Friday, February 29, 2008

Frugal Friday: I make a commitment

I have really been getting into budgeting and frugality blogs of late. I started off at Trent's The Simple Dollar and following the blogging highways and byways have ended up with quite a list of interesting blogs on money. Anyway I have decided to take this opportunity of an extra day in February to commit to not buying anything that is not a 'need' during March - that means no books (I have 3 shelves of unread books), no clothing (man, some of those autumn outfits are cute)...... I think this will be quite a hard challenge for me as, since I began working professionally, I have become used to buying things as I want them. When we married my husband and I allocated ourselves a generous amount of pocket money for our whims - so marriage didn't even curtail my spending:).

I have read that writing something down makes you more accountable for it, so that is the purpose of this post. If anyone is interested.

Anyway tomorrow in line with my new budgetery outlook, I am off to do a non-perishable shop at ALDI - wish me luck!

Earthly Delights

Kerry Greenwood is one of those author's I read for fun. I can't buy her books cheaply on Book Depository as she is an Australian author. So, when I got a 40 per cent off book voucher for Borders I decided to pick up a couple of her books. I read all 16 books in her Phryne Fisher series in 2006, but it has taken me a while to get around to her other series about Corinna Chapman - baker and reluctant investigator!

I have just finished Earthly Delights, the first in the series. I never know how to write a plot summary for a mystery novel because I don't want to give too many clues and ruin the enjoyment of any prospective readers. So with that in mind an extract from the back cover:

Baking is an alchemical process for Corinna Chapman. At four am she starts work at Earthly Delights, her bakery in Calico Alley.

But one morning Corinna receives a threatening not saying 'The wages of sin is death' and finds a syringer in her cat's paw. A blue faced junkie has collapsed in the dark alley and a mysterious man with beautiful eyes appears with a plan for Corinna and her bread. Then it is Goths, dead drug addicts, witchcraft, a homeless boy and a missing girl and it seems she will never get those muffins cooked in time.

With flair, chutzpah and a talent for kneading, Corinna Chapman will find out who exactly is threatening her life and bake some beautiful bread.

This was a really fun read but, in the interests of disclosure to any potentially prudish readers, I think I should mention that there are certain risque moments!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Miracles of Santo Fico

I picked up this novel at a book sale last year having been attracted to it because of its setting in Tuscany. However, I became slightly dubious when I picked it off the bookshelf recently and realised that it was a withdrawn library book that had never been borrowed. Well, all I can say is that those City of Sydney Library borrowers missed out on a really great read; I loved it!

Santo Fico is a tiny, forgotten village in Tuscany. Leo Pizzola has recently returned there after spending 20 years in America - he can't wait to leave again, but has no money. As a child he used to show visiting tourists a brilliant fresco in the church (a quite lucrative occupation). Serendipitously, shortly after his return a busload of lost tourists turn up in the town and he reprises his role. Soon, other tourists start to detour to Santo Fico to see the fresco and Leo is making money fast. Unfortunately a severe earthquake hits, partially destroying the church and in the chaos Leo, and his old childhood friend Topo strip the fresco off the wall and hide it.

The resident parish priest is Father Elio, a very disheartened fellow because most of his flock seem to have abandoned their faith, is so distressed by the disappearance of the fresco that he has a crisis of faith. He believes God is punishing him for something (we are not told what until later in the novel). He decides to do penance by fasting. His niece Marta observed Leo and Topo stealing the picture and tells them she will go to the police unless they produce a miracle that restores her Uncle's faith (and stops him fasting himself to death). Leo and Topo are forced to orchestrate a series of man-made miracles, each more botched than the last, but the end results are miraculous:

"His life stretched out before him and for the first time he realised it had all been a miracle - everything - every day - every accident - every coincidence - every disappointment - every joy - all of it"

This is a beautiful novel. The author D.L. Smith has done a truly sterling job.

