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Treasured possessions

Late last year I brought home some of the items I’d chosen from my mother’s house after her death, and since then I’ve been getting particular pleasure out of using a few simple, small items no-one else wanted.

  • A particular teaspoon that always used to sit in our sugar bowl when I was growing up, as we used it daily to sweeten our tea, or the porridge or weet-bix for breakfast, now lives in my own sugar bowl.
  • Whenever we had colds, a lemon and honey drink was prescribed, made with a glass lemon squeezer that was perfectly proportioned for the job at hand, unlike any others I’ve found in the 30 years since. Now though, my search is over.
  • One of the first things I learned to cook was a stew that needed to be thickened once the meat and vegetables were ready, and I would vigorously shake up a flour and water mixture in a small aluminium* canister with a thankfully tight lid, ensuring all lumps were gone, and use it to thicken the sauce smoothly. It lives in a kitchen cupboard now, and although I don’t use it very often (preferring these days to thicken by reduction, or use arrowroot or cornflour), I smile whenever I see it.
  • The glass measuring cup I used when I learned how to cook, and most importantly how to bake, now sits in the same cupboard, and I use it whenever I can, although as it predates metric measurements, I am less confident in using it for anything requiring precise amounts.

These valued inherited items don’t make me rich, but they do make me happy.

*yes, that’s how it is spelt.**
**yes, spelt is spelt spelt.

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700

This is my 700th post on A Separate Life since I started this blog in January 2009. It was by then my third, no, fourth blog, after a 365-day blogging project got me hooked on writing, and an alphabetical project that saw me go through the alphabet several times here and on a travel blog. At the

At the outset, I was quite a purist and focused on words, not pictures. Since then I’ve done some photo blogging, but always with words as well as pictures. Lists, once also viewed as a cop-out, have become more frequent visitors here too. I’ve shared some good times and some of those not so good, introduced you to some of my favourite things and places, had the occasional rant, and talked about the life of a Kiwi.

But the thing that makes me happiest are the people who come to visit, the ones who have been around since 2006 or who have become regulars more recently. I’ve been privileged to share my life with you all, and hope you’ll stick around as I try to make it to 1000.

 

  • I heard about a journalist who had a gig reviewing noodle soup, was jealous, then realised I could, if I put my mind to it, do that on my own, so I’m thankful for the idea.
  • I am once again appreciating our free medical services here in New Zealand, as over the last week or so an elderly relative has been going through diagnosis, ED (emergency department), hospitalisation, x-rays/CAT scans, tests, specialists, etc. We don’t have anything to worry about in terms of cost, and can focus on her ongoing comfort and well-being.
  • This is however unlike my travel insurance, where one incident – a fall that resulted in broken glasses and smashed up face – was treated as two separate claims, and so we had an excess payable both for my glasses and my medical costs; but I’m still grateful, as I got 75% of the costs of a new pair of glasses paid. I picked them up this morning, and I still like them (better than the ones I broke), which is a relief too.
  • A week or so ago I ran into someone I used to buy a lot of clothes from back in the late 90s and early 2000s, who charmingly said that I still looked as young as when she met me 20 years ago.
  • I’m currently going through all our holiday photographs to edit and put them into photobooks, and the whole process lets me relive the experiences all over again, which is an added bonus.
  • The free time I have currently is slightly bittersweet, as neither of us has any work right now, but it means that I can have an afternoon nap later (after two consecutive nights of watching the finals of the Wimbledon singles in the wee small hours) if I feel the need, and it meant that we could sit and watch the first episode of the latest series of Game of Thrones this afternoon, and that was fun.

 

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Our social media personas

It is common to say that our personas on social media are just characters we want to be, but I like to think our portrayals on social media are simply more selective but still reasonably accurate images of our lives. That’s largely true of whenever we go out in public, whether it is to work, or with friends, or family, isn’t it? Anyway, it got me thinking about who you see when I write here, or when I am on Facebook, and how accurate that is.

