December 2011 archive
Image by Camera Slayer via Flickr
May it be epic.
Thanks to my top referrers for the year: Jessie, Red, FB, Sunflowers, Saving4Later and Sense.
Wherever in the world you are, thank you for continuing to give a toss. It’s always more fun writing knowing that there’s somebody reading. You have superb taste.
How to be Alone – Jonathan Franzen
Summary: A collection of essays – not short stories – on society, technology and human nature.
Truth be told, I was expecting something more poetic than this. How To Be Alone is very much rooted in reality, rather than the abstract. Chapter after chapter he rails against technology, offering a glimpse into the life of a writer who in many ways prefers the analogue to the digital.
It opens with a touching reflection on his father’s mental and physical decline, however, and there are other highlights in the form of a chapter on his return to his childhood suburb and the oddity that is being filmed for a TV show; insights into inmates and the business of prisons; and an essay on reading and readers, which I enjoyed most. Readers, research shows, form the habit early on, whether they simply prefer their rich inner worlds, or are genuinely awkward. If they’re lucky, he writes, their parents will forbid them from reading under the covers (like mine) and they will continue reading until university when they finally come across fellow bibliophiles. There’s a certain status, or mindset perhaps, that sets adult readers apart from non-readers, and it’s nothing short of a calling.
Apart from those three, really, I could have just as well left this book alone.
Drums of Autumn – Diana Gabaldon
Summary: Claire and Jamie’s daughter voyages back in time in an attempt to save their lives.
At this stage, Claire and Jamie are happily set up in the States, but a paper clipping outlining the details of their death leads daughter Brianna to leave the 20th century and travel back 200 years to try and avert it. She and boyfriend Roger are the main focus of this book, which I can’t say is particularly enjoyable. Much of it is taken up in ridiculous, petty drama that escalates from a rape and subsequent misunderstandings (pretty much all of the main characters in the series have now been sexually violated. Awesome) that ensue. While it’s nice to see how Jamie interacts with his hot-headed daughter, whom he never expected to see in the flesh, it’s all a bit tedious, to be honest.
Parents Behaving Badly – Scott Gummer
Summary: Inside the wacky world of crazy competitive Little League parents, and suburban family life in general.
After moving back to the small town they grew up in, Ben and Jili Holden are sucked into the world of Little League – Ben’s father reigned as the local coach while he was alive, but Ben himself knows next to nothing about baseball. At the heart of the story are the characters – ex-jock and power-crazed coach Del, for one, and Cyn, the sexy ultrasound tech who scans Ben’s balls one day and turns up on the pitch the next. Hilarity ensues as Ben struggles to balance making a a $50,000 furniture order for pop superstar Touche, dealing with his daughter Kate, who spends every waking moment texting, curiosity about unrequited high school crush Liza, his growing attraction to Cyn (including a random bump and grind at a Touche concert) and of course living up to the shadow of his father after he takes over coaching Del’s team, when it’s clear he has zero authority.
I know nothing about baseball, not being American, so much of this went over my head. Nonetheless, this is a smart, sharp novel that is downright hilarious. Gummer ridicules modern music, pop culture, washed up high school has-beens and of course the sporting equivalent of pageant mothers. Parents who tell their kids not to be such pussies, glue mirrors on the bottom of their coffee mugs to blind the opposition from the stands, and generally act as if they’re coaching professional athletes, not 10-year-olds, all get the ribbing they deserve..
T and I did the exact same thing for our anniversary this year that we did in 2010: dinner at a fancy restaurant, and a massage (him) and facial (me).
To be honest, I don’t especially care for fine dining. Give me downhome ethnic (especially if it’s southeast Asian) any day. Dine is the restaurant of bigtime chef Peter Gordon, however, and I was curious as to what it would turn out.
Course 1: Ricotta tortellini doused in insanely sweet honeyed sauce. Reminiscent of baklava. Not unpleasant, necessarily, but certainly a novel flavour pairing.
Course 2: Dahl in inari wraps with kumara salad, spinach and cauliflower raita – very Westernised, but palatable. He had fish and chips, aka, snapper with freshly made chips, and asparagus – simple and satisfying.
Course 3: Three-cheese cheeseboard. Nothing good to say about it, unfortunately – not even the biscotti-like bread, served both toasted and fresh.
The surroundings were stunning:
And the service was on par with the decor. I’m not used to making small talk with staff.
Then downstairs to East Day Spa, where I promptly dozed off during my treatment. Just a pity we didn’t get to use the jacuzzi, or even the shower:
Best of all, it only cost $9.50; I had a $350 gift voucher I got from my old job to use up, which paid for the dinner and spa package, plus a glass of whiskey on top.
