A New Good Life….

I’ve had a kind of tricky six months or so, a bit of a crisis on identity you might say.  I’ve floundered a bit, I’ve changed my mind about what to do next roughly 300 times and I’ve really missed having an idea of what’s coming day to day, the routine of work.

In that time I’ve started taking on emergency teaching work.  This, I have found, to be a soulless occupation and one I truly have not enjoyed.  Walking into a class that isn’t mine, with students that I don’t know and in a school where the staff are busy and generally haven’t got time or head space to welcome in a new CRT (and I was guilty of the same when I was teaching so I get it).  That’s not to say I haven’t met some absolutely lovely students and that when I’m clearly lost there will be another teacher that notices and points me in the right direction, but it’s just not for me.  I do it simply and only for the money and that’s not a way I want to live.

However, I think I may have finally found my new calling and I am really excited about it.  I have decided to dedicate the next six months to becoming a librarian.  It makes so much sense.  I LOVE books and reading and studying (all of which happens in libraries) and I can still stretch my educator muscles every now and again.  I’ve enrolled FULL TIME in an Information Management program at RMIT which started this week.  Clearly it’s very early days, but when I even found the cataloguing class interesting (and dare I say it, exciting) I though I may be onto something here.

I actually remembered, once I settled on this new direction, that I dressed as a librarian for a walk-a-thon we did at primary school.  I think the theme was something like what you want to be when you grow up…. if only that had come back to me a bit sooner.  Mind you I also wanted to be a zoologist, so maybe that could be next?

In the meantime life is going to be busy, but I am hoping to still be able to write a blog post every week or so, reviewing books, sharing thoughts, swapping recipes, and increasing my supply of cardigans (compulsory librarian attire I believe).

Til the next one (a book review I think)

Barbara

 

 

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Recipe – Country Garlic Chicken

Wow, how long has it been since I last posted a recipe or anything really food related?  There are reasons for this – firstly I went AWOL for over a year, secondly my kitchen has been a most uninspired place for such a long time.  As long-time readers will know (maybe?) cooking meals that my two frustrating children will eat has been a definitely theme for years.  Well, that hasn’t changed.  They still refuse seemingly innocuous, unoffensive dinners made specifically because I think they will like them.  They occasionally surprise me…. very occasionally.  I still have one that would willingly eat a devoted carnivore diet and another that has decided vegetarianism is the way to go.  What am I supposed to do with that?

On a recent trip to the library I was browsing the cookbook sections – having already banned myself from borrowing more novels – and picked up a slow cooker book I hadn’t seen before.  It’s called Slow by Allyson Gofton.  I had a good look through the book when I got home and to be honest I wasn’t that thrilled by it.  There were only a couple of recipes that I thought I’d try before returning it.  The first was a Lancashire lamb hotpot.  It was tasty but I’ve got another lamb chop casserole I do in the slow cooker that I prefer.  Then tonight I tried the Country Garlic Chicken recipe.  It smelt delicious from the get go and the taste did not disappoint.  But most impressive is that everyone ate it, devoured it, annihilated it.  Plates were clean before I had time to notice that I wasn’t nagging certain small people to sit properly and eat over their plates.  This is definitely one to add to the list, yay!  It’s been so long since my last kitchen success story.  And, of course, I had to share it (see blow).  Sadly, not realising how good this was going to be there are no photos, but please believe me it looked terrific and tasted even better.

Country Garlic Chicken

8-10 chicken thighs or drumsticks (skin removed if you prefer)
3 tablespoons of flour
1 tablespoon of paprika (I used smoked which worked a treat)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
12 gloves of garlic (mine were from the garden and were quite big so I used 8)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thickly
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced thickly
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves, stems removed
1-1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water

Place the chicken in a bag with the flour, paprika and pepper and toss to coat.

Heat butter in a heave based pan and brown the chicken in batches (this is optional but highly recommended.

Chop the garlic and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Top with the sliced carrot and parsnips.  Place the chicken on top pf the vegetables and then sprinkle over the rosemary leaves.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the stock, cover with the lid and cook on low for 6-7 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.

