Struggletown

It has been a hard week. Apart from one good night, I was averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a night. Then, with the puppies and kittens, it was just bananas. Oh, and Nathan was in Canberra, so it was all on me. A regular daylight hour would look like this:

Sit down to get some writing done.
Get up – somebody has jumped on the dining table; Posie barks.
Sit down.
Get up – the water bowl is empty.
Sit down.
Get up – Posie needs to go outside.
Sit down.
Get up – Posie needs to come back in.
Sit down.
Get up – the kittens have knocked over a lamp; Posie barks.
Sit down.
Get up – the mailman knocked on the front door; both dogs bark.
Sit down.
Get up – the kittens have gotten tangled in the cords behind the TV; Posie barks.
Sit down.
Get up – Rupert needs to go outside.
No, just tricking, he just wants a treat.
The cats heard the treat packet, and now they want a treat too.
Sit down.
Get up – Rupert really does need to go outside this time.
Sit down.
Get up – the kittens are scratching the furniture; Posie barks.
Sit down.
Get up – Rupert needs to come back in.
Sit down.
Get up – Rupert and Clover are fighting; Posie barks.
Go and fetch the crate; set it up; put Rupert inside.
Sit down.
Rupert is upset and whining for my attention; Posie barks.
The phone rings.
The kittens jump and drag their claws down the curtains; Posie barks.
Look at the clock, look at my word count, and despair.
Go insane and jump out the window, running far away, never to return.

There were a few stretches here and there where everybody was asleep and it was heavenly, so I did eventually get some writing done. Which was just as well – I had a deadline this week. I had to submit work for a masterclass I am attending in April, and it was nerve-wracking. I can’t say too much, other than that this class is a golden opportunity. It’s a very big deal. It wasn’t an ideal week to have such a big deadline, but I got there in the end and I’m so proud.

I can’t wait until I can finally share my work, or be able to say “you can buy my book at X”. It will be indescribably sweet.

Oh – it was also Valentine’s Day! I was completely taken by surprise when a lady knocked on my door with flowers and treats (as in, completely taken by surprise – I was in pajamas, looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards). Nathan wasn’t here, but he still made it lovely. And I also did Galentine’s oysters and Pimms with Mum and Caitlin, any excuse.

Year of the Pig

Last night, we had a big family dinner. Dad made two types of broth – spicy and not so spicy – and we cooked all sorts of things on the tabletop, like tofu puffs, pork, beef, prawns, scallops, fish and mushrooms. In Chinese, it’s called 火锅 (pronounced huŏguō) – also known as steamboat, hot pot, or shabu shabu in Japan. It was fun, but sweaty! Sometimes it’s such a drag living in the southern hemisphere and having all sorts of cozy wintery holidays fall in the middle of our hot summers. But c’est la vie, still fun.

I’ve started thinking more seriously about a Taiwan trip. One thing I have to do is really work on my Chinese – when I returned in 2016, I was speaking (very slowly and extremely simply) to most people within a few days, but I’m kind of concerned that I’ll have stage fright if Nathan’s with me. It’s so hard to stay on top of a language that you have no daily opportunity to practice. Sometimes – rarely – I will have dreams in Chinese, but it has been more than a decade now since I actually studied it. I will confess that some of it is an ego thing, because it’s pretty nice to be able to say “I speak two languages”, but it’s also a practicality thing – Chinese is the second most spoken language in Australia, but aside from that, Taiwan will always be my second home.

Making Pickles + Other Stuff

Yesterday I harvested six gigantic cucumbers from my summer garden, sliced and salted them, added chillies and onion and garlic, and tonight I’m making jars and jars of bread and butter pickles. I don’t really like cucumbers, but I’m mad for pickles, so it works for me. I’ll post photos on instagram if they turn out, and but this recipe is a secret.

It’s February tomorrow and I’m not ready for the summer to be more than half over, it feels like we’ve only just got started. Everything is feeling so fleeting, in a way that it never has before. When I was a kid, it felt like school holidays lasted for a lifetime, but now I can completely relate to old people who say that their children grew into adults in the blink of an eye.

