Dec 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013

Well, it's New Year's Eve, the date we steal the year-end meme from The Plastic Mancunian to summarize the ups and downs (and levels) of the year.

Here we go.

Danilo Rizzuti/

1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?

Achievement unlocked, my friends: the Carousel Birthday Cake!

I measured and cut dowel sticks to 20cm. I twirled the ribbon around the dowels. I painted the little horses. I rolled and shaped the fondant. I made edible glue. I made a cake that looked as good as the one in the book and caused audible gasps of admiration. 

Nailed it!

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Well, I wasn't sure, so I had to check back to what ludicrous and publicly declared resolutions I had set myself for 2013. So.... moving down the (very long?!) list, did I achieve them? 

Kind of; eventually; no; yes but taken up again since so no; no; no; no; YES; no; no; no; aaaand no.

So as for making any this year... maybe I'll try NO.

3. How will you be spending New Year's Eve?

At home, watching a movie with the kids and later watching House of Cards on DVD. I'm going to let my hair down and not fold ANY laundry.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully no. A lovely man I followed on Twitter passed away and I had a little sob at that, as he was a really good man from all accounts and from my online experience. He will be missed by many.

5. What countries did you visit?

Alas, none.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

Better physical fitness. If ONLY there was something I could do about it!

7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I guess the fact that I started trawling through my phone calendar for reminders means no date is really "etched" upon my memory.  The only date that stands out is my kids' birthday party, which I held at home and which was a lot of fun.

Memorable events this year:  the last election, the Boston bombing, the royal baby, the chemical weapons attack in Syria.  

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Clearly, the Carousel birthday cake.

Also - it's a little thing, but I was very chuffed to get a tiny (I mean TINY) short-short story published. I've been working on three normal-length stories ever since but still not finished anything. Baby steps.

9. What was your biggest failure?

My physical fitness has declined hugely since a bad break last year, surgery and a sprained ankle this year each immobilized me for long enough to cause problems. This year (or the second half of it anyway) was supposed to be the year I got past that, built up my strength and started exercising regularly. I'm pretty disappointed in myself that I didn't do that. I've developed some bad habits and am feeling the effects now. It's definitely time to fix that.

Looks like I have a new year's resolution after all.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I sprained my ankle in May which required crutches and physio to heal. 

I was sick with the great Melbourne hacking cough of winter 2013, which had me at half-strength for about 6 weeks. So was half of Melbourne.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

It wasn't me really but Y bought two cheap TVs, a small one for the kitchen cabinet and a bigger one for the bedroom, which sounds just terrible doesn't it? I always resisted TV in the bedroom (and I still don't use it; I fall asleep if I try and watch something in bed), but the one in the kitchen I've wanted for years. It means I can watch a TV show I'm interested in while the kids watch a DVD in the lounge, or the kids and I can watch cartoons on Saturday morning while we eat our breakfast.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage, food, the usual.

13. What song will always remind you of 2013?

Maybe Lorde's 'Royal'.

14. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Writing productively instead of just tweeting and blogging (much as I love and do value those things too).

15. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Reading internet stuff on my phone - fun but ultimately quite a big waste of time.

16. What was your favourite TV program?

Breaking Bad!

17. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

No. I did find myself getting seriously teeth-grittingly annoyed at more people this year, many on Twitter and in newspapers and mostly over politics. 2013 marked the year politics in Australia went batshit crazy. But no hating. 

18. What was the best book you read?

I liked these ones:

Killing Us Softly: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine   

Killing Us Softly: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine By Paul Offit

From Chapter One:
"People have been living on earth for about 250,000 years. For the past 5,000, healers have been trying to heal the sick. For all but the past 200, they haven't been very good at it."
That sounds like it's going to be all gung-ho "conventional medicine rocks!" but it's not - it's a good, detailed, well-rounded look at alternative therapies and what works and what doesn't.

How To Be Invisible

I love YA speculative fiction, and this was good.

In a surprising twist, the image of this book is appearing twice but when I go into edit mode to try to remove the duplicate, I can't see the image at all - it is INVISIBLE....

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?

This guy: 

20. What was your favourite film of this year?

I didn't see many this year; I think The Croods, About Time, Enough Said and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 are the only movies I saw. They were all good.  Perhaps About Time was my favourite.

21. What did you do on your birthday?

Can't remember. Nothing remarkable. It was a nice day as I recall. 

I was very surprised to get this card - do they make one for absolutely every age??

22. What kept you sane?

Being busy.

23. Who did you miss?

The old me who was moderately fit and exercised regularly. 

