Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Simple wishes

A number of weeks ago now I was feeling a rush of excitement and joy after buying new Christmas decorations for our new home. We've had the same decorations for years and with our new house I wanted a change. Throwing out the old pink and purple decorations I'd paired with silver, I bought bright blue and gorgeous white ones in their place. I love our new 'formal' tree. It suits our house perfectly.

The previous owners left behind a Christmas tree (we checked - they didn't want it back), so the boys decorated that one too. The tree is more reminiscent of the Christmas trees of my youth: purple, red, green and gold baubles with multi-coloured lights and brightly coloured tinsel. It's beautiful. Sometimes I think that I perhaps like it even more than our 'formal' tree. It feels ... homey. Very Christmasy. Made even more so because the boys' homemade (or school-made) decorations also adorn the faux pine branches. Completing our 'new look' decorations is the royal blue tinsel hanging in our kitchen and beautiful, shiny silver cones shaped like Christmas trees in our lounge room. I have blue candles that smell like fresh linen on one cupboard. There's even silver tinsel decorating the front porch and a new white, blue and silver wreath attached to the front door.

At one point, as I was walking around the house admiring our decorations, the memory of my dear Dad popped in to my mind. Specifically, I thought, My first Christmas without Dad here. I did the thing I do a lot these days when I think about my Dad: I immediately measured how I felt, thinking of him. Did I feel sad? Less sad than the last time I thought about him? Would Christmas not feel so special this year? The answer at the time was firstly, I didn't feel too sad. Perhaps I felt less sad than when I'd previously thought of Dad. And would Christmas not feel special this year? No. It still felt special. I was still excited about it. And I felt glad, because I really want my kids to enjoy their first Christmas in our new home.

However, within the week, after the initial joy of decorating had worn off, thoughts of my Dad not being around this Christmas started to fill my head. Before too long, I felt great sorrow at the thought. This sort of surprised me in a way, because a) I felt I was finally coming out of my thick fog of grief over losing my father; and b) I've only actually spent a few Christmases with my parents over the years since we moved from Perth to Sydney in December 1995 - I guess I thought that missing Dad at Christmastime wouldn't feel so acute.

But here's the thing: knowing Dad is there, even though I'm not with him - as has been the case for many Christmases over the years - is different to knowing that he's not there at all. My sadness is magnified because I know how him not being there this year will be difficult for my dear Mum, my sister and family.

It's another 'first' since his death, I guess. I've already had my first birthday without him. His first birthday since he died has come and gone, and this will be our first Christmas without our Dad/Husband/Grandpa.

The good news is, as Christmas draws nearer now, I feel more prepared emotionally. I guess the shock of the sudden thought that he wouldn't be here has now passed, and the excitement my boys feel for Christmas tomorrow is intoxicating and impossible to ignore. Besides, I'm busy making shopping lists and sorting out what presents 'Santa' will leave - my mind is a jumble of plans.

Also, knowing that my dear Mum will be in good hands on Christmas Day - my niece and her husband are hosting Christmas lunch this year - is comforting. Last year was difficult for my Mum because Dad was in the nursing home for Christmas and she was only able to visit him rather than spend the day with him. I'm not sure it will be the case, but I hope that this year will be at least a little less difficult for her, as I'm sure she feels he is with her (she has said she always feels he is around) and the guilt of not being able to be with him won't plague her this year.

I've thought about what I wish for this Christmas. My wishes are simple: that firstly, we'll all get through the day as best we can this year. That everyone who is without - whether it be friends, family, a home, someone to share the day with - find a little joy on the day, or at least some comfort from somewhere/something/someone. That my family and friends all have a happy Christmas and wonderful, healthy and joyous 2014.

And that you do too.

Merry Christmas.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Club: Burial Rites

Last Thursday night we had our final book club meeting for 2013. This time we discussed Hannah Kent's Burial Rites.

Here's the description of the book taken from Hannah's website:
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men. Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. 
Only Tóti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. 
As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she? 
Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. 
In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
Man, can this girl write. Burial Rites is an impressive effort for such a young writer, and first-time author. No one could dispute Hannah's obvious writing talents, and the book club members and I were all in awe of her beautiful, descriptive writing in particular. Hannah really takes you on a journey to Iceland and opens up a sometimes excruciating truth about a time of poverty and hardship.

