The Bluffs by Kyle Perry
I found the plot of this novel really gripping and hence raced through it within a couple of days. It’s very much a thriller with lots of plot twists that keep you guessing about which characters you can and cannot trust. The basic premise is this – a group of teenage girls go missing from a school excursion in Tasmania’s Greater Western Tiers. Years earlier, five young girls went missing in the same area and the tales of the so-called “Hungry Man” still circulate in the small town of Limestone Creek where the lost girls are from. The complex relationships between the characters are a key focus of the novel – the lost girls; their friends, families and teachers; the local cop; the police investigative team brought in from Launceston… There’s a lot to take in. You will most likely get sucked into this novel and spat out the other end.
While I definitely recommend this book, I did find it a bit frustrating in the sense that it consistently stated how atmospheric the Greater Western Tiers where it is set are, without actually describing what makes them so. It was a plot driven novel, so I didn’t expect it to devote page after page to verbose description, but for me it just seemed to come up short on this front.
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
This was April’s book club book – it’s hard to know where to begin in describing it because there were so many layers to it: a compelling narrative and protagonist, important themes (sexuality, cultural identity and expectations, attachment styles) and a really interesting structure.
The novel switches frequently between time and place – from the protagonist’s youth to her adulthood and back, from the US where she lives as an adult to the Middle East where she spent time as a child and back. In doing so, the novel illustrates how much our past and present are bound up with and inform one another. The protagonist navigates the complexities of being queer and coming from a family where this isn’t accepted; being in relationships but always searching for more; wanting to grow and understand herself but also fearing what that growth and understanding might reveal.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
This was the book I selected at the book club Christmas party last year. Everyone bought a book they love, wrapped it and wrote their own blurb for that book. My blurb said “A family is forced to leave their home and start again. A page turner I couldn’t put down. Fiction but equally real. DO IT, you won’t regret it.”
I finally got around to reading it in April and I certainly didn’t regret it. This is the story of a Nuri and Afra, a Syrian couple forced to leave Syria due to civil war, and their journey to the UK. Nuri is a beekeeper by trade, hence the title of the book, his wife Afra an amazing artist. Both are deeply traumatised by their experiences in Syria, particularly by the death of their son. One of the most wonderful (and simultaneously horrible) things about this book is the way Lefteri demonstrates the impacts of Nuri and Afra’s trauma on them. She’s doesn’t tell you as a reader that they both have their own unique version of post-traumatic stress disorder, she shows you.
This book also has an interesting structure. Each chapter is divided in two – the first section of the chapter dealing in the present, the second dealing in the past, with the present and past sections connected by a shared word. I haven’t encountered this device before. I think it was part of what made Lefteri’s demonstration of trauma so powerful because the device blurred the lines between present and past. There was no full stop dividing present from past, you were propelled from one to the other by the shared word.
Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness by Bill Bailey
I had such good fun reading this book – there was laughing out loud, reading passages to others, turning over corners of pages where there were gems of wisdom or humour. Divided into short (four or five page) sections on things which bring Bailey joy and happiness, this book is the perfect thing to pick up when you’ve got a spare five minutes and/or you’re feeling tired/down and need a boost.
It also made me think a lot about the things which bring me joy and happiness. Many of them are the same – trees, birdsong, walking etc – but there are also plenty of other things I would add to my list – swings at playgrounds, cryptic crosswords, bouldering-style hiking, dipping my feet in a cold ocean/creek, food in bowls that is eaten with spoons…
Another joy of this book were the comic illustrations and cartoons peppered throughout which were drawn by Bailey himself.
Collins Bonnet and Collins Cap hike
I’ve been doing quite a lot of hikes where there is a significant climb in altitude recently. I find these sorts of hikes force me to be mindful, not so much of my surrounds but simply of myself – breathing in and out, watching where I’m placing my feet, pacing myself. I do remain aware of my surrounds, particularly the soundscape. Often being visually aware is more challenging – when I find myself looking around to spot a bird, I’ll often stumble because I’ve stopped watching where I’m placing my feet and will have failed to correctly negotiate a rock or root or whatever else is in my path.
