Taking Stock: May ’17

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Brr! It is a chilly ol’ day in Melbourne! The sky is blue at the moment but the air is chill and there are predictions of hail later in the day. That’s okay by me because I can stay tucked up inside for the rest of the day. I am going to sit inside with my cup of tea, pop something to slow cook on the stove, and continue with a bit of crochet… and laundry duties! But before that, a ‘take stock’ of what has been a bit of an up and down month for us.

Making: this blanket. So many colours! I made up my own colour combo so it’s taken a few trips to the wool shop to pick up the colours that I think work together

Eating: left over cauliflower, potato, leek and bacon soup

Drinking: chilli hot chocolate. Love that hint of a spicy finish!

Cooking: beef casserole for dinner with math and peas

Listening; to Lindy West on This American Life and Nettie Wakefield on The Jealous Curator. Have you seen her gorgeous pencil drawings? You should check them out here

Watching: Masterchef – yep, sucked in again for another year! – and Thicker than Water

Smelling: a combo of the peanut butter and choc chip cookies I baked this morning and my boy’s pesto pasta

Hearing: keyboards clacking from all members of the family

Cringing: at the clip of Trump shoving the PM of Montenegro. It’s the smug look on his face and the jacket buttoning. Can’t stop myself from repeat viewing!

Waiting: to read an email from my parents. They’re on their first day of a four week trip to Canada.

Reading: Nine Parts of Desire and They Cannot Take the Sky

Loving: that my girl now has her licence! No more ferrying her to Pilates and singing lessons!

Worrying: that my girl now has her licence! Now my ears are pricked up waiting for two people to drive in the driveway!

Coveting: this coat

Knowing: my man is gong to get rained on when he goes out for a run

Laughing: at my thirty year school reunion. Thirty years! Can you believe that? I’m sure when I used to look at the photos of the old girls at the reunions in our school newsletter they looked SO OLD! Not like us groovy bunch.

Trying: to cut back on my food waste. Mushing up lots of vegies for soup, buying in smaller quantities, and putting together leftovers for lunches

Buying: tickets to this with Kat Stewart and this

Enjoying: a new volunteer role with Behind the Wire

Hoping; my man will find a less stressful job soon

Looking: forward to a long weekend away with my man

And that’s May almost done and dusted! How’s the last month been for you?

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Have you read…? Some autumn reading

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How has your reading been going the last few months? I’ve been a little slow. Not sure why. That just happens sometimes, doesn’t it? I did feel a little red-faced after doing a book swap with one of my friends and she returned all those I had lent her before I had even had a chance to start reading hers! Happily, I am now halfway through one of them!  So what was I reading in the meantime?  Here’s a selection.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout This is a little gem of a book, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it after it has done the rounds of some reading buddies! The book is set in New York and tells the story of Lucy Barton, a writer, who is in hospital recovering from complications after an appendectomy. By her side is her mother, whom Lucy hasn’t seen for a number of years, but in her time of ill health, it is this maternal that voice she needs to hear. Through their bedside exchanges we learn of Lucy’s dirt poor upbringing in Amgash, Illinois.  A bookish child, she felt isolated from her family on an intellectual level, and there are hints that there was abuse perpetrated in the family home at the hands of her father, a WWII veteran who suffered from PTSD. We learn of how she came to physically distance herself from her family as she moved away to college, and then her early experiences in New York, meeting her husband and becoming a mother to her daughters. As the story progresses, we understand that the hospital stay is not present day but in the past, and an older Lucy is reflecting upon this event in her life. For me, this story showed how families are bound together even where there is distance and strain in that relationship; it was about what lies unspoken yet defines our lives; it illuminated how our lives are made up of many episodes, many little stories, but, in the end, we have only one overarching story. Having recently read Hillbilly Elegy and listened to S-Town, I felt that this sat as a companion piece, albeit fictional, to the two stories of JD Vance and John B McLemore who both grew up in disadvantaged rural communities but possessed an intellect that separated them from their peers. Lucy’s story, and those who featured in her life, are explored further in Elizabeth Strout’s new work, Anything is Possible. It’s on my list of ‘to-reads’!

