The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

What am I up to?

I’ve been sharing little hints on social media about what I’m doing at the moment, but this post is letting the cat out of the bag, I suppose. I’m excited about this project and it all seems to be coming together, which is also very exciting!

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a fictionalised version of the Bugden family history. Thomas Bugden was the first Buggo in Australia, brought out by James and William Macarthur to work as an agricultural labourer on the Macarthur farm in Camden, NSW. When the brothers died, the land was passed to Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, who turned the Park into dairy farms.

I read a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John, who pioneered the Merino industry in Australia from Elizabeth Farm, near Parramatta. While reading that biography, I discovered synchronicities with my life in Queensland. Little threads of the tapestry, if you will. Things like, Elizabeth Macarthur, daughter of Elizabeth and John, was briefly engaged to John Oxley, who was the first white person to explore the Redcliffe Peninsula. I thought it interesting that my Australian history started on Macarthur land and here was a connection to where I am now. Finding this part fascinating, I toyed with the idea of writing a fictional family who move from Camden to Queensland.

My local libraries run a lot of free seminars about a range of topics; one I attended was by Kali Napier, author of Secrets at Ocean’s Edge. She spoke about writing historical fiction and the research required, plus making fact and fiction blending seamlessly together. Inspired, I went to the library and started looking at the early history of this area, finding a range of interesting facts and tales. It was decided: my fictional family would move from Camden to Queensland.

In another exciting synchronicity, my fictional family are dairyers on the Camden Park Estates, and the land on which I actually live used to be a dairy farm. It’s a no-brainer to have them move from Camden to this actual land my house now resides!

This is what I’m writing at the moment. It’s a slow process right now because I’m using my daughter’s two daycare days a week to write, plus there’s a lot of research and distractions going on; I’m also busily looking through the library’s records of local cemeteries, which is so interesting!

I also have some paid work. Content writing, blogging, editing, proofreading and the like. Today I attended another of the library’s free seminars on freelance journalism. While I’ve never considered myself a journalist, I can see the possibilities. I just need some discipline and better time management skills!

As for my novel, here’s a brief synopsis for those interested:

The Richmond family are dairyers on Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow’s dairy farm in Camden, NSW. When (something exciting and yet to be decided) happens, they’re forced to pack up their lives, choosing to move north into the unfamiliar state of Queensland. There, they find work on another dairy farm, where new and strange adventures await.

And as for my family, the fictional Richmond family work with the real-life Bugdens, but the Bugdens are not the main characters. Mainly because none of them moved to Queensland and I want to explore the social and cultural differences between the states while paying homage to my own life’s tapestry.

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June 23, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monthly Meal Plans: $1.50 dinners, week 1 review

The woman who started $1.50 meals is well-known: she’s appeared on morning shows, “news” websites and parenting/cooking forums everywhere. The basis of her fame is simple: she’s created a month’s worth of dinners averaging $1.50 or less per meal. How can you go wrong?

The Premise

When you sign up to her site, you’re given lifetime access to the meals, which are updated periodically. We originally signed up over a year ago but the meals have changed in that time and are now less than $1.50 per serve (at the time of writing they average $1.02). You’re given an ingredients list to take shopping at Aldi (all her recipes and pricing are based on Aldi prices), step-by-step instructions on cooking, packing and storing. And bingo! You have a month’s worth of dinners right there in your freezer. There are breakfasts and lunches available, but we have only tried the dinners.

The Meals

Each night of the month is a different meal based on a theme. For example, Mince Mondays, Chicken Tuesdays, Take-away Fridays etc.

So, what do I think?

Shopping

We normally shop at Aldi, so we’re used to the types of food, the layout etc. The list was quite comprehensive: one litre of this, 3kgs of that, one packet of something else, one jar of whatever. Very easy, it’s all right there for you. The dinner part of our shop (we also bought various odds and ends, plus breakfasts and lunch stuff) was about $185. For a month. You can’t beat that kind of value.