The thing that made this book all the more interesting to read is knowing that even though it is a work of fiction, the main character, Agnes, and many of the characters in the book - as well as the storyline itself - is based on actual people and events. Hannah spent many years researching Agnes' story through ministerial records, parish archives, censuses, local histories and publications - as well as speaking with many Icelanders. Events in the book are either drawn directly from record or are the result of speculation - making it an interesting and sometimes heart-wrenching read, knowing what the characters may have endured in real life.

The story is not told just from Agnes' point of view, but focuses also on other characters, including Toti - the assistant reverend appointed as Agnes' spiritual advisor.

Whilst the gradual build up to Agnes opening up about the fateful night of the murders kept our group turning the pages, many of us felt the (very) slow build was, at times, a little frustrating, and that the ending to the story a little abrupt.

Personally, I admire authors who don't feel the need to completely wrap up story lines at the end of their books, and rather allow the reader to determine what they think may have followed after the last page, but I also understand how that annoys some readers!

That's not to say that this book will leave you unsatisfied. It won't. It is well written and intelligent, as well as a very interesting did-she-or-didn't-she story.

We all agreed Burial Rites a very good read, and those book club members who were unable to finish the book (as mums, we get really  busy in Term 4 with all the Christmas concerts etc - I only finished the book at 5pm the day of the dinner!) are still planning to finish the book, as they enjoyed Hannah's writing and Agnes' story.

Thumbs up!

I am very excited to announce that our next book club read is ... Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas - author of the bestselling novel, The Slap. I'm also so happy that yet another Australian author has been chosen.

Here's a little from the Allen & Unwin website about the book:
A searing and provocative novel by the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap, Barracuda is an unflinching look at modern Australia, at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families. It is about class and sport and politics and migration and education. It contains everything a person is: family and friendship and love and work, the identities we inhabit and discard, the means by which we fill the holes at our centre. Barracuda is brutal, tender and blazingly brilliant; everything we have come to expect from this fearless vivisector of our lives and world.
I've already started it, and I'm already hooked. I'm really looking forward to reading this. I enjoyed The Slap - as confronting as it sometimes was - and I have a good feeling that Barracuda won't disappoint either.

Our next book club meeting will be Thursday 13 February 2014! If you want to join in on the discussion, you have until about a week after that to finish the book. Or, use these posts simply for book reading ideas.

Happy summertime (in Australia, anyway) reading!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What a twit


Back in 2009, not long after I discovered blogging I also discovered Twitter. After a rather shaky start, I was soon hooked on the social networking site.

I remember the first 'Twitter Party' I attended. A bunch of us were online, drinking and tweeting one Friday night (natch). I thought it was fabulous. I could sit in my daggy track pants, drink wine and 'chat' without having to drive home later. Awesome.

I was on Twitter so much back then, that when I failed to update over a 24 hour period once (because my youngest son injured himself and we spent that time at the hospital - it was during my pre-iPhone days), I logged on to discover at least a half dozen tweets from people asking where I was. Are you ok @jodieansted?! Where is @jodieansted?! 

That was the first inkling I had that Twitter had become far too big a part of my life at the time. I was so addicted to it, I just had to say good morning and good night every day. If I didn't, I'd feel anxious - like something was missing. When I'd go out anywhere - shopping or out for the day with my family - I'd start to worry what I was missing and become anxious to get home and check my Twitter feed. In fact, everything I did or saw during those outings, I so desperately wanted to share with my followers.

When my love of blogging started to wane, and I eventually gave it up for four months, my days on Twitter soon followed suit. I started to tweet less and less. Eventually, no one asked where I was anymore when I wasn't there, and I was absent from my Twitter feed for days, then weeks and eventually months at a time.

These days, I occasionally jump on, read some Tweets and sit there trying to think of something to say. Most of the time, nothing comes and on the odd occasion something does, I'm on there for such a short period of time, it's hardly worth the effort. It feels to me as though the feeds are just filled with self promotion and silly conversations that have no relevance or meaning. Of course, that can't always be the case (how would I know? I'm barely on there!), but the spark of Twitter for me has been lost. I'm on Facebook much more, and I'm not even on that a lot these days either.

