Saturday, December 13, 2008

Finally listed

The house Lauren and I bought is finally listed for rental. Now all we have to do is hope someone who wants to live in Ipswich and also wants really good landlords sees it and grabs it.

Personally I think it's a great little house. There aren't many rooms but they're huge as well as bright and airy. The only thing I'm confused about is why they're calling the third bedroom a sleepout. Sure it's an extension to the original house but it has its own door, is as separate from the rest of the house as the other bedrooms and doesn't have any external access - just like a bedroom. It has one more window than the other two bedrooms but it's a bigger room. Go figure.

Here's the link if you want to have a look at it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Driving in water

Today I went out to the house we're renovating and (hopefully) renting out. While we were there a thunderstorm hit. It was one of the most severe storms we've had all year. There was lightning and thunder and high winds, broken power lines, power poles down, trees all over the place and flash flooding. It was magnificent.

I love storms but that's a story for another entry, I think. I hate driving in them.

We waited until the worst of it had passed - at least enough that we could see the road through the rain - then set out for home. The highway between Ipswich and Brisbane was flooded in several sections. I was absolutely amazed at how many people have no idea how to drive in water, although I suppose it's understandable - we haven't had any water for a long time. They were all just driving into the water at the same speed they'd normally drive. It's no wonder they just planed across the top of it (didn't give the tyres any time to grip the road) and slammed into other cars. There were also cars stopped along the side of the road - obviously hit the water too hard and it got into the engine and stopped the car. Nobody dried their brakes afterwards either. I'm surprised there weren't more accidents.

When we were growing up, floods were common. There was at least one every year and if we wanted to get to the next town, we had to drive through water. My father always explained to us the process of driving through water safely.

1. If there's been some rain around, check road reports before you leave. You don't want to get caught between to rising causeways and have no escape route.
2. Check the water level on the road - most country roads have signs at causeways that indicate the depth of water. If it's too deep, turn around and go back home. If it's rising, get out of there fast. If it's moving but not rising, get out and check it. If it's deep and you can feel the drag of the water when it's only a few inches deep, turn around and go back home. You don't want to be washed away.
3. Always stop and allow other cars to get clear of the water before you enter it. The last thing you want is their backwash getting into your engine.
4. Always use low gear, go slowly and never, never stop once you get into the water. Keep moving, slowly and steadily.
5. Once you're clear of the water, use your brakes. Apply slow gentle pressure repeatedly to warm the brakes and dry them out. Another last thing you want is to try to use your brakes further down the road and not have any.

That was it. Five basic things to do. I don't know if it's because we've been in a drought for so long people have forgotten, or never been taught, how to drive in water or because they think that if they're in the city they shouldn't need to worry about those things. I do know there were a lot of stalled and damaged cars out there this afternoon and I firmly believe most of it could have been avoided.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How do you get your teenager to talk to you?

How do you get your teenager to talk to you? Apart from building a relationship that encourages talking and listening, I found going for a drive helped.

You can’t get out of a moving car. You have to stay there until the car stops.

Of course getting my daughter into the car when she was angry about something was impossible, so I waited, usually until we had to go somewhere. Often it was on our way to horse riding or synchronised swimming lessons. Both of those activities were about an hour’s drive from home. After the first few minutes of making sure we had everything we needed before we got too far from home to turn back, the drive became silent. Sometimes she was the one to break the silence, sometimes I was, but the silence was necessary. It gave us time to draw breath, to settle into quiet time together.

Then my daughter started chatting. Her conversation wasn’t ordered or logical, it jumped from one seemingly unrelated topic to another. It was sometimes difficult to follow exactly what she was talking about or why it was important for her to mention it. It all seemed innocuous.

