Gritty

Today’s thought.

If I say I’m a writer, does that make me one?

I’ve written 2 blog posts in 24 hours, I’m planning a monograph, I write mini fiction, I write grants. I’m a published author. Am I a writer?

A recent opinion article by Australian author Nicki Gemmell talks about “grit”. She talks about an experience she had doing her Masters of Creative Writing, where she noted plenty of participants wrote much better prose than her. But she could kind of tell that they didn’t have the stamina, perseverance or resilience to keep writing that she possessed.

I know what grit is. I have grit because I’ve gritted my teeth and driven myself to the end of the path for certain things, like finishing my tertiary studies. But I don’t have grit in other areas, such as singing. I wonder whether I have the grit for writing.

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(I love this image from F*****.com which I’m going to say is a bitch because it doesn’t want you to use an adblocker, so screw you stupid website.)

The image implies grit is gripping, gritty, dirty and hard won. It certainly is. Grit is a difficult thing to master. But when you succeed, it’s like you’ve held on through the dirt and the mud and the piss and the shit, and you’re now allowed to have a really long soaking bath with bath salts, candles and champagne. Hola champagne!

So. Grit. Do I have it for writing? Should I reinvent my identity and travel down a different path? Do I have the luxury of this in 2016? Well, short of getting a lovely paying job, I say hell yeah. Why not.

Grit. You don’t like it in your food, between your toes or in your teeth. But in your soul? It’s the necessary sandpaper to your complacency.

 

Weekend Coffee Share

If we were having coffee I’d be inviting you to ignore the laptop and accoutrements I’ve set up on the kitchen table because it’s cooler in here than anywhere else in the house.

 

The air-conditioner is in this room too. When the day is hot and before the cooling breezes come through at about 4pm, the house is like an oven. So the dining room table is by far the best place to work. But it does mean my stuff is out, making a mess. It’s annoying for everyone!

If we were having coffee you’d notice I’m no longer grieving, depressed or angry. Last year was HARD. This year is a little better. I’ve pulled out my gym gear and am getting ready to hit the ground running. But not today. I WAS tempted by gym this morning because they have a fabulous outdoor pool that helps me get back into the swing of exercise, but the pool is closed for a swimming carnival, and I’m not tempted to go to the gym with a thousand screaming kidlets. Perhaps at 3pm when the kidlets go home.

Those who don’t know my previous posts won’t know of the crazy self-immolating time I had in 2012-2013 when I totally rocked an Australia size 8 (size 4 in US). I was a gym-and-diet junkie. I wasn’t uber-thin, but I was very, very strong, and my cuddle-layer was missing. I was super-healthy, super-fit, felt super-hot, could wear ANYTHING. It’s amazing when you are slim how clothes just work. I had a trainer, I worked out consistently and dieted my socks off. I looked great, felt about 25 again, looked 25 again for about a minute, and really enjoyed my svelte thighs and slim arms. I’m one of those people who put weight on their arms, so I get arm-chub, which is as close as I’m going to admit I have a body image problem.

This was not sustainable because I went off carbs and had to calorie count like a demon, but it showed me that I am capable of getting strong and fit and slim, through hard work and sustained healthy eating habits. I’m not the world’s worst eater by any stretch. I make my own muesli, I eat avocado and eggs on sourdough toast, and I don’t go overboard on takeaway food (last week notwithstanding, when for dinner I had Afghan takeaway Tuesday, Japanese Wednesday, Vietnamese Thursday, and several chicken wraps for lunch. This is an aberration while DH and I get used to my evening teaching again).

But it’s easy to be lazy and grab a pie from the freezer, because 25 minutes heating it is easier than spending 5 minutes preparing a fresh tuna salad. Go figure. And I love my red wine, so cutting down on my nightly alcoholic bevvie is almost impossible.