Thankful Thursday

I am really grateful for my puppy dogs. They keep me company and make me smile when I am down. They are always there to welcome me home - who doesn't like to be greeted by bouncing dogs! And, sometimes they are happy to just 'be' with me - there is something about a dozing dog that warms the heart. Anyway I thought I would share their exploits from last night.

Abby and Monty usually sleep in the laundry. However, the last couple of nights we have had really bad thunderstorms. Last night Abby started barking around 2am (she is scared of thunder), in my half awake state I decided the easiest way to deal with the situation was to let them sleep in our room (my husband is out field and he is the only one in the house who would protest:)). When my husband is away I pile the extraneous pillows on his side of the bed (there were 6 at last count). This morning I woke up to find Monty had manourvered himself surreptitiously onto the bed and was fast asleep on his back with his head on my husband's pillow. I had a replacement husband! It made a most amusing start to the morning though I don't think I will be sharing that particular piece of information with my husband on his return. I don't think he would appreciate knowing that his dog was comfortably ensconsed on the queen bed while he roughed it on the ground in the rain

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Long Time No Post!

Apologies, I have been away for quite a while haven't I? Oh well, I should be around a bit more the next couple of weeks as my husband is away on a field exercise and so there are no distractions!

We had our church family camp on the weekend. It was held at a beautiful campsite, right on the river. It was a fun weekend with lots of games and, of course, teaching. We had some really good talks on real-ationships (and I didn't spell that wrong:)) - that is relationships with God, the church and our family.

Anyway I did a bit a craft a while back and I thought I would post a picture. I made this baby blanket for my cousin's new baby boy (he was born on Sunday morning). It was really simple to do, its just quilt material backed with polar fleece. I banket stitched round the edge for a bit of decoration.

Hard Times

Man, I can't believe how long it has been since I last posted. Time flies! I have been quite busy here....we had our church family camp on the weekend. It was a lot of fun with a great group of people....we had some excellent teaching on relationships - with God, within the Church and with your family.

I have been reading though! I have a stack of books in front of me to review, but I will tackle just one at a time. I read my first Charles Dickens recently Hard Times - which quite literally expresses how I found reading it (LOL). Nonetheless I am glad I perserved because I feel like I achieved something by completing it.

Hard Times is set in an imaginary mid-Victorian town called Coketown. The town is full of polluting factories and downtrodden workers. There resides a Mr Gradgrind - a strict utilitarian who believes in facts and only facts. If you can't prove it, he doesn't want to know about it. There is no room with him for feelings or emotions. He brings his children up in the environment - to their eventual detriment.

Mr Gradgrind's best friend is Mr Bounderby (an unredeemably awful character). Mr Bounderby believes that every worker desires to be fed "turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon" and he treats them terribly (particularly the loyal Stephen ). Mr Gradgrind marries off his daughter Louisa to Mr Bounderby and, not surprisingly, the marriage is a terribly unhappy one. Louisa falls in love with a Mr Harthouse causing her great angst.

Anyhow I should say that Mr Gradgrind is a reformed character by the end of the novel and I actually grew to quite like him. All in all, though I didn't enjoy the tone of the book (it was jolly miserable for the most part) the story is quite interesting. My Dad has suggested I tackle A Tale of Two Cities next, as he says it is the most readable Dickens - any thoughts?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Death of Faith

I had heard Elaine on Random Jottings talk about how she enjoys reading Donna Leon's novels about Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venetian police. So, when a saw a copy of The Death of Faith at a local fair for 50c I had to pick it up. I am glad I did, after reading my non-fiction 'challenge text' I needed something light to counter it! The Death of Faith fitted the bill perfectly.

In The Death of Faith a former Nun approaches Inspector Brunetti because she believes that some of the old people in the nursing home where she used to work died in suspicious circumstances. Brunetti investigates and, of course, the case is much more complicated that it first appeared.

