Quiet Time. The Weeknight Book Club: 'The Heart Goes Last' by Margaret Atwood.

Dressed up my mug of Moccona this morning in my silicon lidded mug.  It almost looks like it came from a cafe.  Almost.

I'm just sitting here in front of my computer sipping a cup of instant coffee listening to time go by.  The clock's ticking away in a sleeping (for now) Toddler SSG's room, cars are purring along the street trying to secure one of those precious free street parking spots that come with bonus shade from the trees, an electric fan is humming gently as it delivers puffs of cool air into what is already a warm summer's morning.

There's nothing that needs doing urgently.  Nothing that needs to be planned ahead for in my head or on my phone diary.

It's just me, my coffee and my thoughts.  In no particular order of priority.

And all I have to write about are little details of the everyday.

Like how I found a replacement bottle of Sriracha Forte just in time and very conveniently at the Woolies down the road.  It's my favourite chilli sauce in the whole world and it goes with everything.  Much like Heinz Ketchup.  Moving right along...

Remember my bunch of spring onion roots that I planted over the weekend?

Well, here they are 5 days later!  Who knew they would grow so quickly? Or that they would do so under the care of my thumbs?

In slightly more exciting news, I've discovered a new source for post gym coffee at The Junction.  The Bondi Juice Company do excellent shots of Allpress coffee and the barista doing Tuesday mornings is chirpy, energetic yet also relaxed.  He's totally Bondi and just the person you need to be making your coffee after you've survived an epic battle with a treadmill.

I've decided to be proactive about the post cardio munchies.  I've stocked up my gym back with puffed rice sticks and a jar of fruit and nut mix.  I know, I don't know what happened to my protein shake mix, raw food energy balls or low carb energy bars either.  Someone must have pinched them.  Along with my single serve wheat grass shots...  Being facetious, I know.  I really should give one of them a try one day rather than teasing them.  Where should I start?  My big mental block about them is taste.  What tastes most like 'normal' food or is that missing the point?


I have a latest read for you.  I've been meaning to share it for a while now but haven't been sure quite how to write about it but here goes...

'The Heart Goes Last' is Margaret Atwood's latest novel.  It's a crazy, surreal, disturbing and humorous read.  I don't think Atwood is capable of writing a less than sparkling sentence.  It's her lyrical, deceptively simple in parts and cleverly paced turn of phrase that kept me reading through some of the kookier places that Atwood takes her characters in this dystopian novel set in a time in the future in a world mostly ruined by financial crises and humanity's morbid obsession with a computer generated and dominated world.

We first meet Stan and Charmaine at a phase of their marriage where the honeymoon is well and truly over.  The tans from that post wedding vacation to the beach have faded long ago, money is tight, the hopes for a brilliant shared future spent side by side have all but gone as they spend their nights sleeping in their car and their days in search of food and public toilets.  Both have lost their jobs in the financial crisis and seemingly overnight, lost their house and their financial security.

And then the Atwood style twisted fairytale begins to crystallise.  Stan and Charmaine chance upon an opportunity to be part of a futuristic society that has been created to give people like them new lives in an experimental city where all their physical needs will be met - food, shelter, hot water, electricity, real jobs.

But there is a price to be paid for this fresh start.  Stan and Charmaine would need to effectively lead two lives - spending one month 'on the inside' in a kind of community prison where they would do various jobs to support the 'actual' prisoners in return for a month as 'free people' in their own home.  Their house 'on the outside' is shared with another couple of 'Alternates' who would occupy the house in a kind of time share arrangement.

Things run smoothly for a few months as Stan and Charmaine luxuriate in everything they had been missing in their time as homeless people.  They follow the strict rules about not having any contact with their Alternates.  Sure it's a strange set up, but they have gotten so much in return for the inconvenience.  Because, at the beginning, that's all it is.  A little inconvenient.

