Elizabeth Strout and why I love her

Elizabeth Strout why I love her

American author, Elizabeth Strout writes novels and short stories that make me happy to read all night. Her novels and short stories are amazing on many levels and I’ve become a delighted binge reader fan.

Olive Kitteridge, the book for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2009, is a novel written as a series of linked short stories. I found it while searching for other similar novels. (There are links to reviews of several of them at the end of this blog.) Since Olive Ketteridge, I’ve read six of her nine books, several of them twice. I’ve ordered the rest.

Elizabeth Strout’s second last book, Oh William! was short-listed for the 2022 Man Booker Prize.

Continue reading “Elizabeth Strout and why I love her”

Seize the day, grabbing opportunities

Seize the day

Seize the day might have been a good phrase for me for this year, 2023. My last post, the one about eating dessert first, had not been published when a new opportunity for fun presented itself. Talk about synchronicity!

Hard to believe now, but it took push, a few pushes really, from my daughter and several granddaughters, for me to see the good things in store for me.

Last year seemed especially difficult and left me feeling flat and miserable. I felt as if I’d been bleating about the need for a break from the humdrumness of it all. I felt envious of people I knew who were taking or planning holidays and those who’d been away last year.

Continue reading “Seize the day, grabbing opportunities”

Eat dessert first because life is uncertain

eat dessert first

Eat dessert first in these uncertain times. It’s an old habit, but one I’d almost forgotten. I still choose dessert from a menu before looking at the entrees and mains. But somehow I’ve lost sight of the importance of grasping pleasure when it presents itself. But now I’m back on track.

Most years, I’ve chosen a ‘word of the year’. In 2022 the word was ‘peaceful’. In 2020 the word was ‘self-care’.

This year, it’s a phrase: ‘Eat dessert first,’ which seems much more fun. I quickly discounted, ‘The year of travel,’ or ‘The year of excitement,’ which a friend suggested yesterday. Those won’t work for me.

Continue reading “Eat dessert first because life is uncertain”

The mystery of 2023 and ways to welcome it

MYSTERY OF 2023


The mystery of 2023 hangs around, outside our knowledge. We can imagine, guess, hope, perhaps even dread what’s to come next. One thing we know: life is uncertain.

In the past, I’ve made hopeful predictions about what a new year will bring, and how I’ll face and shape it. I recognise that often I’ve been bold and brash with my plans. Sometimes, years have been full of life and spirit and I’ve accomplished much of what I wanted. Other years, not so much.

Then COVID happened. To plan seemed futile. Survival became important.

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This year, perhaps because age is trying to catch up with me, or maybe because of a brush with concussion, I’m less inclined to demand too much of the next twelve months. Years of the pandemic have taught me a thing or two, and so have my changing circumstances.

The mystery of 2023 will unfold

To wait patiently for the mystery of 2023 to unfold seems more realistic this year. Being prepared, like those wise virgins in the parable in the New Testament, seems a good plan. The wise virgins had their lamps burning, ready to light the way when the master came. They also had a supply of oil so their lamps didn’t run out.

Their foolish counterparts realised how poorly they were organised. They tried to borrow oil from their sisters, who refused to share. That seems mean. But there was not enough to go around. If the wise ones shared, no one would have enough to keep their lamps burning.

My plan for 2023 includes being prepared for uncertain times. To be patient, to demand less of myself and others. To watch and respond rather than to be surprised and reactive. I may not succeed, but I will have more fun.

Greeting 2023

While no one knows what 2023 will bring, I’m happy that I can choose to wait actively rather than passively. Planning, and being prepared to change plans, seems a good tactic for uncertain times. Having things I want to do means being prepared with plenty of oil to keep my lamp burning brightly.

Twenty three things to do in 2023

So, here’s my list of some things I plan to do in 2023, not necessarily in any order.

  • BREATH deeply and often
  • CARE for my husband, who is unwell
  • CONNECT often with family and friends
  • PLAY with my great-grandchildren whenever the opportunity arises
  • WRITE five things I’m grateful for every night (gratitude journal)
  • COMPLETE the short story course I started with the Australian Writers Centre
  • WRITE twelve awesome short story beginnings
  • WRITE twelve short stories
  • WRITE and post fifty-two blogs
  • ENTER at least two writing competitions
  • SUPPORT the Yes vote for Indigenous Voices to Parliament referendum
  • HOLIDAY away from home
  • WALK down the aisle with one of my granddaughters like the proud woman I am
  • SWIM one-hundred-and-thirty kilometres
  • PICNIC
  • JOURNAL (write ‘morning pages‘) first thing every day
  • ENJOY fifty-two Artists Dates
  • ORGANISE my domestic affairs better – e.g. put dates for window-cleaning, carpet-cleaning, major bills etc in my diary
  • FORGIVE as much as I can
  • REMEMBER I can choose with whom I mix
  • RE-DECORATE our living room so it looks fresher
  • HAVE A MASSAGE once a month
  • SEW KNIT CRAFT three objects

That’s a formidible list. Enough to keep me busy om 2023.