This was a delightful read, beautifully written and very much belonging to the gentle crime (is that an oxymoron?) fiction I enjoy. As a testament to how much I enjoyed it, I have just ordered the first two in the series from the Book Depository!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Consuming Passions

Well I have taken a week off blogging to get into the swing of things. With school starting back up, so did a number of my 'extras' - ballet, irish dancing and bible study. It has been great to go back to ballet, but my muscles have paid for the 6 weeks of holidays and become lazy:) The day after my first class I literally hobbled my way around work - particularly, down the station stairs.
Anyhoo..... my husband is out bush this week - somewhere in the wilds of regional NSW - giving me the perfect opportunity to catch up on some blogging. And, I just installed broadband! Now being on the internet at home should be a lot more pleasurable - farewell dial-up I shall not miss you. I am very chuffed with myself as I am normally rather 'limited' technologically. For instance, my boss was disgusted to learn yesterday that despite having spent two years on a graduate programme at work I need a lot of assistance to draw a graph with Excel (ie. my manager and senior manager both had to come to my computer to help). I did suggest to him at the outset that it would be faster to get the clerical staff to do it (and that's what they are there for) than have me muddle my way through. But, he is the boss! So I spent an hour on it, only for him to take a look at the end result and suggest that I get the Clerical staff to draw it.

I have been doing a bit of reading of late. I just finished (well, on the weekend) Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders. I have been trying to challenge myself to read more non-fiction and I had seen favourable reviews of this on dovegreyreader. I thought learning more about Victorian life would be useful as I read so many books set in Victorian times. Consuming Passions is a fine piece of writing and it covers many facets of 'leisure and pleasure' in Victorian England. There is something for everyone...Flanders looks at the popular press, book publishing, shopping, music, theatre, sports and, of course, the Great Exhibition. I learned some interesting facts too:

- The first upright pianos were 2 metres high - and my Mum complains about how much room the piano she is storing for me takes up!

-And, for those of use insatiable readers who dare to complain about book prices!

In the 1810s and 1820s, prices continued to climb: Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage cost from 12s. to as much as [ok, I don't have a pound sign on my computer] 1 pound 16s. 6d. A teacher earned 12 pounds a year on average; a curate (not, it must be admitted, a particularly remunerative occupation, but a genteel one, nonetheless) might earn 20 pounds a year - the price of twelve novels. Even a 15s. Bell's Shakespeare would swallow his entire income for two weeks. It was impossible for anyone earning less than 50 pounds a year to purchase new books, and in 1780 there were only 150,000 families whose income ranged from 50 pounds to 400 pounds - not a large pool of purchasers.
Ok, and this is the Economist coming out in me, but what I couldn't get over is how similar Victorian England was in its consumerism to the developed world today - here in Australia Economists are decrying the fact that despite several interest rate hikes by the central bank to stem inflation people will not stop buying! People (myself included) always want more 'things'; and we don't seem to base wanting them on whether they are useful or aesthetically pleasing. I think it was William Morris who founded the Arts and Crafts movement that said that (and I paraphrase) one should retain nothing that is not beautiful or useful. So much of my 'stuff' is neither; and so much of the objects the Victorians collected with a passion weren't either! Doesn't look like human nature has changed a lot in two centuries does it:)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

They Came Like Swallows

I have just finished reading They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell for Cornflower’s reading group. The title comes from a W.B. Yeats poem
They came like swallows and like swallows went,
And yet a woman’s powerful character
Could keep a swallow at its first intent;
And half a dozen in formation there,
That seem to whirl upon a compass-point,
Found certainty upon the dreaming air…

The story is set in a small, mid western US town in 1918, where Spanish influenza has just broken out. Elizabeth is the centre of the story, mother to Bunny and Robert and wife to James. She has found herself pregnant for a third time and is desperately hoping to give birth to a girl. The story is broken into three parts, each with a different narrator (Bunny, Robert and James) who gives their perspective on their life, the unfolding drama and their relationship with Elizabeth.

