Letting it all hang out

Words and pictures

What’s one martini?

It is easy to see where downing several martinis at a birthday party might lead. There are tantalising possibilities in that thought. This story is not about any of them. This story is about how drinking martinis lead me to my first every dance class and how I remembered that the important thing in life is to keep expanding your horizons. Particularly with your partner.

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Deconstructed … taking family dinner apart

We can cook

We can cook

Dinner can be a time consuming drag. I know, even foodies get over the whole workday dinner thing.

I am tiring of making two separate dinners. One for a finicky small person and one for everyone else. I am looking forward to one dinner. Even though I think it will still be a while, I live in hope. While I am still making two meals I am looking for short cuts. Read More

I sold chooks on Twitter


Silver Laced Wyandottes

There are times when you just need to call your mother.

She’s the only one who will understand and make it right. Straight away. Right now.

And then sometimes, she will laugh so hard she’ll drop the phone.

Like Sunday. I rang my mother, from the front door of the chook palace. The conversation went something like this.


I know it’s your birthday tomorrow, and that’s great but I have something funny to tell you. I accidentally bought full sized chooks and the bantams have gone nuts. What do you think will happen?

Cue: Hysterical laughter. Then some more. Then this.

I’m sorry darling, I know I shouldn’t laugh, but it just so funny. Read More

The Weekend

Today would be a good day to write and write and write. It’s warm, my head is full of ideas. There are few plans for other things.

But I won’t. I will shop and cook and organise. I will exhaust myself with the dashing to and fro gathering all the supplies to survive another week. I will waste the precious time with talk to myself about how my family needs me and that I be happier if I rearranged the furniture.

This is a waste.


Happy Easter

Easter. My favourite holiday. The best food. The best weather.

I especially love hot cross buns, but good ones are hard to find. Then I decided, I’d make some. Isn’t this what holidays are all about? Good food and mouching about the kitchen drinking tea. Always up for a challenge, I wanted to try different recipes made with dried yeast and fresh.

I checked my trusty Twitter foodies for recipes. And lovely Liz came up with this.

@: @ There's one here http://t.co/rIO5fXf2bF but I cannot guarantee the recipe - Just finished a batch. Photo soon
Stella Orbit

When I finally got to the markets, I could only get fresh yeast. Dried was all sold out. Undeterred, I made this recipe from Skye Gyngell’s Petersham Nurseries days.

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns

My crosses could use some work, but the results were delicious. The dough was hard to work with and remained very sticky even after resting. For a scary 20 minutes, the dough didn’t move and I thought my kitchen was too cool for the yeast to work – despite my preparations of shutting doors and leaving the oven on low to warm up while I made the dough. But then suddenly, action stations and up it went. The finished product looked great and tasted delicious.

I had to eat another one, so I could take a photo of the inside. Lovely texture. There is not much resting time with this recipe, compared to some of the others, which is an advantage. Fresh yeast supplies available around Canberra from Fyshwick markets and IGAs – any deli worth it’s salt should keep it. Needs to fresh, it has a short shelf life. Enjoy.

one a penny, two a penny

one a penny, two a penny


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 – the reading list

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions for my America literature long list.

With over 35 authors and many, many suggested titles, I am not going to be able to read all of them this year, or even next year or the year after. Top of the list with many different people nominating was The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Carson McCuller’s first novel, published to instant acclaim in 1940, has been my homework for a week now. It is an amazingly powerful book.DSC_0638

Once I finish it, and I’ll be sad to do so, I want to make some inroads into the other list. What to do? Where to start?

I had an idea. For my birthday two years ago, Robert gave me the Penguin Modern Classics boxed set. Most of them are short stories. Some of them are American. I have matched the suggested list, to what’s in the box and have come up with these as a starting point. I haven’t made much progress on the box, so this reading exercise kills two birds with one stone.

In no particular order.

Dorothy Parker – The Sexes (includes five short pieces – The Sexes, The Lonely Leave, The Little Hours, Glory in the Daytime, Lolita)

F. Scott Fitzgerald – Babylon Revisited (includes three short pieces – Babylon, The Cut-Glass Bowl, The Lost Decade)

Eudora Welty – Moon Lake

Raymond Chandler – Killer in the Rain

Shirley Jackson – The Tooth (includes five stories including The Lottery)

Carson McCullers – Wunderkind (includes four pieces – Wunderkind, The Jockey, Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland)

Truman Capote – Children on Their Birthdays (includes three pieces Children on Their Birthdays, A Christmas Memory, A Tree of Night).

I’ll let you know how I get on. Meanwhile, back to The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter.

You can buy the Penguin Modern Classic Boxed Set, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and many other fine American novels here

booktopia.com.au - Australia's #1 online bookstore



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.


Urban Honey – see for yourself

Here you can see the ABC 7:30 ACT story on Canberra Urban Honey and lovely Carmen Pearce-Brown.

Beehives in fashion #canberraurbanhoney