Serve with greens and mashed potato (or whatever you like).

This was super easy and completely satisfying.  And better yet it was nice to get back into the kitchen and have a win.

Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Barbara.

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Litsy – “It’s like Tinder for books”

I’ve written a bit lately about the downside to too much social media – FYI my detox has been a bit hit and miss, I still find myself sucked into a wormhole at times – but today I want to share the best thing I’ve ever found on the internet, Litsy.  As a friend of mine said, “It’s like Tinder for book”…. and it sort of is.

Litsy is a social media app.  It’s only available on smart phones or tablets, there’s no website like Facebook, so if you don’t have an internet connected smart device this one’s not for you.  But if you do, prepare for awesomeness.

The app allows you to share, review and quote the books you’re currently reading, ones you’ve read in the past and loved (or loathed) or ones that are on your radar to read soon(ish).  You can read other people’s posts and reviews and add books that peak your interest to your to-read stack.  The idea is that you follow people (like in twitter or FB) to see what they’re recommending and that other people follow you, building a kind of reading network.

There’s a lot I like about Litsy:

  1. It’s super simple to use. There’s only three types of posts you can chose from (blurb, review or quote), there’s limited characters available for text (like twitter), adding a picture is easy and if you’re reviewing a book you can give it a Pick, So-So, Pan or Bail (no rating out of ten or star reviews).
  2. You want to find out about the latest or most interesting book releases coming up…. this is the place to be.  Loads of proper publishing/lit review type professionals are on Litsy so you find out the goss before it hits the shops (it’s mostly American which can be a bit problematic, but as they’re usually ahead of Australia in terms of publishing dates it just let’s me know what to look out for – or order online from the US or UK).  This is absolutely the best place to find books to add to your TBR (to be read) list or to ask for recommendations for what to read next.
  3. It’s all books!!!!  It’s a place where people pretty much exclusively talk about books.  Now that has to be the best place on the Net right?  It’s my happy place.
  4. It’s all positive.  There’s no trolling, no negativity – besides dissing the occasional book, but even that’s done with respect – no bullying.  It’s full of people who cheer each other on if they’re having a hard time, offering virtual support, participating in global book exchanges, becoming penpals.  It’s beautiful.  I always knew bookish people were the best kind of people, this is proof.
  5. It’s free and there’s no advertising (though that may change) which is completely refreshing for anything online.

There’s a couple of cons to Litsy which I should mention:

  1. It’s really bad for you if you actually want any hope of getting through your TBR.  You’ll soon realise that stacking every book that sounds good makes for a VERY long list.  I’ve stopped worrying about this, I know I’ll never read them all, but I have them there when I’m looking for something to pick up at the library or bookshop, or add to my Kindle.
  2. It’s kind of easy to lose time scrolling through the app, which might mean you read about books more than you actually read books.  I try and keep this in check and limit my scrolling time.

I’d love to know if any of my readers are also Littens (that’s a person with a Litsy account).  If so let me know your Litsy name and I’ll be sure to follow you.  And if not, you really should think about joining.

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My Out of Control Reading Life

Remember how I posted last time about Warren Buffet reading 500 pages a day and that switching off from social media and devoting that time to reading would allow the average person to read 200 books a year?  Well, I seem to have taken these concepts and morphed my reading habits into something kinda chaotic – I’m thinking this is NOT how Warren Buffet would apply his time!

Firstly, I should say I haven’t switched off social media completely and I never intended to go that far.  But I have made a point of turning to reading at times when I might otherwise waste half an hour scrolling Facebook or Litsy (about which my next post will focus).  Now I give myself 20 minutes in the morning to briefly scan the news, get my fix of Trump-mania (scary and yet unbelievable all rolled into one, a car crash I can’t turn away from) and scan for any interesting book reviews etc.  I give myself another half hour in the evening pretty mush solely devoted to Litsy and that’s about it.  I can tell I’ve cut down a lot because my phone is never on Low Battery mode anymore – with the exception of days I’ve done a lot of listening to audiobooks, like yesterday.  And because I’ve had very few days of work recently (emergency teaching is very inconsistent) there’s been a lot of middle of the day book reading.