So what else is happening?

I got two gorgeous picture books in the mail this week – Antoinette and Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson. They are so cute, but then I love any story about a dog.

The kittens are out of the bathroom and wreaking havoc wherever they go. It’s kind of exhausting as they are constantly getting into mischief. Posie and Rupert are coping very well with the whole thing, though fights happen here and there. Every now and then, we’ll have a few magical moments where everybody is calm and sometimes even sleeping, and this little home of ours feels positively cozy. And then it’ll be back to racing, barking, fighting, scuffling, eating each other’s food, knocking things off the dining table and getting tangled in the cables behind the television.

I’m trying to plan a few little diversions in this first half of the year, and so far I want to go to Canberra to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, to Phillip Island to see the fairy penguins (since I’ve never been), and out on the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles. I got an email alert for cheap flights to Tokyo today and was sorely tempted, but unfortunately no. Though, we are tentatively planning a possible trip to Taiwan in the third or fourth quarter, if all goes to plan.

Aside from all that, life right now is…

Trying not to eat cake.
Laying in bed watching The Crown.
Cups of tea made by my husband.
Being brave enough to eat the world’s hottest chilli pepper, but not brave enough to let the seaweed touch my feet when I’m swimming at the beach.
Turning the other cheek when people act like toads after you’ve done something nice for them.
Learning how to knit on double pointed needles.
A carpet burn from leaping onto the floor to break up a dog/cat fight.
Taking my vitamins and washing my face.
Reading all about the current debacles with the royals and feeling simultaneously grossed out and secretly enjoying that I have something even more dramatic than the Diana years happening in my era.
Finally taking the plunge to buy expensive bedside table lamps after having fretted about the purchase for almost a decade.
Practicing my driving and daydreaming about what sort of car to get.

Not very exciting, but I’ll long for this kind of calm soon enough, I know it.

Keep On Keeping On

Right now, I’m trying to knit some socks for the first time. It’s a steep learning curve. Note to the knitting community – you are not beginner-friendly and you seem to like it that way. I guess it makes you feel better to be in this exclusive knitting club that is too obscure and elite for regular people to ever hope to enter. I get it, because there are a lot of crafting communities like that, but I still don’t understand the mindset. Accessibility doesn’t diminish your own craft, so who does it hurt to share knowledge and nurture discovery? I hate how many “so easy for beginners!” patterns I have looked at that have no guidance or explanation whatsoever about the basics. It’s just so dumb to specifically market a project as being for ‘beginners’ but then leave out critical information that a beginner wouldn’t know. My latest problem has been that my pattern said I needed 2.25mm circular needles or double pointed needles – that was all it said. I bought said needles then realized that the cord was too long, so I bought shorter ones, and they are still too long. I am now waiting on a pair of needles from the UK that I’m assured are short enough for socks, but it would have been nice to have even the slightest bit of guidance on that to begin with. And my chances are dwindling of being able to knit Nathan a pair of fancy socks in time for Valentine’s Day. And I have the prettiest yarn lined up for the project (Nathan’s yarn is on the left, and there are two peachy ones for me on the right – yarns by Skein):

Aside from the endless frustration of (trying to and not) knitting, I have been cooking like mad. Last night was a chorizo and chicken paprika stew with rice, Greek yoghurt and spring onions. Later in the week, it will be red curry lentils, grilled salmon with couscous and green beans, Korean beef rice bowls with kimchi and bok choy. I’m feeling like the key to eating healthy is to be prepared – I have been writing out a meal plan a week in advance and having the ingredients on hand so I never get to that awful point where I have no ideas, no ingredients and I’m too hungry in that moment to make a good choice. We’ve already seen some changes in our bodies – encouraging, so far!

It has been an odd sort of month though. Not enough beach days, not enough fun of any sort. This season of life is all about persistence, little everyday efforts and keeping on going even when things are boring. And let’s face it: losing weight, learning to drive, decluttering – they are all so boring and it sucks sometimes to think ‘this is my life right now’. There are so many things I would rather be doing. But the reason for sticking with these things is that the reward is so big, and almost nothing wonderful ever comes easily. So it sucks, but it won’t suck as much soon.