24. Who was the most interesting new person you met?

Man, this is the second year in a row I've drawn a blank on this one. I should socialise more (but I don't really want to!).

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

I've suddenly realised I'm... middle-aged.... and life is going to require more effort from now on if I want to do good stuff and not waste my time. 

How was your year? Surely more interesting than mine?!
Happy New Year!

Dec 30, 2013

Do you believe in ghosts?

Kinda scary, kinda dull: that's my review in a nutshell of The Conjuring.

It has all the scary tropes:

  • "based on a true story"
  • big old scary creaky house acquired dirt cheap
  • freaky doll 
  • young girls
  • drop sheets on furniture
  • creepy-ass old toys
  • dog won't enter house
  • flapping sheets
  • creaking rocking chairs
  • creepy wind chime
  • mirrors
  • an exorcism

Yes, an EXORCISM. This is an old-school ghost story, weirdly old-fashioned. There is "an insult to the Trinity", upside-down crosses, crucifix necklaces, Latin incantations, and so on.  And after numerous horrific events and a family almost murdered, all it takes in the end to banish the demon is the order "by the power of God I command you to go back to Hell!"  Handy. Could have maybe used that earlier.

It is, however, very atmospheric, and that is three quarters of the success of a good horror movie.

It gets the look of the seventies right. There is lots of brown. There is wallpaper, long floral nighties, girls with long brown hair.

And it's presented as "based on a true story". Yes, sure. As true a story as "The Amityville Horror", I'd say.

The characters are all based on real people, and according to IMDB at least, both the paranormal investigator and the mother portrayed in the story confirm the events are "the real story of what happened to the Perrons during the 10-years they lived in the farmhouse". Wait, what? 10 years?? I think if ANY of the events portrayed in the movie had happened within the FIRST year of living there, you'd have sold up and moved out.

Photo: James Barker/

I have a nostalgic fondness for the paranormal, going back to when I used to believe in most of it as a kid. Telepathy, ESP, out-of-body experiences, divining the future, cryptozoology: I loved and believed in it all. I was undecided (but open-minded) on past lives and ghosts.

I was never sure about ghosts. 

I accepted that maybe ghosts could be real, and some of the beliefs around how and why made sense to me. But I could never quite get my head around some of the things that go with hauntings, such as:
  • ghosts appearing in clothes or with accessories (how do the clothes and hats become ghostly?)
  • ghosts only appearing with the aid of mirrors or whatnot
  • ghosts being able to move objects
  • ghostly voices being picked up by tape recorders but not human ears
  • why do the lights have to be out during ghost-hunting sessions?

Most people have heard or experienced a "true" ghost story. I've seen people on TV shows tell true stories that clearly still freak them right out, and you can tell they are being honest and they really believe what they saw.  

My husband tells a story of a "ghost" he saw when he was young that his logical mind rejects but he can't explain what he saw.

I have a similar experience, though these days I do not for one single minute believe there was really a ghost.

I was working in a pub in London in the 90's, in an old building in Baker Street. Naturally, it had a resident ghost. I didn't believe in the ghost. I had two experiences with "the ghost", one of which is completely 100% explainable and one of which I can only explain by thinking I am mis-remembering it. Which I am sure that I am. 

The first experience was when I went down to the cellar to change a beer keg one time and I felt a distinct "presence". It was a sense of coldness that moved but seemed contained within itself, like an entity. It wasn't there every time; I only felt it once. It definitely felt like there was someone down there. It was a bit freaky but I know it was really just the way air drafts and temperature can vary in old buildings. Hence why so many of them come with ghost stories!

The second experience was much creepier, and more concrete. While working in the bar with one other person, three beer taps turned themselves on away from where we were both standing. Now that doesn't just happen, and I can still picture it in my mind.  At the time, it confused the hell out of me because I couldn't just dismiss it like I could the feeling in the cellar. But now, twenty years later, this memory doesn't bother me, as I know this event was probably one of these three things: (1) a customer flipped the taps as a prank (even though in my memory I watched them turn on by themselves); (2) the tap or taps were not turned off properly; (3) my memory is wrong and this just didn't happen.

Memory is completely fallible - see here.

There are explanations for all ghost stories - see here.  Naturally, none of these explanations is satisfactory if you really believe in ghosts. 

