Here’s a cute story from the excellent RocketNews24 about a geeky way to propose: make a video game for her that she has to complete before she gets the proposal!
It’s New Year’s Eve in Australia, and all through the land, people are making grandiose declarations, commonly known as New Year’s Resolutions.
“I’ll go on a diet and lose 30kg. I’ll never drink calorie-laden fizzy drinks again”;
“I’ll read a book a day, every day”;
“I will never eat ice-cream or chocolate again”;
“Instead of coffee or tea, I will drink water only”;
“I will go to the gym five times a week”.
And on it goes. Sadly, we are just setting ourselves up to fail when we make such sweeping resolutions. (Very important note: I am not talking here about when people are addicted to a harmful substance and they need to give it up forever—that’s a whole different story).
So, instead of making ridiculously unattainable goals, make a tiny change or goal you can stick to. Mine are going to be:
1. Try to read more books than last year;
2. Try to cut out unnecessary foods/beverages and lose 5kg during the year;
3. Exercise more. Instead of a daily 15 minute walk, try to extend it to 30 minutes a couple of times a week.
Writing-wise, I have only one main goal, and that is:
1. Finish the draft of the novel I’m working on now.
Of course, I have other goals each week, month, year. But those are the main ones, the ones I want to concentrate on. I suffer from a lack of focus in that I’m often trying to do too many things at the same time, and I end up finishing none of them.
So happy New Year, everyone, and we’ll meet again in 2014.
Yes, you’re right: the correct answer is…the pencil sharpener. For me, anyway.
This is pretty much my favourite present this Christmas, given to me by my husband, Gordon. I’ll tell you why it’s romantic.
Nearly three years ago, I took up art as a hobby. I use lots of media, including pastel pencils, and I’m about to start using coloured pencils.
Now, I think doing art is quite romantic in itself. Out of a few tubes, cakes or pencils of colour, a piece of paper or board and some brushes or sponges, you can create pictures that move people to cry or laugh, that remind them of their favourite things, that inspire them to become creators themselves. Potentially, anyway, if you’re Leonardo Da Vinci. In contrast, my paintings are much further down the evolutionary scale and very much those of a novice without wings. But you get the idea.
Anyway, I am always having trouble with my pencils. The leads are always breaking off, new pencil sharpeners quickly become blunt, or aren’t quite the right size, or don’t sharpen to a point. In the last year, I’ve probably bought 10 pencil sharpeners. Gordon has become used to me walking round the house, looking for another sharpener, and muttering about how useless they all are. I have entire conversations with myself about pencil sharpeners. Only artists will understand what I mean. And they do: there are lots of online discussions about pencil sharpeners, I’ve discovered. If you can’t get a sharp point on your pencils, it can seriously affect the quality of your art.
Furthermore, I recently bought these expensive coloured pencils which are sold unsharpened. To be fair, this set comes with its own little pencil sharpener that is quite good. However, it is laborious using such a small implement: I managed to sharpen three out of 72 before I got sick of it!
Anyway, when I opened my presents at Christmas, the one with the free-standing pencil sharpener was very exciting. All the online forums talk about the X-Acto sharpener, and here was one for me, complete with its vacuum mount and its eight-hole choice for pencil sizes.
This will make my little creations easier and better. More importantly, we will be a more peaceful household minus the mad ravings about the hazards of pencil sharpening.
There was a surprise waiting for me on my recent trip to Oamaru, a coastal town of 13,350 people in North Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. I’d known before going that it had a “Victorian precinct”, an old part of the town down by the docks that had been restored as a tourist area to show off its handsome 19th century buildings.
What I didn’t know is it had also become steampunk territory: in fact, it is the declared “steam punk capital of the world”.
What is steampunk? It’s basically an art and aesthetic movement inspired by the industrial revolution and Victorian times, with an added science fiction element: think Jules Verne and H. G Wells originally, and more recently, Phillip Pullman. There are also films, TV shows, plays and music that are considered “steampunk”, including, for example, Rock ‘N’ Roll Train by the Australian band AC/DC and—wait for it—Justin Bieber’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as seen in the 2011 film Arthur Christmas.
This was a brilliant marketing idea for Oamaru, and people come from all over the world to see the precinct. I went to Oamaru this month during a week spent in Dunedin (where I was born but spent only the first three weeks of my life).
There is an annual Steampunk NZ Festival here too, the next from May 30 to June 2, complete with an “absinthe night” and penny-farthing lessons. Tickets are pretty reasonably priced—$200 for an adult passport to everything, including food, for example. Read more on this here.
