Nov 30, 2009

Breath

“We come sweeping up the tree-lined boulevard with siren and lights and when the GPS urges us to make the next left we take it so fast that all the gear slams and sways inside the vehicle. I don’t say a thing. Down the dark suburban street I can see the house lit like a cruise ship.” – opening paragraph, Breath by Tim Winton.




The most memorable book I have read this year by far is Breath by Tim Winton. It was definitely not the most complicated or earth shattering storyline, nor the most exhilarating action-packed page turner, but unforgettable in so many other ways.

It is an honest, beautiful, simple and thoroughly absorbing novel. On the surface you could say it is just about childhood adventures, surfing, sex, friendships... another coming-of-age story. When you look deeper it is more about going out of your depth, holding your breath and diving in, getting battered, both physically and emotionally. Not just by the enormous waves out at Old Smoky, but by friends and family, the relationships you form with them and the trust you give them.

Reading this book was made more special to me by the fact that a friend on the opposite side of the world was reading it at exactly the same time. We met online several months ago and gradually formed a friendship, getting stronger as we discovered a shared sense of humour, many common interests (did somebody say wine?), and a mutual dislike of housework. Whilst we have never met, I just know that we would find the same chemistry in person as we do via long distance technology devices. I would have a best friend/drinking buddy/confidante for life. When you know, you just know. You know?

Both avid readers (though she beats me hands down on sheer number and variety of books read), we decided to attempt to share something that perhaps two close friends who live in the same city might manage regularly. It was decided that I would choose the subject of our first “Across the Miles Book Club” project. I knew straight away I would select a Tim Winton novel, as I wanted to introduce her to an Australian writer she may have otherwise never discovered. Well, that’s a lie, when I say straight away, I mean after throwing several author’s names at her and getting the response, “Read them all”, “Read everything”, “Have every one of his books”, “Been there, done that, pick someone else” and her final smugly asked question, “Would you like a few more days to come up with something?”

Determination set in, and I came back 24 hours later with my final choice. I didn’t tell her it was my last ditch attempt, that I was ready to pull the plug on our Book Club idea and never let the words ‘book’, ‘novel’ or ‘smartarse’ creep into our messages again.

Hallelujah, she hadn’t read it. First book sorted, and off we went to make our purchases. I bought mine first and was tempted to get the jump on her and start reading straight away, but in the spirit of what we were trying to achieve, I waited until her copy arrived courtesy of Amazon. Big mistake. She soon zoomed ahead of me, which I put down to her being an even lazier housebitch than I am, and exclaimed “Oh, I love it already”. I had only read the reviews and five pages. But I bet my kitchen was cleaner than hers for a few days at least.

As the story progressed, so did our camaraderie. We kept each other informed of what chapter we were up to, discussed the characters, and even made references to them when chatting of other things. One of the main characters was called Loonie, so as you can imagine, that name got thrown back and forth at each other on several occasions. We were talking one day of how it’s hard to go back to something normal and boring in everyday life after a taste of something exciting and wonderful. It was not related to the book, but she emailed me with a line that was quoted by one of the characters.

“How can you get em back on the farm once they’ve seen Paree?”

She knows how to say the right things at the right time and make me smile. Smartarse Loonie.

Breath is not a long book and is easy to take in, so the simultaneous reading project was over far too quickly. I treasure the experience and would love to do it again, if only she hadn’t recommended that I read her favourite novel next, Stephen King’s The Stand. I’ll get back to her and our Book Club in about six months time when I finish that behemoth of a book. Heaven knows what my kitchen will look like by then.



“My favourite time is when we’re all at the Point, because when they see me out on the water I don’t have to be cautious and I’m never ashamed. Out there I’m free. I don’t require management. They probably don’t understand this, but it’s important for me to show them that their father is a man who dances – who saves lives and carries the wounded, yes, but who also does something completely pointless and beautiful, and in this at least he should need no explanation.” – final paragraph, Breath by Tim Winton.


If you like this story, vote for me at this link and check out the other great entries while you are there.
Blog This Challenge 27 : Bookshelf 2009



Nov 27, 2009

Some Letters Just Refuse To Be Written


Every year at about this time I write a letter. How old-fashioned you say, yes I know. Not so archaic that I write with pen and paper, but I type it in a pretty font and print it off. It is my own newsletter of sorts, which I send to friends and family scattered around the country, and to people who may be nearby, but with whom we have not caught up in the last year for one reason or another. Their annoying kids may be one reason or their drunken, lecherous spouse another.

