I’m not sure what strange magic laces the first weeks of the year, but the effect is an endless array of sun-warmed days. The first of each year is a celebration, with Hudson’s birthday launching us off in the full-bodied style that he exudes. Then we celebrate our anniversary and reflect upon the seasons we have experienced together, the life we have been able to build and the promise of things to come. Dave and I negotiate the reality of holidays together, Ivy’s birthday comes before we know it and then the routine of the year begins again – school, work, Kinder.
We tackled some overdue tasks – getting someone in to cull the wilderness in the backyard and convert it into a basketball court of sorts – a long-held dream of Dave’s. Work has also commenced on the front of the property, to transform it into a more welcoming facade.
What I’m Reading
I spent much of my down time with my head firmly planted in a book – journeying far and wide from New York to Four Winds, to Scotland, Gilead and Kent…renewing intentions for Essentialism and treasuring how incredible the power of the written word can be.
Anne’s House of Dreams (L.M. Montgomery)
I’m totally reading these out of order, having just finished Anne of Ingleside I thought I would go back in the series. This one was markedly prior to the Ingleside story and I was hoping for more of Anne’s early years of raising kids, rather than the quick jump from one baby to five grown with one on the way. It was nice reading about Four Winds and I was mesmerised by the character of Captain Jim. Montgomery is an exceptional writer and captures the essence of people so well.
Auggie & Me (R.J Palacio)
Having recently had the privilege of seeing Wonder at the movies, I was interested when I caught sight of this expansion of the Wonder world on the library shelf. I was a little dubious at first, but was quickly caught up in the book – a three part short story series from the perspective of people connected to Auggie. Julian’s chapter was redemptive, the Pluto story a little sad and the Shingaling part colourful. I do appreciate how Palacio renders her characters complex – no person is completely good or bad and having the characters tell their stories allows you to feel empathy for them. Definitely not as cohesively captivating as the original story, but worth a read nonetheless.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)
I had heard many good things about this book and it did not disappoint. One of those texts that you really don’t want to put down for very long, Eleanor is such an endearing character despite of (or perhaps because of) her many quirks. Her struggle to grasp the supposedly ‘normal’ social conventions, her fascinating internal commentary and the shimmers of vulnerability that shine out unexpectedly – all contribute towards making her someone you want everything to work out for. I won’t spoil the story by revealing too much more, but Honeyman is a master of the gradual reveal. She expertly weaves in humour along with the darker elements and makes the book both heart-warming and heart-achingly beautiful.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Greg McKeown)
When I came across this book last year I made a vow that I would re-read it every January because I felt like it was the type of book that needed to be continually internalised and that the insights that stood out from year to year would be different. So far, so good. This time around I was struck by the wisdom of ‘buffering’- deliberately budgeting additional time or money for when unexpected circumstances spin things out of control a little. I also feel like I am beginning to take a lot more ownership of my own boundaries now and not expect others to intuitively know what is healthy for me. Definitely a book to read if you feel like you are continually busy or being pulled from activity to activity and not actually thriving or enjoying life.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Attwood)
After the critical acclaim of the television dramatisation of this book I thought I should probably read the text first. It is a harrowing tale of religious totalitarianism, a dystopian framing of a future I hope will never eventuate. I found ‘Offred’ (the handmaiden of a Commander in the Gilead regime) to be a complex, tormented character and thought her reactions to the shifts and changes around her realistic and believable. Attwood’s depiction of the way power corrupts both men and women and the conflicted internal narratives that exist underneath it all was insightful and a little depressing. Her weaving of the language of desire in the description of ordinary objects and scenes was poignant as it showed that desire only grows stronger when it is suppressed. I don’t think I’m brave enough to watch the television series now, however. I think I’m happy to leave the sordid Gilead on the pages.
The Distant Hours (Kate Morton)
I’m not sure if it was because I listened to this sweeping tale on audio book or whether it was the vivid and beautiful writing that caught me, but I was drawn into this story of the three Blythe sisters and the haunting, creaking Milderhurst Castle so completely. It was very long and sometimes lagged in pace, but the way that Kate Morton spins tales that span generations and twist the reader’s perceptions of events by presenting them from every angle is exquisite. I fell for the red herrings and haughtily thought I had guessed the conclusion but I was very, very wrong. What a tragic and incredible weaving of narrative.
What I’m Watching
Halt and Catch Fire (Season 1)
This series – set in the 1980s in the midst of the personal computing boom in Dallas – was recommended to us by my brother-in-law and it is a fascinating show. The characters are complex, the unfolding of the plot and the clash between old Texas corporate culture and the new generation of computer savvy dreamers is fascinating. I am inspired by the character of Donna and how she straddles being a loving mother and a competent, brilliant woman in the computing field. We haven’t quite finished the season but it has kept our interest so far.
Pitch Perfect 3
I went to see this with a group of friends who absolutely loved this, but I think this one is predominantly for die-hard fans of the Pitch Perfect scene. The jokes for me fell a little bit flat most of the time, particularly because they seemed hell-bent on one crude theme for the entire film. Where the original Pitch Perfect created a high for women in Hollywood with a strong, battling all-female cast, this one’s message seemed to portray women as ‘tarted up’, a little crazy or lesbian. There were a lot of random moments and plot lines and the editing was very basic or lazy. I do enjoy the songs, but even there I found disparity, with some of the earlier numbers (such as the song by the New Barden Bellas and Cheap Thrills) better (in my opinion) than the finale song, which just seemed to involve a lot of unnecessary self-congratulatory hugging. I have a theory that whenever the story involves a tour through exotic overseas locations you know that the franchise is struggling and is hoping that the viewer is distracted by the beautiful scenery and forgets to focus on the glaring plot holes.
