DIY Day: Of screwdrivers, stigmata and that Swedish store

A disembodied hand folding an IKEA magazine

One day last week I looked around me at the piles of newspapers, manila folders, books and binders scattered over the floor in my bedroom/study  and took a deep breath. I’ve been sleeping, working and eating in this room for the past few months.

My brain is a lockdown-induced jumble of broken resolutions.

The freedom of working from home has turned me into a combination of jellyfish and goldfish – lacking in backbone and unable to retain a plan for more than three seconds. I can’t put it off any longer. I need order in my life.

Kids, I’m going to IKEA. If I’m not back by midnight, send out a search party.

A disembodied hand folding an IKEA magazine
Photo by billow 926 on Unsplash

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Hitting the in-law jackpot in the lottery of life

A bonus long weekend post in honour of my nephew Tom and his mother – my friend – Anne

A gift like Anne comes along once in a lifetime

An in-law who becomes a close friend, confidante and partner-in-crime. From the day we met, we got the point of each other. We laughed at each other’s jokes, shared each other’s pain (including a common mother-in-law), went on holidays together and shared a brood of children who were best mates and just happened to be first cousins.

Two smiling women with their arms around each other and a champagne bucket in the foreground

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Music for simple minds

Violin resting on sheet music

Since lockdown began six (or is it seven?) millenia ago, I have begun to realise how reliant I am on the companionship of sound, and of classical music in particular.

Violin resting on sheet music

I wake up to Russell Torrance and his gentle Scottish brogue on Classic FM, then move on to my late father’s classical music CD collection for the rest of my working-from-home day. Once meticulously filed in alphabetical order in his study, it’s now a jumbled pile in his old bedroom – my current retreat. I sift through it for old favourites – the B for Bach, H for Handel and M for Mozart sections were always heavily weighted on Dad’s shelves – and spend hours every day of this 21st century pandemic immersed in 18th century music.

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The Long Distance Grandmother

Regular readers may have seen this story on various social media platforms but it is reproduced here in celebration of the new-look DIY Woman, becoming a grandmother and the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel.

Greyhound on the beach leaping with joyBeing a long distance grandmother has its compensations. Every morning since corona-lockdown, I’ve woken to images of my son and his young family managing their splendid self-isolation in northern NSW. There are five of them and they’re in this together: mother, father, toddler, newborn and Norman. (Norman is a greyhound but try convincing him.)

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Comfort reading in the time of COVID 19

I used to be one of those people who always finished a book, even if they weren’t enjoying it. These days I regard it in the same light as eating everything on your plate: some meals just aren’t worth the calories.

Today’s post was meant to be a review of Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence, a beautifully written paean to nature’s ability to inspire awe and wonder. But five chapters in, I’d read enough to sustain me. 

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The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

The first DIY Woman book review – I hope it will open up a discussion about books that helps create a connection for those who love to read.

I’ve wanted to read The WeekendCharlotte Wood‘s latest book – ever since I heard about it on Radio National’s The Bookshelf. Its basic premise – the 30-year friendship of four women, a weekend away after the death of one of them – was one that appealed to me.

Book cover of The Weekend by Charlotte Wood including the silhouette of a dog
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Beating the Isolation Blues

A few Saturday nights ago – a lifetime away – I had an epiphany. 

 I was in a form of self-imposed isolation due to a cold I had picked up from some visiting relatives. It was early on in the unfolding of the coronavirus catastrophe to come. According to the Nurse-On-Call, I didn’t tick any of the boxes that would have entitled me to coronavirus testing. So I was erring on the side of caution. And there was something seductive about cancelling all social engagements and staying in on a Saturday night. Especially with Hugh Grant for company. A Very British Scandal was showing on iview, so my pyjamas and I settled in for episode one.

Isolation in front of the TV with slippers
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They cancelled Eurovision

This year would have marked the 65th anniversary of Eurovision.

Sixty-four years of big hair, wind machines and pyrotechnics up in smoke. For this year anyway – the year I made the decision to experience firsthand the highs, the lows, the costume reveals and the money notes. The year I sweated over three laptops simultaneously logged in to the second round of ticket sales and won and lost tickets in less than five heartbreaking minutes. And won again.

Three laptops open at the Eurovision booking page
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Ageing audiences a privilege to play for

In an excerpt from his book Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More in the current issue of Limelight magazine, Stephen Hough wrote of his reaction on seeing an elderly man being wheeled into the concert hall where Hough was about to perform.

‘My heart instantly lifted,’ he wrote. ‘It struck me as wonderful that he was here to hear Beethoven and I was the one who this evening was to bring that music to life.’