Lists of things to do from other years

Here are a few of the blogs I’ve written at the beginning of other years

Eighteen things to do in 2018

Nineteen fun activities for 2019

To read – nineteen books in 2019

Happy New Year 2023
MAUREEN HELEN SIGNATURE

One-hundred-thousand hits thanks dear readers

HAPPY DANCE ONE-HUNDRED-THOUSAND HITS

This morning, WordPress announced that, in the last couple of days, my blog had reached one-hundred-thousand hits since it began. No wonder I’m doing a happy dance. This is a cause for celebration!

I had no way of knowing, apart from what would have been a very tedious exercise of counting the hits manually, that How to be eighty would arrive at that milestone.

Maths not being my strong point, I would never have known.

But I am delighted. Thank you to everyone who has hit the button and read a blog.

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How it started

I can’t remember what prompted me to become a blogger. I’d read a few blogs and dismissed them earlier. I simply saw no value in blogs, and had no idea that a person could gain so much pleasure, if not joy, from blogging.

Maybe the idea of something difficult challenged me. That often happens in my life. Perhaps I saw it as a way to communicate when writing longer pieces seemed almost impossible after I married. I found it hard to write properly and consistently.

Yet my need to write and share with an audience burned. And so a blog became my obsession, at least until I’d set up my website, using as a guide the amazing WordPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson. It’s into its ninth edition, and I imagine still as good as the original. My blogging journey began!

My blog had another name, or perhaps no name, until five years ago, when a series of events changed how I work.

Then the title How to be eighty seemed fitting for the blog of an old woman who wanted permission (from herself) to write whatever she chose. Little did I imagine then that my simple offering would reach one-hundred-thousand hits

Workshop boosts count to one-hundred-thousand

So much seems a blur, although my usual memory works quite well. A series of lucky accidents occured. Following my instincts, I found myself in a workshop conducted by the lovely psychologist Glennys Marsdon, now my dear friend. The title of the workshop, ‘How to brand your website’, or perhaps how to brand yourself, intrigued me.

My bland, no-real-name-blog needed a proper focus. Glennys showed me how to achieve that focus

Life-long learning had long been one of my passions. What better than to continue that theme and also to encourage others to learn. People are never to old to pursue new interests nor to learn new skills and hobbies.

Amanda Kendle and Social Media Mastermind workshops

From there, an easy step led me to join one of Amanda Kendle‘s workshops. To join a group and learn as much as possible about many aspects of social media as I could. The fun-filled workshops, and later summer schools, encouraged participants to learn and share with each other.

Amanda and Glennys can be best described as multipotentialites – multitalented people with many diverse interests, willing always to share with others. I wrote a blog on this topic: ‘Multipotentialites seeking friends‘. Some people call multipotentialites Jack-of-all trades, but in fact such people are creative, adaptable and multi-skilled, among other things.

These remarkable women changed my focus and application. My blog began to attract more readers day-by-day and month-by-month. Thank you, Glennys and Amanda!

Ground covered by How to be eighty

My posts range from mundane sharing of domestic issues, through healthy living tips to how to downsize. They cover some of the joys of being a great-grandmother, the triumph of acquiring a hearing aid, how my husband and I moved to an inner city apartment and have not looked back. Some have covered sadness and even tragedy.

Not all blogs appeal to everyone. For example, some of my favourites have been reviews of books I’ve read. My sister, for one, tells me she never reads them – they’re boring.

Some book reviews, however, obviously hit the spot for some readers because they attract the most hits. I guess I’ve been lucky, and occasionally I’ve written about a book on the ATAR list for year twelve students. Those blogs are super popular.

Next steps

The last few months have been quite taxing for a variety of health and welbeing reasons. I considered letting my blog go. Writing up to a thousand words a week can be quite a commitment.

I considered writing more seriously in 2023. But with the news of one-hundred-thousand hits, I feel a surge of new energy.

