Archive for December, 2013

Be Grateful

December 28, 2013

As we rest a moment between the celebrations of Christmas and the New Year, take a breath and appreciate what is GOOD in your world, what you have to be grateful for. Yes, it’s time to stop a while and smell the roses, look at your life and be happy for what is there, not regretful for what is not. I know it can be hard, but now is a good time, before (and if) you launch into New Year resolutions in a few days time.

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Things you need to focus on

Your health – you’re still alive, a bit older, a bit achier, but your body is still there for you – perhaps you should be a bit kinder to it??

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Your home – you have a roof over your head, whether rented or owned, you have somewhere to feel safe, to relax, to be you in.

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Your job – it may have its problems but it is important to work, to have something meaningful to do with your day, a place where you are respected, liked and add to the world. Be grateful you do something useful, that you make a difference.

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Your friends – truly amazing and special people who know you and love and you need to itemize their glowing features, remember why they mean so much to you. (Equally applies to family)

Your family – the ones who are always there, despite the tears, the years, the distance, the falling out, the forgiveness. Hold your family close before you lose them, appreciate them and be grateful for them before it’s too late. Family= love.

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You – have a look at yourself too. Are you okay with yourself this year – have you achieved, moved on, been strong, been kind, are you are better person for your struggles? Nothing diminishes you if you let your failings teach you.

Consider what you have, before you look at changing for the New Year. Be aware of the GOOD in your life. It is there. Stop. Look at it. Smile. You have an abundant life. (Pictures courtesy of Phoenix Bewsher & Private Collection)

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Holiday Reading – Christmas 2013

December 21, 2013

As a sharing caring type of person I think it’s only right that I share the reading highlights of my year so you can enjoy some reading of your own this festive season break, with some helpful information to guide you on your way. Whether you spend your idle hours on a beach, in the back yard, cosy in bed or around a fire, a book is always a handy companion.

My 2013 list is gleaned from this year’s reading – both new titles, and beloved old favourites.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

A bit of a modern Candide: to wit, a road trip of troubles and twists and turns, where everything turns out more than all right in the end, where the past travels alongside the present and we see Alan Karlson’s amazing adventures then and understand why he doesn’t sit still for long now. The bad guys aren’t really all that bad, and our hero, has had and continues to have a large life. A man who blows things up for a hobby and a living he ends up – a bit like Forest Gump – meeting some of the most unlikely people of history, playing a key part in the Spanish revolution, the Chinese revolution, meeting presidents and despots before landing in Bali, after his simple but daring escape from his nursing home on his 100th birthday. It is a lot of fun and a welcome alternative to the Scandi-noir infecting our bookshops and on-line retailers.

100 yr old man

 

Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel

Like many others I fell in love with Mantel and Cromwell in Wolf Hall and couldn’t wait for this book. As compelling and well written, as detailed and convincing as the first, it is un-put-down-able. I’ve always loved the Tudor period and with Mantel you DO feel as if you are there, at court, in the streets, roaming Europe. I can only agree with others: she is a master story teller, a wonderful weaver of wicked words that make the less than appealing Cromwell a man to be admired, a man I wish I’d known. Bring on the next one!

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Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

This is one disturbing book with one of the most sinister characters in fiction – forget Cromwell and his Machiavellian scheming, Amy Dunne is beyond bad, she is one evil sick woman. Just be grateful she is the product of Flynn’s imagination. Having said that, the book is terribly well written: you’re sucked in by the voices, by the diary and the events and when it twists, as you know it must, you feel as if you’ve been punched. I’m not sure about the ending, it seemed to flag a little but the portrait of marriage, of how we feel about ourselves and our beloved rings terribly true.

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The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

One of the most lauded Young Adult fiction novel of recent years, this is a smart book, a non-sentimental exploration of teenagers with cancer and yes, there is death. It is a testament to Green that when Augustus Waters dies it is not a schmaltzy scene but one of restraint and reverence. No parent wants to even think of their child dying so bits of this book are a bit hard as a mother. Hazel-Grace our prime death-candidate tells the story and her love with Augustus. She moves from self-pity to defiance and back again and she certainly suffers, but quite stoically really. My daughter wasn’t happy with how rude she was to her parents, especially at her age, even given her condition. Augustus’ death seemed a trite contrived, perhaps a bit sudden, but the characters and the vitality of the writing are Green’s strength. A good book, but I think it’s over-hyped. However…

fault in stars

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan

This is the better book of the two. I fell in love with the writing and the characters – Will Grayson the first and Tiny Cooper will live with me forever. Jane is pretty good too and although Will Grayson the other began as winy self-piteous, pain in the arse (like too many kids I’ve taught) with all his ‘problems’ he does grow through his knowing the other Will Grayson and his love affair with Tiny Cooper. This is almost the definitive book about teenage love, romance and relationships – be they straight or gay. The truth in this book is in the insights about being and becoming, the conflicts and contradictions within us that we can’t really explain to ourselves let alone others. I love that the central relationship is the friendship between Will Grayson and the amazing – truly one of the best characters in fiction – Tiny Cooper who is gay, a massively huge football player who is so out there on all levels that you have to love him. This is a great book, insightful, exceptionally well crafted and satisfying. Read it now.