Until the last ten minutes or so of the drive. That’s when the real topic came to light. Something serious and important that she was grappling with at the time. Something she hadn’t been able to sort out for herself. I used to get frustrated because we’d just get into the meat of the topic, the real problem, and we’d reach our destination. I think my daughter planned it that way. She never wanted me to tell her what she should do. She wanted to make her own decisions in life. My role was to listen and support and provide ideas she could consider while making her decision. If we never finished the conversation, I wouldn’t have time to give the ‘dreaded’ advice.

She’s 25 now and we still go for drives. Not so many any more, not so often, but a few times a year we arrange to go somewhere together that takes a while and we chat. We’ve also learned to condense our conversations into the time it takes to drive between our houses, although there’s often a half hour or more sitting in the car at the footpath when we stop because we haven't finished talking yet.

Our relationship has evolved – now she gives me advice on how to live my life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I love being a mother

Being a mother has to be one of the most fulfilling things in life. Well, at least now it is - when Lauren is grown up and I'm only occasionally responsible. This afternoon I got a phone call and as soon as I answered the cry came: "I need veges".

With Lauren that usually means she's been working too hard, not sleeping enough and not eating properly, she's on the verge of becoming ill and she wants me to cook for her and pamper her for an hour or so. Vegetables will fix most of that - they've always been Lauren's favourite food group. Tonight, it's not quite the case. Yes, she's been working too hard and not sleeping enough, but she's making a real effort to keep eating properly through it all. She's just run out of veges and wants to make a stirfry tonight.

So she's coming over to raid my fridge. I love it. I love that she feels she can call on me any time. I love that she feels at home in my home and knows anything that's mine is hers (as long as any jewellery she borrows comes back to me at some stage). I especially love that she knows she has someone she can rely on. And I love that that person is me. I don't feel any burning need to be that person all the time but it's nice that I am sometimes.

And tonight she's not asking me to cook for her. She can look after herself. I wonder if this is the beginning of a new stage in our relationship?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

She misses me too.

Lauren misses me too. Tonight I had a phone call from her. She was at work and wouldn't finish before 10pm. The message: I cooked food for you, come and get it.

I went to the restaurant where she works nights and in between looking after the diners she sat and chatted. It took her about 15 minutes before she went to get the food, then she walked me to my car and chatted some more.

My heart swells with love and pride every time I see her, even think of her. I know so many people who don't want to spend time with their parents but my daughter likes me enough to engineer times together.

I know I've said it before, but I'm so lucky.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rules to live by

Just before Lauren turned 12 we negotiated ‘rules to live by’. She was beginning to want to go out with friends unsupervised, or at least not fully supervised. I thought we should have some ground rules that would last her until she turned 18 and became an adult according to law.

I decided the rules would work for both of us. It seemed unreasonable for me to expect her to tell me where she was going if I wasn’t prepared to do the same for her. We formulated a series of questions that had to be answered appropriately before any request to go out would be considered. This is what we agreed upon:

1. Where are you going?
2. How are you getting there?
3. Who are you going with?
4. Who else will be there?
5. What will you be doing there?
6. Will there be adult supervision? And what form will that take?
7. How will you be getting home?
8. What time will you be home?
9. Do you feel safe going with these people?

Most of the time questions 2 and 7 were answered with “You’ll take me, won’t you, Mum?”.

I originally came up with this plan to try to reduce the constant pleading and arguing that accompanied every invitation for her to go somewhere. It was tiring. At least this way, she knew what I expected from the beginning, and knew I wouldn’t even consider letting her go somewhere unless each of these questions could be answered in such a way that I felt comfortable about the situation. I was surprised by how well it worked. And how long it lasted.

If Lauren really wanted to go somewhere she came to me armed with the answers to the questions. She began planning her outings, organising lifts and checking venues. I’m sure that’s part of the reason she’s such a well-organised person now she’s an adult. I’m equally sure there were a lot of outings I was never told about, simply because she couldn’t answer all the questions or she knew I wouldn’t be happy with the answers. She didn’t bother asking and didn’t go. At least with the list of questions she could gain some control over where she went and when. She became adept at manipulating situations, arranging friends’ parents (or me) to be on standby for supervision, just so she could go somewhere she really wanted to.

