Thursday, 29 January 2009

Apple



This evening I ate the first apple from one of my trees. Or at least half of it. The first half went rotten on the tree. Disappointingly, the half I got to eat was rather sour! Oh well.

Another one went rotten as well, but I still have three clinging to the limbs of the columnar apple tree. It's been rather satisfying to watch them grow.

I hope the next ones are sweeter.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Superfoods

I came across an interesting article on the WW newsletter this morning, which outlines 10 foods that are 'must-haves' in your diet for various reasons. It says: These 10 foods pack a nutritious punch with vitamins and minerals that can help kick your weight loss and fuel your body with the good stuff.

The full article is here and the 10 foods are:
  1. blueberries
  2. extra-lean beef
  3. fresh herbs
  4. legumes (including chickpeas, kidney beans, blackbeans)
  5. oats
  6. oranges
  7. raw nuts (in small portions)
  8. spinach
  9. tomatoes
  10. yoghurt (watch the sugar content)
Out of the above list, I have most on my regular shopping list, but I confess I'm not that into oranges, oats (which I'm allergic to) and legumes. Something to keep in mind though!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

In the spirit of Trinny & Susanna

Last week I hosted an Intimo party, which is party-plan 'intimate apparel' for women. The presentations are different from the usual party plan evenings, because instead of everybody focusing on the objects at hand all at once, the presenter takes people off into the bedroom/fitting room and gives a personal one-on-one fitting and styling session (a la Trinny and Susanna, English style gurus and TV bra evangelists). This means that everyone else sits around gossiping about all sorts of things, waiting for their turn. It also means the evening goes quite late!

We had a lovely evening drinking and nibbling and chatting. And I think everyone came away with some new pieces on order, including me who scored quite a lot of free stuff (the usual party plan hostess perk). I've said it before and I will say it again: I think party plan selling is a great way to shop, because you can focus on one single thing at a time. It allows you to be opportunistic, and purchase items you might not necessarily feel inclined to shop for (such as linen, cosmetics, intimate apparel!). And it's a fabulous excuse for catching up with friends in the process.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Discipline at dawn

After that last post, I resolved to start getting up early again to write. There's too much stuff on in the evenings to be consistent. So for the past two mornings I have gotten up at 6am and written until approximately 7am. On Wed morning I was happy with what I achieved in that time. Not quite so much this morning, but at least I was there/here in front of the computer.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Introduction to Skype


It's just so easy to find things to distract me at the moment. The past couple of days it has been Skype.

The idea is to be able to make video calls to my sister's family, recently moved to Bonn in Germany. It will be lovely to be able to have brief chats with my nieces and nephew and actually see their smiling faces -- once they get online themselves! So I bought a web cam on the weekend and spent yesterday evening setting it up (pretty easy, but I started fairly late in the evening).

So tonight, just as I sat down intending to, you know, WRITE, it struck me that I hadn't tested Skype out yet. I had added a few contacts, but had no idea how this manifested as a video call.

A quick text to my parents fixed this, and we tested it out. It's remarkably easy, and you have the option of using video or not, which saves on bandwidth once the novelty of a video call wears off.

I have posted a pic of Chenna, sleeping peacefully, taken with the web cam!

Friday, 16 January 2009

New writing space

Time for a writing update, but the news is . . . well . . . disappointing. I've done a little bit, a couple of stints, but neither have yielded much volume. Nevertheless, it's better than nothing.

One thing I am enjoying is my living room-as-study. Since my trip down to Phillip Island at new year, I've installed my computer on the coffee table. And I'm finding it rather cosy to recline on the sofa with a nice view out the window and compose. It feels very Carrie Bradshaw -- or at least as close as I can get, short of sprawling out on the bed.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with my writing group for brunch, so will hopefully gain some inspiration -- and discipline -- from that.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Praying mantis and the fly





Yesterday while I was in the garden, I heard a buzzing sound coming from the hydrangea. Normally I associate this sound with a fly caught in one of my carnivorous pitcher plants, but this was coming from a flower.
And then with a shock I saw a praying mantis crouched atop the floral rosette, a poor desperate buzzing fly in its grip.
What unfolded was fascinating and I raced inside to grab my camera. I am not a budding photographer and I have only just discovered the 'macro' setting for photographing small things close up, and so I was mightily chuffed with the three images above.
Essentially the praying mantis nibbled on the poor fly for a few minutes (perhaps it was numbing it or something?) and then slowly hauled it from behind the petals and carried it away!
As I said, fascinating.

Friday, 9 January 2009

What must Christie think now?

Back in high school, I was a big Billy Joel fan. My first ever record purchase was a box set of his first 10 albums, and these I taped onto cassettes and played endlessly.

It's been many years since I've listened to Billy regularly, although I do haul out his first two greatest hits albums on occasion when I feel like a singalong. However, tonight I have dug out a DVD containing a selection of Billy's music videos and taped live performances. The songs are still great -- but how funny are the videos?

