September 2011 archive
Something Red – Jennifer Gilmore
Summary: The poignant tale of one extremely socially and politically aware family set on the cusp of a new decade as the Cold War rages and punk finds its feet.
Something Red functions as an exquisite portrayal of one Jewish-American family’s experience. Gilmore seems equally at home tackling adolescent angst as middle-aged discontent; she tenderly and non-judgementally introduces us to to a pair of former radicals, their larger-than-life parents, their sex-obsessed jock son and bulimic daughter. Each is deeply unhappy and troubled in their own way; Dennis is trapped in a career he’s losing faith in, Sharon joins a cult-like group in search of fulfilment, Ben feels no higher calling in life and Vanessa despises her own body. The author jumps from character to character, timeframe to timeframe, meandering along threads of memories and following them to the end.
Ultimately, however, I felt that apart from their children – who were just beginning to really grow – the none of the older Goldsteins were going anywhere – and that’s frustrating in a novel. The end in particular baffled me. Some twists are good. Others come out of left field and seem to serve no purpose, like this one.
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
Summary: The up and downs and life and times of one midwestern family set against a Bush-era backdrop.
While I would shave a sliver of a star off this for the freaky and frankly disturbing phone sex passage, Freedom is a modern masterpiece. For those fascinated by human psychology, this novel is full of lushly imagined, fully-formed and deeply flawed characters to get your teeth into.
There’s selfless environmentalist Walter, who ends up taking a job with links to coal and oil; superjock turned (un)happy housewife Patty; Walter’s best friend and musician Richard who apparently looks like Gaddafi (which to my mind isn’t a plus) but has some kind of hypnotic pull on Patty, complicating his already volatile relationship with Richard; ruthless son Joey who just may turn out to have a heart and consience; and daughter Jessica, who actually doesn’t get any page time of her own. Perhaps most interesting of all, though, was Connie, Joey’s childhood love and eventual wife, who’s deeply intriguing for all her instability and coolness (but like Jessica, is relegated to the sidelines).
It seems to me that Franzen intuitively understands, but doesn’t necessarily like, human nature. Which turns out to be a good thing. Freedom’s timeline is fluid, moving back forth as it does between characters’ viewpoints and moments in time, but in this case it works – I’d go as far as to say it was unputdownable. This is realism, pure and simple: ugly and frustrating but thankfully ultimately redemptive.
Self Promotion for Introverts – Nancy Ancowitz
Summary: A reminder that it’s perfectly okay to be introverted, with some generic tips on making the most of it.
I had big hopes for this book, but ultimately, there is no magic solution. I did enjoy her introvert vs extrovert lexicon (which I lifted a few lines from here), tips for public speaking (applicable to everyone) and suggested questions to ask in job interviews (the more unique ones being to do with mission, values, and how the company is doing against its objectives).
Ancowitz’s guide is interesting and fairly practical, peppered with anecdotes from both introverts and extroverts for colour (most entertaining are her vignettes about approaching famous people for quotes, particularly Bill Clinton) but there’s nothing mindblowing to be found. In fact, there was nothing especially new that I haven’t seen elsewhere in books or online. And while it was published fairly recently, the trouble is of course that things are moving so fast in the digital space that the social media chapter already feels awkwardly dated. Ultimately, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert or something in between, it comes down to playing to your strengths, being authentic, and persevering.
- This is the future of banking and personal finance. Now, when are you coming to New Zealand?!
- And this might be the future of term deposits. Investit lets you input how much you have to invest, then emails you the best options from either banks, non-bank providers, or both, depending on what you prefer. If any bids catch your fancy, you can then apply via the website (if supported) or else it will link you to the financial institution’s own site. Takes all the hard work out of it.
- Result: I now have $10k in a 4.4% term deposit, another $2-3k in other deposits, and the rest of my cash in online savings accounts. My main concern was finding somewhere to park my travel fund, as it won’t be touched for a minimum for six months – and more likely much, much longer – and I got a sweet 5-month rate. Oddly enough, some of the shorter term deposits were offering higher returns than the longer ones, which no doubt has something to do with lending at the other end but that I don’t see enough reason to research right now.
All in all, finances have me pretty psyched this week. Will it last?
Image by paulamarttila via Flickr
A coupon culture isn’t something we have much of here. While in the US crazy couponers get their own show and savvy bloggers get groceries and pharmaceuticals for mere cents, we don’t have ANY of that. There literally are no coupons to be had. Unless you manage to find something worthwhile on ezycoupons.co.nz or vouchermate.co.nz – which is pretty unlikely – most likely any vouchers or discounts available to you will be through something like the Entertainment Book or daily deal sites.
