Thursday, 22 June 2017

Decorating Trends - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I love home decorating. 
I love poring over Country Style and House and Garden magazines.
I can lose myself in Pinterest for days, searching for white kitchens, rustic dining tables and farmhouse gardens. 
A quirky little home wares store will suck me in like a vacuum cleaner sucking up a fluff bunny.

And for the last two and half years, I have wallowed in design and decorating ideas because we have been working towards building our own new home.

I love, love, love home decorating and decor daydreaming.

But there are a few trends that I just don't understand. Some that I abhor. I know it's simply a matter of taste but the decorating recesses of my mind are full to overflowing and I have to speak out! 

These are my personal ickies:

The butler’s pantry where the sink, the dishwasher and the oven all live. 
What on earth is the kitchen for??? 
Who wants to spend hours cooking and cleaning up in a dark and pokey little space when you have a lovely large, open kitchen to work in? 
Of course, if there's a real live butler hanging out in the pantry doing all the work, that changes my opinion completely...

At the other end of the crazy kitchen spectrum is the outdoor kitchen, fully-equipped with Taj-ma-barbeque and fridge and sink and dinner sets and wine glasses and napkins. 
Come on! How many kitchens can you use at once? 
And what’s wrong with a rusty, dusty barbie propped up against the back wall and keeping it simple? I've never met a person (or dog) who doesn't love a sausage and sauce sanga. 
And don't get me started on having to clean two cooktops, two fridges, two sinks ...

Nobody really wants to decorate their home in orange. 
Except for my mum and dad in the seventies. They splashed it around like it was going out of fashion. And, pretty soon, it was! 
If you want a touch of orange, fill the fruit bowl with mandarins ... buy a bunch of gerberas ... plant some marigolds in a window box. But don't plaster the walls with orange mosaic tiles or cover the kitchen benches in orange Laminex. (Really, Mum, don't!)
Don't even buy an orange cushion. 
I mean it.
Toss it out of your shopping basket. 
Buy something blue or green or yellow, even. 
But not orange. 

The home theatre. 
Okay, if you’re a soiree-holding kind of person, I can see how this might be quite nice. ‘Do join us in theatre at 8pm for a delightful  evening of light classical music, pink champagne and muted laughter.’ 
But a room for just watching the tellie? 
It’s like having a room dedicated to just thinking, or just  knitting, or just reading. 
Oh, hang on. A room for just reading sounds brilliant! 
They even have a name for it.

Those fires that hang from the ceiling like some sort of overgrown cocoon. 
They look a little bit scary in a sci-fi sort of way. 
And they look daft. Even if you’re going for the hipster dufus look.
My husband, the Great Dane, thinks they're cool. Then again,  he tucks his T-shirt into his jeans and still thinks 'Smokey and the Bandit' is the best movie EVER!!! 
Cocoon fireplaces are just not right. And you can't tell me that someone's kid won't swing from it and burn their derriere before wrenching the whole contraption out of the ceiling. 

Rectangular free-standing baths. 
They give me the creeps. 
Too much like sarcophagi. 
As soon as I see one, I start developing a murder mystery plot where someone dies in the bath. Not terribly uplifting. 

Toilets that open onto en suites that open onto the master bedroom.
I dig the bathtub that looks straight across to the bed (unless it’s a sarcophagus tub!). But the toilet with no solid door between the user and the bedroom…
Think about it!
It’s not good.
For anybody.

So what do I love? 
High ceilings and exposed beams.
Big windows and French doors and natural light.
Wide verandas made for lazing and sipping coffee and reading a book and chatting with friends over a glass of wine.
Hills hoist clotheslines.
Fresh flowers.
Book shelves filled with well-thumbed books.
Gardens filled with blossom trees.
Log fires that are anchored in the wall or on the ground and don’t look like they’re about to split apart and launch an oversized cockroach or cicada into your lounge room that will then bite your head off and spit it out into a sarcophagus-shaped bathtub.

Feel free to disagree. 
Except on the orange thing!
What do you love in a home?
What gives you the ickies?

