Dear Diary: Woe!

Thus began my first attempt at a written chronicle of my day-to-day life. I was twelve years old, which may account for the style. Or, then again, that might just be me.

Browne, Henriette - A Girl Writing; The Pet Goldfinch - Google Art Project

I pursued the theme, off and on, for years. Jo Brand says that she re-reads her diary occasionally “to remind myself what a miserable, alienated old sod I used to be.” I don’t re-read mine, for similar reasons. I was probably only miserable a minority of the time, but that minority formed the majority of the time I wrote in my diary. When I was happy, I was too busy enjoying myself to bother telling an exercise book about it.

More enjoyably, I kept a joint diary with a friend for some time. We had two exercise books, and swapped them once a week, read what the other had written, and had a jolly good go at solving the problems of the universe together.

Once the circumstances of life drove us to different countries, my diarising became very intermittent, until I left university and suddenly found myself craving the word fix. The diary from that year is not so much miserable as simply too boring to re-read, although I’ve considered trying it as a remedy for sleeplessness.
The following year I moved to Wellington to study scriptwriting, which solved the word fix problem; but, being away from everyone I knew, I kept talking to the diary anyway. (Back to the miserable setting, alas.)

Budapešť 0158

Then the Caped Gooseberry and I started our long-distance courtship, and I gave up writing a diary, because why rewrite in a book what one has already typed out in an email? As I was unemployed that year (overqualified for any job I could do, underqualified for everything else), I sent a lot of emails. Certainly not miserable, but probably boring to any but the starry-eyed correspondents themselves.

Then I got a job, got engaged, and moved cities (all in a matter of weeks), which left me learning the new job full-time, planning a wedding and filling in weekends at a writing initiative in another city. Re-starting a diary somehow failed to make it back on to the To Do list. It wasn’t until a year or so later, when my spiritual director suggested I read The Artist’s Way, that I started regularly diarising, or journalling, or whatever you call it.

The early ‘morning pages’ read largely as repeated rants about how cold it was – I used to get up half an hour early for this – and how much I wanted to leave my job. (By now an experienced diarist, I was capable of being both miserable and boring at the same time.) Then I started blogging, and soon after had the idea to actually do the Artist’s Way exercises, over the course of a year. Which I did, more or less, blogging about it as I went. Luckily for the reading public, I never blogged the morning pages.


But by the end of that year, the morning pages had turned into a sort of spiritual diary. Largely, to be fair, me ranting at God, but then, God likes people to talk to him, even if all they do is yell. I think those early morning scribbles kept me sane, or at least out of depression’s grip. It seemed some days that was the only thing worth getting up for, and the only thing that could bear me through the day. I had to keep it up.

Once I left my job, I carried on with it, albeit at a much more civilized hour of the morning. (If God had intended humans to rise before dawn, he would have made us able to see in the dark.) I generally write in it six days a week, and sometimes include what’s been happening in my outer world, particularly when it affects my inner world.
No-one reads it but myself and occasionally the Caped Gooseberry. Oddly, considering that it’s a place for being honest with myself about deep and sometimes difficult things, it’s actually an enjoyable experience to re-read, unlike the “what I did today” diaries – or more accurately, the “what I felt about what I did today” diaries. Neither miserable nor boring – who’d have thought I had it in me?

I keep three other diaries, to my surprise; or rather, two diaries and an annal.

Sometimes going analogue is the only way to go. #writing #quill #ink #paperblanks #magic

One is the record of my writing work, written in a paperblanks week-at-a-time diary (a Foiled Mini Horizontal with a magnetic closure, if you’re a stationery junkie like myself). I keep track of what I worked on each day, as far as both the current Work In Progress and this blog are concerned. I also note other matters of writerly importance, such as how often the fountain pen requires refilling (a good indicator of how much writing I’m getting through) and when I buy ink, or a craft book.

The second diary only dates from the beginning of this month, and I am writing it on the computer – I really don’t know why. Why on the computer, that is. I’m not quite weird enough to write a diary without knowing why. It’s a very specialized diary, and I promise to tell you all about it – some other time. (It pleases me to be mysterious about the prosaic. Bear with me, I beg you.)

The annal is one which the Caped Gooseberry and I keep together. The book which houses it was a gift from my comrades at the DDJ – a beautifully bound blank-paged book in which, each anniversary, we sum up the happenings of the previous year. It is sometimes disturbing to look back and see how much one has forgotten, even of the ‘highlights’. Forgetting the photos which are taken at the same time is, in my case, a matter of self-defence – I am most decidedly not photogenic.

Christine de pisan

To finish on a completely random note, if you are looking for a fictional diary to read, I can highly recommend Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. A cut (or indeed, a whole slice) above the usual run of historical-fictional teenage girls’ diaries, and very funny to boot. This is one of those books where the reader becomes incapacitated with laughter and the book has to be passed around the room. (This is the voice of experience.)

Sadly, I fear posterity will find no such hilarity in my diaries, should I unaccountably fail to have them destroyed before I die. Posterity: consider yourself warned.

What's For Dinner?