I don’t really understand why people are still rabbiting on and debating about daily deals, to be frank. It’s pretty simple. Use your head.
- Use those vouchers straight away or make notes in your calendar to do so.
- Buy deals that you will actually use.
Now, I like saving money. I think I’m a pretty successful voucher user, to the extent that I’ve dipped my foot in the water. The Entertainment Book is great because it means I can try new restaurants that I was already interested in, but wouldn’t want to pay full price for. It means on the rare occasion we go out to weekend brunch (every couple of months) there’s no need to pay $20 for a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and hashbrowns each, because we have our pick of excellent cafes with 25 or 50 percent discounts. It means saving moolah at the cinema, the driving range and the video store (although when will we ever learn that that’s NOT a good idea? We never manage to return DVDs on time, hence why we pay for Sky Movies).
In terms of daily deals, I have much the same MO for dining offers – places I know and love, or have piqued my interest, or other offers I know will get used (see above about movies, etc). Because I don’t have back problems, I don’t need massages or therapy – but they’re nice every once in a while. And thanks to the dozens of deal sites available to us, I’ll never pay full price for them. (And they’re a pretty awesome, relaxing gift to myself and T on occasions like our anniversary instead of trinkets.) I have wasted one deal to date (I think it cost about $20 or 30), and that was some kind of spinal examination for T, who wimped out and decided he’d rather not be prodded and is happy barrelling along not knowing exactly how bad his back is.
But as much as I like saving dosh, I get awful coupon guilt. It seems a little bit … tacky? It’s all just a little bit awkward, or so it feels – especially with those hideous A4 web printouts you get, handing those over and walking away because it’s all been pre-paid. Anyone else ever feel that way?
Coming at it from the other side of the fence, it seems that aside from all the other potentially negative effects for a business – losing money on a deal, being swamped with customers and unable to give them the usual level of service – it can also diminish their brand value.
Spa and beauty therapy places, in particular, seem to all be busy undercutting each other in a race to the bottom. As a consumer, I don’t care – I just want the best deal. But that seems unsustainable. Surely that service industry can’t survive long-term doing that.
A lot of the vendors (and really I’m just talking restaurants here, as that’s more my area) I have huge respect for would never get involved, because they’re just such niche ethnic eateries – and they’re usually popular enough not to need to. And you’ll never see the haute cuisine establishments stooping to that level. But how would you feel if somewhere you regularly frequented started putting out cutthroat daily deals? Would you think less of them? Feel cheated?
Tags: money, reflections
Room – Emma Donoghue
Summary: Reminiscent of recent high-profile kidnapping cases, Room centres around a mother and child who live in a single contained room. After a harrowing escape, they struggle to acclimatise to normal life.
Perverse as it may sound, I greatly enjoyed the first part of this book. Child narrator Jack, who has never known anything else, sleeps in the closet, refers to items in the room as proper nouns (Door, Table, Duvet), lives mainly off canned food, makes toys out of pasta shapes, cardboard rolls food scraps and desperately seeks companionship in the form of a mouse and an ant.
At this stage I have to say what a trooper his mother is; I can honestly say if this were to happen to me, I wouldn’t have coped anywhere near as well as she did. Their daily and weekly routines are achingly poignant – every day they do Scream, which involves standing up to the skylight and yelling as loudly as they can, and Phys Ed, a choice of numerous activities devised by his mother to keep them from wasting away. In the mornings he goes to his mother to “get some”, a kind of creepy reference that didn’t become clear to me until much later on. Some nights Old Nick comes to visit, and Jack counts the number of creaks the bed makes as he falls asleep.
It’s when it comes time to plot their escape that things get really harrowing, and their subsequent struggle to acclimatise to the outside world is painful to follow. But the ending is pitch-perfect, and I closed the book with a smile on my face. You never learn Jack’s mother’s name, and that makes it difficult to get a sense of her as a person – but her love for her son is evident. Some have criticised Donoghue for not telling her side of the story; I think this is a much more delicate narrative choice. It portrays her as almost a Madonna figure, not just a girl robbed of her youth and forced into sex slavery, and ultimately I saw this as a triumph, not a flaw
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Summary: Meandering tale of some kind of love across the decades.
The greatest love story ever? I was, and still am, sceptical. To be honest, Fermina never seemed all that keen on Florentina, and he in turn barely knew her, but developed a fair obsession nonetheless. Their young affair consists of love notes left in strange places around the small Colombian seaside town where they live, and lasts maybe a year. After she breaks things off with him, she goes on to marry a rich doctor, and Florentina proceeds to watch from afar as their lives play out over the coming decades.