If we were having coffee, I’d be telling you that, once again, 2016 is the year of getting fit. I have the time, so no more excuses. My lovely community gym has a raft of excellent day classes starting at 9.30am, including HIIT, boxing fitness, TABATA, and if I go for a swim after it’s likely to give me that endorphin boost I love. My body loves being active but I have to work out quite hard to get results, and my muscles just ACHE. I hate this, even as I know exercise is good for me. But you know the REAL reason I’m having to get fit? I don’t fit into half my lovely lovely clothes anymore. I hate it when my waistband is too tight! And the other day my model-thin daughter (who can’t seem to put weight on no matter how hard she tries, where did THAT come from?) told me I looked OLD because I was wearing what I fancied was resort chic. I thought I looked like this:

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When what I apparently looked like was this:

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(This woman actually rocks her outfit, but I’m not quite there age-wise).

If we were having coffee you’d notice my new pair of glasses. They’re bifocals. They’re giving me a headache. They’re Ralph Lauren Polo glasses, navy on the outside, striped navy/white on the inside. I like them because I can SEE but I hate when I get headaches from glasses. Always happens with multi-focals.

So, how to fill my days. That’s the challenge this year.

What’s YOUR exercise regime? And do you rock the resort look, or do you, like me, just look frumpy?

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Weekend Coffee Share is brought to you by Diana at Part-Time Monster. Add your voice to the conversation!

Friday filibuster

Hiya. It’s been a couple of weeks. I’m a hopeless blogger in that I lose track of days and then it’s a week between blogs and before you know it, October’s here already.

I don’t mean to do this, but I get busy sometimes. Even when I’m not “work busy”, other things such as birthday shopping get me otherwise occupied.

So, hello. I’m back. Last week was a fairly shitty week, when I had to accept I was not offered the job – they DID get back to me eventually, and it confirmed my supposition. But the letter was lovely and apparently I WAS impressive and had excellent skills – I just didn’t match the skills they needed for the job right now. There may or may not have been retail therapy.

Back to the drawing board. I’m doing some editing work, and applying for a DECRA, and eventually I will actually start my monograph. It’s a slog, so I’m ignoring it for now.

It’s a news blog day today!

In renovation news, all the electrical work is now done and I’m just waiting for the final bill. I still have to paint some of the sections and gap fill etc, but it’s not far off completion in the bathroom at least! (excluding the oil paint on the windows, for which I actually have to wait until it’s cooler). IMG_2974IMG_2981IMG_2969

The room looks quite chic but the tiles, lights, mirror and fittings were typical Australian prices and we didn’t go for the most expensive selections at all. Perhaps the most expensive element was the vanity unit, but I don’t have a break-down of the actual cost as it was built into the total price. The really fun part, after selecting all the bathroom fittings, was finishing off the decorations. It’s lovely to get some plants in the house: I’m a truly terrible plant keeper so these are surviving despite my best attempts to neglect them. Choosing vanity-ware, towels, bins and toilet brushes was ridiculously fun, too, and I’m so happy with the end result.

The other day I actually washed the floors throughout the whole house, so we’re nearly at normal again.

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Personally I think housekeeping is a Sisyphean task for which I am singularly unqualified, so I prefer not to do it much. We are tidy people and I do clean up after myself on a daily basis, but I don’t count that as housekeeping: that’s more about managing personal cleanliness. (Put it back where you found it, or find a better spot for it!)

When DH and I were both working long hours I hired a fortnightly cleaner. The cleaner was rather passive aggressive, complained a lot and would try to destroy my vacuum cleaner through little vicious acts of sabotage. She went.

Anyway. Cleaning out other areas of my life: I’m over the pity party, so I’ve switched my brain back on and I’m determined to maintain a gritted teeth joie-de-vivre. Which is rather contradictory but what the hey. I’m almost at the “I really really need to tackle the tax” thought, and the creative and academic writing will continue now. I’ve had to accept that I won’t see any money for my efforts, but we can mostly cope. I AM gigging and teaching a bit, which is good, and I’ll keep trawling job sites for more work.

And soon I’ll have a go at painting the bedroom and lounge room, because they need doing. I just have to buy some more ceiling paint, grit my teeth, and do it.

Plenty of teeth gritting this year!

In other news I’ve decided to keep live chickens for eggs. Huzzah!

