Gun control: game enough?

I am surrounded. There is no escape. Once a place of solace, my humble local supermarket is now overrun. I feel thwarted. Ambushed by the sight of the high-tech gadgetry and militiaous ammunition, I hang my head in resignation…

Guns were always part and powder of growing up on a farm. Sometimes, after all the usual supplies of silver, veterinarian-administered-medication bullets had been exhausted, only one humane option remained: a swift, gun barrel stun to the dairy-cow cranium.

The closest my brothers and I ever got to seeing our 12-gauge shotgun was from behind the triple locked, jail-strength-iron-latticed walls of our pump shed. Still, the proscribed intrigue coupled with the rare reverberent sound of a late night spell of bovine euthanasia, was enough to spawn years of intermittent, creative endeavors to build replicas of this detained weapon. Disheveled hay bales enveloped in old sheets became make shift targets. Poly’ pipe and metal tubing mirrored the barrels. And finger moulds of latex gloves fastened with elastic bands onto the pipes proved to be the most effective means of sending innocent rodents and summertime cicadas to their premature demise.

It doesn’t take too many conversations with Mike – our neighbour from the Deep South of the United States – to understand how insidiously pervasive both the loss of life and ones’ sense of liberty can be on the psychology of those living in communities affected by ongoing gun violence. In 1996, Australia realised its worst semi-automatic gun massacre. In just 8 seconds an average, workaday cafe was turned into a blood bath with 12 innocent lives lost. Another 8 lives were stolen in a subsequent, seventy-five-second burst of callous firing. In a little over half an hour, the once peaceful town of Port Arthur (Tasmania), was changed forever. Permanently scared with the devastating memories associated with the tragic loss of 35 of it’s citizens.

Outraged by the senseless acts of the gunman, the newly elected leader of the conservative party, John Howard, launched an audacious offensive on the pre-existing gun laws. Holding firm to the cause, revolts from country parties and state governments were forestalled following a final-straw threat to hold a nationwide referendum that would have seen state-based licencing and semi-automatic weapon regulation relinquished to the federal government. Over the next twelve months, state controlled legislation would be changed to make it harder for the average Joe Citizen to obtain and keep a gun and over one million semi-automatic weapons would be surrendered as part of a revolutionary Gun Buyback Scheme.

While there is much ambivalence in the academic community as to the universal effectiveness of the 1996 gun law reforms, one fact remains overtly clear. In the twenty two years since the Port Arthur massacre, Australia has not realised a single mass shooting.

…overwhelmed, I surrender. Ninety minutes of traipsing through department stores, toy warehouses and gift shops and I fail to find even a single, non-gun-shaped water receptacle for K1’s birthday party game. Dejectedly, I make my way down the cleaning isle to grab the almost-forgotten, biodegradable washing powder. All of a sudden the mothers-defeat-weight is lifted from my shoulders. Hidden away behind the bulk-buy household bleach bottles are eight, green-topped, ready-to-decorate bulb sprayers. Party time!

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Gun-Free Water Fun Party Game

Resources:

Bulb sprayers (enough for one per child)

Stickers

Large bucket

Thin cardboard (I used old lego boxes)

White paper

Water soluble paint

PVA glue

Paint brushes

String

Safety pins

Making the colour tags and decorating the bulb sprayers:

If you’ve ever experienced being squirted in the eye by a bulb sprayer set on jet-stream, you’ll understand why I have gone to such lengths to divert attention toward the lower part of the body. Making colour tags is not at all required for this simple water fun game to be a huge hit…it does however provide one with an easy “shooting at the tags kiddos” cue to keep you in the party-invitee parents’ good books.

Using water soluble paints, let your childrens’ imagination run decorating-wild and task them with painting sheets of A4 paper crazy and creative designs. Cut each design in half to create an A5 sized sheet.