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Resourcefulness and resilience rise from the ashes

Amidst the hardship and heartbreak of the recent bushfires, acts of kindness restore faith in the future of this wide brown land.

It was wonderful to read about the generous responses to the bushfires of sports people like Nick Kyrgios, international celebrities like Leonardo di Caprio and Elton John, as well as local heroes like Chris Hemsworth.

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Travel: Of Mothers and Daughters and Safe Returns

When I was four years old, my parents moved their young family from the bottom of a park to the top. My parents never moved again.

The sun setting through the trees overlooking a park

Half a century later, my mother still lives there, surrounded by all five of her children within a ten kilometre radius. Her dreams are of forays into her beloved garden, not of travel adventures abroad. Everything she needs is within her castle walls. She left Australian shores only once and didn’t see any benefit in doing so again.

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Career changing later in life: From croquembouches to creative writing

I spent the first 25 years of my working life as a caterer.

Objects of a past career (whisk and rolling pin) and of my new career (writing pad, fountain pen).

In my mid-40s, I simultaneously lost the passion for my cooking career and gained a love of writing. I decided to use the skills accumulated throughout the previous quarter century to work for me in my new writing career: the ability to match menu to client, the organisational skills to run a small business and a willingness to learn.

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The Evolution of DIY Woman

‘Can I be completely honest with you?’

Conversations that start like this can go one of two ways: they can leave you feeling deflated or they can spur you on to greater things. My friend D doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. She’s the one who tells it straight when you ask for her opinion. She’s also the one who gives you her undivided attention and support when you need it. And the best home-made scones.

The shadows of two women on timber decking
D and me
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Black Saturday reflections ten years on

Speeding down the Calder Highway on a scorching Friday in February 2009, I wondered briefly whether this long-awaited weekend away was such a good idea. The brown fields on either side shimmered and the road ahead looked molten. The words ‘bushfire weather’ hovered in front of my eyes like the steam rising from the bitumen.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
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Remembering the good times

What happens when shared memories are no longer shared? When – even as you are living a wonderful moment with a loved one – you know you will probably be the sole keeper of its memory?

Lately I’ve been spending precious time with family at both ends of the age spectrum.

The Christmas break has given me the opportunity to see more of my eight-month-old granddaughter and my 87-year-old mother. Sometimes both at the same time. Along with my daughter, four generations spanning 87 years sitting on the same couch in the same room. It’s a privilege not everyone is lucky enough to have.

Baby girl, young woman, older woman and elderly woman sitting on a couch smiling
Four generations
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Cup Day reflections on the race of life

I am not a gardener.

I have written about tending friendships as you would your garden, but my DIY credentials in the actual gardening department are non-existent. My mother, however, is a Daisy Lady: a member of the Native Australian Daisy Study Group. For the past 40 years, she has met regularly with other Daisy Ladies, not all of them ladies (in the biological sense). Sadly, there are no longer any men in Mum’s posse, but the four remaining Daisy Ladies are as passionate about native plants – and native daisies in particular – as they ever were.

Native flowers, plastic bucket, white background | See more at www.diywoman.net

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How to build your character in seven days

This week was a test of my character.

After enduring months of offline episodes and ‘Not secure’ messages popping up on this website, I made the decision a fortnight ago to change host servers. My previous server – a lone wolf operator in NZ – failed to send the correct passwords to allow this to happen. That is the most charitable way to describe what he did. Or failed to do.

Open laptop, man, silhouette | See more at www.diywoman.net
Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash

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Remembrance and reconciliation at Amiens Cathedral

The cathedral at Amiens is a soaring Gothic monument that was once a place of pilgrimage.

In the early 13th century, it was thought to house the skull of St John the Baptist. In 1218, a lightning strike of biblical proportions destroyed both church and contents. The construction of a new church began in 1220. Despite fire, faulty engineering, revolution and two world wars, it has survived intact for the past 800 years.

Amiens, cathedral, France, Somme | See more at www.diywoman.net

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On the road to becoming an author: avoid the caravans

The transition from writer to author is strewn with rejection emails.

Being proactive, resilient and willing to learn from your mistakes will serve you well on your path towards publication. A healthy dose of optimism doesn’t hurt either. I have just completed my first career plan at an age when some of my friends are considering retirement. Here I am, sweating on my CV, while they are swanning around in their four-wheel drives with golf sticks in the boot and a caravan attached. How I pity them.

Caravan, car, arid, road, mountain | See more at www.diywoman.net
Photo by Benjamin Zanatta on Unsplash

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Humility: recognising your strengths as well as your weaknesses

I’ve never been good at geography.

