Switching off

Is it me or does it suddenly get much harder to read the news when you’re a mum?

Or read a book.

Or watch a film.

And I don’t mean because the small humans prevent us from doing so…

Though that is also an issue.

It’s more that since I’ve had baby girl OC, and even prior to that, when I was pregnant with her, I have suddenly found anything involving small children or babies, or even a mother daughter/father daughter relationship more gut wrenching than ever before.

It all started when we were re-watching all of Game of Thrones. You know how Craster kills off all the babies who are not girls – or rather he leaves them to the White Walkers as a sacrifice so that they leave him be, and he can continue to have sex with his daughters, keeping only the girl babies (for more sexy times) and getting rid of the boy babies who, of course, would be a threat to his nice little set-up. You didn’t know this? Ok, well so you don’t think I’ve finally lost the plot, you can read about this guy here:

http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Craster

Anyway, the point is, there are two scenes which involve leaving a crying newborn baby in the cold, snowy and dark forest, all alone. Never has a tiny baby looked so defenceless – so innocent and undeserving of the cruel world into which it’s been born. Never has tv been so upsetting.

Until the scene with Walda Bolton (nee Frey) when she and her newborn baby (the heir to the Bolton empire) are torn to pieces by rabid dogs that evil Ramsey Bolton sets on them.

It’s honestly a great show.

Really.

But that was just the start. That was when I suddenly realised I couldn’t even physically bring myself to watch these scenes (that I’d actually seen before), but that now forced me to walk out the room and try to hold my shit together.

Unfortunately reality doesn’t give me much of a break either. A couple of months ago it was the story of the baby whose life was tragically taken in the pedestrian/car accident in Melbourne. And in the last week we have had to read about the mother who tried to kill her sons in the Murray River. It’s all so heartbreaking.

Honestly, I now can’t go near an article or book if it is going to take about child abuse. I always knew my mum was unable to read or watch anything that had that in the storyline and I always felt she was very sensitive. I understood her feelings, but it didn’t affect me like it did her.

And now I am totally on the same page. It sucks really that I had to become a parent to be able to truly feel a strong adversity to these atrocities, but at the same time it plainly just sucks (understatement of the century) that these things can possibly happen to innocent children. They of all people should be free from such monstrous goings-on. Once you’re a parent, if you weren’t already massively upset about these things you probably will be before long.

Last night I was chatting with one of my best mates whose son is 3.5 months older than Little Miss OC, she was saying she was watching a documentary on Dunblane but had had to turn it off. She wouldn’t even tell me what channel it was on. And she was right to do so. We would have both had nightmares if we had watched it.

Which got me to thinking. Surely the worst pain anyone can feel is to be a parent that loses a child? There is no measure of grief. But never has it been so clear to me what it is to love so unconditionally. To feel like a being is an extension of you. To know that what hurts that child hurts you. And if anything were to happen to her that it doesn’t even bear thinking of.

I have a friend who lost her daughter when she was about two years old. It is something for which you cannot really comfort her. Words and actions might show love and support to her and her family… but we have talked about how that grief doesn’t ever go away. It’s been ten years since the little girl passed but this year it affected me more than it has in the past – I felt even more helpless to take away pain for my friend, and I felt so upset in my commemoration of this tiny life lost. I knew it wasn’t about me, but as we let balloons into the sky for her, as is done each year, I couldn’t help but look at my lovely little girl and feel like my heart might explode in just considering what we were for there that day.

And apparently there’s no escaping from the tragedies of the world in a good book. Or at least, not in the ones I’ve recently been reading. We read The Light Between Oceans for Bookclub the month before lost. I’d already read it as a non-mum years ago but my now-mum friend read it and said “It’s not really the easiest read for new mums is it?!” And she’s right. The last month it was Big Little Lies. Now, this book is meant to be quite light-hearted but I still found it hard when Jane’s son Ziggy was crying and saying none of his kindergarten friends would play with him. Urgh. Ok ok. I get it. Kids are the greatest. Can you stop tugging at my heart please? And then this month, well Hannah Kent… you marvelled us all with Burial Rites and so I chose your new book The Good People. Poor unknowing me. It’s only mostly about a little handicapped boy in 1825 in rural Ireland where there was very poor understanding of things like Cerebal Palsy or any such affliction. This book damn near broke me. I shed some tears. It didn’t, in the end, take away from my enjoyment. But I sure felt some strong urges to hide it under my pillow at times.

So, it seems, I’m way too sensitive, and new motherhood has merely put me at further risk. I could be brought to uncontrollable tears and yes I might occasionally be able to blame hormones or sleep deprivation. But the main cause of my newfound inability to cope with anything involving small children coming to any harm is down to that gorgeous little human known as my daughter. And I’m cool with that. Even if I have to stop reading the news and half of the tv shows.

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Thompson Road, by Scott Wyatt – a review

Thompson Road - Scott Wyatt

I do love a good coming-of-age novel and Thompson Road is definitely that. But it’s more – it’s a love story at heart, and also a comment on the prejudices and misconceptions of society, and a reminder of how far we’ve come in our understanding of learning disabilities.

The novel is set just prior to World War II and we find ourselves in small town Washington – centred around Thompson Road, a country road on which our protagonists, Raleigh Starr and Mona Garrison, have grown up.  There is a great sense of the depth of the country in which this story begins, and we are instantly thrown into drama via a flashback to when the pair first meet. A barn fire at the Garrison family home is out of control; the men are clearing the horses our of the building to safety. A young Raleigh cannot resist this little girl Mona, when she desperately asks him to save her cat and kittens from the fire. He does as she asks, putting himself in danger for reasons even he cannot fathom.

What also becomes clear in this short prologue is that Mona, who lives with her Aunt and Uncle, has learning disabilities and that, as such, her Aunt cannot understand how to deal with her. It is immediately obvious that there is contention between the pair because Mona is not ‘normal’. However, in spite of this, Mona is a modest, kind and seemingly happy child who wants nothing more than to thank Raleigh and name one of the kittens after him as a token of her appreciation.

