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!

Dread

This is going to be a sad one, fair warning. Here is my dread face, so you can see what we’re dealing with here:

We are getting kittens this week and next year we are planning on potentially adding some human mini-Johanna-and-Nathans to the family. These are both perfectly normal things for a 31 year old newlywed to be doing. These are even things that I should be very excited and happy about. But somehow, I’m a wreck over both things. When I look at my life with Nathan and the dogs as it is now, I would trade every unknown kitten or hypothetical baby to capture this little slice of my life forever. We have had the best time, we truly have. On weekend mornings when I wake up next to Nathan and those little wriggling pups clamber on top of us and frantically kiss our faces with their sleepy puppy breath because they missed us so much for those hours that we were asleep… that is heaven. I can’t imagine ever being happier than those mornings, I couldn’t even contain that much happiness, I’d just burst or die.

I’ve been terrified of Nathan dying for a while. A blogger I’ve followed for almost a decade lost her husband a couple of months ago to pancreatic cancer – he was healthy and young, then felt sick one day and was dead in a matter of weeks. Another blogger I used to follow lost her husband to melanoma a few years before, and her unimaginable grief has turned her life into a horror show ever since. And even before that, an uncle of mine was struck down by a brain aneurysm in his forties. It feels unfathomable that those little moments of heaven I just mentioned could be a mere hour away from one of these things, or any other number of countless ways a person can be snatched away before their time.

The dread of losing the dogs is more pressing though. Not because I love Nathan less, but because I know that statistically, all these terrible things that could befall him are unlikely. But with the dogs, it’s not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. Posie is nine years old and Rupert just turned thirteen. I don’t even know how to describe what these little dogs mean to me and how fiercely I love them, but the knowledge that I only have a handful more years with them… I just can’t. I don’t know how I could survive losing them. They have both been so much more than I thought possible, I have loved them more than I ever dreamed I could love anybody or anything. They are so perfect and precious, and I wish more than anything I could just pause them and love them like this for the rest of my life.

I was so excited about these little kittens we are getting at first, but it feels like they are signalling this next phase of my life where at least two terrible losses are inevitable. I am trying so hard to look on the bright side and let myself be open to the possibility of more love, more joy… but again, I just keep coming back to my weekend mornings in bed with my three loves. Maybe the problem is the limits of my imagination. I just can’t conceive of anything better than that, and life feels like it would never be as bright or colourful ever again once these days are over. And one day will be the last day ever that we’ll have together as a Fab Four, and I won’t even know until it’s gone.

It’s just so stupid. I am looking at Posie and Rupert right now, snoozing away after a day of playing and treats on tap. They have such wonderful lives, and when they die, the grand sum of their existence was that they were happy, safe and loved infinitely. I read something online that makes me feel a little better – a little braver or nobler, I guess – in the midst of all this dread:

I think about it this way– it makes me much much sadder to think about myself dying before my dog (for altruistic reasons, not for “I don’t wanna die” reasons)…
I have the faculties to process the concept of death, at least more than my dog does. I know she will die, and that I will die, so we’ll someday be parted. If she were to get terminally ill, I would be able to prepare for that. To her, though… I would just be not there one day.
So I think of it as something I’m willing to do for my dog, and probably the dog after her and probably after that: I’m willing to live their respective lives — their entire lives — with them, and try to make them as happy as I can for as long as I can. After she’s gone, I’m willing to bear the burden of being sad so that she doesn’t have to. And life goes on and soon all I’ll be able to remember are the happy times. I don’t know that a dog is capable of getting over something like that, so I’m glad that it happens this way.

It’s a nice thought, to know that even if my heart breaks, at least it will be mine and not theirs.

So, about these kittens. I was excited to get them until they became a symbol of all my existential dread. It makes sense to get them. We are hoping they will be enriching for the dogs, friends for Posie when Rupert goes, and then they will be a comfort to us when we have no dogs. The cats will be lower maintenance and require less attention when we are in our busiest parenting years. They will be easier to make arrangements for when we travel. There are a lot of good reasons for bringing them into our family, but it just hurts to be kicking off this kind of succession planning, because it forces me to acknowledge what is coming next.

I’m trying to look on the bright side, I really am. I am trying to be like Posie and Rupert, and live wholeheartedly in the moment. But the dread remains, tainting all this love and joy with the possibility that it could be taken away at any moment. I’m reading the Rainbow Bridge poem over and over, trying to console myself that if there is a heaven, we’ll all be reunited and it will be those weekend mornings forever and ever. I’m thinking of Titanic where Rose ‘goes on and on’ and lives an amazing happy life, knowing that even eighty years is a relatively short time until she’ll be reunited with Jack in eternity. I’m really trying, and in the meantime, I feel like I’m so full of grief for the living that I won’t be able to enjoy the time that we do have together, or let myself love the kittens like they deserve.

Anybody out there have any tips, besides “try not to think about it”? If we have years left together as a pawsome foursome, or only a few weeks or months, I don’t want it to be poisoned by my sadness, because when I’m sad, Posie and Rupert are sad too. How can I just pull myself together for their sake?

I’m going to try harder tomorrow. I will take them for a walk. I will give them snacks and cuddles and rub their little bellies and tell them how precious and clever they are. I will take photos and videos of them so I can show my future children how lovely they were. I will read in bed after I wake up and before I go to sleep so that they can snooze curled up against me for a little longer. The time is short for me, but it’s everything for them, and I want it to be nothing but wonderful for them.

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.

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.

Everyday Romance

Summer, 2008, at a house party. Both of us more than a little tipsy.

Drinking tea together that we collected during our travels.

Daydreaming about which room we should put a second AC unit in, but secretly enjoying nights of laying around in our underwear in front of the fan complaining about how hot it is.

Watching shows with me like Counting On or Call the Midwife, even though they are the last things he’d choose for himself. Likewise when he gets me to watch Paranormal Alien Investigation Cover-Up Conspiracy Cops, or whatever it is.

Calmly accepting that I refuse to use weedkiller in the garden, even though it means a lot more work for both of us.

Never getting mad when I let the dogs have a tiny taste of every food I eat, even if it’s expensive caviar or sashimi or something.

Adhering to his silly rules about sock pairing – they are all grey and exactly the same except for a tiny strip on the toe that can be red, blue or green, which nobody would ever see, but apparently it makes all the difference.

Scratching each other’s backs at the exact spot that we can’t reach ourselves.

Putting up with (and ultimately enjoying, even if he won’t admit it) the way I like to do Christmas.

Eating sour warheads because it amuses him so much to watch the faces I pull.

Kitchen hugs, couch hugs, car hugs, garden hugs, bed hugs, just got out of the shower and only wearing a towel hugs.

Watching him play with the darling dogs and always wanting them to live their best lives.

No judgment from either of us if it turns into a tortilla-chips-and-salsa-for-dinner kind of night. No judgment from him on my coke zero addiction either.

Reading through the cards and letters he’s given me over the years – he says he’s not a writer, but those are some of the sweetest things I’ve ever read.

Speculating on ridiculous hypotheticals, like what names we would pick if we had quadruplets, or how much money we could make if we started a truffle farm, or what airline a publisher would make me fly if I went on a book tour.

Patiently teaching him things to say in Chinese for our next big trip, knowing that he’ll probably forget them by tomorrow.

Hunting down my favourite milk-flavoured bun from BreadTop and bringing it home on a plane, all the way from Sydney.