The situation became a bit more difficult during her senior year at school. The year before she turned 18 and the following year were difficult in comparison to previous ones because she wanted to push the boundaries. Still, the basics held. I always knew where she was and who she was with. I didn’t always know how she planned to get home but often received a phone call in the wee hours asking for a lift. She’s 25 now and she still emails or calls me if she’s going out somewhere unusual, just so I know where she is. If she travels, even overnight, I get a full itinerary with flight numbers and arrival times. She sends me a text message to let me know she’s arrived safely and another before she leaves to come home.

I follow the same rules with her. I remember when she was about 16, getting a phone call when I was at a seminar for work. I’d forgotten to tell Lauren I’d be late home so she rang to check on me – and let me know I had to tell her where I was. She was convinced I’d had an accident. It could be nothing else because we always told each other where we would be.

I didn’t forget again.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My daughter and me

Lauren and I haven't seen each other much lately. It's been nearly three weeks - that's a long time when I usually see her at least once a week. We've both been really busy. Of course, we've been emailing, texting and talking on the phone but it's not the same. I know I shouldn't complain. My daughter lives just two suburbs away and actually enjoys talking with her mother. Some parents aren't so lucky.

Because I've been missing her I've decided to do a few posts of "Memories of Lauren". Things that have stuck with me for years. Defining moments that show what a special person she is. Here's the first one.

From the moment she was born Lauren showed a determination that amazed me. She could never be told to do something – not even eat. She had to be cajoled and convinced things were a good idea. She had to make the decision for herself.

I’m very much a ‘see how it goes’ kind of person. Lauren plans things meticulously. When she was about three months old I decided I’d have to have a plan for how I was going to raise her because she wouldn’t respond well to my usual ad hoc approach to life. Unfortunately I’m not what I consider a natural mother. It took me about three years to work out how to deal with this very different personality, during which time the closest I came to formulating my plan was to make a few decisions about what I didn’t want to do.

My decisions:
Don’t ever break her spirit.
Don’t ever make her feel unloved.
Don’t ever let my decisions put her in danger.

In the ten years that followed, I did each and every one of those things. Probably more than once. I could say the break-down of my marriage, the abuse and subsequent stalking was the reason she was badly done by but really it was just me reacting to the world around me instead of having that plan I knew I would need for her. I’ve been very lucky with Lauren. She’s an amazing person.

Lauren is a watchful person but basically cheerful. I knew that and, during the times things were bad, I worked hard at getting her to smile. I remember sitting by her bed each night, talking about the day. We had a little system going.

I would ask, “What was the worst thing that happened today?” and she would tell me all the awful things that happened. It was difficult to get her to express how she felt about each one and I worried about that for a time. Actually I still worry about it. At 25 she still doesn’t express emotion well.

After we’d discussed all the bad things, how she dealt with them, what would happen if she did different things and what else she might be able to do next time, I asked another question:

“What was the best thing that happened today?” It broke my heart that some days the best thing to happen in her life was that her cat purred in her ear. At least she had that much.

We did that every night. Over time, the best things began to outweigh the worst things and she started smiling spontaneously again.

I realised when she was fifteen that our evenings talking about the bad things and how to deal with them had a wider-reaching impact. It was during one of those highly-charged emotional times teenagers have.

She was standing in the front yard screaming at me:

“You’ve ruined my life!”

I went outside and asked what I did to do that and her response was:

“You made me think of consequences. Now I can’t have any fun!”

I think that was the first deep breath I’d drawn since she hit puberty.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dream on


The other night I watched a Bruce Willis movie "Striking Distance". It wasn't one of his best movies but that's ok - it was Bruce Willis. I think he has a wonderful face - chiselled and lived in and not at all 'beautiful'. Sculptured lips.