I have a few relatives in and around Oamaru, so after morning tea with my first cousin-once-removed, Ella, who has lived in the town for all of her 80 years, I took a 10-minute stroll down the hill to visit the Victorian precinct. Here’s what it looked like as I was walking towards it:
The precinct is very busy on weekends, but I visited on a weekday, when it was quiet and when the shopkeepers had time to chat to each other and me. Steampunk here seems to be, for many, a way of life rather than just a style.
There are loads of extraordinary galleries here, including the most famous, owned by Donna Demente, a top NZ artist who has settled in Oamaru. She is attributed with driving much of the fine-arts revival in the town, including the annual mask festival. I visited her wonderful Grainstore Gallery, which even allows visitors to take photos, so here are mine:
There are several other steam punk-themed events through the year. If you want to know more about Oamaru’s steampunk revolution, take a look at this fabulous video I found on by Anna Repp:
What is it that is so fascinating about seeing inside a renowned writer’s house, touching the desk they used to work at, seeing where they were brought up—pondering on what made such a brilliant mind? Do we writers hope that, somehow, aspects of the inspiration, the writerly brilliance, of the famous one will transfer itself to us?
It seems that all writers are fascinated with the writing habits of other writers, and I am no exception. I remember being riveted, for example, by the chapter in Stephen King’s excellent memoir On Writing in which he described the placement of his desk. I also have a wonderful coffee-table book, simply titled Writers’ Houses, by Francesca Premoli-Droulers and Erica Lennard (Seven Dials, 1999), which allows me to peak inside the homes of Hemingway, Twain, Woolf, Yeats and Sackville-West, among others. Today’s post is my own story of a trip to the home of one of New Zealand’s best loved writers, Janet Frame.
On a week-long trip back to my birthplace in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island this month, I caught a bus to the small seaside town of Oamaru. I wanted particularly to go to Oamaru, not only because I have family who have lived there for up to 80 years, but also to visit the town where the New Zealand writer Janet Frame spent her childhood, and about which she described in her autobiography as “the kingdom by the sea”.
With my first cousins-once-removed, I had lunch at the oldest restaurant in Oamaru, the 100-year-old Star and Garter (9 Itchen Street), where I had the lightest, tastiest whitebait fritters, the thread-like fish caught locally only that morning. The Star and Garter has hosted many wedding receptions and anniversary parties from the early 20th century, and it has a fascinating wall on which are glued newspaper articles from these weddings. They are pasted at random, so one from 1927 might be next to one from 1972. There’s a great picture of that wall on Real NZ Festival Insider blog here. For more on the restaurant, see this blog: Oamaru Life.
My cousins then took me to the childhood home of Frame, at 56 Eden Street, which she wrote about in several of her works. In typical New Zealand understatement, there is an unassuming plaque at the front, but you can easily miss it from the road and we drove by it at first without noticing it.
This is the house where Frame lived with her parents, three sisters and brother from 1931 to 1943. I was surprised—though I’m not sure why—to hear they hadn’t owned the house: it was a long-term rental property. They moved in when Frame was seven, and the four sisters shared a room and a double bed, as was common in those days, while their brother had his own room. The house is not large, particularly for a family of seven, but the rooms are generously proportioned, the ceilings high. “This is because it was built in pre-Second World War times,” the guide told us.
There is no photography allowed inside, but these book marks show what it is like. The upper shows the girls’ bedroom, while the lower is Frame’s desk, which she donated to the house when it was being restored. The desk, of course, is from a later part of her life when she was living elsewhere. During the restoration, Frame herself visited the house and was asked if there was anything she would add to it. An old range would be a good addition to the kitchen, she said, and one was duly bought.
In many ways, Frame had a tragic life, with two of her sisters dying young, and many years spent in psychiatric institutions having been misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and even scheduled for a pre-frontal lobotomy at one stage. As is the case with so many people with brilliant minds, they do not conform to the norms that society expects. I love this quotation from her childhood diary: “They think I’m going to be a schoolteacher but I’m going to be a poet.” You can read more about Frame’s life here.
As might be expected in such a small town, my relatives knew the guide on duty that day. They didn’t know Frame herself, but my cousins knew or know several people connected with the family, and it was intriguing to hear them talking not of Frame as the great writer I know from books and films, but in terms of who was related to whom, and who went to school with whom and where they might be now, who they had married and what they had studied at uni, and so on.
A highlight of the house is the 1930s free-standing radio, set up to play a real tape of Frame actually reading from her writing about 56 Eden St. As she describes her mother standing in the dining room by the light of the window, you can gaze, eerily, at just the spot Frame is talking about.