One would expect the style of music videos to change over the decades (yikes) but it still hits you. I confess the one that had me utterly agog was Uptown Girl. I don't know how a self-confessed Billy Joel fan makes it through life without having seen such a spectacle, but such is the case.

And now I have seen it. OMG.

I can't imagine what Christie Brinkley thinks when/if she sees it these days. She must squirm with mortification.

It's not the only music video, however, in which Billy and his gang of musicians do this weird singing and dancing routine. They do steps! and sing! What can they have been thinking?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Writing resolutions (an article)

One of the writing e-zines I receive on occasion had a topical article today. It's called Keeping your writing resolutions.

It's not the stuff of epiphanies; in fact it's stuff we all know. But it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves of some strategies from time to time.

The article is written by someone called Christina Hamlett, and her six main points made in the article are:

1. Find the 25th hour by keeping a record for a week of all the time you spend checking e-mails, surfing the internet . . er, playing Scrabble on Facebook . . . er, blogging . . . and then cutting back to find a writing hour you didn't know you had.

2. Get a 'workout' buddy - ie someone to whom you are accountable for words written. She maintains it's good to have someone reading it as you go, so they badger you for the next installment, but the idea of that kind of freaks me out. However, I'll extend the writing buddy concept to the writing retreat buddy. It's very helpful to have someone keeping you honest when you're writing together.

3. Reinvent a rhino (huh?), by which she means widening your writing focus and experiment with different styles and genres to maintain interest.

4. Exercise poetry in motion - basically see if you can write a synopsis of your story in 16-line rhyming verse. (I'm not sure why we'd want to do this?)

5. Get inside their heads by 'interviewing' your characters to get to know them better. Another take on this, which I rather like doing from time to time, is to write a personal diary for your characters. In fact, I've been contemplating starting another blog which will just be the personal diary of my main character. (Any thoughts?)

6. Keep to the code. This is the most important one in my view. Basically, write every day! The theory is that if you can do it for 21 days in a row (same time, same place) it will become habit. But you have to go back to the beginning if you miss a day. She also says you have to write at least a page a day. While I agree with this in principle, I think it's more important to write every day, even if it's only a paragraph. In fact, that's sometimes how I get myself started if I don't feel like it much. I tell myself I only have to write a paragraph, which of course leads onto more paragraphs (usually).

Sigh. Now is a good time to admit that I'm not quite making the progress I envisaged this week. However, I have written some new words, although I confess I think I might be coming down with the flu or something, so am not up to much.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Resting not writing

I confess I squandered an opportunity today. I had a whole day of leisure, absolute freedom, and I rather suspected I should be writing. But I didn't write. Instead I lounged on the sofa and watched the cricket, dabbled around on my computer, and sauntered to the supermarket.

But strangely enough I don't feel too bad about this. It was my last opportunity to sit watching test cricket for the summer -- how quickly that's come around! -- and with work resuming tomorrow it seemed prudent to have a restful day.

I did get back into the rewrite a little over the past few days, however. I spent time reading over the past few chapters and editing around the edges. So I'll aim to do some more of this over the next few days, leading up to a productive weekend. I really am determined to improve upon my output this year. 2008 was really almost a waste of time.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Movie: Australia

There has been a lot of hype about this movie, made by Baz Lurhmann for international audiences about our country. Featuring big international Aussie stars in Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, plus several other iconic Australian actors, it’s a massive Hollywood style production, a sweeping epic complete with special effects and magnificent scenery.

The title, however, doesn’t really tell you much. I confess when I first heard about this movie, I vaguely assumed it would be more documentary in style — although why/how Jackman and Kidman would be involved was a mystery. As it turns out, I was wrong. The movie in fact tells the story of an English aristocrat (Kidman) who in the early stages of WW2 travels out to her husband’s cattle station somewhere in the Northern Territory, and must overcome various hardships to survive and prosper.

On paper, the movie features all the required elements for an epic drama: a great love story, beautiful scenery, treacherous villains, the surmounting of insurmountable odds, the overcoming of personal prejudices and demons, the taking of the moral high ground etc. But somehow the movie doesn’t quite hang together. Although I enjoyed it, being in the mood to be entertained and possibly not having terribly high expectations, I came away feeling dissatisfied.

I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the problems lie in the script. Although the acting has been widely criticised — with the obvious exception of young Brandon Walters, who beautifully plays a half-aboriginal child — I’m inclined to think it’s because the actors had a bad script to work with. And the more I think about it, the more badly scripted it seems. Not even the greatest actors and movie-makers could overcome such a badly plotted story.

Fundamentally, the movie tries to cover too much ground. It unfolds disjointedly in two halves and almost feels as though it should be two separate stories.

The first half deals with Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) arriving at her husband’s cattle station to find that he’s been killed and the station manager, one Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), has been sabotaging the station to lower the price on behalf of local cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown), who wants to buy it. After sacking Fletcher, who takes all the other station hands, Sarah has no-one to drove the cattle to sale in Darwin, except for the itinerant ‘drover’ (Jackman). So she, the drover and a motley crew, including young half-breed, Nullah, proceed to drove the herd themselves, harassed all the while by a vindictive Fletcher and his cronies, whose mission is to prevent their arrival, so that Carney gets the lucrative army contract instead.

