Returning to Maycomb County


“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seethe.”  Isaiah 21:6

The release of Harper Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman was a hot topic of conversation a couple of years ago.  I missed it.  Somehow I was otherwise distracted and so didn’t read anything about it or engage in any conversations other than the passing acknowledgement that it was available.

I came across a hardcover copy last year in a second-hand book store for $5:00.  It sat neglected for months until this last fortnight, when I could not settle into a book after reading a riveting crime novel.  Within moments of realising I was spending time with Atticus and Scout, I was drawn in and satisfactorily engaged.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s blockbuster, has long held a spot high on my list of favourite books.  Having to teach it to reluctant teenagers did not tarnish its lustre.  While I had a significant adjustment to make to the older Scout in Go Set a Watchman I was compensated by recollections of her childhood which provided a good and detailed account of the passage of time in the lives of many of the main characters.

My beloved Atticus, gentle, wise and honourable, who reminds me of my grandfather, was not as forward facing as I’d have liked.  And I’ll admit I was at first a little disoriented and confused by his portrayal, though I was delighted by the large roles of the critical and complex Aunt Zandra and the charming and captivating Uncle John.  I missed Jem and Dill and Calpurnia, though Lee cleverly fed me enough information to propel me forward.  This is not a novel about Atticus, neither perhaps was To Kill a Mockingbird though I made it so.  Go Set a Watchman is a coming of age novel about one Miss Jean Louise Finch. She probably narrated her 1930’s childhood summer at the age she appears in this current novel.

Though the narrative was disturbing and meandering it held my interest. It’s a powerful and brutal bildungsroman.  It’s a brutal coming of age for Scout and a brutal read for devotees who find the idyllic Maycomb ravaged and transformed by historical events.  The ample dialogue caused me some consternation and rereading when I confused speakers. The novel ends satisfactorily with an invitation for Scout to return to Maycomb, to join forces with others, who, through strength of character, righteousness and will, could set the moral compass for Maycomb and be the watchmen of the town.

What was your experience, returning to Maycomb County?

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Create your own reading festival

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Reading has been a huge part of my life, since, well, almost forever.  I loved being read to as a child and once I could read I enjoyed learning new things that came from understanding print.  Exploring different literary periods at university enhanced my insatiable need to consume the printed word.  A few years back I set myself a goal of reading fifty books in the year. I ended up reading many more than that.  It was a great experiment and afforded me the opportunity to explore different genres and forms of writing. Since then I have been reading anything that takes my fancy: I’ve read whole series, one-off books of interest, recommendations from friends, plays, novels, non-fiction etc.  At times I’ve struggled to select books and found myself hankering for a little guidance in my selections.

Now that the new year has begun and many of us are pondering the terrain ahead and how we can make it joyful, I’ve been inspired to consider focusing my reading choices and reading with purpose.

My son was the first point of inspiration.  He discovered a book reading challenge where you read a book every two weeks from a different category.  Categories include a book:

  • you read in school
  • from your childhood
  • published over 100 years ago
  • set in your hometown/region
  • with someone’s name in the title
  • with a number in the title
  • with a character with your first name
  • you can finish in a day
  • previously banned
  • with a one-word title
  • translated from another language
  • that’s a memoir or journal
  • set somewhere you’ll be visiting this year.

Sounds like fun. Check out this link for more ideas.

Then I read my friend Nicole Cody’s blog and she had an interesting take on a reading challenge and it sits very nicely with the idea of paying it forward and donating to charity.  Her idea is to read a book a month, put aside a small amount of money for each book read and then at then end of the year buy a book and donate it to charity for Christmas.  How neat is that?

Tim Ferriss, in his 5 bullet Friday, always has some interesting book recommendations – things I would not select myself.  He is a great source for reading inspiration, as is Pinterest, the weekend newspaper and Avid Reader bookshop.

Having been motivated by the two reading challenge ideas and having good sources for recommendations (although I do have enough unread books on my shelves and in my kindle that I probably don’t need to purchase a book this year) I am going to combine the two ideas and read at least a book a month from a different category, putting aside a few dollars for each book I read to purchase one for  someone in hospital, a nursing home or shelter at the end of the year.

Where will your reading take you this year?