You can go here to my Pinterest page to see some of my home decorating fantasies.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The truth about Book Club

It's time someone told the truth.
And, truly,  it surprises me that it even needs to be said.
But it does. 
Because there is  a big fat myth still floating around in some sick circles.
So here goes. The truth:

Sure, there might be some vague discussion revolving around a book. 
There might be a passage read or, at least, a pair of reading glasses perched upon someone's nose. One likes to look the part. 
There might even be a Dymocks catalogue or a book review, torn from the newspaper, tossed elegantly onto the coffee table.
But the idea that Book Club is a gathering of people for the primary  purpose of discussing and analysing a book, is soooo wrong. 

Let me make it simple. Book Club is about the five c's: 

  • champagne
  • chocolate 
  • cake
  • cuppas
  • chitter-chatter

Of course, there is some disagreement between various book clubs as to what the 5 c's truly represent.
Some claim that the first c is not for champagne, but for chardonnay ... or even cabernet sauvignon. Others substitute  chips for chocolate, cheese for cake, cackling for chitter-chatter. (I heard that one book club tried to substitute carrot sticks for chocolate and coconut water for champagne, but they did not survive beyond their first meeting. No surprises there!)

But no matter how you interpret the five c's, books start with b so, obviously, do not feature in the list of the five most important things about Book Club.

Unfortunately, there are still a deluded few who have missed the point. 
The ones who believe that Book Club is primarily - or even exclusively - about books. 

My local library gathered all its registered book clubs together one year - just for a happy pre-Christmas fling. 
What a delightful idea! 
Significantly, it was held in a conservatory full of flowers and we were served wine, cheese, bickies and summer fruit. There was not a book in sight! 
Never the less, I still met one lost soul who obviously belonged to a dysfunctional book club, i.e. a book club whose members took themselves seriously. This poor man asked me about the roles we had in our book club. He said 'roles',  but I heard 'rolls'. I was just about to explain that we didn't normally eat rolls, but I was quite open to the idea of incorporating sausage rolls, or even spring rolls, into our gatherings, when he started muttering about author biographies, plot summaries, character analyses and a whole heap of other literary and grammatical stuff that I didn't even understand. The members of his club actually had roles to fulfil (not rolls to fill) for each and every gathering. Scary stuff!

And then there's the sad tale of my friend, a supremely talented and charming woman who works in a coveted role in the publishing industry. 
She was expelled from her book club. 
For not reading the books. 
She just wanted to go along and chat and eat cake. 
And they wouldn't let her!!!

Let me tell you about my book club. 
A typical gathering  begins with hugs and kisses and everyone talking over the top of each other as we arrive. 
We drink tea and champagne and we nibble chocolate, liquorice allsorts, bickies, cheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes ... you get the idea. 
And as  we nibble, we talk about our families, our jobs, our holiday plans and the disturbing trend towards corset-type underwear. 
An hour or so into the gathering, someone might casually suggest that we talk about our book. Typically, ten or fifteen minutes of literary discussion will take place**, then we'll pop the kettle on, bring out a cake and start talking about  how much we like our host's new cushions, our cholesterol levels, our gardens and  which movie we're going to see next time we gather for Book Club. (See how free and easy we are in interpreting the word 'book'?)


It's about books and friends and laughter and cake. 

If you belong to a  book club that is sinking into the Slough of Deep and Serious Literary Discussion Which Goes On and On for Far Too Long, I have created a valuable tool for you to take to your next gathering:

And because I am kind, I offer here my list of short but fabulous books. If you get your book club  reading these and introduce the flow chart , you can have your cake and eat it too.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, by Sun-Mi Hwang
Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne
The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (No words. None at all!)

Happy book clubbing.

* Just as Craft Group is not about craft. 
CLICK HERE to read more.

** We did have a book discussion, recently, that went for almost half an hour. But that was mainly due to the fact that I had failed to grasp something quite significant about the theme and structure of the novel  -  My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, by Fredrik Backman - and my companions were trying to explain it to me between their gasps of laughter and their expressions of wonder at how obtuse I had been!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

More Cheezels pleezel!

Can't live with them [stuck to each of your ten fingers]. 
Can't live without them.

Well, you probably can live without them, but why would you? 