My letters have been described by some as a free holiday-reading liftout, included in the “Funny Christmas Card from Cate & Co” subscription. It is generally a blow-by-boring-blow breakdown of our year, what we’ve done, who we’ve seen, where we went, what we’ve injured, damaged or destroyed, why we did it and how we’re going to pay for it. And the name of the lawyer involved.

Sometimes it is a rambling, chaotic, multiple page epic, describing our year by topic.... kids, house renovations (ongoing for 6 years now ... sigh), holidays, school, social events, mishaps and hangovers. Notice I paired mishaps and hangovers together, as in my experience, one generally follows the other. I’m still finding broken glass and bits of shiny purple ‘HappyBirthday’ confetti amongst the agapanthus.

This year’s chapters would be as varied as “Free Tickets I Have Won and Taunted People With”, “Wines I Have Drunk Faster Than You Can Say Cheers”, “Family Functions Where I Have Pleaded To Be Told I Was Adopted” and “18th and 21st Birthday Parties Where The 40-Somethings Were Drunker and Dancing Much Better Than The Young Ones”.

The drawback of the chaos method is that I don’t necessarily cover all the topics I should. Like the year I kind of, sort of, totally forgot to mention the husband. Oops. Needless to say I had a few polite responses from people making inquiries as to how I had disposed of the body.

Other times the letter is a month by month unfolding of a story, much like reading my diary, if I had one (stop looking for it now, kids, I’m telling you I don’t have one). The problem with that format is it can expose the boring months of your life, and just how many of them there are.

JANUARY : Spent recovering from Christmas and New Year. Read how kids are living at home with their parents until they are much older these days. Glared at my kids a lot.

FEBRUARY : It was damn hot, didn’t do much. Air-conditioner on 24/7. Boring. Like watching grass grow.

MARCH : Hotter again, air-conditioner still on 24/7. Stayed home. Boring. Like watching paint dry.

APRIL : Is there any life outside these four walls?.... I think I have cabin fever ..... NOOOOO, give me the air-con remote, it’s MINE I’m telling you....... might see if I can get grass to grow in wet paint....

And so on. Through to winter...

JULY : It was damn cold, didn’t do much. Heater on 24/7. Tried to pick the dead grass out of the paint.

Trust me, people start to feel sorry for you if you send out too many of those letters in consecutive years.

So today I decided it was high time to get a start on the new and improved 2009 edition. I have been contemplating, reflecting, prevaricating and procrastinating all day. Not to mention thinking up big words. I’m now sitting here listening to builders clambering about above my head and I am anxious because I can’t believe it’s closer to December than it was five hours ago and I have nothing, nada, nil, zilch. I am still staring at a blank word document titled “Ho Ho Ho”. (And no, I am not calling anyone a Ho’).

Mark Twain said some books refuse to be written. My letter must have been listening. What I wish to write has not even formed in my mind yet, let alone started to flow from my fingers. I find myself struggling under the pressure to reproduce the standard of prose which is now expected of me. It may be low and self-imposed, but it’s a standard nonetheless.

Between discovering both Twitter and Blogspot this year, (and the host of new friends and reading material that have come with those), as well as the renovations, two busy teenagers(who are apparently here for eternity), extended family issues and let’s face it, basic laziness, I’m not sure I’m giving myself enough time or have enough motivation to do the annual ritual justice. I would rather write an entertaining blog or punch out some snappy tweets right now, not pen some generic letter that will be bin liner by Boxing Day.

Oh my goodness. It’s a Christmas miracle. The answer has been staring me in my panic-stricken face.

My solution is this posting. I shall use this blog as my Christmas letter and then tweet about it. A 3-in-1 multi-function resolution. Might even have spare time to deck the halls with grass-flecked paint this year.
Fa la la la la....



Nov 26, 2009

Thank You

Just a quick thank you to everyone for their kind words and lovely comments about my previous blog, and thanks for voting in the challenge at Blog This.
I had no idea when I wrote the piece that it would get such an overwhelming response. It seemed to touch a nerve with so many of you, so many similar experiences, whether it be with your parents, in-laws or grandparents.
Just as a postscript, Dad is doing really well and getting excited about the move.
And I have dusted the chest six times since I got it. Love it much?!
Thanks again :)


Nov 17, 2009

Something Old...

