Fake It ’til You Make It

Emergency: need cheesecake now.

Have you had this one? Here’s what you do.

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Take a digestive cookie (graham cracker if that’s what you prefer),

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spread with a thick layer of cream cheese (thick enough to leave decent teeth-marks),

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cover that with a jewelled layer of jam (your choice–I used raspberry rhubarb),

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and this is as close to cheesecake as you can get without the dirty dishes, hour in the oven and two slices too many.

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It’s poetry, people.

‘Nough said.

XO

Ria

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Spring Clean

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I’ve done it. I’ve just sent my current work-in-progress (WIP) to my agent to review. After that, off it goes to the publisher by the end of this month to sucessfully meet the stipulated “February 2013” deadline. Phew! Just by the skin of my teeth! I was recently chatting with a “person-in-publishing” and she estimated that only one in four writers meet their submission deadlines and I was quite stunned. And determined. I will be that 25%, goshdarnit!

So, as you can imagine, I was relieved and chuffed to get it sent off. Then, as soon as I sat back from the computer screen, something weird happened. Since your last post I’ve been pondering about my own writing habits and rituals and what I observed as soon as I had emailled off the manuscript was that I needed to clean. Deep, down and dirty clean. Get obsessively organised clean. I assume it is a strange “manuscript submission cleaning frenzy syndrome” (M.S.C.F.S?) or maybe my body clock is still on North American seasons and I have got a Spring clean bug. What’s your diagnosis? Have you got it too? Does it happen after submitting your work-in-progress?

Perhaps it’s more noticeable to me because, well, I do not love to clean. I love the place being clean, I just don’t love doing it. Martha Stewart I am not. There are some chores I don’t mind quite as much as others (cleaning out the fridge, vacuuming, clothes washing) but other chores I have been putting off for a, ahem, disgraceful amount of time. During the manuscript writing time I just didn’t have the energy or inclination to do anything much more than stack the dishwasher and throw clothes into the machine, to be honest with you. Cleaning settled right at the bottom of the priority pile. But as soon I’d hit the sent button on the manuscript….those messy, grubby, cluttered areas were firmly in my sights.

I started with B1’s room. Drawers have been labelled, baby clothes stored away, things folded.

B2’s things also did not escape organisation. More labelling, more tidying. B2 helped by pulling all of the nappies out of their neat stack. Thanks, darling.

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The bookshelf, bane of my husband’s existence (“How can one person have SO many books? But haven’t you read that one already?” I mean, I can’t even respond to those questions, you know?!) finally, finally, got sorted. I stacked up books to give away and have been passing them out, one by one, to my friends when we catch up. A soup cookbook for my sister-in-law, A New Zealand wine book for my favourite cafe owner. It’s been great fun pairing up people and books, like a book-matchmaker, and my own shelf is much tidier for it. Don’t tell Matt but he was right, a cull was really required.

I still have our bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen on the hit-list. Matt did the laundry, bless him, perhaps just to get out of my way as I raced around like a woman possessed. Those areas are going to take a good dose of courage and mettle. A significant amount of elbow grease. When we moved I never bothered to sort out my jewellery and related bits; there is a whole mess of a shelf comprised of bracelets, knotted necklaces and solo earrings. Not to mention the dust that needs dealing with. The stuff that hides in the corners the vacuum can’t be bothered with, the stuff that is on top of and at the back of the fridge. Shudder. A fellow kiwi friend came over to visit last night and she assures me that Australia has a lot more dust than New Zealand. I think she was just trying to be nice, if you know what I mean.

It’s lucky I have this newfound energy for cleaning because, clearly, there is a lot to be done. I’m just trying to use it while it lasts. And before my publisher comes back with a list of suggestions and proposed revisions the length of my broom handle, the thickness of my mega-sponge. Because when that happens the cleaning is going to be as important as it usually is – not at all.

Hugs, Hannah x

Sweet Little Something

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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Wherein There is Culture

So, I love this word, culture, for several reasons. I have a degree in anthropology–reason number one. But I also love culture because it means stories. You can’t talk about a person’s or a country’s culture without getting into a nice mess of history, anecdotes and social do’s and don’ts. I love that. That’s why we were drawn to writing, right?

So I was pondering a microcosm of this the other day: What is my writing culture? What traditions, superstitions, habits and rituals would I explain when describing the culture I’ve created around my work? Well, some of these we’ve mentioned (read: bemoaned) here before. But I’d like to give you a short list–and I’d love to hear about yours.

-Tea and a baked good beside computer.

-Always write on a computer, unless a flash of genius comes while at a restaurant or on the ferry, in which case, use a napkin/receipt. (Yes, I know–just use my phone, right? But typing on that little keypad is just so…unromantic.)