Preparation

This plan is based around saving time and money, so you do all your cooking over one weekend. At first, it was fun, like being on one of those cooking competition TV shows. There were two of us cooking with about five things happening all at once: cooking several pots and pans, chopping, slicing and dicing. All up, it took between 9-10 hours to complete the cooking. It wasn’t fun by the end of it and the kitchen looked like a cyclone had torn through it.

Meals

This week we’ve had mince wraps, chicken pie, sausage curry, bacon pesto pasta, Lebanese bread pizza, meatloaf and tonight we will have chickpea patties. I have been underwhelmed: the meals are very bland and last night’s meatloaf was like eating sawdust because it was so dry. I have not liked a single meal so far this week. My partner liked the pesto pasta and the sausage curry but agrees that the majority of meals lack flavour.

Each meal (except the take-away style) has plenty of vegetables hidden so if you’ve got picky kids, they won’t even notice. Plus each meal has a serving suggestion of extra salad or steamed vegetables as well. However, I wouldn’t say the meals are healthy. Obviously the take-away Fridays are gonna be the worst, but during the entire month there’s only three meat-free dinners and the other meals can contain packet mixes or a jar of sauce which are laden with salt and sugar. The home-made bulk white sauce is just milk and flour (and so bland!).

The meals obviously need to be reheated, but often they require something else such as pasta to be cooked on the night. I don’t see why you can’t cook mince and pasta at the same time. You’re not really saving any time by cooking pasta on the night… unless you pre-cooked and froze pasta during the epic prep & cook session on the weekend. Cooking in bulk means you don’t get to season portions to your taste eg you’re cooking the same 2 kg of mince for various meals and you wouldn’t season the meatloaf portion the same as say, mince wraps. Hence the meals are the same bland concoction unless you deviate from the instructions and stuff around adding your own seasoning to each individual portion. And how long does it really take to put together a Lebanese bread pizza? Why clutter up your already overstuffed freezer by putting pre-prepped pizzas in there? (Ours got stuffed in so tightly, the bases broke.)

Is it worth it?

Cooking/prep time was almost 10 hours, washing up was 2 hours, cleaning up spills was close to another hour… Each night the only washing up we have are the plates we eat from, a saucepan, and a fry pan but we would probably have that anyway. I don’t think reheating frozen meals saves much, if any, time, especially if you’re also cooking pasta or mashed potatoes to go with it.

I do like the convenience of having a meal plan. It saves on endless “What do you want for dinner?” Which in itself saves a couple of hours. I like the cost: you really can’t argue on $185 for a month of dinners. Each meal serves 4; since there’s only two adults and a pre-schooler at my house, my partner takes leftovers for work (under sufferance because he wasn’t impressed with the meal the first time, he doesn’t want leftovers!)

The actual meals themselves are not nice nor particularly healthy despite the added veggies. Making from fresh would enable you to add your own seasonings during the cooking process eg fresh herbs, Mexican seasoning or a dash of sauce or relish.

I don’t like having no freezer space. This problem can be solved with a chest freezer, which we don’t have as yet. Our freezer is stuffed full, which makes it difficult for my pre-schooler to get an ice block or the frozen mixed berries she loves so much. Shoving it all into our little freezer breaks the ziplock bags and Lebanese bread bases.

Based on this week, I’m scoring it a 4 out of 10. Let’s see what next week’s meals are like.

June 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews, Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | Leave a comment

7 Mummy Hacks: How to use your kids’ stuff

Mummy hacks

There are a million things babies need. But did you know you can use their things for your use? Here’s my top 7 Mummy Hacks using things your kids already have.

1. Nappies

If you’ve given birth vaginally, you’ve probably joined the pee-when-you-laugh club. Or worse: cold and flu season when every time you cough or sneeze, you gotta change your pants. Incontinence pants and pads are horribly expensive. Luckily, babies wear nappies. A disposable nappy fits perfectly into your underwear and will keep you dry all day. No one will know. As your kid gets older, you can cut nappies in half. TMI… but oh so handy.

2. Baby shampoo

If you dye your hair, you’ll have noticed that regular shampoos strip the colour quite quickly. Use baby shampoo as it has no SLS, which is the harsh detergent that fades your colour. It will leave your hair silky soft and smelling baby-fresh.