Thank you, dear readers

Thank you again, to all my dear readers who have made this possible. To those who have clicked and read or commented. I am grateful.

There is nothing to stop me from posting a blog and attempting more serious work.

one-hundred-thousand hits best wishes

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Copyright, Maureen Helen 2022
Extraordinary mother of an older generation

Carer Allowance application and outrage

Carer Allowance application

To receive a Carer Allowance in Australia, a person must provide additional daily care and attention to someone because they either have a disability or a severe illness or are frail aged. There is no asset test, but both the carer and the person cared for must have a taxable annual income of less than $250 000 per annum.

I’ve been a carer for at least the past two years, since my husband’s diagnosis of multiple myeloma. In that time, I’ve discovered that caring for a frail older person with several co-morbidities can frequently be hard work. It often seems thankless and always relentless.

Tiredness has become my constant state, a deep weariness that does not shift. I’m grumpy, anxious, sometimes depressed.

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I watch as his family regularly takes annual and other leave.  Trips to Europe, the east coast of Australia, to Bali. Frequent long weekends to the south-west of the State.

I’ve become resentful, craving but no longer expecting, recognition for my commitment and effort.

A Carer Allowance, payment from the government, might help me feel better. It would be a validation of my role, or so my flight* of fancy goes. According to the Services Australia website, we seem to be eligible.

Application for a Carer Allowance

First step, find the right application form.

My first foray into this new world ends abruptly after several hours’ work, when I discover I’ve been lured into filling a bogus online application.

I pride myself on being computer literate. But like any eighty-five-year-old, I have my weaknesses.

I finish providing a large amount of information and a pop-up tells me I must pay a ‘deposit’ of $8 for my completed form to be converted into a PDF before I can submit it. There will be an ongoing fee.

Oh, and I need to pay $4 for the privilege of adding an electronic signature to the form.

Backtrack. Do what any sensible person would have done. Go into my MyGov account. Find the Aged Care portal. Discover that’s wrong.

I needed Centrelink, not aged care, because I’m applying for an allowance.

Locate the right, long and daunting form. Note it says I need to have other information available. An online search for details about the additional information reveals nothing. Decide to carry on and see what happens.  

My husband and I receive the Aged Pension with a joint assessment. We each get less than we would if we were single or lived apart. Each of our Pension Concession Cards displays both of our Centrelink Concession Numbers.

 However, now I’m required to prove my husband’s date of birth and nationality and a photo of his passport.

Eventually I almost complete the form and save it.

And promptly lose it.

Contact with Centrelink

A quick call to Centrelink may solve the problem. But there’s no such thing as a quick call to that agency. A voice tells me the wait before I can speak to a person will be over an hour.

Later, passing the Centrelink office, I think a quick conversation will clear up the problem. Nope! The waiting time to talk to an officer – over an hour. But a kind woman gives me a card with a phone number different from the first I called. This one’s for aged care.

Robots in charge of Carer Allowance applications

At home I call again. A robot quizzes me about the purpose of my call. I’m afraid I’ve strayed into the notorious Robodebt country. She tells me to look online for the solution. Gives me a website address. Then, very politely, says ‘Goodbye’.

Enraged at the run-around, I promptly call back. The robot tells me I’ve already called the number. They’re a cunning lot, those robots! She says she cannot help me. And says, ‘Goodbye’ again firmly, in her sweetest voice.

Determination

I’m nothing if not determined. Half-an-hour at the computer and the lost form reappears. I download and print it to take to the general practitioner who looks after my husband’s care.

At the oncologist’s office, I tell him about my decision to apply for a Carers Allowance, and alert him to the requirement for his formal agreement.

Of course,’ he says. ‘Of course your should apply. Caring is hard work. Very hard work.’

At last, the validation I craved.

Next steps

When we’ve talked with the general practitioner early next week, I’ll attach his form to mine and submit both. The agency says it takes around twelve weeks for an application to be processessed and approved. So I’ll wait!

I’m both competent and computer literate. I feel sad for others who will give up making an application for a Carer Allowance becase they do not have the skills to fill in and submit forms online. Perhaps they can turn to others for help. But many will decide it is too hard.

One next step will be for me to write to Centrelink, or to a newspaper with an abridged version of this story. I’ll add a recommendation that the process should be made less complicated. My local member of parliament might be sympathetic. I’ll talk to her.

Road to riches?

