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 - 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


Urban honey


Urban honey in action

Sometimes a project comes along that immediately I want to be part of. Canberra Urban Honey is one such project. When I found out we could have a bee hive in our backyard I jumped at the chance.

The Honey Delight beekeeping family have a long and rich tradition of producing excellent honey. With four generations of beekeepers they have a wealth of experience. One thing they had noticed was the declining numbers of bees in the Canberra environment. As Carmen Pearce-Brown tells it she kept hearing people talk about the lack of bees, and of low fruit harvests in their vegie gardens. She decided there was a very practical way the Honey Delight business could help bring bees back to the city. In response to declining urban bees, to promote the wonders of bees and their fundamental role in the environment, the Canberra Urban Honey project brings bees to the urban setting. With her considerable passion for bees and excellent social media skills, Carmen crowd-sourced the funding to get the Canberra Urban Honey project off the ground. She also talked the rest of her extended family into participating and helping her select and prepare hives to be hosted in the city. Not to mention sharing the long drives to country NSW to collect the hives.

With the funds raised, willing hosts lining up to participate, late last year the first hives were placed into Canberra gardens. Hives which are specially selected and prepared and transported from the country to the host gardens of Canberra. There is no work for us, the beekeepers come and do everything. It’s honey for nothing!

All jokes aside, the Canberra Urban Honey project is not profit making for the beekeepers, as the honey yields are lower in the city, but it is all about raising awareness, about supporting the urban environment and sustainable ecosystems. The project now has a waiting list of people willing to host hives in their gardens. Luckily we got in early.

After a heatwave delay when it was too hot to move ourselves, let alone the bees, last Friday our hive finally arrived! Great excitement as the truck pulled up and unloaded our Urban Honey hive. Bees right in our urban setting. Right behind our enormous banksia rose, and next to the vegie garden, rests the Honey Delight hive. Repainted, with fresh healthy queen and bees who can’t wait to experience the city, the hive which a few days ago was deep in the country is now flying around our garden and beyond. I say our bees, already they are a part of the fabric of our garden, even if we are only hosting them.

We planted a new herb garden in their honour, full of flowering medicinal herbs like comfry, feverfew and plants like artichokes. We also let some of our vegie garden go to seed, like the fennel above in preparation. We will need to do more of this, all of us, to sustain a healthy urban life. While we were originally customers of Honey Delight, to attempt to keep up with our prodigious demand for honey (where does it all go, Benedict?) we are now thrilled to be part of an important community sustainability project. It is yet another way to show Benedict where food comes from and receive the benefits of pollinators buzzing around while we contribute to the health of the urban eco-system.

To me this is just the start. Soon the chook shed (which is really a palace for chickens) will be in place and we will be using our large backyard well, and making a contribution to sustainability that goes further than buying organic, supporting local growers and recycling.


Here they come

Here they come

Hive Hosting

If you’re interested in hosting a hive, see details at Canberra Urban Honey or see Honey Delight at the Capital Region Farmers Market every Saturday.
Hive Hosting is managed in a similar way to Honey Delight commercial beekeeping:
Honey Delight relocate the hive to your property but maintain ownership of it, they manage the hive and the colony.
When there is honey to harvest we manage the honey extraction process and share the honey with you (3kg per harvest).

You can also contact Carmen on twitter or facebook.

How to menu plan

Planning is ever so important

Planning is ever so important

Buy deliciously cute weekly dinner plan pad from fancy stationers.

Think about what you are doing in the week or two weeks ahead.

Write a sample menu for a week.

Invite people over, then make sure they change the day at least once. Then immediately forget the new arrangement and fail to write it down on your super cute new planner. Colour yourself surprised when they turn up with champagne while you are collapsed on the couch. Send man out to get pizza. Read More

I might just be addicted …

IMG_2739Maybe it’s the heat? It could also be the cold. Or perhaps the non-summer we had in 2011-12 in contrast to the scorcher this year. But I have a problem. It’s getting serious. I can’t leave it alone.

More than anything I need to how what the temperature is. Right now. All the time. From the crack of dawn till I fall asleep. Not only that, I also really have to know which way the wind is blowing, and what’s happening in Braidwood. Yes, Braidwood. For Braidwood it is the weather vane, the lead indicator for when Canberra will cool down. Once that easterly air hits Braidwood, it is only a question of when. Yes, when? Exactly when? Read More

Talk so I can know where we are going

I can do it by myself

I can do it by myself

One of the best parts of being a parent is watching your child acquire knowledge and know how. Eating with a knife and fork, putting his own undies on, drinking from a cup one handed. He has been so determined he will insist on doing something himself, refusing all assistance, no matter how difficult it is, even to the point of sheer frustration, he rarely gives up.

Together with personal competence, we have reached a stage now where patterns of activity are well understood by our boy. What follows dinner is teeth brushing and story. If it’s Saturday, then its markets and not kindy. The carpark at the shops means cheesy-mite scroll, trolley ride, car parking ticket and change retrieval. He knows. He can anticipate what will happen next. He knows where the money goes in to release the trolley. He knows that change comes out in the slot after the parking is paid. He knows that the faster he can put his hand into the slot, the more chance he has to get the coins into his pocket and keep them. Cheeky minx.

The best part, is of course messing with those expectations and patterns. Sometimes this is his decision. Like refusal to ride in the trolley, or rather insistence on pushing the trolley at the supermarket. He insists he is a big boy and only babies go in the trolley. He is right of course, but it is daunting watching him practice not crashing while remaining calm, apologising to anyone and everyone who he runs into and continuing to shop. Life skills, I tell myself.

Competence. It’s important.

Sometimes it is my decision. Add new things. Add new challenges. Open your own door kiddo. You can get your own shoes on. You can be tricked and surprised. This is my new favourite element of parenting. Carefully withholding information to ensure surprise. At our place, we call these adventures. We have had a few lately. Some big adventures; driving to Melbourne, driving to the coast for Christmas, swimming lessons. Some small adventures; visiting friends, trips to the shops just for ice-cream or coffees. Holidays are great like that. Spontaneity is much simpler.

Didn’t take long, but he’s on to me. You were tricking mama he says, when I pretend not to be tickling, but sneak one. Or when he sneaks one over me and I am forced to relent and admit I was being tricky. He listens all the time. All the time. To everyone and to everything. The other day, I planned a swim and early tea at a friends while he was asleep and then we he woke up, announced an adventure! Where are we going? It’s a surprise, I said. As we set off, Robert and I talked of other things, careful not to let slip our destination.

Then from the back seat a voice, Talk! Talk so I can know where we are going.


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