My father is old. He is 87 years old in fact. He has lived through the depression, wars, boom times, crashes, great fashion decades, ugly ‘what-were-they-thinking’ decades, and has seen the coming and going of many eras of Australian Cricket teams. His greatest claim to fame relates to cricket, though it is not actually his, but his Uncle Charlie’s. Apparently the great man played Test cricket alongside an even greater man, Sir Donald Bradman. Well, didn’t play, but travelled with the team on the 1938 Ashes tour of England as the reserve wicket keeper, so that counts, right?

Anyway Dad left school at 14, as most did in those days, to start work as an apprentice toolmaker. I look at my 14 year old daughter now and try to imagine her being ready for full-time work, or more to the point, the workforce being ready for her. Neither would cope, I’m sure.

In Dad’s first few years of work he started to amass a collection of small tools and parts, ‘bits and bobs’ as he calls them. The need for storage at home became paramount as he was the youngest of six children, mostly girls, and didn’t dare leave his things lying around lest they were thrown out by the house proud womenfolk. I am also now trying to picture myself or my sister ever being referred to as ‘house proud womenfolk’....yeah, right.



An older bloke at Dad’s factory had been making tool chests at home as a bit of a hobby, and selling them to apprentices for 10 pounds each, turning a hobby into a lucrative side business for those days, I’d imagine. So Dad saved his money, and proudly purchased his first real treasure. He has lovingly maintained it all these years, added to its contents, using things from it over and over, and watching over it like it was his most prized possession. Truth be told it probably was. It has survived where other things have perished, been forgotten or given away. Sure, it has dents and scratches, smudges of oil and grease, the odd splash of paint and even a small chunk missing from a corner. All those things give it character, tell its history, and show how truly well utilized it has been.



I have always loved it too. Most visits back to my childhood home over the years have involved heading out to the shed to find Dad busy fiddling with something, whether it be from necessity or just to escape Mum. My hands would always find themselves touching the chest, wiping off dust, opening and closing the tiny drawers, poking at the myriad of unknown and long-ago superseded tools inside. Dad would watch me, smile, and say,

“You can’t have it yet, I still use it.”

Oops, was I that obvious? Yes, I was.



In a bittersweet conclusion, the chest has come into my keeping, as recently as two days ago. My parents have finally reached the age and state of health where they cannot stay in their own home and will soon be moving to an aged care facility. The clean out has started, not in earnest yet, but a few small items have started their journey to new positions in other homes. Dad and I were in his beloved shed, sorting through a few things, when he stopped, put his hands on his hips, and said,

“Well, I guess you should take the tool chest now.”

I paused. “Okay, if you’re sure.”

“I might need some things from it between now and when we move.”

“I’ll leave it then.”



He sighed. “No, take it now, I won’t need anything, I’m just wishing. Here, let me just clean the things out of it for you, you don’t want all that stuff....”

“NO, DON'T...”

I startled both of us, not a smart move when you’re dealing with an 87 year old with a heart condition. I smiled, lowered my voice and tried to explain.

“I want it exactly as it is, Dad. I’m leaving all your bits and bobs as they are. I have never wanted the chest so I could put my own things in there, that wouldn’t be right. It’s going to stay in my home, intact, contents undisturbed.”

Silence. Smiles. Nods. Embarrassed shuffles off in different directions to continue the clean up.



I don’t know what treasures Uncle Charlie passed on to his family, maybe some cricket memorabilia worth a fortune in today’s society, but I love my Dad's 10 pound tool chest with all its bits and bobs. I wouldn’t swap it for any legitimate claim to fame in the world.



Nov 11, 2009

Playing By The Rules



Someone asked me recently what rules we had in place in our household for the kids or for us as a family in general. I thought about it for a few seconds, partly because I once heard somewhere that if you pause before answering a question it makes you appear more intelligent. My view is that it probably makes me appear to be buying time to concoct a lie.

I frowned and asked, “Oh, do you mean like the 3 second rule?”