The Sellout by Paul Beatty This won the Man Booker Prize in 2016 and I was keen to read it.  The premise of the novel as set out on the blurb is how one black man, nicknamed Bonbon, attempts to save his town, Dickens, from being wiped off the map by reintroducing segregation. As a consequence, he lands before the Supreme Court for breaching the Constitution. The idea for resegregation came about by accident. Bonbon’s friend, Hominy Jenkins, was a long time ago child actor in the television show Little Rascals, where he was the sop made fun of through racist humour.  Hominy hankers for the days of segregation where he knew his place in the world and urges Bonbon to take him on as his slave. Bonbon humours Hominy, and as a birthday present makes him a sign to be erected on buses requiring blacks to give up seats for whites. As social behaviour amongst black residents improves, Bonbon has the idea of introducing segregation to other institutions in town. Alongside this storyline, we learn of Bonbon’s upbringing by his single father, who used Bonbon as the guinea pig in psychological experiments; his reignited relationship with his teen sweetheart, Marpessa; and how he relates to his father’s old friendship group, The Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals, and their regular meetings to discuss issues of race. So what did I think? There is some cracking writing in this satirical novel. Having visited there a few years ago, I loved his description of how Washington D.C. “with its wide streets, confounding roundabouts, marble statues, Doric columns and, domes, is supposed to feel like ancient Rome (that is, if the streets of ancient Rome were lined with black homeless people, bomb-sniffing dogs, tour buses and cherry blossoms).” And who cannot raise an ironic laugh at the idea of the black school kids participating in “Whitey Week”, a week showcasing the contribution of the Caucasian race the “the world of leisure”; where at a car wash the kids could choose three levels of white washing: Regular Whiteness, Deluxe Whiteness and Super Deluxe Whiteness with their attendant benefits of benefit of the doubt, higher life expectancy, decent seats at concerts, warnings instead of arrests? But there were times, for me, that the novel became too dense and beyond my comprehension: the sentences curled around themselves, and pop, gang culture and Spanish language references went over my head. And the whole resegregation bit? It took a long time to get there. Whereas the blurb had me thinking this is what the book was going to be about, it was really only a part of the story, and I wasn’t that much interested in the other bits. In the end, I found it a bit of a slog. Maybe it is better suited to the US audience?

Between A Wolf and A Dog by Georgia Blain So after a fair share of reading US fiction and non-fiction, I thought it was time to turn my reader’s eyes back to home, and bought the late Georgia Blain’s novel with a birthday gift voucher. Sigh. What a beautifully written novel, and , of course, made all the more poignant because of the way Blain’s life imitated the life of the character, Hilary, who suffers brain cancer. It is impossible, for me, to read the sentence “It is as though her life has been in fast motion until now, racing forward, a great crush of people, places, moments, anger, joy, love, despair all coming to a sudden stop, colliding into each other at the gate, while she slips though, walking onwards, alone in a quiet land” without my heart being pulled into my throat; that the author, herself, would know this experience all too soon. The novel takes place over the course of around forty eight hours and follows the lives of Hilary, her adult daughters, April and Ester, Ester’s ex-husband, Lawrence, and their young twin daughters, Catherine and Lara. The relationship between April and Ester has broken down, and Ester and Lawrence are barely on speaking terms. A sense of betrayal hangs heavy over the characters, and though the use of flashbacks we understand why. There is a sense of life drifting, which contrasts with Hilary’s clarity about where her life is headed. The novel does not end neatly tied with a bow but there is a strong sense that love, despite its being challenged, binds the characters together. An excellent read.

Tell me, have you read any of these? What did you think?

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Taking Stock: April ’17

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And here we are! Nearly at the end of April. I have lost all track of time. Easter, non-instruction week for the kiddie-adults, Anzac Day…daily routine has completely disappeared. But I think I have wrapped my head around the fact that today is WEDNESDAY so…I need to go to the supermarket and take my girl to Pilates. And maybe if I ‘take stock’ I’ll reinforce where I’m at. So here goes!

Drinking: lemon and ginger tea with honey

Eating: homemade muesli, yoghurt and peaches

Cooking: choc chip cookies later today, and something warming for dinner. Think it needs to be stewy!

Hearing: thunder

Looking: at the black clouds rolling across the sky and the rain gushing over my gutters. Melbourne has turned on the wet winter weather today!

Wishing: I didn’t have to go out to the supermarket in this weather! Will just wait a bit…

Watching: The Young Pope by myself. Jude Law – he’s a bit of a prickly pope! Rebellion with my man.

Reading: The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Some cracking lines but I think I’m going too slow with it. Need to pick up the pace to get to the nub of the story.

