I was recently in a group of people asked to name the most unusual item in our respective kitchens (ingredient, implement, other – as long as it was a bit quirky). The tricky thing with this question is that I, like most others there, consider my own kitchen to be fairly ordinary. This is a room that’s been equipped to be functional and, in many cases, designed to be attractive. So coming up with ‘the most unusual item’ in amongst the mundane actually equates to figuring out which item someone else might plausibly consider unusual.

Bringing up a mental map of my kitchen and gazing around it, I was hard pressed to see anything out of the ordinary. The butcher’s block, crates, appliances – they all fit in and work in their context. Condiments and tins – perhaps far too many of each – have been stocked with some sort of goal in mind. Cutlery, crockery and so on have accumulated over time and, whilst they may not be my ideal Homes & Garden version of same, they serve their purpose. Certainly nothing unusual in any of those.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have a small collection of teapots on the kitchen window ledge. I wondered if they counted as unusual? They’re fairly brightly coloured, but – when you come down to it – they’re just teapots. In the dishwasher I have a little clean/dirty sign, to let people know the status of the current load – but we think that’s pretty normal. Perhaps the handmade mosaic trivet on my bench top? hmm…

Then I remembered the yellow Tonka Toy lurking on top of the kitchen cupboards. It’s one of the classic road graders, a remnant of my son’s childhood. When he moved out, he made a pile of his Lego, Meccano, toy cars and so forth and asked me to donate them to a good cause. Most went to charity shops or friend’s children without a second thought, but the grader was harder for me to part with. I had (and have) so many fond memories of the roads we built with it in the sandpit and the games that followed.

But what does one do with a discarded toy truck or, indeed, any discarded – yet beloved – toy? In this instance I perched a pair of discarded dinosaurs on it (a diplodocus and a triceratops, I’m told) and there they’ve remained ever since, our watchful kitchen deities. They keep track of everyone and everything that happens in this crazy central space in our home, where people congregate and culinary experiments happen.

My dino-truck combo definitely counted as an unusual kitchen item in most people’s books on the day and, try as they might, no-one could trump it. Since then I’ve looked more closely at people’s kitchens when I visit, keeping an eye out for their version of quirky. To my surprise, most kitchens actually do contain at least one oddity – but the dino-truck still rules 🙂OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was at an outdoor event recently, a lovely afternoon concert in the park. Just in front of where we were sitting was a group that included two young girls, of perhaps four and six years of age. They’d been dressed in identical flimsy, embroidered, Chinese-style tunics and their mother went to great lengths to pose the girls together, arm in arm, smiling, for snap after snap. It made me wonder whether, in years to come, those girls will remember how much they disliked the posing and how they tried to escape, without success, from their mother’s determination to record the happy events. I wondered if any of the pictures where one or both were pulling faces and squirming with irritation and a need to be somewhere else would survive the culling process. I wondered how many times I’d done that to my children, unthinking.

This  in turn led me to reflect on whether our family album contained only ‘happy snaps’, or if it provides a range of different moods and expressions, situations and contexts that more accurately reflects our lives. These thoughts sent me scurrying off to find a picture that I’ve always thought portrays something of who I was in my early twenties. The girl in the photo is the person I’ve tended not to show, because she doesn’t fit the persona that the people around me are familiar with. But she’s as real now as she was then.

The photograph was taken at my father’s wedding reception, which took place in the family home less than a year after my mum had died. I was angry and lost and bereft, but had tried my best throughout to behave in a manner appropriate to the proceedings and to make June feel welcome in our family. The inevitable flurry of photographs had been endured, with various people snapping away indiscriminately all afternoon until my face ached from smiling and my heart from trying to behave in a civil manner. The cameras kept pointing my way, at the allegedly happy daughter of the beaming groom. Eventually one of my brothers took the brunt of my displeasure, his camera the last straw. I broke ranks, bared my teeth and growled at him (apparently quite ferociously), after which I was let off the hook and felt a lot better.

When the prints were collected, there I was – growl and all. I kept the photo, even though it’s not pretty, because it portrayed my feelings far more clearly than words can describe and more truly than any other photos taken on the day. Looking at it again today made me think about the kinds of images that tend to be included in family albums. By and large they appear to be the sort that allow people to re-imagine their lives as full of smiles and sunshine, no clouds, no sulks, no bared teeth.


What makes us weed out the sad and bad pictures and keep only the happy smiley ones? Is it social pressure that leads us to believe that our life must be seen and remembered in this way? Do we ever come to a time and place when we can say – ‘hey, hello, there’s more to me, more to my life’?

I recognised that girl when I looked at the photo today. I see her every day when I brush my hair. We’ve come to an accommodation over the years – l don’t hide her away so much and she hardly ever growls anymore. I’m rather glad I didn’t edit her out of my life.

With all my major edits done for the moment, it’s a given that one of the events I’ll be going to at the Perth Writer’s Festival next week is the one-day publishing seminar. This is a great opportunity to hear about various aspects of the publishing process as well as alternative pathways to publication, including e-books and self-publishing. It also provides a chance, however slim, of pitching my book to representatives from three WA publishing houses.

This means I need to come up with a plausible elevator pitch – a 30 to 60 second sound bite that will provide enough information to engage the interest of a prospective publisher/editor and allow me to give them my business card, at the very least.

The elevator pitch seems to come down to the WIFM principle: What’s in it for me? If I can’t grab a prospective ‘buyer’ in those first 30 to 60 seconds by answering that question, then I’m effectively out of the game. So I really, really need to showcase whatever my unique selling proposition is as quickly as possible. To do this I need to make every word count, to ensure that every gesture and intonation supports my word choices and that the pace of delivery is pitched just right. It’s a package deal aimed at making the audience care, whether that’s one person or a room full of people. Simple, right?