There’s something so satisfying about the effort of climbing followed by the release of making it to your destination, often the top of a peak or a view. In this case, I had two climbs – the first up Collins Bonnet (1260m elevation), the second up Collins Cap (1098m elevation) – after starting from an elevation of 550m at Myrtle Forest. The two climbs were quite different. To get to the top of Collins Bonnet, you negotiate rocky scree slopes by following arrows on poles. In my case, when I got to the top, I saw very little – cloud rolled as I made my ascent and by the time I got to the summit I was basically floating in the clouds. To get to the top of Collins Cap, you follow a narrow, rocky track through scrubby bushland. At the top, I had expansive, 360 degree views. I stopped for lunch. From where I sat to eat my extremely satisfying sandwich (food always tastes good outdoors after exercise), I could see other nearby mountains to my left (possible future hikes), New Norfolk and Mount Field straight ahead, and Hobart to my right. In both instances, I ended up in conversation with fellow hikers. On Collins Cap, I even got to share some cake with two friendly fellow hikers.
Maria Island retreat
I was fortunate to have the opportunity in April to go on my first ever retreat, one of my 2021 intentions. I’d never been on a retreat before because I’d never felt I could justify the expense. But having been and done the retreat, I think the money I spent on my three days and two nights on retreat on Maria Island was money well spent. The retreat had everything up my alley – meditation, yoga, watercolour art, singing, amazing vegetarian food, cups of tea, beautiful nature (including lots of wombats), walking, swimming, social connection, sunshine, wood fires.
It was quite the experience and I came back feeling inspired on many fronts – cooking, singing, meditation, art. I also came back feeling cold, but that’s another story – the weather turned on our last day and suddenly it was below 10 degrees Celsius with an apparent temperature around zero. The wind gusts were strong, bringing with them rain that soaked us as we made our way back to the ferry. And it wasn’t just on Maria that the weather was turning – we had suddenly arrived at crisp Autumn weather, which was a bit of a shock to the system after pretty mild days throughout March and early April.
I’ve really been enjoying the combination of strength and balance required by this pose. When you’re aligned correctly, I also find it to be a really satisfying way to stretch out and elongate both the legs and the spine. I used to think I’d never be able to get into the full boat pose, now it’s second nature – goes to show what consistent practice can do.
My simple food favourite is pears – they’re in season and delicious.
My other special mention goes to that sandwich I ate on top of Collins Cap. It was kind of like a vegetarian Ploughman’s sandwich – homemade wholemeal sourdough bread, wholegrain mustard, crumbly Mersey Valley cheddar cheese, sliced tomato (fresh from a friend’s garden), basil leaves (from the same friend’s garden), pickled cucumber (cucumber grown by someone at work, pickled at home by me) and cracked black pepper. combination
Series two of this show is just as delightful as season one. It’s a slightly different premise – instead of the older participants being people living in aged care, this time they live independently – but it works equally well. Once again, it is such a joy to watch the bonds develop between specific older adults and four year olds, and to see both parties challenged to face their fears, knowing that their buddy has got their back.
I had somewhat forgotten why I liked this show so much the first season when I saw that it was back for a second, but I very quickly fell back in love with it and the new participants.
I’ve been pretty tired since moving to my new place, so it’s been important to manage my energy levels carefully and not to push myself too hard. Last Friday, I tried working from home for the first time at my new place. It was great! I finished up my work at 4.30pm and went straight to my yoga room for more than two hours of yoga and meditation. While I do really like being in the office, it does save quite a bit of time and energy not having to get to and from work and do all the logistical thinking that goes with that (packing lunch, packing my work clothes if I’m riding and so on). It’s also just really nice being in my space.
I’m planning to work from home more regularly going forward, probably on a Friday, because I like the way this eased me from the week to the weekend. Whether it’s once a week or once a fortnight I’m not sure at this stage, but I think it’s a good self-care move.
Love, hope and peace from Emma.