Making: a weaving! Went to a beginners class at The Studio Workshoos on Sunday. ”’Twas fun!

Bookmarking: online weaving tutorials!

Listening: to Maryanne Moodie on The Jealous Curator

Wondering: how not to become overwhelmed by all the crafts! So many crafts, so little time. Sigh…

Pondering: the revelation that my left hip is very close to having osteoporosis. Hmm. How did that happen? I blame maternal genetics. Anyhoo, must cut back on the caffeine (hence, lemon and ginger tea!), keep up with the exercise, take some vitamin D. But it does make me feel a bit old 🙁

Noticing: the rain has eased a tad. Might be time to head to Woolies!

Buying: new towels for the bathroom. The money spent and pleasure received from this purchase don’t seem to equate.

Turning: pages in my visual diary and smiling at my drawings, pastings, writing

Loving: that soup weather may finally be here!

Okay. So I think I know what I’m doing. Hope you are settled in your week. Pop over here to see what is happening in the life of the brains behind ‘Taking Stock’, Pip Lincolne.

Cheerio!

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I’m average. How about you?

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Yesterday I read this article by Kerri Sackville , this one by Krista O’Reilly and this one by Jodi Gibson exploring whether it’s okay to be content with being average in a society that celebrates high achievers. I thought they were pretty interesting because I’ve often thought about the pressure, or need, we have to be remarkable. To be noticed. To be recognised. To set goals and push to achieve them. We are told that if we can dream it we can do it (to which my man always says it’s his dream to fly naked across the sky but no matter how much he dreams it, that ain’t gonna happen!). What is it that drives us – or, at least, some of us – to pursue high achievement? Or to desire fame for the recognition that that brings? Can we aim high, can we live atop lofty peaks but still maintain our happiness, health and relationships? And what if we don’t want to dream big? Are we letting ourselves down if we don’t ‘reach our potential’? So many questions!

I know that there are remarkable people out there. People with enormous capacity and focus, who can take on a multitude of roles and responsibilities with apparent ease. I’ve met people who are highly proficient across a multitude of disciplines – art, music, sport, high academic ability, and who are genuinely delightful company to boot. I’ve read about people who have fabulous ideas and motivation and make things happen for the benefit of others in society. I salute these people. The world needs them.

I can feel a bit deflated looking at these high achievers. I sometimes look at their efforts and think ‘and I have done …?’ Do you ever feel like that? Here’s the thing. I did an Arts/Law degree at uni. I worked hard. I was focussed on those marks. The plan? I was aiming for that ‘big 4’ commercial firm. I’d keep working hard. I’d make partner. Imagine the status that would come with that! The reality? Got into the firm I had so wanted to join and…hated it! Stuck it out for a few years, fell into depression. Working there was unsustainable. So I ditched it. Career number two? Stay-at-home mum. There’s no status, no recognition in that! I know when I resigned that there were mutterings behind my back along the lines of ‘how can she waste all that study?’, ‘why would she give up being a lawyer to be a mum?’ But status can’t overcome being unhappy in what you do. I was happy to be a mum – and, to be honest, it’s what I’d always wanted to be. Why should I feel I’ve let myself down in any way by making that choice? That’s not the same as saying that I don’t want to do my best at whatever I do. If I’m going to do something, I’ll always do it to the best of my ability. But I’m never going to be ‘the best’ at anything. Nor do I need to be ‘the best’ at anything. I doubt I’ll ever be recognised for some stellar achievement, or have people stopping me in the streets to take a selfie with me. But that’s okay. I’ve managed to bring two functioning adults into the world, I still love the man I married 25 years ago, and I’ve gathered some friends along the way. That’s enough for me. Why would I want any more? Why should I need any more?

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Taking Stock: March ’17

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Hey gang! How are you going? I have been feeling pretty good. Yep, I have. I’m enjoying the post-school life. There seems to be a lot more free time. Not quite sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m not having to run around sourcing costumes and dress up day clothes, which seemed to be needed with annoying frequency! So it’s good. But me being me, the guilt thoughts are starting to creep in, and there’s that little voice saying ‘everyone else is working, you need to be doing something!’ Because for some reason I don’t count cleaning the house, doing the washing, the garden, the cooking as doing anything! So I’ve started clearing out the attic to assuage the guilt. So much stuff up there! I’ve been making lots of trips to the Salvos!

