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?