Tuesday, 30 December 2008

2008 retrospective

As December draws to a close, I can't help but once again reflect on the year that is ending. Unlike 2007, which was a stellar year for me, 2008 has been . . . shall we say no more than average, and my mood is a little melancholy as I write this.

I am going to try, however, to write a constructive post, rather than one which lists all the bad things that happened and all the things I didn't do. Yet I must be honest with myself and acknowledge that, if 2008 is to be labelled a 'dud' year (as I am already doing), then just about the whole of the blame lies with me.

Certainly I embarked upon this year in high spirits, buoyed by the achievements of 2007. And it certainly hasn't all been bad: I have managed regular trips down to Phillip Island, including several writing retreat weekends with various members of my writing group; the kgs have stayed off, despite being sorely tested by the myriad cafes in Elsternwick that enjoy my regular patronage; the home 'driveway community' has come closer together, yielding a secure and warm living environment; I got away to Singapore for a week-long work trip/holiday; and I've spent quality time with my 5.5 year old niece, getting her prepared in my own inexperienced way to start school in Germany imminently.

But I do confess I had to scrounge to write that list. That's the thing about this year. It's been a year of 'I'm going to . . . (renovate bathroom . . . finish redraft of novel . . . read a gazillion books . . . see certain movies . . . get in control of my garden . . .)'. I've allowed myself to be distracted/exhausted by work, and I've probably spent too much time socialising. Yet I also feel as though I haven't seen some of my friends enough. How is that possible?

I dunno. All I know is that I'm going to be more disciplined and focused and in control in 2009. I am not going to let work rule my life, nor am I going to let my weekends slip away into the ether. I am going to achieve stuff.

That's the thing about this annual transition into a new year. As arbitrary as it undoubtedly is, it provides a line in the sand. We can wipe the slate of 2008 clean, shed off all our residual baggage and embark on the new year filled once again with resolve and high spirits.

NOTE: I should perhaps explain that another reason for my melancholy mood is the departure of my sister and her family to Germany yesterday. Although I know I know their three-year adventure will be a wonderful experience, a large, selfish chunk of me will miss them terribly.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Reading goals for 2009

It seems to be an annual undertaking lately that I go through my bookshelf at this time of year. Here's what happened last year, and I repeated the experience today (albeit without any purging).

The thing that has struck me today is how few books I have read this year. I managed to read most of the Page Turners books for 2008, but, aside from those, the only book I have read in entirety is Bright Air by Barry Maitland, who I saw at the Melbourne Writers' Festival in August.

Of the pile beside my bed back in August 2007, I finished The Golden Fool by Robin Hobb this year (in addition to Freakonomics the Page Turners book), but aside from that made no dent whatsoever. The other book I have been reading for months now is Kushiel's Scion, by Jacqeline Carey. I just can't seem to finish it.

This seems to me a tragedy, particularly when you take into the account the thousands of books in the world waiting to be read. I have about a shelf's worth in my living room. Some of them I came across again today and I wonder what happened to the person who could churn through a book a week. And then there are all the books recommended by others. These days I get alternately excited and daunted when someone describes a book that I want to read. (Or, worse, wants to lend me a book.)

So here are the books (in excess of any Page Turners books) I want to read in 2009. I'll keep the list short to give me the greatest chance of success. Let's consider it a goal/new years resolution:
> The Shadow of the Wind
> Possession
> Atonement

In addition to these, I would like to ideally finish the books in the pile beside my bed!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas movie

The night before the night before Christmas I sat down and watched one of my favourite Christmas movies -- While you were sleeping. It's a girly flick that's as much about family as anything. A big warm-hearted family that embraces a lonely girl at Christmas. Of course they think she's engaged to their son who's in a coma, but not all families would go to the lengths to which they go to make her feel part of the family. Right down to giving her a present and hanging a Christmas stocking with her name on it. It seemed really fitting to watch this movie tonight!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Midsummer

Today was the Summer solstice. The longest day of the year (in the Southern Hemisphere). As usual I celebrated with friends with a picnic in the park last night. We've not had the most summery weather of late, but Melbourne did manage to turn on some sunshine and, although the evening was a bit cool, the temperature held for long enough.