This is a good thing (except the lack of work isn’t great for the wallet), but I have somehow managed to have FIVE books on the go at once.  This is most unlike me, is completely unintentional and I’m finding it difficult to get my head around it all.  So how did this happen?  I usually only have two in-progress books at once – one audiobook and one physical book or e-book.  And I do have those two.  But then I started reading all sorts of books about writing.  These are usually ones I dip in and out of, but the current one is really appealing to me so I’ve pretty much read it cover to almost cover.  I do a chapter each morning and then some of the writing exercises.  With the three books I was fine, it worked well.  But then I went to the library and saw a YA book I half read last year and was loving, until I left the school and had to return it unfinished.  So naturally I borrowed it and then inexplicably started it again that very afternoon.  Making it book number 4.  And then I got a text from the library saying the hold I have been waiting months for was finally in, but it’s a short borrowing period only book and I can’t renew it.  I also found myself in the doctor’s waiting room just after I’d picked it up so I just had to start it.  And there you have it, five books and my brain is swimming.

Let’s hope I can get a least a couple of these finished soon so I can relax again – reading is not supposed to be this complicated I’m sure.

What I’m Currently Reading:

Audiobook: Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach
E-Book: The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch (also for Bookclub)
Writing Book: Leaving a Trace: The Art of Transforming Life into Stories by Alexandra Johnson
Others: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

So readers, tell me about your reading habits.  Are you a one at a time reader or do you find the multi-book approach works for you?  And most importantly, what are you reading now?

Barbara

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Stealing the Moment

As I was scrolling through Facebook last night I came across an article posted by The Book Club (ABC).  The heading was simple – Warren Buffet reads 500 pages a day AND if you spent as long reading as the average person does on social media you could read 200 books a year!  So I clicked and read and then pondered.  I’m a pretty average person, no Warren Buffet, but hey if I read 500 pages a day maybe I could be.

The pondering from this article was centred on two fundemental elements.  Firstly, why do I spend so much time on social media?  What’s the point?  I should say here that I think I might actually be a bit below average, but it’s still a lot of wasted time and on days where I’m not working it can really be a lot!  According to the article the average person (American I’m assuming) spends over 600 hours a year on social media.  You only need a little over 400 to read those 200 books.  For me, I really only use Facebook.  I’ve toyed with Twitter but find it overwhelming and frighteningly abusive at times so generally speaking I steer clear.  I’ve also had a poke around Instagram but find it often vacuous and materialistic so again it’s not for me.  Facebook is good for keeping up with friends and family I don’t hear from often and following blogs, news sites and so on, but on the other hand, it’s full of advertising, fake news and click bait.  It’s probably time I detoxed from that too.  My new weakness is Litsy.  I love Litsy!  It’s an app/social media site for book lovers to share bookish things.  It’s almost entirely positive, no trolling and full of open-minded, intelligent readers.  But sometimes I find myself spending so much time reading reviews and looking a gorgeous ‘shelfies’ that I forget to actually read.

The other big issue with my use of social media is that I often do it while trying to pay attention to something else.  Mostly, the something else is not my kids or other people  but a TV show or an audiobook.  Sitting down to watch a TV show is one of the few things Mr Good and I do together these days.  It’s only a couple of times a week and we’re pretty selective about what we watch.  It might be the latest series of House of Cards (so good!) or Sense8 (how could Netflix cancel this one?) or finally getting to season 1 of Fargo.  There’s a lot of interesting, really well made TV around right now.  But inevitably I find myself reaching for my iphone during a slow bit, scrolling through Facebook or Litsy and the BAM! I’ve missed the vital detail.  It happens all the time.  Why do I do it?