Using a scrap A5 sheet of paper as a template, trace and cut out the required number of cardboard pieces to make the colour tags. Using PVA glue, stick one sheet of decorated, A5 white paper onto one piece of cardboard. Repeat for the remaining pieces of paper and cardboard. Leave to dry overnight underneath some heavy books. Hole punch the top of the cardboard. Loop a piece of string through the two holes and tie. This should be tight to stop the tag from flipping over. Insert a safety pin through the knot.

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Using the stickers, decorate the bulb sprayers. To avoid ownership arguments at the conclusion of the game, label the bulb sprayers with each party-invitee’s name.

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Playing the game:

Resources: Colour Tags, Decorated Bulb Sprayers, large bucket filled with water

I am sure there are many interesting ways one could design the game. In the end I went with simple.

The aim of the game is to be the last player standing. Each player can take 10 hits to their tag (honesty system…or…if you have the adult power…use some referees to help keep count). Once your tag is hit 10 times (to the best of your knowledge) you need to stand outside the playing space. The winner is the person who remains in the playing space after all other players have left. Should players need to refill their bulb sprayers, they must do so using the water in the large bucket. Players are considered safe while they are refilling their sprayers.

In truth, the game quickly descended into thirty minutes of just plain, water-spraying fun. The bulb sprayers, in addition to my Mum’s ever popular mini gingerbread men, made a great replacement for the traditional party favour goodies.

The BFG Jam

It was a trogglehumper of an afternoon.

Vehicleless and bereft of suitable wet-weather attire, I watched, with increasing anxiety, as the cumulonimbus cloud front hurtled its’ way toward the afterschool pick up zone. Realising the imminence of the rain gods plan to unleash their Maidmashing fury upon my two-wheeled, post-school commute team, I quickly executed my Head-of-the-Army orders for a Whizzpopping paced cycle home.

We were making good time. By the halfway point we had managed to stay ahead of the rapidly advancing grey giants and avoid the multiple Manhugging attempts of rushing traffic to see us tattooed onto bumper bars and zebra crossings. Just when I felt it was safe to relinquish my militaristic mannerisms, a complacent lapse in concentration saw my front wheel Butcherboyed by a jaggered edge of the pavement. As the consequential, Bonecrunching sounds of my dislodged chain saw me to a grinding halt, I watched in helicopter-parent-horror as my two little human beans vanished around the bend of the bike path infamously known as “car-crash corner”.

Panicked and overcome with catastophising thoughts of my children being swallowed up by jumbo-sized semitrailers, I quickly switched into bike maintenance overdrive. Four long, chain-grease-covered minutes later and I was back on my now rain soaked pushy peddling for a miracle. Rounding the bend, I braced myself for the impending sight of inevitable carnage.

Resignedly I absorbed the panoramic scene. Strewn across the neglected nature strip, lay two hastily discarded bikes. To the left I spied the abandoned backpacks, half open and resting dejectedly at the base of a 10 foot high landscaped embankment. Slowly I scanned my way up the steep slope until my eyes rested upon two familiar forms, frozen still beneath the redoubtable limbs of a hulking Prunus. As I grievously climbed my way to the edge of the foreboding canopy, I was met with the Fleshlumpeating, blood-coloured faces of two overly sated children who had just guzzled their way through a jumbo sized, rain-soaked serving of foraged fruit. Solaced and sweetly rejuvenated, we packaged a load of plums and neighbouring crab-apples into K1’s backpack for the first of our, now annual, batch of Foraged Plum and Crab-apple Jam.

Thirsty for your very own Bloodbottling experience?

Then why not Gizzardgulp the pride, unleash your hungry kiddy troops upon the neighbourhood nature strips and have your very own Bold ‘n’ Fruitful Galavant (B.F.G)…

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You never know, all your Golden Fizzwizards may come true: a bounty of jamable fruit for that fit-for-the-queen Devonshire Tea.

