Oct 7, 2014

Half the World in Winter

Grief over the loss of a child. Guilt and blame. Lack of communication. A marriage on the brink of collapse. An inappropriate attraction. A fatal accident. A man seeking revenge. An elderly relative slipping into the depths of dementia. A family, quietly and subtly drifting apart.

All great themes for a modern novel. But equally enthralling, perhaps more so, when set in 1880 London. A time when coal was delivered to the door, boys rode for hours on their bicycles to deliver telegrams, and a woman's greatest fear was not being able to keep her full skirts away from a lit fireplace. A time when your wealth and social importance determined where you sat at a dinner party, the thickness of the border printed on your personal stationery indicated how far you were into your mourning period, and young men were travelling to foreign places to fight a war they didn't necessarily understand with no promise of a safe return (I'm not sure we've progressed far on that last one, unfortunately).

Such is the life of the Jarmyn family in Half the World in Winter by Maggie Joel

I don't always love historical novels (sometimes they're a bit dour and grim), but Maggie Joel has painted such a vivid, detailed picture of Victorian life that I was swept up in it completely. There is a richness and warmth in this story that made it easy to be invested in the lives of not only the Jarmyn family members, but the servants and peripheral characters too. Everyone has to deal with secrets and tragedies, no matter their social standing, and there is empathy and understanding for every character's ill-conceived actions.

There are some charming and humorous moments amongst the drama (especially involving the cook, Mrs Varley), which do not take anything away from the more serious themes...just like real life...and the slow unravelling of exactly what transpired on one devastating day to change the Jarmyn family's lives is compelling.

Overall: Some may find it a bit long, but I think it was necessary to capture the period detail and intricacies of the time. Well written, entertaining and enjoyable, and an eye-opening education about an era of social niceties, mourning periods, and railway travel I knew nothing about. 

This book was given to me by the publishers Allen & Unwin

Sep 24, 2014

The Colour Purple...and Red...and Black

I lost control last week. Well, it didn't just happen last week. It was a gradual decline over a period of months, perhaps even years, where my need to feed my addiction had spiralled, resulting in agitation, desperation and chaos.

I'm talking about my bookcase. 

My fiction bookcase, to be precise. I have one bookcase in our living room which is crammed with assorted non-fiction books and photo albums. The only fiction titles in there are a set of Reader's Digest Condensed Novel volumes and two Lance Armstrong autobiographies.

My larger fiction bookcase lives in our waiting-to-be-renovated back room - it's sort of a cross between a sunroom, an enclosed porch, and a tin shed - and I get to admire all of my much loved novels every time I pass through there to the laundry. Which is often. 

It was always very neatly filled. Organised. Sorted in a genre and size combination, which worked very well until the shelves reached capacity. But even then, as I started collecting more and more books, stacking them on top of rows, and in front of rows, there was still an order to it all. I could lay my hands on any book I wanted without searching high and low. I just knew where they all were. But when my daughter came to me recently with a list of novels she needed for Uni, it took me ages to work out what we already had and what we needed to buy, I spent 20 minutes searching for The Great Gatsby only to find it on the first shelf I'd looked at, and we somehow ended up with two copies of Jane Austen's Emma (and NOBODY needs that).....I knew something had changed.

I cast a critical eye over the bookcase and realised the Day of the Triffids had arrived, only instead of plants, I was going to be overrun by books.  I even suggested that if I ever went missing, the search for my body should start on the crime fiction shelf. I decided I needed to do some major rearranging, but instead of culling and alphabetising (which would be the sane, sensible thing to do), I instead wanted to sort my books by colour. Because wouldn't that be pretty and would magically give me more space and make everything look neat and tidy and let's not forget pretty....

I had visions of this...

And this...

And this...without the small child...

And especially this...without the white sofa...because chocolate fingers, duh...

And one of my friends (who I had previously mocked for sorting by colour, and who was now probably laughing at me) sent a pic of his for inspiration...

