Archive | July 2014

Do you think you’re drinking a bit too much?

Short answer. Yes.

It has crept up gradually. A few drinks on a Friday night and weekend.

Then it moved to “school nights”. Just a glass while cooking dinner. Or just a glass before dinner. Or just a couple with Mr S on the back verandah.

Before I knew it, every night was a glass or two or three.

And alcohol and cooking dinner went together like a cuppa and a bikkie. I’ve broken the tea and something sweet nexus, have to break the habit of pouring a glass when cooking. Wednesday night I really noticed that habitual feeling. I was cooking and didn’t feel like a drink at all. But I felt that twinge. You know the one you get when you haven’t done something that is a habitual part of your routine, like leaving the house in the morning when you haven’t brushed your teeth? Or driving off and feeling something is wrong and realise you haven’t buckled up your seat belt? Or the twinge you get when you are not giving into some bad habit, like biting fingernails?

It is not a yearning or desire for alcohol. It is a habit that wants attending.

Just thought of a novel solution! If my family took over cooking, I wouldn’t have that connection. Yeah, not going to happen!

So as part of my continually evolving journey to gorgeousness and healthy living I am cutting alcohol Monday to Thursday unless it is a special occasion or holidays.

Success so far? Last week. Tick. And that included a dinner out. And this week. Tick.

What about you? Drink too much? Developed other unhealthy eating habits that stem from habit rather than conscience thought and decision?

20140727-094841.jpgOur wine rack. Made from horse shoes!

Reading down the House in July

Of my original 13 books on my Reading Down the House list, I’ve read nine. Makes four to go by the end of September. No guesses that I’ve left Wolf Hall to last. It might not get read until the next holidays. I think I will need time undisturbed and without distraction. So from that list this month comes two Kate Atkinson novels.

When Will There be Good News , the third Jackson Brody novel, contains several mysteries with annoying coincidences that join all the characters together. I mean, come on, even in Edinburgh there are enough people that the same half a dozen characters wouldn’t be running into each other. Still, I loved this book. And all the characters, even the not so good ones, I liked.

Great writing from Atkinson. How’s this for a line?

Who were these people who didn’t know how to use an apostrophe? They must be looking for Billy. Billy knew a lot of ungrammatical people.

I’ve met a few ungrammatical people in my time myself.

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Then straight into book 4, and possibly the last, Jackson Brody mystery, Started Early, Took my Dog.

I found the beginning a bit annoying – all the thoughts of the actress suffering from dementia. But great lines abound :

Hope McMaster shared with Julia a (misplaced) faith in exclamation marks.

Love the description of a character based on their view of punctuation. And love the qualifier “misplaced” as an aside. I, too, hold this misplaced faith.

And what about this character assassination:

…her parents thought [a private maternity hospital] would give their baby (hopefully a boy) a better start in life than an NHS word. The maternity hospital was so under heated that Dorothy Waterhouse came home with chilblains and the infant Tracy with croup. Still they had mixed wi a better class of mother and baby and that was the important thing.

Expect coincidences. They are Atkinson’s thing.

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I’ve enjoyed all the Jackson Brodie mysteries, so was happy to find out that they were turned into a TV series by the BBC and my local library stocked the DVDs. Now while it is not exactly Reading Down the Month, the DVDs fit in here.

As expected the series was well done. It’s great to see the places in the novel.

Do you sometimes find that the actors don’t represent the characters as you imagine them? Jason Isaacs plays Jackson Brodie brilliantly. He is worthy of taking his shirt off, which he does quite a bit despite the cold.

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Not a good shot but you get the picture. (And googling him, I found out he played Lucius Malfoy, which I never picked through 5 episodes.)

I was slightly annoyed that some of the plots were changed. Watching the two episodes based on When Will There be Good News with my son, I kept saying, “That’s not how it is in the book.” My son responded with, “It’s a different story for a different medium.” Look, I know that the structure of a TV drama is different and that coincidences in a novel may look ridiculous on the screen and that many details have to be simplified for the screen. But still, it did lose some of the uniqueness and become similar to other gritty Northern crime dramas. (And I wished they’d left the Aussie doctor in – but just for jingoistic reasons.)

Be warned: it is very violent and scary so deserves the MA15+ rating.

Boom and bust – skiing for less

As a family, we’re tight-arsed splurgers, frugal spend-thrifts.

Mr S and I have just returned from eleven nights down the snow. People always ask how long you’re down for, or how long are you going, or how long did you go. Their eyes pop out when you say eleven nights.

Yes it is not cheap.

But we have ways of stretching our dollar to do things we love.

Firstly, we own all our own gear. And most of it comes from Aldi. Aldi neck warmers – check. Aldi gloves – check. Aldi beanie – check. Aldi ski socks – check. Aldi skies – check. (Well, only mine and the kids’ skis are Aldi. Mr S bought his on-line from the US and got an amazing price for a top of the range product. Shortly after, the Australian importers signed an agreement with the US suppliers blocking consumers from purchasing the skis online. A win for the importers’ profits.) Aldi ski pants – check. (Well actually I have new ski pants this year from Aldi. For the past ten years I have worn Mr S’s spare pair of pants. He can never have just one of something.)

Some of our gear is high-end labelled stuff. But even that has been sourced on the cheap. I have a Karbon ski jacket. It was my son’s. A friend bought it at its point of manufacture – Vietnam, when said friend worked there. This became my hand-me-down when son grew out of it. Son got Spider gear from the same friend from Vietnam. Same friend has also worked in Sri Lanka where he bought British Columbia gear for us. This friend used to visit home every year and come skiing with us with some new gear. Good friend to have!

20140711-112141.jpg (My pants and jacket.)

Our boots aren’t Aldi. Mr S bought them online from the US. So much cheaper than here in Oz.

20140711-111625.jpg (My boots.)

Not all of our clothing is designated ski gear. I wear 20 year old tights as thermals. Mr S loves Aldi thermals and Aldi ski fleece tops. (In fact he loves them so much he bought way too many, but he is a collector and cannot buy one of anything.)

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(Some of the extra Aldi ski stuff bought by Mr S. His excuse: I’ll never have to buy anything again. Mmm, sure they’ll be other stuff he’ll buy. Sorry, have to buy.)

Of course we didn’t buy the stuff all at once. We built up over years. After two seasons, having the gear has recouped the cost of hiring pants, skis, boots and poles.

Secondly we look after our gear so it lasts. I wear a polar fleece jacket bought twelve years ago and I wear it regularly at home. Mr S has just said goodbye to a thermal top he has had for fifteen years. Everything is aired on return. Woollens washed in wool wash. The rails of the skis are treated with Vaseline before being packed away for another year so they don’t rust. [Yes, all this gear takes up a lot of space. Not the best for someone who wants to declutter. Mr S feels better surrounded by clutter. *sigh* It’s a constant battle.]

Thirdly, we hardly ever eat out down the snow. Not breakfast, not lunch, not dinner. We always book accommodation with a kitchen. We used to take down meals we had cooked and frozen at home. (Who wants to cook after a day on the slopes? And the groceries from the supermarket in the snow are over-priced.) Now we buy everything at the supermarket in the snow. Yes, it is more expensive than bringing from home. But with our own gear and catching the bus up the mountain (Mr S got sick of digging the car out and his new car doesn’t fit chains) carrying extra food became too difficult.

Also the restaurants have always been disappointing. The food is plainly ordinary, very ordinary, and overpriced. This year we ate out once – pizzas. We had a buy one get one free voucher from our accommodation. The pizzas were not very nice. In fact pretty shite. But they lasted us two nights. So for $25 and two nights free from cooking it was OK.

And now we’re home we tighten the belt. How?

Well, the sun is out and all our clothes are drying on the line. No clothes dryer for us. Doesn’t make sense when you have free sunshine which also disinfects!

And yesterday I put kidney beans and red lentils in the slow cooker to make refried beans from scratch. I looked in the pantry. Opps! Some things past their use-by date. Use them up I say. They’re only dried pulses. They’ll be OK. Few fresh ingredients and an open packet of tortillas also needing to be used up, and ta da, Mexican wraps.

I took a container of dip (layered beans, salsa and guacamole) to a friends for evening drinks – she supplied the bubbles. And I have beans enough for at least two more dips and a wrap for lunch. (I’ll share the recipe in a future post.)

There you have it. How to ski and save money. Lol!

We know we are lucky. Many people can’t afford a ski trip at all. But with a little bit of frugal living, scrimping in some places, we can splurge in others, and be a spendthrift on the things we enjoy.

I so can read long books.

Holidays! Bliss! Time to read. And uninterrupted time, which you need to get into a long novel.

Now I don’t normally go in for long books (see my review of The Goldfinch).

Wherefrom stems my prejudice? Well, I think they can often be edited more closely. They leave little to the imagination. Popular fiction novels are often long. Nothing can be left unsaid, metaphors may be used but definitely have to be explained, we are told rather than shown characters’ personalities and foibles.

Am I a book snob? Yes. (But I’m not alone. Look here and here [though I’m not too sure this one supports my thesis but it’s on book snobbery] and here – this blogger looks like reading books I’d like.) OK, my prejudice is superficial.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton actually had more pages than The Goldfinch, but it definitely didn’t feel like it. The story fairly barrelled along. Intrigue, mystery, stolen identities, reinvention of self, murder, blackmail. Funnily enough, we are told, repeatedly, about each characters’ personality but it fits in the narrative style and is intellectually/artistically/humorously done.

But what a rollicking, convoluted tale! I love how different characters had different pieces of the story(ies) and different perspectives. No one perspective was necessarily true, or full, or accurate. I love how the novel was stories within stories. I love how it gave me some insight into the early settlement of NZ. Did you know they had a gold rush? (And that I’ve recently fallen in love with NZ?) I love how the narrator intruded in the telling when a character was being too obscure.

The mystery culminates in a court case with a very clever lawyer (on the side who the reader is barracking for) and brought to mind To Kill a Mockingbird. (OK, maybe that was just me. I read the words aloud as if it where a script and summoned the tones of Atticus Finch/Gregory Peck.) I think I only skimmed a couple of pages – on the power of the planets and a description of the landscape.

The language and narrative tone are just like a novel from the mid 1800s but not in a poor pastiche manner. I found the style enchanting and made the setting more realistic. And the characters and tone definitely didn’t have a modern sensibility which always grates on me when authors write a novel set in the past but fail to capture the mores of the time.

Apparently the structure is very clever. Each part is half the length of the preceding part, until the last part is less than a page. Even more ingenious, each character is assigned a zodiac or a heavenly body and each part of the book has astronomical charts. Meh, whatever. This added nothing for me. Obviously I am not clever enough for these conceits. Actually, structure of novels has never been something I’ve paid attention to or felt warrant analysis. I love novels that alternate between times or characters but structure as an intellectual exercise seems like a task for a creative writing course.

So would I recommend this? Well, you know I am always loathe to recommend books. You may hate it. I enjoyed it. It’s not all happy endings but not so deep and scarring as the last book I read (The Enchanted). In fact a nice antithesis. And it has interesting characters, a great story and a novel setting. When I finished it I hoped it would make its way onto our screens, and was glad to find out it is being made into a TV miniseries for which the storyline would be more suited.

See a parallel between my prejudice for long novels and the poor cousin of film, the miniseries? Remember when Bryce Courtney’s novels were all made into miniseries? Enough said.

Do you have a prejudice against a certain format? Are you a book or audio-visual snob?

(Oh, and as part of my decluttering, I left my copy down the snow on an information display with a little note inviting someone to read it. Went back a few days later – the book was gone. Hope the lucky collector enjoyed it.)

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A good day was had by all

Am I internally contradictory? Am I inconsistent?

OK, yes. I nod in self-recognition.

I borrowed Mr S’s goggles and hit the slopes yesterday. It was bucketing down.