Life unfiltered – looking through different lenses

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The lens we look through will determine what we see.
Renee Swope

I often encourage people to intentionally focus on a particular perspective by having them consider an idea or a topic through a framework, paradigm, theory or viewpoint.  I’ll say – “let’s look through the lens of a …”, “we’ll explore this through the lens of …”.

This idea of exploring the world through different lenses is interesting  and has been quite pertinent to me this last week.  When I reflect, my first encounter of looking through a different lens came, oddly enough, in my childhood through the cartoon character Mr Magoo, a near-sighted retiree who bumbles from one comical escapade to another. This was the first time I realised (and no doubt, I couldn’t actually articulate it back then) that I could see things others may not or that I could view events differently from my own vantage point. Kaleidoscopes, a type of lens, with their colourful and varying patterns composing and recomposing themselves as reflected in tiny mirrors, enchanted and transfixed me. The world looked different through a kaleidoscope.  I suppose the camera lens was next.  My father had an avid interest in photography and the idea of freezing a moment to be viewed at another time drew my attention. How bewitching to view an image with the benefit of hindsight, with distance, from outside the situation looking in.  To capture a moment to help strengthen a memory is so compelling.

Then there are words,  another set of lenses through which I’ve experienced the world.  Books and poetry, letters and essays. I’ve seen the world through the lens of many an artist too – their paintings and photographs, their sculpture and film have intrigued, moved and delighted me. They have taught me many lessons, sent me off on journeys of discovery and more.

I’ve looked through the lenses of different theories and notions, of different ideologies and standpoints. I’ve tried to employ the lens of empathy to inform my actions, thoughts and beliefs.

I have viewed life and explored its many wonders, trials and events through the lens of a  curious though private child, a complex, self-conscious teenager, a grieving granddaughter, an unyielding and misunderstood young woman, a loving and loyal wife, a vigilant and watchful mother. And it’s this chronology, this moving from maiden through matron and heaven forbid I say it – to crone that I now find I look through a different set of lenses.  Yes, alas, this new type of optical through which I will now view the world, only part-time mind you, are a full framed, clear lensed set of pretty little goggles.

Looking glass, drinking glass? Reading glass!
An affront.
My age, you say, crept up on me
I can no longer compensate.

Glasses.
The reading kind for you today, you see.
It’s your age.
Harrumph

Hush. Hush.
Time to look at the world differently.

It should be a trial, and yet, it’s not.
It simply is.
You see.
It just, bloody well, is.

In and out. Test this, test that.
Look up, look down.
Read this, read that.
Look near, look far.
It’s time for glasses you see.

Tsk Tsk.
Drinking glass?
The looking glass?
Venetian glass?
No, no a reading glass.

Hmm,
I see.
Ho hum,
So dumb.
I’m numb.
What a bum.

Itch! Witch!
Through the looking glass, a grandma I see.
Grey hair.
Crinkles and wrinkles.
The clearer I see, the more damned I be.

Nature is kind, my aunt once said.
Your eyesight goes and with it the wrinkles and crinkles, the greys and the years.

Blink, blink.
Such a to do.
There’s really no fuss.
I’m settled and calm, surprisingly.
Rally and rant – oh, no, not me.

It’s a change.
It’s flow.
New optics,
Silver shot locks
Different look. Different outlook.
No longer a maiden. Alas, a crone.

Wait, wait.
It’s an interesting life.
This cycle of things.
It’s simply a new lens, or two,
through which to filter the world around and beyond you.

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A bundle of little things I’m loving right now

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Life is a great bundle of little things.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to accomplish something big, that we fail to notice the little things that give life its magic.    Author unknown

There are times I find myself consumed by certain things in life. I look forward to them passionately, I think about them often and I enjoy indulging in them regularly.  Currently I’m having a love affair with logic puzzles, matcha tea, podcasts, commuting by bus and riceless nori rolls, oh, and House of Cards (but everyone loves that TV series, right?).  It’s a pretty eclectic and quirky mix, I admit, but I’m enthralled all the same.

