True Heroine

Last night the girls went to see Mary Poppins with their grandmother (they said it was amaaazing!), and Michael and I went to the movies. True Grit is possibly the first western I've ever seen, definitely the first I've been to see at the cinema, and I wasn't sure whether I'd enjoy it. The body count was pretty high, as one would expect from the Coen Brothers, but as the film unfolded, I couldn't help thinking, I wish I could take my daughters to see this movie.

Mattie Ross is just the best heroine ever. She is a 14 year old girl in a world of grizzled, hard-bitten outlaws and lawmen, but she more than holds her own. She is smart as a whip, brave and determined; she gives as good as she gets, and nothing deters her. She wants to see her father avenged, and she won't rest until she makes it happen, and on her own terms. Even with the blood and guts, I would much rather my girls saw Mattie Ross negotiating terms with a horse trader, shooting at bad guys and cutting a corpse from a tree, than some wilting school girl swooning over her undead lover.

Mattie is not just a great role model for teenage girls. She is a great role model for all women! I wish Hailee Steinfeld could win Best Actress at the Oscars. She isn't "supporting" anyone -- the whole film is her!* Go Hailee! Yay for Mattie Ross!

* Edit: the award went to Melissa Leo. Oh well. So Jacki Weaver missed out too. But hooray for Shaun Tan and The Lost Thing!!!


When there's nothing to say

The sorrow and the horror
Of the fallen buildings, the rushing floods,
The roar of flames;
Men weeping, broken bodies;
Someone's beloved
The dull grieving ache in the heart
Is silent.


Life in the Borderlands*

This week I have read, more or less in tandem, Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, and Nick Griffiths' Dalek I Loved You.

Michael Chabon is a brilliant, Pulitzer-prize-winning US author; Nick Griffiths is an obscure (at least to me) UK journalist whose main claim to fame seems to be writing a TV column for the tabloid Daily Mail. Chabon's writing is dazzling and erudite; Griffiths' is self-deprecating and cheerful.

And yet I was struck by what the two books had in common - an ardent and continuing love for their childhood passions. In Chabon's case, it's mostly comics and what snobs call "genre" fiction - sci-fi, horror, fantasy. For Nick Griffiths, it's Doctor Who (Chabon is also a fan of the Doctor; though he doesn't mention the show in this book, there is a fannish essay about it in Manhood for Amateurs).

Maps and Legends is a collection of essays in which Chabon argues that the most stimulating, exciting writing often occurs at the place where "serious" "literary" fiction blurs into the territory reserved for the darkest corners of the book shop, the genres mentioned above (I would argue the case for children's literature to be included on that list). For example, he claims that Cormac McCarthy's The Road is sci-fi/horror wearing a respectable literary mask.

Dalek I Loved You is a pretty straightforward memoir of growing up in the 70s as a closet Doctor Who nerd (bless). Nick Griffiths is almost exactly my age, and worked as a music journalist in the 1990s, so I found a lot to relate to in his account. He is sweet and unpretentious, and endearingly excited about the prospect of having his book published, and Dalek I Loved You made me laugh a lot (not just the Who reminiscences either, though I had to chortle at his unabashed loathing for the abominable Adric).

It was a weird coincidence that I read these books at the same time. Together, they demonstrate clearly that things we love in childhood are the things that continue to define us as adults; which is good news, if humbling, for those of us who toil in these shadowy borderlands, trying to write children's literature.

*No, this is not yet another blog post about the collapse of Borders bookshops and the consequences for the publishing industry...


Cheat's Hollandaise

Until recently, I regarded hollandaise sauce as something to be enjoyed only as part of a cafe breakfast. Not that I would get to enjoy much of it, because Alice would steal it off my eggs; in fact, if allowed to, she would scrape it up and scoff it with a spoon. Then, probably because we haven't made it to a cafe for a while, she began to beg for it at home. 'Yeah, right,' I scoffed. 'As if I could make something as complicated and temperamental as hollandaise sauce!'

Well, faithful reader, it turns out that I can! Sort of.