Yes, driving. I haven’t talked about this much before because it’s embarrassing, but here I am – in my thirties without a driver’s license. The main reason is anxiety, but the root of the whole thing is that I never learned as a teenager, and when I left home, I lived one block from a train and another block from a tram and had no need for a car. But it’s becoming more and more vital that I get this done. For selfish reasons, like driving myself to yoga class or to the beach; for practical reasons, like being able to drop off the dry cleaning or drive Nathan to the airport bus terminal; for essential reasons, like being able to take P+R+C+P to the vet hospital in an emergency if Nathan’s in Canberra. I have started lessons with a new instructor who has been amazing so far – she’s so calm and has made me feel confident about driving in a way that no other instructor ever has. She challenges me but respects that I need to go at my own pace. I’m aiming to have my license by Easter, but any time before midyear would be wonderful.

Midsummer

The wisteria is coming in the house again. There are a couple of long tendrils that have snaked their way inside through gaps in the sliding window, and they have sprouted leaves in the living room. Adult me should have cut it back, but child me wanted to see how big it would grow… which was a mistake. The window has cracked, badly, in one corner. I don’t know if it’s directly related to the wisteria, because there was a hairline crack for a year or more before this all started. But maybe it exacerbated the situation. I don’t want to mess around with the wisteria too much, because it’s currently housing a nest with eggs right outside the window.

The garden is alive and dead all at once. I neglected my roses this year and they are gearing up for a second bloom, but I doubt it will be much to write home about. Around the back, things are getting bigger all the time. We planted tomatoes and cucumbers late, and despite lots of promising growth in progress, we haven’t had anything to harvest yet (though a single cucumber is going to be part of dinner tonight). I am dying to make big jars of pickles to eat all year long. Nathan’s little chili empire is going amazingly well though – I counted sixteen flowers on one plant, and we have a bunch of cayennes almost ready to pick.

There haven’t been nearly enough beach days this summer. The weather has been so mild that it feels like spring most of the time.

I have been cooking up a storm and everything I make is “the best thing ever”, only to be knocked off its throne with the next dish that is even better. I got a special new chefs knife for Christmas and we also got a multicooker, and it has been a revelation to spend so much less time in the kitchen for so much greater reward. These are my favourites so far – Greek pork, Korean beef, coconut tandoori chicken (the only amendment I would add is that everything needs more garlic than written, but this is pretty much a mantra for life in general).

Nathan is back at work, so I’m back to work too, and the puppies and kittens are also hard at work at being adorable all day. Things are getting better there – I will breathe the biggest sigh of relief when we get to the point where everybody is not so excited by each other anymore, and we can all be in the same room at the same time and just relax. It’s a long road.

We were sick last week and over the weekend, which gave me a bad case of cabin fever and made me pretty grouchy. We are making up for it now though – we went to the movies last night, and tonight we’re going to the beach. I heard there is a carnival in town but can’t find any details about it online… we might just have to take a drive down the coast and try out luck. It’s going to be hot all week, so any night would be ideal.

Aside from all of that, these long days really are the best days. There is so much energy and possibility in a day when the sun doesn’t go down until nine o’clock. Now, if we could just get some long hot days happening, then it would really feel like summer.

Kittens, An Update

No photos, unfortunately – it’s so hard to take nice photos of them in the bathroom, and everything I have on my camera roll turned out blurry. But they are so much bigger now!

Things were a bit doom and gloom last time I talked about the kittens – it was a rough time. I was in tears almost every day, constantly fretting that we had made a terrible mistake. The simple tasks of looking after them seemed like huge burdens, and I was miserable almost every minute of the day. But…

It got better.