Sadly for Mona, her Aunt’s ignorance and narrow-minded ways, whilst mostly employed to protect the child, eventually end up doing the opposite, and put her in a life-altering situation. Thoughout the first part of the novel we see how her Aunt does more damage than good in trying to find ways to ‘cope’ with Mona’s affliction. And while, as a reader you can expect to feel that her Aunt is to blame, in many ways of course she is the product of the lack of understanding at that time, and her actions were not unusual, nor taken with the intention to be cruel.

The same could be said of our male protagonist – Raleigh. While he does have a responsibility in what becomes of Mona, the reader is supposed to empathise with him, in particular because he does realise his mistakes quite early on in the chronological events of the book.

For the first part of the novel, prior to the war, Raleigh is the guy who has a fairly idyllic country-town teenager lifestyle. He is charismatic, great at sports, has a great best friend (Wheels), a group of school mates he goes to parties and hangs out with, he works with his dad in his spare time and drives his truck around with freedom. In fact, the liberty and opportunities he has, in particular, due to being a male in this period in history (when women still had more restrictions on them than men), are polar opposite to the tightly controlled life that Mona leads.

The only thing Raleigh doesn’t have that he desperately wants, is Sally Winters. And she is the girlfriend of Ted. After a humiliating, face-to-face moment in which he declares (unrequited) love for his sweetheart, Raleigh looks to other means to win his girl. And he finds it in Mona’s incomparable dancing talent.

Meanwhile, Mona has many more issues to deal with – subjected to regular bullying on the school bus and with no one willing to really get to know her, she doesn’t much seem to mind. Instead she is happy to observe Raleigh who has clearly been the object of her affection, unknown to him, since he rescued her pets from the barn fire all those years ago. But she is held on tight reins by her Aunt and Uncle who fear she will become wayward because she is ‘feebleminded’. One such example of this that really packed a punch was when, even on a sweltering hot day, when every kid is down at the river cooling off and having fun, she is accompanied by her elderly aunt and uncle, and sports an unflattering, old-fashioned, all-consuming swimsuit, in which she must not only try and swim, but must be made to feel lacking.

However if there is one thing Mona rules above all, it is in her ability to dance.And it is in sneaking her out to practice for the dance competition (that they then go on to win) that Raleigh lands her in the most hot water. And worst, for Raleigh, it begins as an entirely selfish act on his part, to try to win Sally into his arms and away from Ted, by making her jealous. Yet by the time he and Mona win the dance contest, Raleigh has begun to realise all too late how he really feels for Mona. He can no longer ignore the undeniable effect she has on him.

Unfortunately though, their deception in sneaking Mona out is uncovered and everything upends – Mona is sent away to a custodial school, signed over to a guardian, and the war begins. Raleigh goes off to serve his country, and many more obstacles wait in front of them, will they find their way back to one another or will it be too late?

The setting of this novel felt very real and was well portrayed. Wyatt has a natural talent for assuming the essence of a particular scene and delivering that to you in his writing – the era feels mostly authentic, and the setting in the country, in this small town feels very palpable throughout the story. The war scenes are also delivered really well – the reader can feel the fear, the isolation from loved ones, and the hot South Pacific setting.

The same can be said of the characters. Not only are they all well rounded but you are on the journey with them – cursing the baddies and rooting for hero and heroine. The reader can’t help but love Mona, and see her absolute beauty, not only through Raleigh’s eyes but also in the way she presents herself. In the things she endures, our heart breaks for her, she is undoubtedly a quiet heroine. Raleigh meanwhile, is the loveable good guy who stuffed a few things up in his youth but is imperfect just like the rest of us. We love him because of his imperfections and because of his love for Mona.

For my part, I loved that this book had some depth to it with the controversy around what was clearly ‘just dyslexia’ now so well understood and accepted but even thirty years ago this was not the case, let alone in the middle of the last century. There is a definite sense of resolution at the close of the novel, and while you can tell Raleigh is tired by life’s events, Mona is as always his unyielding inspiration and a rock for him.

In fact, the ending was truly well structured. You were left feeling you wanted more, but were satisfied with what you were given, without it being too sentimental and unrealistic. There is understatedness in the style of this book which wins it good credibility. It doesn’t try too hard or get lost in the details. At times I felt this might be where it was lacking – that I needed more depth to the themes of the story and deeper undertones, but in fact, in the end I think it works just fine. It isn’t superficial, but a clean portrayal of falling in love, understanding love, growing up in mid-20th century North America, and an important message about how society sometimes gets it wrong. This is the first of Wyatt’s novels that I’ve picked up but I’d certainly be interested to read another – he has a writing style that captures you straight away and carries you along with his lovable characters.

4 out of 5 Stars.

The Importance of Front Page News

Corruption, greed, war, climate crisis, prejudice – they’re all front page news issues. They all lead to the suffering of every day people just like you and me. And there’s never enough being done about it by the people in whose hands we place these matters, on our behalf – political leaders of the globe.

I just finished reading a book about the importance of fighting injustice; the importance of uncovering what people in positions of power try to cover up; the importance of persistance in the face of opposition and probable death; the importance of fighting for what we believe and know to be wrong; and the importance of the written word in doing all these things. All That I Am by Anna Funder is about the pre-war Hitler regime and our protagonists are in the opposing team, exiled from their own country and silenced. In the face of monstrous deeds and oncoming war to which so many turned a blind eye in those early years of Hitlers reign, our heroine persists in trying to reveal all that Hitler was really doing. And she eventually gives her life to the cause, at the hand of the Gestapo. Yet her work did do so much to save many lives before it was too late, and in the end, it documented the truth so that a move on Hitler’s regime could finally be made.

One thing that is prevalent throughout this novel is the way writing is used to try to uncover the hidden truth, to counter the words of deceptive leader, to offer an opposing perspective on current events. Flyers, newspapers, correspondence and the sharing of knowledge between sources.