Then Charmaine gets a bit bored and starts an affair with one of the Alternates.  Stan's suspicions are raised and he begins a little project of his own to track and monitor Charmaine's activities.  In the background, life in the community is also changing and becoming a little more sinister.  There's a large influx of 'real' prisoners into the community and the real purpose of Charmaine's job in administering 'medication' to them becomes clear (as does the title of the novel).

Atwood brings all kinds of confronting themes into the way the community functions.  She touches on human and robotic trafficking (when you discover why the blue knitted teddy bears are being made, you will probably stop reading for a moment as a wave of revulsion passes through you), the grey ethical areas of just what kind of neurosurgery humans have 'a right' to perform on others and how anyone trying to be God and creating robots in the perfect image of humans is never going to end well.

Media reviews of 'The Heart Goes Last' have been more critical than glowing.  I'm linking to a detailed review here from The New York Times.  Personally, I just went with the crazy flow of 'The Heart Goes Last' and enjoyed the trip.  Before turning the last page, having a bit of lie down and then having a bit of a think about what I just read.

Have you read 'The Heart Goes Last'?  Enjoy the trip?  Did it make you think?

A Mad, Mad Monday.

Where did today go?  In a cloud of frenetic activity would be the short answer.

This morning seems like such a long time ago.  Somewhere in the precisely timed routine that is my getting to work and daycare ritual were a couple of spare minutes to spend gazing at Toddler SSG's latest piece of art.  I framed it Sunday night using one of my Fiskbo ($4.99) frames from Ikea.  They appear to be a new addition to the cheaper options in Ikea's range.  The vibrant range of colours are perfect for setting off the creations of that special little person in your life.

You'll never guess how we managed to make it look so much like a Chinese watercolour painting.  The tree and its branches were created by blowing and dribbling a blob of black ink over the page.  After it dried, we dabbed red inked fingerprints around the branches and voila!

Then there a few more minutes, more energetically spent, devoted to waking Toddler SSG up and wishing him a happy new year with a red packet.....

before it was all systems go, go, go at work.  I'm back at the mother ship this year and there's been some major changes to our on site catering.  There's this organic food and coffee cart, a deli and a buffet that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner hotel style.  I've only made it to the organic food cart so far but give me until the end of the week and I'll have the low down on everything else.

The day just flew in a whirlwind of new faces, routines, office spaces (still waiting for my desk, chair and computer), flights of stairs and door codes.  It's just as well I'm only back in again on Wednesday because I'll need the whole of tomorrow to recover from today.

Wasn't the Superbowl half time show brilliant?  Popular opinion seems to be that it was Coldplay, Bruno Mars and the NFL opening for Beyonce but I thought the three acts worked well together.  I have no idea who won the game though...

Beyonce debuted her new single, 'Formation' during her set.  The single and its video have the internet talking at the moment with regard to Beyonce's message about her 2016 self.  Formations is about being African American, female, influential, wealthy, knowing your roots and respecting the past that has made your future.  There's a fascinating transcript of a panel review of 'Formation' in this article from the New York Times.

It was nice to know that while I was being mesmerised by The Bae, the house was taking care of itself.  Dinner got delivered via Menulog.

And my hard to find in the new 'hood Asian groceries were dropped off at the front gate by Reddish, the friendliest Asian grocery home delivery service out there.  I'm going to be using the miso paste in a new salad dressing recipe I found last week.  

Can you believe it?  In the chaos of today. I totally forgot to take an outfit photo.  Does this mean that I didn't really wear what I wore, I wonder?  Anyway.  This is a photo of today's new red dress for Chinese New Year.  It's from Boden and was the perfect choice for busy days like today where form, function and comfort were key.

How was your Monday?

The Weekend's Words and Pictures.

Ahh, Sydney.  You've really turned it on for us this weekend, haven't you?

Toddler SSG and I went exploring yesterday afternoon.  It was the kind of exploring that involved ... crossing the main road that divides our suburb.  I'm one of those people that tends to stick with what I know.  I like a well defined bit of a suburb to call home and tend to think of major arterial roads as an arbitrary marker of the boundary of 'my little patch'.  

