Finally, a Beach Day

On the weekend, I went to a quilting workshop with Mum, run by Anni Downs. The style was completely unlike anything I’d done before – it’s muted and a little bit country, but not in that fussy, dark, 90s American way – more of a naive, whimsical sort of style. It seemed like everybody else in the class had a good handle on the techniques we used, but I had no idea. I had never done applique before, not even once, so I felt very out of my depth. Everybody else just somehow knew how to trace in reverse or use Easy Fix, so I was so grateful for a little one-on-one attention to explain these basic things. I eventually figured things out and discovered that I might even have a bit of a knack for this sort of thing. My block (so far) looked lovely and everything was neat and tidy. I got a lot of compliments on my work, even if I was falling back to my usual habits of criticizing everything I’d done for not being supernaturally perfect. I was surprised at how much I achieved in the class, and the best part of all is that I feel equipped now to take on the entire quilt, even though it will take me forever with how exacting I get about my stitches. I’ll post some photos when I’ve got something to share.

But it was a fun day. And somebody who worked at Amitie thought I was seventeen, so that’s always nice too! Although it could have been the fact that it was forty degrees outside and all my makeup melted off, so maybe the impression was less “young fresh newborn baby supermodel gazelle” and more “sweaty bedraggled unkempt scrappy teenager”.

After the class, Nathan met me in Torquay and we went to the beach, meeting Dad and Patrick there. It didn’t start out very well – Nathan was in a terrible mood and was a total storm cloud, because he thought it was too hot to go and was already on edge and drained because of a stressful day. It was extremely hot, but what could be better than to dive into some bitingly cold water on a blisteringly hot day? He begrudgingly marched from the car to the shore, barely talking to me, but it all melted away once we got in the water. It was my first time at a surf beach this year, and it was everything. The conditions were perfect – icy water, absolutely clear like a tropical postcard, long periods of flat calm that was perfect for floating around, punctuated by some big waves, perfect for diving under.

Nathan has a bit of a habit of being grouchy and not wanting to do things, only to change his mind and decide “this isn’t so bad after all” once I’ve dragged him into action. Then he’ll act like he was never a stick in the mud, that he was enthusiastic about it all along. It’s frustrating, and it would be nice to just enjoy things without a little drama beforehand, but that’s how it goes. On the way home, I just felt so satisfied to have finally had a really, really good beach day. As we were drawing closer to the end of hot weather, I kept feeling this frantic edginess, like I couldn’t bear for summer to be over when I’d barely had a taste of it. After those two hours in the waves, there was a little more closure – I’m more ready for autumn now.

And now it’s Monday, time to start all over again.

One last thing – I have a favour to ask of you. Yes – you, reader, if you’ve even made it this far, if you even exist. If you are reading this, please leave a comment below. It can be anonymous if you like, but it would be nice to know if anybody at all reads this thing. Tell me a joke, or tell me something you love or hate about this blog, or tell me what you would like to see more of. Just let me know if you exist, so I can know whether or not I’m just typing into the void. Thank you!

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.