Podcasts – Conversations with Richard Fidlercover170x170
I had to go on a road trip, solo, recently. I don’t enjoy listening to music as I often can’t settle on one style or artist for long.  I prefer to listen to audio books; the ‘voice’ feels like company. Realising my departure date was upon me and I was sans audio book I sent a desperate message to a friend and asked if she had anything. Disappointment set in when she replied with a no. She did however have a CD of radio conversations that she listens to on long trips.  I hadn’t heard of them before but I was open to giving it a go.

Oh. My. Goodness!!!! I was hooked from the first interview. Richard Fidler, a presenter for the ABC radio, hosts hour-long conversations with a wide range of local and international guests. His guests speak on a range of topics such as, but not limited to; science, art, history, crime, business, entertainment, politics and health. While some celebrities are interviewed often guests are ordinary people with exceptional stories. Richard is a remarkable host. He is compassionate and passionate, he is inquisitive and knowledgable, he is warm, and funny and very generous.

My friend’s CD of 27 interviews lasted me my trip and back and then several weeks more. Having played my last interview the car fell into silence and zipping about the city wasn’t as interesting as it has been the previous few weeks.  I had laughed, I’d cried, I was outraged, sobered and elated by the stories. I immersed myself into the life of another, an hour at a time. I felt an emptiness without this ‘contact’ to the world outside my little sphere. I am now subscribing to the podcast and I’ll create my own playlist of conversations to entertain, inform and intrigue me.

Matcha tea                                                                 My Christmas morning Matcha

Several years ago I saw an advertisement for this bright green, powdered tea and became curious. It was difficult to source but eventually I found an online company and had some delivered.  I can’t recall if my love affair began at first sight or if it was a slow burning passion that eventually ignited. Now, of course I’m head over heels with matcha. It’s my go to early morning pick me up – if I need it – and it’s a nice mid morning alternative to my regular green tea or chai. It’s extraordinarily versatile. I’ve created rocket fuel matcha, I drink it plain or with added almond or coconut milk, I’ve added it to my brain boosting keto balls and various other baked delights. I am smitten by the flavour, taste and the lovely gentle energy enhancing properties of matcha.

I have purchased matcha at a couple of coffee shops (not everyone stocks it) but they are waaaayyyy too sweet. I drink mine unsweetened. I’ve spotted matcha shakes, full of ice-cream which is no good for my lactose free belly but I did discover a nice matcha frappe – just ice, almond milk and tea. It was divine in our hot and humid Australian summer. I imagine matcha is an acquired taste (it’s kind of earthy which is why so many people add sweeteners, I guess)  but I encourage you to be adventurous and try it.

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I love a good puzzle. I am a jigsaw puzzle and crossword fan from way back. The problem with jigsaws is they are not easily portable.  Crosswords and jigsaws were usually left for holiday indulgences until I discovered mini puzzle books. Being introduced to Sudoku a while back I have worked my way through several books – carrying them and code cracker mini books with me when I fly for work. I also have several in my draw at work for lunch breaks. A few seasons ago I branched out and purchased a book of logic puzzles to take on a beach holiday.  My brain hurt horribly. Initially, I couldn’t work out how to do them. The simple ones were a breeze but I got stuck on the more complex puzzles. Not one to easily give up when faced with a puzzle challenge, I grappled for days trying to ‘crack the code’ so to speak. Just as my beloved was shaking his head and encouraging me to ‘give it away’, to ‘relax’, the penny dropped and I finally ‘got it’.

Now I try to complete a logic puzzle every day before leaving for work. I’ve recently purchased a  different publication, it’s much harder than those I’m used to, and I don’t always crack it before leaving the house. So weekends are a joy for me. Over a matcha tea, or two, I smash out two or three logic puzzles before I get moving. They say it’s good to work your brain to ward off Alzheimer’s and other brain degenerative diseases. I hope they’re right. I worry at times I’m doing more damage than good because I can literally feel my brain working. Some days the puzzle is so tricky my head hurts, I feel a fog descend and I get dizzy. (Doesn’t sound like much fun does it?) Understandably, the harder they are to solve the more satisfaction I feel. I’m a cheap date, I know!

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Okay. I don’t LOVE commuting. It’s not as convenient as having a car to zip around in BUT it does have massive advantages apart from being kinder on the environment and saving a packet on car parking. Since I began commuting to work this year I have read, so many books I’ve lost count. I look forward to jumping on that bus, settling down and diving into my book.