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BFG Jam (a giant sized fruit-bounty will make enough jam for plenty of royal quality Tea ceremonies)

A largess of crab-apples (or regular old apples) and plums (I always aim for an approximately equal ratio of plums to apples)

Sugar

Water

Upon returning from your Bold ‘n’ Fruitful Galavant, rinse all the fruit. Place a small side plate into the freezer (used for test that your jam is set). Place the plums into a large stock pot with ½ cup water. Peel and core the apples and cut into eighths. Place half of the peelings and cores into a muslin bag (discard the other half into your compost or chook fodder bucket) and tie using jute twine. Add the apples and muslin bag to the plums. Place the lid on the pot and on a medium heat, bring the fruit to simmering point. Simmer for 20 minutes or until soft. Remove the muslin bag, squeezing as much excess liquid from the bag as is possible. Pour the cooked fruit into a mixing bowl and leave until cool enough to handle.

Pit the plums (if you haven’t already) and roughly mash all the fruit. Weigh the cooked fruit. For every 500g of fruit you will need 400g of sugar. In a large heavy based saucepan, add the cooked fruit and the required amount of sugar. Stir to mix. On a medium heat, slowly bring the fruit mixture to a steady simmer stirring regularly to ensure the sugar is dissolving. Simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in any froth that has accumulated. Test to see whether your jam is ready by dropping ½ tsp of the fruit mixture onto the frozen side plate. The mixture should wrinkle slightly when pressed with your finger (it should not be runny). Simmer for another 5 minutes if the jam is not set, otherwise bottle into sterilised jars.

Just in case any unsuspected, dignified guests should grace you with their presence at your next, rather illustrious, Devonshire Tea Ceremony, place atleast one ready-to-use-jar in the fridge.

Jean Therapy

After nearly 10 years of experimental research, I’ve made the holey grail of discoveries: slowing the rate of those rapidly aging jeans!

My embryonic secret was out the day I contacted Leslie. In addition to being a multi-talented laboratory technician, she was also known for her creative moonlighting habits in the sewing department. Three days and two retrofitted pairs of black, work slacks later and I was set to see out my last eight weeks of deception in comfort. As it turned out, I needn’t have bothered. My shrewd colleagues were quick to note my sudden passion for lurching my students into the age of independent learning as the rapidly developing, in-vivo K1 saw fit to see me chained to the school house lavatory.

Raising a family on a single post doc salary in a foreign country has it’s psychological blessings. Rotting food is a meal half full and used-by-dates equal guidelines only. Heating in -30oC temperatures gains luxury status. And ripped clothes and rags mature into fabric dividends. Not wanting to let an out-of-work, pre-baby 6 months go to landfill, I quickly put my lime-green, retro Brother to stitching work, whipping up nappies, rompers, sleep suits and other such baby DNA (Definitely Non-negotiable Attire).

By age two, K1 had begun to express characteristics of his mothers phenotype: a predisposition to premature, tear-lomeric degradation of jeanetic material. Invoking the creative powers of Leslie times past, I began to tinker with excising junk cloth and splicing this elemental textile with other durable equivalents.

The results…

Well depending on how I choose to translate the repaired jeanotype, I either go punk- rocker style (above left) and patch behind the hole or over the top for the confident, D.I.Y. suave finish (above right).

Of course, by the end of the winter season, my very active little mutants have outrun the sewing room’s rate of repair such that only one course of action remains to keep the jean-dream alive: amputation.

OK…so it might not be a Nobel Prize winning revelation or worthy of a spread in hard Times magazine…but atleast my kids are now decked out for a Hot-Pants summer of poolside commutes or broiling sessions in the mud pie kitchen.

The details for Patching those Britches and Making Denim (and other) Hot Pants has been spliced below:

Patching those Britches

  1. Using sewers measuring tape, measure the length of fabric patch that you will need to cover the hole (I always add an extra inch or so above and below and half an inch either side).