So I set the day. I got my stepladder and dusting cloths ready. Grungy tshirt on, hair tied up, sturdy shoes, and I was off and running. Well, climbing up and down. I admit I was worried I may have a breakdown over where I was going to place my Harry Potter books, because ALL THE COLOURS...

...but I forged ahead, thinking I'd leave them until last and where they should be would all become clear...as if I'd drunk Liquid Luck (new code for vodka).

But one hour in to My Big Colour Coding Adventure, I reached a turning point when it became clear just how many black books I have. SO MANY BLACK BOOKS. Big black, medium black, little black books. Hard black, soft black, black jackets. If I'd kept gathering all the black together I would've ended up with at least three or four entire shelves which looked clinically depressed. 

Dilemma. Do I soldier on with my magic rainbow ideas or try and return the poor frightened books to their original positions?
I did neither. I did a bit of rearranging and got everything back on the shelves....and the result...

                  Before                                             After

Yep. That's right. I climbed up and down the ladder and faffed around for two whole hours with NO DISCERNIBLE RESULT. It's a mash-up of genre and size and colour blocks, and poor John Grisham has his bits all over the place.
It has dawned on me that My Big Colour Coding Adventure was doomed to fail. With the volume of books I was trying to sort, if I'm not going to cull the numbers, I need a whole wall of shelves. (I also need more purple books). I have more books than space, so it was never going to be a pretty, magical rainbow, but more like unicorn vomit.

I do seem to have made a little bit more stacking room (by some miracle, although I'm sure that's a delusional illusion), I did get to spend an afternoon with lovely books in my hands, and I even inspired others to try their own Big Colour Coding Adventure, but now there is less order on my shelves than there was before.

And I can't find The Great Gatsby.

Sep 20, 2014

Let the weekend begin....

This weekend seems to be all about sport, particularly football, for us. The Husband is already at golf, then we plan to watch Port Adelaide win (hopefully) in the AFL preliminary final later today.
And tomorrow we'll be heading in to the beautiful Adelaide Oval to watch Port Adelaide play Norwood in the grand final of our state league competition, the SANFL.
Big weekend for the club, locally and nationally. And I will probably be all footballed out by Monday.

It's going to be superb Spring weather, so whatever we fit in around our sport, I plan to enjoy.

Happy Weekend!

Sep 10, 2014

Yet Another Fkn Challenge

Unless you have been living under a rock which has shielding capabilities making it impervious to social media, or you're Amish (in which case, you won't be reading this), you would have seen at least one of the many 'challenges' doing the rounds this year.

The 3Day/5Day/7Day Positivity challenges, the I'm So Grateful challenges, the List 10 Books Which Have Stayed With You challenge, the List 10 Movies Which Changed Your Life challenge (life-changers? seriously?), the Ice Bucket challenge (Sir Patrick Stewart and Matt Damon did it best, don't even get me started on the rest), the 100 Happy Days challenge (and even one cynic's 100 Unhappy Days challenge), the Who Can Propose With The Biggest Flashmob In The Most Newsworthy Way So It Goes Viral challenge (ok, that might not be an actual thing, but it feels like it)..... and so on.

I have no recollection where, but I spotted this challenge recently.

The 12 Day Love Yourself Challenge.
Once I had established the 'Love Yourself' part had nothing to do with me ordering certain vibrating devices which come wrapped in brown paper packages (not that there's anything wrong with that, but 12 days in a row would require some serious battery power and a level of commitment I haven't had for several years), I decided to have a crack at this challenge. It's not that I don't love myself... I actually think I'm bloody awesome in a slightly unhinged and sarcastically self-deprecating way... but I have never seen it as a task to be acknowledged every day. 
But, I needed something to write about.

Easy. I do this every day. Usually it's just to check if I have any food stuck in my teeth, which I admit is often more of a grimace, but ends up a smile once I've picked out that pesky sesame seed. Unfortunately on this occasion it did not help me love myself, as while I was practicing my various levels of smiles - Serene Happiness, I've Had Two Wines Jolliness, and I Found A Block Of Chocolate At The Back Of The Pantry Ecstasy - I spotted a pimple and two new chin hairs. Not a good start.