Fast forward to 2015 and in the last 24 hours we’ve been presented with some confronting and extremely sad images in the newspapers  – the photos of drowned Syrian refugee children, washed up on the beach of Turkey. It has moved us all, and while we are united in our humane compassion for these familes, there is something else that must be considered. These images capture a mere essence of the tragedies that bring people to flee their country. Refugee ‘problems’ are not a new thing, and the plight of the Syrian people existed long before these pictures hit the headlines… and they still persist now. What we can be glad of is that for once they’re headline news around the globe, and that many people are now sitting up and taking note. Not just that, but there are people also putting pressure on state leaders and politicians to do something to help.

So, at this stage, a good outcome would be that the refugees from the Syrian crisis find that refuge they seek, as this just seems the humane thing to do. However, is it not also just a bandaid on the real issues? War and climate change are just some of the instigating factors to put Syrian civilians in danger. There is a lot we need to fix in this world, and one of the best ways, first and foremost is take note, second is to use our voice to stand against what is only causing damage and destruction, third is to show others – spread the word, get these things in the headlines every day, consistently. Let’s report the stuff that matters. Please.

My last thoughts on this for today are this. This morning I spent considerable time dwelling on the lost lives of Galip and Aylan Kurdi [graphic content behind that link], and further to that I was also sparing some quiet moments for a friend of mine who is today attending the funeral of a 17 year old boy, tragically killed in a car accident, just a few years after his brother also passed away at the exact same age. In my sadness for these and other inconceivable tragedies I came to say a quiet ‘Thank you’, for today… and for yesterday and tomorrow. I may not fully understand how these things come to pass or know how to fix them but I do know I am lucky, and that’s the only thing that sets me apart from these families experiencing these horrific troubles. May the surviving families and friends in both cases be blessed, and may you be blessed too.

Review: Chigozie Obioma’s ‘The Fishermen’

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book as I picked it for my book club choice as a 2nd or 3rd option when my first two were not available. Also, of course, this is the debut novel from Obioma. However I’ve not been disappointed.

*Contains some spoilers*

The surprising thing about the plot was how early on the climax comes, around halfway through – with the fight between the two eldest brothers. But then it becomes all too clear that this is just one of several terrible, subsequential events that tear this family apart. By the end I was praying that the outcome could be different than what I suspected it would be, but this book is not about happy endings or comforting resolutions. Although there is a sense that some things are resolved by the end. And there is hope in the form of the younger siblings.

There is also hope in the fact that the protagonist, our narrator, has freedom – he is able to think for himself: he is able to see the bigger picture, and he benefits from it… or so we, the reader, hope he will.

One of the most frustrating aspects of our hero is the thing that also allows him to be swept into his own worse fate. He seems unable to fully form his own mind – whenever he tries (and he does try), he usually always squashes his thoughts and feelings, his doubts and misgivings, and sides instead with the the feelings of his brothers, or tries to percieve things the way they do. This is his downfall, but it’s also a natural occurence, for he is only 10 years old and he has three older brothers who have carved the way, have formed their own opinions, and one by one are asked to be leaders of their siblings, to be men of the house in the absence of their father.

And certainly the absence of their father is an hugely influential factor in the downfall of this family. When Ikenna most needs his father, when his wife most needs her husband, when the middle children are unsure who to look to for authority as everything around them changes, he is not there.

Obembe, the protagonist’s (Benjamin) nearest brother, clearly becomes traumatised by what happens to his two elder brothers. But to Ben, who does not seem to trust his own mind (and is certainly afraid to do so) he only sees that his brother “knows more than he does” and therefore he continues to look to him for direction. And this is the heart of the problem in each of the cataclysms that this family undergoes – each time it leaves a brother without an elder brother/father figure from whom to find leadership and support. Thus enabling them to make bad decisions, and fall into an altered and ultimately tragic pattern of thinking.

Obembe cannot see what is slowly becoming clear to Benjamin – that killing Abulu whom he believes to be the spawn of the tragedy that has all but destroyed his family and left him, unwillingly, in the position of responsiblity, is not the path to follow. And we, the reader, although we empathise with Obe’s reasoning, can see that it will only lead to more sorrow for this family.

And, although he does not know it yet, Ben is afraid for his family most of all, before even he is afraid for himself. He is scared of the soldiers hurting his family and THEN he is scared of them hurting him. He is afraid for Obe before he is afraid of being alone. His selfless and unquestioning ways are what ultimately destroy his future. And yet, if he’d been old enough, or had enough encouragement to think for himself, he might have saved his family. But we must remember he is just ten. How hard it is to read a story when it is a ten year old who has so much to learn and understand.

Moving on from the plot I should dwell on the writing – Obioma is a unique new talent and that is clear. For personal reasons I was extremely moved by the way the author described Ikenna’s funeral, in particular the piling of the soil onto the body and the horrible, finiteness of it.

I really enjoyed the bird imagery and metaphors, which so clearly align with our hero, Benjamin, who wanted to be a veterinarian and is fascinated by wildlife. This way of describing the metamorphosing of characters was poignant, it also works well to show how we need to see the world through Ben’s eyes. His understanding is shaped around what he knows and is able to process. The comparison to animals is his way of coping or managing what is happening to him and his family.

One of the most evocative descriptions in the book, is at a point when the reader is feeling such tension in waiting to see if Abulu will be killed. Obembe and Benjamin meet him on the bridge to give him the bread – the smells that Ben lists and describes are endless and utterly disgusting, but it is an incredible example of Obioma’s descriptive language. It is daring; almost brutal but essentially, it is emotive; beautiful; and clever.

This book is compelling, tragic but with some redemption, and it is certainly a fantastic debut from the author. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars, an 8 out of 10.