I don't watch movies with Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp - they're too pretty. I can't take them seriously as heroes. Bruce Willis has my kind of 'hero' face. So does Dennis Quaid.
Anyway, the end result of this movie was that I dreamed about Bruce Willis. 'Lucky you' you say? Not so much. While the dream made perfect sense while I was asleep the only image I was left with upon waking was Bruce Willis surfing in a port-a-potty as a way of escaping the bad guys.

Now, I can more than understand how Bruce Willis ended up the hero in my dreams, but a port-a-potty? You've got to be kidding.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Our mortal coil

I've been thinking about mortality. I've just spent two weeks working at the State Archives and, while an interesting place to be, it's all about dead people. Every task I did meant looking at handwriting written by someone who was dead. I read registers of miscellaneous court cases in the 1860s and 1940s. I read lists of names of people whose wills had been probated and property transferred. I read the diary of an explorer of the 1860s and minutes of meeting from when Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859.

It was fascinating but after a week I felt I was mired in death. These lists and minutes and diaries are all that's left of those people - something they touched and put an indelible mark on. It was a glimpse into their lives. Just reading the different styles of handwriting (and seeing how it changed over a hundred years) made me feel I could almost touch the writer. It was a bit creepy and a bit scary.

Our time here is finite and we get so absorbed in living the lives we have we barely notice the passing of it. I wonder what pieces of our lives will be left for future generations. Is it enough to be remembered by those who loved us, then fade into the fog of history, not even missed because no one in the future would even be aware of our being?

I think I noticed it more because a friend (R) had surgery for breast cancer last week. Her prognosis is good but it's hard not to think of worst case scenarios when the word 'cancer' is mentioned.

Not all of life is a choice. Some things just happen and we have to deal with it - like my friend. The way we deal with it is the only choice we have. R is dealing with it the same way she has dealt with every knock life has given her - with courage and good humour. She's an incredible person, one of the strongest, most compassionate people I know. That alone will get her through.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fear

I know some people who love horror stories - books, movies, campside tales - anything that will scare the bejesus out of them. Anything that will make them break out into a cold sweat, get their heart racing or jump so high they lose their footing and fall over.

Fear certainly offers a good physical workout but why do people enjoy it so much? I often wonder if they've never experienced real fear. Can they enjoy it because of that innate sense of safety cocooning their lives? Perhaps it's a need to prepare themselves for possibilities - planning for a disaster and making sure their body will be ready to react under pressure.

I'm a timid sort. I never liked being surprised or frightened as a child, always sought the quiet spaces when there was an argument at home. That doesn't mean I can't deal with situations that cause fear. I know how I react in situations like that - if I can get out, I grab my daughter and run and hide. If I can't, I stand in front of my daughter and talk until help arrives. I'm no hero.

As an adult I've been frightened to the stage that all my insides liquified. I lived in a situation that waking up alive meant I was having a good day. Every house I moved into, I plotted various hiding places and escape routes. That includes the house I'm living in now - a place that's very safe (both physically and emotionally). I even had a problem when I first moved in because this house is in a cul de sac - only one exit route - and that's years and years after the last time I was truly afraid. It stays with you.

Being afraid isn't fun and I simply can't understand how other people can seek those sensations and call it fun. It gives me nightmares.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Strawberries too.

I just picked 15 strawberries from the two strawberry plants I have in my front yard. I've always loved fresh produce but am amazed at how different these strawberries taste from ones bought in the shop, even 'organic' shops. The strawberries are only little - about 1cm-1.5cm long - but the flavour is incredible. The juice simply bursts from the berry and smothers your taste buds in sensation. They don't keep long as I pick them ripe but I don't think I'll ever buy another strawberry, if I can avoid it. Fresh picked is so much more satisfying. We'll have them tonight for dessert.