Twitter may be a pretty handy social networking tool, but it can also be a big, fat waste of one's time. Although I don't plan to give it up, I'm glad I'm not on there like I used to be.

Do you 'do Twitter'? Facebook? Emails? Letters written with a real pen and paper? How do you prefer to stay connected?


Sunday, November 24, 2013

One of those posts about nothing


You know what blog posts I find most annoying to read? The ones where bloggers write, 'Oh, I don't know what to write lately. I seemed to have lost my inspiration/mojo/desire to blog. In fact, I have nothing to write right now.' I always read those posts and think, Well, what was the bloody point of writing that?!

And yet here I am, writing one of those posts.

It seems everything I want to write about lately is too personal or too personal for someone else. Or too sad (I'm still experiencing a lot of emotions about my Dad's death). Or maybe too boring for you (yet, perhaps interesting for me)?

That's one of the reasons I stopped blogging back when I was writing Mummy Mayhem. Everything I wanted to write about I felt I shouldn't. Or couldn't. I often read other blog posts and think to myself, They shouldn't have shared that. I used to think that bloggers should be able to share anything and everything, but now I don't think that's entirely true. Or rather, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are some things best left unsaid. Not shared. Not discussed.

I also think there are bloggers who experience exactly what I'm experiencing now, hence they produce blog posts like this about 'nothing', or posts that contain 147 photos of their breakfast that morning - and they're not even food bloggers! (Seriously, how many ways can you photograph an egg? *yawn*)

Don't worry - I'm not talking about any deep, dark secrets I can't expose. It's not quite that dramatic! But I'm very conscious about writing about things that, say, indirectly affect me, because they directly affect someone else. (Is it really my story to tell? Even if I am part of that story?) Even back in my old MM days, I ended up deleting a couple of posts I'd written about my boys, in case it was something they weren't pleased about reading when they were older, or could potentially make them a target for teasing at school. There were also a couple of times I wrote stuff that others weren't pleased about, because it involved them. Even if it wasn't actually obvious it was them, you know? I never ... NEVER ... intentionally set out to hurt anyone with anything I wrote, but I did. Perhaps that has made me slightly paranoid about what I share now? Probably.

And so, I sit and struggle with what to write sometimes. I have posts in my Drafts folder that I read, think are relevant and fairly well written - unlikely to hurt anyone (I think!) - but I don't end up posting them. Maybe I eventually will. Maybe I'm just over-thinking it all a little? Perhaps.

I guess I just need a little more time to work that out.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Club: Into My Arms

I don't think I've ever attempted - even once - to hide the fact that I'm a big fan of Kylie Ladd. Her latest book, Into My Arms, didn't disappoint for me. Pretty much all of the members in my Book Club enjoyed the book. One member found the book, in her words, 'Too close to home.' She is adopted and has brothers so the storyline was, I think, a little emotionally challenging for her.

Those of you who have read the book will understand what I'm referring to (I'm trying not to give too much away in case you're reading this and haven't read Kylie's book yet). A rather long, interesting discussion on IVF and the possible consequences to society relating to IVF births was bantered around the table. Kylie's book had us thinking about circumstances that we had never really thought of previously. (I love it when a book makes you think.) Some felt the storyline seemed rather far fetched at first, only to soon realise the very real possibility of such a scenario occurring today.

We also discussed the consequences of family secrets, in particular disclosing adoption information, and  about the change in priorities once a child is thrown in to the mix. We went through a list of discussion points that you can find here.

If there was one question mark over the book for us, it was Zia's storyline. Although interesting and an important story, most of us felt it seemed almost out of place in the book. Even though the subplot related to the same subject that the main plot is about: family and love - we felt that perhaps it was a separate book? If you've read Into My Arms, I'd love your thoughts on this.

Although a rather confronting subject matter (which we all agreed was sometimes difficult to read, even though the book was 'easy to read' - as in, had a good pace, flowed well and kept us turning the pages), Kylie tackles it in her usual intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate way. There are members of the Book Club who are now keen to read Kylie's first two novels: After The Fall and Last Summer.