Well, hardly! If approved, I’ll receive $136.50 per fortnight. That’s $68.25 a week for constant attendance and care. That’s about twice the amount in a week that a paid carer receives an hour.

But I’ll be grateful. It means the government recognises that I and thousands of others like me provide a service. Our ‘labour of love’ means that fewer old, ill and frail people need care in aged care facilities.

My dream allowance will perhaps pay for a monthly massage and for parking for the many hours we spend each month at hospital and specialist appointments or a coffee to share afterwards. For these things, I will be grateful.

*This post is linked to the weekend blog prompt set by my friends, SueW in Yorkshire and GC in Canada. They blog at Nan’s Farm and The Main Aisle. This week’s word is Flight (as in my flight of fancy).

Here are links to some other health-related posts on my site:

Ten Ways to Create a Healthy Social Life

Is Loneliness the next big health threat?

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Copyright, Maureen Helen 2022
Carer Allowance Maureen
Maureen and daughter Jenny

My different binge reading habit

Binge reading

My binge reading habit started a long time ago. More accurately, it began when I first fell in love with the Canadian author, L.M. Montgomery. The habit resurfaced recently when I discovered the amazing author, Elizabeth Strout. I’ve written about her and why I love her writing here.

Definitions of binge reading include ‘the act of reading large amounts of text in a short amount of time‘. People whose reading fits this definition skim-read, read all night, read instead of doing all (or any) things they should do.

But my sort of binge reading doesn’t fit that definition. 

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My definition of binge reading

The reading that I describe as bingeing involves discovering a new-to-me author and reading everything they’ve written that I can get my hands on. Except when reading for information (work, study, research) I read slowly and savour words, images and ideas. Literature demands that I honour the art and craft of the author.

Learning to read

My parents set a reading example to their children from an early age. I heard my father’s voice in utero. He read to my mother while she knitted as they sat by the fire. They told me he read Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell, 1936) while she knitted a whole layette for me, their new baby born at the end of 1937.

Dad binge read to me. He read every word that AA Milne wrote for children. Poetry, stories, series. He read it all and could recite much of what he read without the benefit of books. That handy skill stood him in good stead as the driver of the family car when he entertained us on country holidays. .

My mother read to her children more selectively. But she also binge read single authors such as Agatha Christie, who wrote at least 70 books, and Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote 84 stories featuring Perry Mason alone. I’m not sure how many Mum read but she always had a book at hand.

With role models like that, its no wonder I learned to read early.

My binge reading history

I fell in love with some authors when very young. I still fall in love with writers (or their writing) regularly.

My first serious foray into binge reading came about when I was 12. My paternal grandmother gave me a copy of Anne of Green Gables by Canadian L.M. Montgomery (published 1908) for Christmas. I think I have read all 20 of the novels by this author, who wrote series about young women who were role models.

I can’t remember how I discovered most of the writers. Probably not through school! My formal education finished when I turned 15, because, they said, ‘Girls don’t need an education. They get married and education is such a waste.

Sad day

It was a sad day when I moved after we married into the house John lived in. He had an extensive library. So did I. We decided to let many of our books go. Letting the books I loved, especially when I had large collections of writing by single authors felt like cutting part of my brain away.

When we moved into our much smaller apartment, it was easier to let books go.

I discovered there are books that I cannot live without, and over the years, I’ve replaced some of those.

A random list

Here’s a list of some of the writers that have attracted my prolonged interest

  • Australian Patrick White. I fell head over heals in love with White’s writing when I read Voss (1957). Voss wasWhite’s fifth novel, and I read backwards and forwards across the whole list.
  • South African Doris Lessing. Her feminism took my breath away. I loved her earlier books, but felt disappointed when she wrote science fiction.
  • British Faye Weldon. A prolific writer of feminist novels that were fun, frivolous and feisty.
  • French Simone de Beauvoir. A philosopher and writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her book, The Second Sex, was among the first feminist writing I encountered. The open relationship she shared with Jean Paul Sartre, also a French philosopher, intrigued me.
  • Australian Alex Miller. The bookclub members with whom I went to Perth Writers Festivals accused me of being a Miller ‘groupie’. I’m delighted he has published a new book, still to read.
  • Australian Helen Garner. Writer of fiction and later non-fiction, my favourite writer.
  • Australian Tim Winton. A Western Australian and four times winner of the Miles Franklin Award, Winton has also been twice short listed for the Booker Prize. I wrote a blog about our Cloudstreet River Christmas.
  • Australian Tony Birch. A much awarded Victorian writer and First Nations man, Tony Birch has written three novels, and five collections of short stories as well as mny articles. I’ve reviewed several of Tony Birch’s books including Common People. The Promise and Ghost River

There are more. Looking over the list, it’s difficult to believe that it is so top-heavy with men.