Review – Burial Rites, Hannah Kent

It’s been a fair wee while since I wrote a book review. But my book reading has definitely not taken a back seat, even if my reviewing has! I’m still running the book club and loving discovering great fiction with likeminded friends. I have a few picks of late including:

salvagethebonesSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – I’m not doing a full review of this book as I read it back in June and I don’t think I could give it full credit where it’s due. But suffice to say I loved it and would give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. The story is set in the several days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, in an average Mississippi neighbourhood. Esch is the heroine – a fourteen girl living with her three brothers and her father, after her mother passed away after giving birth to her baby brother, Junior. The character detail and development is subtle and yet powerful and the relationship between the siblings is strong. There is a subplot that adds a further layer of interest, in Esch’s brother Skeeter’s dog China (a fighting dog as is common in this culture) who gives birth to pups and the struggle to help them survive. The tension builds slowly, subtly, boiling over in the eye of the horrific storm, which in real life left hundreds and hundreds dead. Read this book if you like powerful stories about less-than-perfect, struggling families overcoming life’s everyday bumps. Read this if you like novels about surviving against the odds. Read it if you like a heroine who is quietly powerful. Read it if you like dogs.

However, let’s get onto the review of a book I finished just the other week, having read it for my book club. Interestingly this was a book that the majority of us scored highly – above 7 out of 10. My score is 8/10.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

This novel is a debut and the lady who wrote it is a) younger than me, and b) under 30. So massive props to Hannah Kent. Secondly, this was a manuscript that publishers came to her for. Not vice versa. That’s pretty much unheard of for a debut novel. Incidentally she is Australian and comes from the state of South Australia.

But none of that should really make any difference in reading this book. This has been a highly acclaimed debut novel and Kent is cited as being extremely accomplished for a young, inexperienced author.

The book was picked by member of our book club, yet Kent’s chosen topic had already drawn me to the novel. Her subject is the last person to be executed in Iceland, and that person was Agnes Magnusdottir in 1830. She was condemned to death by beheading for the murder of two men. For her final months, while she awaited her execution date, she was sent to live with a family on a farm – one of many of this type of family in those days in Iceland. Burial Rites is the story of those months but takes a retrospective look over Agnes’ life.

Mostly, to me, this story said a lot about ‘perspective’ and how we judge a person based on what we actually don’t know about them. Agnes was condemned and therefore was considered to be guilty by the family she went to live with and all those around her. But, for the entire duration of the book, as a reader I questioned whether she was guilty as charged. The reason I questioned it was because of the way in which we get to know the ‘real’ Agnes.

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”

And this of course, was Kent’s intention. When she went to Iceland for a student exchange trip she was completely taken in by the country and in turn, by the story of Agnes. She came home with, as her mother describes it ‘an obsession’ and almost a ‘strange connection’ with Agnes. She set about trying to find out more details about Agnes although it was a hard job because very little existed. But over an extended period and a second trip to Iceland with her family, Kent was able to write her major thesis on Agnes and this is how the novel was conceived.

If you watch this short film (it’s about 20 minutes) you will understand a lot more about the intriguing journey Hannah Kent embarked on when she started to learn and write about Agnes. Like many authors and their literary heroes and heroines it seems there is an unmistakable and impenetrable bond between the two. That is certainly true of Kent and Agnes Magnusdottir.

burialrites

After I read the book I discovered that Kent was mentored by one of my favourite authors – Geraldine Brooks. And certainly if you like Brooks’ novels you will like this. Like Brooks’ work, Burial Rites is an historical novel and it is based around characters that are real. But the relationships, the details of the murder, the substance of Agnes’ characterisation are all created purely by Kent. This doesn’t deter from the experience of reading this novel. I felt as though I was reading the story as it really happened. The reader is pulled in to Agnes’ plight and what is almost her ‘salvation’ in her days at the farm, leading to her impending execution.

“God has had His chance to free me, and for reasons known to Him alone, He has pinned me to ill fortune, and although I have struggled, I am run through and through with disaster; I am knifed to the hilt with fate.”

The above quote, in my mind, sums up how the reader feels by the end – ‘knifed to the hilt’ – it is a crushing and heartbreaking end, and this is despite the fact that we already know how it’s going to turn out! I felt so sucked into Agnes’ story that I took every blow with her. Furthermore, Kent does a stunning job of describing the last few hours of Agnes’ life – I mean, think about how an author might go about explaining, from the perspective of the condemned, how they might be feeling – what is going through their mind in their final hours? There is a delirious nature to Agnes’ narrative at this point, and when we move (as is common within the book – the story is told from several different voices, with Agnes being the only narrative to remain in the first person) to the priest, Toti’s narrative we see the utter terror that Agnes is feeling… and that is the time at which I felt so ripped apart by this story.

This novel is a stunning story, powerfully told. But more than that it might draw the reader in so much that they want to go to Iceland and see the haunting landscape for themselves. Many of us at book club found ourselves quite interested in the way of life, the countryside painted by Kent and the history of the country of Iceland. The reader should expect to be pulled under by Agnes’ tale and prepare themselves to want to know more about Iceland!
If you know the style of my reviews I don’t like to tell much because if it’s worth reading then hopefully you’ll find these things out for yourself. I guess I’m just selling you the literary experience. And with Burial Rites I believe it’s a fantastic one.

Looking back and looking forward

sweat everyday
So I’m pretty behind on my blogging. I guess the reasons for this are threefold: firstly it was Christmas and Mr OC and I had two weeks off while his daughter visited from NZ. Secondly, it’s summer!! Which means getting outdoors and making the best of it! And finally once holidays were over I was back a work and we are launching a new version of our website and having a whole load of new messaging happening… If you work in marketing you know this equals BUSY!!I did have time to make New Years’ Resolutions though and I want to look back last year’s and see how I did. So a bit of reflection, and then some looking forward.

Last year’s resolutions – how’d I do?