I’ve read some of Frame’s books, including Owls Do Cry, The Lagoon and Other Stories, and To The Is-Land. I’ve also read Michael King’s seminal biography Wrestling With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame (Viking, 2000). Several new works by Frame have been published posthumously, too. including the latest, Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories (2012, also published as Gorse is Not People). She left her entire estate, including manuscripts and publishing rights to all her works, to the Janet Frame Literary Trust, which she formed in 1999. I was interested to read on the trust’s website that the literary part of her estate is managed by the legendary Wylie Agency of London and New York. Janet Frame’s literary estate also runs An Angel @ My Blog that has all the latest publishing information.
On a personal note, seeing the house and feeling surrounded by quotations from Frame’s evocative writing has made me want to go back and read more. So, I add more titles to my ever-expanding summer reading list.
I will leave you today with a quotation written by Frame, showing that she had moved into the electronic age and had embraced it. To NZ writer and editor Elizabeth Alley, she said in an email: “I really love emailing, it’s like writing a poem in the sky.”
I’m with Goldfish over at Fish of Gold: I’m not much good at parties these days. I haven’t hosted a party for years, and the only ones I go to are those connected with very important events, such as weddings, engagements and special birthdays.
When I was young, I loved parties. The dressing up, the social interaction, the laughing, the music, the dancing. Now, you couldn’t pay me to leave the comfort of my home at night, pay zillions for taxis and stand around making small talk to people while the music’s so loud, we can hardly hear ourselves think.
So when I read that the last Bloggers for Peace challenge of the year was to plan a party “that will ripple peace to the world”, I groaned.
Then I started to think about it: is there any requirement that a party have a specific number of people, or that it even needs to be away from home? No, I don’t think there is.
So, my peace party would be this: gather together the loved ones in your house or invite some dear friends or family over. No texting, checking Facebook or other anti-social activity while this is going on.
Cook a beautiful but simple meal. In the words of one of my friends: “make a salad, bake some potatoes, and put some steaks on the barbecue. Other ideas are to make a huge paella that everyone can dig into; or serve a steaming platter of spaghetti marinara with salad and crunchy bread. Include something sweet at the end, even if it’s just ice cream (have you SEEN the fancy flavours now available? Lemon meringue, coconut lime, and passionfruit pavlova are among them).
Open a bottle of wine—or, if alcohol isn’t your thing, make luxurious hot chocolate (here’s a stunning Jamie Oliver recipe). Put on your favourite music—not too loudly—and talk to each other. Tell jokes, laugh, talk about the people you miss, talk about the funny things you have done together.
If you celebrate Christmas, consider having a low-key day like this. It will be peaceful and relaxing, not too expensive, and you’ll avoid the stress of the “more is more”, overly commercialised stupidity that has hijacked the season.
If we all spent less on holiday celebrations and had our own peaceful, modest parties instead, then donated the money saved to some effective charities, we could go a long way to making the world a better place for millions of people.
How frugal is too frugal? It depends on your circumstances. About 10 years ago, I remember being horrified when a TV reporter advising people how to save money said that forgoing buying a coffee Monday to Friday would save $750 a year. I would, I reasoned, rather have my daily cappuccino than $750.
A decade on, however, I’m starting to see how much sense that makes, and now I buy only one hot drink a week (chai latte is my choice these days) or fewer.
I thought about that story of saving money again this week while I was at the supermarket. I often purchase pre-cut cheese slices (natural ones, not the over-processed rubber ones in cellophane) and pre-grated cheese. This is purely because they are convenient for sandwiches and recipes respectively. (I know my foodie friends will gasp in horror when they read this. Oh well.)
But comparing prices in the supermarket, I calculated roughly that I would save $150 a year if I bought cheese in blocks rather than pre-cut. That doesn’t sound much, but it is a jolly good night out for two, or a bucket-load of new books, or three bottles of Moët champagne… In return, I have to spend one minute slicing or grating cheese each time I use it. I can do that.
Moving on from that, there must be lots of other ways I could save money just by changing my buying habits slightly.
In reality, any savings I make are likely to go straight to my credit card rather than on champagne. I need to take austerity measures at this time of year, because there is very little academic work from December to the start of March.
On the positive side, it is a wonderful, peaceful time to get some writing done. I’m working on a novel and, from tomorrow, I will aim to write 2000 words a day, most days.
Because of my austerity measures, I will not be going out much to restaurants, going to the theatre or flying away for a weekend in Queensland. In other words, there will be few distractions.
Instead of gadding about, I will be hunkering down, weathering the lean times for another year and…hopefully, at the end of summer, I will have the first draft of my new novel done. That will be a major achievement, since I’ve been researching this topic in various ways for 20 years, and recently, finally, came up with what I think is the perfect formula for the book.
