November 2011 archive
This may sound like blasphemy. But we are not putting up a Christmas tree.
I'm quite partial to blue and silver as a seasonal theme
As a child I wanted one so bad. And we didn’t get one until I was about 15. I longed for even the smallest of trees, with even one present under it. But therein lay one of the quirks of my overly frugal parents. Thankfully, we only have one set of cousins in New Zealand, so awkwardly answering the question “What did you get for Christmas?” with “Nothing” wasn’t as repetitive as it could have been.
I even had a real tree, one year, courtesy of my flatmate in 2006. Turns out they’re dreadful things, shedding needles everywhere and emitting particles that zero in on my sinuses… to say nothing of disposing them.
So now it seems I’ve come full circle. Neither of us especially wants one, and neither of us can be bothered with something we’re so ambivalent about. (Especially given that we don’t spend Christmas at our own house)..
It’s the kind of thing I suppose we’d get into for the kids, when we have kids. The question at that point will be do we tell them about the Tooth Fairy and Santa?
Shantaram – Gregory Roberts
Summary: The tale of an Australian prison escapee who flees to India and carves out a life for himself in Bombay
Some characters truly are larger than life, and Lin, aka Shantaram – based on Roberts’ own experiences – is almost too fantastic to believe. From inmate to slum doctor to gangster, he arrives in Bombay intending only to stay for a few days, and ends up hooked by its heart and soul.
Shantaram is long, but it has the makings of masterpiece. Roberts brings India to life in full colour – its spirit, its heat, its filth – compelling yet repulsive, ugly yet beautiful. Lin endures countless betrayals, deaths of those close to him, struggles with heroin, but finds joy in a few real friendships, his slum neighbours whom he cares for, and learns the business of passport forging and currency hustling under the patronage of one local mob head. My chief complaint lies with his incessant need to tie every chapter up neatly with some deep philosophical observations – it’s unnecessary and grating.
It’s also telling, I think, of the faults of the prison system. The book begins in Bombay; Roberts does not directly indict his Australian jailers, as I recall; Lin references his time inside to others only when asked directly about it. And as for the brutal violence and appalling conditions that mark his time in an Indian jail, well, that speaks for itself. I have spoken to prison guards, restorative justice reps and lobbyists on both sides in my time, and while I know there is no black and white and no easy answers, I think it’s safe to say our system is not perfect – and it’s unimaginable that such things can be sanctioned (plus of course, the things that aren’t).
How To Get A Sofa Around A Corner – Mark Frary
Summary: Smart science for a better life.
Have you ever wondered how to up your odds at cards, get a wine stain out, or deal to bad breath? This book explains how, applying science – be it physics or chemistry – to everyday matters. And it’s not laborious; think diagrams, drawings and concise explanations, with each dilemma dealt to in the space of a couple of digestible pages. Probably not a reference book, but an entertaining and educational distraction all the same.
Dragonfly in Amber – Diana Gabaldon
Summary: Duelling. Balls. Prison. Kings. Gold. History. From life in 18th century France to 18th century Scotland, it’s never dull for Jamie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp.
Okay, I succumbed. And I’m putting the Claire-Jamie story up there with Tatiana and Alexander and Jessica and Marcus in my top three greatest fictional loves.
Sequels are never quite as compelling, and this suffers from being bookended with sequences set in the future, in which Claire recalls the rest of her time-travelling experience in the present day. These also swing from first-person to third person, as her daughter Brianna and family friend Roger necessarily provide another perspective while she attempts to convince them of her story.
Following on from Outlander, Dragonfly follows Claire and Jamie in France as they try to thwart the Stuart uprising. Jamie takes up the mantle of merchant and Claire juggles her duties as a society lady with work at a hospital for the dregs of society. There’s duelling, more jail time, a miscarriage and plenty of plotting, scheming and mortal danger, plus plenty of rolls in the hay thrown in. Highbrow guilty pleasures all around. And you might learn some history too.
The more I think about committing to a 2013 wedding, the more I swing between feelings of excitement and anticipation, and doubt tinged with dread. The former is self-explanatory. The doubt is related to timing, the dread to the actual process of planning; there are a few details I’m psyched about, the rest sounds like too much hard work, no matter how simple we keep it.
But I suppose I’ve always been a bit conflicted about marriage. As I guest blogged on Jessie’s Money, T’s first proposal didn’t go down so well (I’ll call it a practice run). And then a couple of years passed. I started wondering when I might expect him to do it right, as I thought of it – we talked about the future lots, about kids, about growing old, about how balancing our two families at a wedding might go. Even though I still was in no way ready to contemplate getting married.