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I’ve seen the hens and coop ($370) that will be perfect in our large backyard, and we don’t require a permit. It’s a stupidly expensive thing to do, given that we can buy a dozen free-range eggs for $6, and we rarely go through more than a dozen a week ($312 per year on average), but I want to control some of what I’m eating, from a purely ethical stance. In Australia while we have basic guidelines in place around free-range chooks they are not enshrined into law. The basic guideline states there should be 1500 chooks per hectare (1000m2), which gives them about the size of a queen sized bed each to scrabble around in. This is ok, but the powers that be (big food companies – is there a word that mimics “big pharma” for food?) want to make it 20,000 chooks per hectare. This is unacceptable.

Also, I want to know what my chooks are eating. We’ll feed them a combination of chook pellets (fish byproducts I’m told but there are vegetarian options), corn and wheat grain, and leafy green things. It’s not the cheapest option in the world – backyard farming – but it’s a fun thing to do and it’s not like I don’t have the time to keep my animals.

Our backyard is quite open. We will put the chookhouse in a shady area, but we also have to worry about foxes and snakes. Nevertheless, I’ve never seen a snake in our neighborhood, and Poppy the dog will kick up a ruckus if there’s a fox around. The possums don’t seem to have any natural predators here so they are fairly free with their wanderings, which makes me think the wildlife here is contained to birds and big-ass insects. I’m channelling my inner farmer here. My ancestors were farmers and I have kept chooks before. I love the gentle noises they make and the feel-good self-sufficiency of the backyard farm.

Of course, if I was a truly ethical eater I’d probably be a vegetarian. But it’s the little things that count. We try to buy bacon and pork products from a local butcher who sources ethical producers (those who don’t keep the piggies in little nasty pens, but give them room to move and live a short but hopefully happy life before they go to the slaughterhouse). And for years we’ve been eating free-range chickens, pole-and-line-caught tuna, farmed fish (we have a great farming industry in Australia that uses lots of efficient, earth-friendly practices), so on.

So I’m looking forward to naming my not-yet-purchased chooks, perhaps after Gilbert and Sullivan characters: Buttercup, Katisha, Yum-Yum? Ideas for names welcomed!

And now: I’m baking home-made muesli and spaghetti bolognese and delicious brownies. Hola!

No job.

I STILL haven’t heard about the outcome. On Monday 5.15pm Queensland time (because QLDers don’t want daylight saving) I went for a walk with hubby and the dog, after deciding I hadn’t been offered the job because I hadn’t been called in the morning, as one might expect if one had been successful. This makes the time in Sydney 6.15pm, btw. So we get home at 6pm (7pm Sydney time) and there is a message on the phone at 5.45pm saying to ring back on Wednesday. Dang.

I ring back on Wednesday, three times. A staffer takes the call (not the person I’m supposed to hear from). I leave a message but the staffer informs me the person in question KNOWS I’ve called. Then nothing. I ring again this morning and leave a message. No response. I write an email asking for a response. Nothing so far.

I can only imagine I’ve not got the job because this is not the way you would treat a successful applicant, hey.

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(Image: Devastated. Roxy by Roxy)

Australia Day: plainspeaking.

Retired Australian Army General David Morrison was yesterday announced as the Australian of the Year. This was 3 years coming as I think he couldn’t be nominated for this award until he had retired. The one great reason (and there are many more than this) is the following speech made to the Australian Army. It was a private speech, but it quickly went viral. What plain speaking can do, eh? This speech is worth sitting through for the plain prose and stark message, and its emphasis on diversity and equality in the workplace. I loved this speech when it came out and was uncertain as to why he hadn’t been nominated earlier. Anyway, the last two years saw an Indigenous AFL footballer Adam Goodes as Australian of the Year, and Domestic Violence victim, survivor and passionate advocate Rosie Batty. This year was an ex-army leader whose straight talking speech is something all (reasonable) Australians found compelling and honest. Enjoy the clip.

 

Another speech made by the wonderful and under-appreciated indigenous journalist Stan Grant also stirred Australians, as an impromptu speech he made in October did the social media rounds just now. This is the voice of desperation from our indigenous Australians, with a call to action: “we are better than that”. Australians (again, the reasonable ones that make up the majority vote, thanks for asking) have responded wonderfully well to this speech. Grant is characteristically humble about his speech and his role in advocacy for indigenous rights: he names many great advocates before him whose speeches are braver and stronger and better than his. However, this speech comes at a time when there is a sharp division in the media between the noisy right and the desire of the Australian majority to be better than our international image would suggest.

