Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Reading 2017

This year I am aiming to read one book a month, so about 12 books over the course of the year. What counts as a "book"? This year I am aiming for physical publications of at least 200 pages long, preferably by an author who is not male, white, or from an English speaking country. My aim is to broaden the voices I read, the stories I expose myself to, without aiming for heavy or political or female only books.

So this year there'll be no Torday, le Carre, Powers, and Pratchett - and instead I'll be reading some AngelouChangAchebeSmith, and Bitto. I will make two exceptions; one for Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie as I've been wanting to read it since it came out; and another one for Cry, the Beloved Country by Paton - given the nature of the book, it has a place on my 2017 reading list (and my brother recommended it and he only recommends good things).

As far as my first book (January) went, I managed 1/3 for Pierre Magnan's Death in the Truffle Wood... It was originally written in French, and, for what it's worth, the translation is fluid and fluent and captures what I imagine truffle farmers and their small village in Provence might be like - well, truffle farmers who happen to live in a village where multiple murders have taken place.

Death in the Truffle Wood (DTW) involves murders, unlikeable characters, infidelity, suspense, a very likeable pig, lost souls, and a very likeable police investigator who is very good at what he does. I don't know how much to say about it, without giving too much away... Magnan has created a small village as the scene for not one but multiple murders, uncovered while a high up police investigator is visiting on a seemingly unrelated task. DTW is easy to read and changes location and actors enough to keep the reader flipping back and forth trying to connect the dots before the police investigator does (good luck!). What I really liked about it was that no character, save the pig, really dominates the narrative and the few who Magnan focuses on to tell it, do so without overwhelming the book.

For fans of Midsummer Murders, this is a bit like the TV show, only as a book and set in France. I found it entertaining, almost lighthearted, engrossing and definitely light reading. Thanks to DTW, I can now solidify the realisation that my enjoyment of crime TV should be mixed with my love of reading and I will seek out similar books - there might be some Agatha Christie around here later in the year... But it wasn't the first book that caught my eye this year, The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse was - both books were on display on the "new fiction" stand at the library (neither are really new by any means, except perhaps to the library itself), and while the Taxidermist's Daughter caught my eye because my brother is dating a taxidermist (I know!), both books were definitely worth taking home.

But I read DTW first, then The Taxidermist's Daughter, making it my February book. Meeting my criteria (because Mosse is white and English, February only gets 1/3 of my criteria) is going to need some active book searching and requesting books from the library. That said, I'm glad I picked up The Taxidermist's Daughter because it was thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat macabre and gruesome.

Set in Sussex in 1912, the story centres around Connie Gifford, the daughter of a once celebrated taxidermist turned drunk, and while he might be the person people ask to prepare specimens it is his daughter who does the actual taxidermy. As taxidermy was not considered a 'woman's' profession they had to keep this detail of their lives secret, which is made easy as they live outside of the village and almost on the sea marshes. Much of Connie's past is secret to her, as she lost her memory after falling down a flight of stairs 10 years before the story begins. The story starts as their lives start to unravel after a mysterious midnight graveyard visit, then the body of woman is found in the reeds near the house and Connie's concern for the woman and why she was murdered is matched by her concern for her father, who has not left his room since visiting the graveyard. As Connie tries to get to the bottom of these two issues, prominent men are disappearing, household items have been misplaced, secrets from Connie's past are surfacing, a spring storm is brewing, and WW1 is two years away - what sorrows there are in the book are unmatched by the sorrows to come.

Mosse's use of the creative licence, names, and formal terminology make this book a thing of beauty, even if the subject matter is a little hard to stomach at times. I really enjoyed it and had trouble putting it down. What the book lacks in meeting my criteria for 2017, it makes up for in a strong and caring female lead, a woman seeking vengeance in a time when the wrongs done to her would have been shrugged off or outright dismissed, and a reminder that women's rights and voices have come a long way in 100 years, even if there is still so much more to do.

Mosse is now firmly on my radar of authors to read more of, but Labyrinth will have to wait for next year, because I'm only averaging 1/3 of my criteria for 2017's reading list - although I've just started On Beauty, which meets 2/3 criteria.

Happy reading!

Friday, 17 February 2017

"Sour grapes"

A few weeks ago, we were invited to help some friends in Stanthorpe thin out their wine grapes, because the grapes were too thick on the vines and if they didn’t thin them, the grapes would be about half the size and weight come harvest, which would have resulted in less wine (and we can’t have that, now can we?).

We left Warwick really early – 4:30 am early. A friend picked us up, and I was glad not to be driving. We had hoped that Jimmy would go back to sleep once in the car, but a different car and a different car seat were too exciting. And the landscape was bathed in the most delicate light as the sun rose behind a cloud covered sky. The plan was to beat the heat, because the previous few days had been very hot and the day for the thinning was predicted to be about the same.

