What I did next

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Oh hey there! It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I’ve had this post knocking about in my head for a while but it’s taken a bit of thinking to give it some coherence. It might sound like I’m talking to all the parents out there, particularly the mummas, but if you don’t have kids, DO NOT FEEL EXCLUDED, because it’s not about parenthood, but transition.

When you have a bub, there’s a dramatic change in lifestyle. Plenty’s been written about that, right? Where once you were heading out the door every morning in your schmicky clothes, stopping off to get a latte, having a bit of banter with the work colleagues, maybe drinks on Friday night, and were enjoying clearly defined bedtimes and sleep ins, that’s replaced by the scramble to sneak in a shower between feeds and bub waking up from a nap, half mugs of cold tea and coffee scattered around the house, and days and nights which lack shape and form as sleep is caught when the opportunity presents itself. It can be a tricky transition from being an independent person to the person upon whom another’s life depends. Your own purpose in life, your reason for being, completely shifts. But you adapt. You embrace the new purpose. The years pass as you’re living your new life – and then, as those who have gone before you have knowingly opined, that wistful little look in their eyes – your little chicks have grown their adult feathers more quickly than you ever thought they would, and they’re flying. And when you don’t have those little chicks to raise anymore, what do you do? Where do you find your purpose now?

For those of you who’ve read my little blog before, you’ll know that I’ve been a stay-at-home mum for all of my two kiddies lives. And I have loved it! Have there been times of mind-numbing boredom? Well, yes! Of course! The ‘woof, woof game’ my boy so often requested, which required me to make Wags the Dog say ‘woof, woof’ over…and over… and over…was not the height of intellectual stimulation! But then again, neither was trawling through decades-old copies of the Government Gazette looking for the mention of a specific chemical when I was a young lawyer. Boredom in life is inescapable. But for me, raising my kids was fulfilling – much more so than getting a great leasing deal for a client, or settling a mortgagee’s auction. I loved thinking about the different activities we could do, the places we could visit, what stories they might like to read, and to be by their side as they experienced both fabulous times and really shitty times. But now they have grown up. One has used her wings to fly over the seas and far away to study, and the other will use his to fly interstate for the same reason. And I love that too! I love that they have the courage and confidence to live their lives beyond the confines of our nest. But it also means I’ve slipped into semi-retirement from my twenty-ish year career – do I get a gold watch? – and I need to find something else to do. And that has been what I have been grappling with this year.

Ever the forward planner, I have attempted to prepare for this time! I’m not an ostrich. I knew it would come! I’ve cultivated my crafty side and undertaken volunteer roles over the years to help with the transition from ‘need-you-all-the-time-mumma’ to ‘you’re-quite-nice-to-have-around-for-a-chat-and-how-do-you-cook-that-mumma’. But I don’t think I really anticipated how the days would yawn and stretch before me without the routine of my boy and girl’s school/uni/work life shaping my week. Just as they did in the early days of parenthood, the days have lacked shape and form. But back then, what I was doing was fulfilling. Where do I find that fulfilment now? I can find things to do. That’s not a problem. There’s friends to catch up with, books to read (but gosh I’ve picked some dull ones this year!), wool to shop for, weavings to make, long walks and yoga, but it’s all felt a bit empty. I like to be able to look back on my day and think ‘well, I achieved that’ or ‘I helped…’ . Would having a job give me a sense of purpose? Could I even get a job? Should I go back to study? All in all I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts this year, spending far too much time scrolling through social media, and asking all the existential questions! I know what I’m feeling is not unique. I’ve chatted with my friends. They feel it too. And not just about being a parent, but about work, career, about life’s shifting stages.

But this week there’s a new flicker to my spirit! I’ve started two new volunteer roles! One’s a reigniting of a past role, the other something completely new. I love coming home from those feeling like I’ve DONE something! I love that I have specific things to do on particular days of the week – there’s a purpose to these days. I love that around these commitments I have the time to catch up with friends and to have time to myself. I can see a shape and a purpose returning to my days. It feels good. Less schlepping, less scrolling! And a sense that I can look forward to the new year knowing what I am doing.

Transition is tricky, huh? How have you managed those times in your life? Are you completely adaptable? Do you flail around or sink into despair? What makes you feel good about your days and weeks?

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Taking Stock: September ‘18

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Well, it has been quite the month! Father’s Day, family birthdays, an overseas trip, and my girl farewelled to live in London for a few months! Certainly a month of cheers and tears! So a good time to take stock, don’t you think?

Watching: season two of Ozark. Gosh, I like Jason Bateman!

Reading: A Man Called Ove. I think I’m enjoying it. I keep falling asleep after a few pages of reading. Maybe it’s lingering jet lag.

