Friday, 19 September 2014

On My Bookshelf

Yes, my bedroom wall is MANGO YELLOW.
And the orchids are all flowering madly. 
Being at home with a cold certainly gives me the time to blog! I have quite enjoyed the peace and quiet this week. It would have been better to have a week off and NOT have a cold, but hey. I have been catching up on my reading this week, and realised I haven't updated my book list here for EVER. So without further ado:

The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby and Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis -  Two mad scientists, wonderful to read. Both authors are into DNA - Mullis won the Nobel Prize in recognition of his improvement of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, which allows the amplification of specific DNA sequences.

The Cosmic Serpent is anthropological, and studies how the wisdom of ancient people and primitive tribes has always explained that all life comes from twinned serpents, which looks exactly like our current understanding of DNA. When I finished that book I decided to learn more about DNA, so I bought Kary Mullis' book. *Disclaimer* - I didn't learn much more about DNA from Kary Mullis' book. But I was highly entertained and his writing, like Narby's, is thought provoking.

The biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life, by Gerald Martin. Anyone who loves Marquez' novels will enjoy this, as it is well written and will take you al over South America and Europe with some of the best Latin American authors. History buffs will like it too. I started reading this a few years ago, got about half way through, and then put it aside while life got complicated for a bit. I picked up where I had left off a few weeks ago, and it was like seeing an old friend again.

While life was complicated, I read two lovely stories by Melissa Westemeier: Kicks Like a Girl and Whipped, Not Beaten. These uplifting novels are fun and readable, and make you feel like everything's going to be ok in life and love.

Two Writers
Max and I are reading the final instalment of Skulduggery Pleasant together, and we GOT TO MEET DEREK LANDY!!!!! Max's tooth fell out while we were standing in the very long line and Derek said "OMG please don't let any more bits fall off here," was the exactly perfect thing to say to a boy who loves funny books about zombies.

This month I finished reading Goddesses: Mysteries of the Divine Feminine, by Joseph Campbell. I love, love Joseph Campbell, and this new collection of his Goddess lectures is wonderful. It makes me want to go back and re-read all the old fairy tales and myths.

And then, since I was in a myths-and-symbols mood, I bought 'The Book Of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images'.

A friend lent me Zen in the Art of Archery recently, which helped me to understand the importance of ritual and the little things in life:
'As in the case of archery, there can be no question but that these arts are ceremonies. More clearly than the teacher could express it in words, they tell the pupil that the right frame of mind for the artist is only reached when the preparing and the creating, the technical and the artistic, the material and the spiritual, the project and the object, flow together without a break.' - Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery
Zen in the Art of Archery is short, sweet and insightful.

I have also enjoyed That's Not It and How are You, Sugar? by the lovely Nancy Ellen Row - The first a novel and the second a collection of recipes and wisdoms from the past, and both set in the Southern USA.

And lastly, for laugh-until-you-die hilarity, there's Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Don't try to read this when other people are trying to sleep, your guffaws and screams of mirth will keep them up.

I've got quite a heap of other books to get through, so I won't be bored this winter. Have you read anything good lately? Tell us!!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Home With a Cold, and Loving It

I have had a few days of laziness and heaps of snotty tissues, which I have been quite enjoying after a seriously busy few months! I'm writing this from Max's Chromebook, a basic and super-dooper laptop that's cheap and cheerful. I recommend it if you want to give your kid a laptop. Or if he saved up his money for a whole year and booked it online and insisted on you driving him to PC World to collect it.

Really I recommend NOT giving your kid a laptop or smart phone at all but life is too complicated sometimes, and arguing with certain boys is just way too exhausting. My kids have gone from living in the bush and not having a single screen at all in their lives, to five years later having 'smart' phones, laptops, gaming PCs in their rooms, a TV, a PS3, numerous iThings and tablets and enough technology to start a store. They call this progress. My own PC has died, and when my voice is less croaky I will call Dell and they will fix it. I love a good warranty.

Life has been eventful! The boy who once left home and camped out in the bush to avoid doing homework has gone away to a college where he will do maths and physics and engineering and stuff. How did that happen? Chas, you are an awesome 16-year-old!

Sam misses his partner in crime, and knocks about upstairs without his big brother to play with. Sam is lawn mower and kitchen assistant extraordinaire, in between studying for exams, playing videogames, doing pushups, rehearsing with his band, gigging, and eating a lot. I so enjoy spending time with Sam, he is a deeply intelligent, interesting and thoughtful guy.

Max is babysitting Parima the boa for Chas, playing the piano, rehearsing for parts in THREE musicals (I am not sure how this is going to work out if they all open on the same night but we will cross that bridge when we come to it), writing a future best-seller, and also eating mountains of food and needing new shoes and trousers all the time. Max turned 13!!!!! the other day, which makes me the mother of three pretty amazing teenagers.