As I mentioned, the morning was overcast, which was wonderful, and it was cool and stayed cool and overcast until around 9 or 10 am. Jimmy’s jumper was actually needed, until about 8 am, but getting it off him was quite the task. Getting food into him was a lot easier, but given that he had to wait over an hour from when he woke up to when I offered him an apple, it really shouldn't have been surprising.

With Jimmy along, one parent needed to be with him at all times, so only one of us could do the thinning (Michael) while the other (me) occupied Jimmy or picked him up when the lovely but bouncy dog was a little too much for him. Sometimes Jimmy was quite happy to hang around Daddy for a bit or the friend who drove us down, and in these moments I emptied full buckets of grapes into the pallets.

The grapes being thinned were sour but not wasted: they went to another friend who turned them verjuice. I've seen it in recipes but have never used it, so I'm excited to test the results when the verjuice is ready.

Keeping Jimmy entertained was interesting. I'd brought pencils and paper for him to do some drawing, but he wanted to sit on one bucket and use another upturned bucket as a desk and it just wasn't working for him. He used my camera for a bit and took a blurry one of me but I thought grapes in a white bucket was a better photo, and I could be wrong but at least the grapes were in focus.

Someone noticed this little fellow as they were thinning a section and called us over. Isn't is a cute little lizard? It was really lovely of them to call us over – the whole mood was friendly and there was a real sense of community in the group, especially from those who had been involved in picking the grapes previous years. To be included was something special.

When we weren't helping empty buckets of grapes or patting the dog (or, in Jimmy's case, trying to avoid the dog because she's bouncy and their faces are about the same height), Jimmy and I were enjoying the morning and the location. I've always liked Stanthorpe, and love the difference in flora and landscape less than an hour from Warwick. We've been out to this winery, and Stanthorpe, a fair bit over the last few months and I've enjoyed every visit – and this morning was no exception.

Our friends who once the vineyard served a wonderful breakfast around 9:30 am, and the hard working thinners really tucked in (Jimmy and I had breakfast too, but as we weren't working as hard, we naturally ate less). After breakfast the sun came out and the day heated up really quickly, and it was muggy too. There was only about an hour or so more to do, and once it was all done, we had a cold drink and went home with a token of appreciation (wine). We stopped in at Zest for coffee and a snack, exhausted but happy for the excursion.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

On the needles: "the best thing ever!"

The idea to make Jimmy a quilt had been in the back on my for some time – possibly four years by the time I decided it was time to actually make it. Winter was over, but the nights were still cool. Our doona's were too warm but we still needed blankets during the night, and when there are blankets on my bed my personal preference is to have something smooth over them, so that during the day my bed is still nice enough to lay on and not spikey (the blankets in the house are all wool, beautiful, long-lived things, but spikey nonetheless).

When he was still in my belly, I was buying fabric for clothes, PJ’s and even a quilt. Not much, just a few metres here and there. I have been collecting quilting flats for a while too – nothing in particular; just whatever I liked, especially if was on sale. Plus, for a while I was buying at least one metre more of whatever fabric I was buying, especially if it had a cute or fun print and was cotton (ok, so I basically avoid any fabric that isn’t cotton, linen, silk, wool, or a blend of those four).

Suffice it to say, I had a sizable collection of fabric to choose from, even after sorting for fabric type and size. It was a nice collection of colours and prints, including some Peter Rabbit, Cuddlepie & Snugglepot, and an orange fox on flannelette. Naturally, I washed everything before ironing it and deciding what to use. Unfortunately, a red fabric and a green fabric ran a little, staining some of the cottons – soaking these in oxi-action didn’t help, in fact it made some worse because I was soaking some muddy clothes in the same water...

I was a little bummed by the stains, but it was also liberating because it freed me from being too precious about the quilt, both during the making and its life one in Jimmy’s possession – Jimmy is really good with his things, so this feeling actually has more to do with me and my ability to let go of this thing I have made and being happy for him to take this quilt on adventures, whatever they are.

My inspiration for the 'pattern' of this quilt came from Soule Mama and this lovely looking quilt she made. I found 'instructions' of one kind or another here and in books and in people. As this is my first quilt, and possibly my last (nah!) and given our state of employment (none) I was only going to spend the minimum on this quilt and was not going to buy cutting boards and sharp rolling cutter etc. So, without ‘proper’ quilting equipment or pattern, this quilt was never going to be ‘perfect’, but the little stains freed me up and I enjoyed and embraced the perfectly imperfect nature of the whole process.

I cut squares, sorted them, sewed them together, cut them again, measured Jimmy's bed so I knew how wide I wanted the quilt and cut some more, sorted them a final time with help from Michael and Jimmy, and sewed strip after strip together until I was happy with the length. Slow going perhaps, but totally worth it because Jimmy announced that it was the best thing ever! even before I had sewn the long strips together. The result is a riot of colour and patterns and a slightly unconventionally sized quilt (it's very long, given how wide it is, and yes, given my time again, I would make it wider and perhaps a little shorter), but it's all good because the quilt covers Jimmy's bed, including his pillow, which is what I was going for.

