Wednesday, 30 October 2013

the trouble with library books...

... is that they have to be returned!  I would have loved to have kept each and every one of these books - not that I need any of them, if need should have anything to do with it!  From Meredith Kirton's Grow, Harvest, Cook to Bob and Sophia Palmer's amazing culinary tour of Morocco, I could happily while the hours away with these tomes.  Each of them is so beautifully presented, confirming for me I would only build a digital collection of books if every hard- and paperback book in the world disappeared.  It appears that producers of real, actual, hold-them-in-your-hand-and-love-them books are working harder than ever to put together attractive bundles of papery delights - and it's working.
Just look at these images, for example - cute animal toppers from the aptly named Sweet Paper Crafts, one of the many delicious collections from The Flower Recipe Book and one of the proliferous fabulous paintings from Watercolor.  It seemed wrong to return the books on time when they just needed a little longer in my home.  We've become well acquainted, they're on my wish list and one day when the budget stops slipping in to the red, they will grace my bookshelves - I hope!  Long live books - preferably those you can hold and snuggle up on the couch with, no electricity required!

PS All are returned now, if you're hoping to reserve them from my library!!

Monday, 28 October 2013

taking a walk on the wild side...

This post was meant to be about the legendary Paul Kelly, about whom the documentary 'Stories of Me' aired on ABC last night.  A quick glance at the headlines this morning, however, revealed the death of Lou Reed.  This iconic man of music will be forever remembered through his songs, particularly 'Walk on the Wild Side', one of my all-time favourites, even though the lyrics only revealed themselves in their entirety as I grew older!  One of my high school boyfriends was a huge fan, particularly 'Romeo had Juliette', 'Dirty Boulevard' and 'Vicious'.  Funny how music takes you back... not to said boyfriend however - shudder!!

Kelly, whose former band The Coloured Girls were apparently named for a line from 'Wild Side', could be considered our Australian Reed for his prodigious songwriting talents.  His anthems form odes to our country - 'Leaps and Bounds', 'To her Door', 'From Little Things Big Things Grow', 'How to Make Gravy' to name just a few.  I remember my best friend being given the album 'Under the Sun', probably for a birthday or maybe just because.  I was so jealous - I knew all the words of 'To her Door' and she didn't - it should have been mine!!

Last night's documentary reminded me I don't have enough Paul Kelly songs in my collection.  As Megan Washington said, 'he was the guy who wrote all the songs'.  For me - somebody who's trying to make and find both time and energy to write  - I am in awe of a person who truly lives out their creative desires, always chasing the next song.  It must be so satisfying to so fully express oneself - I look forward to the day when I can say the same thing about myself...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

vege gardening - communal style...

This is the sum total of our home vegetable garden efforts.  It's not for the lack of wanting more, it's just that setting up these raised beds is sooooooo expensive.  This planter alone was around the hundred dollar mark and I think I filled it with nearly that much worth in soil and straw alone.  The poppy project has introduced me to our local community garden - my project partner is a keen gardener, her raised beds are producing in abundance.  I have now taken up some beds of my own and today planted out seed potatoes - kipflers, nicolas and other randoms that sprouted at home.  I've added some sugar snap pea seeds to the edges of the bed - they're past their plant-before-by-date, but I didn't think there was any harm in trying.

Jono came along and occupied himself by trying to help with digging, planting and watering.  At 2 and a half his attention span is rather short, so I was amazed I got away with spending nearly a couple of hours there - I don't think I'll always be that lucky!  I brought home a basket filled with herbs that are grown for everyone to share and a lovely fresh leek that I look forward to frying in a little butter and having with dinner.  I can't wait to start eating our own produce and so much sooner than had I waited til we could afford to set up something here... which is just as well, because between Joe's car breaking down last week (battery AND fuel pump!) and our washing machine finally dying this morning, that home vege patch is looking a lot further away!!

Friday, 18 October 2013

afternoon tea

The kids came home with holes the size of bowling balls in their stomachs earlier this week.  A quick flick through the Women's Weekly Biscuits and Slices book and it was on - baked chocolate slice.  Tom and Soph made quite a team, although fights over licking the bowl ensued.  One had the slice mix bowl, the other, the icing...  And mum had to try a little herself!  This was their first joint effort at cooking and hopefully something that will continue.  By Tom's age, I was baking cakes by myself, so I feel remiss I haven't let him run wild in the kitchen before now.  If the slice was anything to go by, I will be encouraging Tom's (and Sophie's) presence in the kitchen a bit more regularly!!

PS.  Sibling bliss is often short-lived.  The next day, Sophie cut their pieces of slice to take to school and was quickly accused of short-changing her brother.  I stepped in, adding a couple of extra bits to make sure each received the same size.  Then Sophie was upset because she thought Tom was getting more...  I took out the scales and weighed their servings and that was the end of that!