I don’t usually stress out much about Christmas shopping. I’ve worked in big news for years and therefore spent Christmas Day in the office for most of the last few years. Which I totally used as an excuse for skipping gifts.
Not this year.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going crazy. The one year I did give presents (two years ago, I think, was the year I had the day off) I made up hampers for our two families, containing a mix of supermarket snacks, drinks and topped off with home baking.
This year my giftgiving comprised:
- $99 on Battlefield 3 for T
- $20 on Secret Santa with the girls
- $20 on good cheese and chocolate for my family
- And whatever the cost of ingredients were for baking for T’s family (oreo truffles, shortbread, snickerdoodles. Simple and frugal).
(For those who are wondering, I usually do get a gift from my family. We don’t usually get any from T’s, or anybody else in fact.)
My plans for tomorrow are pretty fluid. There’ll be a stop in at T’s mum’s, and dinner with my family. In between, I anticipate cake-baking and holiday movie viewing.
Moreso, I’m pretty excited for New Year’s – it’s been a long time since we did anything special for the occasion. Last year we also went to the Coromandel, albeit overnight for a whirlwind stop. We slept in the car and drove back to Auckland in the morning in time to start my shift at noon.
Probably the most epic NYE I’ve ever had was 2006. T and I had just started going out officially about a week before; we went up to Mangawhai to a friend’s bach with a group – I knew them all from school but never really had much to do with them. I don’t remember all that much from that week or so, except hammocks, plenty of sun and sand, kayaking and Mudvayne’s Happy being our song.
This year? This year is a week away – a few days at one friend’s bach, crashing at another bach further along the coast with a different group of friends, two nights of music at Coro Gold, and hopefully a trip to Hot Water Beach in there somewhere.
This does mean a lot of time around people. And you know how I feel about people. Fine, in small doses – so I’m bringing my camera, books and magazines for plenty of solitary time.
Holidays tend to wreak havoc on my budget, so I’m planning to take out some cash for spending on groceries, some for the concert, and a small amount to give to our hosts. I’m not really sure how much to budget for food – we’re bringing some fresh stuff for the first few days, as well as things like bread, eggs, noodles. Groceries are always more expensive out of the city, although you do get better quality and better value fresh produce and seafood. We’ll be eating BBQ all week, I imagine – sigh – so hopefully there’ll also be plenty of salads and breads. But day trips may also well mean takeaways, and on those times when literally everybody else is getting fish and chips, it’s hard to hold out. (Hot chips are one of my biggest weaknesses, too.)
And for petrol? Again – not a clue. It’ll be at least a tank there and back, and how much more on top of that depends on how much daytripping takes place.
Anyway, we’ll tally up the damage next year. Happy holidays!
Voyager – Diana Gabaldon
Summary: Great lovers Jamie and Claire are reunited across the expanse of time.
What can I say? This is a series for fans. Twenty years after travelling back to the 20th century, Claire discovers that Jamie survived war and makes the dangerous journey back through the stones to his time.
It’s a bloated novel, taking us from Jamie’s bleak years in prison (thankfully, it skips over a lot of time) up to Jamie and Claire’s unceremorious arrival in America. Along the way, they make the acquaintance of slaves, an awesome Chinaman with a foot fetish who trains a bird to hunt fish for him, and tons of other colourful characters. And for the first time, they leave Europe, Jamie battling his seasickness to voyage across to the Caribbean in pursuit of pirates who’ve kidnapped his nephew Young Ian.
I was afraid of how young love might translate into mature love – two decades is not a short period of time – but Gabaldon soon has us forgetting their ages. In all honesty, I’m not sure I at 23 could hack half of what these guys endure – but those were different times.
Intensely Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Summary: Alice struggles with sex, religion and death. Pretty heavy all around.
I’ve grown up with Alice McKinley. Naylor is like my Judy Blume. These books are always good for a quick read, an hour or two of entertainment, but I’ve well and truly overtaken Alice – she’s still in high school and I’m well out of university. Thus, I read them more out of habit, or obligation, than anything else.
Alice has always occupied the middle ground between her two best friends – shy, dark-haired, conservative Elizabeth and flirty blonde Pamela. Her antics in this book involve being accosted by a man on a plane, getting up to some innocent mischief on a hen’s night, her first overnight visit with longtime boyfriend Patrick who’s away at college, a few run-ins with police, ponderances on religion and tolerance, and the demise of a friend.
While I’ve outgrown Alice, I still think these are great books for teen girls, and I’m going to stick it out until the end of the series, which should be fairly soon. I’ve always identified with her gawkiness and insecurities – if she was real, I would want to be her best friend. Although most of Naylor’s other characters are pretty stereotypical, Alice herself is reasonably three-dimensional and kind of the relatable everygirl.