  • I’m actually not Mali (well, I am on Instagram as TravellingMali, and here on this blog, but not on Fb), but I don’t hide that fact, and after all these years, that’s not a surprise to most of you anyway. (Conclusion: Accurate)
  • I’m a traveller, and a wanna-be photographer (strictly amateur though), though in reality, I wish I was a much more frequent traveller than I actually am, and of course, I wish I was a much better photographer than I actually am. (Conclusion: Accurate)
  • I am someone who enjoys drinking wine, especially chardonnay, though in reality I have several non-alcoholic nights every week (a fact I know is shocking to some of my friends), and I probably drink more sauvignon blanc or red wine than chardonnay, so when I have it, it is a real treat (and therefore is Fb-able). (Conclusion: Reasonably accurate)
  • I’m a writer on A Separate Life, though in truth I write more broadly (or perhaps more specifically) than just here, and in some places I am brutally honest, and in others I hold back on expressing a lot of opinions on a lot of subjects, but then, that’s life too, isn’t it? (Conclusion: As accurate as general politeness allows)

How accurate is your own social media persona, or do you have more than one?

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Saying goodbye is hard

I have just cancelled my gym membership. I became a member at this chain of gyms in 2004, after my former personal trainer and physiotherapist, along with one of his colleagues (and one or two former clients as investors) set up their first gym. I’ve watched his company expand and achieve success, and have worked out at three of his gyms, each with a very different character and clientele, but each with high quality staff and facilities. Their own excellent physiotherapist clinics attached to the gym facilities have treated me with injured wrists, calves, knees, and a broken ankle. And every year I have enjoyed a free birthday massage, sometimes the only massages I get these days.

But I’m not driving into the city now on a daily basis, the only suburban gym in the group – the one with the amazing views and the wonderful drive around the bays to get there – is no longer working for me, given its distance from home, and the fact that other businesses are taking up all the available (and free) parking.

I need to change my workout routine, get into swimming, and have a cheaper gym membership nearby that I can visit regularly without taking up half of my day. But right now I’m mourning the loss of my lovely gym, the friendly people staff and the other members I have chatted to over the years, the views across Evans Bay, the scenic drive I took to get there, and the cafes where I would stop for a delicious coffee on the way home.

 

(Spoiler Alert)

Everyone is talking about The Handmaid’s Tale. When I knew that the TV series had been made and that my online streaming service was going to run it, I decided I needed to read the book first, and so immediately put a hold on it at the Library. I ended up reading it in Norway, fascinated and appalled in equal measure, wondering why I hadn’t read it before. Then, on my return home, I watched the whole series in about three or four sessions.

Because I read the book so close to watching the TV series, I was a little discombobulated at first by the variations in the story, but soon embraced them as it was so well told by both the writers and actors. It was stimulating, but I also found it deeply disturbing. You’d think that, as a woman who wasn’t able to have children, the fertility issues in the book and TV series might have bothered me. But I felt for both the fertile women forced into slavery, and for the infertile women who were either enslaved in domestic service, enslaved as Wives to powerful Commanders, or enslaved as Non-Women (though I’ll admit that this name delivered a painful pinch) in “the colonies.” All women were defined solely on the basis of their fertility. They weren’t seen as individuals in their own right, they weren’t allowed to choose their path in life. To me, The Handmaid’s Tale is much less about fertility, and much more about feminism, about how the world sees and behaves towards women.

As a feminist, I recognised a lot of the slights against women, the obvious and the more subtle, and cringed at the fact that they are still so familiar. So much of what was normal and accepted by men in this dystopian world is, in fact, also seen as normal and accepted unquestionably by men today. The Gilead world in the TV series may look very different, with the red uniforms for the Handmaids and the required green for the Wives, but the similarities were at the same time shocking and not shocking; the small and not-so-small slights, insults, and denial of women’s rights that are either not recognised as such, or are deemed acceptable in both worlds – the dystopian world and our own.

The dismissing of Serena Joy, despite the important part she played in the birth of the new regime of Gilead, is not that far from the dismissals we see of women’s views in workplaces and boardrooms and TV studios today. The scene where she was kept out of the room to discuss the very policies she had developed was not so different to my own experiences as the only female director of a company, when my comments and suggestions at the board table were dismissed by the male directors, only to be blatantly proposed again shortly afterwards by one of the men, to the acclaim and acceptance of his fellow male directors. This situation is such a cliché that there was a cartoon about it in Punch in the 1980s. Sadly, 30 years on this hasn’t changed.

The forced relinquishment of the babies, when Janine, for example, has to give up her baby and move on, reminded me of the not-too-distant past in some of our own countries, when forced adoptions occurred, frequently sanctioned by the church and state. Our own government in NZ has recently refused to open an inquiry into this situation, and that infuriates me.