What I’m Listening To
Dave and I commenced our anniversary getaway with the three part series interview ‘An Introduction to Love’ with Pete Rollins. We loved the rich and complex insights, the vitality and humour of Rollins and his obvious passion for philosophy and theology. Such an interesting perspective on love.
I really appreciated the distinctions present in Emily Esfahani Smith’s ‘The Power of Meaning’. While people often search for happiness, Emily postulates that a search for meaning is far more likely to lead to happiness and is much easier to grasp.
Always a good reminder, the episode on Money Management was challenging and interesting. Money is such a complicated topic and undergirds so much of what we do, but is rarely spoken about in terms of the little everyday decisions that we make.
What We’re Cooking
It has been a month of hearty, vibrant meals with a focus on Italy and the Islands of Greece. If I had to choose to eat only one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be Italian, hands down. I became so inspired that we hosted an Italian Feast for a group of lifelong friends one evening, and those flavours of Italy (Osso Bucco, woodfired Pizzettes, Risotto Milanese, Tiramisu, Baci Di Ricotta) will forever be linked now to the feeling of warmth, friendship, laughter and fun.
Rebecca Seal’s Islands of Greece cookbook was a huge inspiration for the second fortnight, with the fresh and savoury tastes of feta, courgettes and lots of eggplant. There were so many great vegetarian meals to choose from and the kids didn’t even seem to notice that a lot of the meals didn’t contain meat.
Who would have thought that Dave could master the art of having a holiday? This January he threw himself into reading, plotting home improvement tasks and taking the kids out for fun adventures – with hardly a look at his MBA textbooks or school email. Mind you, we did spend a good week building a Lego Saturn V rocket in readiness for a presentation to the staff and students and his powerpoint slides were impeccably finished before he returned, but for Dave it was positively relaxing compared with his normal pace. It was so nice to have him around for most of the month and though it was good to get back into routine, we all missed him when he went back to work.
This boy is very ready to go back to school. Eagerly awaiting his new teacher and the routine of the classroom, he spent the holidays devouring books and mastering one of my childhood favourite computer games ‘The Secret of Monkey Island‘. We had the best time working on it together and I admit to getting a little hooked again. Eli can be so helpful at times – leading the other kids in games and assisting us with putting Ivy to bed… and then deliver more than a little attitude and cause a lot of chaos at others. Overall we are seeing lots of glimmers of hope and maturity and a keen mind for learning.
Hudson has thrown himself into learning with a new vigour – the allure of having his big brother reading himself to sleep in the bunk above a huge motivating factor. He points out letters with enthusiasm and studiously tries to copy out the letters of his name. When we praise his efforts he explodes in uncontainable enthusiasm. Hudson is so looking forward to Kinder, particularly because he will be able to say hello to his brother through the fence now. Turning 5 has seemed somehow to make him older and more ready for launching himself into the world.
Little Miss Firecracker is three years old now and loving her newfound age. ‘When I was a little girl‘ is one of the most common phrases we hear and it never fails to trigger a covert smile in response. Ivy has learned the art of provoking her brothers early. ‘I looking at you’ she has been known to say in a singsong voice when the recipient is pleading not to be looked at, and she has the cheekiest glint in her eye as she does so. I think we are in for a lot of interesting interactions in the years ahead and I’m not worried in the slightest about her ability to hold her own against her brothers.
Harvey has crossed a threshold of sorts. He still isn’t at the crawling stage – becoming very perturbed when we try to encourage this stage of development – but he is so active with his expressions, sure of his desires and enamoured with his siblings. The other three love him, a little too well at times, and he welcomes the smothering with delight. We had to visit a paediatrician this month due to a sudden skyrocketing in his head circumference, but investigations have shown nothing untoward. Harvey is growing up far more quickly that I am ready for, but I’m enjoying pressing my face into his chubby cheeks and drinking him in as often as I can.
In some ways it feels as if we did little this month, when our plans to travel to Sydney to visit my grandparents hit a snag. We spend the time alternately going out for day trips and relaxing at home. It was just what we needed after the hectic pace of December.
We hit Chelsea Beach for Hudson’s birthday and Harvey’s first taste of the sand:
Dave and I soaked luxuriously at the Hot Springs and spent the night away to celebrate our thirteenth wedding anniversary:
We went to the Manhatten in Mornington for our celebratory dinner:
Welcomed the cool breeze from the Pakenham Outdoor Pool on a few scorching days:
Dave took the kids to see Coco and they (of course) dressed up like movie stars:
Enjoyed the lilting sounds of Jazz at the Summer Sounds festival in Malvern East:
Enjoyed a lively Italian Feast with close friends:
Took Eli and Harvey out for lunch at TGI Fridays:
And celebrated Ivy’s Birthday with a Royal High Tea:
As for the rest of the month there were many other chaotic and special moments all mashed together in a happy jumble of ordinary life. February brings routine, pick ups and drop offs and another instalment in The Enchanted Table… Bring it on.