So apart from becoming a manic attic cleaner, what’s been happening with my freed up time?

Making: still working away on my cosy stripe blanket. Had to undo about eight bands of colour the other night because I’d miscounted. Grrrr!

Eating: grapes

Drinking: tea

Cooking: rigatoni with salami, tomato and chilli

Hearing: the wind outside. It’s getting quite blowy out there

Listening: to lots of podcasts! This American LifeS-Town (think this is going to be good!), Chat 10 Looks 3, and The Messenger (an ‘interview’ with an asylum seeker detained on Manus Island)

Watching: This Is Us. I LOVE this! The relationship between Jack and child Kate, Randall (loved the night in the hotel excitement!), William, Kevin. All so good!

Reading: A Spool of Blue Thread

Looking: forward to a beginners weaving class next month

Loving: cuddling a sleeping baby at a new family I’m working with

Wearing: skirt, singlet, cardigan and beads

Noticing: I don’t know when school holidays are

Planning: a couple of short trips my man and I could take when work becomes less consuming for him

Wishing: the painter hadn’t found so much dry rot when he’d washed down the house! Eek! But what can you do? We have lovely new fretwork and window architraves now!

Opening: our garden waste bin a lot now that the leaves are falling and the raking has begun

Knowing: I need to make sure I don’t lose contact with my school mum friends

Has March been good for you? Do tell!

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Ten good things about this weekend

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What a BEAUTIFUL autumn weekend we have had in Melbourne! Low 30 degree days but a cool night for comfy sleeping. Thank you, weather gods! Lots of my weekends over the past four years have been centred around school activities and the stress surrounding the assessments the kiddies were facing in the coming week. Now we’ve hit uni life it’s not quite so intense on a week-to-week basis. Phew, phew, phew! And I was thinking this afternoon, that this has probably been one of the nicest weekends I have had in quite a long time. Here’s my ten reasons why.

  1. Perfect weather
  2. Having my man at home and fully awake. He’s been away or jet-lagged for quite a few weekends this year.
  3. Sitting in Canterbury Gardens with my man on Saturday afternoon beneath a shady oak – and watching two lovebirds getting hitched!
  4. A swim in our pool. I think it’s about two years since I’ve jumped in the pool (not literally – I only ever tentatively slip in). Stuck my toe in today after cleaning up the dog poo and thought it felt delightfully warm so popped the togs on and floated and splashed around.
  5. Morning walks and coffees with my man.
  6. Homemade burgers for tea with the family.
  7. Babysitting two perfectly behaved littlies on Saturday night.
  8. Flipping through the latest Frankie and Peppermint.
  9. A fresh couple of coats of green polish on my toenails (had to make sure that didn’t sound like I had some weird mouldy infection!)
  10. Booking our summer holiday – and thinking about destinations for some long weekend breaks.

Now I am off to unpack the dishwasher (yep, there are still chores to squeeze in between the nice bits) before squeezing in an episode or two of The Good Wife before bed. Yep, seriously behind on that one. Praise be to Netflix! I hope you have been able to find ten sunshiny moments in your weekend.

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Have you read…? The year to date in books

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book post so I think it’s time to do a quick round up of what has been sitting next to my bed, my couch, and shoved in my bag and carried around!

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The Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits ‘Hygge’, that lovely concept of Danish cosiness, is hot right now, yes? And there are quite A LOT of books in the bookshops explaining to harried souls how they can incorporate hygge into their daily lives. This was the ‘how to hygge’ book that I received in my Christmas pile. It is a lovely looking book. The pics are muted and tranquil and they made me want to spend my days wandering through forests or sitting by candlelight with a mug of hot chocolate. And, to be honest, this is pretty much what the text said – over and over again! There was a lot of ‘hygge is stopping by at your neighbours and sharing a glass of wine on the verandah’,  ‘hygge is a basket of knitted slippers at your front door’, or ‘hygge is lighting a candle and eating breakfast together’. Now I am not averse to any of these suggestions, but I probably only need to hear the suggestion once, not once each chapter.  Reading the book made a long haul plane flight feel a bit more hygge-like, but I’m not sure if I’d been sitting on my couch at home that I would have continued reading it from cover to cover.

