A Nice Break

A change is as good as a holiday, but a change and a holiday is a whole new me. Let’s talk about this in two parts:

Bali

Nathan came with me to Bali for a long weekend (and is an absolute hero for doing so – his work schedule was hectic but he still carved out some time for us). It was so… needed. After all the everything of this year, it was our first time to actually just enjoy each other’s company. Nathan used some points to get us a little chalet at our resort away from the hustle and bustle of the main area, and it was blissful.

And we’ve had many conversations about whether we need a twelve foot bed in our house and a pool in our backyard (answer is yes, duh).

After Nathan had to go home, I went to Ubud to stay in my favourite little bed and breakfast style hotel. The plan was that I would just write and write and write – this didn’t happen to the extent that I hoped for. First reason was that fluctuating power in Ubud meant that my laptop electrocuted me while charging, twice. Second reason – the medication I’m (still) on for trigeminal neuralgia has had two nefarious effects. It has given me a rash all over my body that has been driving me mad. The second part is that the medication is well known for turning people into bumbling zombies. We’re talking major cognitive deficits. I have struggled with things like paying for my prescriptions with a credit card or ordering from a menu, so as you can imagine, writing has been an insurmountable task*. So I didn’t get much done. But reading has been fine, swimming for about 4 hours a day (I have a tan!) and eating – I found a warung near my hotel that made the most amazing tuna curry (I know – tuna in curry? I was shocked too, but it’s really good) that was so delicious that I went back for it three times.

Here’s a story though: one night, I went out for dinner and made my first fatal mistake – I ordered beef carpaccio. In low season, in a regional area. It came out from the kitchen and I could immediately smell it. Like a toilet. I froze up, knowing that I was the only person in the restaurant, they would see if I flung it into the bushes, and I would die of shame to send something back or refuse to eat it. So I ate it. Tasted like a toilet too (I imagine). I struggled on through, diplomatically eating about two thirds of the plate before fussing with the remaining slices to make them look smaller and hiding them underneath some rocket. It was so bad, and yes, I paid for it later. Only for about thirty six hours, but still – I am so ridiculous that I will risk getting typhoid or whatever rather than hurt a stranger’s feelings.

Aside from that, my trip was calm, peaceful and uneventful. I skipped a lot of things that I usually do – no massages, no classes, no sightseeing, not a lot of shopping. Just a lot of restorative time by myself to recover from the year that was.

Home

When I got home, Dad had put in a mammoth effort and put a shower in our bathroom for us, after nine months of having to go to Mum’s every day. It took him three weekends, but I can’t even describe how much this has changed my life. Yes, seriously. The day after I got home, I just woke up, had a shower in my own house at my leisure, put on clean clothes, and it was such a revelation. There is so much self-esteem and positivity in being able to do these small rituals of self-care.

Conclusion

Both of these things together have signaled such a fresh start for me, it’s unbelievable. I came home full of hope and optimism, like I’d shrugged it all off and the year’s worth of bad things was all behind me. It was such a relief, and now I finally feel like I can get on with things. Aside from the novel, I have a bunch of upcoming projects and instead of approaching them with dread, I’m so excited. Instead of feeling tired before we’ve even begun, I can’t wait for what the future holds.

* This is slowly getting better. I am weaning off the medication because the flare seems to be over, so we’ll see how this goes. It’s really hard to be a writer who isn’t writing, and it’s especially hard when everybody is crowing about their NaNoWriMo triumphs and you are averaging 300 words a day. But it’s coming back. Maybe January will be my novel writing month.

I Write This From the Pool

Seriously.

I’m in Bali. Nathan was here for the first weekend, now I’m on my own. I’ll write more when I get home, but it’s all about sleeping*, eating**, swimming***, writing**** and reading***** right now.

* Luxuriously for as long as I want.

** Lobster rolls and dragonfruit and mahi curry.

*** Every single day, sometimes twice (part mermaid, after all).

**** Trying, mostly.

***** Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain and Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman at the moment.

Little Bits – October Edition

Countdown is on for Bali, we’re almost single digits. I’m so ready for this. I never feel so powerful and in control of my own life as when I’m overseas. But aside from that, I’ve been listening to the song “Fascinating Rhythm” and thinking about the line – ‘Oh how I long to be the girl I used to be’. I was in Bali just over a year ago for our honeymoon, and that girl is worlds away from how I am now. This year has done a number on me, as I’ve talked about over and over. It would be so nice to be spontaneous and fun and optimistic again, maybe this is the ticket.