Worth a read? Yes!

And now for the next Book Club instalment ... Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Once again, although unintentional, an Australian author has been chosen. Yippee! Love that we are supporting Aussie authors.

Burial Rites is based on a true story. After visiting Iceland as an exchange student, Hannah heard the story of Agnes Magnusdottir - a servant accused of murder in the 19th century. After looking in to Agnes' life, Hannah wrote Burial Rites. Australian Story reported on Hannah's writing journey here.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Friday 13 December. If you want to join in, read the book then watch out for my post 1-2 weeks following that.

Happy reading!


Monday, September 30, 2013

The Book Club


I used to be a part of book club a long time ago. It was in my 'pre-kids' days when there was a lot more time for reading (even though I worked in a very busy, demanding corporate bank during the week). Every month we met at someone's house, talked about the book and, most importantly, drank wine.

This time around, my book club is made up of a group of mums from my youngest sons' school. Just like me, they're all far busier than I was during my working days. Motherhood does that to you. It's exhausting - and some of them hold down a job too (of the paying kind, that is). Whatever our circumstances, I'm sure we wish we had more time to read.

So, our club meets bi-monthly, giving us, in theory, plenty of time to read the chosen book. Having said that, by the first book club meeting I hadn't actually, er ... finished the book. *cough* Not a great start, I admit, but I'm planning on making up for that.

We all get a turn choosing a book and I was excited to choose this time because I'd been dying to read Kylie Ladd's latest work of fiction Into My Arms. As you may be aware, I'm very keen on Australian authors and Kylie is one of my faves. I even interviewed her for Mummy Mayhem back in the day.

I had meant to give you a little more warning of this, but then life took an unexpected turn. However, it's not too late - if you'd like to join me (in the virtual way) in reading Kylie's book, there's still just under a couple of weeks left before my book club meets on Friday 11 October. Then it'll probably take me another few days, perhaps even a week, to share what we thought of Kylie's book with you - and then you can join in here if you like! Into My Arms is a great read, and if you're like me you won't be able to put it down and it'll be finished in an instant! Or, if you just want some ideas about what to read next, keep an eye out for these posts.

Next time I post, I'll also let you know what we're reading next and you'll have a full two months to read it.

Are you a member of a book club, or two? What are you reading at the moment?


Friday, September 27, 2013

For Dad

On the 15 September - my parent's 65th wedding anniversary - my dear Dad died peacefully in his sleep. On the morning of his funeral - one week ago today - I sat in my parent's lounge room feeling anxious and sad. I was looking around at all the photographs that surrounded me at the time; and I mean really surrounded me - Mum has always been a huge fan of framed photos and she has quite the collection. Many of them feature my father.

Although I felt overwhelmed at that point seeing my father's face everywhere (a shooting pain reached my heart each time my eyes met his), when I spotted a photo album sitting on a shelf underneath the coffee table, I couldn't stop myself from picking it up and looking through it.

The photos inside were fairly recent - meaning taken within the last fifteen to twenty years. They included happy snaps of my parents holidaying with family members and friends or of Mum and Dad  together. There were also some pictures of me, my kids, my sister, Mrs C, my niece, nephew etc. Quite a menagerie of photos in all.

As I flicked over to a new page, I suddenly noticed the corner of a black and white photo sticking out from behind one of the photos encased in its plastic sleeve. Curious - it seemed so out of place - I pulled it out and straight away recognised it as a photo I'd seen before many years ago, although I couldn't tell you who the people were in it. But that photo doesn't really matter. Pulling it out caused yet another photo to come out along with it. I gently prised it from the album and when I finally saw it, my heart skipped a beat. The photo was the one you see above in this post: a picture of me and my father, taken outside our family home when I was just a baby.

I smiled, probably for the first time that day. I instantly knew that Dad was with me. It was as if he'd sent the photo to tell me it was okay; he was there for me, just like he'd always been throughout my life.

Seeing the photo didn't just comfort me at that point, it also made me believe a little bit more what I had felt had happened just a couple of days before that - on my forty-third birthday. It was just three days after my father's death, and also the day I would fly home for his funeral. As I woke that morning, with my eyes barely open, I had clearly heard my father's voice in my head saying, 'Happy Birthday, honeeey,' - saying it just like he had every other birthday before that. Had I imagined it? Willed myself to hear his voice just one more time? Finding that photo made me think that perhaps anything was possible.

Today would have been my father's 88th birthday. I know I speak not only for myself but for all of my family when I say my Dad is already missed more than words can express. However, it feels comforting to know that even when, like today, the pain of missing him feels almost unbearable, that he will always be with us. The above photo will always remind me of that.

Happy Birthday, Dad. Love and miss you.


Monday, September 2, 2013

About this writing thing ...


How the heck are you?

Although I've always said on this site that I would only write when I felt the need to and/or had something to say, I didn't plan on taking this site quite so casually. It has been over seven months - seven, people - since my last post.

Not long after I wrote that post, we moved to a rental property. Saying goodbye to our home of twelve years was both emotionally and physically exhausting. The boys were probably more upset about the move than Mr A and I were, but my heart still felt heavy when I closed our front door for the last time and, admittedly, I shed a tear (or ten). But as I anticipated, we all got through it.

We then holidayed for four weeks as a family (a much needed break after the whole house sale thing), then two weeks after our return, we moved again.

The second move was far more enjoyable because we moved to our new house - in a whole new area - and we LOVE it here. We're now commuting to school (we've gone from a two minute walk to a thirty minute drive), but it has been so worth it. Life is good.

Add to all that another (fairly recent) trip back to Perth with my boys - to visit my family - and it's fair to say that not only have I been a busy little lass as of late, I also don't want to see another suitcase for a Very. Long. Time.

Writing, therefore, has taken a backseat to packing, unpacking, buying and selling furniture and everything else that comes with moving house. I've missed it. Time to get back in to it, eh?

Another thing about this site whilst I think of it ... when I was on the above mentioned holiday I think my .com's expired or something, so I've reverted back to the blogspot addresses (for both here and my old blog Mummy Mayhem). If you have this site linked anywhere, then it won't work. Neither will any links on this site - until I fix them (at some stage).

But this is just to let you know that I'm still here - albeit sparingly - and hope to be here a little more often than every seven months.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Moving on

Apart from the fact the plan with this new site was always only to blog when I had something to say anyway, another reason for my lack of posts as of late is because I've had quite the project going on to distract me from here.

We sold our house.

Leading up to the sale late last year was MANIC. Especially for Mr A, who spent a lot of time getting our house looking purdy. You know - the house we'd imagined having when we bought it close to twelve years ago. (Typical, huh?)

And pretty it became. Floorboards were re-sanded and polished, painting completed and all those odd jobs we thought we'd get to 'one day' were done. After four weeks of keeping the house looking nothing short of pristine, through what felt like a thousand home opens (exhausting, I tell you), it sold to a lovely young couple with a toddler and another baby on the way.

So, we celebrated our last Christmas here, the last birthday celebrations were held (with one more to come before our departure) and we saw in a new year for the last time in our home.

Selling the house has evoked quite the mix of emotions. I'm sad I'm saying goodbye to the first home Mr A and I purchased. The memories of this house will stay with me forever: All three boys grew up here. They spoke their first words (Eldest Son: 'car', Middle Son: 'more', Youngest Son: 'mum'), took their first steps, ate their first solid foods and threw their first tantrums here.  This will be the last home of ours my parents will have visited. (They are too old to travel now.)

Not to mention how handy it has been living here. We're a few skips and a jump from school, close to the local shops and the buses in to the city and Eldest Son's school. It's so easy living here.

But I'm also excited. The idea of a new home with maybe a pool and some more space for my growing boys fills me with anticipation of what may be. I haven't moved house much in my forty-two years: from my family home in Perth to an apartment in Sydney with Mr A, then another apartment before moving to our house. That's it. So moving is still an adventure for me. (Although, ask me again how I feel about it after I've packed a gazillion boxes and unpacked them again.)

Saying goodbye will be hard - for all of us - but the promise of a new future and making new memories together is what will get us through.

Happy New Year, all.