The other night, one of the women at our craft group arrived bearing a box of Cheezels. She was rather sheepish about her contribution to the evening's nibbles, but my heart leapt for joy. I hadn't eaten a Cheezel in years.    I could barely wait to stick one onto each of my fingers then slowly munch them off. 

Now don't roll your eyes and scoff at my poor manners. You know you would have done the same!

I poked Cheezels and nibbled and giggled like a six-year-old at a birthday party getting loopy on red cordial.
The Cheezels were delicious.
And fun. 
And incredibly uplifting. 

And I found myself thinking, 'I need more Cheezels in my life.'
Which led me to thinking about the quirky little things that bring an inordinate about of joy to my life. 
What to know what they are? 
Well, I'm gonna tell you anyway... 

Little jars of jam
The ones you get with breakfast at fancy hotels. 
Forget the chef who does eggs to order - fried, boiled, poached, made into an omelette with smoked salmon and Madagascan chives.
Forget the freshly extracted apple, peach and celery juice.
You can even forget the Belgian waffles with chocolate fudge and King Island cream
The real thrill is in the little jars of jam. They're so cute and ... LITTLE! 
They look like something that Gulliver might have brought back from Lilliput, or something you'd bring along to the Teddy Bear's Picinc.
I ADORE a little jar of jam. 
Especially if it's blackberry.

Handwritten letters
Two of my friends, Wendy and Sue, write letters in beautiful cursive writing that makes my heart sing.
One of these letters is instantly valuable because it's from a dear friend. But it's made even more special because the handwriting is so beautifully formed and has been done just for me. Even the words have been chosen just for me. It hasn't been printed off and sent to all of their friends and acquaintances. Each letter is a handmade gift created with love!

Special Soap
I love fancy soap. 
The flowery smelling stuff that comes in thick decorative paper ...
The daggy white soaps that come in an assortment of shapes - a rabbit, a rose, a sea shell, a love heart ...
The solid earthy cubes that look like they've been raked through the mud and had a bumble bee or an olive branch stamped on one side ...
They're all the duck's guts.
I don't sit the special soap aside and keep it for good - whatever that means. No way! I use it and feel rich and decadent and pampered.
Nothing says 'luxury' like a white rabbit soap disappearing down the drain in a froth  of sudsy bubbles while a Besser block of olive-green soap is waiting in the wings.

Wooden cotton reels
I cannot explain this.
A wooden cotton reel sends me into spasms of delight. I coo and gush as though I'm standing in a pet shop, staring at a fat puppy.
Likewise, triangular blue-coloured cards full of press-studs.
Is it something from my childhood? My mum did sew a lot. Then again, she used to do pottery and I don't react in the same way to clay goblets glazed in dodgy jade tones with a Pisa-like lean to them.
Who knows? Anyone else share my passion for wooden cotton reels?

And last but not least ...
Tea cosies
I'm a coffee drinker on the whole but I still like a good tea cosy. Sometimes I brew a cup's worth of peppermint tea in a pot just so I can use a cosy.
This one I can explain. My granny always drank tea and she always had a tea cosy over the pot. Even though she lived in northern NSW where the temperature barely ever dropped below twenty degrees and the tea was drunk in a jiffy. 
The best were the owl tea cosies. I still have the last one she made for me - purple and maroon with boggly eyes and a wooden bead for the beak. It's hideous and beautiful and kitsch and classy all at the same time.
When it comes to tea cosies, more is more. Forget minimalism and demure colours. Go for broke. Crochet that extra flower for the top of the cosy. Whack the purple owl over the pale blue Royal Doulton teapot. Tea cosies rule!

So there you have it - the things that bring an inordinate amount of joy to my life, the things I need more of in my life. 
You can keep your fancy-pants caviar, your diamond rings and your five star hotels (unless they serve little jars of jam at breakfast!).
I want Cheezels and tea cosies, wooden cotton reels and handwritten letters, tiny jars of jam and rabbit-shaped soap.

What are the simple pleasures missing from your life?

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Aw man! I really should know by now!