I love October. This morning alone has been thundery, stormy, dark and now bright and sunny. It’s kind of humid too, which I am loving. I also love how green and fresh everything is in October, how the weather is up and down, but summer beckons. It’s also a little respite from having to be places and see people every weekend, which is very welcome after the eight birthdays/anniversaries/Father’s Days that we have to get through in September.

I just realized that I haven’t posted about our birthday yet – I will get onto that very soon! This week or next. I promise it was exciting.

Also exciting is this: we have a solution to the shower issue. All year (since I fell through the floor) we’ve been going to Mum’s every day for showers. Not ideal and a huge chunk out of our days. For a bunch of reasons, including potentially knocking the house down next year and wanting just a shower rather than a whole bathroom, my dad is putting in an ugly but functional, practical but safe solution. I can’t wait to just, without thought or planning, get up in the morning and have a shower and get dressed. I can’t wait to be able to exercise and have a shower afterwards, instead of waiting around until I get to go to Mum’s. I can’t wait to be able do things like gardening or deep cleaning without having to sit around all sweaty and dirty afterwards. It’s going to be glorious. I’ll have ten showers in a row, just because I can.

So we went to a wedding last week, and I would have had full length photos but we were in such a screaming rush to get there, it just didn’t end up happening. And possibly for good reason. Not to rat anybody out, but somebody wasn’t listening when I said that I (a regular girl, not high maintenance at all) would need extra time to do my hair and makeup. Somebody didn’t listen to my constant comments that “we need to go now” and “we don’t have enough time for that, let’s go”. As a result, another somebody ended up with a total of 30 minutes total to have a shower, shave my legs, get dressed and do hair and makeup. As a further result, I ended up with scruffy hair that was still wet when we got in the car and the quickest makeup job of all time. I looked like this:

Yep. It was bad.

Sleeping Puppies and Spring Gardens

We had precisely one warm day yesterday, now it’s drizzling and miserable outside. I’m glad though – I forgot to water the garden last night, but the rain has more than made up for it today. There are so many things in the garden that are brimming with expectation, slowly and quietly working towards something wonderful. I’m also engineering some wonderful of my own – in the garden, we’re going with tomatoes, cucumbers*, radishes, basil and something else that I haven’t quite decided yet. I’m also thinking of growing some lettuce in a tub under the shade of the porch, and some of the herbs that I will need at Christmas time. But the big project is… we have a garden bed at the front of our house that is usually just a weed patch, but I thought – we’ve never had sunflowers before, and nowhere gets more sun than this patch. Fingers crossed that it works.

The little dogs of mine have been sulking for the last two days though – they must think that I’m doing it on purpose, making it hot and cold. They have little beds that get placed around the house and constantly moved around, but I think they are finally in perfect positions right now. Rupert can bask in the morning sun, Posie can hide in a little nook where she can sleep, knowing that nobody is going to step on her. They swap all the time though, and play musical chairs with the furniture as well.

It’s almost time to go to Bali. I booked it so long ago, and now that we’re almost there, I’m so glad I did – I need this trip like crazy. This year has been unabashedly horrible. Between my leg and the shower and the TN and my grandma, I am beyond ready to get away for a little while. But aside from the physical rest, I’m looking for a particular kind of restoration. I want to feel excited about things again, and not exhausted before we’ve even started. I want to feel hopeful and content and optimistic again, and not this miserable lump of meh all the time. I think this is just the ticket.

*This is the exact part where I had to pause because Rupert threw an adorable little tantrum on the rug and demanded that I stop and drop everything to pat his little belly.

The Latest Flare

Sometimes things don’t really go to plan. I had planned on having the house cleaned and the bathroom fixed; I had planned on posting all about my amazing birthday; I had planned to lose a bunch of weight before our Bali trip and be all Ultimate Butterfly Princess for social media photos (it’s the dream), but… life happens. The particular brand of life that happened in the last eight weeks was not my favourite, but I can finally say that things seem to be getting better. Let me go back to the beginning.