Naturally, my first port of call was Stephanie. (I have the original, orange edition, almost falling apart from ten years of constant use.) Like many Australians, I always turn to Stephanie for food advice, and she has never let me down (except in the matter of polenta, where I rely on Robin Barker. (I have the old edition of this one, too.)).

So my method, for what it's worth, is based on Stephanie's recipe: not exactly restaurant standard, but given that it's just for Alice to dip her chips into, it's good enough. Also my quantity is about a third of that in most recipes, because I don't need that much sauce.

First I melt some butter in the microwave, a quarter of a cup maybe? Set aside. I take a small saucepan and half fill it with hot water, then rest a bowl securely on top. Keep this on a low heat. Into the bowl goes a dash of vinegar, salt, pepper and water -- about a tablespoon of liquid altogether. (In Stephanie's version, this is a vinegar reduction. Ooh la la! I did it like this once, then decided it wasn't worth the effort.) Add one egg yolk and whisk like crazy, till the yolk foams. Then, still whisking, slowly drip in the melted butter. The mixture will thicken and viola! We have sauce! Yes, it's that easy. Remove from heat and whisk in a few drops of lemon juice. Ta da -- one small quantity of hollandaise sauce, quite enough for a nine year old to polish off with Friday night chips.


How Glasses Ruined My Life

This otherwise gorgeous post from Magic Casements also made me a little sad. It's clear that, to kids at least, wearing glasses is still associated with "weirdness" and "nerdiness." Now, there is a part of me that embraces and rejoices in both those characteristics, but I have to say this part of me was not very well developed at the age of eleven, when I first got my glasses.

At the time I was deeply ambivalent about my specs. On the one hand, I fully appreciated the miracle of clear sight. The trees! Had individual leaves!! I could read the blackboard! I could recognise people before I actually bumped into them! Guess what, that fuzzy halo around lights that no one else could see? It wasn't real! Hey, I could see the stars!!

But when the optometrist told me I'd have to wear glasses FOREVER, my reaction was instant and violent. I threw up.* Glasses meant only one thing: ugly. I would never be one of the pretty girls, I'd never be loved. I was doomed.

Okay, I know better now. And my sense of myself as "hideous" was encouraged, before long, by the addition of horrible acne, braces, and greasy hair, so it wasn't just the glasses. It also didn't help that the selection of frames available in a Port Moresby optometrist's office in 1977 was neither extensive nor flattering. But my sense of my physical self altered that day, permanently and devastatingly.

The upside was that getting contact lenses, shortly after I started university, was an equally transformative moment. It wasn't quite as dramatic as the librarian who shakes down her hair: But Miss Jones, you're... beautiful! But it did help. A lot. I wore my contacts every minute of every day for the next ten years.

Now I'm back to wearing my specs all the time. Contacts are for special occasions, or when I need to feel confident. I'm fond of my glasses. I've decided I don't, after all, want to get laser surgery on my eyes. I like that I can push my specs onto my head and get super-close-up vision, to thread a needle or pull out a splinter, or read very fine print. I like looking weird, and nerdy, because that's what I am.

But did my glasses make me into a nerd, or was the nerdiness always there, just waiting for the specs to bring it into flower?

* My nearest and dearest will know that this is my usual response when presented with a stressful situation, like pregnancy, public speaking, or my HSC English exam.

PS This is my 200th post. Yay! Whee! *lets off a party popper*


The Library Book Sale Haul (February)

Pretty slim pickings this time round. There were no YA books at all; they must have cleared those out last time, when unfortunately I couldn't go. But for $4.50 I was still quite happy with this little lot!