If asked, I always tell people that by preference I read books by Australian women writers. Perhaps my list of authors I’ve binge read is top heavy with men writers because, on the whole, women writers are less prolific than men for a number of reasons. Binge-reading requires a large body of work.

I’d love to hear if my readers also binge-read and who are their favourite writers. Please share your favourites in a comment. (Like all bloggers, I really love reading comments from readers.)

Copyright, Maureen Helen 2022
Photo, Maureen-Helen

Christmas traditions 2022 at beginning of Advent

Christmas traditions

Our Christmas traditions are tumbling into place and today we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas. Although we seem to be sticklers for tradition, it often amazes me that my family gets everything done.

An outsider might say we’re not very organised. Someone kinder, like a doting mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, might smile benignly. She’d say, ‘But everyone’s so busy’.

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Three new babies, travel adventures after COVID-19 lockdowns and visitors from overseas created turbulance, although most of it good. This end of the year brings extra rehearsals for children doing ballet and singing, concerts and performances, end of year celebrations.

Elizabeth tells me the orientation to her new high school was ‘so fun’. I can’t believe I have a great-grandchild graduating from primary school in a couple of weeks. Louisa will be home for Christmas from Canberra on Wednesday. I hope Alex will be here for Christmas.

My husband’s recent hospitalisation caused more waves, as did my falling over on a busy street and being out of sorts for weeks.

Christmas traditions on track

If it hadn’t been for the insistence of my granddaughter, Claire, we might not have made the puddings yesterday. Sometimes, they’ve been made with proper pomp and ceremony, by the end of September. Other time’s we’ve left it until ‘Stir-Up Sunday‘ (last Sunday).

No year ever seems the same. Our Christmas traditions maintain their ‘shape’ but the details change, it seems, every time.

Often many more family members gather for breakfast before we measure and stir and cook. Yesterday, a smaller-than-usual crowd appeared. Our venue changed from my house. Here are a couple of blogs about other Christmases ‘Advent preparations for a tough Christmas,’ and ‘Advent – time of preparation for Christmas.’

Photos I love

Some of my favourite images from yesterday and our pudding making adventures. Thanks to Jane for the photos.

More Christmas traditions

Puddings cooked, at home again, John and I set up the Christmas crib that I’ve used for over forty years. Sometimes I think a new, modern set would be nice. St. Joseph loses his head quite often, having never recovered completely from a fall. One of the Wise Men has gone AWOL. But then I remember all those other Christmasses…

And the Advent wreath this year has a new twist. I couldn’t find traditional purple or blue candles locally. I settled for pink. Different! But OK.

Christmas traditions
Untraditional Christmas wreath
Christmas traditions include a crib.
Oh so traditional crib

I’ve asked everyone to put the first Saturday of the September school holidays in their diaries for next year. Claire and I will buy the fruit in an orderly manner before that. On the day, we will have our usual breakfast before starting on the puddings. Well, that’s my plan for now!

Copyright, Maureen Helen 2022
Van gogh newsletter

A Parainfluenza Virus knocked us sideways

human parainfluenza virus

A human parainfluenza virus (HPIV) illness recently caused havoc in our house. One of My husband’s relatives called it a ‘power virus’ and indeed so it seemed. Not Covid-19 or any of its variants. Not the dreaded influenza virus. But a nasty little bug that, for most people, causes the symptoms of a common cold invited itself to use our bodies as its hosts.

The HPIV is not an influenza virus, but related to measles and mumps, or so I read on Dr Google. There are four main types, each causing its own brand of related misery. No vaccine exists against it and no treatment exists, other than care of the symptoms.

Continue reading “A Parainfluenza Virus knocked us sideways”

How to achieve goals by writing them down

How to achieve your goals by writing them down

Science suggests we’re 42% percent more likely to achieve our goals if we write them down in long-hand, share them with someone, and review them regularly. Forty-two percent seems an amazing figure, so it may well be worth trying these tips if you’re not in the habit of writing down what you hope to be, do or have within a certain timeframe.

Goals can be as varied as you like. But they usually fall into four major areas:

  • Health
  • Relationships and love
  • Vocation
  • Time, money and freedom.

Continue reading “How to achieve goals by writing them down”

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