 

So today, on Australia Day, hubby and I will go to an Art auction. The auctioneers we know well, and lots of wonderful indigenous artists are represented there. We probably won’t buy anything but it’s good to value stuff for future reference. We have lots of cheap and cheerful wall art as we have bought at least 5 pieces from them, all under $1000 each. DH took two pieces to work as his workplace won’t release artworks they buy as there is a stupid loophole in Australian Tax law that says if you buy artwork for superannuation purposes it cannot be shown or hung in public spaces. For reasons entirely unknown to me. Anyway, it means we personally buy the art for the work space. Sometimes it’s bought back by the university as part of general decoration, but I think we own all the pieces there at present.

I love indigenous art: it’s abstract and non-figurative (mainly), but has a definite visual narrative that you understand as you get to know the artist’s vision. The works we buy are usually narratives of nature, place and country. Given the ongoing arguments Australians have about Australia Day, with its hellish history for our First Peoples, it’s good to be able to, in a small, entirely selfish way, give something back to the first Australians. And to those who may think these folk are being exploited: no. I did my due diligence. The artists are represented with dignity and their copyright and artist rights intact.

So off we go, to sit in a room and be yelled at for a few hours. On Australia Day I can think of nothing more fun. Happy Australia Day to you.

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Weekend Coffee Share

If we were having coffee, you’d notice it was actually Monday morning here in the Southern hemisphere. This is flying under the radar of east coast USA, which is a cool (possibly frigid and snow-bound) 16 hours behind us. Therefore it’s only Sunday night somewhere in the world. I’ve already had 2 coffees and am very very ready for my third.

I’m dying here a bit. I had my job interview last Friday. It went really really well. Even if I don’t get the job, I’m not sure what more I could have done. I was open, friendly, answered the questions (which were easy and simple) to the best of my ability. I felt comfortable, at ease, poised and prepared. As I may have mentioned last week, I had a coaching which enabled me to get the best out of my elevator pitch, and illuminated my skills and strengths. I now know what I do really well, and I know I’m passionate about research. It has taken me until the last few weeks to work that out.

They have promised to call me today so my sleep has been rather interrupted. I’ve taken off the phone’s mute button; the default position. I’m not altogether sure they’ll ring today as tomorrow is Australia Day and it’s a holiday – there may be a Wednesday phone call instead.

But of course it’s Monday now and do you think I’ve done any meaningful work since I awoke? No, nope, non, nada, nyet. I DID get up and shower but my day has been otherwise characterized by lack of movement. Yet, I have a list of Things To Do. I have a DECRA to complete. I have some private teaching to plan (if I don’t get the job). I have 20 hours of editing work to do. I have a book proposal to finish and a monograph to write.

There’s plenty I could be doing. Dammit.

If we were having coffee I’d be telling you about the great weekend my hubby and I had in Sydney, that shiny, fast paced city. That we saw friends and shows and that I felt quite at home in a town that’s neither like Melbourne nor Brisbane. I’d be telling you about the rain that was a constant of the weekend.

I’d be telling you about a show we saw, ostensibly for children, composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke, called The Rabbits. It’s an allegorical tale about the 1788 invasion of Australia by the British, and the rape, destruction and desecration of the First Peoples of Australia (and their land) in the name of that abominable Roman concept of Terra Nullius (nobody’s land). It’s done beautifully, simply, and breaks your heart. Because its story is truth.

I’m an inhabitant of this land and have been all my life. My Irish, Scottish and English ancestors came here in the 1850s and worked the land, bred, and experienced both prosperity and privation. Even though for many years I was a single parent, poor and marginalised, I cannot imagine my children being removed from me and my homeland violated. I cannot imagine being part of a race who were so oppressed that the scourge of this oppression continues to this day through poverty, violence, drug and alcohol addiction, serious health problems, unemployment, lack of access to good quality food and water, education, housing, healthcare and legal services. And yet The Rabbits (published in 2000, written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan), this simple tale based on a picture book, let me imagine all of this and more.