I still feel that being engaged is right and exactly where we’re meant to be. So it’s a timing thing. I’m thinking 2013 so our Europe trip can be a honeymoon. But I’m not totally sold and I’m not sure why that is.
Is it because I was rather firmly tethered to the notion of getting hitched close to 30, with housebuying and childbearing following fairly closely after (once I’m wedded to a plan, being wrenched off that path is akin to passing kidney stones, or something hideously painful)?
Is it because I still haven’t gotten over my aversion to the noun “wife”? Do I just not feel old enough to call ourselves a married couple yet?
Laurene at Stratejoy muses on the strange nature of mother-daughter relationships.
Five ways to improve your life in five minutes, with Bullish’s Jen.
Matt at Life Without Pants talks plans vs missions.
Sometimes what we want is full of contradictions, as Lesley at 23ToLife points out.
Passive Panda and Writing to Reach You ask: are you ever jealous of your more successful peers?
The joys and sorrows of being a misfit, via Rachel Hills.
When one door closes, another opens. Lindy at Minting Nickels on ‘the one that got away’.
Zen Habits on the warning signs that you’ve given up on your dreams.
Makeunder My Life reminds us that we are only accountable to ourselves.
At APW, we hear from a feminist homemaker.
If you’re too busy, you’re not doing it right. At Study Hacks.
Hithatsmybike on the boomerang children phenomenon.
Little House imagines life pre-cellphone, pre-cable, pre-Facebook.
How to write a killer magazine pitch, by Rachel Hills.
From self published author to big publishing deal – an inspirational read from Torre DeRoche.
Redhead Writing walks us through the creation of a nonfiction book proposal.
Should you take a sales job? Ms Career Girl answers a reader question.
A tale of choosing entrepreneurship over a lifelong dream, at Sharp Skirts.
Add Vodka on the pros of not having a steady job.
Get Rich Slowly on America’s love-hate relationship with wealth (applies to New Zealand just as well, IMO).
TeacHer reckons some personal finance advice is totally unrealistic.
Forget about normal – strive for better, says Debt Ninja.
So Over Debt offers some finance lessons from the Walking Dead.
Want to avoid buyer’s remorse? Budgets Are Sexy has some good advice.
Mmm, meatballs! Via a wandering food lover.
Iowa Girl Eats shares her hungry hubby casserole.
Spinach and lentil curry sounds delish (thanks Not Eating Out in New York),
And finally, cranberry and white chocolate ripple ice cream, by Hungry and Frozen.
Absent for a week? What’s been going on?
Well, there’s been plenty happening around these ways
- My brother got rushed to hospital on Wednesday with a fever, vomiting blood and other nasty symptoms. Doesn’t seem to be meningitis, thankfully, but they’re still trying to figure out what’s wrong with him. In the meantime, he’s missing all his exams (he’s in his second to last year of high school) and also missed out on picking up a university level prize for economics (Mum must be pleased that at least one of us has some aptitude with “logical” subjects).
- We’re all moved in! We just need a few more things – some kind of shelf or cupboard to fit into this cubby in the kitchen that we can perch the microwave on (the fridge was too big to fit), a coffee table for the lounge, perhaps a bedside table and I’d also like a lightweight portable dining set that we can put outside but still bring indoors. It’s great having a garage and waking up to sun streaming in everywhere – our old place faced west and was surrounded by trees/fencing, and despite being insulated, the ranchsliders were always dripping with condensation in the morning.
- I heart Orcon, our internet provider, and have had no problems with them to date – but the move has been one huge hassle. It was meant to be same day and seamless, but here we are a week later and still no internet or phone. First they told me they were waiting on Chorus/Telecom to do something with the lines, then told me the order had been mistakenly put through as “change of plan” rather than “change of house”, and THEN the plan I was on would now cost me an extra $10.71 a month (a special partner discount through my now former employer). So that’s where we’re at.
- As a result of the move – truck rental, new fridge, food, mini-housewarming BBQ with a few friends and family (plus the lack of broadband at home) our finances are a shambles. I don’t even want to think about it. I’m keeping up with the bare basics through surreptitous logons to my internet banking at work, but I cannot wait to get connected so I can get back into the swing of things.
