The rest of my life

Top ten signs your life is an omnishambles

There are some clues about how much I need a week off. Here are my top ten.

1. Missing appointments. Yesterday I forgot my haircut and bookclub.
2. That sad pathetic feeling that life is all a bit too hard.
3. The luggage under my eyes. ‘Bags’ doesn’t cut it as a description anymore.
4. Failure to get excited about champagne saucers.
5. My osteopath giving me 5 out of 10 for the state of my body.
6. Millions of typos in everything I write.
7. Fantasies about someone else making beds, washing clothes and bringing me tea.
8. Reckless disregard for fashion sense.
9. Excessive f-bomb dropping via speakerphone without checking who I am talking to first.
10. Wanting to sleep for one hundred years. With no thought about ever being woken up, ever, let alone by princes.

How can you tell if you need to reset?
What are the early warning signs that you are about to fall over?


Update on Urban Honey – now with extra chooks!

Fever few - medicinal herb and part of our new herb garden

Fever few – medicinal herb and part of our new herb garden

The best part of my Sunday was the visit by Urban Honey to check on our Urban Honey beehive. When Carmen and Todd arrived, I was sweaty and dirt stained. After having shifted over a 150kg of compost into a new bin, dug up some potatoes, pruned, and turned over a garden bed, I was a sight no doubt. But Todd, in his quiet, reserved way said ‘we’re from the country’. Which makes perfect sense. Physical work is not an oddity in the country. The sight of someone in a work shirt and a bit dirty is no surprise. There is nothing objectionable about wearing a hat and perspiring. Of course, country people would have been wearing their boots, no matter how warm it was and how close to the home paddock they were working. I wasn’t and I regretted it later as I shook the dirt out of my crocs.

The excitement this afternoon is that our tour of the garden, involved the chooks. Finally, our chook palace has actual chooks. We had been finding the right chooks elusive, and then yesterday at the farmer’s market our number came up. Four of the kind of bantams we like, were available. Right there and then. We snapped them up. Soon we were off with our cardboard box of chooks. We were almost ready for their arrival, but there was a bit of flurry on Saturday afternoon to make final preparations.

Gorgeous Langshan - blue

Gorgeous Langshan – blue

As Carmen and Todd wandered around the garden today taking photos and chatting about bee friendly plants, the progress of the hive was noted and Carmen moved it slightly to take account of the shifting sun as we head into the cool weather. We talked about the Arbutus, the Irish Strawberry tree, which has come into flower and is full of bees. We chatted about herbs and other flowering plants.  We also chatted about the importance of what the Urban Honey project represents. The value is not the honey, or the even the pollination, but rather the education. It is about Benedict and his peers. While we work to try to build our urban pantry; herbs, potatoes, eggs, honey, we are building something much more significant. We are building understanding of where food comes from, how it grows, what the consequences are of the choices we make every day.

While I haven’t got enough time to make my own garden as wonderful as it is in my imaginings, I can always talk about how important it is to work towards an intelligent understanding of the world we live in, and how we can improve it.

Borage - bee friendly

Borage, comfrey and marigolds  – bee friendly and useful

American literature – part two – the long list

Where to start?

Where to start?

There has been a fantastic overwhelming response to American literature – through the fence, with too many suggestions to read this year, let alone the next five years. I have received a deluge of book suggestions. Many authors, some titles and now I am trying to wrestle them into some sort of shape and form.

For now you can read some of the suggestions and responses here

Stay tuned.


American literature – through the fence

For a long time I have been wanting to read more American fiction. Great GatsbyThis spark was renewed last year when I read the hauntingly beautifully written William Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. A book I really, really enjoyed.

To my shame, it wasn’t until 2011 that I read John Cheever’s classic and perfectly formed short story The Swimmer and The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, which when first published, resulted in hate mail to The New Yorker and cancelled subscriptions (I highly recommend the New Yorker Fiction podcast of this story, it gives me chills.) I should add my thanks to Kylie Ladd for both introducing me to the joy of the podcast and to The Swimmer.