I've also been using other things from my little garden. Tonight I'll use the last of the pak choy. It's amazing how long it's kept in the fridge. I picked the last of it - two huge armfuls - about three weeks ago and just dumped them in the vege bins in bottom of the fridge. The last bunch that I'm using tonight is still just as plump and crisp as the day it was picked. I'm sure I can credit some of that longevity to the efficiency of the fridge but some of it has to be the fact that the veges were fresh picked. The flavour is different from store-bought as well. Sometimes there's some bitterness in the stalks - not with my home-grown ones.

I haven't had a problem with pests before but I'm battling grubs for my cabbage. I think it's because I haven't planted herbs around the cabbage like I did with the other things. I tried a garlic spray last week but it didn't seem to do much so now I'm trying milk. I'm not sure yet whether it's working but we only found four grubs today compared to about 10 each day last week. I'll spray them with milk for a few more days just to see if the grubs return.

I'm not much of a gardener. I don't like digging or weeding. I'll even avoid watering if I can - we have to use recycled water bucketed from the bathroom and laundry because of water restrictions here. But I love reaping the benefits and I love the sense of satisfaction I get preparing a meal that has its basis in my own home-grown vegetables.

I have friends who say they get bored with food - it's the same things, the same flavours all the time. Even if I cook the same vegetables every day (because that's what's coming out of the garden at the moment), I never get bored. I grew those vegetables myself, as well as the herbs I cook with them. The changes in the produce coming from the garden as one vegetable finishes and the next one comes into season keep me interested. And I change the herbs I put with them and the methods of cooking so I end up with something different every day.

Tonight I think I'll make pasta as well - I have the basic ingredients and it will give me a perfect excuse to play in the kitchen for a while and not do an assignment that's due. Wouldn't it be nice to have everything served at the table home-grown or home-made? I'd love to do that.

I've made a start. I make chutneys, jams and jellies whenever I can and I make my own bread every week. The vege garden has taken that one step further.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It always works this way

I don't know about other peoples' lives but in my life if I've arranged to spend a lot of money and I'm trying not to spend elsewhere to make sure I can afford whatever big thing it is I want to buy, something in the house breaks and has to be replaced.

Earlier this year it was the fridge. This month, when Lauren and I have just contracted to buy a house, it was my computer monitor. Thankfully that doesn't cost as much as a fridge, but it's still an expense I didn't want just now.

Of course buying new things can be fun. This time though, it was simply a necessity. I can't manage a day without my computer. Sure, I could use the laptop but I'm not as comfortable with that. I like my desktop with the big keyboard and ergonomic furniture. It was quite funny actually. My old monitor had been showing signs that all was not right for a couple of days, so I emailed Lauren and mentioned I'd need to get a new one soon. Of course I was hoping it would last until after we settled on the house but, no, that couldn't happen. The old monitor died yesterday morning.

Lauren phoned and laughed when I told her it died right when I was viewing her email giving me information on new monitors. I lamented that you just can't get things to last anymore. Look at my old fridge. We bought that in January 1972 and it just suddenly died earlier this year. Hmph. My darling daughter was silent for all of a second before she reminded me that I'd bought my old monitor in August 2000. I suppose, for a monitor, eight years isn't bad. It was a flat screen one - a bit special back in 2000.

I don't subscribe to the throw-away mentality so prevalent these days. I buy the best quality I can afford, and I expect it to last a long time. I don't like having to replace things too often and will only do it if they're no longer providing me with the service I want. Now that I think about it, the monitor lasted longer than my husband. Either it provided a better service, or I expected less of it.

The best bit about my new monitor is that it's bright and BIG. I know it's not big in today's terms but a 19" widescreen is a lot bigger than my little 15" square one.
Anyway I've put a picture of my new monitor below. Lauren's boyfriend isn't too impressed with it, even though he considers it a huge improvement on the old one. I think his monitor is a 26" or something equally obscene. It's a good thing I don't need mine to be big.