Back when I was a whiny little tyke, I used to annoy my parents by continually asking what was for dinner. (Not repeatedly on the same day – I may have been whiny but I wasn’t stupid.)
“What’s for tea?” the little Deborah would inquire, a glitter in her childish eye, and her parents, sensing an imminent chapter from that well-known collection of essays, Things I Do Not Like to Eat, would fall back on that stand-by of parents through the ages: “Wait and see.”

Nicolaes Maes 007

It has become generally accepted to blame the problems of one’s adult life upon one’s upbringing, and it has just occurred to me that this three word refrain might be to blame for my lack of organization when it comes to figuring out what the evening meal will be. Because deep deep down, my sub-conscious thinks that you don’t know what’s for dinner until dinnertime arrives. This may explain the scrambled egg incident.

Of course, this theory only danced across my mind for a handful of moments before the hound of reality came galloping after and savaged the poor little thing to shreds. Because I was still by all measures a child when my parents started me learning to cook the evening meal, which includes planning ahead and getting something out of the freezer in time for it to defrost.

Meal planning suggestions from 'Family meals and catering' Wellcome L0072310

Mind you, I grew up a handful of degrees south of the Equator, where meat could be removed from the freezer at lunch-time and be completely thawed by five o’clock. (I was thirteen before I encountered butter that had been left out of the fridge overnight, but was still too cold to spread, and I didn’t know what to do with it.) I now live closer to 42 degrees south, and lunch-time doesn’t cut it as far as defrosting goes, particularly in winter. Breakfast-time is more like it, and if it’s something large, better make it breakfast-time the day before.

One could of course use a microwave to defrost food, but the results are unsatisfactorily uneven, and in any case why pay for electricity to do what time and nature will do for free? This is not to say that the microwave plays no part in defrosting: we use it all the time. As a cat-proof meat safe.


I am sure I am not the only one who has struggled with the daily task of organizing food on the table. It was worse when I was still working at the DDJ, leaving the house before I was fully awake and returning when I was tired and the need for dinner was imminent. The Caped Gooseberry did his best, but multi-variable decision-making and chronic fatigue do not mix.
We ate some very simple meals in those days. As Julia Child said, “Good French cooking cannot be produced by a zombie cook.”

But rejoice! there is still hope for us. Some time ago (on the website of the Daily Connoisseur, I think) I came across the idea of the capsule menu. Some of you may be familiar with the idea of the capsule wardobe: a small but effective collection of clothes that you can just wear without having to spend ages thinking about what to wear or what goes with what.

Walk In Closet - Expandable Closet Rod and Shelf

The capsule menu is similar. Basically it’s a schedule of what you’re going to eat on what day. You shop accordingly and voilà, the decision is already made and you don’t have to spend ages figuring out what you have and what you can make out of it. Bliss.

If you have a high boredom threshold, you can have the same menu every week. We have a two-week cycle, which includes such gems as “home-made curry” “spaghetti bolognese” “something eggy” “something from a cookbook” (variety: the spice of life) and a couple of nights where we get takeaways: a curry, or the traditional NZ fish & chips.

A particular favourite of mine is the four days we spend working our way through a roast or a corned beef. We buy whatever’s cheap at the supermarket (oddly, roasts are frequently as cheap or cheaper than even mince), cook it up, and then have the leftovers in various ways until they are all gone. What could be nicer than a chicken roasted with homemade stuffing, or a shoulder of pork with rosemary crackling? Served (of course) with roasted potatoes and lashings of flavourful gravy.

Roasted Chicken Dinner Plate, Broccoli, Demi Glace

Planning ahead also means that you can make sure you are going to get a balanced diet, time constraints are taken into account, and everyone in the house can be assured that their favourite foods will appear regularly. (If it was up to the Caped Gooseberry, we’d have rice nearly every night.)

Have you tried a capsule menu? Did it work for you? What dishes did you decide to have? And what’s for dinner?

the Question of Exercise

Being a full-time stay-at-home writer is a wonderful thing, but after nearly a year, I have discovered one area in which it is severely lacking – namely that of exercise.

Back in the days of the Dreaded Day Job, I used to walk to work. Not for the sake of the walk itself, but because the buses were so utterly unreliable. Which was probably just as well, all things considered, because the DDJ was an office job, and the biggest bit of exercise in the day was walking up the stairs in the morning.

Silly Walk Gait

Once I left the DDJ, that was four brisk 3km walks (1.86 miles, imperialists) which disappeared from my week. And did I replace them with several other brisk walks?
I did not. I like to do things efficiently, and it seems rather inefficient to leave the house just to wander around and then come back again. I do go for walks with the Caped Gooseberry, but chronic fatigue and brisk multi-kilometre walks do not go well together.

So here’s the question: what do you do to stay fit? What are your recommendations?

2da Serie femenina

My criteria: simple, local, inexpensive, and preferably enjoyable.
I’m not looking to lose weight (nicely, nicely, thank you) or to develop a six-pack and bulging biceps – I just want to be fitter, and to have abdominal muscles capable of keeping my insides, well, inside. Ideas?