This year our picnic was in a park just around the corner from a pizza restaurant, so a few of us cut some catering corners. We sprawled around on rugs and had a few drinks, enjoyed some nibbles, and ended up back in the pizza restaurant for coffee and chocolate mousse.

It's hard to believe that the days will all start getting shorter again from here. It feels as though Summer hasn't even started yet.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Introduction to the Green Fairy


Friday evening. Exhausted, drained from a tough week of work. In need of relaxation, socialisation. What better solution than an evening with good friends, sampling various different types of absinthe for the purpose of 'research'?

I had never tried absinthe before, and was completely ignorant of its history and the various rituals associated with its consumption. Fortunately, our host was an experienced absinthe drinker, and had all the implements -- right down to the slotted spoon. Check out this Wikipedia entry on absinthe for all the details.

Put simply, however, absinthe is a spirit of up to 70% proof, flavoured with anise and other herbs, including fennel and wormwood (artemisia absinthium). The traditional way to drink it is to mix it with iced water poured through a sugar cube placed on a specially slotted spoon. The mixture clouds (looking rather like aspirin) and the flavours are brought out.

The other way to drink it is to torch an absinthe-soaked sugar cube until the sugar caramelises and then mix this into the spirit straight. It's like breathing fire.

The evening was conceived by our host, who is to write a magazine column about absinthe (also known commonly as the Green Fairy) and needed to sample some different blends. She had some sample bottles provided by a specialty shop, plus an entire bottle. With some anticipation, five of us gathered around the dining table and commenced the ritual.

We tried four different absinthes in all, passing each glass around the table, for the stuff is seriously expensive and very alcoholic. These are the ones we tried:

Mansinthe -- partially designed by Marilyn Manson, winner of many medals. We judged this one excellent.

Nouvelle Orleans
-- This one was harsher, with a not so nice aftertaste. I don't think we liked this one so much.

Duplais Blanche -- I thought this was quite similar to the Mansinthe, but I don't think my palette's too discerning.

Verte de Fougerolles -- We sampled this the most, because we had the whole bottle. Again, I couldn't really pick the difference, but I liked it. (Er . . . I don't mean we drank the whole bottle!)

We tried most of these with either sugar or a syrup called 'sirop de gomme' -- orange blossom syrup -- deciding that the sugar was best. We also compared the traditional 'mix with water' style with the 'flaming sugar' style and decided we rather preferred the latter. But we were only taking really small sips, and I probably agree that the traditional method works better as a drink.

As we sampled and talked and ate (it must be said) we also viewed a series of images inspired by absinthe over the years. Some were advertisements for various different brands, others paintings by artists of the day, others anti-absinthe propaganda or anti-anti-absinthe propaganda. I've included a few here, since they are very interesting.

It was a lovely evening. And now that I read on the Wikipedia site that absinthe was embraced by the Parisian bohemian set (artists and writers), it feels all the more fitting that we, a bunch of writers, spent an evening in this way.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Lament

For the past fortnight, I've walked to work only once. How bad is that? It has arrived at the stage where I'm working so late and am so mentally drained that the mere thought of a 3.5+km walk home at the end of the day is just too daunting. And in the mornings, I'm clutching at that extra 20mins of sleep.

It's got to stop. This is high summer, for heaven's sake, the time of year when the evenings are long and supposedly balmy. Walking to and from work is supposed to be a joy. In another week, we have the summer solstice and the midsummer celebration!

Unfortunately, work is just not letting up and is sapping my soul. My only salvation is dragging myself out to cafes and restaurants for many meals, which is some consolation -- but not a substitute for walking and writing!