In mid-August, I started getting fairly regular trigeminal neuralgia attacks. It didn’t bother me too much – when it happens all the time, you kind of build up a tolerance to it, and it becomes normal to function with a certain cloud of pain over you most of the time. Not ideal. But it was bearable until the first week of September, when it started getting much worse. I started taking medication and tried to just grin and bear it. Until late-September when suddenly all hell broke loose.

I don’t want to go through all the gory details. But the pain was unbelievable. I ended up going to hospital and being drugged out of my mind for over a week. I still can’t remember the exact sequence of events because the whole week felt like I was in a coma. I barely got out of bed, barely ate or drank, could not do anything at all except look at my phone for 5 minute intervals here and there.

But let’s focus on what’s important: I am so much better now. I am still feeling weak and tired with a lot of clumsiness and cognitive confusion (that is likely from medication), but almost zero pain. I am so grateful for this, but also freaking out a bit. I like to plan things, a lot, and suddenly I’m realizing that I don’t have the degree of control that I previously thought. A lot of my future plans are up in the air because I just can’t count on the future looking how I imagine. My brain is full of ideas (buy the nice plates! go to Taiwan! stop worrying so much!) that are clashing with a bunch of other ideas (now that you’re good again, you should work out, take your vitamins and do mindfulness every day so you’ll never take ‘being well’ for granted again)… I’m sure I’ll find balance somehow, but it’s such a strange time.

Saturday

On Saturday, we turned 11 – or, 10+1. Which is… 11 years together, 1 year married. It should have been momentous, it could have been stupendous, but we’re both going through this unfortunately tired and stressed phased right now, so we dropped a lot of balls. I didn’t even get him a card, which I’m still sad about. But we did something special together that totally made up for it.

I’ve got a secret love, you see. My love for Asian food is out and proud, but French food is something that has always been a distant, inscrutable, mysterious thing. Perhaps because we never cooked it at home until recently, but mostly because I had never been to a French restaurant. Until Saturday.

We went to Bistrot Plume in Belmont. I had been begging to go there for at least a year, but Nathan (being Nathan) was dragging his feet. He never wants to go anywhere, and is always astonished when my recommendations are great. Anyway, we finally went.

We had:

Oysters mignonette. Steak tartare with a gorgeous glossy egg yolk and some shoestring potatoes. Garlic escargot floating in little pools of butter. Crispy skinned barramundi served on bouillabaisse with whipped cod roe croutons. Cassoulet with pork belly and confit duck leg. Green salad with radish and pickled shallot. Pear frangipane tart with salted caramel sauce. Creme brûlée with pistachio biscotti.

It was so indulgent and gorgeous, we had a great night. I loved everything except the snails, but to my credit, I tried one and could tell they were objectively delicious, but just not for me. The dining room was so intimate and quaint, and I felt far too self-conscious to take out my phone and take some photos, so you’ll just have to go see for yourself. Their lunch and breakfast menus look really good too – we’ll be back as soon as I can muster up some excuse.

As for the actual anniversary part, it was nice. It was especially nice holding hands across the table with the man who is my husband, the man who I’ve weathered and rejoiced over more than a decade with, the man who I will be old and grey with one day.

What Has Really Been Going On

I’ve talked at length about what a horrible year this has been, but I’ve been sketchy on the details the whole time. I usually don’t talk about hard stuff on the internet, but it seems fair for anybody reading to have the full picture, rather than the little breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping. So here they are:

I fell through my bathroom floor and injured my leg so badly that I needed 7+ months so far of rehabilitation and it is permanently disfigured (I call it the Zombie Leg because it’s usually grey, sometimes blackish purple). It’s still not 100% in terms of functionality and perhaps never will be again. I’ve been feeling incredibly down about it, and how it’s just another thing to add to the list of my scars and battle wounds and ways that my body is disfigured forever and ever.

In this time, we discovered that Nathan’s standards in housework and meal planning/prepping are not the same as mine (not that he didn’t try – thank you Nathan!), so our house became an overwhelming junk pile of insurmountable trash and we both got really unhealthy from eating takeout all the time. This was going to be the year of getting our health and fitness levels under control, and for the first six months, we went so far backwards – incredibly disheartening.

Something I’m still sore about is how revealing it ended up being about the lack of community around us. Very few people helped out during this time. I get that ‘severe haematoma, sprained knee, lacerations and massive soft tissue damage’ doesn’t sound as dramatic as ‘broken leg’ or whatever, but I was really shocked at the number of people we were supposedly close to who didn’t even care to ask how it was going or if we needed any help. A positive from that is that I have a much clearer idea now of who our real friends are.

Just before Christmas, my grandma went into the emergency department with pneumonia. She never came home and died in April. This was awful, but worse still because there was so much up and down, so much hope and grief drawn out over such a long time… so many months spent dreading every phone call just in case it was the worst. I still miss being able to just call her and ask her questions about gardening or tell her stories about how spoiled my dogs are so she could pretend to disapprove. There are so many stories I’ve never heard or I’m only just learning now, and I know it’s going to be hard in the future when wonderful things happen and I won’t be able to share these things with her. But she was very religious, so if there is a heaven, I know she’d be there, and she’ll just know without me having to say anything.

A few weeks ago, my sisters were in the Lombok earthquake. It was horrendous and there was a full hour where our family thought that we were exchanging the last messages we would ever send to my sisters before they died in a tsunami (tsunamis, or specfically Posie and Rupert being ripped from my arms in a tsunami, is one of my recurring nightmares so it rattled me a lot). They saw so much death and destruction, and I will never forget my sister’s description of the violence of the shaking knocking her to the floor, and running as fast as she could while buildings collapsed all around her. I would never want to say that “my trauma” was anything on the same scale as what they experienced, but it was such a terrifying thing that rippled out from them and really affected me too. My sisters were watching Dante’s Peak this afternoon and making jokes about how unrealistic the earthquake depictions were, but I could barely look at the screen as this huge swell of anxiety surged through me. It’s making me a bit anxious about my Bali trip in nine weeks too.

So there it is. I’m not writing this for pity, mainly so I can stop vague-posting. Life isn’t meant to be wonderful all the time, but it has been a shocking run. I never expected my first year of marriage, especially, to look like this – being a newlywed is supposed to be blissful and fun, not watching your depressed wife lay on the sofa chowing down painkillers for months while your house turns into a hovel. But things are finally turning a corner, and there are exciting things coming up. I have a feeling this next year is going to be the honeymoon year that we didn’t really get to have.

We are going to Bali in October. I’m so excited about this, because originally I was going by myself and was a bit down about it… but Nathan surprised me by taking a few days so we can be together for the first part of the trip. The rest of it will be my writerly retreat of solitude – I am fully planning to eat banana pancakes every day, swim in the pool, nap, read, dodge geckos and get a ton of writing done. I am currently in the planning stages of my novel – I want it all plotted before we go so I can dive straight into it.

Another good thing is that we got a treadmill (I’m calling it the dreadmill). Magpie season is especially bad around here because we live right near a nature reserve, so it will be great to exercise indoors for the next few months and not risk losing an eyeball every time I leave the house. I’m making a plan to be able to run the 5km in the Melbourne Marathon with my sisters in a few months, wish me luck!

It’s our birthday in a few weeks (yes, it’s the same day) and I haven’t got any concrete plans yet, but I think it should be a full treat yo’ self kind of day. I sorta kinda want to go to the Pancake Parlour, even though I always regret it when the food coma hits after drinking those giant soda floats. We’ll see. But I also kinda sorta want to go on safari at the open range zoo. And I sorta kinda also just want to have an at home spa day with Lush bath bombs and expensive body butter, lay around all day in a robe, eat sushi, drink Veuve Clicquot and watch Bridesmaids and How to Make an American Quilt and The Joy Luck Club and Twister (ha). Again, we’ll see. It is Nathan’s birthday too, so I have to balance what I want with what he wants (he’d probably love any of those options, to be honest).

And in April, I’m doing the single biggest thing to date for my writing career by attending Fiona McIntosh’s masterclass in South Australia. I am thrilled that she has such a stellar record of getting attendees on the track to publication, but into really good contracts too. It seems like she has such a knack for knowing how to give people the tools to turn themselves from hopefuls into professionals, so I can’t wait. Next year is going to be the year I sell a novel, I can feel it. When it happens, I’m honestly going to throw myself a party. An excuse to buy some more expensive shoes and wear one of my completely over the top cupcake dresses, if nothing else. I never had an 18th or a 21st, but it seems like such a bigger milestone to celebrate my first novel, so why not?