I’ve been an avid reader since childhood, it’s like magic to me. My favourite shops are bookshops and the hardware store. I remember traveling some years ago and finishing my fifth book. We were in non-english speaking countries and I was weeks without a book and began to crave language and words I could understand. I felt a physical need to clutch a book in my hands and drink in the story within.  As luck would have it we stumbled across a secondhand store in Nimes, France. There was a single box of English novels on a trolley out the front. I poured over and revelled in the luxury of those books before making my selection. So, to have free time to read, in a busy schedule, is a pure indulgence. Hence my current love of commuting.

Riceless nori rolls

I have been craving nori. Yep, weird stuff I know (nori and matcha, what a combination). Nori contains vitamins C and A, magnesium and potassium. Clearly my body is looking to fill a gap in the minerals department. Sushi rolls leave me feeling dissatisfied on a whole range of levels. I prefer to eat my nori rolls without rice. It’s fun to make your own fillings: smashed avocado, tahini, mashed roast pumpkin, smoked salmon, cucumber, carrot, salad greens, roasted eggplant and egg are a few of my favourites. The choices and combinations are endless. Cut into bite sized pieces these make an easy snack or a hearty lunch. So simple, so versatile, so yummy and healthy too!

Do you find there are times when you are all or nothing with certain things? What’s caught your fancy lately?

Books, Bunnings and blasphemy

Things have been really great lately. I’ve developed some new interests and I now spend my time in different, very productive ways.  Despite my excitement around these new ventures I stopped, momentarily, just this week and questioned my priorities.

You see, I love books and bookshops.  Novels, big coffee table picture books, children’s books, books of poetry, books on yoga and cooking. History books, books on travel, even very old, musty smelling books. I love them all.

I love bookshops too. Did I mention that? I used to hunt out new bookshops and travel the city to visit an unexplored bookstore.  Small independents, book exchanges, online sellers and even the big commercial bookstores. I love them all.

So, you’ve probably gathered I have a love of reading. But I also love the touch and feel of books. The quality of the paper, the thickness and the artwork on the cover all appeal to me. I’ll buy a book simply because it feels good. I absolutely adore the feel of a book with rough cut pages (deckled edges). Embossed and gold leaf covers also grab me.

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So great is my love of books I’m rarely without one close at hand. I was travelling in France several years ago and I’d finished both of the books I’d packed. I went three weeks without a book to read and couldn’t find an English book anywhere. I couldn’t read the magazines or newspapers I saw on the newstands and in supermarkets as they were in French. I was starving for a book to read. There was a physical ache in my gut.  My fingers were itchy. I was tormented.  Then, just when I thought I would implode from the dire craving I had to read, I happened across a secondhand shop with a small cardboard box of English novels out front. I spent a good half hour pouring over each and every book; reading the front and back covers, scanning the inside; carefully selecting my treasure. I was sated, topped up and refuelled in those few moments with that box of books. I’d found heaven, hugging a book to my chest in pure delight.

Recently, I’ve begun to have similar feeling towards my garden. For the first time I have a garden and I’m experimenting with the planting and germination of herbs, vegetables and some pretty flowers. The joy that comes from seeing something you plant grow and then yield fruit and offer sustenance at your table or delight the senses is truly something. I long to be home to potter barefooted in my garden. It rejuvenates me and calms me.  Whether I am planting, watering, weeding or digging garden beds I am at home and content in my garden.

When one has a love affair with gardening one also needs to buy supplies: soil, compost bins, bird netting, seedlings, hoses, stakes etc. This new passion of mine has led me to haunt a new type of store. The hardware store!

imageYou’ll not find me in a bookshop as often as you will my local Bunnings hardware.  I have found myself standing outside waiting for the doors to open on a Saturday morning. I am fascinated by the range of products on offer. I know my way around the aisles better than my husband, so familiar am I with the place.

And this is where I began to question myself and to (lightheartedly) evaluate my priorities.  Maybe you can help me?

Is it blasphemous to love Bunnings more than books?

Here’s to enjoying new opportunities and indulging your passion, whatever it might be.

Shannyn