For Evie
My brief from Evie is simply "puppy books." She's able to read chapter books by herself now, so I was thrilled to find Nobody's Dog by Lynn Hall, Sea Dog by Dale Campbell Gaetz, and (gulp) The Tale of Greyfriars Bobby by Lavinia Derwent. I have been reading the last one to her at bedtime; I'm not sure how she's going to cope when she realises just how sad it is! Greyfriars Bobby was the only animal story that ever touched me as a child*, so I hate to think what effect it's going to have on my sentimental, animal-loving little daughter. I wouldn't be surprised if she orders me to stop reading... I haven't told her yet that I visited wee Bobby's grave when I lived in Edinburgh.
I also picked her up Evie's Seaside Lullaby by Mandy Sutcliffe, even though she's really too old for it now. It's a sweet picture book, featuring a new baby, which is a popular topic in our house at the moment, and I think it's fun to have books with your own name in the title. Alice has HEAPS but Evie is quite rare, so I grab them when I can.

For Alice
On the same principle, I got Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, which I will probably end up reading before Alice does, but hey.
The Lion Book of Humorous Verse was a good pickup. Alice's literacy teacher was using a lot of poetry with her last year; I'm hoping to find lots of gory, silly poems here.  Also lions are Alice's special thing, so that was a nice coincidence.

For me
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. Haven't read this one, but AMS is usually a reliable light-but-enjoyable read. Also set in Edinburgh, which can only be a good thing (see also Greyfriars Bobby...)
Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy. I recently read Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy and really enjoyed it. In it, she refers to her father writing this novel, which was inspired loosely by Anna's piano teacher, which of course made me want to rush out and read Peter's version. Rapt to see how THIN it is, should race through this in no time.
Cancer and Virgo, Julia and Derek Parker. Silly astrology books, just because we happened to be talking about star signs that morning. Evie is a Cancer (home-loving, clingy), Alice is a Leo (hence the lions? dogmatic, creative) and Michael and I are both Virgos (perfectionist, anxious). Pity I couldn't find the Leo book to complete the set!

For Michael
Ahem... nothing.
I did toy with getting him Tobruk, but it isn't really his war (his special thing is WWI, especially the Western Front). Also I picked up The Psychology of Cricket, but I knew in my heart of hearts that he wouldn't read it, so I left it for someone else who would.

* Oh, and Black Beauty. Wasn't really an animal kid myself.


Yes, Yes, YES!

Found in the comments sections of someone else's blog (re the whole Martin Amis/brain damage hooha):

All this reminds me of a brilliant cartoon that I once saw but can't find right now. It shows two people at a literary party. The woman says, 'I write children's books. I address issues of identity and whether or not there is such a thing as innate evil.' To which the man replies, 'I'm an adults' author. I write about going bald and getting off with younger women.'

How much do I love this? Oh please, please, find this cartoon and give it to me, framed, for my birthday!! And if it's not real, please, somebody, DRAW IT!


Seven Seemingly Bad Ideas That Turned Out Better Than Expected

1) letting Evie play on the computer when she was 18 months old.

2) allowing Alice to do "experiment cooking"; now we have cake every day.

3) adding two feet to the width of our new room; this last-minute decision delayed the build by 6 weeks but it's been absolutely worth it.

4) the acquisition of Rex; I was not sold on the idea of adding a lizard to our family, but now I am very fond of the little guy.

5) the combination of rice, baked beans, yogurt and tom yum sauce (a nourishing and surprisingly tasty meal, invented in her student days by the distinguished composer, Christine McCombe).

6) the recruitment of Barry Hall by the Western Bulldogs.* He's not a thug! He's a gentle giant! And a goal machine! Go Big Bad Bazza!

7) becoming romantically involved with someone who was not only an old friend, but also, at the time, my boss.**

* As opposed to the recruitment of Jason Akermanis, which looked at first like a bad idea, seemed to work out okay for a couple of years, and then was revealed to be a very bad idea after all.
** Now my husband. All together now -- awww! Happy Valentine's Day, Mikey. Even though we don't believe in Valentine's Day.


Seven Seemingly Good Ideas That Turned Out To Be Not So Good In The Long Run

1) hanging toy storage from Ikea. Hopeless.

2) removing the underwire from my bra.

3) serving my family a dinner that was basically cauliflower cooked three different ways; they were not impressed.

4) going to Paris by myself.

5) buying Converse runners so I could be just like the Tenth Doctor; I hope his feet don't hurt as much as mine do.