I think I'm quite a smiley person at any time, but I had the Miss Congeniality image of myself cruelly smashed when my attempts to smile at others brought suspicious looks in return, and continual comments of "What the fuck are you smiling at? You look like a crazy woman" from my family. It may also be the reason my local delivery man now rings the doorbell, dumps parcels, and runs.

I didn't think just saying "You woke up to face another day, well done" to myself, as I usually do, would quite cut it, so I upped the complimentary ante. By mid morning I had seduced myself with "Your eyebrows are quite even", "You remembered to shave both legs this time, bravo", and "You look so sexy in those tracksuit pants." By nightfall, I was loving myself sick thanks to "You didn't poison anyone with your cooking", and "Your lips look so kissable with chocolate smeared around them."

I wrote a tweet and a Facebook status about getting on the treadmill but not turning it on because I couldn't be arsed, and a shopping list which included chocolate. Neither of these fit the prompt perfectly, but I loved that I didn't get sweaty and was about to eat more chocolate, so surely that counts. Shut up.

Well, I ate the chocolate. Duh.

I was proud that I didn't eat any chocolate (ok, so I ate it all the day before), I didn't drink any wine, I didn't argue with anyone, and I didn't spend any money. I also didn't leave the house. Generally, I decided to be proud of myself that my two kids have made it to adulthood without me breaking them. Much.

This involved a serious bout of online shopping, a packet of TimTams, and two glasses of wine. Actually, that's a lie. I put a straw in the wine bottle. Pouring it into a glass just wastes time.

I never do this anyway, otherwise I'd be continually muttering "I'm older, fatter, shorter, more wrinkled....." I find that if my mind ever slips into What Has She Got That I Haven't Got? mode, I go straight for the boob comparison. I win 75% of those. For now. This strike rate will go down as my boobs do.

I can do the basic "Your haircut looks nice" and "I love your necklace" with ease, but beyond that I'm more of a back-slapping "Well done, you" laid-back pragmatist. I feel if I increase the compliment level, I'm gushing excessively and possibly brown-nosing for something in return. Not to mention getting more of those suspicious looks. So, I failed at this. I'm not sure "Congratulations on tidying your room, I can see the floor now...not the bed, but the floor at least", "Your ugg boots go really well with your dog-hair-covered trackies", and "Your ear and nose hairs look tidy tonight" really count as the kind of compliments intended by this prompt.

Given the fact I had not exercised for some time and was suffering from a Repetitive Strain Injury (that Hexbee game on my iPad is soooo addictive) this was harder than it sounds. I also thought this was stupid, even taking into account that it may have been meant metaphorically and not physically. And I smeared chocolate on the back of my tshirt.

"You are what you eat" came immediately to mind, as I popped yet another passionfruit cream filled shortbread biscuit into my mouth. But I didn't create that myself, so I discarded it (not the biscuit, the mantra). I mulled it over while eating a block of Cadbury, and thought of "Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman" but realised I didn't create that either, I'd read it on Facebook. Reciting "Out of my way, bitch, I'm fabulous" worked okay until I was in the queue at the movie theatre. I settled on "Mantras are dangerous".

No problem. Doesn't say anything about the iPad or laptop...

At the end of it all, do I love myself more than I did at the start?
But there is more of me to love.

Sep 8, 2014

#7vignettes September

I had another fun week with September's #7vignettes. (If you haven't been playing along at home, see here for what this Instagram game is all about)
The theme for day 1 was Yellow, so I decided to run with that, plus a colourful, summery, flowery feel for all seven days. I wasn't feeling the best when I took the photos, so I didn't invest too much energy or time into them, and therefore was not as pleased with the results as I was last month, but the colour palette certainly cheered me up. And if I can create a photo that will never win any styling challenge, but makes ME feel good, that's okay by me. Because, let's face it, it's all about ME.