3. Baby wipes

You’ve already found a million uses for baby wipes on your baby or toddler. Did you know you can also use them for you? Face refresher, cleaner, tissue, loo paper in an emergency (just don’t flush), wipe when you pee yourself after coughing, wiping fingerprints off TV or phone, cleaning dust from your car dashboard, picking up crumbs from keyboard… the possibilities are endless.

4. Baby oil

Lovingly ask your partner to use the baby oil for a soothing foot massage. And if that doesn’t happen, use it to clean. Baby oil will remove fingerprints from stainless steel appliances and give a shine to counter tops and benches. You can also use it to deter mozzies. Mix a few drops of citronella (you can also use tea tree or peppermint oils) with some baby oil and cover your kids’ arms and legs. Use it liberally; it creates a physical barrier so the mozzie can’t penetrate the skin. It does have the side effect of getting clothes oily, so I hereby present…

5. Chalk

Remove oil from fabrics using chalk. I recommend white chalk as the dye in coloured chalk can transfer to other clothes when washed. Simply rub chalk onto the oil stain, leave for ten minutes, wash as normal.

6. Formula tins

What can’t these handy tins be used for? Paint or colour the tins (your older kids/toddlers can help) and use for storage. Jewellery, pasta, flour, sugar, biscuits, chocolates, snacks, odds and ends when moving… Label each tin clearly and you’ve got a storage haven. Pro tip: If you transfer flour, cereal etc. straight into tins as soon as you’re home from the supermarket, you’ll also prevent pantry moths as they lay eggs in the glue from paper and cardboard products.

7. Nappies (again)

Take a nappy to the beach with you. Put your debit card, car keys and phone in the nappy and roll up. No one is going to open it to check if it’s dirty or just hiding your valuables.

So there you have it. Seven handy hints for all mums out there. I’m sure you’ve got more; I’d love to hear them!

June 1, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit movie poster

Aww bunnies!

Based on characters from Beatrix Potter’s famous series, this film is adorable, witty, cute and sassy.

And then it gets weird.

But let’s start at the beginning. Peter and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, along with cousin Benjamin Bunny, are adept at raiding Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden for food. They are cared for by neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne), who loves the rabbits and protects them from Mr McGregor’s pie dish. The old man dies, leaving his manor and farm to pompous great-nephew Thomas McGregor (Domnhall Gleeson).

Cue romantic subplot and a Home Alone– bunny-style war later, and the whole charming film turns into a complete wreck.

The characters are adorable. There’s jokes for older kids, a few laughs, plenty of sass and a rockin’ soundtrack… Until the halfway point, where it’s entirely acceptable to turn off the film and read the source material instead. The film changes direction so abruptly, your head will spin. You’ll be wondering what happened to the plot and the charm you’ve been enjoying for the past forty minutes. Once the film’s story changes, there’s no going back. Whilst the first half of the film is near-perfect, the latter half feels forced, almost like the writers ran out of cute ideas and literally pulled dialogue out of a hat populated with ideas from the local kindergarten. It’s plain disappointing how badly this film ends.

6 out of 10 popcorns

April 25, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: After the Blues

Hands up if you loved Puberty Blues. Hands up if you loved the film and/or the TV series. Hands up if you felt you were Debbie or Sue, making your way as a teen in a strange new world of sex and rat-faced molls.

Now, hands up if you want to see what Debbie did next.

According to the introduction, Kathy Lette reworked her earlier novel Girls Night Out into After the Blues. I have not read Girls Night Out so I can’t comment on how much of the original novel made it through the rewrite, however I can tell you what bits of Puberty Blues made it: the main character, Debbie Vickers. And mentions of her boyfriends Bruce and Garry. That’s it. Her BFF (did that term even exist in the 1980s?) Sue has mysteriously turned into Sarah, and in the first few pages Debbie and Sarah have a major falling out, leaving Debbie to fend for herself in the big city.