The  agonising started with the raspberry choc-chip muffins. I whipped them up between my morning porridge and my first cup of coffee for the day and thought I was going great guns. 'You, Katrina Nannestad, are a wonder to behold,' I told myself. (If I don't say it, no-one else will.) 
But ten minutes later, I looked in the oven and my heart sank like a souffle.  
The muffins in one tray had erupted like Mount Vesuvius, the batter spewing out over the tops of the papers and flowing across the pan. 
The muffins in the other tray barely managed to muster the energy (and batter) to make it to the top of the papers. They were pulled from the oven looking like they'd been at some sort of extreme health farm for the week, living off luke-warm water and a half-ration of kale. (Which, let's face it, would be better than a full ration of kale. Kale stinks.)

And that's when I started to agonise. 
How can I make it to fifty and still not know how much batter it takes to make a lovey, rounded muffin? 
It's not rocket science! 
Is it???

But it didn't end there. The muffin-agonies led me thinking, yet again, about all the things I think I should know by now.
On the domestic front, there is still the embarrassment of not knowing how to roast a chicken, how to cut pumpkin without drawing blood, how to ignite the gas heater when winter arrives and - this is a biggie - how to change a doona cover without breaking out in a cold sweat and using my entire repertoire of naughty words.

On the garden front, I still don't know when to pick the rhubarb (it always looks red!), how to whipper-snip around the trees without ring-barking them or how to use the electric hedge trimmer without cutting the extension cord in half. 

Then there's just general stuff. Facts I should know, but don't. What comes after Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars? Are worms androgynous or ambidextrous?  What's the capital of Bolivia? Is Bogota a place or one of those meat dishes that sounds like it will be disgusting but tastes like you've died and gone to heaven? And where's Santo Domingo? Is it even a place, or is it one of the Three Tenors ... or, perhaps, a Caribbean version of Father Christmas? So many things to learn and so little time. And don't tell me to Google it. I should just know!

And then there are the books and poems I still haven't read. Shouldn't a writer have read everything? It mortifies me when someone mentions their love of Charles Dickens, because the only Dickens I've read is A Tale of Two Cities. And, apparently, that's not typical Dickens! Sure, I've seen at least twenty-seven different movie versions of Great Expectations and can sing, 'Who will buy this wonderful morning?' from Oliver Twist, the musical, but it's really not the same as reading the novels. 
I've never made it past the first two pages of a James Joyce novel.
I've never even held a Virginia Woolf (and just did a double check that it was 'Woolf', not 'Wolf'!).
And flies will become extinct before I subject myself to another Tennyson poem. 
Does this make me a bad person? 
I don't know, but it keeps me agonising.

That's a lot of stuff I've just listed and it's just the tip of the iceberg. (Good grief! That's another thing I don't know! Is it ten percent or five percent that pokes out of the water???) 

So here, now, I'm going to take control. I'm going choose five things that I will know/learn/do in the next week. 
Here goes... 
1. I will learn how to use the whipper snipper in a non-destructive manner.
2. I will memorise the order of the planets in the Solar System.
3. I will discover the truth about worms.
4. I will locate Santo Domingo on a map (or an opera bill or a Christmas card).
5. I will sneak around the house singing, 'You've got to pick a pocket or two-o-o-o, boys!'

Okay, so number five is a cop out, but I will sit Great Expectations on my bedside table. Yes, the novel, not the DVD! And  I promise to embark on reading it before the year is out.

Is there stuff you don't know but are too ashamed to tell?
Go on. Confess. Here and now. 
You know it will make you feel better. 
Well, maybe it won't. 
But it will make me feel better ...

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Naked Flames and Toasty Warm Bottoms

I was standing by an open fire, in the middle of a frosty Armidale* winter, warming  my 21-year-old bottom. Oooh, it was lovely. So lovely that I declared, 'Heaven is going to be full of open fires!'
My friends smirked and one cheeky critter muttered, 'I think that's the other place!'
But they knew what I meant. There's nothing quite like a  fire on a cold winter's night.
Or a cold winter's morning.
Or even a mildly chilly spring afternoon.

Fire is delightful. 
It also excites me. (Not in a pyromaniacal way!)
I think it stems from my childhood and all the great memories that centre around fire.