  • Buy a beach chair – I actually already fulfilled this NYR when I wrote my last my blog. Although just after new year THIS year I then fulfilled my fearful vision and broke said chair with my butt + Mr OC’s butt… So I had to go get another one and now I have a nice stripey chair!
  • I hugely failed on my second NYR which was to visit my second cousin here in Australia who is the only bloodline I actually have here! I have some vague reasons why this didn’t happen but none of them seem like good excuses so this will go on my list again this year. Fail!
  • I also failed on the next one too. Whoops. It was to go on hols somewhere outside of a family visit. Yeah, that just never happened. We had some weekends away but that doesn’t really count. We are hoping to this year but there are some other things that may alter that… More on that later.
  • Go to the UK – win!! This happened and it was fabulous, real quality time with my fam and bezzies. What was also interesting was how I loved coming back home to here – Aussie, as HOME.
  • Write more blogs – well I totally smashed this – of the 32 blog posts I published 26 last year! Yippee. Now to beat that this year – I best get marching!
  • So, I also wanted to join a book club – however I didn’t do this… I went one step better and started my own! We meet every month and have a nice number of 10 of us which is perfect for borrowing the collections from our local library – if it weren’t for book club I wouldn’t have read Life of Pi which LOVED and The Other Hand (also known as Little Bee) also a great book.  I also wouldn’t have read the truly awful (in my opinion) Indelible Ink or the “not-his-best-book” by Ian McEwan in Solar.
  • I think we may have covered off my next resolution, which was to read more books – I probably read more books (even outside of book club) last year than I’ve read since I was studying! And I’m truly loving it. Some of my review are on this site if you want some reading inspiration.
  • I said I wanted to find a new hobby. I suggested I might take up candle-making or flower-arranging – both nice ideas. But in the end it was really fitness that became my new hobby towards the back end of the year when I started doing outdoor group training. Still going strong and still loving it. For Christmas my entire theme of presents was fitness  – not by my choosing but I’m not complaining!
  • Again, this resolution and the next are closely linked – I said I shifted 4 kilos at the end of last year and wanted to keep that weight off. Well the first half of the year involved putting some of that back on (not all) but then I went back down again in winter… then up again… then I started the booty camp and BAM! Lost it all, lost some more and am another three kilos down on what I was last year having reached my ideal weight. Because I am enjoying fitness and training combined with healthy eating (no diets and no rigidity) so much I am hoping I might tone up more, put on more muscle and if that also means I lose another kilo or two then that’s OK. Mostly the goal is to remain feeling as good as I have been – to keep fit, to get fitter and stronger and to remain as happy as I have truly felt whilst doing this training – even with a three week break over Christmas.
  • So yes, in that sense the resolution to do lots of walking has been fine – I run lots more now and have been so surprised at the fact that I can actually run pretty well. Goal achieved.
  • And getting outdoors as a resolution was something I resolved very well – lunchtimes less so as work is busy and I’d rather get done and get out of the office, period. Getting outdoors first thing in the morning for booty camp has been something I never thought I’d do but now feel great doing and quite smug about. Love to see the sunrise, love to know I’ve got outdoors before I have to go and virtually lock myself in an office for 8 or so hours of daylight.
  • You know what – I remembered sunscreen (resolution no. 12) really well up until this weekend just passed when for some reason I just didn’t. Yup – burnt. Not big, not clever. Note to self.
  • Re the overcoming my fear of water – well whilst it isn’t going away I did have an excellent time splashing around in the waves this summer break with my step-daughter and nieces. I’m getting there.

    Lorikeets feeding with Mr OC
    Lorikeets feeding with Mr OC
  • Sadly – the prospect of fulfilling NYR no.14 to get a dog was as hopeless as I predicted – but we do seem to have turned our balcony into some kind of menagerie (see above) so at least I’m getting SOME animal time!
  • Sit up straight was my final resolution – whilst I still do not have the best posture I’ve found that not only does back ache not happen so much now I’m exercising more, but also that my posture, as a result is much improved.

So what about this year…

  1. Hopefully lose another 1-2 kilos but most importantly not gain any.
  2. Tone lower abs – this is my area that has never really been toned – definitely where all my weight goes.
  3. Improve upper body strength – I would love to do the Tough Mudder but I think this year might be too soon. My upper body is WEAK but already so much stronger so that’s good.
  4. Keep fit, healthy and stay in shape – as mentioned above.
  5. Exercise four times a week – two days booty camp, one run, one walk or bike ride. Also we’ve just set up a bit of a gym in our garage – so far just a weight training bench and some weights, plus my medicine ball, yoga mat, jump rope, resistance bands. But it’s a good start. Want to get gloves for training plus boxing gloves and pads!
    sweat
  6. Start a compost – I have the upstairs bin but I need somewhere to store it outside to rot down. A trip to Bunnings is on the cards!
  7. Grow two kinds of veggies – self sufficiency is a good thing for you and the environment – it’ll have to be something I can grow in a pot but… I figure it’s do-able.
  8. Eat at the table NOT in front of the TV – at least twice a week. We are terrible when we’re on our own for just eating in front of the TV – it is not a habit I’m at all proud of. When Mr OC’s daughter was staying with us we ate at the table for all meals and even outside at our slightly tiny outdoor setting. It made me happy!
  9. Go to the UK – this time with Mr OC – we should be booking our flights in a couple of weeks and I cannot wait!
  10. Go to the dentist – I don’t want to even confess how long it’s been since I last went but I have already got a head start on this – I went last week and it KILLED because it had been so long.  I have always had good teeth and I gave myself a real beating up (whilst the dentist did too) for my own good. I have to have my first filling too. Sad face. At least I made it past 30 before that happened although if I’d been a good girl and gone more regularly to the dentist it could have been longer! Oh well. Lesson learnt.
  11. I really want a new tattoo… I have some ideas… stay posted.

    tattoo
    My first and currently only tattoo – now nearly 3 years old!
  12. See more of family in Australia – as well as getting round to visiting my second cousin that will also include seeing more of our nieces here – Mr OC’s bro and family.
  13. Start planning… for…
    Our
    WEDDING!!
    clip-ring
    Yes, I got a proposal back on the 7th January! How exciting! And that is one of the reasons I probably still can’t have that holiday outside visiting family. More on that soon. But in the meantime – yay!

Today I’m Thankful For…

Sun rise Dee Why

Lots of people do the ‘Today I’m thankful for’ in November to coincide with the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Whilst I’m not living, nor from the US nor celebrating Thanksgiving day, as such – I love the whole premise of giving thanks. And with this being my birthday month I figure I’ll follow suit. Here are my thanks givings for the first week of November, day by day.