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Summary: Superhacker gets one last shot at the caper of a lifetime.
Let me just put this out there: I enjoyed Neuromancer, but I sure as hell didn’t understand all of it. Which I suppose is often the case with scifi. The author is making shit up as s/he goes, so if you don’t know what the eff is going on, it’s because said writer is talking out of the ass. Vague passages containing references to technology that kind of sound like they make sense but actually don’t say anything concrete? Check. On the other hand, Gibson also broke ground and coined a ton of phrases that we use today and are familiar, which is a relief.
While the opening line is undeniably fantastic (The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel) the same can’t be said for all of Gibson’s prose (His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains). Rather, his strength is in pace, timing and action.
Case was once a star hacker in a futuristic post-war world ruled by corporates, who got busted stealing from his boss and paid the price. His abilities stripped, he ekes out a living on the streets of Japan. But he’s hauled up in front of the mysterious Armitage who gives him his mojo back in exchange for Case venturing into the matrix for one last covert op involving an old-fashioned key and a creepy all-powerful family who keeps cloning itself generation after generation. Who is Armitagereally working for? Who is the mysterious AI, Wintermute? And what’s up with that razorgirl Molly Millions, assigned to work alongside Case? (Kudos for the strong woman, though I was disappointed that sex had to be brought into the equation. Always, huh? Why do females always have to exist in relation to males, rather than stand alone?)
I’m a big fan of Isaac Asimov’s spare writing style. Gibson’s is much more free-flowing, and his plotting less definitive and expositional, but still colour me impressed.
And it’s how long I’ve been in a relationship I never intended to last beyond a few months.
Time speeds up with age, doesn’t it? It does not feel like 12 months since I wrote this post. Or nine months since this one, although it has been the year for blogger engagements.
If ever there was a pair of opposites, it’s us.
I’m a planner – he’s impulsive.
I’m a saver – he’s a spender.
I get work out of the way first – he wants to play first.
I’m high-strung – he’s laid back.
I’m introverted – he’s extroverted.
I have a defined tolerance for mess and dirt – his is unlimited.
But we’re still here. Still compromising. Still going strong.
Image by epSos.de via Flickr
“Why did nobody tell me?”
That was the reaction from a friend upon learning just what her friends and family thought of her ex after she dumped his cheating ass.
I can only guess that it came down to knowing that voicing such thoughts never really does any good.
Case in point: another friend recently tied the knot with somebody that for all purposes, she doesn’t really know all that well. Everyone thought it a terrible idea, and said so. Didn’t change a thing.
Now that I’ve met him, though – despite all the practical odds stacked against the relationship – I really do think it could work. So do the rest of us, including T (and that’s saying something; he’s just as jaded as me, if not more).
The other two engaged couples we know? Different story. In the first case, they have no business together, child on the way or not – and it’s highly doubtful they’ll actually make it to the altar. T will be the godfather – it’s one of those offers you can’t really turn down, I suppose, no matter how disagreeable the entire situation is.
In the other, he’s gone from long-term relationships with two class acts to someone below his calibre in every single way. We thought it a rebound based on nothing but lust. Alas, it seems we were wrong. (Call us biased. But the dude is a really good guy. He’s a catch, and she knows it – so she’s certainly not going to let go.) But what can you do?
(Slightly off topic – I’m hoping their wedding will be a large one, which I’m guessing it will as they are the gregarious type with well-off families to boot. I don’t want the pressure of comparisons when it comes to our turn, as they will probably get around to getting married before we do.)
It’s bad enough standing by on relationships that are all wrong.
It’s far more worrying when marriage enters the equation.
Tags: life, reflections, relationships
And somehow, December rolled around.
There were times, I admit, that time seemed to be dragging its heels. But mostly, I feel like 2011 shot by like a cheetah on P.
This year I got engaged. I moved house. I left my first grownup job. I took my first overseas trip in close to 10 years – my first without my parents and my first with T – and for the first time took a dip in the ocean on my birthday.
Looking back, I’m fairly happy with the way things turned out. Last year was about hunkering down, getting recognised at work, saving, getting a solid start. Having laid some of that foundation, this year I said yes to concerts, events, trips. I’ve said yes to things that scare me, read books that challenge me, and done a fair amount of introspection. I covered major events including Steve Jobs’ death and a rare fatal explosion in Onehunga, but watched from home as news of bin Laden’s death, the second Christchurch earthquake, and the general election unfolded online in front of me.
In 2012, I want my word to be consistency. Commitment to my work, my savings, my fitness, my hobbies and life balance.
But first, looking back on the year that was.
I wanted to:
- Save 40 per cent of income. I hit this maybe half of the time. We definitely had some biggish expenses this year in car fixes, travel and moving house.