My life now is so much less about my children - Apart from the constant driving them around and laundry and mountains of food of course. They are capable and responsible. They have their own lives, I no longer impose rules and routines the way I did when they were little (although I do nag and talk and leave NOTES stuck to computer screens). Fortunately they are wise and communicative, and have very good friends who I respect. So my life is more about thinking of my own future, making my own plans. It's nice! Giving birth to 3 boys in 4 years made for a intense decade or so of sleepless nights, but when I see them now cooking burgers over the fire pit and making music together with their friends, I just smile.

A few peaceful days off work with a stuffy head and a sore throat is a good time to think, especially after a summer filled with teenagers who needed lifts and advice and noise and visitors and shopping sprees. I will have another cup of tea, and go back to my book, and write lists.

Edited: I am not the only one feeling nostalgic - A conversation with a dear friend made me wish for a weekend with our little boys, way back when. We had a good cry:
The Kid by Cry Cry Cry on Grooveshark


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Keep Working on Love - Lessons From Another Dimension

Today I  moved two teenage boys' beds and vacuumed under them. One boy helped, doing the heavy lifting. It was like entering another dimension and having wake-up calls of various sorts. If you find yourself travelling there, take a good vacuum cleaner and proceed with your eyes shut.

One of the various things I discovered in that alternate universe was "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", and I opened the book to this quote: "Jonathan," he said, and these were the last words that he spoke, "keep working on love."

I've been feeling so frustrated by the hate-fuelled wars that are filling the news recently. We need to work on love. It's time to speak love, teach love, and be love.

This planet is a good one, and we learn some hard lessons here. We are all students - but we are teachers too. We have a responsibility. Be love.

Namaste ॐ

Friday, 11 July 2014

Freelancing - Taxes are Fun!

Because taking pictures of my tax credits forms is
more interesting than filling it in...
Okay, no, taxes are not fun. It's that time of year again. I sigh and tut and procrastinate (because spending half an hour taking a picture of my tax credits forms and then blogging about it is one of the advanced procrastination tactics that I have perfected over the years) even though it's NOT THAT BAD.

Truly. Taxes, while not actually fun, are not that bad. The trick is to be organized all year, and THAT is not so hard either. If you are sending invoices, you've got a copy of every invoice in a file. I assume. And if they are electronic copies, you have named them sensible things so that they will be listed in order. If you get into a habit of filing things neatly all year, then at the end of the year they will all be there, looking fabulous, and it will take you just a few minutes to add things up and jot down the totals. If you are collecting receipts, the same tactic applies. (I chuck all my receipts into a cute box under my desk, and from time to time I put them in order and file them away.) Be organized every day, and at the end of the year you can spend more time complaining about it and less time actually doing it.

Things get only a little bit more complicated if you have a portfolio career, where you work in different ways for different companies AND for yourself. I am a Tate temp, so I fill in a time sheet and get paid by them - And some of my National Insurance and so on comes off of that pay. So I keep my payslips filed away as well, and at the end of the year they go along to the Tax Peeps with everything else.

The Tax Peeps must groan when they see my forms coming in. I generally send a few months' worth of invoices and payslips, so that they can get an idea of how I work, and an understanding of why sometimes I make pots of money and sometimes I make none. The most important thing, for me, is keeping records at all times. That way, if I ever make a mistake or there is a query, I've got everything I need to figure it out. Or if needed, hire someone and let THEM figure it out!

If you've got any good tax organizing tactics, do share them in the comments. I am always looking for ways to make life easier.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Weekend Musings after a Shopping Expedition - Be Part of the Solution

Every decision we make should make our world better - This is an ideal that I've been striving for, for years and years. Sometimes, I cave and buy a product from a company I know I shouldn't support. Nowadays I eat (local, organic) meat a few times a week, because it's convenient when you have teenage carnivores in the house. But mostly, I am happy with who I give my money to. 

It's pretty challenging, because there are plenty of products out there that say "FAIR TRADE!!!" in bright shiny stickers. Or "NATURAL!" Or even "ORGANIC!" and it's important to remember that it's all marketing. Don't be fooled. Read the label. 

Buying with a thought for artists and craftsmen is great - I have bought a few great Christmas presents already in the local summer craft fairs, and they are hidden in my cupboard waiting for winter. Buying local produce means that my money goes back into my own community. Food that is grown locally means a smaller carbon footprint. 

It takes a bit more thought and a bit more effort to remember to check the label on my strawberries and not buy them if they've come all the way from Chile in a plane. It takes practice to get into the habit of eating foods that are in season. And yes, I feel guilty when I hop on a plane, drive when I could have cycled, or forget my shopping bags. But I keep thinking and trying, a little bit at a time. 

I got some new jeans today, and a fab top for work. I booked a haircut. I sat in the shade at a café and sipped at my FAIR TRADE (but not really) coffee. I watched people go by, and chatted with a grandmother and her bouncy grandson. I thought how lovely this world is, with all its myriad people, and how I want to hold it tight and keep it safe. It's a good one.