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The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North Fairly self-explanatory from the title what this one is about! The story of the wunderkind filmmaker Sophie’s life and death is told by those closest to her – her brother, ex-husband and lover, and those who were part of her working life – film subject, film reviewer and producer. As I read the novel, I was a little unsure how I felt about it. I wondered if I was learning more about the characters who had had relationships with Sophie, than I was about Sophie herself. The focus of their recollections seemed to be how THEY responded to Sophie, how she made THEM feel. But as I read on, I started thinking that in showing how they were affected by Sophie, they were painting a picture of her – a self-contained, distant young woman who was an observer of life (appropriate for a filmmaker!), who,  when she did become a participant, seemed driven by her own desires rather than the desire to share herself with others. For the most part, I found it difficult to warm to her, but Anna North has managed to infuse her with enough victimhood and trauma in her life for her to be seen as a psychologically isolated, tragic young woman. Not sure that I super enjoyed it, but the fact that I am still mulling it over weeks down the track shows it was an affecting read.

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The Dry by Jane Harper This was a goody! Set in the fictitious sunburnt Victorian town of Kiewarra, this thriller seeks to discover who was responsible for the murder of the Hadler family. Is it a murder-suicide, or is there a killer in the small town? Aaron Falk, a former local, now a member of the Federal Police, returns for the funeral of his old friend, Luke Hadler, and is persuaded by Luke’s father to assist in the investigation. Aaron’s return stirs up the town’s emotions surrounding the crircumstances of the death, years earlier, of Ellie Deacon, a friend of Aaron’s and Luke’s. Were they involved in her death? Had Luke killed her? Had Aaron? This novel had sufficient twists and turns to keep me wondering throughout as to what had taken place, and satisfyingly, kept me guessing until the end on both counts. Recommended!

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Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance And now for some non fiction! Hillbilly Elegy is part autobiography, part social commentary. JD Vance grew up in Kentucky, then Ohio before becoming a Marine and then graduating from Yale Law School. He spent much of his life living with his grandparents whilst his mother battled drug addiction and cycled through one failing relationship after another. Vance shines a light on what constitutes hillbilly culture – its genesis and how it has spread from the south to the Midwest as hillbillies have migrated in the search for work. Alongside his own story of what it was like to grow up in this culture, his time spent in the Marines, and at Yale, he describes the culture of a people who feel hardly done by through the decline blue collar jobs; who feel minorities have gained an advantage over them through Democrat presidencies. Being Australian, I have read this book as an outsider – I cannot judge how accurate his evaluation is. I have read some criticisms of the book; that Vance seems to be saying that because he has become successful, others could too if they’d only put in the work. I didn’t get that impression from the book. I saw it more as explaining why there was a disaffected group in US society ripe for the politics of Donald Trump. And throughout, for me, he was conscious of his good fortune in having a family who despite their violent tendencies, aggressive behaviour and addictions, valued education and knew that he could achieve. They knew he had the ability to choose a path in life, that he didn’t have to accept what was, and it is this that he feels needs to be role modelled for those growing up within the hillbilly culture. An interesting read to learn more about US society.

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Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty I’ve never read any Liane Moriarty before and with Big Little Lies hitting the small screen, I thought it was time to give her a go. I’m not sure if this novel is reflective of her others, but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by this one. The story revolves around three couples, Erika and Oliver, Erika’s ‘best friend’ Clementine and her husband, Sam, and Erika’s neighbours, Vid and Tiffany. The three couples, plus the daughters of Clementine and Sam, and Vid and Tiffany, gather for a barbecue one afternoon at Vid and Tiffany’s. Early on we learn that something has taken place at the barbecue that shakes the relationship between the couples. The chapters flick between the day of the barbecue and the present where we are made aware of the strains in Erika and Clementine’s friendship, Erika’s mother’s hoarding, Clementine’s cello audition, and Vid and Tiffany’s attempts to maintain a relationship with Clementine and Sam in the wake of the barbecue. For me this was a page turner but only because there was such a heavy-handedness in writing about what had happened at the barbecue – along the lines of ‘if only we’d stayed home’, ‘if only we hadn’t agreed’ – that I was saying through gritted teeth ‘just get on with it!’. I’m not sure that I felt the fallout from the incident to be entirely warranted, and I didn’t warm to the characters sufficiently to be concerned with their stories once the incident had been revealed. As a holiday read, maybe it’s okay. I guess I’d say ‘proceed with caution’!

Have you been reading anything interesting this year? Have you read any of these? Should I try another Liane Moriarty?

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