Honestly, I could not care less what happened after that. I found her time in the big city to be revolting, distasteful and downright boring. I didn’t give two hoots about the weirdos she met or why she chose to make the choices she did. She seems to like being a total waste of literary space. The “plot” was pointless, bordering on incoherent babbling, while the narrative lacked depth and feeling, which was the main driving point of Puberty Blues.

Unless you’re a diehard Kathy Lette fan, interested to see how a rewrite works, then give this book a very wide berth.

2 out of 10 bookmarks.

EDIT: Kathy Lette confirmed to me via Twitter that she had to change Sue’s name for legal reasons. Kathy Lette twitter confirming Sue’s name was changed for legal reasons

March 27, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Annihilation

Annihilation movie

Annihilation is a Netflix film starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. They lead a team of kick-ass females into the Shimmer- a strange and mysterious dome which is threatening to take over everything.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former Army officer whose husband arrives home from a secret mission but he’s not quite himself. Soon afterwards, her hubby suffers multiple organ failure and Lena finds herself in the offices of Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is organising a trip to the Shimmer to find out WTF is going on. Naturally Lena also volunteers and, together with three other women, trek into the unknown.

According to IMDB, the film is based on a book which the screenwriter only loosely remembers, and interprets his script as “a dream of the book”. Certainly the cinematography is dream-like in the same way the Land of Oz was dreamlike to Dorothy, but with fewer Munchkins. What follows is a visual delight with some butt-kicking and a pretty thin plot. However, it’s enough to keep viewers hooked right til the end.

There are very few male characters in the film, and they are all secondary characters. The women don’t sit around talking about their men nor do they belittle their males either. It’s refreshing and awesome to see a film carried solely on the weight of an all-female lead cast; Natalie Portman is a perfect choice for Lena and carries the character beautifully.

The main issue I have with this film is the lack of intense plot: it could have been deeper, more twisted, to keep the viewer guessing. The film’s ending is barely satisfactory and astute viewers probably know what’s going to happen about halfway through the movie. (I didn’t.)

I’d recommend this for a date night or when your brain is too tired to concentrate too hard.

7.5 out of 10 popcorns.

March 26, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince

XMy life with Prince

Mayte Garcia was Prince’s first wife. They were soulmates whose love transcended space and time. She was the inspiration for much of his 90s sound and music.

This memoir is so much more than a voyeuristic journey through a celebrity marriage and death. Mayte was a teenager when she met prince, and over the next decade she influenced his life in ways neither of them could have imagined. It’s not just about a marriage to a rockstar at the peak of his career; this memoir could be about any couple. They had good times and the most tragic of times, ultimately tearing their relationship apart.

Mayte writes with pure honesty, making this memoir more than an attempt to cash in on a celebrity death. Her revealing insight offers a glimpse into the mind of a creative genius and a woman who forged her own career long before she was even on Prince’s radar. She writes with honesty, candid about the most tragic days of her life and the aftermath of losing their son, a pregnancy and her marriage.

There are several quotes that stuck with me whilst reading this book. One in particular was from Prince when his film Graffiti Bridge tanked: “You can’t look at yourself through the eyes of others.” It’s a powerful sentiment.

This is the sort of book which will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

9 out of 10 bookmarks

March 19, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

A Woman’s Narrative

The many faces of Renee

Why aren’t you married yet?

When are you having a baby?

When are you having another baby?

You should be at home looking after your children.

You should work to support your family and contribute to society.

You shouldn’t wear that.

You can’t walk outside alone in the dark.

Trophy wife.

It’s your fault he cheated on you.

Act like a lady.

Kiss enough frogs and you’ll find your prince.

You do that pretty well… for a chick.

You’re not strong enough to do that.

You look tired.

Show us your tits.

Sit down, you shouldn’t be standing in your condition.

You can’t wear that.

Here’s a doll to play with.

Can I talk to a man? You can’t possibly know anything about cars.

You’re just cranky cos you’ve got your period.

Don’t sexualise toddlers, but here’s a bikini for tweens.

You shouldn’t play with trucks.

Which designer are you wearing?

Period pain can’t be that bad.

Your place is at home, keeping it clean and cooking meals for your family.

You use sex as a weapon.