And of course, we’re building the dream house in about twelve months. I am beyond excited for that. I’m calling it Barbie’s dream house, Nathan is calling it Chateau von Doggeaux. Either way. I will be sad to leave this little house behind, especially because of all the memories, like bringing Posie home for the first time or when we got engaged. But the memories won’t go away just because the house will.

Apart from that, the summer beckons. I love summer, every second of the year that is not summer, I am yearning for it to come back. But this year, I have something that will make it especially fun. This is the one thing I’m not going to be completely upfront about in this post – it wouldn’t make quite the splash if I gave it away before I have photos for the full effect (yes, that is a very big hint!).

This post has made me feel better already. The negatives were horrendous, but the future is bright!

Whirlwind Sydney Weekend

It’s no secret that I’ve had a rough year. I was meant to have a manuscript written by now, but that didn’t happen. We were meant to have a solution on the shower situation, but it still hasn’t happened (at least it’s a lot closer now). I’m still having issues with my leg, I’m still trying to get even just to the level of health and fitness that I was at pre-leg calamity, and a bunch of other hard things have happened as well. So it was so nice to get away for the weekend for the RWA annual conference in Sydney.

I stayed at the ultra-plush Sofitel Wentworth, and was thrilled that there was a little book in my room with photos of when Charles and Diana stayed there (it was the last place that they publicly danced as a couple), the Queen went to a gala in the very ballroom I was in, Andrew and Fergie were there too, plus Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, and a whole bunch more. I loved all the chandeliers and beautiful flowers, and it’s gorgeous when hotels have grand pianos being played in the lobby. And it was beyond brilliant to finally have a long, luxurious bath in a marble bathroom (while eating chocolates, of course).

The conference was good – numbers were down, so it wasn’t quite as hectic as Adelaide was. I met some people and learned A LOT. I didn’t pitch this year, but I did completely embarrass myself by sitting next to a legendary writer who has sold millions of copies of her work and has won so many awards, and I asked her if it was her first conference and what genre she published in. She was gracious, but I was mortified to see her on stage two seconds later and I realized who she was. Luckily this seems to be a regular thing – one of the panelists recounted when she met a lovely woman in a conference buffet line and asked her whether she was published yet, and it turned out to be Nora Roberts.

The whole thing was pretty exhausting though. I’m looking forward to next year – it’ll be in Melbourne, which automatically makes things much cheaper, plus the theme is extremely conducive to me potentially wearing a mermaid tail to the cocktail party – may have to bring Nathan along to push me in a wheelchair, we’ll see!

Some photos:

 

A tiara for the cocktail party

On Monday, I had a little bit of time to kill before my flight home, so I wandered around Circular Quay. Sydney is not my favourite city by a long shot, but it’s kind of magical around the harbour. I went to an oyster bar right on the water with a view of the bridge, and sat in the sun for a long, grazing lunch. The water below was clear turquoise and teeming with little puffs of jellyfishes. I ate three different types of oysters and some delicious crab on toast (sounds really boring, let me elaborate: king crab with aioli, capers, pickled fennel and lemon on toasted ciabatta – fixed it, sounds loads fancier than ‘crab on toast’). Also try angasi oysters if you see them on a menu – they are a native mud oyster that I’d never tried before, and they were so good.

I had previously asked Nathan if he’d come up for the weekend with me (he didn’t want to because he likes Sydney even less), but that was the moment that I wished so much I could have shared with him. But there will be other times, I’m sure. And I think he secretly enjoyed having some time at home by himself to indulge in his secret bachelor behaviour (he did NOT buy a bucket of frozen pre-fried chicken from the supermarket this time, thank god).

How P+R Got Their Names

Inspired by Taza’s post this morning, I wanted to share a little about how Posie and Rupert’s names came to be. I have been obsessed with names since I was a little girl, and I was always trying on different names and begging to be called something else like Danielle or Henrietta. Luckily, I’ve come round to being perfectly happy with Johanna Rose! These days, I have a huge and ever-growing list on Nameberry – I seriously have enough for twenty kids, so it will be a bittersweet task pruning it down for the much smaller number of children and pets that I do end up having in my life.

Anyway, Posie and Rupert.

Obviously, we got Posie first. I didn’t actually know that we were getting a puppy until the weekend that we got her, and I was so enchanted by her that at first I couldn’t think of anything to name her. As we sat in the car with her minutes after receiving her, we ran through a bunch of names but nothing seemed to suit her. She was Miso (because of her colour – like white miso paste) for about five minutes, and I also suggested Claudia and Gretel and Cinderella and Pixel. She was spunky and independent, even in those first moments, so I knew she needed something unique. She seemed like a Rosie, but I suddenly remembered the Noel Streatfeild books about the ballet sisters and had a vague memory that one of the sisters was called Posie (actually Posey).

So Posie it was! I liked the fact that we both have floral names, and that it lends itself very easily to a Chinese name – Xiaohua (literally ‘little flower’). I also liked that Posie is traditionally a nickname for Josephine, which is a nickname that I am often called. And Josephine was an Empress of France – we didn’t know it at the time, but Posie has definitely grown into her role as queen of the household.

Nathan wasn’t immediately sold on her name. Posie has him wrapped around her paw nowadays, but at the time I know he had some reservations about having such a dainty little white fluffy dog with such a cute name. But it suits her so perfectly now – I can’t imagine her being called anything else. It’s unusual and a bit sassy, but so classic and conjures up images of a perfect little cottage garden full of fairies. Posie is a relatively rare name these days, but it is always exciting when I encounter people called Posie/Posey/Poesy in the wild.

Rupert actually came with his name when we adopted him, but it ended up being perfect and it’s what I would have chosen for him anyway. It means ‘bright fame’, and was the name of a historical King of Germany as well as a cartoon character. When we had been searching for a second dog, we’d debated names for our future dog (I can’t remember what any of them were now), thinking we’d have to change their name. But when we got Rupert, his name suited him so perfectly that we dropped the idea and never revisited it. I love that his name is warm and soft, classic and cute.

Together, the dogs sound like an adorable old couple in an English country nursing home. We have toyed with the idea of them having middle names, but can’t agree or decide on anything, so I guess they are just Posie and Rupert. If we ever get another dog, we will continue the theme of cute, unusual but old fashioned names for our animals.

As for future human names, I will never tell until it’s written on a birth certificate – seen way too many people with way too many opinions about this kind of thing, so it’s better to lock everybody out of the decision-making process until it’s already said and done, and there’s nothing they can do about it. But it’s going to be agonizing to decide one day. Though I suppose that whatever I don’t use, I always have the opportunity to use all these gorgeous names on characters in my writing. Or I can get chickens. And then more chickens, and more, and more. 🙂

Only the Best Boys

Yesterday was such a hard day – Rupert saw the vet on Tuesday who found that he had a cracked tooth, so he was booked in for dental surgery in less than 24 hours. Yesterday, all we could do was sit at home keeping all our fingers crossed for him. It’s a big ask for an almost thirteen year old dog, especially one with pre-existing health issues.

But he did really well. He ended up needing four teeth out – we were horrified and felt like the worst owners in the world, but apparently the vet worked on a dog the day before who needed twenty seven teeth out and was only nine years old… so we felt slightly better. Aside from the cracked tooth, one of the other ones actually had an embedded/infected ring of shark cartilage causing some problems around it (one of his former favourite snacks). I felt so bad that he’s been in pain and we haven’t even realized.

Since he got home, he has been up and down. Extremely floppy and miserable, sometimes crying and needing to be held all the time. Being strange in that he wants me to be close to him and look at him at all times, but also feeling vulnerable and growling at me. However, I went into the kitchen to get him a snack when he first got home, and he immediately leaped out of bed and came trotting in to see what I was doing. He ate some tinned oysters (only the best boys get tinned oysters), wet dog food and half a soft bread roll, and he has seemed very interested in anything that I am eating. The vet told us that he could be a whole new dog after these extractions, because after the initial recovery, it won’t hurt anymore. I hope so! It would be really good if he could gain about a kilogram.

I’m just so ridiculously grateful that we’ve cleared this hurdle with Rupert and can get back to him living his best life. He has had struggles that would have seen most dogs in his position being put down, but he’s still here, and aside from what he’s going through right now, he has a pretty great life. He is still spritely and can be as zany and hyper as a puppy. I really hope he’s around for a long time yet.