She gave me a quizzical look in return. So I explained how when a piece of food hits the floor, as long as it’s been down there for 3 seconds or less, it’s still edible. What I didn’t add was that as my kids have got older, I think they have stretched that rule out to 3 minutes, especially if chocolate or lollies are involved. I have caught them on hands and knees, reaching under the sofa for some sweet that has dropped and rolled into the land of dust, cat hair and that DVD we rented and swore blind to the purple-haired girl behind the counter we had returned.

Anyway, the ensuing conversation with my friend made me realize she was interested in slightly more serious rules and I have since pondered the history of decrees uttered in our household over the years.

When the kids were little I guess the main directives echoing around our home were fairly simple.

“No”, “Don’t touch” and “Leave it alone, it’ll grow by itself.”

The last one was only for the son, I didn’t say it to my daughter, that would have just confused her and possibly caused penis envy when it didn’t grow.

Over time the instructions became more specific.

“Spaghetti belongs in your mouth, not your ear.” Those of you who have tasted my cooking are probably disagreeing with this right about now.

“Use your indoor voice.” Poor mites had no real example of this, since I am loud wherever I go. Who needs a megaphone when I am around?

“Don’t run with scissors.” In our house, this was often adapted to “don’t run with cricket bat/tennis racquet/baseball bat/golf club/curtain rod/light saber” as they were more often in little hands than scissors were.

“You cannot morph.” The Power Rangers have a lot to answer for.

I remember I also had a period of answering every “Why?” with “Coz them’s the rules”, which means there were literally thousands of rules during the children’s Inquisitive/Annoying Stage. (By the way, can anyone tell me when this stage ends? thanks)

All of a sudden they are teenagers and I am still not sure we have set down any definite laws for them, so I set about searching the Parent’s Guide to a Sane Life, AKA the Internet, for some assistance. I found some gems in “House Rules and Realities” by Michael G Conner, Psy.D

I will not use profanity including cuss words, vulgarity or using God’s name in vain.

My initial out-loud reaction to that was “J***s f***ing C****t, that’s G**damn impossible”..... which means it’s too late for my lot.

I will be courteous to family members and guests. There will be no rudeness, putdowns or insults. When I meet people I will say hello, introduce myself and make guests feel welcome

As opposed to my kids who might grunt once at visitors as they pass them on their way to the fridge, twice if they are really special.

If I make a mess then I will clean it up and return it to the way I found it (unless a parent gives permission to clean up later). Messes in a family living area will be cleaned up or put away when I am finished. Messes in my room will be cleaned up before going to bed.

I almost busted my ribcage laughing at this one. I was tempted to include a photo of my daughter’s bedroom as an example of why I am doubled over, but felt the wrath of a teenager scorned may not be worth the few moments of pleasure it would give me. Suffice to say, the description in her own words is, “Wow Mum, my room looks like a clothes bomb went off in it!” And I won’t even start on what they do to the kitchen. Though some would say the biggest crime committed in there is still my cooking.

Any family member who yells, screams, hits, bites, pushes or throws something in anger will take a mandatory time out for twenty minutes, then apologize, and then discuss the problem

ANY family member? So this is why they keep giving me the time out signal.... is wine allowed in time out?

I will ask before I borrow or take something that belongs to others. Borrowed items will be returned to the proper place and in good condition

I guess this would cut down on the time wasted every morning as we wander round the house yelling “Who’s got my deodorant?”, “Where is my comb?” and “This jar has no lid and was left on the kitchen table..... is it hair wax or shoe polish?”

I will not get out of consequences for breaking house rules by pouting, acting like a victim, crying, acting rude, angry or self-destructive.

But that’s how I get my way..... umm, this one only applies to kids, right?

I will complete my daily and weekly assigned chores as specified by my parents.

They should have added, “without being yelled at, threatened or bribed”

I will attend family dinners and family activities unless excused by a parent. I will interact, be polite and respectful. I will ask to be excused before leaving the table or any family activity

I don’t suppose rolling your eyes, sighing loudly, or burping as a signal you’ve finished counts as polite and respectful.