Bunny is 8 years old and a shy, gentle and somewhat aloof boy. He would prefer to be in the house with his mother, having her read to him or, painting or reading by himself than outside running around with his peers. He is the first in the family to succumb to the flu, coming down with it on Armistice Day. To Bunny, his mother is his protector who defends him, to an extent, from the bullyings of his father, older brother and class mates. For Bunny, his mother is someone who “gets him”.

Weekdays he came straight home from school so that he could have his mother all to himself. At quarter after four Sophie wheeled in the teacart and there was a party: little cakes with white icing on them, a glass of milk for him and tea for his mother. Then he sat on her lap while she read to him from Toinette’s Philip or from The Hollow Tree and Deep Woods Book……..When his mother read to him, her voice fell softly from above. It turned with flames. Like the flames it was full of shadows. (p. 42)

After learning his mother is pregnant, Robert sees her as someone he needs to protect. He blames himself when Elizabeth develops the flu (which becomes double pneumonia) because he accidentally let her go into Bunny’s room when Bunny was sick, despite the Doctor saying she was not to. Robert was badly injured in a cart accident when he was younger and lost half a leg. He wants to be treated as a normal kid despite his ‘affliction’. His mother does that:

So far as his mother was concerned, there wasn’t anything the matter with him. If they were out fishing and had to crawl through a barbed-wire fence, his father looked back sometimes. Or called over his shoulder, Can you make it, sport?... But his mother went right on……And the same way with games. His mother took it for granted that he would learn to swim and dive, so he did. (p. 95)

James depends on his wife, and she on him.

For it was Elizabeth who had determined the shape that his life should take, from the very first morning he saw her. And she had altered that shape daily by the sound of her voice, and by her hair, and by her eyes which were so large and dark. And by her wisdom and by her love. (p. 173).


He could not believe that Elizabeth had lain awake at his side, planning and arranging things for a time when she would not be there. With other people she sometimes covered up her true feelings, though not with him. Nobody had any idea, for instance, how deeply she still felt about Robert’s accident; how at night she had turned into his arms and wept. (p. 158-159)

They have reached that point in their marriage where they have a deep understanding of each other.

In this fashion they communicated with each other, out of knowledge and experience inaccessible to Bunny. By nods and silences. By a tired curve of his mother’s mouth. By his father’s measuring glance over the top of his spectacles. (p. 48-49)

This is a truly moving book. Maxwell’s writing is engaging and warm. It will be discussed on Cornflower’s forum on the 15th of February, and I can’t wait to hear the views of others.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My First Quilt

The sum of my sewing knowledge amounts to a few ribbons stitched on to ballet shoes and a brief engagement with my sewing machine to make Harry Potter capes for a Halloween Party. I bought my sewing machine in a very expensive moment of whimsy about two years ago. It sat in its box, in the cupboard for twelve months before the Harry Potter incident necessitated its emergence. The capes were constructed with a good deal of experimentation - sewing machine manual open - out of very cheap black material. They were passable imitations.

Why then did I think a degree of success in that endeavour equipped me with the necessary skills to tackle a quilting project? And, why did I think the “simple quilts” pictured in the January issue of Australian Better Homes and Garden’s would actually be simple, or that the instructions in the magazine would be complete? Well after three weekends of frustration, sewing, unpicking, fervent consultation of my sewing machine manual and a trip to the local quilting shop for advice (and a seam ripper) I have finally completed my quilting project. I am relatively pleased with the result. You will notice the colours are classically preppy. I hope they will cheer me up on any dreary days I might have. There is nothing like snuggling down with a cup of hot tea, a cosy quilt and a good book to jolly you out of a blue mood.

P.S. Just don’t look too closely at that edging. It is terribly uneven and, it would seem there was a reason why the instructions specified hand-sewing it on! I think I might need to take a class on the subject before I attempt another quilt!