PPS Help!!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

bill's sweet peas

It was almost like winning the lottery today, meeting the owner of one of my favourite local gardens.  It's down by the creek, a rambling old garden treasure with old classics - roses (climbing and bush), chinese lanterns, pansies and the most beautiful sweet peas you can imagine.  We exchanged greetings and comments about the weather which lead to me professing my love for his garden.  Tickled, he chatted on - he had always loved gardening and enjoyed trying new things.
His sweet peas were about my height, climbing yards up a frame made from what appeared to be old tomato stakes and chook netting.  He had bought them as seedlings, not knowing what colours he'd get, but hoping for some two-tone specimens.  He's not sure how they grow like that and would like to find out more.  Perhaps he'll work it out one day, he thinks.  Bill says the bees don't go near them, so he can't work out how they're pollinated - perhaps it was the wind?
'Would you like some?' Bill asked and sweet peas being sweet peas, there was no way I could refuse. They were one of the first things I grew as a newly-wed on the west coast of Ireland, right on the edge of the Atlantic.  They survived the wild winds in their little planter box - not quite gales as it was summer after all.  I just remember the sheer joy I took from that little offering of my first garden.  I have some growing this year too - seedlings, so like Bill I'm not sure what colours will spring up.  Bill has inspired me to grow more next year and I know just how as well...  tomato stakes and chook netting anybody?!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

bake offs, challenges and competitions...

Have you been watching The Great British Bake Off?  The whole tone is so much more pleasant than the Australian version!  Yes, everybody is in a competition, but they seem very supportive of each other, unlike the rivalries that occurred on ours...  Also, they have fascinating tidbits about the origins of various baked goods - pork pies last night which was really interesting.  Feeling inspired by last week's macaron episode, I got to baking with Sophie on Saturday.  I must admit, they're not particularly exciting to make if you're a child - too much waiting!  It was interminable for the poor girl - firstly having to wait while the little circles were traced on to the baking paper and then the horror of having to patiently wait for the shells to harden prior to baking.  And then they still had to cook and cool down and... you get the picture!  Worse still was the realisation that she didn't really like them - next time, Soph, it's cupcakes!

Now these are footless macarons - I don't know whether my mixture was too wet or if I piped them out too thick and inhibited their rising in the oven?  I do know, however, that I'm not going to make it a challenge to find out how to perfect the macaron.  The way of perfection, I feel, is a slippery slope with far too much tasting and testing involved than is good for the waistline.  No, they will only be tested again with purpose - if I know I am going somewhere or have people coming here who can share the goods.  Just making them for the family is not going to happen!!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

the writer's edition: month 7 check-in

Seven months in (plus however long it took all those years ago before I lost confidence and shelved my project) and I have just over 20,000 words left to write.  And to be honest with you, I've only just written once this month and that was today - 441 words to be precise.  I've done some editing - so easy when it's just a matter of picking up an A4 folder and opening up to a chapter, usually the first which I have been over and over and over.  But of course, being the first, it has to be just right.  If it doesn't grab the reader's attention - and especially a publisher's - it's all over, red rover!

And whilst not writing at full speed this past month - well these past few months - I continue to read, read, read.  I will be in the middle of reading a sentence from a random book and a small piece of text will come in to my head.  This morning, for example, I was reading dialogue between a couple skirting around a relationship - something completely unrelated to the thought it triggered which was a new scene between Emily and her mother.  Bizarre, I know, nothing to do with the 'will they or won't they' that I was reading in the book.  I think it's almost a matter of seeing beyond the writing and in to the method, if that makes sense?!

I'm hoping to write more consistently this month.  Term 4 begins on Monday and I have my fingers crossed that the warmer weather will mean less lurgies and more opportunities for writing new content. All in my own time of course, there's no place for superwoman here!  My original deadline is March - this is to have the 80,000 words finished and ready for editing.  That means about 4,000 words per month between now and then...  I think I will take it month by month and see.  Until next time!

Friday, 4 October 2013

the books beside the bed...

It's a delight to be able to say that great reads are coming in from the library thick and fast.  As soon as my holds come in, I'm back on the library's database ordering more.  It's a great way of ensuring a quick wait for new releases - often I'm first on the list.  This week I have absolutely devoured Margot, Jillian Cantor's imagined tale of the survival of Anne Frank's sister, now posing as a Gentile and living in 1950s Philadelphia.  It is one of the best books I've read lately and possibly ever.  Checking reviews on Amazon, there were a couple of readers who questioned this novel, one who said she thought it didn't convey the depth of Margot Frank's (now posing as Margie Franklin) experiences.  Another doubted she would have remained in hiding and felt she would have contacted her father to say she was alive.  To those readers I say every work of fiction is a hypothesis.  Who of any of us could say how we would feel in that situation?  That moving to America from the horrors of war, only to find synagogues were being firebombed in the very city you moved to, wouldn't make you hide your religion?  This is a truly magnificent read, fast-paced, well-written tension - please let me know what you think!