But the weather yesterday afternoon was too good to be spent being confined by a road.  So we threw caution to the wind, waited for the green man at the pedestrian crossing and explored.  

The afternoon was powered by a bottle of cold pressed juice from the new Cali Press that opened this weekend on 'my' side of the 'hood.

We found lovely shady streets, beautiful terraces, friendly locals who introduced their dogs to Toddler SSG for a bit of pat and a paw shake and a play area that overlooked the wharf and the water.

I found urban herb garden goals in the shape of this wall garden out the front of Arte Bianca.

It's not quite nailing it but this is how things are going at SSG Manor 2.0.  The basil is growing as fast as I can harvest it, the coriander has bolted and the dark horse has been my spring onion roots.  The first set we planted a month ago have been providing me with a steady supply of garnish for salads and noodles - always just enough for what I need at the time.  I'm tempting fate but I added the roots from a whole bunch of spring onions this morning.  Fingers crossed.

I'm onto week two of my ongoing battle against work lunch fatigue.  I'm so used to making my lunch on autopilot that it's been a bit of a rude shock to have to work out a new system for it all.

Even with this set of jars I bought for all my made from scratch salad dressings.  Bought because all the perfectly good jars I had at the old house got ditched during the move because I couldn't bring myself to wrap and box them.

It's always the way though.  Just as I unwrapped my purchases and popped them into the dishwasher before dinner, dinner prep ended up yielding another useful glass jar for my lunches.  The more the merrier, perhaps, when it comes to glass jars for lunches.  Who knows, perhaps I might get back onto that chia seed pudding for lunch bandwagon sometime this year.

I got in early with new clothes for Chinese New Year thing with these dark denim flares from Boden.  They don't seem to be on the website at the moment but they are the slim flare jean should they return and you're in the market for them.  The denim's a solid weight with a bit of stretch.  Plus, they come in a variety of leg lengths.

Speaking of Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Fa Cai to you all for tomorrow.  It'll be the year of the monkey, as called by the ceilings of Ikea.  I'll be observing the two traditions I know best tomorrow - new clothes and no housework.  

I received an exciting email this morning.  It was entirely in French which makes it all sound that much more interesting and exotic.  I might be quite limited in the French literacy stakes but I drew enough conclusions to figure out what it meant.  Myriam is sending my Festival of Forty self gift to me as I type.  Watch this space...

The Ute.

You know how life occasionally throws unexpected spanners into your works on the days that you least need them?  Today was one of those days for me.

This is the sight that greeted me as I opened the back gate all set for a busy, car dependent Friday of dropping Toddler SSG off to daycare before heading to work and loading the boot up with things that I needed to move out for the relocation on Monday.

I know.  Everything about my driveway clearly says free street parking for tradies visiting the neighbourhood.

Readers, I know that this was one of those moments in which I was meant to take a few deep breaths, rise above my anger and handle the situation with decorum.  Without breaking into a sweat and ruining my make up or freshly ironed outfit of the day.

It didn't happen.  None of it.

I circled the immovable mountain that was the silver ute taking photos of registration plates and searching for clues as to how I could call its owner.  I was reduced to asking every tradie looking person I could find on the street whether they owned the silver ute parked in my driveway.  I wrote a note in my best block capitals on the largest piece of paper I could find (pictured) and placed it firmly under a windscreen wiper.  I was this close to winding masking tape across the windscreen to secure it instead but my shoulders weren't up to the task on account of the sharply tailored button down shirt I was wearing.

I hit social media to express my outrage.  I was given practical advice as well as a link to a great twitter account where you can contribute photos of truly bad parking (it also has a great name and hashtag I'm too polite to publish here).  The twitter account made my laugh.  The lady at the council offices promised to send a ranger out to see what they could do.

Fortunately, Toddler SSG could be walked safely down the road to daycare though he was upset that the walk which usually leads to the bus stop or a cafe ended more abruptly than usual at the day care lift.