So far, so good. Typical epic stuff. But . . . and there are some large buts . . . the opening is hammy and slapstick, with Kidman’s character completely ridiculous in her primness, and her transition to a capable woman of the outback is glossed over very quickly. There was so much scope to explore the development of her character during the drove, but it didn’t happen. Similarly, the relationship between her and drover doesn’t so much evolve as step-jump, leaving me completely unbelieving of their so-called ‘great love’. Meanwhile, the machinations of Fletcher provided the only conflict, making the drama feel contrived. It is really only the presence of Nullah, also the film’s narrator, whose mysterious and shaman-like abilities (and those of his aboriginal grandfather, King George) keep saving the day, that gives this section of the movie any heart and soul.

The movie then quickly transitions through a period of over a year, during which Sarah and the drover are more or less living together at the cattle station (except when he’s off droving), and Fletcher bumps off Carney and marries his daughter, thereby assuming the mantle of cattle baron.

The second half of the film deals with the Japanese bombing of Darwin and the infamous ‘stolen generation’ of half-aboriginal children. From the very beginning of the movie, we know that the authorities are after Nullah, who is the son of Daisy (one of the station’s aboriginal hands) and Fletcher himself, to send him off to a mission camp. Sarah manages to protect him from this, until ultimately Fletcher pulls some strings and has Nullah apprehended and taken away. Around the same time, Sarah and the drover have a massive fight, and he leaves for good. In his absence, Sarah heads for Darwin to try to retrieve Nullah, and thereby gets caught up in the war effort and the bombing of that city.

Of course it all ends ‘happily’, with Sarah, the drover and Nullah reunited as a family. The drover works through his personal demons and fear of commitment, and Nullah finally goes off on ‘walkabout’ with his grandfather. Sarah herself is unrecognisable from the prim woman in the first half of the movie, and demonstrates a great capacity for love of Nullah in particular in her attempts to retrieve him.

But what, ultimately, is this movie about? There’s just too much going on and it all ends up as a big mess. Each of the individual elements would have been a good story, but the effectiveness was diluted by the sheer number of themes. And the character of Fletcher is just too evil and vindictive and malicious and powerful to be real — although I must say that David Wenham plays such unpleasant characters marvellously well. His snide mantra of ‘pride isn’t power’ is just spine-tingling.

So there you have my lengthy dissection of the movie, Australia. It simply needed more work on the plot and script. I thought they could have launched into the second Nullah storyline straight after they reached Darwin with the first herd of cattle, which would have kept the action happening and integrated the story better. But the scenery is gorgeous and I thought the effects used in the bombing of Darwin were really well done. And as for young Brandon Walters, I am sure we’ll be seeing him again in a movie very soon indeed!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Big plans for 2009

Unlike the first day of 2008, which was balmy and warm (in short, a typical Melbourne summer’s day), today, the first day of 2009, has been overcast, cool to mild, with occasional showers.

I find myself hoping that this contrast bodes well for a contrasting year — that is, a year that will be full of achievement and resolve and wonderful episodes, as 2008 was not.

I am not going to dwell here on 2008. That year is now over, gone, done with. Instead, I am going to explore the possibilities of 2009, which is already shaping up to be a fabulous year, filled with amazing new opportunities.

I am particularly excited about the prospect of a new movie group, a spin-off from Page Turners that will see me getting out to see a movie at least once a month with various friends. This is a brilliant idea on the part of one of my friends, because it will fulfil two of my resolutions --— to see more of my friends, as well as to see more movies. Yet I do find myself wondering why it is that we need to regiment social occasions. Have we really become so busy that we need to schedule in other people? It would seem so.

The other firm resolve I have this year is to recover my writing discipline. Somehow I allowed myself to be distracted for most of 2008, and I feel hollow at the thought of all that time wasted. This year I am going to reinstate my writing goals of at least 1500 words per week. In fact, I would dearly love to finish my rewrite this year, which realistically means a total of around 80,000 words, or 7000 words per month (~1800 words per week). Sounds achievable, right? It’s not so many more than my initial goal. I’m going to give it a go. So the goal is to finish the current draft by next Christmas. It gives me shivers just to think of it.

To be truthful, if I can achieve this writing goal, I will consider the year amazingly well spent. But for the sake of completeness, I will add that I intend to read more books (as per my post of a few days ago), stay in better and more regular touch with my friends, and keep a more realistic work-life balance.

On the holiday front, there’s already a trip to Germany being planned, so that I can visit my sister and her family in Bonn, plus I’m eying off a week in February to spend down at the island. In fact, monthly weekend trips to Phillip Island will be integral to my success in meeting many of my 2009 goals. I’m down here right now, and must say that chilling out down at the beach is a fabulous way to kick off a new year.

In an ideal world I would also add the renovation of my bathroom and certain garden improvements as goals, but am realistic enough to know that these will happen when they happen! For the moment I will be satisfied if I can get my writing groove back again.