Cooking: salmon for dinner tonight.

Eating: an almond croissant with our morning coffee this morning. Well, we shared it so that’s not too bad is it? And we had been for a long walk.

Looking: at my latest weaving and wondering if I need to add just a touch more colour.

Hearing: birds twittering outside.

Pondering: what’s to come. It’s a time of transition. The girl’s away, the boy is probably not at home for too much longer. I have no concerns about occupying my time but I’d like to do something with some meaning to it.

Enjoying: a STUNNING day in the gardens today celebrating the arrival of a new little person to our world.

Wearing: jeans, jumper, scarf and realising that the day was far too warm for such attire!

Knowing: I really need to get back to doing some baking for the family.

Coveting: this skirt. I think it would be lovely for the warmer months.

Buying: just the necessities at the moment.

Remembering: happy days with my girl in Copenhagen, Stockholm and London. We’ve never done a mumma-daughter trip before so it was a bit special!

Noticing: that there was a lot of hygge in Copenhagen! Yep. You could FEEL it. Pace of life seemed a little slower, people were out chilling with friends no matter the day of the week, the candles that were EVERYWHERE. I liked it!

Grumbling: at the changed position of the emoji key on my iPad. Gah! Whenever I’m intending to hit a numeral or symbol I wind up with emojis flashing onto my screen. So annoying! Change it back please!!!

Liking: being back on my home turf. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit other parts of the world but I am a home girl. You know the old ‘wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home’? Nup, not really for me. Not for any great length of time. I have a pretty strong bond to my hometown!

Making: time to catch up with friends. Thank goodness for messenger. Makes it so easy to do social planning!

Waiting: to catch up with my girl on face time tonight. Bloody love modern communications! Makes it so much easier to cope with the absences of our nearest and dearest.

Hope your September has been a happy one!

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Have you read…? Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Oh my! What a gem this book is! Beautifully realised characters each with their own distinct voice, astute observations on society and the human condition all wrapped up in an original narrative that avoids resorting to well-worn tropes. I had no idea how this novel was going to end – in a good way! I am hesitant to be too specific about what takes place because if you haven’t read it, I want you to be able to sit back and allow Eleanor’s life to unfold as you turn each page. If you have read it, then we can nod knowingly at each other, observing ‘wasn’t it lovely when […]?’, ‘wasn’t it moving when […]?, ‘how funny was it when […]?’ So here comes a very broad, non-specific review!

Eleanor Oliphant is in her early thirties, lives alone in Glasgow, and is completely fine. She has a flat, an office job, she is clean, she has food. She fills her leisure time reading, listening to the radio, buying provisions at Tesco and drinking vodka. She has a very distinct turn of phrase and manner of conversation! We are made aware that Eleanor has suffered significant traumatic events in her life which have inevitably shaped her, and these are revealed in a very organic and natural way. Eleanor’s solitary existence is disturbed when Raymond, the IT guy at work, becomes present in her life. And I want to leave it at that! What I will say is that this novel explores the power both kindness and cruelty have to shape our lives, what it is to be alone and lonely, that our lives can be enriched in ways we may not have been aware they could be, and how we can transform our lives when the right circumstances arise.

As I approached the final pages, I was in a quandary – I wanted to keep reading to know how it would end but did not want the joy of reading this book to be over. Now that it is, I am keen to re-read it, pencil in hand, and to underline the observations Honeyman has made about our society, and to highlight the expertly crafted sentences. A fabulous read. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Taking Stock: July ‘18 Port Fairy edition

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Hey gang! How are things? My man and I have headed to the coast for a short winter break. I love the beach at winter. The grey skies, the rolling waves, the bracing air. Blows the cobwebs away! We haven’t been to Port Fairy for years – it is a bit of a hike from Melbourne! It’s been nice to reacquaint ourselves with this quiet little town. And it’s been nice to have some time together! An interruption to the normal daily routine is the perfect time to take stock.

Making: nothing at the moment! There’s weavings at home but this week has been a ‘make free’ time for me.

Cooking: very little. Whatever is easy in our little kitchen.

Drinking: tea, coffee, cocktails!

Eating: a delicious dinner at the Merrijig Inn and yummy pizza at Coffin Sally

Reading: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which I am LOVING! Have you read it?

Watching: Shetland season 4. We could almost see ourselves there as we gazed out at our own stormy seas and overcast sky!

Buying: coffees, magazines (an essential part of any holiday, I feel) and A Forger’s Tale

Opening: magazines for weaving inspiration.

Taking: lots of photos.