- I will breathe a sigh of relief later next week once certain deadlines are over. But don’t get me wrong; I’m still digging my work, and I’m grateful for it – that I’ve always had an idea of what I wanted to do, that I was both good at it and enjoyed it, worked towards my goal and been lucky enough to have amazing opportunities come my way . I tell you, there’s nothing more depressing than talking to people stuck in the Monday-Friday drudge. It would be fine if they had some semblance of plans or dreams or aspirations, but simply hoping to win Lotto is not going to get you anywhere.
- I love summer – I don’t love my nails growing at supersonic speeds! (I keep them short for musical and contact lens purposes)
- WTF is up with Ultimate Guitar and making tabs unavailable out of the US? Those tabs are tabbed by random players – they don’t belong to the artist or the record company. BOO.
- And on that note, I brought the new Sony S tablet home to review recently – the perfect size for plopping down next to me and playing Youtube vids of songs to help me learn. Only practically every video I opened was unavailable on mobile devices. Again. WTF?
- Interns with better blogs than me. I’m never going to blog about politics and major social issues, but maybe I can get a regular book blog going on my neglected Tumblr.
- Raise and more importantly, promotion for T!
- Writing some rockin’ stories. Kind of tempted to link to some of them here.
- AMAZING raw fish salad courtesy of some of the boys at work. I’m not a huge fangirl of the dish, but this was just as good as the stuff we had in Rarotonga.
- The car sailing through its warrant of fitness. Phew.
Apparently getting laser surgery, over the course of my life, would be cheaper than what I currently spend on glasses, lenses, eye drops, solution, etc. Assuming, of course, that my eyes don’t crap out again on me further down the track.
An acquaintance recently encouraged me to do it. $6000 wasn’t a lot of money, she said.
I wanted to ask: “Are you sure you’ve been working in journalism for the past 10 years?”
I could afford Lasik right now and have money left over – but I don’t think I’ll ever do it. I’d sooner pay for my wisdom teeth to be taken out, which is more urgent.
I’m not particularly active or outdoorsy, and I even kind of like waking up to a soft focus world in the morning.
My med school friend, on the other hand (next year is her last year, when she’ll start getting paid – $26,000, just under minimum wage), reckons it’s the first thing she will do as soon as she can afford it.
The Post-Birthday World – Lionel Shriver
Summary: The ultimate what-if scenario; Irina’s two very different possible lives play out, one in which she succumbs to an adulterous attraction, and one in which she doesn’t.
Here’s the deal: Irina is dopey and spineless. Her defacto, Lawrence, is dull, emotionally stunted and won’t marry her. She’s forced to choose between him and Ramsey, the snooker-playing cad who offers a life of colour, excitement and hot sex. He’s also terrible with money, immature, jealous and temperamental. And that’s the choice, really – a happy-enough existence, or a turbulent one of high highs and low lows? What would you choose?
Shriver plots very tightly; Irina’s divergent futures parallel each other closely, usually mirroring the other. While it works well (they are alternated chapter by chapter) it’s also predictable; I wonder if the book would have been stronger had her alternate realities diverged more strongly. And it’s not a short book. It could definitely have had the axe taken to it; some of the exhaustive pool passages could have been trimmed, or the vaguely political ones. But by the very end, Shriver makes it pretty clear which side she’s on. Irina ends up in exactly the same position either way, except for one crucial point. And that disappointed me. A novel based on this premise, IMO, should be ultimately ambiguous.
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Summary: After Amir witnesses an unspeakable atrocity on his childhood friend/servant Hassan, who endures it for his master’s sake, his guilt haunts him for years to come, through Afghanistan’s war and over the ocean to his new life in San Francisco.
Afghanistan’s history is pretty depressing. And so is Amir’s sorry story. Unable to deal with his guilt, he drives Hassan literally out of the city, and doesn’t get the chance to begin to atone for his sins until decades later. He’s drawn back to his home country to try to set things right in a small way and slay his demons once and for all.
What’s wrong with The Kite Runner? Hosseini prefers to tell even more than show. He beats you over the head with cliches and foreshadowing and symbolism. The first person viewpoint didn’t help in that regard – one of the many reasons I preferred A Thousand Splendid Suns. That said, it’s a nice history lesson, an ode to the once-great Afghanistan of old, and a tearjerker. It also always breaks my heart to read about immigrants starting over in poverty in a new country – that saddened me possibly even more than the atrocities in Kabul and elsewhere.
I don’t want to give you the impression that I hated this book; I enjoyed it. And to Hosseini’s credit, for all my criticism of his heavyhanded plotting, the conclusion was decidedly not neat and tidy, but delightfully grey. But I think it could have been so much more, with a less contemptuous and cowardly narrator, and less long-suffering, endlessly loyal secondary characters.
Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
Summary: An intriguing, if not intimate glimpse into the workings of a flawed and mercurial genius.
It’s not often I read biographies. But I actually wanted to read this one, and when a copy popped up on my work desk, I was stoked. And because I didn’t get to do it justice in my 200-word review, you’ll get the full unpolished monty here.
I think we all know the Steve Jobs story. It’s great stuff; you couldn’t make it up if you tried. But it gets better; Isaacson has managed to extract some fabulous quotes, eg: “She [mother Clara] just wanted him to be healthy, and he would be making weird pronouncements like, ‘I’m a fruitarian and will only eat leaves picked by virgins in the moonlight.”
(One of my 100 in 1001 is to do NaNoWriMo, which I probably won’t pull off, but I reckon I could do a fair job of a biography. It’s just longform journalism, after all.)
As well as following the narrative of Jobs’ life, it offers an insight into the tech world and the tensions of Silicon Valley- open vs closed, Apple vs Microsoft, Apple vs Google, Disney vs Pixar, etc. It doesn’t shy away from his failures: NeXT, the Lisa, Antennagate, etc. What it does leave out is the Foxconn suicides – while I don’t believe there’s anything unique about Apple’s use of cheap labour, I do think the major negative publicity surrounding worker deaths warranted a mention.
It’s not a particularly flattering picture of Jobs. He was a genius at what he did – almost everyone who knew him agreed on that. He drove others to perform beyond their expectations – his reality distortion field, as they call it, sucked others in, hypnotising them almost. While not a technical guy, he pursued perfection at all costs, demanding beauty in his products and in his personal life – house, plane, boat. He married technology and design like nobody had before.
But he was ruthless. He’d dismiss others’ ideas, then claim them as his own a day later. He cheated Woz (whom I think of as a giant teddy bear) out of money in the early days and denied founding member Daniel Kottke any stock. He wanted to let employees go on the spot without severance. He saw things in black and white, dismissing those who weren’t A players, and everything was either genius or a piece of crap to him. No middle ground. He had no time for social niceties. He was volatile and complex and played favourites with his children. And of course, he eerily echoed his own father’s abandonment of a child at 23. And he did not endure his illness well.
But to his credit, it was never about the money. I especially loved the moment when Jobs told the head of Oracle to stop thinking about making more money, because he already had more than enough to last him a lifetime. It’s these anecdots, collected by Isaacson and supplemented by exhaustive interviews with family, friends, business contacts and material from other published interviews, that really start to offer insight into his essence, his quirks, his drive.
Steve Jobs was an enigma. Some say his issues came down to his adoption and feelings of abandonment. Others say he may have been undiagnosed bipolar. Did Isaacson truly get inside his head? I’m not sure. On the other hand, I’m not sure he himself, nor anyone who knew him, could truly say they fully understood Steve Jobs
I’ve come to realise that I am quite rubbish at coming up with suggestions for ideas for presents. What makes a good gift for a significant other? Perfume? Chocolate? Jewellery?
Personally, if I can’t be whisked away on a trip, I like to be wined and dined. Or rather, just dined, as I don’t like wine.
How about you?
Seth Godin explains how to get a job with a small company (I love that he put writing after selling – it gives me hope for, well, the rest of my career.)
Amy asks: Have you ever followed your heart and had it go awry?
A pep talk from Sarah at Yes and Yes – You’re not a fraud. Really. (Plus a rocking guest post at Kyla Roma on being the best scenario you.)
Andrea details the financial difficulties of small town life.
Financial Samurai learns the hard way not to tell others how much you earn.
The rules of lifestyle inflation, at First Gen American.
Professionally Social explains how to test drive a new career without changing jobs.
How to win the office politics game, at Get Rich Slowly.
Passive Panda’s 50 tools to boost productivity.
Ashley at Writing to Reach You on journaling, handwriting and creativity.
Shiftless and Lazy on what women want.
** Click here for more info on my monthly spending roundups.**
Oooookay. This sure was a mixed bag! Some highlights…
Clothes and grooming: One cardigan and one dress. Both of which were items I’d been searching high and low for.
Dining: Oh dear. This was going good until the very last week – we were on track to come in under $200 (still over budget, but not as badly). Then, the weekend. Think a long lazy slightly spendy afternoon out with friends, which also may have cost us a chance at a sweet outdoor dining set for just $20, but c’est la vie. No regrets there.