Prior to this I’d plowed my way through much of Tom Wolfe (the whole of it actually), Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Dave Eggers (as well as McSweeney’s) and David Foster Wallace – all of whom write in a specifically American way, to my way of reading. But the wider range of the classic American texts and the best exponents of the short story, I have ignored. Largely this is because the emphasis was on reading English literature, and in some circles American literature was considered somehow less. Even at university, the bulk of my first year English texts were British. Except Fahrenheit 451, which I didn’t read – by then I was busy with other entertainments.

This is just such a wrong perception. It was said often when I was young that American fiction was full of sound and fury signifying nothing – a reference which, embarrassingly I always thought was about Macbeth. I had no idea about Faulkner. This belief that American fiction was not worth my reading time, coloured my view of the ‘classic American’ texts. And Gatsby, God’s Little Acre, Hemingway and Mark Twain.

Of course, I read To Kill A Mocking Bird, Catcher in the Rye, Grapes of Wrath (oh how I cried and cried), and even most of Kurt Vonnegut as a rebellion against the requirements to toil through all those Austens and Brontes. Indeed I think Vonnegut was the turning point. I read every single book our library possessed, and those who know how much I hate the library, will understand the commitment required.

Interestingly, now with a soul searching period of literature, post the past decade and a half, of tragedies and disasters, of bombs and hostility; the Americans are out in front in my view for dealing with what David Foster Wallace called “real American type sadness”. While here we wallow, trying to make sense of our own time in Australian fiction, and of our own stories, the Americans are dealing with their own loss and breakdown. The Road, White Noise, Falling Man, Infinite Jest, Back to Blood – the list goes on. All books about the end of times in their own specific way. All by men.

It was clear when I started writing this post, that I would get myself into trouble, it was stunning how quickly this happened. I can’t shake the academic training and I’ve stopped short of presenting any analysis because I haven’t read enough. It is ironic really that I am pronouncing that I want to read more American fiction but can’t write about it as I would like because I haven’t read enough of it. I am now in danger of labouring this point so long you’ve stopped reading!

How to proceed then. Limited reading time, but the desire to know more about a tradition that I had alternatively ignored and loved. To start, I think it might be worth addressing the gender imbalance. I’d love your suggestions. Online reading group this isn’t. That would be doomed to fail for lack of time right now. But I think a list of classics that I could work my through would be great.

I would like to compile a list. Tell me then, which American fiction should I read?

More particularly, which American women writers should I start with?

Comments please.


Talking to dead people

Soft heartedI wanted to talk to you this week. Wanted to tell you that I took your earrings to the jeweller. He is going to make them into a pendant.

I know you would be happy because now I will wear them, instead of just keeping them in a drawer and taking them out every so often to turn them over in my hands and lament their old fashioned ugliness. The gold is excellent of course, but you knew that. The jeweller and I didn’t even talk money. He realised their worth, and it wasn’t just the metal.

You’d like him. He’s only interested in the best and most interesting pieces. He makes his jewellery by hand.

Just as we had finished and the jeweller’s wife was writing the notes and sealing the envelopes, I wanted to look one more time. Sentimental and soft hearted, I turned them over in my hand one more time. Did you change your mind, she asked. No, I said, I just wanted one last look.


Death and other friends

In 2007 while Helen was dying, I was torn. Torn between wanting her to die, and not wanting her to die. Sounds simple now, easy almost. A or not A. When she died, we would stop suffering, but we would stop having her too. We would sleep, rather than fret, but how selfish I felt.

Death however, has other plans for us all. We become the worst version of ourselves when we are dying. The selfish, bitter, mean and egotistical selves that we spend a lifetime from early childhood trying to repress, trying to pretend we were not, we are. Death makes fools of us all. Read More

Memes, themes, dreams … 2012


I cannot wait to see the back of this year. Cannot wait. From its inauspicious beginning, to the never-ending sick of May to September, the drama, madness and chaos has continued relentlessly. It has featured extremely difficult parenting moments, and pseudo-parenting of the big kids, who while not my direct parental responsibility, still have a big call on my emotional resources. It also featured a seemingly endless stream of challenges.