6) getting a soft fluffy bathmat, which has never dried out completely since the day we bought it.

7) giving Evie a security blanket, which, six and a half years later, looks like this:

... is best described as a filthy rag, and sheds worse than a sheepdog.


Seven Random Things That Make Me Happy (in the interests of balance and not seeming like a grumpy old woman)

1) Sandra's peach and chocolate chip muffins.

2) Hanging out the washing on a cool, sunny morning.

3) That the "Western Bulldogs disgrace" doesn't seem to involve violence, illegal drugs, teenage pregnancy or anybody getting their tackle out in public. (They were still naughty though, and lucky no one got hurt.)

4) The Colony: A History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens. Just a brilliant, vivid and enlightening read. Well deserved winner of the PM's prize for Non-Fiction.

5) My husband offering to drive me to a coffee date in Richmond, because he knows I panic about parking.

6) The Saturday Age general knowledge crossword.

7) Rainbow lorikeets in my back garden.


Seven Random Things That Annoy Me (an occasional series)

1) Water on the floor.

2) The constant promotion of the 'Underbelly' minor criminals as if they are remotely interesting, glamorous or worthwhile human beings.

3) Michael leaving the kitchen compost bin outside after he's emptied it. (I am grateful that he empties it though.)

4) Children who insist on holding your hand and then walk e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y  s-l-o-w-l-y.

5) The new format of the Saturday Age. Oh, pardon me, I mean The Saturday Age. Actually, any form of pointless "rebranding."

6) Sand or dirt in my shoes. This drives me CRAZY. I don't know if there's a word for pathological hatred for sand in one's shoes, but if there is, I've got it. Oddly, sand under my bare feet doesn't bother me at all.

7) Children who push their food around their plates and then demand "dessert!"


Peace Descends

It's 9.20am, Friday morning, and for the first time in almost seven weeks, I'm alone in a silent house.

School starts today. There is the usual mad scramble to get ready -- lunchboxes to fill with delicious (but also healthy!) treats, drink bottles to find and label, hats to scrape free of bird poo (don't ask), frocks to discard because they've mysteriously grown too short (if only I was one of those mothers who organises these things before the last minute), breakfasts to reject, shoes to buckle, hair to plait, teeth to brush, school bags to pack. In between I shower and dress myself, gulp down a coffee, put on a load of washing, unpack the dishwasher, help Evie to find a "special thing" to bring in for the first day, reassure Alice that her beloved teacher will probably be there, even if it is a Friday...

So we set off. Through the rain. Of course, it's raining.

And now I'm home, and all the work that I've been putting off for the last six weeks looms before me. A manuscript, mid-copy edit, lies beside my bed. A list of unanswered emails from before Christmas (gulp) sits in my inbox. Ideas about Independence jostle in my head, imploring to be jotted down before I forget them. And there are still floors to vacuum, washing to be dried, a lizard to be fed, beds to make, a dolls-clothes factory to be tidied away, and I need to write something for the school newsletter about the library... and I really want to get some yoga in...

In fact, the very last thing I should be doing, the one thing that doesn't need to be done, is blogging!


Frugal February

The holidays are about to end, and the new year will begin in earnest. Time to knuckle down, time to start work. Back to the routines and disciplines* of normal life.

This year, our family** has decided to take FebFast one step further, and institute something we're calling Frugal February. After the excesses of Christmas and January (too much alcohol, too much junk food, too much money spent), it's time to pare back and simplify. We have vowed to foreswear, not only alcohol, but unnecessary expenditure. No impulse buys at the Myer sales; no midweek takeaway just because I'm feeling lazy; no buying alcohol, or chips, or new clothes, or books, or Littlest Pet Shops, or wood to build dolls-houses. Just the essentials.

Making do with, and being grateful for, what we already have. Not restlessly reaching out for the next thing, grasping for shiny bright new stuff. Being content with what we've got.

I wonder how long it'll last.

* And, hopefully, bedtimes.
** Well, actually just me and Michael. The girls think it's a terrible idea.