While she becomes a bit of a desperate housewife, he takes on the role of playboy very willingly. In that time he has 622 sexual affairs, including a disturbing last fling with an underage girl whom he had guardianship of. This, ultimately, was what sickened me most (to say nothing of what happened after their affair ended). Once Fermina’s husband dies, Florentina pursues her once more (you gotta admire his tireless perseverance) – although whether what they have is love baffles me. But perhaps with age that’s what happens – the definition of love evolves, something I think Marquez conveys very effectively.
The Beautiful and the Damned – F Scott Fitzgerald
Summary: In the world of socialites and trustfunders, one turbulent marriage goes nowhere fast as the couple await their inheritance. A tale of excesses, of aimlessness, of wasted talent.
A novel in which not a lot happens, because there’s not a heckuva lot to the characters – again, such hateful ones! The mere concept of doing nothing but party while waiting for your grandfather to die so you can get your mitts on his millions, and constantly playing on your family name is abhorrent to me. Yes, Fitzegerald writes beautiful prose. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to sway me. Rich, unhappy people I can do. Rich, unhappy people who squander their money, time and potential – who have no ambitions, no desire, no meaning in life – I simply cannot get into. In short: lovely craft, intolerable non-plot.
I really need to stop saying we’re househunting, and say we’re flathunting instead – if you’re my age and not actively planning your OE, it seems everybody thinks you must be on the path to that other classic Kiwi dream: home ownership. I had to clarify this twice on Friday night – a night of good conversation, mental stimulation and a jolt to the system, really. By that, I mean I got a fresh kick up the butt and renewed inspiration for making my big goals happen. More on that in a future post.
The other highlight of my week was this lexicon in Nancy Ancowitz’s Self Promotion for Introverts (a short review will be coming up soon). SO. MUCH. TRUTH. Witness:
||Peace and quiet
||Source of comfort
||Not frantically busy
||Stuck making small talk
||Time for group activities
||Time to read until in danger of going blind
||A place to invite everyone you know
||A place to hide from everyone you know
Can I get an Amen?
Anyway. To the links – a personal finance bonanza this week!
Krystal wonders when the time is right to take the leap into self employment.
Love this: You’re not debt free if you have debt (so simple, so obvious…at least you’d think so). Ninja demolishes the notion of good debt (car loan, mortgage) vs bad debt. Debt is debt, although personally I see it as a continuum, with student loans and mortgages towards the “better” end of the scale and consumer/car debt at the other.
Erika at Newlyweds on a Budget has spending envy.
TeacHer Finance on the evergreen topic of getting parental support in your 20s.
Paula of Afford Anything talks the “scuzz factor” and using it to hack financial and health habits.
Image via Wikipedia
When I first moved out on my own, I lived with one of my good friends. Nobody would rent to a couple of girls under 18, so we ended up moving into a six-bedroom house with a bunch of strangers. There were good things about that arrangement: rent included all bills, and the setup was a rare one: each tenant paid their share to the landlord directly. There were good times hanging out watching movies, gossiping and consolation when my ex and I broke up.
But having so many classes together and, often, catching the same buses everyday, as well as living together, was a bit much sometimes. Our bedrooms were on separate floors and by no means did we spend all our spare time at home together, but I suppose I’m just not social enough to make something like that work.
Later on, after T and I moved in together, we also lived with mates of his and a mutual friend. Those never ended well. Inevitably the financials caused awkwardness (partly my fault – I have no problem talking about money here or in real life, but asking for it – even when it’s for paying the bills – doesn’t sit right with me). Chores were a whole other can of worms – lord knows there are enough posts on this blog on that topic from those years. Living with friends in all of those cases proved a mistake.
We’ve discussed possibly living with one of our friends in order to get a bigger and nicer house, but I’ve always dismissed the idea – although it might actually work, because he’s quiet and likes to do his own thing, like me – because I just don’t want to jeopardise that relationship. Likewise, another of my best friends used to talk about us all getting a house together and having a merry old Friends-esque experience (before going overseas and returning to plunge into poverty as a grad student, that is, scrubbing all talk of that dream).
What’s your take on living with friends?
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What’s life without some daydreams?
I have a really extensive personal bucket list, which I’m keeping track of (loosely) at dayzeroproject.com. Separate from that is a hefty travel bucket list, which you can find over here.