Benedict turned three. His celebration was joyous and it made my festive season to see him dive into his cake. At least I held my promise of always doing a special celebration for him. Read More

My perfect life

This past couple of weeks have been the toughest my family has endured for a long long time.

I am not going to discuss the specifics.

When everything is going to total crap I have one coping mechanism – it is perverse, because it involves a complete mind fuck.

I imagine my perfect life. Not the life I am living, but the life I want to have. This is perverse because it brings into sharp relief how my actual life is going and its manifest physical defects. Read More

Moscow mules for all…

This week it finally cracked 20 degrees! To celebrate I made my first Moscow Mule of the summer.  It’s simple really, vodka, lime, ginger beer and mint. Like all the classics it has a long history, it was created in 1941 in Manhattan but was particularly popular in the 50s during a vodka craze in the US – particularly the East Coast, or so my extensive *cough* research tells me. Originally it was served in copper cups, apparently the famous Cock ‘n’ Bull bar had goblets engraved with the names of the celebrities who drank there. LA Weekly tells me Greer Garson drank hers in a ‘glass of alarmingly huge proportions.’ The Sunset Strip institution closed in 1987 after 50 years.

Anyway back to warmer weather and great drinking opportunities. Last summer I became slightly obsessive about this fantastic cocktail. There were many instagram moments, and even a hashtag #moscowmulesallround

I said on Friday afternoon that I would blog a recipe, so here it is.

Lay your hands on the tallest glass you can find. Smash the mint into the bottom of the glass with some ice.

Add two shots – 60mL – vodka

Add fresh lime -15 to 20 mL (about one per glass)

Top up the glass with ginger beer.

You can use alcoholic ginger beer or soft. If you use ‘beer’ then be sure to have prepared the dinner first – you only need one of these before you won’t want to do anything else for the rest of the day, which is just as it should be.


A hole is to dig

Sometimes you don’t know what you want, you don’t know what things are for and you certainly don’t know what you are actually doing. I have been in this place. I’d been working and writing, with some mothering on the side, but none of it was going well, except the mothering, that was pretty good. I wasn’t working at full capacity and I’d convinced myself that it was freeing me up to write. Except I wasn’t. I wasn’t writing at all. My heart wasn’t in it. I hadn’t felt like it. Such a cop-out. It is a disciple after all. It is a calling after all. It had called me, and I had turned my face into the wind, to drown the calling shout.

The philosophical view of this could be that my purpose wasn’t clear. There was a lack of clarity about what I was becoming. There are many philosophers for whom this is an entire life’s work and writing. There are many people for whom this never becomes clear. For me, I wasn’t sure it wasn’t clear. I thought I knew. I was entirely wrong. As a philosopher, and after a month’s reflection, I now know this isn’t good enough. I can’t halfheartedly do anything.

A hole is to dig

Buttons are to keep people warm

Children are to love

A book is to look at

Ruth Krauss’s work A hole is to dig with Maurice Sendak’s beautiful illustration has stayed deep inside my mind since childhood. It is sub-titled ‘A First Book of Definitions’. From a philosophical point of view, this beguiling children’s book provides a breathtakingly simple and elegant example of what are called ‘artifacts’ and their functions. ‘A hole is to dig’, ‘a face is for making faces’. What something is for, what it is good for, is sufficient to explain what it is. This is, a rather computational, rational and logic based sort of philosophy. However, this little book is the perfect example of the theory of ‘artifacts’, or things are defined by their function. I have been unable to shake the fragment ‘a hole is to dig’. It has been rising to the surface of my mind almost daily.

It has caused me to wonder over and over, what am I for? What is my purpose? What am I doing?

I had found myself boxed in. Unable to see how my own thinking was limiting me. This is the great value of philosophy, and of children’s books, whether written by philosophers or not, they show you what you are. They also show you that your own nature can be concealed from yourself, but only for a little while.