Fees and interest: FAIL. So much fail, I don’t want to talk about it. I pay off the Visa every week, except in the case of a few big transactions in which I waited until the 31st (motorbike rego, repairs etc), only it turns out interest was calculated on the 30th. Pushed it too far…
Groceries: A sub-$500 bill? I am a rockstar. (ETA – another $77 didn’t clear until the month rolled over – but still in the same ballpark. Woot)
Home expenses: Four weeks’ bond, first week’s rent, one week plus GST letting fee on our new house.
Insurance: Contents, for the quarter. Sometime this decade I’ll get around to switching this to annual, like our other policies. I first purchased contents coverage as a cashflow-challenged student…
Motorbike: Given $311 of that was bike registration and a helmet for me… AWESOME. And wait till you see our petrol bill…
Savings: Some for T, and my extra income saved. Not counting regular monthly savings.
Vehicle: Can I get a hell yeah? This is seriously about the least we’ve ever spent on our car. All up, that’s less than $300 on petrol for the month, including gas for the bike.
Also, I saved 41 percent of my income! STOKED! I knew I could do it…well, in theory. I just hadn’t managed to, not since changing jobs, between splurging on concert tickets, Guitar Hero and the like. This was, of course, before paying for rent and bond at the new house. And between mystery shopping, editing, and a tax refund on my donations for the year, I netted an extra $60 in easy money, all straight to savings.
Tags: money, spending
I hate moving house. But like death, taxes, and work, it’s one of those inevitables in life.
I finally got the prod to start nosing around when rent went up from a nice round $500/fortnight to $560. Still cheap, but we’re both sick of our one-person kitchen and keen to get a garage where T’s motorbike can reside (do you know what the difference in excess is if stolen from a garage vs not? More than a thousand dollars. Might even be closer to two grand, if I could assed getting up to check).
The hunt didn’t actually take anywhere near as long as I’d thought. I think our current place was the first or second we looked at, but in 2008 I literally lost count of the number of rentals I viewed and applied for (didn’t help that I was a student at the time). T and I literally pulled up outside this house and were underwhelmed, but seeing as I’d dragged the agent out there, figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it the once over. And know what? It was surprisingly A-OK.
- Mixer taps – a non-negotiable
- Modern bathroom
- A touch of stained glass
- A minuscule second bedroom that can be T’s domain, aka mancave
- A spacious kitchen and dining space
- Lawns are done for us
- A single garage
- Outdoor patio
- Busy road
- Closet is in the hallway outside the bedroom. (The property is half, or possibly 2/3 of a converted bungalow, which is split into two self-contained units, so our main bedroom was probably once a lounge)
- Roomy kitchen, but very little storage space
- Ancient light fittings and somewhat dingy carpets – but those are minor details, and I kind of prefer not having the pressure of keeping a brand new place pristine
While I really didn’t want to pay more than $300 a week, I gave in a little on this one – $320. We are, after all, doubling if not tripling our space easily; it’s almost excessive. We also had to pay a letting fee (boo!) as it was through an agency. Four weeks’ bond, first week’s rent and the letting fee came to nigh on $2000, all of which I paid last week (that seemed to surprise our agent).
No more living under our landlord – we’ll just be next door to a single lady.
This means a new supermarket, new route to the office, new local park and mountain, and I can finally sign up to Powershop! I’ll be about the same distance from work; T may be a little further from the motorway, but we are back closer to friends and family, which is important to him.
It also means furnishing the place. I don’t care for home decor, so I’m totally happy to take castoffs from T’s family – they may not have money but they have stuff and we are welcome to it – and will Freecycle/TradeMe/garage sale anything else we need. We’ve had more furniture in the past when we lived in an actual full three-bedroom house with flatmates, but couldn’t obviously bring it to our studio. The biggest priority will be a fridge, and after that, stuff like couches, clothesline, cutlery drawer, table and chairs (possibly x2 for outside on the deck) and a second TV because T insists on one in the bedroom.
It kind of got me thinking about the future – I always imagined getting married closer to my 30s, and buying a house right after. If we go ahead with a 2013 wedding, that’s simply not going to happen. Possibly we could afford a unit/small townhouse, but I’m in the “house for life” camp. Moving is bad enough when renting. Landlording doesn’t interest me, and honestly, the market here is not for smaller dwellings (particularly new construction, often leaky apartments and terraced houses) but for the traditional Kiwi family home. And, you know, there’s the whole travel idea.