Some of my earliest and warmest memories are of spending time with my beloved aunt, Marcia. Marcia had a slow combustion stove in her kitchen, a hungry monster with fire in its belly. It demanded round-the-clock feeding with wood chips and logs. In return, it churned out a generous and delicious array of cakes, biscuits, shepherd's pies, roast dinners and self-saucing puddings that would warm the cockles of any four-year-old's heart. I decided I liked the monster. Even though it couldn't be patted because its skin was always burning hot. Because who wouldn't like anyone or anything that churned out self-saucing puddings? 

Fire also played a fun and fascinating role in our household garbage disposal routine. We had an incinerator down the back of our yard. It was an old 44 gallon drum into which we tipped our rubbish. Once a week we'd set fire to it. (They were simpler times - before anyone ever mentioned global warming or greenhouse gas.) My brother and I hated all household chores, except this one. Together, we'd go down behind the shed, light the rubbish  and watch in delight as the flames leapt up into the air. We'd toss in sticks and leaves (and probably some stuff from the shed that we shouldn't have) to keep the fire burning. We'd spit into the flames and rejoice in the hiss-and-sizzle because it reflected well on our salivary glands (important when you're seven or eight).  And best of all, we'd roll sheets of newspaper into giant cigars, set fire to the ends and smoke them. My word, we felt defiant and sneaky and clever  ... until we inhaled a lungful of the Classifieds and staggered around choking. 

We also had regular bonfire nights in our backyard. 
The only rule was that we had to wear inflammable clothes. Nylon was banned. Woollen garments were king.

My mum would take us out to the bush where we'd fill the boot with dead branches. Back home, we'd stack the wood, stuff it with old newspapers (the few we hadn't smoked) then spread the word: FIRE NIGHT BREWING AT 73 EDWARDS STREET!

By nightfall, our yard would be full of kids bearing sausages, foil-wrapped spuds and bags of marshmallows. We'd light the fire and cook our own dinner, a feast of half-raw sausages and black, sooty potatoes. We'd tell ghost stories while toasting marshmallows. Sometimes we'd have toasted marshmallow fights - Icky. And we'd always end the night with a game of Spotlight and someone running home bawling their eyes out. Fabulous! Best thing about my childhood.

In short, the naked flame was terribly exciting for me as a child. 
And I have never lost that deep love of fire.

Which is why I have just spent the weekend researching and choosing my own log fire. 


Our new house is going to feature a real log fire with real wood that I get to light with real matches resulting in ... real flames

I'm already starting to look wistfully at marshmallows as I pass the lolly aisle in the supermarket. 

I'm ogling bits of dry wood as I drive along country lanes. 

I'm rejecting clothes that don't have '100% wool' written on their labels. 

I'm stockpiling newspapers so I can roll my own Cuban-style cigars once more. 

And I'm dreaming of coming inside on a frosty evening, warming my bottom by the fire and knowing that I'm getting a little taste of heaven. 

* Armidale, NSW - Freezing winters, sometimes snow. Actually, sometimes the snow even came in spring.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Dream home, dream boulders and dream birds

I'm building a house! 
Right now.
Well, not with my own bare hands.
But, as I write this, there is concrete being poured into holes ... or ditches ... or some other sort of thingy that makes the house stay put instead of slipping down the hillside when the first rains come along. Foundations? Footings? Who knows? (Hopefully, the builder!)

Anyway, I'm excited.

The Great Dane and I have been planning this for two and half years. When we started, we thought we'd be done in a year. 
'Ha ha ha!' I hear the wise ones amongst you say - laughing with us, not at us, of course! 
And it has been a little bit frustrating at times.
But now, here we are, seeing stuff happen on our little slice of countryside.

We now have a real driveway with drains and edges and all-weather access. That's important, you know. Country living has a lot going for it, but there's nothing romantic about parking your car at the front gate and wading five hundred metres through knee-deep mud to get to your house with a week's worth of groceries dangling from your hands. Not even if you have a sturdy pair of gumboots and thighs like tree trunks. 

THE road! Gumboots optional - unless
you want to wade through the cow pats

at the edges.