The second path my pondering took was why I would WANT to spend time in that world of social media (Litsy excluded).  Just this week there has been a sh*tstorm over Carrie Bickmore’s timing for the launch of her Beanies for Brain Cancer drive and another over the, granted incredibly insensitive and thoughtless, comments Mia Freedman made in a podcast introduction for an interview with Roxane Gay.  The comments section on any article written about these two women were horrendous.  And this happens ALL THE TIME.  There’s been much written about the way individuals, and especially women, are treated on social media and on why other individuals feel that they have the right to abuse and attack people who have stuck their heads above the parapet for a second which I won’t go into here, I’m no expert after all.  Needless to say though, social media can be a hotbed of horribleness.  I wouldn’t choose to associate with people who spoke such vile things, why would I want to spend time with them online?

I’ve also seen how destructive social media is for kids and not only because it is a minefield of bullying, shaming and humiliation, but also because they are so distracted by it that it’s stealing their moments too.  As an emergency teacher, getting kids to put their phones or ipads away and get on with their work, or listen to instructions or show respect for the fellow classmates is what I do ALL day.  It’s the first thing I say to a class (“Put your devices away and look this way please”), it’s what I repeat ad nauseum during every class.  It got to the point that I was so concerned about use of device in class that I started doing a bit of reading up.  And the research isn’t good.  In one study, in the US, two classes in the same school were compared.  In one class students were allowed to have their phones with them but were only supposed to use them for academic purposes and with permission (but of course this is rarely what happens).  The other class had their devices removed at the start of all classes.  By the end of the year the results showed a significantly higher GPA  for those without devices.  Now this study is not perfect and the results are not definitive – other factors could have been at play – but the results are supported by other research.  It frightens me that social media could be stealing the opportunities and potential for some students.  It also makes me remember, with fondness, the start of my teaching career, where there was no such thing as internet connected phones.  I didn’t not appreciate that time enough!  In the past I have championed the use of technology in the classroom and I have worked in one to one ipad programs with some success, but I do wonder and worry about the overall cost to schools and teenagers especially, of this constant connection to the internet and thus social media.

And so with all this in mind I’m going to attempt to withdraw myself from the field in some ways.  Firstly, I’m going to pick up a book instead of my phone when I want to kill some time (I do this reasonably frequently already), I’m going to put my phone in another room in the evenings so I don’t get distracted by it when watching something with Mr Good and I’m not going to use my phone at all in front of the kids.  I’d like to show them that you can be just as ‘connected’ in life without an iphone in your hand and hope that it rubs off just a little on them as they get older.  I’m going to try to take back the moments that I lose, distracted in a world I don’t even like.  And perhaps I’ll read 200 books in a year?

I’ll keep you posted.

Barbara.

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Book Review – The Muse by Jessie Burton

The Muse by Jessie Burton is the second novel by this young Australian author and going by my opinion of both, I’ll be sure to pick up whatever she writes next.  Over the last couple of years I have become increasingly addicted to listening to audiobooks and that’s how I consumed this particular story.  I got through the entire novel in one drive from Eden in NSW to Ballarat in Victoria, that’s seven hours plus stops!  The girls and I had left Mr Good at home to work and taken out regular summer holiday without him, instead enjoying the company of my brother, sister-in-law and their two children.  It was a fabulous holiday but I was dreading the solo drive home.  Seven hours, no change in driver, two kids in the back.  In reality I had nothing to fear.  The girls slept, listened to music or audiobooks of their own and ate lots of snacks.  They were brilliant and as a result I got to dive down into The Muse and not come up again until it was done – fabulous!

I think if I were to look back over the books that I most enjoy, I would find a lot of them have either a non-linear structure or alternating perspectives.  I’m drawn to these styles.  The Must fits into the latter category.  Half of the story takes place in London in the 1960s following the life of Odelle Bastien, a recent immigrant from Trinidad who finds a job as a typist in a gallery working under the mysterious and glamorous, Marjorie Quick.  Marjorie immediately sees potential in Odelle and a relationship that goes beyond the offices unfolds for them both.