1st November – The Great Outdoors

I’ve been doing boot camp twice a week now for seven weeks and I’ve completely quit the gym. Partly as I couldn’t afford both but partly because I’ve now shifted all my workouts to outdoors. Summer is on the way and the weather is mostly awesome – we did do one really wet work out and this morning was muggy even at 6.15am but it’s all worth it. Plus the location is awesome – I roll out of bed just before six, get dressed, clean teeth, splash face etc. Grab towel and drink bottle and walk five minutes down the road to the beach. I’ve found that although I hit a wall about 3pm for a half hour or so, I have heaps more energy starting my day like this. I get to see the sun come up, or just after it’s risen and I get to sweat through the burn whilst looking at an awesome view. PLUS I’m getting fitter! Working out outdoors is addictive. I’ve really been enjoying the time of year in Australia – I used to think you couldn’t beat a chilly spring  like in the UK but there have been rainbows of colours on the trees and on the ground in the beautiful spring blossoms and wild flowers. It makes me very happy. The pictures are mine from around where I live.

Dee Why Beach Sunrise
Dee Why Beach Spring Sunrise


2nd November – My hand blender

Yup, it’s a material thing but it’s quite a low key item that makes life so good. I have been sick of being tempted by really heavy lunches and I’m not that big into salad. So I decided to make myself some soup. So yesterday I chose two of my favourite veggies – pumpkin and broccoli and made two separate soups. It’s so easy with a blender  – because you can just saute the veg, then cook it in some stock, then blend like a mad woman! Sometimes, in the winter I prefer more casserole-type soups full of chunky veggies and meat. But for a light lunch soup, homemade soup, full of veggies can provide you with so much nutrition and energy! And all thanks to my little blender. I don’t know where I’d be without it, and my big blender, steamer, slow cooker, rice cooker, and food mixer. Gotta love the kitchen gadgets!

3rd November – Rest

We all know a good night’s sleep does wonders and whilst I’m not a mother with a baby keeping me awake at night and therefore am grateful for the sleep I get, I still find I sleep a lot lighter as I’ve got older. For the whole of this week (last week) Mr OC has been down in Melbourne with work. Well, I’ve missed him, but I tell you what I’ve love having the bed to myself! Friday he drove the truck for twelve hours and arrived home at about 1am Saturday morning. He then woke me up to say hello (that was sweet, genuinely) and it took me maybe fifteen minutes to get back to sleep. Meanwhile he had a shower. Then he came to bed. Then he got out of bed because he was still all wired from staying awake from driving and the can of energy drink he’d had (awful things). So off he went to the lounge, where (thank goodness) we have wireless headphones, so he could watch some TV and wind down. I must have dozed off after another fifteen minutes or so but for the next couple of hours I was intermittently half woken by the sound of beer bottles going into the recycling bin in the kitchen. Argh! Then at about half three Mr OC comes to bed and (several beers later) decides it’s cuddle time. Nah-ah! Winter is gone, it’s too warm for bed cuddles. Nice idea but…
Suffice to say it was the worst night’s sleep I had all week. But on the plus side it was nice to have him home.

4th November –Airplanes

So today (Saturday) we booked Mr OCs daughter’s Christmas trip here (from NZ) which is exciting! And also my lovely school friend landed in Sydney from Melbourne for a long weekend jaunt. It was an impromptu visit and on Sunday I got to spend an afternoon with her, which is great because in a couple of months she’ll be back in the UK again and I’ll miss having her just two states away. Either way though, where would we be without the invention of aeroplanes? I probably wouldn’t even be in Sydney in the first place which means I wouldn’t have met Mr OC. If you imagine the days when the only way to reach other lands was by boat it is mind-boggling in the world we live in. I moan about the 24 hours it takes to get back to most of my loved ones BUT I should be thankful that it ONLY takes that long.

5th November – Happiness for those I love

I see this in many ways recently – 2012 seems to have been a good year and that is a relief. In the past few days I received an email from one of my best friends back home. She has been my friend for nearly twenty years! (Wow that makes me feel old). This time a year ago she was having a rough time of things but her recent email, although not full of things working out exactly as hoped, was FULL of happiness and positivity. She has just blossomed in this last 12 months and it made me endlessly happy to witness that change. And, of course, I love to receive emails and messages from my friends back in England – each one makes me so glad.

6th November – Making new friends

And on the subject of friends, this week my bookclub and I are choosing an additional book on top of our monthly book for our Christmas challenge – the nominated books are all Christmas themed and we’re voting for one. In doing the emails to organise this I felt thankful for the friends I’m making through the book club. AND every time I’m at boot camp I have such fun with the friends I’m making there too. I see these girls more than I see my regular friends so of course, some of them are becoming mates too and it’s really great because we’re all sharing something we enjoy, and going on a journey together.

7th November – Mother nature

Today (yesterday) we were blessed with a short lived but really loud and dark thunderstorm. What could be better? I love a good storm (although not a super storm – i.e. Sandy and of course I am in no way thankful for the devastation that caused, of course) and I really enjoy the anticipation as it looms in and the skies turn black and then BOOM. Awesome. Where I live, if you’re blessed with a view (we’re blocked by trees – no bad thing) then even better, because looking out to storms at sea is spectacular! The power of mother nature fascinates and astounds me pretty much every day. Whilst I don’t enjoy the pain she sometimes brings, I am thankful that there is a thing more powerful than any man or machine. I think it keeps things in balance.

8th November – Obama

Well yesterday we watched as the Democratic leadership of Barack Obama gained Presidency for a second term. And what a relief. I’m thankful, along with a fair portion of the rest of the world. Well done Democrat voters.

To be continued…

And here’s a little pic of some of the many wildlife I see on local walks

The God of Small Things – A Review

My mum loved this book which meant my feelings could go one of two ways – sometimes we really agree on a good book and sometimes one or other of us can love a book and the other doesn’t feel it. This time it was the latter.