Samsung 943NWX 19 inch Gloss Black 5ms 8000:1 SIMPLE TILT STAND Product Code: MNSA943NWXB The 943NWX provides many adjustable movements for better ergonomics. It’s the best solution for the work environment and is designed to meet VESA standards.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My new house

Lauren and I have bought a new house. It settles at the end of the month. I can't wait. As soon as it settles I want the plumber and floor sander in. The bathroom is getting replaced and the floors stripped and polished. We probably should put up a new fence as well - the current one is riddled with (thankfully now dead) white ants.

So, after listing the bad things, these are the things that made us choose to buy it.
  1. It's on a corner block and we love corner blocks - two street frontage, only two neighbours to worry about and, even if the land isn't large, it feels it. It's actually 809m2 so it is a big block.
  2. It's a post war house and we love that era.
  3. It's in a nice quiet area close to the river (but not so close it'll be easily flooded).
  4. It's close to transport (a bus stop just next door, rail and freeway into Brisbane less than 1km away).
  5. It's in a city that is slated to boom in the next ten years so rental potential is good.
  6. It's in good condition but needs a bit of work so value-adding is easy.

I love the whole process of buying a house although waiting for finance approval can be a bit nerve wracking when you're working to a deadline. Planning renovations is brilliant.

One thing I have been worrying about is the financial situation in the US. It's going to impact on us, that's for sure. I keep telling myself all we have to do is be able to hold onto the house long enough for prices to go back up and the economy to stabalise again. Neither of us have extended ourselves financially - at least, even though we both owe more than we ever have before it's still within reasonable limits - so it shouldn't be a problem. I just have to keep working for a bit longer than I'd hoped.



If you want to have a closer look, click here.

Tagged

I've just been introduced to the concept of 'tagging'. Yet another aspect of cyberspace society I didn't know existed - and did I really want to?

I have been tagged by Danielle Ferries. I'll try to follow the rules but I'm not sure about no 4. I don't know six bloggers! See my response to no 3 for the reason why.

The rules:
  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on your blog.
  3. List 6 unspectacular quirks you have.
  4. Tag 6 bloggers by linking them.
  5. Leave a comment on each person’s blog to let them know they’ve been tagged

My quirks:

  1. I'm basically anti-social. While my job requires me to interact with a large number of people every day I don't like meeting new people socially, particularly in crowd situations. I'm terrible at all that 'getting to know you small talk' and I usually prefer to be on my own.
  2. I can't watch people get cut or have injections. Piercing the skin freaks me out.
  3. I had to have a child to learn how to stick to a schedule - it's not my natural state of being. I think I'd have made a good 'flower child'.
  4. I hate chain letters/emails and anything like them with a passion. They're a waste of time and often subtly threatening. (Tagging might fall into this category too. Sorry Danielle.)
  5. When I feel like reading, I read in bed - and stay there for days.
  6. Inefficiency is irritating. If you've decided to do something and actually start it, finish it as quickly as possible so you can go back to doing nothing again (my comfort zone).

Now comes the hard part - how to link to other bloggers, and, even harder, finding SIX. Perhaps I could just ignore that bit and save everyone a whole heap of bother ;)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Back to work

Today was my first day at work in seven weeks. It's a long time to be off work but I'm not sure it was long enough.

Today I taught a total of 1-1/2 hours with an hour break after the first 1/2 hour. It didn't seem to matter. Within 20 minutes, my voice was shot. By the end of the day it was little more than a whisper. It's incredibly frustrating and worrying. I find myself getting irritated at not being able to speak properly and I try to force it. Of course that's the worst thing I can do. I am usually a very patient and accepting person but this has worn all my patience away. I want results and I'm getting totally sick of the one-step-forward-two-steps-back that's been happening so far.

The best thing is that with speech therapy, the exercises I do help my voice to recover fairly quickly, but there's no way anyone could call it strong.

I have another hour teaching tomorrow so I'll see how I go. I'll be ringing the speech therapist after that to give her an update on my progress - we might need to rethink my presence in the classroom.