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(Copyright 1998 Shaun Tan. “They came by water”. Oil on canvas)

The book has won numerous awards and the opera (in all honesty it’s the most cross-genre work I’ve seen in forever because it includes operatic conventions, panto, pop, blues, and other elements I haven’t thought of yet, set on a stage) has been beautifully realised by Miller-Heidke. She is a composer of special quality. Trained as an opera singer, she has carved out a great career as a pop singer/song-writer. Her music becomes more sophisticated and beautiful the older she gets, yet it is mainly diatonic, tuneful and easy for the lay person to enjoy. The more educated ear also love her work because it sounds easy but just isn’t. She has that rare gift of eliciting emotion through key changes that a listener won’t understand unless you’ve been trained in it. And even then I cried. I just wanted to weep and weep and weep, but as I was not alone I felt hampered by social niceties, and therefore didn’t. Great art has the capacity to move you in all sorts of ways and this work moved me like few others. Take a look: The Rabbits

If we were having coffee I’d tell you about how good it was seeing an ex-student of mine act and sing beautifully in another show we saw called The Fantasticks. It’s a rather flimsy tale and with sinister undertones not fully realised in the rather meh production, but he was great. My lovely student. Very proud.

If we were having coffee you’d be one of several people I’ve managed to have coffee with over the last few days. The Sydney trip was not just for a job interview; it was an opportunity for rare catch-ups with friends and acquaintances. There was afternoon coffee with E who braved simply appalling traffic to get into the heart of town, a late supper with S who had just done a very awkward singing telegram, and brunch with one of my oldest friends C and his son, who is delightful, precocious and super bright. DH managed to be brave during it all – he’s not a friends-type of person, but he enjoyed the interactions nevertheless.

And if we were having coffee you’d notice I’m a little bit annoyed that the possums got to my herb garden on the back porch. It was only a matter of time, of course. Thus far they’re particularly fond of dill, parsley, and coriander. They’ve nibbled half-heartedly at the sage and won’t touch the rosemary, and aren’t interested in the basil, thyme or the oregano. The saddest bit is they’re not at all worried about the dog, who goes psycho when they arrive on the porch for their evening repast.

So now that we’ve had coffee and I’ve been procrastinating yet again, I’ll leave you with thanks and an invitation to join me again. Maybe not on a Monday morning, but on a lazy Sunday.

Au revoir!

(Weekend coffee share is hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster. Why not join in the chat?)

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The wheels of change grind slowly…and then they don’t

Feeling slightly bloggy today. That is, I want to be saying something, yet I’ve nothing much to say.

This week is the week of waiting and editing. Waiting for the bathroom to be done (ONLY the electrician is left now); waiting for some editing jobs to come in; waiting for Friday.

Friday is job interview day. I’m asking myself why I’m not walking the dog or doing some shopping but hey, there’s not much to be doing here other than TV watching (now onto season 3 of The Good Wife – a step down from The West Wing because it’s not as complex and just a little bit more melodramatic, but otherwise excellent).

I’m waiting for something to start. And start it has. I’ve just had a phone call from a colleague who may have some project work for me. So for a few weeks at least, if I don’t get the Friday job I now have some editing work, a DECRA grant to prepare, teaching singing to organise (although not much because I’ve been winding it down slightly), a possible project, and 4 singing gigs.

The year is gearing up again. So I really should be planning my research work. For those who care, I have a PhD in music. I have a bunch of stuff to do with this research, even if I don’t have a paid job to go to. I could plan and write my monograph, I could write a couple of research articles. However, as everyone in research knows, writing research articles is like pulling teeth. I get engrossed in it but I hate starting it off. It’s like writing a term paper but much, much harder. Nearly everyone you know hated writing undergraduate term papers. It’s no different just because I’m a grown-up. Luckily everyone I know procrastinates on journal articles, too.