It’s still not back to normal, but that was always going to be impossible because normal has changed. The kittens are still living in the bathroom for now, but we are slowly letting them explore other parts of the house. We’ve had some interactions between the dogs and cats that have been short but positive, and we’ll be stepping them up over the coming weeks while Nathan is home from work. I am not filled with misery every time they spill food or litter on the floor, or every time they shred a toilet paper roll and throw it all over the bathroom. We’re getting used to each other, slowly and little by little.

My uncle said something to me about kittens being little bastards, but once they emerge from all the chaos and destruction, it doesn’t matter about how you feel about the cats, they are in charge of the relationship and they will choose their human – you have no choice in this matter. I can see already that Plato vastly prefers Nathan and Clover seems to like me more. Who knows if this will flip in the future or if they’ll both claim Nathan or me as their human, but that is the way we are heading right now. I don’t want to play favourites but Clover is so much easier to love – she is so affectionate and sweet, and always seems delighted whenever I come to see her, as opposed to Plato who likes to spear me with one of his claws and drag down my leg until it bleeds (he’s a charmer). Clover is more sedate and likes lounging and regarding action around her, whereas Plato is into everything, chewing on cords, scratching up the furniture and prowling around like a little shadow demon. I sometimes think it would have been easier to just have Clover, but then I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable leaving them alone for such a long time on Christmas and Boxing Day – they snuggle together and keep each other company, which is sweet to see.

I wrote a paragraph about how the dogs were handling things a few days ago, but things have completely flipped and now everything is the opposite. Posie is struggling. Whenever they run around, she barks. Whenever they look at her, she barks. Whenever they breathe, she barks. And barks and barks. Rupert is going great though. He and Plato are obsessed with each other. Plato will slink up against him and follow him everywhere, nuzzle him and groom him. The two of them are having a full on romance under the bathroom door, crying at each other when they are separated. It’s just a tiny bit cute! I hope that Posie will get with the program, but like I said to my sister, she’s still waiting for Rupert to go home, so this playdate with the kittens has gone on long enough for her.

So, there is still a long way to go. Our next hurdles are: installing netting between the side of the house and the fence so that they can go outside once they’ve had all their shots; figuring out a solution for Plato to stop scratching the furniture and trying to chew cords; cleaning out the spare room (read: junk room) so that we can keep them in there when we can’t directly supervise. Lots to do, and adjustments are ongoing, but it does get better, and it will get better.

What Was and What Will Be

Every year I make grand resolutions and they rarely stick, so this year I did something different. If you haven’t heard of YearCompass, you have now – do it. It’s such a cathartic exercise to celebrate what was good, let go of what was bad, and have a clear view of how you would like to approach the year ahead. Here are some excerpts from what I wrote in my booklet:

2018

This year, I…
Visited Grandma in hospital for her birthday and took her roses from my garden
Went to So Frenchy So Chic in the Park with Nathan
Rupert got pneumonia and had to stay overnight in hospital
Got a paddle pool for the backyard that was heavenly
Went to Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time with Mum
Fell through the floor of the shower and horrifically injured my leg, went to hospital a bunch of times and spent the best part of five months on the couch and going to constant physio appointments
Saw Roger Waters with Nathan’s family
Did nothing for Valentine’s Day
Celebrated Chinese New Year – Year of the Dog – with my family
Went to my first ever embroidery class
Attended Aunty Marie’s Easter curry buffet and wine making
Grandma died and it was horrible
Saw Tosca with Nathan, Mum and Dad
Saw Belle and Sebastian, my all time favourite band, with Nathan
Had Posie and Rupert be models for the rescue dogs book
Went to look at a display house that might end up being a model for our future home
Signed up for Fiona McIntosh’s masterclass next year
Went to Nobu for lunch with Nathan
Went to see Julius Caesar
Caitlin and Jennifer were in the Lombok earthquake
Went to Sydney to the RWA Conference
Celebrated 1 year of marriage, had dinner at Bistrot Plume
Went to Werribee Zoo with Nathan for our birthday and did the serval cat encounter which was amazing
Had the worst TN attack of my life and spent months either brain dead or in horrific pain
Got my first fabric mermaid tails
Dyed my hair red
Went to a wedding
Refused to give another damn ever again about people who could not give a single damn about me during the worst year of my life
Saw the neurologist and finally got some answers, but more questions to be answered in February
Went on a great trip to Bali and had a magical weekend there with Nathan
We tried to buy a block of land but missed out, but have a clearer idea of our future moves
The shower finally got repaired by Dad
Rupert had pneumonia again
Had a minor but gross surgery on my toenail
Saw La Bohème with Dad
Found out I have to go back to the eye surgeon next year
Adopted two kittens
Started work on my first novel