-Expect a “break” 45 minutes in to phone someone/check email/boil more water for tea.

-Expect that the ambitious 4 hour writing time goal for the day will shrink to 2.5, maybe 3, quite magically.

-Don’t talk to anyone about details of a WIP. Except maybe DH.

-Feel more inspired after: a run, a good film, a good book, a trip to the library/bookstore, a good night’s sleep.

-Email writer friends to ask them if they felt this crappy at this point in their manuscript. Resolve not to send out any more whiny emails.

-Always edit on the hard copy.

-If the original title is just a placeholder, the final title will be really hard to come up with; if the original title is arrived upon before the book is written, the title invariably stays.

-Give boring and self-deprecating elevator pitches when people ask what the book’s about and feel bad about it afterwards.

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Now, I’m not going to show you the above photo without going into the second reason for this post on culture: yogurt. Clever, I know. I’ve just started making my own again after many years buying semi-locally produced organic stuff. It’s not a quick process and it contributes more pots for washing up, but it’s magic. Take some milk, heat it, add some innocuous-looking powdered started cultures, pop the milk in an incubator and start the clock. Come back however many hours later, and you have creamy, tangy, smooth yogurt. I make mine in mason jars, which, I have to admit, adds to the old-fashioned charm of the whole endeavour. I highly recommend it, especially with little ones old enough to appreciate your obvious magicianery.

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The Kitchn has a great, easy how-to for making yogurt overnight in a Dutch oven in your, er, oven, and it’s not going to increase your power bill because you heat the oven, wrap your container and turn the oven off. I bought a yogurt maker that has a tall cover so I can use my litre mason jars and extend the incubating time to get a thicker yogurt. My one disappointment in the past was too-thin yogurt. Don’t you hate that? So I took the advice of a friend in Powell River and let the yogurt cultures grow for 16 to 20 hours. Yes, it makes a more tart and tangy yogurt, but we like that. And if it’s for mixing with jam/preserves/syrup as we tend to do around here for a sweet treat (at least when I’m feeling healthily virtuous), you don’t notice the extra tang. It’s worth it for that voluptuous body. The other tip I’ve picked up for getting thick yogurt is to boil the milk for a long time. Like, 20 minutes or more. It sounds weird and maybe dangerous (you do have to make sure the bottom doesn’t catch and burn), but it does make a difference. Basically, you’re evaporating some of the water and concentrating the other stuff.

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So we’ll see how adding this weekly chore to the list will go long term. DH is skeptical. I admit, it is way easier to pick up a tub of yogurt at the store. Do I really want to be watching a pot of boiling milk at 9 pm on a Sunday night? But I urge you to try it at least once. It’s just one of the secrets of our food that we aren’t privy to anymore, thanks to industrialization and being passive participants in the food production chain. Getting in touch with this ancient form of preserved milk is fascinating. It’s part of our common culture. Oh–did we just come full circle?

How about that.

XO

Ria

Solitude

Or should that be Sydney-tude. Because, frankly, I’m not exactly alone.

Well, inspired by your post from last week about Solitude and getting away from home and supported by a generous husband, who threw all his Hilton hotel points my way, I am writing to you from the 24th floor of Hilton Sydney, overlooking a pretty raucous Chinese New Year street festival. Yee-ha! Matt called it a Valentine’s present, so that I would use it and not feel guilty (he knows me too well) and I have to say – I am loving it. In fact, I am buzzing! I feel so caught up in the excitement of it all I think I, like you the other week, will not sleep tonight. Even though that is kind of the point – to give me an opportunity to be babes-free and enjoy some slumber. Still, I look pretty happy, hey?

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I’ve had the best day. I am trying to find a way to tie it into writing but I’m struggling to avoid shameless gushing. Do you mind if I get self-indulgent on this one? There will be food! I promise you that! Like, my lunch: Wagamama’s crispy pork salad. Get outta town! Or, as I have done, get into town. This was yummy and I didn’t mind sitting alone one bit (No-one tugged at my top or pressed mashed banana into my clothes. Sigh, bliss). I counted two other women sitting alone, so I was in good company, ex. Matt and I went to Wagamama’s on one of our first dates. We held hands under the table.

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I dawdled over to The Strand Arcade and peered down at everyone sipping their lattes. I imagined the conversations and gossip and arguments. I watched a toddler throw her bottle out of the stroller on purpose, just like B2 does, and laughed.

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I bought chocolate from Haigh’s for Matt and babes. Have you heard of “freckles”? Milk chocolate buttons covered in sprinkles. They’re a family favourite of ours. Then I lost the chocolate in a shop somewhere. Dang it. I wonder what time they open tomorrow…

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I wandered down to Darling Harbour for dinner. Darling Harbour is a little touristy but the weather was darling. Pure, white, late afternoon light. Lovely. Made me want to own a yacht. Scratch that. Made me want to know someone who owns a yacht and hosts parties on it regularly that I’m invited to. Started imagining myself in a maxi-dress and pretty sandals (Ralph Lauren commercial styles).