At one point I thought this book was really going to go somewhere – I had it being The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns – where this dramatic turn of events would change things forever. And that does actually happen. But the way the plot was developed just didn’t work in building this – well not for me anyway.

I think part of the reason the plot development didn’t work well for me is because it dots around a lot – it moves between different narratives too. The reader is taken to different times in the chronology events in the lives of two-egg twins Rahel and Estha who live in Ayemenem in India with their mother, uncle, grandmother and great Aunt. But it also dips in and out of the history of lives of some of these characters too. Whilst that in itself isn’t too strange a thing to do, I felt it interrupted the flow somewhat. You’d just be getting to a really interesting part of the plot – like the visit to the airport with a trip to see The Sound of Music, and a shocking occurrence with the OrangeDrinkLemonDrink Man, when you would suddenly get given an exert or a glimpse into the future dramatic/life-changing events. Now this is great for building your interest in finding out what this dramatic twist in events will turn out to be…. Except that this method of story building is used over so many times in this novel, that by the time we get to the event happening there isn’t really much to say about it.

It felt to me like every time the story skipped to the life-changing event (known as The Terror) that we were going to be going into the full description this time and that the rest of the story might be about how the characters recovered from it. We do get details of the aftermath – again, often told in pieces separated out around the rest of the plot – so it just didn’t quite work how I felt I wanted it to.

All in all it just felt too jumpy (around the plot) for me to be able to get into the flow of it for the entirety. The point at which I decided I couldn’t cope with this style of writing anymore was when I came to the section about the kathakali – whilst I realize that this section contains themes related to The Terror and is a sort of metaphor of the tragedies the family have experienced, I decided to just completely skip it. A few paragraphs in I just turned the pages to get past it. I hardly EVER do that when I’m reading a book. Firstly without looking up what kathakali was I lost as to what the heck was going on. And having felt asthough my patience was already wearing thin waiting to get to the pinnacle of the story I just didn’t have the capacity to read through this… indulgence. I’m sure many who love this book would think that is sacrilege… I get it, I do – but I was already losing with this book by then.

And that really is a great shame, because the subject is interesting, the characters are beautifully portrayed and the author (Arundhati Roy) has a stunningly unique style in her descriptions. If you don’t pay attention early on then descriptions and themes will mean less to you, and in some ways there is so many quirky illustrations written into the content that sometimes it can be exhausting. Whilst the observations she makes are conveyed with magnificent expressive capability, they drown the flow of the narrative. One saving grace is that she takes some of the original descriptions of things – e.g. orangedrinklemondrink man, Fountain of Love-in-Tokyo and Elvis the Pelvis etc. – and uses them repetitively throughout which does help with character growth and with not feeling QUITE so lost in the description and plot-bounciness sometimes.

Personally, not a book I could love, and I felt sad about that – so maybe I’ll try it again in a few years. Maybe I won’t…

Advice – if you’re going to read this book – use a glossary – this one will help: http://www.gradesaver.com/the-god-of-…

Indelible Ink – The woes of being wealthy. A review.

[This review contains spoilers!!]

The thing that happened to me when I read this book was that I found myself constantly asking ‘why?’…

And not in a life-altering/affirming way.

It was in a ‘why should the main character, Marie, feel that way and why should she care about that?’

We read this as a book club book and three of us didn’t finish it. I was nearly the fourth. I think one of the main reasons many of us struggled with it was that we found  it very hard to read about people with such material fortune being in such a stupid mess – yes money isn’t everything, but at times you just wanted them to stop their whinging

Our heroine, Marie – who is a woman in her late fifties- was another issue for me, and at times she came across as merely pathetic, and her children were pretty ghastly people. The story takes time to talk, not just from the perspective of Marie (in the third person), but also her three children who are all in their 30s – frankly it was enough to try to deal with Marie’s issues, but, on the plus-side we did get a more rounded perspective, hearing from her children too.

As a reader, I understood life had dealt Marie some rough blows, I empathised with her and her life turning out how it had – marrying at a young age due to pregnancy and then enduring a miscarriage later in life, as well as dealing with an adulterous husband living the life of riley as an advertising hot shot, while she was the wife who must entertain their friends and colleagues and plaster on the good wifely smile. I get why this lifestyle encouraged her to spend a large portion of her adult life drunk. And many of us might have done the same if we were as miserable as her.

However, with this book, to me it merely just boils down to one factor – CHOICE! My underlying feeling was always ‘there is another option – there always is’. And she had three healthy children – a great blessing, a beautiful home etc. I think for MY choice I would just have much rather read about someone who was more of a heroine. I mean at times, I just wanted to shake her.

And not because she got tattoos. Again, I understood this part of it – it was her rebellion, her getting the chance to be free and do as she pleased after having felt trapped and in no control of her life for decades. Perhaps it is about my being in the wrong generation. Perhaps it is about misunderstanding our heroine. I felt like saying to her ‘why did you stick around in that marriage?’. My own mother is of the same generation, and she didn’t stick around in her first marriage either. So maybe for Marie it was about her Catholicism. Ironically though, on her death bed she wants to banish this deeply embedded religion from her life.

Or maybe I just didn’t enjoy the book because the plot seemed so dragged out, and some of it so ethereal. At times I was left thinking – so when is this friendship really going to kick in, like the blurb on the cover says it does? This was in regards Marie and the relationship with her tattooist, Rhys. I noticed they had a rapport but it took until the last hundred or so pages, for me to realize that oh, they are like bezzies now. OK, missed that.

Something else I disliked about Marie’s character was how she was obsessed with what everyone thought of her, desperately trying both get their attention and at the same time shun it away. Shouldn’t she have been happy in herself? I guess that was the problem. I wanted to feel like she was on a journey to rectify that, but instead it just seemed as though she drifted. Drifted into tattooing (symbolising her now, and her future), but clung to the gardening (symbolising her comfort and her past), and throughout all this was still obsessed with what here children thought about her whilst at the same time judging them.