It’s a lot. There were exciting and wonderful things here and there, but the grand sum of my year is that I didn’t have a very good time. And by extension, neither did Nathan. It was rough and hard and mean and sad and grey most of the time, and I’m so glad to be done with it all. This year was a trial, and I’m ultimately glad that I had the strength to bear it, but it was wearing nonetheless. I feel so… rumpled by the whole thing, like I have less stamina for hope and optimism in the future, but all I can do is keep faith that it will come back. Summer is good like that – it has a way of reinvigorating you, right down to your bones.

2019

Next year, I would like to…
Make my house a joyful and cozy place to be (more fairy lights and plants!)
Grow to love the kittens and have a happy and harmonious household of six
Give Posie and Rupert the best lives they can have in their twilight years
Be a better wife in every way I can
Start yoga practice again because it makes me feel so much better when I do it
Find skype language partners for French and Chinese so I can be conversationally fluent again, and who knows, maybe start another language too (I’m considering Swedish because apparently it’s easy for English speakers)
Write this damn novel, just get it done so I can finally feel some satisfaction about it
Lose this damn weight and be able to actually wear my 150+ dresses
Consider the possibility of our little family doing some further multiplying
Do some fun runs and not sprain my ankle 50m from the start
Have as many beach days as possible
Hopefully buy some land for a future forever house
Finally get my drivers license so I can take myself to the beach any old time I please
Make my garden beautiful again, as well as be able to grow enough produce to make my own pickles, preserves and ferments
Go to the movies more often, because I love arthouse and foreign cinema but I rarely go
Knit, crochet, embroider, quilt, draw, paint, whatever – just be creative again
Learn how to use my new multi-cooker like a pro and be the queen of freezer meals so if I break my leg, I never have to live through months of takeout ever again
Finally get the gallery wall happening in my lounge room after years of dithering on the issue
Hopefully take Nathan to Taiwan in the second half of next year, so he can see where I’m from and understand why a part of my soul will always live there

That’s also a lot. I hope I have enough energy for all this stuff because I’m tired even just typing it. It’s hard to open myself up to the possibility that everything might not be disastrous and calamitous, because that’s how things have tended to go this year. I feel like I’m constantly bracing myself for the next bad thing, the next phone call, the next funeral, the next injury, the next TN flare. Life shouldn’t feel like that, and I’m hoping that next year is the year that proves to me – reminds me – why I should have faith in good things happening, why I should be optimistic about the future.

2019, I’m counting on you!

Merry Christmas 2018!

I meant to post this on Christmas Eve, but we ended up a bit busy. So here it is:

Merry Christmas from our little family of six (!) to yours, hope it was magical and full of fun, family and festive cheer. We had a wonderful four days, I am worn out beyond belief, but can’t wait to do it again next year.

Getting To Know You

It has been a week with the kittens, and the biggest thing I have learned is… unfortunately, I’m definitely, absolutely for sure, a hundred percent a dog person. The complicating factor is that one of the kittens in particular has grown on me, so giving them back is not an option either. But the good thing is that cats require play, care and affection, but they don’t seem to demand a reciprocal and complex emotional relationship like dogs do. The cats are still confined to the bathroom – sometimes I go in there and they are all over me, sometimes they act like I’m a big annoyance. This is okay. We coexist, I take care of them, we like each other most of the time, but mostly, we’re just getting to know each other.