  2. Using scrap paper, make a patch template equal to the width and length measured. Truncate the corners by rounding them out for a smoother finish.
  1. Using a similar (or contrasting) colour fabric of durable strength (I always use denim, corduroy or any other type of heavy cotton), cut out two patches for each leg of the pants (a double thickness patch seems to see the pants through to the end of the season).
  1. Using a quick unpick tool, unpick one side of the pants starting from atleast one inch above where you wish the patch to sit and end atleast one inch below (I always go for the side with the least stitching). Ensure you remove all the thread scraps lest they get stuck in the machine when sewing.

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  1. Pin the patches over the hole (or underneath if you prefer) ensuring that you do not accidentally pin through to the back of the jeans. Using a basting stitch (the largest stitch width) sew (about 1 inch from the edge of the patch) the patch in place, removing the pins as you go.

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  1. Using zig-zag (or decorative stitch if you prefer) stitch, slowly sew (on a wide width and low stitch length setting) around the edge of the patch ensuring that you do not catch the back of the jeans as you sew. Repeat for the second patch. If choosing to go underneath the hole (for the punk rocker look) then also sew around the hole so that the fabric sits tighter onto the patch (and is less likely to get snagged on obstacles during play).
  2. Unpick the basting stitch. Sew up the side seam and zig-zag stitch the raw edges to finish.

    Whack them back on your little mutant for their next bout of textile testing play!

Making Denim (and other) Hot Pants

  1. Place the jeans onto your child and mark on the outside of a leg seam (using a washable sewing pen), where your child wishes for the shorts to finish. Add an extra 3 cm to this length. Repeat with the opposite leg. Sever the jeans ensuring that your cutting line is approximately parallel with the seam at the ankle.

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  1. Turn the (now) shorts inside out. Turn over 1 cm of the raw edge. Press. Turn over another 1 cm. Press and pin in place. Repeat for the opposite leg.

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  1. Sewing as close as possible to the outside seam, sew around the leg hole ensuring that you stretch the fabric as you go so as to avoid the seam being too tight around the leg. Sew a second seam ¼ inch from the first. Repeat with the opposite leg.

    Eureka! Some Hot-pants for those sweltering summer days.

A Rattletrap Start (Razzleberry Dazzlebarry Snazzleberry Fizz and Chocolate Cherry Fudge Delight)

“They didn’t go fast, but they did go far. They made it to the lake in their rattletrap car” – Rattletrap Car by Phillis Root.

While judiciously keeping watch for sunken bodies among the hoards of bare chested children launching themselves into the cooling, New Years Eve wash of a friends backyard pool, a past memory resurfaces…

Growing up in an agrarian town meant two things in summer: an influx of seasonal, party-going workers; and lots heat-wave dumpers down by the river. To escape the cacophanic weekend crowds encamped about the two rival pubs, it was commonplace for many of the townies to hitch up the camper trailers or caravans and head bush for a touch of escapist tranquility.

Leigh and I were summertime soul mates. From the time we could successfully lob one of the bouncy, fluorescent orbs over the net, we were an inseparable mixed doubles tennis duo by racquet and high-flying dreamers by temperament. Treating ourselves to a victorious Sunnyboy ice-block, we would often while away our post-match debrief by regaling each other with fantastical stories of future heroism. Whilst varied in content, the closing paragraphs of each tale would often see us diplomatically sharing a Nobel Peace Prize for saving the world from apocalyptic collisions with radioactive space junk catapulted toward earth by fugitive aliens. Me the astronaut. Leigh the flight director earthed at Mission Control.