Nice girls don’t sleep around.

You should perform your wifely duties.

You’re too fat.

You’re too thin.

You’re too old.

Hide those wrinkles.

Dye your hair.

Shave your legs, armpits and pubes.

Wear makeup to hide blemishes, pores, freckles and imperfections.

No wonder he left you.

Why can’t you keep a man?

Why is your house messy?

Thigh gap.

Bikini bridge.

Your boobs are too small.

You’re not smart enough.

Lay off the chocolates.

You can’t do that.

Speak like a lady.

You have children, your dream job is just a dream.

Maternity leave? Get your CV ready.

You don’t know how to drive.

Why don’t you know how to cook?

You asked for it.

You wanted it.

Keep quiet.

They won’t believe you.

You’ll ruin your career if you speak out.

You’re not worth it.

You’re not pretty enough.

Butterface.

You need to choose between family and career.

You shouldn’t eat that.

You’re butch.

You cant wear blue.

You cant like dinosaurs.

You should like unicorns and sparkles.

Why haven’t you lost your baby weight yet?

Make me a sandwich.

You should put everyone else before yourself.

You don’t matter.

Sex sells.

Unlucky in love. Keep asking about failed relationships, particularly with a famous person. Jennifer Aniston will never get back with Brad Pitt!

Do you wish you were a mother?

You just haven’t found the right man to have babies yet.

Women’s sports aren’t interesting. Unless they take their clothes off.

Are you sure I’m the father?

You’ve let yourself go.

Baby. Darling. Sweetheart. Babe. Tramp. Whore. Slut.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-k

The subtle art of not giving a fuck

Forget self-help gurus. Forget affirmations. Forget looking in the mirror every day and telling yourself you’re special and one day the world will reward you with fame and riches. Mark Manson is here to tell you: stop giving a fuck.

Mark Manson is a blogger who has turned his attention to authoring books based on his blogs. Although I have not read his blog, this book feels very much like an extended blog post, especially one that sort of drifts off into tangents in order to meet a word limit. It could do with an abridged version, a pocket sized handbook to refer to when you find yourself in a situation you’re not sure whether to give a fuck or not. it does seem a bit ranty and righteous at times, but as Manson himself says, Future You will not hold the same values Present You does, so take it or leave it.

The book itself does have some good advice. Generally speaking, the world is being fed lies in order to feel happy and content. Many people are giving a fuck about things that don’t warrant giving a fuck about. Not that you should be indifferent, because nothing would ever get done and you’d kinda be like a psychopath and no one wants that. There are definitely things you should give a fuck about.

Much of the advice is a regurgitation of other advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff, you’re mediocre (if everyone was extraordinary, we’d all be average), take responsibility for your actions and emotions, and sometimes the worst rejections are the best thing to happen in your life (depending on how you choose to react to them).

There is, predictably, a lot of swearing, so if you’re a bit of a snowflake who offends easily, this is not the book for you. If you’re not ready to own your shit, stop blaming others and give up easily, this isn’t the book for you. If you’re in a cycle of failing and you don’t know why, if you’re worrying or anxious about everything, or you’re just feeling like you’re on a treadmill of life, you should read this book. If you’re ready not to give a fuck about unimportant things and ready to rumble, this is your book.

8 out of 10 fucks. Or should I not give enough fucks to rate it…?

March 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Downsizing

Film: Downsizing starring Matt Damon

If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, you’ll know it’s about Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig choosing to become smaller for the sake of saving the environment. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know 3/4 of the film is nothing like the trailer at all.

This film could have been so many great things: biting satire, social commentary, political statement, hilarious comedy, bleak drama. Instead, the film is rather like three separate stories smooshed into one very strange film. The premise of becoming small in order to preserve the environment is an intriguing idea, but unfortunately it only lasts for a quarter of the film. The rest of the film could be set in any time, any circumstance and has nothing to do with being small. Or anything else for that matter.

Even if you’re a fan of Matt Damon, as I am, this film offers very little. Give it a very wide berth.

4 out of 10 popcorns (and that’s being generous).

March 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment