Archive | February 2017

Time: Having a broad margin in your life

I read a reference to someone famous writing they wanted a margin in their life. I can’t remember who, and I can’t be arsed finding the reference (it was in Gretchen Rubin’s book, Happier at Home, which I have returned to the library) as I see that as wasting the margin that I want in my life. But I think it was that Thoreau fellow. 

Anyway, I read the reference and thought, in arm pumping style, which is so not me, “Yes, that’s what I want.” 

I want a margin to allow me to do or not do things. Things that do not HAVE TO BE DONE. Things that do not shout at me to be done. A margin to breath. A margin to laze around until afternoon in my pjs. A margin to blog or daydream or gaze out the window and think about gardening. A margin to sit in front of the fan and enjoy the white noise and background family noises and be slothful. 

I used to love drawing margins in my workbooks at school. 2.5cm in red pen, using a ruler of course -how could people stand the wiggly, crocked free-hand line? The margin gave space so the page was not crammed with writing. Of course it gave room to correct errors, if, heavens above, corrections were needed in copying notes or in first drafts. But I just loved the space for nothing but to be space. 

This makes me twitch. Too cramped.

Ah!! Much better.

I want a margin in my life to protect me from work demands. (And sometimes from the demands of homeownership and adult life.)

When I’m home I want to Be At Home. When I leave the office I want to clock off from work. 

My boss sent me a text one Friday this year at quarter past five saying he’d call me later that afternoon to discuss an issue. Really, in whose definition is after five, the afternoon??? Surely the afternoon is nearly up and we are moving into the evening? And it is Friday!

I responded by saying I was now socialising and it’d have to wait until Monday morning. He apologised and explained that he’d written the text before he got on a plane and the text must have only sent upon landing. Still, he planned to contact me after his flight landed and after he had collected his luggage and got to the car from long term parking and he was driving home from the airport. That would be way after 5.30pm. Not afternoon by anyone’s standards, surely?

And by discuss issues he’d off-load a heap of shit by discussing a complaint about which I could do nothing until Monday so I’d just feel annoyed all weekend. 

I am proud of myself for managing my manager. 

Other steps on building my margin: I haven’t looked at my work emails out of hours, since disconnecting the work email account from my phone. 

OK, I haven’t been totally free after hours. Phone calls. Thinking how to deal with some issues. Discussing issues with colleagues. But still I am doing much better at “clocking off” and feeling much better. 

I’m averaging about 45 hours a week at work.  Effectively I work non-stop, maybe stopping for 15 minutes for lunch, but usually working while I eat. Really that’s enough. I am not taking my work home. 

I’m ruling a margin around my life. 

PS. On searching for images on margins in life turns out lots of people want margins and it’s a common concept in self-help blogs and books. That’s me! Jumping on the bandwagon late in life. Oh well, better late than never. Some sites tell you “Five simple ways to create margins”, others how better to use margins. Pfft. Well, der. I need to switch off my connectivity, especially from work. And walk out of the office. Who’d a thunk it??? Anyway, I’ve gone with my metaphoric exercise book margins rather than the usual metaphors of a mindful, quiet, sunset, natural image. Way too obvious!!!

Sydney storms

It’s a Twitter hashtag you know? 

We’re not quite tropical but we’re not wussy either. Summer storms are frequent and intense. 

Not for us the gentle misty rain of England and Tassie. We have down pours like someone is tipping a bucket over a mile wide. Gutters and roads can’t cope. It last for an hour. And then the sun comes out and the soil is only wet an inch deep. The water had run away. After flooding streets. 

Then there’s the hail storms. We’ve had a few. This weekend’s one was a doozy. 

I used to love storms. Until I became an adult. Then the storms lost their thrill. If I wasn’t a house owner I wouldn’t be worried. Now damage will cost me. Money. And time. Ah, for the thrill of a good storm without worrying about costs!

French Lessons

Whenever I share with friends some new little thing I’ve been doing, whenever I say, “Did I tell you I [insert minor new thing – not minor like I’ve bought a handbag, unless it is an absolutely amazing handbag or I’ve bought a super expensive handbag of the Hermes or Chanel price range and then it would be more about having thousands to spend than about a handbag, so not minor but more a major thing such as how I won millions – but minor like I’ve taken up yoga again (which I haven’t) or I get up half an hour early and go for a walk (which I’m contemplating)] I think of a scene in the sitcom, Will and Grace. I think of this scene even more so when a friend tells me of some new little thing they’ve been doing for ages. 

See, Will and Grace lived on the same floor of a block of flats (when did we start saying apartments like the Americans, or is there a difference, like price?) and they were close friends. They shared all the minor tooing and froing of daily life. Then Grace moved away. Catching up becomes a big thing. Grace finds out Will isn’t eating cheese anymore. She’s devastated. 

Grace: You gotta call me when you go off cheese. 

Grace and Will – though I prefer Jack and Karen

It’s not about the cheese. It’s about not sharing the little things, the truely little things. 

When you have a friend with whom you interact daily, say at work, and then you don’t cause you move, you stop sharing those little things. You wouldn’t phone just to say, you’ve started morning walks. Then the gaps in knowledge of all the minor things become bigger. When you catch up, you talk about the big things and not the minor things. 

Later someone might say to you, “I’m thinking of joining X on her morning walk.”

“What?” you think. “When did that start?” You begin to question your friendship, “I don’t know X anymore.” And maybe that little jealousy creeps in. “Why does this other friend know more? Is she a closer friend than me? Why wasn’t I asked to go on morning walks?”

Yeah, so I’m doing French lessons on a Saturday morning. Now you all know. 

After French lessons I’m going over to a friend’s place for lunch. A friend with whom I used to chat all the time but work and busyness got in the way. She invited me over for a morning cuppa but I had lessons and she didn’t know. Soon she’ll be moving north and there’ll be even less sharing. 

So tell me if you give up cheese. 

More on caveats 

Do you use a rating system for books or films? If so, do you give full marks?


I don’t think most people would think 2 stars means the book is OK. Then again, I know people who won’t give five stars. (Just as I’ve known English teachers who wouldn’t give full marks for an essay!)

Well besides the fact that if you have a scale, say one to five, and you leave off the ends, haven’t you just made the scale one to four? 

I find the fact that on Goodreads you can’t give half marks so by using one to four difficult. It limits you so you have to capture books together that you may not have lumped together on your satisfaction rating. You’ve only got four groupings!!!

Anyway, put aside those queries on the logic of not giving top marks, to deal with my main objection. 

Giving any mark is dependent on contexts and caveats. 

Let’s use TripAdvisor as an example. I might stay at a cheap place that’s a bit down at the heels but give it four, because  it was good FOR the price and expectations. Conversely if I stayed at a five star resort but felt it didn’t live up to the price, even if the accommodation and included activities were better than the cheap down-at-heels place, I might give it three, or even four stars. The latter rating doesn’t mean it is equal to or the same as the down-at-heels place but that it is not the best expensive place to stay. 

Does this make sense?

Here’s another example. I ate out at our recent trip to Canberra. One was an expensive restaurant. $150 for two without wine. (And I had two entrees rather than an entree and a main which would have bumped up the price.) I gave it five stars. The food was divine and the service friendly and attentive. The service at the other restaurant, a modern Indian, was also friendly and attentive, but without that finesse from the expensive restaurant. The modern Indian was cuts above your average suburban Indian, and priced accordingly. I gave it four stars. You want something nice and tasty and above your normal butter chicken and beef vindaloo? This is it. But if you expected, and prefer, your normal suburban Patak style Indian, you might be shocked at the price and give this restaurant two stars. Alternatively, if the Indian restaurant was priced higher, say at the same as the expensive restaurant, my rating would drop from four to three, maybe even two. 

Films have contextualised expectations too. It could depend on whether I watched it for free on TV or paid for it at the cinema. Or my expectations. Let’s say I paid for a movie, I might give it five stars, even with caveats, because it spoke to me, made my heart sing, or made me laugh a lot. 

And books? Books that I read and say, “That was awesome. I couldn’t put it down,” they get five stars. 

But beyond caveats and contexts, I get to the heart of star ratings. I hate them for books and films. How can you compare a self-help book with a work of fiction? A piece of literature with some Woman’s-Weekly-stickered, trashy, quickly written novel? (Yes, I’m a book snob.)

And at the heart of it, how can you sum up a book or a film in a number? I need to explain my caveats. I loved it but … It was good but … It was OK but … It was shit but …  

I give it five stars but

Sleeping in the heat 

My sleep has taken a nose dive. And it’s not totally because of the return to work. 

It’s just too hot. 

Days and days of extreme heat without much relief at night means sleeping is really disrupted. It’s a struggle to drop off! I wake every hour or so when the body heats up, until the last three hours when I fall into a deep, exhausted sleep. You wake feeling akin to having a massive hangover. 

Here’s the temperature last Sunday. 

The promise of 25° overnight was more of a tease. Didn’t get there until a microsecond before sunrise. Anyway, it didn’t get there inside with the doors shut overnight. 

For those of you who prefer Fahrenheit, here’s last Friday, as in two days ago. 

So how to stay cool without an air conditioner? 

Our usual practice resists day temperatures in the low thirties and when it drops to the low twenties overnight. 

Usually in summer, we open all our doors and windows before the sun rises. (Well, Mr S does. He gets up and opens everything without waking me, bless him.) Then we shut up everything – doors, windows, blinds – as soon as the temperature is hotter outside. This keeps inside surprisingly cool throughout the day, until about 5pm when the ambient air temperature and the western sun is just too much. 

Fans, we own lots of fans. A fan on overnight keeps us surprisingly cool and the white noise is very restful. When the night is too warm I use wet face washers and drape them over my feet or legs. Or I hop in the shower and only slightly dry myself before hopping in bed. The water evaporates with the fan and cools me enormously, allowing me to drop off. 

The sun sets at the back of our house, so the afternoon we sit on the front verandah where it is more pleasant  – shaded and cool. 

But none of these techniques have helped in the current heat wave. 

What have I been doing?

Drinking lots of iced water which drops the internal body temp. 

Having frequent dips in our pool and then sitting, wet, in front of a fan. I have not been a big user of our pool for the last five or so years but the recent heat has driven me to it. That and I have rediscovered the joy of swimming naked. 

I have also draped an ice pack, kept in the freezer for injuries, around my neck, legs and feet. 

Yesterday afternoon and evening, I wanted to read a book but it was just too uncomfortably hot. How hot? Well, so hot when I got off our leather lounge, the top layer of skin of my upper back, which was bare as I had a sarong wrapped around me, remained on the lounge. Yes, it ripped off and was clearly visible on the lounge. And yes, god it hurt. 

How hot? Well after the sun set it was still 40°C/100°F. 

Yes, HOT. DAMN HOT. FUCKING HOT. So hot we discussed whether we’d move to NZ or Tassie or Armidale. 

Anyway, we must be the only house in our street that doesn’t have air conditioning. I couldn’t float in the pool and read so decided I would use the technique I used as a child of the western suburbs, pre air conditioners and pools. 

No, I didn’t jump through the sprinkler in the yard. (Though last week when I watered some plants out front, I did send water myself.)

As a child, I used to sit in the bath. My current bath is a big old claw-footed one. It holds me perfectly, comfortably. The sides are smooth, unlike the pool. I am out of the sun, unlike the pool. I have a bath caddy on which to rest my book and glass, unlike the pool.

Still, I jumped in the pool at least six times yesterday. 

OK. None of this helped me sleep a sustained sleep. So I am happy to adopt siestas, lots of them whenever the mood strikes me. 

And look to the weather forecast, frequently, hoping for cooler weather. 

Have you increased your hours of sleep, only to feel more tired?

I was reading another library book on sleep (The Sleep Diet by Dr Carmel Harrington), well skimming, which is a type of reading, and going blah, blah, blah. Nothing new. Checked the publication date. 2012. Too old. Sleep research has moved on. 

Also, and I know I shouldn’t hold this against the content but it would account for why I picked this book last to read, the paper is that cheap, rough paper and the print too small and dense. (Fashions in print I thought went out in the 1990s.)

But then I got to this line:

…when you implement change and start getting the hours of sleep that you really need, you may feel, initially, more tired than before, despite the fact that you are sleeping more.

Yes, that’s me every holidays. I thought I’d just caught a dose of lazy holiday fever!

The doctor goes on to say this is not due to too much sleep. 

Oh dear. I always have a go at Mr S, telling him off for sleeping too much during holidays and saying that by oversleeping he is causing himself to be more tired and thus sleeping more. And that what he needs to do is sleep less. “So get off the couch on the verandah you lazy thing!!!!”

So what causes the sleepiness when we increase our hours of sleep? 

The doctor says it is not understood yet but may be, if our sleep has been habitually short, say six hours, and we increase it to eight hours a “result of both the ‘unmasking’ of our sleep debt and the fact that we stop driving ourselves so hard in order to overcome our sleepiness.”

So it should pass. And we should eventually return to normal rhythms and wake energised. 

Except in our house we return to our short sleep patterns as term resumes and then have to catch up every term break when we stop pushing ourselves so feel sleepy again, despite more hours asleep. 

A cycle we need to stop. 

Film catch-up. 

Some films have to be seen on the big screen. Luckily some don’t. And some are better at home on DVD where you have control over the rewind and fast forward. 

Love and Friendship, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella, Lady Susan, is one that benefited from watching at home. It’s a very enjoyable romp. My favourite reviewer, Deborah Ross, gives, as always, a better, and funnier, review than I can do. 

So why would I want to control the remote? There’s all this fast talking (as in arn’t we witty wordsmiths rather than a poor enunciation issue) and maybe I am just too old but I missed several bits, so I had to rewind to listen again. I would have been so annoyed in the cinema to have missed so much. 

Also some lines were of the “I need to write this down and use it” kind, so warranted listening to again. Except I didn’t write them down and now can’t recite it with the same pithy force. Like “facts are so tiresome” when someone finds something unflattering out about you. 

I chanced upon A Good Woman on the public broadcaster we have that has an online catch-up of movies from around the world. The film didn’t get rave reviews – I googled while watching. But I enjoyed it, with caveats. 

As a movie to watch at home, that I paid nothing for, that I expected little from, I give it five stars. (If I’d gone to the cinema and paid, it’d drop to three and a half, three if I’d be in a purist Wilde mood.) Enjoy it for the clothes, scenery and plot with a happy ending. 

By the by, in Spanish it was titled Seductress Perfect Lover. I’m no good at Spanish but wouldn’t that change the whole meaning of the movie – what is a good woman? And wouldn’t you expect something different? I’d be giving it much lower star rating if I expected a film with sex and sexuality. 

Besides being sumptuous period pieces based on works by famous English authors, both films adapted the tales to include American actors as Americans (as opposed to American actors speaking in English accents playing English). I have an equanimity about this. But does it bother you?

January reading

I nearly had to admit something slightly embarrassing. That I only read one fiction book the whole summer holidays.  

Immersed in self-help – happiness, decluttering and, of course, sleep – books, I just didn’t get into a novel. 

I loved Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, about the last woman executed in Iceland. Her second novel, The Good People, was my book club read. So I had to read that before I tackled another one. It is another well-researched story based on fact, again another murder. Kent creates a strong and distinctive sense of place and the story is original. 

So why did I labour through the first third?

I think because the narrative is slow and some of the characters just don’t feel all there. It’s like they aren’t fully realised yet but are shadows emerging from the clay. 

It’s a unique tale, worth putting on your list but be prepared for the slow pace. Some of my book clubbers loved it. Love is too strong for me, though it is certainly well written. One thing I couldn’t make sense of or see a connection to the tale is the plants that headed each chapter. If you could see (and I don’t mean in the general way of the wise woman used herbs but in the specific way if each plant had relevance), let me know. 

The Good People was nearly the only book I read. Then I found a copy of Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift in my local second hand book shop. I love Swift and I had wanted to read this novel after reading some reviews of it. 

Oh, I loved it. I loved the story, the style, the themes. 

The plot is original – starting in the period when great country houses were in decline. With the demise of house staff and the restrictive class structure, came greater opportunities for the class that used to be the below stairs staff that enabled these big houses to exist. 

It’s sad in a melancholy, not tear jerker, way. There’s two distinct paces – the first slow and languid reflecting the period and the day; the second much faster which reflects the faster pace of the modern world. There’s so much to discuss: themes of memory, love, class. The characters. The line that hints at disaster, so space that you might miss it. 
Luckily my book club agreed to have this as out March book, well one of our March books. It’s so short they all thought we needed two. And therein lies another bonus. If you disagree with me and don’t love this book, it’s short. So you won’t feel you’ve wasted time. 

There’s no caveats for this book for me.