The differences in control over women’s bodies and lives in fictional Gilead and NZ (and much of the world) today is merely a matter of degree. Abortion in NZ is rarely a political issue, simply because neither major party has the political will (ie courage) to discuss it; scared of the debate, they shut it down and refuse to engage. Whilst abortions are available in NZ, they are not available on demand, and women have to go through the process of getting two doctors’ to sign off on the procedure, treated as if they are not responsible enough to control their own bodies. (Though at least birth control is publicly funded and readily available).

I have to say, too, that the dehumanisation of the Handmaids’ name changes, defining them only in terms of their relationship with the man who was intended to father children on them, wasn’t so very different from how I felt (and still feel) about the pressure women face to take our husband’s names at marriage.

Back to Serena Joy. There is a scene where she is embroidering (or knitting?), sitting before the fire on her own. This is virtually the only leisure activity she is permitted. Reading is now prohibited. Did she really want that, when she wrote these laws and this policy? Did she foresee how far the men could take these policies when she was involved? Did she deserve this? Maybe, but I still felt real empathy for her and all the other women in Gilead, sitting in front of the fire on their own, stripped of all power and respect, not even allowed to read or write. They had lost power, recognition, and respect in this new world.

But seriously, how much power, recognition and respect do we have now? Patriarchies still rule most/all of the world. The rooms full of men making decisions about and for women don’t occur only in Gilead, or in regimes ruled by fundamentalists or dictators. We see them here today, in our own countries and in similar cultures, most pointedly and disturbingly at the moment, in the US. It is a demonstration of how quickly things can turn against us. Within six months, women have been forced to take a back seat in policy-making. The US Vice-President would welcome a Gilead-like environment. He (along with others in the administration) doesn’t see women as equals in business and wants to control women’s reproductive rights based on religious principles. I’ve seen changes occur here too, though to a much lesser extent. The heady days when we had a female Governor-General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, and CEO of our largest company have passed. Sure, we once again have a female Governor-General, the Chief Justice is still in her position, and both major political parties have women as deputies. But women in the executive branch of government are still in the minority, and we have made little progress in increasing the numbers of women in boardrooms and as CEOs over the last ten or twenty years. Sadly, the change of just a few key people at the top can suddenly remind over 50% of the population that we are still yet to take a rightful fair share of control in the world.

And yet it seems that we let this happen. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Whilst I’ve tried to lead by example in the past as the Chair of a company, I’m currently not employed, fighting against sexism and ageism in trying to find new employment, and I’ve never been politically active. There’s a scene in The Handmaid’s Tale when the new regime is just taking power, where Moira and June are discussing the changes, and say incredulously, “but they can’t do that, can they?” That’s our problem, I think. It is too easy to sit here and say this. From NZ, we look at the US and say, “but they can’t do that, can they?” And it seems they can, and will. I see my friends talking about calling and pressuring their representatives, and wish I could help them. Though the situation is far less urgent, and I hope we will continue to go the opposite direction, I am painfully aware that things could change in an instant, or an election.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling to me, was the scene in The Handmaid’s Tale where the women are sent home from work and their bank accounts frozen. June’s husband, thinking he is being supportive, says, “I’ll take care of you.” That scene screamed out to me. He was trying to mollify the women who were upset. Yes, he was trying to calm them, trying to help. But in doing so, he seemed to be accepting the new normal (even if he didn’t agree with it) because it hadn’t yet really affected him. Even the good guys don’t really get it. Neither do many women (like Serena Joy). They certainly don’t feel the fear or outrage to the same extent, or won’t until it is too late. And that’s what scares me more than anything.

Travel Business Confidence

I’m going to drip-feed a few travel stories from my trip, but I need more than eight sentences, so won’t be doing it on Mondays. I wrote a first story on the weekend here (The Great Puffin Hunt), and may continue writing on a new travel blog.

Yes, I know I have been procrastinating about restarting a travel blog for a long time, but the thing is, it is all bound up with procrastination over relaunching a travel business (designing custom-made itineraries for travellers) that I started many years ago. Back then, at the same time that I was starting to get clients, I also began getting a lot more (and better paid) consulting work that took all my time and energy. Consequently, my fledgling little business was sadly neglected and has effectively been put on hold for the last decade or so.

Times have changed, and whilst there is much more information available on the internet now to assist travellers, it can also be overwhelming and extremely time-consuming, so I still believe there is a market out there. I’m almost ready to relaunch it now, but I am still figuring a few things out, at the same time trying to boost my confidence. So at this stage, all I can say is watch this space.

 

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