Our house makes some weird noises, especially at night. It can sometimes sound very clearly like someone is walking down the hallway. At times we have honestly thought one of our kids was out of bed. Neither Y. nor I have ever been freaked out by this (well ok, maybe once we semi freaked out for a second). We know there is no ghost. Our house is an early 70's brick veneer in a fairly new suburb. There has barely been time for anyone to die here. The house has had two owners before us and has a completely humdrum history. It is not built on an ancient burial ground. It does, however, have ducted heating in the floors and evaporative cooling in the ceiling, and it sits slightly crooked in places due to the floors needing re-stumping and an old tree root that has caused some shifting. These are the causes of the noises we occasionally hear - as much like walking people (or ghosts) as they sometimes sound.

My only other ghost "experience" is this. I have felt - definitely felt - a sort of "presence" after someone close has passed away. I felt it after my grandfather died, and my grandmother, and my aunt. It feels kind of like that person is "around" for a short time after their death, and is close to those who knew them. It feels like they can see and hear what is happening for a short time after they have died, before they "move on". 

I am sure this is a very common feeling. It seems to exist in all cultures, and it gives a lot of comfort to the loved ones of those passed.  I am sure this is in our heads - there is an inability to believe that a person so loved, so real and with so much life experience and history, has gone.  Whatever it is, it helps.

But anyway, despite that, these days I have no belief in ghosts. 

Do you?  

Any cool ghost stories to share? Tell me!

Dec 29, 2013

Sunday Selections #152

It's time for Sunday Selections!
Sunday Selections is a weekly meme hosted by River at Drifting Through Life. 

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented: for example:
    Andrew at High Riser
    Gillie at Random Thoughts From Abroad

This week's photos are another ode to "the beauty of everyday things".


Where was this shot of beautiful pampas grass taken, do you think? By a beach, or in the country?

Would you believe on an embankment on the side of Dandenong Road near Malvern?  I don't know if it is always there or has been temporarily left to run riot, but it is pretty big - a veritable field of gorgeousness right by the side of the busiest road in the suburb. And I'd never noticed it before.  I was happy when we got a red light so I could take this photo.


Here is a "shell sculpture" my kids made today.  Isn't it lovely?

They also tried to con me into paying them $2 each to see it. Nice try kids.


Someone was very relaxed yesterday.


It's still Jacaranda season. Here is a set of images from our backyard.
One of the best things about our house is the backyard. It's not huge, and it's unkempt, but I love it. It is a little patch of green (and purple!) relaxation.

How was YOUR week?

Dec 26, 2013

A late but heartfelt Merry Christmas to you all

I am sorry, dear readers and fellow bloggers, to have been absent so long. I hope you were not too bereft!

And I had just taken a bit of a break too.

All is well here, just very busy over December with work, the kids' birthday (party at home with many many kids, cakes and whatnot) and then Christmas.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

And if you didn't, then rejoice! for it is over.

Enjoy the end of 2013.

I put up Christmas lights for the first time ever
Others have been at it a little longer

Dec 11, 2013

A bit of a whinge and a bit of perspective

First the whinge.

- The car park I use for work has got strict on early bird parking conditions and now makes us drive all the way up to level 7 to get our ticket "validated" which is just a guy scrawling something on the ticket in ballpoint and handing it back. What does that even do? 

- Spotlight was sold out of seashell chocolate moulds which I need for a birthday cake

- What is this weather. It's too changeable even for a Melbourne springtime, and now I have a cold (diddums!)

- I have way too much to do to get ready for birthdays and Christmas, and not enough time to do it

- The kids are going to sleep way too late which eats into my evenings which is leaving my house messy and to-do list only minimally tackled, and me grumpy.

- The school didn't send me a dental plan form and now I have to try and get one

- We couldn't save as much of the money we got from an insurance claim as we planned, because we had to use it for Christmas

- Our deck needs painting, our fence needs replacing, our walls need re-painting, our carpet needs replacing and possibly our floors need re-stumping. And we can't afford to do any of it.

There. That's better.

On the flip side:

- We are all well, healthy and mostly happy

- I got the last little wooden rocking horses from Spotlight that I need for the other birthday cake

- My mum got me the seashell chocolate moulds from another Spotlight

- I haven't had to put anything on our credit card for Christmas, thanks to our small but welcome insurance payout

- I have lost some weight and it hasn't been hard (so far!)

- The girls are winding down at school which means no more homework!

- I am nearly ready for the girls' birthday party, I just have to stay calm

- It's nearly birthday and Christmas time, yay!

*Exhales loudly*. OK, I'm alright now. Carry on.

Dec 9, 2013

Everyday Objects

Just some stuff.


New shoes

Tiled table top in a cafe

What I also had at the cafe



Weekend coffee

Giant leaf

Broken bones - but Ted still hangs cool

Lunchbox (not too many bento boxes here)


Jacaranda tree

Christmas tree

Dec 8, 2013

Words for Wednesday: a Christmas story

'Words for Wednesday' is a writing prompt held by Delores at Under the Porch Light.
Use some or all of the week's words, write a poem or a story or a fragment, and visit Delores' current week's prompt to let her know you've joined in.