And heaven! Like sliding on icing sugar. Soft. Quiet.

I wish I had my own googles. I would have been out for much longer! Up and down; up and down. Purposelessly! Mindfully? (Well, I was mindful of the lift ticket that I bought and thought I better make use of it. Glad it made me head out instead of staying inside for another day.)

And no queues! Jumped straight onto the chair lifts.

Look at the home run. You’re looking straight up it. (Photo taken this morning from the back stairs of our block.)

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And last night’s photo of nature’s swizzle sticks. The stripes are snow falling. Exciting for Aussies. Snow, that is. And icicles.

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Up the mountain, and down, and up again, and down.

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Mr S gets a great deal of enjoyment out of skiing. Sliding down the same slopes time and time again never ceases to impress him. He returns at lunch, and at the end of day, exhilarated.

Me? Well, I don’t like speed or heights. Going faster; mastering moguls; sliding off a steep, near vertical, slope – none of these excite me.

Mr S sees sore muscles as a sign of a day well spent. I see sore muscles.

Of course, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Being a non-physical person means I don’t push myself, so don’t get stronger, so don’t enjoy physical activity, so I don’t get better, so I can’t ski as well, so I don’t push myself ….

I can ski. Have done it for a few years. And, I admit, on a nice day, it is beautiful. Exhilarating even. But I can’t see the point of doing it again, and again, and again. It seems mindless to slide down a slope when you’ve already seen the view.

But I went up again this year. Yeah, it was nice. But, frankly, on my own it was pretty boring.

I did think of doing cross-country skiing, which I’ve also done before.

In the end I enjoyed just being. I’ve never had a holiday flat to myself, with a lovely book, with no responsibilities.

Anyway, just wanted to share that I am not a totally slothful person and I did ski.

Wanna see me all prepped for the snow on a cold and windy day? I forgot my ski goggles, and skiing in wind and snow without goggles is just not nice.

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I didn’t ski because

Because the weather was too nice. How could I miss sitting here, enjoying the view, drinking bubbles and reading a book?

View from my balcony:

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View of my balcony with ice bucket provided free:

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Because I had books to read and a tan to work on:

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Because the weather was too poor:

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Because I’ve done it before and I’ve skied enough in my life but I haven’t read enough books.

Cabin fever?

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I’ve just spent a week “down the snow”. For most people this means skiing. “What! You’re not skiing?” Nah, not skiing. Very content to sit and enjoy the setting.

This is the first time that Mr Sans and I have come down the snow alone. For two days I didn’t even leave the room.

A week in a one room holiday flat together and I realised many things.

  • I enjoy Mr Sans’ company.
  • I enjoy my own company.
  • I can stay in the one room for days without going stir-crazy.
  • I like quiet. No TV in the morning. No arguing kids. No computer games. No other people.
  • Give me a book and I’m in heaven.
  • I need to have time away from people, from responsibilities, from noise.
  • I enjoy the time away from my children – not having to mediate arguments, not having to listen to their noise, not having to answer their demands, not having to deal with their mess, their selfishness.
  • I own too many things. I can go one week with just a few items of clothes, books, food and drink. Having a break from all the possessions, clutter, things that need attention, that take up visual space is great.
  • People really annoy me. Just watched a kid of about 9 mindlessly destroy a very cute snowman, that many people have stopped to take a photograph of. The mother of the vandal watched her kid. Said nothing. Did nothing. Didn’t make him fix the carrot back in place. Didn’t make him readjust the knocked off head. Actually mindlessly isn’t right. He had sheer delight in wrecking something. And the mother did nothing. In people’s defence, another kid came along and tried to fix it. Still mess, noise, destruction, selfishness. It’s nice to have a break from these things.
  • My soul feels restored. My mind at peace.

    And I am very happy that I am content in my own company and that I enjoy Mr Sans’.

    Four more days to go. The week has gone too quickly. Thankfully Mr Sans booked for 10 nights. I couldn’t imagine leaving for home today. I’m just not ready.