There are a few quilting shops in Warwick, and they all stock cotton batting, so it was easy enough to get 100% cotton batting for the quilt (I bought it from Glenrose. They don't have the cotton batting on their website, but if you're in the area, I highly recommend visiting the shop as it's really lovely). My mum has a reasonable stash of fabric and she had some 100% cotton fabric that was perfect (the yellow and white stripes worked perfectly). And then there was a hot few days and nothing happened quilt-wise. Nothing.

Once the first "heatwave" of summer was over, I was able to get the three layers together, pin them, and then tied the layers together (tieing involves hand sewing the layers together with little loops of thread knotted together). My intention all along had been to have the quilt finished by Christmas (I had started in September, so I was being very generous with myself), and I had most of the binding pinned Christmas Eve and it was all sewn by Boxing Day. It was well received and is proving to be excellent for hiding under and covering Jimmy's bed.


The quilt is a success and I'm already starting to think about the next one (one for Michael and myself), as our current quilt is nearly 30 years old and in need of repairs – but I'll do the repairs because the quilt was made by a much loved great-aunt of mine and she did most of it without a sewing machine. I like sewing machines, but I think Jimmy likes his quilt more – it is the "best thing ever" afterall.

Monday, 6 February 2017

What Jimmy is reading: January

We've been heading to the local library recently, in an effort to get out of the house and find some new books, and possibly attend the Thursday morning children's thing. An added bonus is that the library is air conditioned, which is a lifesaver on really hot days – which have been a little too frequent lately (hello summer…).

It’s not that we don’t have a lot of books in the house to have a varied rotation, but it’s nice to read new books and find new favourites. First up is The Wrong Thing by Isobelle Carmody and illustrated by Declan Lee.

This sweet tale of a cat following an intruder around his home is so beautifully illustrated that half the telling is in the artwork. Hurricane, the cat, investigates, watches, and after a little reflection he comes to a thoughtful conclusion about the Wrong Thing that results in a happy ending for all. It's magic and Jimmy was captivated, both at bedtime and during the day. Each time we read it, he would point out something in the illustrations he hadn't noticed before. Carmody and Lee have created a work of art and I will be looking for it again.

This book is just lovely. The River by Hanako Clulow might be focused on a northern hemisphere location but it is so beautiful, a charmingly told story accompanied by captivating illustrations. It takes in the some amazing landscape and changes in scenery from icy rivers to a sunny beach. Not only does it provide a good sample of North American flora and fauna but it is also an introduction in the biology of salmon. I've always been drawn to story books with lovely illustrations and this one is no exception.

Wendy Binks' Where's Stripey? is a wonderful introduction to emus and their behaviour, and Australian animals in general. When Stripey goes missing, his dad, Crickey, goes searching for him – after making sure that Stripeys brothers and sisters have babysitters. This book provides a sound introduction into Australian animals and some Australian lingo, while having a fun at the same time. Binks' illustrations are lively and perfect for young children and the story is fun to read over and over. We've borrowed this one a few times in the last 6 months and it's a firm favourite.

We're always on the lookout for new(er) books, so please leave any suggestions in the comments!

Other books we've enjoyed in the past:

This book!
This book!
What Jimmy is reading...
17/52 – oh those cheeks!

Friday, 27 January 2017

Ringing in the New Year...

I know, I know, this isn't exactly the very start of 2017, but the Chinese New Year is about to happen and my birthday was recently, so it's the start of a new year for me, so it's all the same if you ask me. I'm also not exactly excited about 2017 starting, but it might turn out to be a good year – the worst may not be over, but global acts of unity and sustainability, and the continued quest for equality and justice fill me hope in dark days. 

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I don’t keep them, unless they’re little things like “read at least four (non-children’s) books”, and even then what passes for a book? Does it have to be at least 200 pages with minimal illustrations?  Did “Jane, the Fox, &Me” really qualify?

My hopes for this year are continued good health for me and my family, continued learning and personal growth, to live a little more sustainably every day, make more time to connect with family and friends, make more time to write, and finish the things I start. I’d also like to think that I’ll read one book a month, but we’ll see how that goes. 

What are your hopes for 2017? Here are some things I've found interesting, and related to New Year's and new beginnings, over the last few weeks:

Some really good New Year's resolutions

Screw mastery?

A time management system

Trusting your future self

7 work goals

5 things your children will remember

A little something to help manage anxiety/stress/anger/frustration/what life throws your way...

(Trusting your future self and 7 work goals are via the Tradlands blog; calendar is by Finnish artist Anne Vasko and was a gift from our lovely friend Kara)