I only know where a country is if I’m planning to visit it, and I retain the information for about five minutes. My friend Megan got top marks in geography at university. Twice. She can yack on for hours about cloud formations and the movement of sand along a shore. I try not to let my eyes glaze over. I like to gaze skywards as much as the next person – especially if the clouds are pink and fluffy and maybe have cute little sunbeams emanating from them – but I don’t really care if they’re cirrus or cumulonimbus.

sunrise, pink, fluffy, clouds, humility, landscape, city, urban | See more at www.diywoman.net

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Crushed raspberry moments: Giving yourself permission to shine

The last time I was house sitting in this rural pocket of Normandy, it was three years ago in the height of summer.

The raspberry canes in the vegetable patch yielded masses of delicious berries from July through to September. I would come up from the garden with my mouth and fingers stained deep crimson – ‘crushed raspberry’ – and my bowl full to overflowing with garden produce.

fresh, vegetables, raspberries, beetroot, garden, produce, France | See more at www.diywoman.net

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The Reluctant Grandmother

I have never been especially keen on the idea of being a grandmother.

Periodically my children would threaten me with it just for fun. I’m way too young, I’d say. Turns out I’m not as young as I thought. Or as immune to the lure of a newborn: first born of my firstborn, unwitting trailblazer of a new generation of my family, tiny repository of untold hopes and dreams.

black and white, baby, newborn, feet, grandmother | See more at www.diywoman.net
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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Coffee: the weak, the white and the extra hot

My father used to like his hot drinks hot and his cold drinks cold.

hot coffee, hot drink, steam, red coffee cup | See more at www.diywoman.net
Photo by Dave Michuda on Unsplash

He preferred his soup to be at palate-blistering temperatures well beyond normal human tolerance. But that was the way he liked it and that was the way it was served up to him. No skin off anyone’s nose – the roof of Dad’s mouth was the only potential victim here.

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You can thank me later: How diywoman selected her own funeral music and saved her children hours of work

‘I’ve found this guy who turns CDs into vinyl.’

I came across this sentence the other day while looking up material for my ‘gap year’ memoir. It was in an email I had sent to a friend in February 2015. I didn’t know it then, but it marked the start of  my career as an occasional compiler of funeral music. Occasional as in ‘infrequent’. Funeral music is always ‘occasional’ in the other sense.

funeral music, diywoman, vinyl | See more at www.diywoman.net

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In praise of consequential strangers

Today I cried down the phone to a stranger.

woman, inconsequential strangers | See more at www.diywoman.net
Photo by Louise Blythe on Unsplash

It’s not the first time I’ve done this. During my two years in the emotional wilderness following my separation, I regularly cried in front of people I’d only just met. Real estate agents, bank managers, municipal officers, shop assistants—no one was safe. Some of them – the consequential strangers – made a lasting difference to my life.

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Speaking up

No matter the size of a family, the role of each of its members will be unique.

The good girl, the pleaser, little girl, speaking up | See more at diywoman.net

If the firstborn is a dictator, the second will be something else. Once a job description has been filled, another must be created. One might be the high achiever, the next might be the peace-maker and so on. I was the third of five children; the good girl; the little sister who knew her place; the older sister who indulged her younger brothers; the good student who wanted to do well. Let’s face it – I was the pleaser. My twin desires to do well and to please instilled in me a rather suspect work ethic. Combined with my ‘look at moy’ attitude, I must have driven my school friends crazy.

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When inlaws become outlaws: strategies and semantics

For some separating couples, the prospect of no more Sunday dinners at the inlaws is almost enough to make up for the pain of separation.

Not so for the lucky ones among us who count the family we partnered into as friends. Harper Lee could have been talking about ex inlaws in this passage from To kill a mockingbird:

‘Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.’

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, in-laws | See more at www.diywoman.net

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The semantics of being single: Marital status

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, a single woman who knew a lot about semantics.

Jane Austen courtesy of the New York Times | See more at www.diywoman.net

In her day, Jane Austen would have been described as a Spinster (gasp!) or worse, Old Maid (smelling salts!). In recent times, her unfortunate marital status may have been softened to Unclaimed Treasure.

Despite this, it cannot be denied the woman knew quite a lot about love.

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Travels in the Somme with my father’s father

An unexpected detour during a six month stay in France links three generations of my family to a village in the Somme.

On Anzac Day 2015, I left Australian shores for six months travelling solo in France. Unlike my grandfather a century before, I wasn’t destined for the muddy fields of the Somme. My destination was another part of rural France altogether – Cinais in the Loire – the first of a series of housesits courtesy of a housesitting website called MindMyHouse.

First World War Australian soldiers bound for the Somme | more on diywoman.net
My grandfather (second from left) and his brothers

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Superannuation and the single girl -the first in our Lawyers, Funds and Money category

A cautionary tale of superannuation, mortgages and sharks.