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Had Moreton Bay Bugs for dinner. I haven’t included a photo because it was just…well….ridiculously flamboyant of me. Clearly I was letting the “free” room get the better of me. I was also nostalgic – Matt and I shared Moreton Bay bugs from the Sydney Fish markets when we were younger and considerably more fancy-free. We ate them cold with seafood sauce as a picnic in a park near his house. Instead I photographed the panna cotta I had for dessert. I love panna cotta. I must try and make it one day. But till then…

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I came “home” to these white sheets. What is it about hotel sheets? Don’t you think they are divine? I have white sheets at home and they don’t look like this. I’ve been sleeping on a foam mattress in B1’s room for the last few months. Do you think my body will cope with the sheer and utter bliss??

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The moon rose over the Queen Victoria Building and Chinese New Year parade commenced. It’s such a spectacular event, you have to give it to Sydney for throwing one damn fine party. It’s transporting me right back to our days in Macau; there’s been fireworks and projections and marching bands and fire cannons! I thought about getting amongst it but when I went down to check it out, before the parade had even began, the crowd was about ten people deep and I couldn’t see a thing. I figured it was better to enjoy this view.

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But soon enough it will be over and then in the morning I am going back to my real life. It’s been a wonderful fantasy, even if just for one night. Fast-paced and fabulous. I’ve seen so many people that would make wonderful characters, I’ve watched them walk and eat, listened in to their conversations, imagined their stories. What great writing fuel! I know I wasn’t alone or amongst nature, but I do feel refreshed. I love the energy of a big city and Sydney sure is that. It has reminded me of all the things I love about cities and reminded me of times I hadn’t thought about for a while. Picnics, watching fireworks from our apartment window, holding hands under the table. Perhaps it might not seem romantic because Matt’s not with me to share it. But somehow I think it is very  romantic. I think it might be the best Valentine’s Day present ever.

Thank you Matt, and the city, for my Sydney-tude. And you, my friend, for the inspiration.

HUGS, Hannah x

Sweet Little Something

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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Stillness

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It’s been a while since I got out of town. We, because I don’t travel alone anymore. And I don’t mean to another town or the big city, because we’ve done that plenty in recent months. I mean out of town.

This past weekend was the first long weekend in February for us around these parts–Family Day–definitely reason enough to celebrate. Except we weren’t together. DH took the opportunity to go back-country skiing with some other dads (their chances are few; we mums totally get it) and Little e and I were invited to Powell River to visit a friend’s relatives. I’d never been, but I did know it’s a smaller place than our town and has rain forest magic galore. It didn’t disappoint.

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But the thing that struck me about slowing down and being somewhere small, somewhere quiet, was the stillness. Not just around me (and there were several whirl-winds-come-toddlers keeping things energetic) but inside me. I found myself awake at night in the cabin, the fire almost down to embers, the blackness total, a half-dreaming, mumbling little girl pushing her face into my neck, and my thoughts went in all directions. Which, I know, is the opposite of stillness, but it felt like the stillness of everything else was making me restless. Like my mind was in withdrawal from the usual loud, distracting hum of life and didn’t know what to do.

The next morning, thinking back to the travels my mind made in the night, it seemed almost farcical. I hope I’m not the only one whose mind goes to near-schizophrenic places in the wee hours. But I was still unsettled. Still, and unsettled. What was I doing with my writing life? Was it enough? Where did we really, really want to live? And how? Was it feasible to wear ripped jeans to work if the rip was somewhere…personal?

As surreal and uncomfortable as that experience was, it has been incredibly useful. Thank Powell River. It will be meat (tofu?) to chew on for the next weeks and months as DH and I discuss (some of) these important problems. Isn’t it always a balance that’s not quite right? I don’t know anyone who has it all perfectly balanced.

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In any case, the winter beauty of the Sunshine Coast (ironic, yes: no sun all weekend) helped to bring some poetry to the visit, and I found myself inspired despite all the mental turmoil. I’m being challenged by my current WIP, my confidence is sagging, my identity as a writer is a big question in my mind. But it’s all okay. By necessity, it has to be.

(Especially because before we left for home, I found a bakery that makes the most amazing butter tarts. Chocolate ones, nutty ones, plain old buttery, caramelly perfect ones. Sorry there’s no photo, but rest assured, I will be pilgrimaging there again.)

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So I guess what I mean to say is that while it’s been a while since I got out of town, it’s been even longer since I got out of mind. And clearly, doing that is a healthy, if disconcerting, habit.

XO

Ria