And I should mention my year 9 class was absolutely gorgeous. They were so interested in what's been happening to me and sympathetic about it. They thought the amplifier I have to wear to be heard at the back of the room was cute. And they were silent - all lesson - except for answering or asking questions about the work we were doing. Most of them even told me they were glad I was back. Isn't that sweet? It's times like this that remind me why I love teaching.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spending money

Spending money makes me feel ill. I don't mean I can't go out to dinner without throwing up. That's not a problem. But I've just signed a contract to buy a house and spent most of the morning at the bank applying for a loan. I will owe more money than I ever have in my life and the thought of being responsible for that much money makes me ill.

When I was younger and didn't have the financial capacity I have now, things like buying a new fridge had the same effect. Now it's the big amounts - big for me anyway. Spending more than $5000 in one hit is sickening. So is checking my bank account and finding I've spent that much in little bits over the course of a week. It takes time for me to get used to the idea.

It's odd. I don't worry over-much about money. I don't count every cent or panic if I don't keep strictly to my budget. But I hate owing money. I don't like being in debt. I don't even have a credit card. I like living within my income. I know everything I have, I own. It's comfortable.

I like seeing the balance in my bank account go up, not down. Adding zeros to the numbers in my bank account is enough to have me dancing around the house. Buying a house, while cause for celebration, is enough to send me to bed with a cold compress. That's where I'll be spending tonight.

Friday, August 22, 2008

House Hunting

Lauren and I have been househunting. This is our first foray into investment buying together and it's fun. We spent all day Wednesday in a nearby city looking at houses and thinking about things like renovations required prior to rental, maintenance required in the near future, potential resale value.

We looked at eight houses and discounted five of them almost immediately. One was already rented which was appealing. The house itself looked great but it was too expensive, considering its nearest neighbour was the local cemetary. One was across the road from a joinery - poor resale value and only two bedrooms. One looked like good value until you noticed the kitchen benches had been painted and were now peeling and the kitchen had those awful foam tiles glued to the ceiling - too much work for the price.

The three we really like are in three different areas. One is perfect, excellent condition, good yard, reasonable area - just right at the top of our budget. One is tiny, in a great position, with loads of character and potential to add a third bedroom - but already right at the top of our budget. The third one is in a reasonable area with a good kitchen, just a horrid pink bath and tacky floor coverings. The benefit of this one is that it's cheap enough that we could change the bathroom and floor coverings and still spend less than either of the other two. Even though the first two houses appeal to us more, this one makes more sense for an investment.

It's amazing how I've had to change the way I look at houses and think about them when I'm buying purely for investment purposes. I've never done that before. Every house I've bought previously has been with a view to live in it, renovate and then, if I can afford it, rent it out when I move on to the next house. I've bought houses based on what I like and want in a house, not what would be the best financial decision.

And that's the really fun part over with. Now I have to check insurance companies to find out how safe each of the areas are, the city council to find out yearly rates charges, and spend some time with a spreadsheet calculating potential % return for each house. Then comes arranging for a building and pest inspection, sourcing the funds and engaging a solicitor to do the conveyancing. It's going to be a very expensive couple of months before the house is settled and rented and we start seeing any sort of income from it. Providing we get the house we want at the price we want in the first place.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Emotions rule

I've decided I'm an emotional person. I don't mean that I'm constantly laughing, crying or screaming; I'm not THAT emotional. But emotions rule my life.

I lost my voice four weeks ago and, while it's improved somewhat, it still doesn't last a full day. I've been on sick leave because I can't teach without talking and talking makes it worse. No one can hear me anyway. I've had nearly four weeks at home with nothing wrong with me except I can't talk. You'd think it would be a perfect opportunity to accomplish things, wouldn't you.

I certainly thought so. Four weeks is enough time to get a uni assignment done early and start on another one. It's enough time to write four chapters for my book. It's enough time to clean my office. But has any of that been done?