Well, according to my insomnia, not all that simple. It actually reminds me of the first few months of my postgrad project, when everyone kept asking me what my thesis was about. For a while there my answers were a bit rambling and got bogged down in detail, but they slowly distilled to the two or three sentences that captured the essence of what I was trying to achieve. This is no different. I’ve spent the past few days talking to myself in the car, testing out variations on a theme to see what sounds right, what captures the essence of this story, and it’s slowly starting to come together.

Last night I did a test run on some friends – people who haven’t read the book and only had a vague idea of what it’s about. It was very interesting to get their feedback, to hear what caught their attention and what didn’t, where they felt I should perhaps add some detail and what I might want to consider leaving out. The bottom line is that I got them – and not just because I was feeding them dinner either! Although that is a thought… perhaps I could take some tasty treats along to the Writer’s Festival…

P.S. Yes, I do have business cards (now) – and rather attractive they are too 🙂

I watched a TED talk  by Dan Buettner last week. In this he talks about why and how it is that some people live longer – much longer – than others. There appear to be a number of factors in involved, but the one that really struck a chord with me was ikigai – a Japanese word that encompasses that sense of purpose that makes one get up in the morning, one’s reason for being.

As Buettner notes, this has nothing to do with the inevitable early morning bladder pressure, or with letting the dog out or making the school lunches. It’s that thing, or combination of things, that makes each day the start of something new – full of possibilities and opportunities for experiences, big or small.

I guess a phrase like living life with a sense of purpose sounds rather New Age, a bit psychobabble and back-to-the-70s. Even so, I think that believing that life is worth living is intrinsically purposeful and is, to some degree, a self-fulfilling prophesy. Apparently a strong sense of purpose helps to boost your immune system. It also lowers  your levels of stress hormones and enables you to cope with adversity more effectively. Whether or not it makes one live longer, it certainly seems to make one live better.
Trying to figure out what my ikigai is has taken up a fair bit of contemplative time over the past few days – and the process continues. Perhaps figuring your own out will be super obvious for you, but I had to go back to basics and think about  what makes me happy. This led me to think about what activities, food and people leave me feeling calm and fulfilled. Once I had a handle on those – and there are many – I went on to considering what my short, medium and long term goals might be – the big ones and the small ones. While I was doing that I thought about how achieving any or all of those would make me feel – and found that just thinking about that made me smile and want to step out boldly. Ikigai in action 🙂


Books and stories seem to have always been part of my mental landscape. I’ve spent countless hours immersed in story worlds of adventure/mystery/action/history and can’t actually remember a pre-reading stage. I do remember being read stories by my parents well past when I was already in primary school, however. It was just one of those things we did as a family – my brother and I would sit or lie around of an evening whilst Mum/Dad read us a chapter from The Jungle Book or some other favourite tale. They would do all the voices of the characters and it was like our own personal radio play right there in the lounge room.Hippo with bird

Perhaps being read and told stories in this way as a child is what embedded the lure of story worlds in my psyche, making it such an intrinsic part of who I am. This connection resulted in books being read by me anywhere and everywhere. I’ve read in, on and – at times – under my bed, on the couch, on the floor, up a tree, in cars, trains, buses and aeroplanes, at bus stops and train stops, on an inflatable lilo, in a canoe, walking to and from school, in doctors/dentists/other surgeries, in hospital, at parties, on picnics, in a tent by lamp light, at the beach, and whilst knitting and eating (although not simultaneously).

I confess that this reading habit has resulted in a few awkward moments over the years. I’ve stumbled over kerbs and almost gone sprawling in a heap, missed my bus stop and had to bus back,  had library books confiscated by annoyed maths/science/biology/French teachers – and then had to find ways to ransom them back in order not to face paying library fines, glanced up to find people staring at me – waiting for an answer to a question I’ve completely blanked. I’ve missed meals, missed trains, lost hours – but gained so much more.

It was a logical extension of of all this to take to reading in the pool. In summer I use our backyard pool to do an hour of exercises most days. This involves 30 minutes of walking up and down (and reading) in the water, followed by 30 minutes of an aquarobics programme. Reading relieves the tedium of doing the exercises, makes the time pass surprisingly quickly and gives my arm muscles a minor workout holding the book clear of the water – it’s a win all round and a very effective use of my time.

As our pool is unheated – and not under cover – I use the local indoor pool in the winter months and have been doing so for about the past 10 years. But reading in the indoor pool inevitably generates a (surprisingly) large number of virtually identical comments from other pool users. Even though I try to avoid the comments by taking care not to make eye contact (after all, I’m reading and walking and in a pool – that’s quite enough, thank you!), there appears to be a compulsive need for people try to provoke some sort of response from me.

It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day I go or how crowded the pool is, it’s generally variations on the same theme: that must be a good book / what a good idea / how do you read at the same time as walk? / I don’t think I could do that /  goodness, when did they invent waterproof books? On average I get one question or comment per exercise session. That’s a lot of comments across 10 winters – from people who are seemingly endlessly entertained by the novelty of it all.

Funnily enough no-one commented during the period when I used an mp3 player to listen to audio books instead. Sadly my skill set wasn’t up to that level of technology for long, so peace was short-lived. I managed to kill the player by getting it wet, something I’ve never done to a book. I might stick to what I know and just start wearing a pair of  cheap earphones tucked into the spine of the book as props. 🙂