Which left me to sort myself and the rest of the day's carefully choreographed plans out in the wake of this 'minor inconvenience'.  A taxi was caught in to work and a time frame this weekend has been secured for me to drive back to work with the car to get the rest of my things.  I've treated myself to a comforting cup of coffee and a tray of sushi from the new place down the road.

In a really annoying round about kind of way, perhaps there was a reason I wasn't meant to be driving today and the silver ute was my guardian angel for the day?

The thing with most of the problems that stir me into fits of irrational rage and stomping around is this.  It's not the rage and stomping that sorts the problem out.  It's the taking a step back, thinking before acting and seeking advice that does.  The lesson never changes each time I've learned it and I forget it so quickly each time that I've learned it.

Let's all have a bit of a debrief today.  What's happened to you recently that's made you abandon your rational self?

Wednesday. Nashville.

It's been that long since I've last had to post a large letter that I have no idea how much it costs to post them these days.

Solution?  Simply plaster half the envelope with my now redundant 70 cent stamps.  I'm still a bit dark about those stamps, actually.  The price to post a standard letter went up to a dollar this year!  Thirty cents up from 2015.  Besides petrol, I'm not really sure what it could be that's put the cost of snail mailing up as much as that.  With so much emailing and texting going on right now, shouldn't it cost less to deliver fewer letters?  Especially when I bet Australia Post turns a tidy profit from its Parcel Post service.  Due largely to people like me who are on a first name / recognizable by sight from the side of the street basis with their local delivery van driver.

Besides collaging my letters with stamps, I've been spending the days this week at work packing up my corner of the office.  I'm moving on  next week and so are all my plants.  No one's going to get left behind.  I'm just hoping that the box I've packed them in doesn't tip over on the drive home.

And I am loving Nashville on Netflix right now.  Who would have thought that the power of The Flix was such that it would have me loving contemporary C&W music?

Or that it would give be a new style icon?  I love everything about Connie Britton's character, Rayna, on Nasvhille.  Her sense of conviction and inner strength... her hair, her boot legged jeans.

Fauxpard dress - a find at Target for $18 last year.

I've only just started on season one but look at my hair from this morning!!  It's got the start of Connie's volume and curl.  Who knows how fabulous my hair will look by the time I get around to watching the current season?

Nashville is a series about forty something year old country music legend, Rayna.  Rayna's star is on the wane with falling ticket sales to her concerts and a poor fan response to her latest album.  On top of her professional challenges, Rayna faces the 'real world' issues many women in their forties face - walking on a tight rope between her home and work lives, the realities of being responsible for paying the mortgage and supporting her family, raising daughters in the world of twitter and precocious pop music idols and the tension that exists in a relationship when one party is more outwardly 'successful and accomplished' than the other.

Thrown into the everyday problems that Rayna is trying to deal with is Juliette Barnes (played by Hayden Panettiere).  Juliette is the new rising star and darling of the Nashville scene.  Her record sales are off the chart and she has the adoration (and pocket money) of legions of preteen fans (Rayna's daughters included).  Rayna's record company want her to open for the young upstart in a bid to bolster Rayna's waning popularity but she flat our refuses.  The stage is set for a season of cat fighting between Rayna and Juliette.

Australian Claire Bowen plays Scarlett an aspiring poet who is on the verge of big things when she is spotted singing some of her work at a cafe in the city.  I just could not look away whenever Claire begins to sing on the series.  Her sultry almost blues style singing voice is not what I'd normally associate with the music of Nashville but it works so well.

There's so much that I love about this series.  Aside from the brilliant casting, the scripts are strongly written and it's nice to see a series of this calibre written around the life of a strong but imperfect forty something year old woman facing the issues of a forty something year old woman.  And I'm so fascinated about what I've seen so far of Nashville herself in the series, I've added it to the list of US cities I need to visit sometime in this lifetime.

I've been snooping around the internet and have discovered that there are at least five full seasons of Nasvhille and that Rayna's life takes all sorts of unexpected turns which she handles mostly with poise but always with a clear sense of right and wrong.  Goodie is all I can say to that.


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