1. Yellow

2. Forever Summer

3. Holiday

4. Stripes

5. Nostalgia

6. Family

7. Four-legged Friend

I'm catep36 on Instagram if you'd like to follow me, and you can check out all the amazing photos from very talented people by searching the #7vignettes hashtag.

Aug 26, 2014

Easy Luxury

I don't exactly remember the first time I decided I liked Darren Palmer and his style.
Was it when he appeared on TV as a contestant on homeMADE back in 2009... or later when he became the new, enthusiastic (and according to Neale Whitaker, 'self-appointed nice'!) judge on The Block? Either way, it means he has seen both sides of the reality TV juggernaut which encapsulates Australia's love of home renovation and interior design, and I watched the beginning of a career from the comfort of my greasy-kid's-fingers-stained sofa, surrounded by flat, mismatched cushions.

We've both come a long way. I now have lovely new sofas and gorgeous, well co-ordinated cushions (although the kids still live here), while Darren is now an established member of The Block team (and occasional mentor to contestants), busy working on interior design with his own clients, and excitedly celebrating the release of his first book, Easy Luxury.

         Darren's book, on my sofa, with my cushions

In Easy Luxury, Darren covers everything you need to think about when designing, revamping and styling your home, and does so in a very amiable, practical and inspirational way. He knows there is no single answer to what makes a home perfect, nor should we take design culture too seriously... "No one lives or dies by my choice of linen".... but simply shares what he thinks works. 

From the big spaces in living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, to the less obvious but equally important aspects of lighting, focal points, wall art, reading nooks and stacking books ("I know books are supposed to be for reading and educating and transporting you to another place but they're super good as decoration too..."), Darren has tips to guide you, no matter what your taste or budget allows. He wants us all to find the courage to use colour (a man after my own heart, I don't 'do' white), look at materials we may have never considered, and recognise the opportunities in our own homes. And he does so without preaching any set rules. "When it comes to what is right for you, the only person who can tell you is, well, you."

Easy Luxury is also a visually beautiful book; the wonderful photography by Felix Forest capturing shots as diverse as whole rooms with stunning views, to smaller, elegant vignettes. 

So if your home is suffering from 'greige' paralysis - stuck in a grey and beige holding pattern - or needs a bit of style tweaking, or you are starting from scratch, Darren Palmer's Easy Luxury might just be your solution. 

It is the perfect coffee table book, but not one which will gather dust. You'll want to continually return to its lovely pages of advice, encouragement, style and practicality.

I must thank Darren for being a friendly, engaging bloke on all forms of social media, and for the fact I will never have floppy, unchopped cushions again.
(and nope, I'm not explaining that, you'll have to buy the book!)

Easy Luxury, by Darren Palmer
Murdoch Books, RRP $39.99

Aug 24, 2014

My Favourite Room

Early last week I entered a photo of our kitchen in a My Favourite Room competition with the Better Homes & Gardens tv show, through their Facebook page.

And then I thought no more about it. And planned to think no more about it.

Why, you may ask. I'll tell you why. Because I have uploaded photos of my kitchen, living room, and family room (and on one occasion, my toes soaking in our bathtub, but that's another story) to other sites before in the hope of some sort of response (if not a win, maybe a runner up, or a fourth place, or at least a Highly Commended medal. Hell, I'd even accept a Certificate of Participation, as long as it was laminated) but I've never got a cracker. I've wanted other people to love our place as much as we do (shut up, I'm needy) but have never thought it was up to scratch in designer terms because the rooms eventually featured and applauded (The Chosen Ones) were always white. Often white on white. Occasionally even white on white on white.

I don't have white walls. Or white floors. Or white sofas. Or white linen. Or an all white kitchen. The whitest things in my house are my legs at the end of winter. 

So imagine my surprise when my photo was posted on the Better Homes & Gardens page as one of their five 'top picks of the week'!

Okay, so it's only the first week of the competition which runs for a month, and there'll be plenty more entries once word spreads a bit more, and maybe they only had a total of five entries last week...
I'll totally take that title.