A year or so after I’d taken on a mortgage, I got a call from a financial adviser— let’s call him Ken—who said he was affiliated with my bank. He offered me a free consultation to look at ways I could make my money work better for me. How timely! I collected my paperwork and arrived at the bank at 5pm the following day.

Clocks and signs | More on diywoman.net

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DIY Woman’s guide to getting published

There has to be an alternative to doing time on the slush pile on the rocky road to becoming a published author.

Slush pile of manuscripts | more on www.diywoman.netSlush pile of manuscripts | more on www.diywoman.net

I’ve already likened my passion for writing to the urge to reproduce. I could say  the same of my relentless pursuit of a publishing deal. I am guilty of every crime in the self-promotion book. Schmoozing. Pitching at a minute’s notice. Imposing on the goodwill of strangers. It’s a litany of misdemeanours.

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Passion in life is reward enough: success is optional

The past two years have been the best I can remember.

Typewriter, words, printed | more on diywoman.net

I have consummated my passion for France and my passion for writing in one 24 month period. First I ran away to France for six months. Then I applied for the professional writing course of my dreams. Then I got in! I’m more than halfway through and I never want it to end. This story was first published in the February/March issue of The Victorian WriterDavid Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, once said:

people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. Continue reading

Ocean swim at Lorne Pier-to-Pub an unlikely cure

A classic DIY tale of fixing something that’s been broken.

An edited version of this story first appeared as ‘Not Drowning, Waving’ in The Big Issue in December 2016.

Goggles for ocean swim | More on diywoman.net

 

On the second Saturday of every new year, the waters around Lorne heave and churn like a deep fryer of boiling oil with a wire basket-load of chips tossed onto its surface. People pay money to be one of those chips.

The Lorne Pier-to-Pub is the world’s biggest ocean swim race with entries now capped at 5000.

The race has been going for thirty-six years. Organisers introduced a ballot system after 2008, when all available places sold out on the first day of registration.

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Minerva and me: for three months my Minerva brace was my best friend and my nemesis

A version of this story recently featured in Radio Nationals Life Matters (Thursday June 28 2018) on ‘Life in 500 Words: Life Changing Experiences‘.

How could I look so happy?

The girl who lived plus Minerva brace
Minerva and me—best friends/worst enemies

The car crash that left me with a sardine-can car and a broken neck happened seven years ago. I thought I had avoided cameras for the three months I was in that Minerva brace. Until this photo arrived in my inbox —–>

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DIY woman takes on technology…and wins

It’s once more into the breach for DIY head girl.

And here is my absolute most brilliant bit of DIY ever. DIY, Seuilly, France, technology, wifi, travelling solo, travel | See more at www.diywoman.net

It happened just this afternoon in Seuilly. Yes that’s Seuilly. France. Two days ago I moved from one slice of French paradise to another just five minutes down the road. My current abode is a light-filled self-contained apartment off the beaten track with a view to die for and a cute little bakery van that drops in twice a week with a fresh baguette.It is the perfect setting for a runaway writer except for just one thing: no wifi…

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Days of the old schoolyard: friendships that are lifelong

Lindy and me aged about 8
Lindy and me aged about 8

Remember the days of the old schoolyard

We used to laugh a lot…. My oldest friend Lindy and I were always best friends at school, and little has changed. We still act like 17 year olds in each other’s company and have a language that no one else in the world understands. With a word or a look we can set each other off – into gales of laughter or on a trip down our own long memory lane. Continue reading

All Hail Asphaltia – Goddess of the Road

It was only when I heard the talk back caller announce that she was a white witch that I gave the radio my full attention.

Asphaltia in her Glass Temple
Asphaltia in her Glass Temple

Transfixed, I listened to her sing the praises of her car parking goddess Asphaltia, who never failed to provide her with a parking spot whenever called upon to do so.

The only proviso was that the Benefactress must be thanked. And that the lucky recipient of Her bounty must attribute the procurement of the parking space to Her, and not to Luck.  To do otherwise would be considered ungrateful, and the driver an unworthy candidate for future good parking deeds.

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The kindness of strangers

A recent invitation to join the Kindness Pandemic Facebook page brought to mind this story I wrote for The Age in 2009 shortly after the car crash that – in a strange way – was the catalyst for DIY Woman. I was determined to make the most of the life I had been spared to live. It was the inception of what started out as a guide to separation, divorce and living happily ever after, and grew into a blog for the Daring Intuitive Young@heart Woman I aspire to be. The type of woman (and occasional man) I write for. And that is you, dear reader. I hope you enjoy this story from The Age archives.

The Kindness Pandemic artwork

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