Don't let me get started on my lack of writing.

I have just one more week of work to go until a two-week 'break'. I am counting down the days. It won't be a true break, because I've already figured out that I'll have to do 3-4 days work in order to get some stuff out of the way -- stuff I know I won't have the head space to do in January. This makes me furious and frustrated, but it's got to be done. I will probably pick one or two days in the week before Christmas, and then another the following week. Maybe another two.

It makes me feel sick just to contemplate it.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The magic faraway tree

After six years of living in my house, I am getting to know the neighbours. It actually started a year ago, when I was dragged outside for Christmas drinks. I should explain that I live at the end of a driveway shared by eight units. My neighbours at the back are social creatures and it was they who introduced me to most of the other residents, some of whom I'd never even laid eyes on until that cheery evening a year ago.

I still can't quite fathom how that can happen. Some had lived in my driveway for over two years before I met them, and I encounter their cats nearly every day. But so rarely do I actually see anybody except for my fellow rear-dwellers.

Anyway, after being introduced last Christmas, and finding the driveway residents a friendly bunch, I have encountered them a few times over the past year -- so now I can wave and stop for a quick chat from time to time. But it's still amazing how infrequent such meetings are, considering how often I'm up and down that driveway.

It all ramped up a notch recently, because we had a driveway Christmas party on the weekend. This was a full-on social event, complete with a Kris Kringle gift exchange, visit from Santa (for the kids), Christmas tree and fully laid table. I was assigned a dessert (nice and safe) while the 'core' driveway social group took care of just about everything else.

We had a great evening. It's rather convenient to attend a party where you can zip off home to get a jacket or grab another bottle of wine and be back in half a minute. I found it amusing that my presence was so marvelled upon (you see, I really have been out of the loop!) but in a good way. Some of the guys I knew very little, so it's excellent to be on better terms with everyone.

A particularly amusing moment was when I was asked whether I go up and down the driveway much! Er . . . yes . . . I walk to work 3 or 4 times a week and on the weekends, there's all that cafe hopping!

I remember when I first moved in here, the average resident age was considerably older than me and everyone kept to themselves, but that's definitely changed. Our driveway now plays host to a vibrant community of friendly kindred spirits who can be found sharing a drink more often than not, and who step in to feed cats or fish when people go away.

It's epitomised really by the sight that greeted me when I returned home from brunch yesterday: a picnic table had been set up down the end of the driveway, right in the centre. Laid upon it were all the leftovers, and seated around it were representatives from 3 out of 8 units, swilling the remnants of the previous night's wine. There was a spare seat conveniently vacant, so I joined them!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Devilcat'seye


I took Chenna to the animal eye specialist again a couple of weeks ago. There seems to be no change in her condition, but this time they did send me this photo of her mysterious left eye that has changed colour. Basically it's just a monitoring game now, with another consultation in 4 months. The eye specialists keep talking about taking the eye out, and I can see they're torn between playing it safe and not wanting to rip out the eye unnecessarily. I confess it's rather overwhelming.

Some more light entertainment

After a break of more than a week and half, it's hard to know where to start with blogging! I feel that anyone who bothers to read this blog deserves something interesting, rather than another moan about how exhausted and busy I've been. Consequently, while I get my act together, I've decided to post another brain teaser (or two)!

Bells
It takes Quasimodo, the bell-ringer of Paris's Notre Dame cathedral, 3 seconds to ring 4 o'clock. How long will it take him to ring midday?

Water in the wine
You have two completely identical tankards; one contains 150ml wine, the other 150ml water. You take a spoonful of liquid from the tankard of water, empty it into the tankard of wine and mix it in well. The, using the same spoon, you take a spoonful of this mixture and empty it back into the first tankard of water. Thus each tankard once again contains 150ml of liquid. Is there more water int eh wine, or more wine in the water?

They're not too difficult really. Answers tomorrow (I hope).