This week's words are:

It appears that the festive season is upon us.  So, let's begin.

* * *

Marcie opened her eyes to the distant, pleasant sounds of her parents getting breakfast in the kitchen and the aromatic scent of fruit toast.  She remembered it was only two days till Christmas and smiled to herself.  Christmas Eve Eve, she thought, the family phrase immediately bringing back memories of other Christmas Eve Eves where she had thought the same words.

Marcie padded down the steep wooden stairs to the loungeroom. She glanced only a minute at the little Elf on the Shelf her dad had set up on the mantlepiece, just long enough to confirm he hadn't moved during the night. He sat motionless against the wall, his creepy smile and unnaturally rosy cheeks bright in the morning sun. Marcie shivered and hurried round the corner to the kitchen. 

"Dad," she said. Her parents were buttering toast, clearing the dishwasher and chatting. They turned when she came in. 

"Hey! Good morning." Her dad handed her some toast. Her mum smiled over her coffee.

"Dad, the elf didn't move last night."

"Well," said Dad, "I guess he had a rest last night." His face was a little tired-looking. Marcie knew he and Mum had stayed up quite late last night, as their neighbors had visited for drinks. "But I'm sure he'll get up to some tricks again tonight!" 

"I don't want him to," said Marcie. She sat and started on some toast.  "Can you actually put him away, Dad?"

Her father raised his eyebrows. "What? But he's part of the family now! And he only gets to come out at Christmas!"

"I don't really like him," said Marcie. She'd lowered her voice a little to say this, as if to make sure no one else could hear.

Her mum smiled. "I'm not crazy about him either," she said. "Gordon, let's call it a day on the elf. Maybe he can come out again next year."

Dad shrugged. "Okay," he said. " I'll pack him away today."

That day was fun. Mum took Marcie out for some last-minute shopping, and the shops were all beautiful and sparkly with Christmas. People were rushed but seemed happy and there was festivity and goodwill in the air. Marcie and her mum stopped at a cafe and had hot chocolate. The cafe looked out on a park with grassy slopes at one end. Some kids had made a toboggan out of a big piece of cardboard and were sliding down the slopes squealing and yelling with glee.

When Marcie and Mum got home, the elf was gone. Mum checked the hall cupboard, opened a red box, and said "Yep, there he is." She put the box back on the top shelf, closed the door and smiled at Marcie. "All gone!" she said. 

Marcie felt immediate relief.

That night she helped Mum wrap the last presents they'd bought and put them under the tree. Dad made her laugh by pretending to jump up on the mantelpiece to take the place of the elf. She was allowed to stay up a bit late, and they all watched The Polar Express on TV. 

When Marcie went to bed she felt warm and relaxed, and it wasn't long before she was asleep.

She heard the sounds sometime late in the night. 

At first she didn't know what had woken her, and then she heard it. It was a slow tapping sound, like something on wood. Tap...tap...tap. Marcie lay very still and told herself she was dreaming, or that she had imagined it. Tap...tap...tap.  Her heart thumping, Marcie listened again. It was a branch outside, she thought, or ...what did Mum say about strange noises? It was the house settling.   

Tap...tap...tap.  Like something on wood. Something.... on the wooden stairs.  Tap...tap...tap.  It was louder, she was sure it was. It was closer.  Marcie drew the blankets up to her chin and squeezed her eyes shut tight. Go away, she thought, go away, go away, go away....

After awhile she opened her eyes. The sound had stopped. She waited. There was nothing.  Still scared but exhausted from her fear, Marcie at last fell back asleep.

In the morning Marcie's room was golden with sunshine. Marcie woke up and for a moment she had no memory of the sounds during the night. She opened her eyes and looked out the window. The garden was bright and cheery, with birds tweeting and the sun shining on everything. She could hear a lawn mower next door and her parents moving around downstairs in the kitchen.

She remembered the sounds from the middle of the night. The fear seeped back into her; the sunny morning did not dispel it.  Marcie sat up slowly. Her bed faced the bedroom door. Outside was the landing that gave onto the wooden staircase that led down to the loungeroom.

Marcie got a horrible shock but it was not really a surprise. Sitting on the floor just inside her doorway was the elf. Its head with the cherry-red cheeks and knowing smile was turned slightly to face her, and its bright blue eyes were staring straight at her.

* * *

Merry Christmas!

Photo: InspiredinDesMoines/Flickr


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