The other half of the story is set in Spain in the late 1930s, where the prominent-in-the-art-world Schloss family have just moved.  Against the backdrop of civil unrest and imminent war, the Schloss’ embark on a journey of discovery and recovery, fostering the artistic ambitions of a young local man, but ignorant of the talent within their own family, in daughter Olive Schloss.  This part of the story is full of danger, complicated relationships, deceit and betrayal.

Tying the two time periods, characters and plots together is the art, art as it’s being created and then later art is it is valued and appreciated in the decades since.  The stories mingle and overlap in a complicated web, leaving the reader never quite sure of the facts and how they might, eventually, all piece together.

Burton’s writing is clever, clear and precise.  Her characters feel well loved and well worn, like friendly neighbours.  Despite the distant (for me) settings, they are familiar, and I found myself drawn to the inner workings of the minds of Odelle and Olive’equally.  There was no weaker link in this two-perspective tale, I enjoyed my time in each location and with each set of characters, which is telling of the strength of Burton’s writing.

I think if you are particularly interested in the world of art, this is a must read.  And tales from the world of art seems to be my theme this year, having just finished The Stray’s and about the start the Museum of Modern Love.  What other arty recommendations do you suggest, Readers?

Til next time,

Barbara.

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Book Review – Life after Life & A God in Ruins

Each Christmas The Wine and Ugg Book Society (aka my book club) gather for a suitably bookish festive season celebration.  This involves lots of good food, an ample supply of wine (or cocktails!) and, of course, a book swap.  The idea is that you select a book that you think others will like, wrap it up and then on the night they all go into the middle of the table.  We randomly select a book from the table (or steal from someone else if they’ve opened something you can’t wait to get you hands on).  It’s a lot of fun and we get a new book to add to the collection, often one we might not have picked up otherwise.

It was through this book swap that happened across Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life and subsequently, the companion novel A God in Ruins.  And I’m looking forward to making my way through her entire collection.  She is a spectacularly good writer and offers one of those reading journeys that leaves you somewhat breathless and certainly not wanting to leave the world she has created.  These are two pretty long novels and yet I still wanted more – that rarely happens to me!

The premise of Life after Life is this: Ursula Todd is born one blisteringly cold night in the middle of a blizzard.  The doctor can’t get through, the newborn dies.  Except that she doesn’t, or rather she dies many times over in many different ways.  With each new version of Ursula’s life previous mistakes are righted and sometimes new ones are made, for Ursula is important and history will not see her written off before her eventual fate is met.

Atkinson’s plot structure is unique and innovative, she plays with time and history and weaves a coherent narrative into this meandering maze of a plot.  What at first seems to make no sense, very quickly becomes clear and easy to follow.  Character relationships, are slowly built up, each return to the past adding layers of depth and complexity to both Ursula and those she is surrounded by.

Much of the novel is set against the backdrop of WWII and the bombing of London, but this is no war book of the common variety and even those averse to reading war stories are encouraged to pick this one up.  The story plays with themes like gender roles, degrees of personal responsibility, morality and intimacy.

It’s companion novel, A God in Ruins, focuses not on Ursula, but her most beloved brother Teddy.  He is a bomber pilot in the WWII, flying daringly over Germany, dropping bombs and then turning tail and heading home, repeatedly.  Bomber pilots have among the worst survival rates of the entire fighting forces of the war and Teddy doesn’t expect to live…. and yet he does.  Learning to live with himself and in this unexpectedly long life is a challenge Teddy struggles with at every point, from marriage, to children and grandchildren.  Nothing quite turns out as expected.

Again Atkinson brings her lyrical prose and unique form and structure to A God in Ruins.  She is both darkly comic and bleak in the her characters and plot.  I found myself in tears several times, especially with regard to Teddy’s horribly neglected grandson.  Thankfully the story is also incredibly compassionate and redeeming.

I really can’t put adequately into words how much I enjoyed these two novels, how swept up in the grandness of the plot(s) I became or how fondly I took the characters into my heart (Ursula’s Aunt is someone I wish I really knew instead of just in my own head).  I would love to hear your thoughts on these, if you’ve read them, or another novel that has truly transported you to another time and place.

Til next time,

Barbara.

 

 

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