Hearing: waves, wind

Looking: at clouds, swaying grasses, sea foam

Noticing: birds are so much more interesting when you head out of the city. We’ve acquainted ourselves with the hooded plover and the pie eyed oystercatcher which my man remembered from his childhood stamp collection! Maybe we’ll become twitchers!

Pondering: the meaning of life! Breaks away always provide the space for some introspection! What brings us fulfilment? How to achieve work-life balance? What new routines could bring greater joy to life? How do we venture into a new stage of life? Not sure if we came up with answers but useful to contemplate!

Enjoying: sleep ins in a comfy bed! I find it difficult to come across a comfy bed in holiday accommodation. I often find them too soft and end up with a sore back. This one is a goody!

Wondering: why bathrooms in holiday accommodation are always so poorly lit and exhaust fans do such an ineffective job at steam extraction.

Thinking: it might be time for another cup of tea

Liking: regional holidays. There’s something very comforting about holidaying locally. It’s like pulling on a pair of comfy slippers. Not a lot of research is needed to plan the holiday nor is there the compulsion to see certain sights. There’s no anxiety about how to get from A to B, eating out customs don’t need to be understood. It’s just chill. And a reminder that there are some lovely places to see not far from home.

I hope your July has been a happy one. Maybe you are back from a break away? Or heading to one soon? Perhaps you’d like to head over to Pip’s blog and see what’s been happening to her in July!

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Have you read…? The Nowhere Child by Christian White

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I have been in a reading slump this year. Yep, I have! Not sure if it’s been me or the books. I’ve kept turning pages, but I feel like I have been DRAGGING myself through them, and by the time I’ve reached the end, the idea of writing a review has been ‘meh’! I have just finished Christian White’s debut novel, The Nowhere Child, and I think I can manage to put together some thoughts on this one!

The Nowhere Child won last year’s Victorian Premier’s Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript under the title Decay Theory. I’ve enjoyed reading previous winners’ works, such as The DryForeign Soil and Australia Day, so I was keen to give White’s novel a go.

In 1990, two year old Sammy Went disappears from her home in Manson, Kentucky. Twenty five years later, Kim Leamy, a photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia, is approached by a stranger who tells her that he believes she is Sammy Went. That Sammy and Kim are the same person is settled within the first few chapters – a little too readily perhaps? – and the remainder of the novel is concerned with how Sammy’s disappearance from Manson, and reappearance in Melbourne, came about. Was this a random child abduction? Did it have something to do with the religious cult Sammy’s birth mother was part of? How could Kim reconcile her Australian mother, now deceased, with being an international child abductor?  The need to find out these answers made this book an engaging read. But whilst these questions did keep me turning the pages, the writing, for me, was a bit of a let down.

White follows a non-linear structure with chapters alternating between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Sometimes I find this can be frustrating if a chapter is beginning to build momentum and the time frame then shifts, but for the most part, White manages to avoid this by bringing each chapter to a satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless, towards the end of the novel, three chapters in a row concluded with a ‘and then everything turned to black’ scenario which was perhaps a little too convenient. In addition, some of White’s writing fell short with his tendency to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. Kim’s first in depth conversation with her birth sister, Emma, for example:

It turned out Emma and I had a lot in common: we both hated it when people cracked their knuckles, had a strong aversion to feet and enjoyed Gillian Flynn novels. And we both got tattoos when we were younger that we regretted.

Some dialogue could have been used to make this point. As it is written, it lacks a deft touch. Similarly, in the final pages, when Kim is returning to Melbourne:

As the 787 descended over Melbourne, I looked out over the city. It was flat and grey, familiar yet somehow different.

This place hasn’t changed, I decided. But the woman coming back here has.

A bit clichéd?

Chopping sentences here or there, trusting that the reader would fill in the blanks, would, for me, have resulted in a more polished novel. White didn’t need to tell me, for example, that Emma was stepping inside a house when I’d already been shown that the door was opened to her and her friend, Shelley. A tendency to repeat phrases or descriptions, for me, came across as either loose writing or editing – the ‘creaking’ of the Eckles’s gate and the use of  rope for a makeshift latch didn’t need to be mentioned multiple times, for example, or ‘back in Australia’ twice in a paragraph. And horror of horrors, a minor character’s name changed between paragraphs! Eek!

There was a twist at the end which I was not expecting but aspects to the way the novel wrapped up came across as a little cute. Some dialogue in the final pages rather than the expository style used would have lifted the writing.

Maybe I am being too critical? I suppose it’s because the writing fell a short of previous winners’ books. My expectations were high. White says in his author’s note, he’s ‘only just getting started’ so perhaps I should be a bit more forgiving. As an easy to read, entertaining story, I’d give it a tick. I hope he can come up with another cracking idea and polish the writing a little more so that his next novel is truly satisfying.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Ditching the car

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I was walking home from my local shops this morning, the winter sun shining, groceries and a birthday present swinging by my side, and I thought about how much I enjoy not having to jump in the car to run all my errands anymore. When the kids were younger and at school, taking the car was a necessity. The days’ activities ran to a tight schedule and it seemed that the extra twenty minutes it would take me to walk to and from the shops was time that I could not spare.