If I am upset, depressed, angry or bothered I will take some active positive steps to deal with my feelings and problems. I will talk with my parents or I will communicate with family members to resolve problems

Translation : “Stop slagging me off on Facebook, tell it to my face”

I have been a little troubled since reading Mr Conner’s list. Am I a bad parent? Should I get tough and implement some of these? I need to think.........(insert Jeopardy thinking music here)

End result? I have decided we have always followed, and shall continue to follow the wisdom of the great Thomas Edison who said,

“Hell, there are no rules here, we are trying to accomplish something.”








Nov 7, 2009

The Honest Scrap Blogger Award



A lovely new friend Wendy Morrell (@quillfeather), has bestowed upon me an Honest Scrap Blogger Award. Thank you so much Wendy, and I am learning that with all honour, comes responsibility and rules.

Here are the rules of the award :

1. The Honest Scrap Blogger Award must be shared.
2. The recipient has to tell 10 (true) things about themselves that no one else knows.
3. The recipient has to pass along the award to 10 more bloggers.
4. Those 10 bloggers should link back to the blog that awarded them.

I have warned Wendy that thinking of 10 things nobody else knows about me is a challenge, as I tend to have a big mouth and share things about myself quite freely. Red wine is usually involved in that process. I have therefore taken the opportunity to delve into my skeleton closet to see what secrets lie forgotten there. As I was pushing aside bones and muttering “Alas, poor Yorick”, I realized that whilst people in my real life know more than they care to about me, my online friends have not been subjected to quite as much insider knowledge. I can just share the simple stuff. Closet door slammed shut, no more probing in places possibly best left unprobed.

So here goes...

1. I don’t drive. I have never had a driver’s licence. I came to the conclusion very early on that my temperament, my quest for the perfect margarita, and me behind the steering wheel of a car should just not mix.

2. I do not think all babies are beautiful. Some of the ugliest visions I’ve ever laid eyes on have been newborn babies. My eyes have widened as I have stared into the Yoda/Gollum gene pool. I try to be polite...but classics like ”Oh look, he’s got his Dad’s monobrow” and “ With those ears, who needs a satellite dish, just plug the kid in” may have slipped out once or twice.

3. I have never had a proper facial, manicure or pedicure .... no ‘me me me’ pampering, ever. I grumble about going to the hairdresser, abhor fake nails and fake tans, and I take care of my own painful hair removal, thank you very much. I am a fairly low maintenance chick in that regard, which my husband’s wallet thanks me for. Not that I get around looking like a baglady either. I hope. *checks mirror*

4. Despite being a professional housewife (which I refer to as housebitch), I am domestically challenged. I avoid ironing, I ruin meals and if a label says “Do not machine wash or tumble dry, cold handwash separately or dry clean only, line dry in shade blah blah” it means I will never wash this item. Seriously.

5. I get frustrated with people who feel the need to wash their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher. Sure, scrape off the leftovers and get it lump-free, but running under hot water and wiping over it with a cloth until it squeaks is just OCD overkill ... just shove it in the rack and pour a glass of wine for goodness sake.

6. I am punctual. Sometimes annoyingly so, though being that way has its benefits. Arriving first at the husband’s work Christmas dinner means I have time to down two free glasses of Dutch courage before anyone else shows up. They all think I’m soooo friendly.

7. I read a lot of books, so if a thriller/mystery/crime type novel doesn’t really grab me excitedly in the first few chapters, I admit I secretly turn to the back to read the ending. I then say to everybody “I bet I know who did it, bet I can pick the murderer/psycho/plot twist” and astound the family with my sleuthing skills.

8. I am basically lazy. I can lose whole sunny days to the vortex of nothingness, with a book in one hand and a Vodka Splice in the other, then spend approximately 11 minutes running around frantically before the tribe arrive home, making it look like I’ve had the busiest day ever. An old friend suggested, only today, that he knows I have always thought Manual Labor was a Spanish guitarist.

9. I am stubborn. If I think I am right about something, I will discuss, debate, dispute and argue. When I get to that point of the argument when I realize I am wrong ... well, that never happens.

10. I am not an alcoholic. Really.

Since I am very new to blogging I hope I can find 10 people who will accept this award (having not already received it from someone else) in the spirit it was meant, and do with it what you will. Looking, looking, looking....

Hmmm, sorry Wendy, I think I’ll get back to you with my names when my number of blog buddies equals my number of drinking buddies. I repeat, not an alcoholic, really.

Does this mean I have to give the Award back?