- Keep eating out to $160 a month. We hit this probably less than half the time. I’m okay with spending with intention here – it’s the little transactions here and there that add up that bug me.
- Donate to charity every month. Achieved most months, but not all – maybe 70%.
- Text one friend a week. I suppose I always knew this would be difficult to track, but I reckon I scraped a pass (by definition 50 percent is a pass mark), although many of these weren’t actually initiated by me. I freaking hate texting these days; I spend the vast majority of my time at a computer, so I’d much rather email, tweet or Facebook if possible). Or, heaven forbid, make a phone call.
- Learn to confidently use full manual settings on my dSLR. Bahaha. Well, I’m a little more confident than I was at the beginning of the year, but like guitar, this kind of fell by the wayside – particularly after June when I changed jobs – there are way fewer demands on your days off when you have Monday and Tuesday off – and went gangbusters on my reading after a lull. Finding visual inspiration is a big struggle, but events like this were brimming with it.
- Read 100 books. Finished 81, which isn’t too bad an effort. 100 is definitely doable, but combined with reading more literary stuff these days + having a life is difficult at times. I could easily spend all my time reading, but alas, I have a living to earn.
- Continue running at least once a week, and
run a 10k. Hit that 10k, although kind of slacked off on running after that, if we’re being honest. Am contemplating a half – or even a full marathon – next year. I would love to say I did one…but do I want to do it badly enough? Not sure. I’m not a distance runner.
- Score a travel writing assignment. No longer applicable at my new job, sadly! That ship has sailed. No junkets for me
Take a trip somewhere warm on my birthday (thinking Vanuatu, Niue or similar). Raro was blissful, no other word for it.
- Take a big trip later in the year. By this I really meant overseas, or at least a South Island road trip. New job and starting from scratch with leave put paid to that, but we are doing a short sojourn to the Coromandel, which is sweet by me.
I also wanted to fall in love with music again – both as a maker and listener. I was, I suppose, making slow progress on guitar – until taking a new job. Having real weekends again were spent with T, travelling, reading like a fiend when I fell behind, and then dealing with the move and a string of social events. I did go to my first gig a year ago, and since then I’ve been to two more, plus two music festivals and am going to another for New Year’s. Incubus is also another possibility – but I’m not sure I’m enough of a fan to shell out $90. I had a lot of fun compiling my wedding playlist, but haven’t really put any effort into discovering new music. So that’s probably a fail.
I’m a huge lover of food, but I’m much better at consuming it than cooking it. It doesn’t come naturally to me. But I am getting better at pairing dishes and coming up with random meals combining whatever ingredients we have on hand. Possibly most exciting of all, I’ve discovered the joy of couscous. My life has never been the same. My laissez-faire methodology does not translate so well to baking, and thus my favourite go-tos are buckeyes and oreo truffles (even though they still never look that pretty). Again, slow progress, but all in all, a definite win.
And while I’m not a social creature by any stretch of the imagination, I think I can definitely give myself a gold star for effort this year. I said yes more often than no (and only when I had a real excuse), including yes to one of the biggest events of the year come NYE, with a bunch of people I don’t know that well – apart from T. Plus I’m forced to get out and about more just due to the nature of my new job.
Ah, my job. I truly am blessed. I get to write awesome stories, meet awesome people, and generally absorb passion and inspiration. Free swag doesn’t hurt, nor do invites to events (depending on what they are. I felt pretty out of my depth lunching with high-flying national and international business peeps last month, and was rendered mute at another when asked if I was considered a thought leader at my company). I had my first photo published in print (thank goodness for good lighting) – which in no way compares to the online equivalent. Basically, as a staffer there are heaps of opportunities, as I work for free compared to paying a freelancer. I’ve managed a handful of interns and been asked to write my first reference for someone.
Bonus: an improved relationship with T, in almost all aspects (we don’t spend all our weekends together, but it’s lovely to be able to…). However, blogging fell a bit by the wayside, particularly the Yakezie challenge – I’ve plummeted back down toward the million-mark on Alexa. As I suspected, spending my days writing detracts a bit from my desire to write for the sake of it away from the office.
I’m curious to know. How did you perceive your 2011?
Tags: goals, reflections
It’s rare that I go out for breakfast and come away feeling fully satisfied.
The Dizengoff portions hit the spot.
I can highly recommend the feta salad; I even ate most of the beans – and I despise beans as a rule.
Best of all, as you can see, they’re not stingy with the cheese.
You may have to jostle a bit to get through and end up elbow to elbow with fellow diners, but it’s all part of the atmosphere.
Frugal factor: middling. Regular cafe meal prices.
Dizengoff, 256 Ponsonby Rd.