 25 little drawstring bags, 25 little fabric circles and hand sewn the numbers 1 to 25 onto 25 little felt circles.

And I am very glad I did, because this little advent calendar is gorgeous, and looks lovely sitting in a cane basket on our rocking chair.

Nath and I wrote out 25 little messages with 25 different Christmas-related tasks for the kids to do and reflect on, and every day they open a bag to find out what their Christmas activity for the day is. Every three or four days, they even find a chocolate each!

The advent countdown is on!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Family Christmas Rituals

Christmas is such a magical time, I truly love this time of the year. The Christmas story is beautiful and meaningful for even those of us who just loosely align themselves with Christian beliefs. It speaks of the timeless strength of love, the humanness of spirituality and the humility of greatness. Christmas is a time of reflecting on one's journey, drawing inwards as a family unit, yet always offering hospitality and kindness. It is a time of sharing, and celebrating what each of us have to offer our communities.

Establishing Christmas rituals has been something I have very much enjoyed over the years since Nath and I were married, and have had children. We have put a lot of thought into what we would like our children to learn from the rituals we put in place, and what messages we want them to take away from the Christmas period. In recent years, we have become adamant that the commercial face of Christmas is not for us, and have tried to instil a different way of celebrating into our children's experience of Christmas.

We do this in a variety of ways. Our focus is on giving. We don't write Christmas wishlists, we write lists of what we are going to give to others. The kids don't get to peruse catalogues circling every toy they wish they could have. The focus is on how we can make someone else's Christmas that little bit lovelier.

Every year before Christmas, we ask the kids to choose some toys that they would like to give to children whose Christmas may not be as bountiful as ours. We donate these toys to our local women's and children's domestic violence refuge. Our kids choose without much input (sometimes I need to say, no sweetheart, that one is broken/sentimental/not in good enough shape to give as a gift)- it is their choice as to what and how much they give. They know where their gifts are going, and they accompany me to do the drop off. We discuss the traditional story of St Nicholas (a version of this story of the impoverished maidens) and talk about how this links to the modern story of Santa. (Interestingly, even though we have always been very upfront that the 'Santa' of today is not 'real', they cling to this belief in the jolly fat man in the red suit. We have given up and now just go with it. Childhood only lasts so long.)

Another tradition we have is to travel the 55km to the nearest metropolitan train station, then catch the train into Perth CBD to show the kids the Perth City Christmas Lights, the illumination of the old Perth GPO and then go up to the Myer Santaland so the kids can ride the Santa Express train. This year, instead of buying tea, we took a packed picnic and sat in the Government House gardens. We put all our leftovers in a clear plastic container and left it on a bench, hopefully for one of the homeless people who use the gardens as a sleeping place.

Of course, a much-loved part of our Christmas ritual is the putting up of the Christmas tree. We did this today, a couple of days early, but I felt it was deserved after we attended our local community Christmas fair with three very tired but very well behaved children. We dress our tree with homemade (mostly kid-made) decorations, and other homemade decorations adorn the room. This year, we set up the absolutely beautiful wooden Nativity Scene that Nath's parents bought the kids from Taiwan when they moved back to Australia, and used it to tell the story of Christmas to the kids. Over the coming weeks, we will have more craft days and make more decorations to put on our tree.

Our gift giving focuses on the handmade and secondhand treasures. We usually give the kids two or three presents plus a stocking filled with little things like new toothbrushes, cherries and hair elastics. Christmas gifts are not an extravagant affair in our house. We make batches of hamper foods for gifts for grandparents, teachers and friends, and have a Kris Kringle for Nath's brothers and their wives. We keep it small and personal and very much enjoy thinking about each person we are making or treasure hunting for.

Finally, our last Christmas ritual is to go camping over Christmas. We head down to Margaret River and spend a few days camping, swimming, beach-going and exploring. Christmas Day is quiet, usually a roast on the Webber or prawns and cold meats, and as it's just our family, we kick back and relax and enjoy the day together. When the kids go to bed, Nath and I sit under the stars with a homemade alcoholic eggnog, Nath plays his guitar and we reflect on the year.

I'd love to hear what you and yours do around Christmastime - do you have any treasured rituals? What does Christmas mean in your family? Happy, happy festive season, everybody!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Frugal Christmas Gifts: Paper Covered Wooden Letters

With a month yesterday until Christmas, exams finished for the year, and my determination to give Christmas gifts that are secondhand or handmade, I have some serious crafting to do! A while ago a friend of mine gave another friend's little girl some gorgeous paper covered letters to make up her name that will look stunning on her bedroom wall. It reminded me that I had, somewhere in the depths of my sewing room, some large wooden letters of the girls' names and decided to make something similar for their Christmas gifts.

I went shopping and chose a pad of fairy-ish, butterfly-ish coordinating scrapbook papers and some embellishments to match. All up it cost me less than $30 for enough supplies to make both girls' gifts (but I already had the letters). I started by choosing the papers I wanted to use for each letter and tracing the upside down letter onto the back of the paper. I then very carefully cut the letters out.

 I applied an even layer of PVA glue to each wooden letter and smoothly pressed each paper cutout on, taking care not to leave bubbles in the surface. When the glue had dried, I trimmed any overhanging paper with a craft knife.

I used some fine sandpaper to sand the edges of the letters, giving them a more 'finished' appearance and preventing the edges from peeling back. Nath (who has had far more experience with spray paint than I) sprayed two coats of a silver glitter laquer to each letter.

I then arranged and superglued the embellishments, including some tiny little rhinestones for some extra shine.

The girls' fairy name letters look just as good as any that you could buy at the shop, and were a fraction of the price. I think the girls will love them.

One gift down, many more to make!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Right Now

Last exam tomorrow. I feel as if life is about to un-pause. It's marvellous. Sadly, my commitment to study has diminished slightly with every exam that passes, I am limping to the finish line whilst dreaming of the unimaginable freedom I will feel when uni is finished for the year! Not that I haven't enjoyed it, on the contrary, I have loved the content and the learning. But..... summer holidays!

Meanwhile, please allow me to indulge some of my holiday dreaming...

Wishing: ...we could have been with family in the UK for the dedication of a delicious newborn nephew.

Reading: ... An Anthology of Modern Verse, found in an opshop for $8, complete with old clippings and an inscription from 1925. Lovely.

Looking Forward To: ...Christmas! I love this time of the year, and I have so many gift and craft ideas to get onto after exams!

Creating: ...a memory wall in my bedroom. A place for artwork, photos, quotes, letters and inspiration.

Planning: ...handmade Christmas gifts, including some beautiful wall name plaques for the girls.

Cooking: ...Christmas pudding. All the fruits are soaking in a generous amount of sherry and brandy, ready for baking into pudding for Christmas Day.

Arranging: ...Christmas meat. We sent a pig, purchased from a friend, to slaughter last weekend, and are picking it up butchered and dressed next weekend. A full freezer, including a lovely rolled pork roast just in time for Christmas!

Enjoying: ...the longer days. Evening swims, walks and bike rides, drinks on the deck, no wonder it has been hard to concentrate on studying!

Hoping: baby boy (who really isn't a baby anymore) enjoys his second birthday this Saturday!

See you on the other side of my last exam!
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