They won't choose winners by number of likes, but HELLOOOOO, I TOLD YOU I'M NEEDY, so you can go LIKE my shot, and look at all five pics (but especially mine, because MINE) HERE AT THIS LINK.

Aug 23, 2014

Happy Weekend!

Catching up with friends.
Board games. 
Movie theatre.

That's the plan, Stan.

Have a good one.

Aug 20, 2014

Jeopardising My Reviews

Challenge. Can I do it?
Review four books, three movies, and one theatre show without boring you?

*cue kitschy game show music*

*Enter from left: Sleazy, arrogant host with slicked back hairpiece, shiny suit, porcelain teeth, and the weight of the world on his shoulders due to an upcoming court case involving his missing accountant, embezzled investment funds, a 40 grand credit card bill run up at a hotel in Cancun allegedly owned by the Mexican Mafia, his pregnant-with-twins former personal assistant currently in witness protection, a botched blackmail attempt, some suspicious blood stains, and a spectacularly buff maƮtre de from New Jersey called Pablo.*

*Host smiles cheesily at camera, introduces himself, makes sexist joke, laughs, reluctantly peels his eyes away from the camera to introduce the increasingly frustrated carry-over champion Cate, whom he belittles every episode by drawing attention to the studio lights making her hair look grey, her need to stand on a box to be in camera shot, and mentioning her obvious lack of any successful cosmetic surgical procedures, all while thinking ahead to which bisexually-oriented strip club he will take the network bosses that night and wondering if he can turn it into a tax deduction*

*Cate decides to reject her usual front-of-camera state of total zen*

*dim lights*

Host: "And here we go! [assumes serious demeanour by remembering the exquisite Pablo has an uncle who is a hitman] My dear Cate, select a category."

Cate: "Theatre for $200. [mutters "And I'm not your dear."]

*audio guy chuckles, all floor crew pay a little more attention, the director sits up straighter in his chair, and the atmosphere in the control booth intensifies*

Host [hides annoyance behind gritted teeth]: "Okayyyyy. A remarkable live show. Part shadow theatre, part modern dance, part circus, part acrobatics. An enthralling story, told completely through such fluid, beautiful, and astoundingly clever human movement, that not once do any 'interpretive dance' jokes enter your mind. Captivating, funny and brilliant."

Cate: "What is 'Shadowland', presented by Pilobolus Dance Theater.

Host: "Correct...now..."

Cate: "They've finished their Australian tour."

Host [shrugs]: "Right, we don't need to know..."

Cate: "Wherever they are now, everyone should go see them."

Host [frowns, vein in temple twitches]: "Fine. Whatever. Now, would you like to select a category?"

Cate: "Movies for $200."

Host [catches his own reflection in a new part of the set, grins stupidly and starts daydreaming of white beaches and dark biceps, until a cameraman coughs and interrupts his reverie]: "Yes. Next. The true story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks, who were in and out of trouble with women, the law, local gangsters, and worst of all, their mothers, but went on to form one of the most iconic groups of the 1960s. A rollicking journey through music history with fantastic performances, and tunes you will be humming long after the credits finish rolling. You probably didn't even know what a fan you were, until you realised you knew the words to every song. Toe-tapping fun."

Cate: "What is Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons."

Host [surprised and flustered by mental images of the last time he met Pablo in a Four Seasons hotel, searches through question cards]: "Err..."

Cate [rolls eyes impatiently]: "What? It's Jersey Boys. Check your card, Einstein."

*director asks assistant if they have a four-second-delay button on standby*

Host [laughs dismissively]: "I already put the card aside, I thought the answer was supposed to be Grease. Hahaha..." [turns to floor manager and mouths "What is she doing?"]

Cate [snorts]: "Grease? Seriously? Are you shitting me?"

*director drops coffee and lunges for four-second-delay button*

Host [coughs and mutters something unintelligible, but sounds suspiciously like 'bucking fitch']: "Right. Correct...and..."

Cate [smirks]: "I think you confused it because it was a stage show too. [dripping with sarcasm] All those singing and dancing shows are the same, right?"