Being invited to a new years eve junket by the river was always a greatly anticipated event. In addition to waiving our normal 8 pm curfew, the night also proved to be a great chance to inoculate Leigh and the other townies with some of the wilder things in life. Namely the concept of large bodies of moving water and overhanging “natural” eucalyptus bombing boards. By this stage in our friendship career, Leigh was well versed in my fearless tactics of adrenaline highs, so it seemed only natural to demonstrate the ease of tree limb bombing by sending in the youngest expert: enter branch left, Jimmy, my junior brother by 5 years. By Jimmy’s third impressively cajoling jump, Leigh was ready to make his splashing debut. After a cautious couple of hanging-drops, the airborne addiction set. Our formidable tennis partnership was transferred to ingenious synchronised plunging strategies involving mid-jump hand claps, airborne jives and the patented apocalyptic space-jump crater bomb which continued unabated until the sun lowered over the horizon.

Collapsing into an exhausted, sunkissed heap, Leigh and I dug our arboreal feet into the cooling sands of the riverside beach. Shoulder to shoulder, we sat in silence, mesmerised by the swirling eucalypt leaves caught in the calm of an eddy formed by the passing current catching the edge of a fallen branch. Sipping our celebratory cherry cola and devouring the remaining Strawberry Dreams, we watched as the last of the evening light illuminated the glistening surface of a solitary leaf, ripped from the calm of the swirling pool and into the inexorable flow of the mighty Murray.

In memory of my last New Years eve by the river (and in salute to K2’s current, picture book favourite – The Rattletrap Car)…two bites of the nostalgic cherry: Razzleberry Dazzleberry Snazzleberry Fizz and Chocolate Cherry Fudge Delight. Cherryish!

Razzleberry Dazzleberry Snazzleberry Fizz (makes 2 L of fizz)

2 kg cherries

½ c water

½ c sugar

½ c whey (obtained from straining 1 ½ c pot set yoghurt)

Cheese cloth

2 L spring top jar

Filtered water

pH paper

Stem the cherries (pit them now if you prefer) then throw them into a large, heavy based pot with the water. On a low heat, bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for 30 – 45 mins or until the fruit is soft. Meanwhile sterilise the spring top jar (omit the rubber seal).

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Place the cheese cloth loosely over the opening of the spring top jar. In small batches (¼ of the mix at a time), spoon the cherries into the cheese cloth and leave to drain for 10 min. Remove the cherry pulp from the cheese cloth. Remove any pits then use the pulp for the Chocolate Cherry Fudge delight or freeze.

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Add the sugar to the cherry juice in the jar and stir to dissolve. Leaving enough room for the whey, top up the jar until ¼ inch from the top. Add the whey. Ensuring you gently release the gas every day or so, leave to ferment for 4 – 7 days (or until, when tested with pH paper, pH is 4 or less). Re-bottle into sterilised jars (I use old passata jars) and leave to ferment for an extra day or so at room temperature (this helps to develop the fizz). Refrigerate till cold.

Crack open at your next New Years Eve bash or summer BBQ for some fizzy-fun times.

Chocolate Cherry Fudge Delight (makes an 18 cm square cake tin worth of redolent decadence)

125 g butter

¼ c milk

½ c water

90 g dark chocolate

½ c white sugar

½ c coconut sugar

1 c wheat flour

½ c coconut or banana flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tbs cocoa powder

1 tsp mixed spice

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 c cooked cherry pulp, cold

Icing sugar to decorate

Place the butter, milk, water, chocolate and sugars into a small, heavy based pot. Heat on low until all ingredients are melted and smooth when mixed with a whisk or wooden spoon. Leave to cool for 20 minutes.

Sift the dry ingredients over the chocolate mix. Stir until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the egg. Pour approximately half of the mixture into a lined (with baking paper), 18 cm square cake tin. Gently spread the cherry pulp over the batter. Pour the remaining half of the batter over the top of the cherry pulp, ensuring an even covering. Bake at 160oC for 1 – 1 ¼ hours or until cooked through. Cool. Refrigerate till cold. Dust with icing sugar and cut into 2 cm squares.

Serve to your ravenous, fudge-delightful friends on New Years Eve…or any other time of the year if you happened to have frozen the excess pulp.