We are going to move them to the spare room though. They won’t be able to get water from the shower everywhere, we’ll be able to set up a bigger cat tree for them, they will be able to look out of the window. But best of all, I’ll be able to have a shower in peace and won’t have to deal with the crunch of spilled kitty litter all over the floor all the time. The cats are threatening to escape the bathroom every time we go in, so it’ll be better for them to be in a lower traffic area of the house.

How do I feel? I don’t know. It’s just so complicated. I wish we had thought it over for 24 hours before actually saying yes to them, I wish Nathan hadn’t dumped them on me during a week when he was in Canberra. I wish that maybe we’d gotten an older cat, or fostered kittens before adopting. I wish that I could have enjoyed Christmas before taking on this little project. I wish that I could have enjoyed being unencumbered by my leg or by TN for a little while longer without something else to suck up all my energy. Do I regret the kittens? Maybe. I think I regret getting kittens at all, but I don’t regret them specifically because I’m growing to like them and would be sad to see them go after having had them. But if I could rewind to a place where we never got them and never met them, and none of us would know or remember the difference, I probably would.

I’m sure this is just teething pains. It won’t always be like this, things will eventually settle into some sort of normal. And maybe things will even be better than they were before, who knows. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that, and trying to focus on enjoying Christmas despite this bit of chaos.

Introducing…

I’m feeling loads better after my last post. It helped so much just to write it all out and share it. Now that it’s mostly over, I can get on with the business of first time kitten-owning. Without further ado, I’d like to introduce my newest little companions…

Clover and Plato

They are twelve weeks old, brother and sister. Extremely cute and extremely little. Clover is hyper and ultra playful, but loves snuggling – we’re already up to headbutting, slow blinks and kneading, I think she loves me. Plato is more shy and reserved, I don’t know him quite as well yet. He has played a few times, but he’s definitely more skittish than his sister. The two of them are so bonded though, which makes me so happy that we could keep them together, and it makes my job so much easier because they are not clamouring for my attention all the time. I keep finding them spooning or snuggling with each other, and they love to wrestle each other, it’s so sweet.

Introducing them to the dogs hasn’t really happened yet and it’s going to be a long road. The cats are confined to the bathroom for now, and I think it will be the case for at least a few weeks or maybe even months. We placed the carrier in the lounge room for only a few seconds when we first got home, and while Posie was excited, Rupert was immediately in ‘stalking prey’ mode. So everything needs to be gentle, calm and most of all supervised… this is probably an introduction that is going to take months.

I was so panicky in the first few hours because they went on a series of rampages, and were throwing water and litter (like literally scooping their paws and throwing it in the air like confetti) all over the bathroom. I’ve already cleaned up in there five times. They are also pretty violent when playing, and I’ll walk in and find bowls overturned and their little lion scratching post laying on its side on the opposite side of the room. So many bangs and thumps from the bathroom, and it’s worrying Posie and Rupert a lot.

So far… I am stressed out. Two kittens is a lot, and although there are some really good benefits to having two (like they entertain each other and don’t feel lonely with each other), the concept of “I now own two kittens and will for the next 15-20 years” is really rattling me. There are loads of forum posts online about people who had horrible anxiety over adopting kittens, but most of them were cured just by time. The kittens have been home for less than 24 hours at this stage, and we are still very much getting to know each other. It has also been a crazy time because a dissipating cyclone has hit, we’ve had thunder and lightning, and it has been raining continuously since last night, so Posie and Rupert aren’t the happiest dogs in the world.

The whole thing so far has been 20% cute and fun, 70% freaking out and 10% regret. It’s horrible to say that I have any regret at all, and I’m sure it will eventually go away, but I’m haunted by this feeling of “what if we’ve made a terrible mistake? what if we’re not cat people? what if they just never love us? what if we chose the wrong ones? what if we should have gotten older cats instead of hyper kittens?” etc. It’s easier today though – they are just sleeping and requiring almost nothing from me, but last night they were total little horrors. They didn’t calm down until about 1:30am, but they did let me sleep a normal amount.

I know it will get better and easier in time, or I hope it will. It could be worse, they could be puppies or babies, which would be a lot harder.