Characters in general, not just because of their circumstance and build, but also because of the way they author wrote about them, were very hard to find empathy for. I found the author occasionally wrote weird things about what the characters were thinking that I just didn’t comprehend: sometimes it felt like it was just a mute character note.

And whilst I understand that the characters were supposed to be flawed, it was almost asthough they were flawed to the point you couldn’t believe in them. It seemed to me like they were a bunch of intelligent, well-educated adults – hypocritical, prejudice and of course, ultimately wallowing in their own doom and gloom. I think the point is, if I was acquainted with people like that I would have no time for them so trying to give my time to a book about four of them just didn’t work well.

So suffice to say, here is a book I didn’t enjoy because of its substantial length and the narration from the perspective of a set of characters I essentially loathed.

Until I got about one hundred pages from the end.

Then something changed. When Marie was diagnosed with cancer I am unsure whether this evoked some sympathy within me or whether the tone of the book just took a turn towards something more real, something more heroic. Suddenly Marie was dealing with something really devastating and something  that she truly couldn’t control. Oh the irony.

And of course, we saw some human qualities in Blanche, her daughter too – with her pro-life choice. In fact, I even felt real sisterhood with Blanche over the death of the family cat. Whilst Mopoke dying was probably semi-amusing to some, I have to say, this is the one thing in the book that actually moved me – it kind of broke my heart a little. I felt incensed at the men for being so useless. And of course the death of the cat was incredibly symbolic – particularly with them all of them arguing over what to do with the cat – instead of griping about how much money they’d get when their mother passed away.

I mean seriously – what kind of household  is this?? I can’t imagine my siblings and I being so far up our own backsides we argue over burying a cat, at such a time, but I guess it was supposed to be happening as a result of emotions running high and undoubtedly McGregor meant it to be a little black humour. And poor little Nell (Marie’s grandchild) who was once again let down by the failings of her father, uncle and aunty who could not see past their own egos.

The plus side was I loved the descriptions and perceptions of Sydney and Sydney-siders. I only hope if characters out there like these exist that they don’t end up in my circle!!

Why You Should Join a Bookclub

… or better yet, start your own!

I’d always had an idyllic idea of a book club and what it’d be like to join one – something about a gang of girls (or boys I guess!) getting together over a glass of wine and a good book.

And by ‘good’ book I mean, something that you cannot wait to discuss with everyone – be it to say “My god, was that just me or was that the most ridiculous way to end the story” or “Loved the plot but hated that woman, didn’t you?” or maybe just to say “I’m so in love with this book, I can’t stop thinking about the characters and wishing I was still reading it”.

For me there were several things that made me eventually want to get involved. Firstly, I’ve was getting tired of choosing books myself – I wanted to try reading outside the box as it were.

Then there was the urge sometimes to need to talk about a book when you’ve read it – take We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver as a prime example of that. The kind of book that you know not only splits your feelings completely down the middle but is likely to have the same effect on a group of people too – making for a really interesting discussion. Sometimes I can spend an hour talking on to my mum on Skype about one book we might have both recently read. Yes, we’re reading geeks, but hey, there are worse geek crimes!

And there was the idea in my head of how great it would be to have no other purpose of an evening but to sit around and talk about books over a nice glass of red… you know you see book clubs in movies and I am one of those people who goes ‘ohhh’ in a deflated manner, and always feels asthough I’m missing out because I’m not part of a book club. My mum is in one, my godmother, and my Aunty and some of the people at work… I felt left out!!

What prompted me to finally do something about it was that Mr OC was potentially going to have to work away for long periods of time – this didn’t actually happen in the end – so I wanted to find lots of things to occupy my time whilst he was gone. I looked on the local library website and they had an entire ‘Bookclub’ section – I emailed a couple of local groups and waited to hear back.

Unfortunately, everywhere I looked, the news was mostly bad – every group was full. Most groups limit their member numbers to the book quantity they can take out in a book club collection from the library – which is usually ten. However, one of the ladies running a local club emailed myself and three other ladies and suggested that although she couldn’t invite us into our group, that we might want to think about joining up and starting our own new group.

Anyone who knows me well knows I love a bit of organizing so I mailed the other ladies back to see if they wanted to start-up a club. Long story short it was just myself and one other lady so I decided to advertise our group – using Gumtree and the library website. That was back in March.

Now we have eleven members – (one too many, but we never have everyone there for every book, and other copies are available from the libraries, or some people like to buy them – a couple of us have Kindles) and are on our fourth book. It took until the last meeting to actually get an established group – if everyone who had originally responded to my ad came to the meetings there would have been about 20 people or more. And one lady even came once and then never came again… something we said? People are funny too – you can email them a really gentle (i.e. not of the hassling variety) email just to find out if they’re still interested (because you don’t want to keep emailing them details if they’ve now opted out and not informed you as such) and you never hear a word back.

Anyway – the age range we have in our book club I think makes for a really interesting discussion – we’re from 25 to late 50s with German, South African, British, and Australian nationalities all represented. And even if we get a book that everyone seems to hate you can guarantee there is someone who loved it. At the moment we are meeting at our local RSL but soon we’ll start meeting at each others’ homes – taking it in turns because it’s just a better environment… but you can’t exactly invite 10 strangers into your home initially!!

We take it in turns per month to nominate a book and we usually do it by what’s available in the library book club collections. But we’ve read books outside of that too – because although the library takes suggestions for its book club books, it’s competitive trying to get the books at the time you need them – you cannot reserve them, or go on a waiting list (although of course this may be different in other libraries). It’s dead cheap too -$25 for an annual fee to the library, then your cost of a drink (if you have one) per each monthly meeting. Friends and quality time = free!

So – two morals to this story – if you like books, want a wider range of reading and some friendly, like-minded people to chat to about all things bookish (and inevitably a whole heap of other stuff, as normally we also end up discussing things from how we met our husbands/partners to the state of the Australian immigration system!) then you should join or think about starting a book club. And if there is a hobby you’ve been meaning to spend more time doing – then get it done! Now, today! It feels good!!