When my girl got her licence last year, there were some rumblings from the younger people in the house that we may need to add another car to our two-car household. That would have been a COMPLETE waste of their money. We’re fortunate where we live that we have two train stations within fifteen minutes walk, and a tram stop five minutes walk away. The kids get the train to and from uni and to their part time jobs, so WHY  would we need another car? I was determined not to give them any ammunition in their car-seeking mission so I decided I would put on my walking shoes or break out the myki whenever any potential conflicting car driving demands could arise.

I remember reading some time ago that our ex-PM, Tony Abbott, wrote in his book Battlelines that we should always invest in roads rather than public transport because people would always prefer to travel in cars because “The humblest person is king in his own car.” Apparently that is because we can choose whichever radio station we want to listen to in our own car. Think earbuds may have blown that argument out of the water, Tony! I can pop those in on my walk, or on the tram or train, and feel quite queenly! On the tram or the train I can read a book which gives me even greater mastery, or mistress-y, of my domain! And I like not having to battle the traffic. Perhaps I am the master of my own car, but this gives me no power to find a path through traffic congestion!

I enjoy not having to always isolate myself in my car. I like getting in and out amongst the people! I like walking along the street, looking at people’s gardens, noticing any changes in my surrounds. There’s a sense of connectedness to the community that comes from walking to do my shopping, or from travelling to and from my activities on the tram or the train. I think about how we’re all heading to our different destinations and going about our daily lives.

I like my car. I wouldn’t give it up. But I like that I can now think ‘Do I need to take the car?’ For that time I’m out walking or sitting reading, watching, listening on the train, life slows down just that little bit.

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Taking Stock: June ’18

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Trip, trip, stumble. Stumble, trip, trip. And hello! *brushes self off* That is how I feel I have arrived at the halfway point of the year! My weeks have been very flexible in 2018 but that’s because they have lacked ROUTINE. My man has been working from home for a little bit, the boy and girl are in and out with their differing contact hours at uni, and I have been waking up in the mornings not quite sure what day of the week it is! Yoga on Thursday mornings seems to be my only anchor in the week. So how about a stocktake to see where we’re at!

Eating: crunchy peanut butter on bread

Drinking: green tea

Cooking: chilli con carne for dinner

Making: lots of soft foods. The boy and girl both had all their wisdom teeth taken out a fortnight ago so there has been a lot of soup and pasta on the menu. Good planning to have it done in winter, right? Perfect weather for soft food.

Watching: Killing EveNanette. Wow! Nanette was exceptional. one of the most effecting performances I have seen. Watch it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll become more empathetic, you’ll gain an insight into prejudice.

Reading: A Scandal in Bohemia about the unsolved murder in Melbourne in 1930 of Mollie Dean. Feels very current given recent events in Melbourne.

Listening: to Sofia Stefanovic on The Moth.

Waiting: to hear when my friend has had her baby! Not long now!

Wanting: my man to come back from his run so happy hour can begin!

Hearing: his key in the door. Woohoo!!

Buying: books! My local bookshop had 30% off today so why would I not take up that offer? I bought The Ruin and my man bought a couple on the state of the world at the moment which we’ll share.

Hoping: we can get out for a walk tomorrow morning. Too rainy today.

Noticing: how uplifting it is when we have positive interactions with strangers rather than when people get all uptight with each other. Smile and be polite, people! You’ll feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Thinking: driving in a car park should be part of licence testing. Keep to a lane please. And don’t cut corners!

Enjoying: watching little kids learning. The other day one of my babysitting charges and I went for a long neighbourhood walk. She picked flowers, we chatted about the different names of the plants, talked about what a ‘worry’ is! She showed me how she is learning to read and we sounded out some words together. And then at my post-yoga coffee, I had fun story time reading to my new little cafe buddy! ‘I want Carolyn to read this one,’ he said to his mum. Chuffed!

Liking: the MoMA exhibition at the NGV. Love the art and the history behind the works. Such a treat to see some fibre art included!

Disliking: people complaining about supermarkets no longer using  plastic bags. Keep your bags in your car, people, or stuff a nice rollable one in your bag for unexpected purchases. It’s not an inconvenience!

Knowing: our dog will never stop barking at possums!

How’s the first half of your 2018 been? Do you need to do a stock take too? Head over to Pip’s for some other things to think about.

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