When I was a child, there was one toy I always wanted but never received. I would visit toy stores and go straight to the aisle where they sold…the Barbie dolls.
To me, this strangely proportioned doll was the last word in sophistication and glamour, an adult doll who had a boyfriend, super fashions, makeup, a camper van and various exciting professions. In contrast, I was a little girl from New Zealand who liked playing with baby dolls, reading Famous Five books and dressing up her long-suffering cats in bonnets and booties.
When we went to live in Los Angeles for a couple of years, my desire was fed even more. Instead of the small independent toy stores with narrow aisles and teddy bears that I was used to in New Zealand, there was the mega-store Toys R Us. This was a mixture of heaven and hell for kids: heaven because of all the amazing stock it had, and hell because there was so much you wanted but would never get.
I hoped that I would receive a Barbie doll for Christmas or my birthday (which are within two weeks of each other), but to no avail. Then, when I was 11, my American friend Andrea, already into fashion and makeup and talking about boys, laughed her socks off when she saw the doll collection in my room. “You still play with DOLLS?” she said incredulously. “A Barbie might be OK, but…BABY DOLLS?”
I put those dolls away after that, but I still always sneaked around to the Barbie aisle whenever we went to a toy shop.
So, I grew up, and got my own exciting profession, boyfriend (then husband), fashions and makeup. When I was in my 30s, my mother and I were talking one day and I told her about my great childhood longing for a Barbie doll.
“But you never asked for one,” she said. It had never occurred to her that I would want one, and she probably didn’t think such a doll was really appropriate for a little girl, anyway.
I realised then that I had just hoped that somehow she’d know I wanted a Barbie. But she was right: I’d never expressly asked for one. In the 1970s, we children weren’t allowed to whine about toys we wanted, especially when so many children around the world were starving, as our parents constantly reminded us.
When I was 41, I received a special present from my mother: I finally had my Barbie doll. What’s more, it was a mermaid Barbie, because my mother knew I was fascinated by mermaids. “Now don’t say I never gave you a Barbie!” she said. And here it is:
This post was written in response to the Daily Prompt word a day challenge, here, which asked, “Was there a toy or thing you always wanted as a child, during the holidays or on your birthday, but never received? Tell us about it”. I got inspired when I read a post by Fransi Weinstein, about a fabulous pair of shoes she coveted as a teenager. You can access her post here.
This post about the ridiculous over-commercialisation of Christmas mirrors my sentiments exactly. I wonder how it is that so many people have been so taken in by advertising, so that Christmas has become for them this huge hurdle each year.
I have a beef with the whole holiday hoopla.
Not really. Not entirely. But their ad team should really get a shot in the arm of good ‘ole holiday spirit. I mean, what’s with this “Christmas. Accomplished.” ad campaign? The one where they tell you to “out-gift” everyone? The one that intimates any together, Christmas-savvy shopper will go to all lengths to buy not just perfect presents, but perfect presents in copious quantity. Oh, and the decorations to go with them.
How did I miss the memo on Christmas being a…
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The first hardback book I remember buying myself was A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, for the princely sum of $3.25 in 1975. I remember seeing this book in the window display of a children’s bookshop in Mission Bay, Auckland.
I was living with my grandparents for a year while my parents were overseas, and they had sent me some money for Christmas. I spent the bulk of it on this book, and it still sits in my book case today. I thought the cover quite the most beautiful I’d seen. I had first been entranced by this story when I saw on TV the Shirley Temple movie adaptation from 1939.
I saved my pocket money to buy books from the age of seven. Dad gave me 10c a week, pitiful even in those days. My parents didn’t really believe in the concept of pocket money, but conceded this miserly amount when I insisted. I then made a case that, because I was older than my brother, I should receive more than him. Dad reluctantly gave me 11c a week, provided I never divulged the raise to my brother. How I wanted to gloat to my brother…but couldn’t, lest the extra 1c be removed.
My favourite paperbacks were the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, written by Enid Blyton in the 1940s. I loved the idea in them that children could make a difference, could have a whole world beyond the realm of their parents, and could go on exciting adventures without the presence of adults.
I always keep price tags on the books I buy, and have done since I was a child, because I find pricing very interesting years later.
I still have one of the first books I bought, Five on a Treasure Island, which the back cover tells me cost 45c in the early 1970s. I had to save my pocket money for five weeks to buy one of these (with enough change to buy several 3c lemonade ice-blocks in the summer). I would read the book in a day, then read the best bits again, and prepare for the almost interminable wait of five weeks between purchases. It was always worth the wait!