Host [shuffles question cards violently]: "Yes, right....I mean... Anyhow.... moving on...."

Cate [speaking slowly]: "The DVD would make a great gift for anyone who doesn't understand the difference. Like yourself."

Host [vein throbbing noticeably, sheen of sweat appearing on forehead] : "CATE.... [clears throat].... Cate, select a category. Now."

Cate [haughtily]: "There's no need to yell at me. [mutters "dickhead" quite audibly, forcing director to move permanently closer to the four-second-delay button] Movies for $400."

Host [hears sniggering, glances at floor crew, plasters fake smile on face while wondering if Cate is related to one of his ex-wives] : "Right. A thrilling spy story, set in Hamburg and based on the John Le Carre novel. This is not the stuff of James Bond - no explosions or crazy gadgets here - but a smart and subtle insight into the gathering of intelligence from suspected terrorists,  and the battle amongst various agencies to control the outcomes. Captivating performances, particularly by Philip Seymour Hoffman."

Cate: "What is A Most Wanted Man."

Host [determined grimace]: "Correct. Select..."

Cate: "Such a wonderful talent lost to us."

Host [eyes widen, mouth drops open with exasperation]: "Sorry, what?"

Cate [sniffs]: "Philip Seymour Hoffman. His final movie. Tragic."

Host [confused look at floor manager, who is hiding behind the cameraman, both suppressing laughter]: "Uhhh... Isn't he making a living in Germany delivering messages in his Baywatch Speedos now or something?"

Cate [disgusted snarl]:"That's David Hasselhoff, you ignorant tosser."

*clattering sounds can be heard off set, as crew scramble to get advice from the legal department on the censorship of the word 'tosser'*

Host [turns red, takes deep breaths, glares at floor manager who is now doubled over with mirth]: "Cate, just select a goddamn bloody category."

*director wearily places forehead on four-second-delay button*

Cate [arches eyebrow]: "Clearly, you don't write the questions. It's a wonder you even have the ability to read them without having a stroke. If a thought ever crossed your mind it would be a long and lonely journey. [smiles sweetly] Movies for $600. [mutters "fucking arsehole"]

*director breaks four-second-delay button through repeated rapid pounding*

Host [turns away from camera and appears to take a sip from a flask concealed in his jacket, turns back with wet lips and drool on his chin]: "Ahh, hell. Umm...[burps] An action-packed futuristic thriller which makes us wonder what kind of world we would live in if we had the ability to use 100% of our brain's capabilities. From a young girl caught in a Taiwanese drug deal gone wrong, [tugs at shirt collar and looks nervously towards network lawyers who have now arrived on set] to a brains trust holed up in a French university where the girl becomes the focus of everyone's scientific attention, there is rarely a dull moment."

Cate: "What is..."

Host [wild-eyed, vein in temple threatening to explode, brow dripping sweat, punches fist in the air and yells]: "WAIT! HAHA! I know this one... It's the one starring Nelson Mandela and the blonde with nice tits..."

*director carefully pours his fresh coffee over the control board*

Cate [steps down from box and advances angrily towards Host]: "HEY, SHIT-FOR-BRAINS! I do the answers, you're supposed to let me say 'What is Lucy'..."

Host [desperately turns towards floor crew to find them all convulsing with laughter]: "Hey! Some help here? SOMEBODY STOP THE BLOODY COW BEFORE SHE..."

Cate [knocks the question cards from Host's hand and tugs the toupee from his head]: "The blonde's name is Scarlett Johansson and it's NOT Nelson Mandela, it's MORGAN FREEMAN, you COCKJUGGLING WANKBADGER..."

*director slowly stands up, puts on his coat, reaches into his pocket for his cigarettes and matches, sets fire to the booth, and heads straight to the unemployment office*

*office assistant bursts into studio yelling at Host that someone named Pablo is calling from a detention centre, crying and asking which of the fake passports he was supposed to use*

*Host faints*

Cate [steps over Host, looks around forlornly as the still laughing crew all wander off]: "But... we haven't even done the book categories yet..."

*lights go out*


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