It's been interesting to read two other fictionalised accounts of World War II recently, Liz Tolsma's Snow on the Tulips (set in the Netherlands) and The Time Between, Karen White's novel which contains flashbacks to war-torn Hungary.  As with the recollections in Margot - and of course the true account of The Diary of Anne Frank - Snow on the Tulips features people in hiding.  The young widow Cornelia is already sheltering her younger brother Johan, when he arrives home one morning with Gerrit, a man on the run.  I am going to seem slightly hypocritical here when I say that I think these people were not careful enough with their attempts to hide from their oppressors - when really, as in the comments I made above, who am I to say what people would do in that situation?  But there were so many moments - from Cornelia making cups of coffee with multiple cups on the benches (what if her house had been searched at that moment?) to Gerrit going undercover so he could support Cornelia at a funeral - when I thought the characters were too blasé about their own safety.  Having read Anne Frank as a schoolgirl, I saw real people who spent their time in an attic, not leaving until they were found...

Karen White's novel is set in America in present day.  The Time Between has three narrators: sisters Eve and Eleanor and elderly Helena, who escaped Hungary during the war.  This is the first of Karen White's novels I've read and I'm delighted to think she has written many others - now it's just a matter of ordering them in to my local library.  Eleanor becomes a kind of carer/companion to Helena, set up through the older woman's nephew Finn.  Eleanor works for Finn already and comes to this new position after a tragedy.  This is another highly readable novel, Helena's recollections of wartime Hungary keeping the trauma of the World War II alive, another account of another family in another country.  As Joshua - Margot's employer - says: 'You know what scares me most?'........ 'That people will forget, and it will happen again.'  Let us hope that through reading - whether it be fiction or non-fiction - and other accounts, that we will remain forever horrified at these experiences and guard against similar such atrocities into the future.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

the ring thing...

Last week I looked down at my engagement ring only to see a little black hole where one of the stones should be.  I'd been weeding - gloveless - and prior to that cooking dinner.  It could be anywhere and at that miniscule size, it could even have been in our dinner, a chewy little peppercorn that escaped unnoticed.  I've been regarding my ring and its worn down setting and thinking I must get something done about it, must get something done about it...  but it's in such dire need of rebuilding, I could only see dollar signs and turned the other way.  Now, though, I've added even more dollar signs, so I am turning away from it completely.  I slipped the ring off my finger and will now rotate through the odds and sods, the crumbs of my jewellery box if you will.

But this first one, this engagement ring came to us via an antique shop in Kati Kati, New Zealand.  Joe and I had been skirting around 'the future' on this trip to see my sister and her then boyfriend in 2000.  He bought the ring and took until 24 hours later to pop the question in the campervan in which we were staying, suffering the worst flu imaginable.  Can you remember the flu around that time?  In Australia, we called it the New Zealand flu and over there, the Australian flu?  Wherever it evolved, it was nasty. We had waited in such anticipation for this trip and spent it huddled by the fire, sweating out the illness, noses draped in tissues.

When Joe asked me to marry him, I found it hard to take seriously the pyjama-clad, Kleenex laden, unshaven man in front of me.  I said to ask me again when he'd showered.  And then again when he was dressed.  And then said yes.  We figured if we wanted to marry each other when we felt so sick and looked so dreadful, that it was a good omen.  I do laugh when I hear about other people's engagement stories, in contrast so romantic to our fluey tale, a camper van rather than a rose petal filled hotel room.

But I digress... Uninscribed, we know nothing of the ring's origins.  And now a small piece of it is missing.  It's kind of like losing a tooth, but if I put it under my pillow, there will not be something there in the morning.  One day we will fix this ring, but until then, it will be remain, gap-toothed and safe from further losses.  Only valuable in terms of the immense meaning behind it, not a calculation of however many months' worth of Joe's wage, just a little something picked up in a far away place and something to join us for eternity.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

the chocolate wagon...

I lasted four months without lollies, cakes etc. but on Father's Day I fell...  The kids were making Joe luscious chocolate desserts and I lost my will.  The chocolate self saucing pudding won and I have not been able to hoist myself back on the wagon again, losing my bet with Joe that I could last until December without any of life's delicacies.  Which was just as well, because today Sophie and I made Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies and they were delicious... gooey soft centres and terribly moreish.  Click on the link to Smitten Kitchen's adaption of the recipe - I defy you to resist temptation!