Nov 1, 2009

A List I'm Not Going To Make


I’m not into lists. I don’t even like shopping lists. I prefer to commit it to memory, and then swear like a sailor when I get home and discover I’ve forgotten the all-important ingredient for the Sweet Coconut Lamb Curry recipe. Like the lamb. Lists can be limiting, confining, or make me tremble with the pressure of not only making them with military precision, (and legible handwriting) but then actually achieving the desired outcome from them. And it is disheartening if you’ve put so much effort into compiling a list of some sort, only to fall short of getting it done. What if the last thing on the list was ‘Get someone to feed the cat while I’m away’ and you just didn’t get around to it? Oops.

Given my aversion to such cataloguing of ‘Things to Do, Buy or Fail At’, I have noticed with intrigue an increasing number of references to Bucket Lists lately. You know, the list of exciting, adventurous or productive things you want to accomplish before you kick the bucket, meet your maker, push up daisies, give up the ghost, take a dirt nap or whatever other equally eloquent phrase you like to use. My attention is caught by mentions of them, mainly I think because my parents are both in their 80’s and the realization of their mortality is creeping up on the whole family. My Dad is currently lying in a hospital bed, recovering from yet another bout of pneumonia, and I found myself wondering if he ever thought to compose a list, but I know him well enough to know the answer would be no. Maybe it’s genetic.

There is a movie I saw recently, a poignant story of two men who have nothing in common apart from their terminal illnesses who decide to live out the dreams on their personal bucket lists. Their aim is to ultimately find the joy in living before they die. And ohhhhh, the John Mayer song for the soundtrack is truly touching. And yes, I cried. A lot. But it was surprisingly uplifting too.

There are websites that inform “How to Create and Manage Your Bucket List”, or ask “What’s On Your Bucket List and Why?” It seems as simple and casual as if they are asking “What do you want for your birthday?”, “Where are you going this weekend?” or “Would you like fries with that?”

Surely it cannot be a straightforward process to answer a question that could change the last few months, years or decades of your life, assuming you would then follow through on ticking off the list. I can’t even decide what I’m having for dinner tonight, or what colour to paint the family room, or what to wear to my goddaughter’s 21st birthday party (luckily she is having a Black & White theme, so that limits my dithering) and not one of these decisions will affect my quality of life. Unless I go for a predominantly white look and spend the following week holed up in my laundry, soaking out red wine stains. Quality of life would then be severely hampered, as if the hangover wouldn’t be enough to contend with.

I think I would prefer to start agonizing over a Mid-Life Crisis List before I move onto buckets and their associated finality. Having recently celebrated/endured a birthday that put me at what I estimate to be my mid-life (taking into account grandparent’s genes, family medical history and my own alcohol intake), I have started looking around for my ‘crisis’ and wondering what shape or form it will come in. Maybe I will start it with something as simple as a pair of killer Manolo Blahniks that I will wear only once (to the 21st) before I decide that blister avoidance is more important at my age than getting my $400 worth of wear out of them. I think the next item on the list should be to employ a pool boy to come to the house regularly. Wonder if I should put in a pool too.

If I stick to safer but possibly less pleasurable things, perhaps taking up a new hobby is an option. Like twitter (done that), blogging (done that), drinking (have always done that), crocheting blankets (see previous blog, never gonna happen). Do men have it easier when they spiral into mid-life? A flashy sports car, a Harley and an airplane blonde on their arm seems to be the standard items of interest on their wish-lists (if you’re wondering what an airplane blonde is, come backstage after the show and I’ll tell you), but I know I’m generalizing.

Do I get adventurous? Skydiving, bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, battling the frenzy of the post-Christmas stocktake sales. All are worthy quests of danger and heroism. Though if you have ever seen my face when I have disembarked from a rollercoaster ride you would know I am no thrill-seeker, more of a something-to-throw-up-in-seeker.

So I have put my pen away for now. To be honest, I am resigned to the fact that a Mid-Life Crisis List and a Bucket List for me would end up being one and the same. Actually recording the things I might want to do now, mid-life, things that are outrageous, crazy and driven by hormones and two surly teenagers, will mean they will still be on a wrinkled, wine-stained piece of paper buried at the bottom of my handbag in 10 or 20 years time. Since you know how I feel about lists.

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