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

I gave up YA series at the end of Harry Potter when I couldn’t face the final in her epic series. The over-written indulgent pedestrian story finally did me in. But I have returned to stories of ordinary kids with extra-ordinary powers with the Percy Jackson books. I’m on my third this Christmas. They’re fun, they’re well written, albeit not in the same class as John Green, but the plotting is sound, the characters good and you’re taken along on a good enjoyable romp through modern America, home of the new centre of the world and so Olympus is now above the Empire State Building, of course. But the conceit works and it’s fun, if you know your Greek Myths to hunt the Gods and Goddesses, spotting the monsters in their modern guise. I think it’s a bit naff that our modern heroes – half gods, half mortals – are the ADHD, OCD troubled kiddies in our midst. I can only guess that my antipathy to that is being a cynical old teacher and the idea that labels give us excuses and now labels make us special. Still Riordan is/was a teacher and he’s got many things right and the sales to prove it. Accuracy note from my very own Pallas-Athena – the goddess was a virgin Goddess so she really wasn’t in the business of shagging around and having little Halflings of her own…

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And you could do worse that read Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, or John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire.

So to this Christmas

I have begun The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and will see how that goes. I like the opening, atmospheric, good characters, strong writing. But a bit big and heavy in my hands, sad to say.

I’ve also returned to Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville, having been inspired by a lovely piece of writing by a dear friend of mine I have returned to this book from the past: a Vogel winner (Oz new writing prize) from the 1980s and am pleased to say that it is standing the test of time very well. Which sadly, Howard’s Way by EM Forster did not.

I have two Percy Jackson’s – The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth – for the lighter, quick reading moments. And I’m waiting for the Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pacol to be on Amazon so I can sink my teeth into that.

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So, make sure that as well as indulging in lovely food and wine and good company you indulge yourself with a good book or two. Reading really is one of life’s best simple pleasures. (Images courtesy Google Images)

The Four F’s of Christmas

December 14, 2013

Ah, the season of good will, the celebration of the arrival of the Messiah, or a very naughty boy; the time for excess and extravagance. Yes, Christmas is upon us with all its glories and terrors. I’m sure we can recall some shockers from the dark recesses of our past, but let them stay there: lingering to remind us what not to do, what to avoid. This year, my dears, as I appreciate my abundant life I am focusing on four simple things: family, forgiveness, food and fun.

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Family, which does include the sub-set of friends for this post, is the centre-piece of Christmas. In a chat in my new (and normal) staffroom it’s clear we’re all spending the bulk of the Christmas holiday (Christmas Eve to Boxing Day) with our families. It’s a time for gathering together, for traveling to a centre point where we spend a few days together, kicking back, relaxing: being a family. We catch up, chat, laugh, eat and drink. We pair off for a while, help in the kitchen, take the dog for a walk. It’s a time to be in the heart of the people you love the most, the ones who love you as you are, just as you love them as they are.

family

The spirit of Christmas is strongest in the heart of your family – as long as you make it happen, as long as you don’t take them or being together for granted. And don’t forget those who are far away – make sure they know you’re thinking of them too. Which of course is so much easier these days with the ubiquitous Face-Book and the lovely Skype.

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Forgiveness is perhaps more relevant to me this year than in previous Christmases. But a year of tumbling down, of troubles and worries, of struggles and sadness; of people near and far acting aggressively and maliciously I come to Christmas knowing forgiveness is the right choice. Carrying the anger and frustration and pain of injustice from others does me no good. It won’t be doing you any good either. People are thoughtless: those you despise and those you love too. You are as well. So, as in the prayer, forgive others, as you would have them. It lightens your load, it lightens your life. It will stop Christmas exploding into anger and sadness. (Picture is not related to topic, just a nice one of my girls hugging and Terry)

forgiveness

 

Food is my favourite part of Christmas. For many years I have been queen of the kitchen, presiding over my dominion with pretty much absolute and imperial authority. I do take requests and I do consider others, but I am the one who decides, the one who does, the one who presides. Now, it is a bit tiring but I love it. I like the run up, the looking in the supermarket for what’s possible, reading new recipes, making my lists, stocking up and the timing and doing. Not to mention the eating. Oh, yes, dear friends, as my pictures denote, I am a devotee of food. Cook it and very much, eat it.

This year we’ll be enjoying roast pork, turkey leg and breast roll with stuffing, baked spuds and seasonal veggies, carrots, brussell sprouts, Yorkshire puddings (a new arrival, on request this year) apple sauce, gravy; egg and bacon pies, little cheesy biscuits, corn fritters, mars bar cheese-cake and my tropical punch designed to drink all day to make you mellow, not fall over before lunch. Oh, and we’ll have a big eggs and bacon breakfast. Possibly too much, but what the hell, as long as there’s left overs for Boxing Day, all is good.

food

Fun is of course different things to different people. In the golden olden days when my beloved and I were young, it was the afternoon in the pool with glasses of the aforementioned punch the kids and friends before we spent an evening playing a very enthusiastic game of Trivial Pursuit. For many Boxing Days I would watch the start of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race with my dad and glass of bubbles and a plate of left-overs. Sadly that won’t happen again.

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Now we indulge in Charades, which took my daughter’s boyfriend some time to come to terms with; we play Articulate, sometimes Scrabble, but always in teams. We walk the dog, we sit and talk, we tease each other and laugh into the night, and given how bloody cold it is at this time of the year in this silly country we, don’t go outside much at all.

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There are, naturally other F’s of Christmas, but I might leave that to your fertile imaginations. Happy Christmas to you all, be safe and take care of those you love most – you can never be sure how long you’ll have them. (Pictures from Private Collection)