I had the gleeful experience of recently crossing off a few items – cook for my family, visit a Pacific Island, run a 10k – but by far the majority of things are yet to be ticked off…
Some are obviously years away, like buy a house and go on a cruise (well, the latter is within financial reach, but I figure that can wait a while. Cruises can be taken at any age, backpacking cannot).
Here’s a sprinkling of some of the things I’m hoping to do sooner rather than later:
- Make pasta from scratch. (YOU BE CRAZY? YOU CAN BUY THE STUFF FOR LESS THAN $2 A PACKET! To which I say, some things you just gotta try once for the fun of it.)
- Snorkel across the channel at Goat Island. (Snorkelling is fun, but tiring!)
- Go to the theatre. (Not a cinema. The theatre. For a show.)
- Donate blood. (That may still require me to gain weight, and I don’t own a scale. Anyone want to lend me one?)
- Learn to park like less of an amateur, dammit. (Hmm. This one’s pretty subjective. But I’m definitely not there – wherever that is – yet.)
What are some of the things on your bucket list?
(This post is part of the the $500 Budgets are Sexy giveaway, sponsored by Life Insurance Finder)
I recently had the privilege of interviewing a woman just a few years older than me, who runs a successful business and is on the cusp of going global.
Although in some ways we are similar – while most others in their late teens to early 20s were busy partying, I was fully independent, working all hours to make ends meet while doing my degree and she devoted her time to opening her first stores and starting a family.
I asked if she felt like she had missed out on anything, and how she managed to juggle all these demands at the same time.
But like, well, all other successful people, she told me it was about maximising the use of your time. “So many people don’t do anything with their evenings.”
Since reclaiming my weekends and evenings, I have to admit, I haven’t been doing anything all that amazing with that time. The first few weekends were just spent enjoying time with T that we hadn’t had in over a year. Going to the farmer’s market. Then planning and organising our Rarotonga and Wellington trips. Then dealing with car repairs, dentist appointments, motorbike stuff. (And of course, the usual – cooking, reading, music). Now I’m going to turn some of that time over to pre-wedding planning.
I’ve talked briefly before about how dreams change as you get older. And Stacking Pennies tackled a similar topic the other day, that of lost possibilities, because certain doors close with the passage of time.
The funny thing is, most of those previous aspirations I had are so much more attainable these days. Everyone seems to be writing and publishing their own books or ebooks, you don’t need a record label to become a star, and becoming a web designer seems to be another thing that everybody is doing.
Not long ago I attended an amateur musical for the first time in a very long while. Now, usually at the end of these performances I feel a bit of a pang; I’m not a performer by any stretch of the imagination, but I love the buzz that comes with being involved in a show (granted, it’s been six years since I had anything to do with one). I didn’t feel that at all this time. I watched as they spun each other through waltzes and tangos, and rather than wishing I had their mad skills, I was content simply to admire. Maybe it was the fact that the plot and songs were beyond dreadful. Or maybe it really was just me.
I think what I’m trying to say is, I don’t quite know what I want anymore. I know myself better than I ever have. I know where my weaknesses lie. I know where I draw the line.
Once I would have laughed at the thought of being a SAHP. Yet more and more, the idea appeals, at least part-time or at least for a few years. Once I would have laughed at the thought of even considering throwing financial security to the wind and going travelling for an extended period at some point down the line.
I suppose I just need to accept that my dreams are going to continue to evolve, even if I don’t know where they’re going just yet.
Tags: life, reflections
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Every once in a while – a little more frequently these days – I bring up wedding talk with the boy. He’s always more enthusiastic than me to get started. Now that I am off shifts and weekends, I said we can *casually* start scouting for locations. I anticipate finding the right venue will take some time (it doesn’t have to be in Auckland, either), particularly as we are budget-conscious.
Other things decided by me so far:
- My ring will be a ruby ring, which I will wear on my right hand.
- My bridal party will either consist of his two nieces (which means I’ll be able to pay for their dresses, and pick whatever colour I want) and possibly my best girlfriend as maid of honour (which is a maybe) – or just my dudes. My three best guy friends have always been there for me. And while I love the idea of girltalk and getting ready together, I am also aware I’m not really one of those females, and will need that alone time before spending an entire day in the limelight surrounded by people. My guys can always be there for company if I need it. Did I mention one of them bought me this cute notebook for wedding brainstorming?
- There will be no train, veil or high heels involved. There will be shoulder straps and pure white (no cream or off-white). I will probably need to start looking at dresses sometime soon – I want to ask T’s mum to make it, but I’m still going to need to try on some and get inspiration.