Hands are to hold

A hand is to hold up when you want your turn

I am in danger of dislocating my shoulder my arm is so far up.

All references in italics from,  A hole is to dig, Ruth Krauss – words and Maurice Sendak – pictures, 1952. You can buy a copy for the child within who needs reminding of what holes are for here: - Australia's #1 online bookstore

End of an era … good buy red stripey thing

End of an era

My red and cream Remo stripey thing has been my constant companion for the past 16 years. I was wearing it when my first nephew was born. I wore it soon after my own baby was born, it was the first piece of clothing I wore at home after Benedict was born. I’ve worn it for all occasions, almost, for all of those years. I own a Remo stripey thing bought during the “Good Buy Sale” of 1996. I’d wanted one since 1988, but before 1996 I was too student poor to own one, as modestly priced as they were, if you price them per wear.

Now both elbows have worn through, just in the past week. First one, and then the other.

The tragic part is that during the past three years I bought two new blue and white versions, one regular size and then one larger size to accommodate my expanding pregnant self, but I don’t love them nearly as much. I’ve tried but they are just not the same. The wearing of the red and cream one was rationed, judicious during the first year of Benedict’s life, as I saw it ageing, it wearing thin. I did break out from my own strictures occasionally.

Stripey and stripey show

I tried to routinely wear the blue and white versions, to wear them to the same stretch, to the same amount of ‘lived in’ as the red and cream, but the blue two were never the same, no matter how much I wore them. They were never exactly the same size, length or weight as the original. They were great, but not the same, the weight and the length were not quite the same as the original ‘one size fits all’ version. The red felt like a second skin.

Now it is so worn, its seams are coming apart. Its elbows worn out by leaning, by resting on tables, while reading the paper, drinking coffee, cooking the dinner and much more besides. It was always my weekend garment of choice. It was my after work first choice. And now it is worn out. Soon, it will just fall the pieces out of the wash. I will pull it out of the machine and it will just rent, from the sheer exhaustion of being loved to collapse.  I can’t get a new one. Remo General Store is now no more.

That’s it for my favourite piece of clothing of all time. It’s now to be retired in case it tears any more. I will keep it, carefully, stashed away, because sentimentally, I can’t part with it.



Nevermind the blogging, I’ll be at work

It is Friday again tomorrow. I will be going to work, again.

Footpath Closed

The full time working gig is still in progress. There is still another week to go.

So far the tally is one last kid at child care pick up, two blackouts, three lots of takeaway, four million coffees and about fifty seven personal freak out moments, and one shamefully self-indulgent cry-baby melt-down about stationery (yes really). I have spent the month at the very bleeding edge of my comfort zone. For me work is all about competence. Actually my whole life is about competence. I like, no I love, being good at stuff. I hate feeling less than on top of my existence. Feeling like I know what is happening, what I need to do, what is expected, who everyone is, what they know and how to get stuff done. That’s my comfort zone, that’s what I like.

When stepping into someone else’s job in an organisation not my own, I have none of these things. I have my inbuilt qualities, my learned patterns, work experience, personal traits; but little of the complete competence which I like to always show the world. There is no time to learn how, there is only action and completion of tasks. There is no time to find out the history, work with the issues, there is only one option, just do it. And then do some more and then on top of all that doing, the phone will not stop and email will flood in and it will only sometimes make any sense and yet, I have to write, well, and quickly and check other people’s writing. And talk about issues, with command of detail on topics I have only had the merest whiff of a briefing on in passing while in the lift on the way to the meeting, where I will be doing the talking.

And the part I actually like about all this, is that everyone knows who I am, but I have only a hint of who they all are. Makes it simpler. At least the confusion is only in one direction. They know what I can do for them. At least for the short time I will be there.

It has been testing. I have flexed all my emotional intelligence. I have been exercising the full extent of my capabilities. Using skills I have been in touch with for a few years at least. And I am better for it.

What do you like to be good at?