We also have a real housing site, perched on the edge of the hill, with views to Mount Alexander in the south, hills in the north and plains far, far out to the east. And that housing site has pipes poking up through it - little poly-pipe whispers of showers and toilets and sinks to come. 
Hints of a house to come.

And there's half a shed site - rather large and growing bigger by the hour. The Great Dane and our otherwise-sensible builder have banded together and chanted,  'No amount of shed is too much shed!' so many times that I gave up arguing for the quaint little garden shed/chook house that I had pictured in my dreams. On the up side, if ever I trade my car in for a jumbo jet, there'll be ample covered parking available.
I've also been dreaming of taking control
of this bulldozer, but the owner doesn't
leave the key in the ignition. RUDE!
Watching all this progress is terribly exciting. It's like seeing a whole new life unfold in front of us. 

But the thing that thrills me most, every time I go out to our little slice of land, is ... the little slice of land! The bits that remain unchanged. And will always remain unchanged. 

Because no matter how hard we try, we can't improve on the natural world. The best house design, even coupled with the most hip-and-happening interior decorating, will always fall short of what lies outside our four walls. There's a rugged hill with granite boulders and a  cheeky breeze to flap your hair and scarf about. The lower paddock is a paradise of gnarled trees, delicate mosses, strange rock formations, shy kangaroos and flitting pardalotes. And all about there are magpies carolling, cockatoos arguing, crimson rosellas raising their olive green kiddies*, falcons hovering and and a sea of grass that ripples in the wind - sometimes golden, sometimes green, depending on the season.

It's beautiful and every time I visit, I take time to sit on a rock.
To simply sit and feel blessed.

*Okay, so baby rosellas are not kiddies, but I'm writing a blog here, not a field guide to birds!

Friday, 28 April 2017

The owls, the boogie monster and me.

It’s official. I’m nocturnal.

I’m sitting here writing this at 3.07 on a Saturday morning and I’m more alert than I was at 3.07 yesterday afternoon … or 8.56 on Thursday morning … or any other time this week when the sun was shining.

I’ve tried to fight it. I’ve tried to fit in with the world of normal, diurnal people, but it’s just not working.

I’m an owl and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I’ve fought the nocturnal nature for years. When you live in the real world with a real job, you simply  have to. Unless your job is Night-time Security Guard or Boogie Monster. The early mornings tend to force you into an early-to-bed routine. And you really do have to stay awake when teaching a classroom full of children.
The boogie monster, not me!
Just thought I should clarify.
Even being a stay-at-home mum requires regular hours because the kiddies start to poke you in the face to wake you up when mealtimes come and go and there’s nothing in their tummies. And somebody has to make sure they get to preschool and school and soccer and tennis and cricket in something other than their pyjamas.

So, out of necessity,  I’ve lived the diurnal life for half a century.

But now, I work from home and my kids are all grown up. My days are more flexible. 

And my body and mind seem to have cottoned on to this fact and have said, ‘Enough!’

Actually, they’ve started shouting, ‘ENOUGH!’ like a wharfie yelling to his mates that it’s time for smoko.

Which is why I’m writing this at 3.07 in the morning. I’m drinking tea and eating an apple raisin muffin. (Lunch? Afternoon tea? Who knows?) And I'm loving it!

Once this blog is drafted, I’ll snuggle up on the lounge and watch a bit of TV and crochet a bit of my granny rug. Afterwards, I might do a spot of online research regarding log fires for my new house, and the internet will be as fast as Speedy Gonzales because I won’t be trying to squeeze my information through those mysterious cables with a hundred thousand other locals because they’re all asleep. (Except for the night time security guards, the boogie monsters and a whole heap of teenagers who are still playing online games with their friends.) I might read  a few chapters of  my Fredrik Backman book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, or I might make another cup of tea and just sit and watch the sunrise. And then, once the birds start singing and my family members start to jump through showers and pour cereal into bowls, I’ll sneak off to bed and sleep. 

And I won’t even have to check under my bed to make sure the boogie monster isn’t hiding in wait for me. I won’t give him a moment’s thought, because he’ll be clocking off and heading home to bed himself.

Some fellow late sleepers