- I want it all in one place to reduce hassle/logistics, so the venue will probably not be a church
Now, food could be a battle. T has thrown in the idea of a hangi-type feast - roast pig in the backyard, etc, which is a bit too bogan for my tastes. Um, and I don’t even like pork much (plus I have vego friends).
I kind of like the idea of an all-dessert menu (which he has both embraced and poured cold water on, on two separate occasions).
We’re also contemplating self-catering, depending on how small the guest list is and what we actually want to serve. I guess that decision will be made a lot further down the track.
As to dates? For me, the honeymoon comes straight after the wedding – not negotiable – so our date is going to depend on the destination, essentially. I think we want to do Italy and Greece, either in spring or autumn (which would be the opposite season here.) I like the idea of the double bonus: getting married in off season, and travelling in the off season. Let’s say we get married in April or May – that’s not peak wedding season anymore to my knowledge, and it’s not peak tourist season in Europe either. And no, I don’t mean next year. I’m not insane.
What am I missing at this (very nascent) stage, guys? Any helpful sage words?
It amazes me how universal something like a sport can be. New Zealand is hosting the Rugby World Cup, and while I couldn’t care less about rugby nor do I understand how the game works (league, despite the off-field reputation of its players, seems much more civilised and logical to me, because it’s pretty similar to the touch rugby we played growing up), it was something special to witness the crowds who trekked up Mt Eden to watch the opening ceremony fireworks, and to be seated in a comfortably full pub watching the game.
It was total carnage up there. We made the wise decision to bike up (yep, my first ride on a motorcycle involved ascending a volcanic cone), as the peak was already well filled up with cars. Families with children and strollers walked all the way up, while others clambered up the trails through the grass and mud in the dark. Madness.
I honestly do think we had the best vantage point – up close, apparently the fireworks were extremely smoky, and you wouldn’t have been able to see the full effect of the laser lights bouncing from roof to roof if you were in the midst of it. I had plans to go into town following the game and meet up with friends who had been at the waterfront since 3pm, up close for the entire launch ceremony – but twitpics of the masses on the sidewalks and in the middle of the street, tweets from friends and otherwise about the chaos, the public transport breakdowns and most importantly, a message from the police urging people not to go downtown unless necessary convinced me otherwise. I honestly doubt I would have been able to find them at all, let alone for us to go out clubbing after. I’m amazed my friends even managed to get on a bus home.
Aside from that, my weekend consisted of sleep, T and I cooking dinner for my parents, and experiencing authentic Mexican food at Ashi Itzcalli – where we were the first customers in while everyone else headed either to town or Eden Park for the RWC launch – and got complimentary beers shot through with lime and Tabasco, and had my first taste of chili paired with cocoa.
How were your weekends?
Fantastic stuff. Fearful Adventurer on what to do when people don’t support your dreams, plus some awesome graphics.
Not all couples are in a rush to move in together, writes Frugirl.
10 steps to getting your wardrobe to where you want it to be, via Everyday Minimalist.
Eat Move Write muses on the messages society sends to men about dating and relationships.
Super Frugalette on the realities of having a disabled child in the family.
Sound Bites on letting go of the nostalgia of youth.
20 and Engaged blogs about keeping the flame alive.
Some great advice from Hithat’smybike on job hunting in today’s economy.
Diary of Why on teaching in New York City and knowing when to quit.
Sometimes Working Girl just wants to be a housewife.
“The less you make at your day job, the easier that income is to replace” – Alexis Grant on one overlooked benefit of a low salary.
Thousandaire shares his awesome definition of “rich”.
Perfect timing! Roasted eggplant with mint and tomatoes, thanks to Smitten Kitchen.
Also soon to be in season: corn. As in Closet Cooking’s corn and tomato pie.
Another winner from my fave minimalist cooking blog Stone Soup: lemon cake.
Jess B gives three bean, couscous and steak salad a whirl.
Plus summer spring rolls, at Not Eating Out in New York.
And finally, three posts on the 10th anniversary of September 11:
“I’ve been out of the news business for five years. In that time, my human side has been reborn. Now, I watch footage from 9/11 and I have to fight back tears.” Shiftless and Lazy.
“If you want to see anxiety, pen a few hundred journalists up in an airport, unable to go anywhere, as one of the biggest stories of their lives is unfolding an ocean away.” Strange Attractor.
“The legacy of the World Trade Center is the stories of people who survived. And in those stories, I hear a symphony of assurances that it’s okay to get off the fast track. Because you can still feel fulfilled. It’s okay to earn half of what you’re earning now. It’s okay to put your kids in a bad school. It’s okay to have a mediocre career or a mediocre house. It’s okay even if you just rent forever.” Penelope Trunk.