Stooges pulling teeth

Anyway, so. Editing. It’s a thing. Yesterday I wrote a Flash Fiction piece, 130 words long. Today I edited it. Let go, much? It’s better, but not much better. I read it aloud this time. It helps to read stuff out aloud. One gets a feel for scansion, flow, word placement, comma placement, narrative and dramatic tension. I’m no good with grammar rules or poetry / narrative / syntax / phrase rules – I wasn’t taught any memorable English language rules as a child, and as an adult I struggle to retain information like that. I might remember a Kardashian moment, but I won’t remember syllable emphasis. I have to go with intuitive rhythmic/ melodic placement of the spoken word.

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Fiction so short is like poetry. Smells, sights, sounds, interactions, and a narrative arc told in 100 words. Brevity is vital, quality is paramount. No passive voice. Very few adjectives. The right word for the right scene, no excess or repetition unless the repetition adds narrative value. Tricky but doable. I’m getting better at it, I think. At least, my eye is sharpening.

So, waiting and editing is my thing this week. And now: to walk the dog.

Adios!

 

 

Flash Fiction: On the pier

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The day had been dark and ominously stormy, clouds glowering over the deserted little west coast fishing village.

But late in the afternoon the clouds cleared slightly, and the sun shone weakly in the watery sky. Jeb and Luce sat with legs dangling over the side of the pier, and squinted into the setting sun.

The abandoned fishing boats rocked gently on the waves.

“Do you think we’ll survive it, Jeb?”

“Dunno, Luce. What does your dad say?”

“Oh, he says North Korea doesn’t have the capability. That we should really worry about Iran and Pakistan.”

“I’m scared.”

“Me too.”

They were silent then.

And as the sky suddenly lightened they held hands and watched the brilliant flash reaching out from across the sea, shining bright and beautiful and terrible as the sun.

 

(130 words)

The prompt photo for this week’s flash fiction challenge was provided by Louise from The Storyteller’s Abode.

Thanks to Priceless Joy for hosting this writing challenge. Why not head to her website and add your own?

Flash Fiction

 

Weekend Coffee Share

If we were having coffee you’d notice the beautiful new coffee machine in the kitchen. It’s cranberry red. Nuff said about coffee, except to mention I drink quite a lot of it. Black and strong and espresso, thanks.

If we were having coffee you’d notice it’s not at the kitchen table because I’m trying to do my tax. There are receipts all over the table. 2 years worth for both my company and my personal tax. I hate receipts. I finally found a new system: chuck all the receipts into a chic black tin box originally containing Aesop grooming products and close the lid. Do not open the lid for a LONG time. Hence the kitchen table has now become a hideous receipt-encrusted eyesore.

If we were having coffee you’d notice a few appointments in my diary this week: I have an interview coaching session on Monday with my DH’s work coach. I’m terrible in interviews and vivas, because I can’t think fast enough and I ramble. Conciseness and precision are not my allies. Hence why I am doing so many 100 flash fiction challenges: I need to edit better. The spoken word: I wish I was Aaron Sorkin and had his brain. But I am not. On Thursday I have a singing gig, yay, and on Thursday night I head south to Sydney for a job interview.

This interview is important because the job is a good one.

I really really want this job.

However, if we were having coffee you’d notice my hesitation about leaving my DH to go work in another state. It’s HARD WORK. I have no fear our relationship would fall apart but it would get one hell of a beating. I’d have to work hard to manage my work commitments alongside family commitments, and to balance weekends and travel plans. UGH. And I have NO extended family in Sydney. They’re all in Melbourne. I’d be all alone (all by myself).

 

 

If we were having coffee you’d notice I’ve put on a kilo or two – that’s too many sticky buns and lounging around work for me. Summer here is hot. I’ve been painting. Then there was Xmas. They’re my excuses. The reality I was depressed and I’ve been watching a hell of a lot of TV/ Netflix/Stan. Now I’m fat again. Time to get to the gym which I’ve not attended since September (hence the fatness).

*Note to self: New Year’s Resolutions, dammit.

If we were having coffee you’d notice I’ve started cooking again, and I planted a herb garden last week. It’s going well, thanks for asking. The brand new bathroom is now fully useable (if still missing an extractor fan), and I am using fluffy white towels. Brand new. It’s a luxury. Finally, I want to draw your attention to my bedside table – it has 3 books on it. I’m part way through all of them.

Life is pretty good this week. It might be because of the good coffee. How was your week?

Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Diana at Part-time Monster.

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