    This looks like heaven to me:

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    Except for the hard work, I quite like the idea of a Little House on the Prairie break. Perhaps it is because my usual existence is so hectic, so frantic, so busy, so stressful, so full of responsibilities for others, that this break is heaven. But I do wonder how long it would be before I succumbed to cabin fever?

    How would you go in a one room holiday flat with one other person? How long would be long enough?

    Reading Down the House – June

    I took up An Exacting Life’s challenge: to read the books languishing on my shelves.

    The first book is one such book – it’s been in my shelf for a while, and thus was on my read it down list. This novel is at once compelling and stupid. A Victorian gothic, with modern twists (ie more sex), there’s fear of ghosts, a brooding castellated house, spiritualism, lies, family secrets, evil goings-on that all impact on the narrator, an innocent, powerless girl to whom things happen.

    The compelling nature stems from the narrative drive of this novel. So many things happen, and the descriptions of places are so visual, that you want to keep reading to find out “what next?”. But stupid: I mean the confession in the dark to the narrator is so unbelievable! And why the incestuous sex?

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    For my book club I read The Cooked Seed by Anchee Min. In her memoir, Min, author of many best sellers set in China, tells the tale of her escape to the US, her constant struggle to earn income and a green card, her writing and raising her daughter. It’s a very interesting book, not least for the perspective it gives on aspects of Western culture that we take as our norms. In classic Western irony, I read her tales of long, hard work while I was lazing in bed one cold and windy Saturday, eating chocolate. A day well spent.

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    People Like Us by Waleed Ally, a Muslim born and raised in Australia, was very interesting, addressing the Muslim/Western divide and misunderstandings. I like a book that challenges me intellectually and challenges my beliefs. An insightful review is here. I mean how could I ever compete with Mungo MacCallum?

    I started skimming bits – too much political history of which I have no prior knowledge so can’t place it in my schema, and frankly didn’t/don’t care enough about to put in my head. I found the chapter on perceptions of women wearing the veil most interesting, though I don’t necessarily agree with it.

    Unfortunately, I borrowed this book as a digital copy from my library. Unfortunate, because I had one chapter to go but the dastardly electronic Big Brother deleted my version on the due date. No overdue fines OK, but no allowance to finish the book and be just one day late. You get four weeks when you borrow a real book, but only two when it is electronic. And my library won’t fine you if you are a couple of days late with a real book. Just more reasons why real books win.

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    My last book of the month was truly moving. So haunting, parts that are so sickening, dealing with the worst of human nature and acts – it took me days to process. And as soon as I finished the book, I skimmed it again looking for a specific quote (which I didn’t find). But the novel was also uplifting, promising hope and redemption.

    And the writing!! So lyrical. (I want to wave this novel at the publishers of The Goldfinch and say this is what good writing and good editing does – gives us so many characters, so many back stories, and has so much that happens, and makes us question so many things – the death penalty, redemption, can people change, once evil are we always evil – and all in less than 250 pages.)

    The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, read it!!! I don’t say that often, bossy as I am. But even if you hate the elements of magic realism, or do not like the technique whereby characters are not named, or don’t like reading about what makes children/humans into monsters, this book will have you thinking and will move you.

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    A quick trip around the sun

    I was looking through the photos on my phone (which I have never printed off – and forget about the current fad of making photo books – let alone uploading to a computer, though some have made it onto Facebook) and I found last year’s snow trip photos.

    And here we are again!

    Last year’s view:

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    (This year we are actually staying in the building in this shot – top corner window.)

    And there were photos on my phone from last year’s annual conference for the professional organisation to which I belong.

    And this year’s conference has come and gone.

    I haven’t shared with you my photos from my trip to NZ, and I am about to book my next one! (You may remember one of my goals was to use my cameras, get better at taking photos and uploading them. Well, that goal has been filed somewhere.)

    I do think our orbit’s getting faster.

    That may be why I haven’t done my tax (for years)? Do you think the tax man will buy that excuse before he locks me up?

    And on more important business, My Year of the Garden, we are almost half way through and I haven’t finished deforesting the back yard. I think I may have to cheat on this one.