What I have done:
  • I went to the doctor three times.
  • I've made one batch of spicy tomato chutney and one batch of lemon and lime butter.
  • I've baked bread and muffins.
  • I've written the equivalent of one chapter.
  • I missed lectures at uni because I'm not supposed to be talking - and still haven't listened to the recordings to catch up.
  • I took my mother to see her sick brother.
  • I've been shopping. I've looked at heaps of things but so far have only bought chocolate.
  • I've read books.
  • I've wandered around the house complaining I'm not accomplishing anything.
  • And I've eaten a small shop-full of chocolate because that helps me whinge more efficiently.

Effectively, what I've been doing is waiting (probably with a good dose of feeling sorry for myself as well). It's self-defeating and it's time-wasting. But I can't break out of it. I have the perfect day today, with no interruptions to get an assignment started, but I'm doing this instead. I'm cleaning the house instead. I'm moving papers around my desk (let's not get carried away and actually put any of them away) instead. I imagine I'm irritating other people because I'm sure irritating myself at the moment.

This isn't new. It's a pattern that I haven't worked out how to change. When I eventually get back to work there'll be an incredible backlog of things that simply have to be done because I've been avoiding them. They'll all get done and, apart from the exhaustion, I'll feel great, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm deliberately not using a golden opportunity.

What I need is some tips on encouraging self-motivation. It's my greatest weakness.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Crunching gravel

Lauren and I were out walking, single file on a narrow gravel path in the forest. We stopped every half dozen metres to listen to the sounds around us: the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, the sparrows and honey eaters squawking, the quiet busy-ness of nature. Then we'd move on.

I watched Lauren's feet shift and crunch the gravel as she put them down, one after the other. "How do you suppose all those people in books and movies move so silently?" The question was out of my mouth before I could think about it.

Lauren, bless her, didn't hesitate. Within half a second she'd bent her knees, slowed her stride and begun placing her feet carefully on the path, rolling heel to toe, trying to be as quiet as possible. I followed suit, but we still made too much noise. I changed my stride to match hers, only putting a foot down when she did. That helped, but nothing we did made our passage silent. After a couple of minutes the absurdity of it all struck me and I giggled. Lauren turned and we all but fell about laughing.

"This is the sort of thing my friends and I do when we're drunk," laughed Lauren.

"Who needs to drink?" was my reply. "I can be an idiot any time."

We were both still grinning when we finished our walk an hour later. I'm still smiling. Those few precious moments sharing joy are lasting a long time. I have a lot of moments like that with Lauren.

I must be the luckiest woman on earth.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Do not go gentle

The father of a friend of mine suffered a massive stroke a couple of days ago. Prognosis isn't good. How I hate this. The lives of so many people are turned upside down, pierced with pain and uncertainty. For them, the grief starts now, even though he's still alive and they suddenly have to deal with the horror of his illness and care. I wish there was something I could do to help them, to make things easier for them, but this is a time for family and holding it all together, dealing with things, because if you don't, you'll succumb to the quiet terror and never be able to cope with anything again.

I remember the day my father died. The call to say he'd been taken to hospital came at 11pm. At 11pm the next night I was standing in the grounds of the hospital with seven year old Lauren, telling her that the newest, brightest star was her grandfather; that people we love never really leave us even though we might never see them again. It didn't work then, for either of us; it doesn't work now. The grief never ends, it never diminishes. It just gets easier to hide, easier to pretend that it doesn't hurt all the time anymore.

Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that goodnight" lives with me at times like this:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Sometimes I think it would be better not to fight it, but to just gently slip away, then those who loved can begin their raging sooner, come to terms with it sooner. Hide the grief sooner.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My sound of choice

My sound of choice is silence - well as silent as I can get in my little part of the world. It annoys me when I wake up at 3am and can hear the trains go by. I don't live anywhere near a train station but the prevailing wind at 3am seems to be in exactly the right direction to bring the sounds straight to my bedroom window.

I'm always the one who turns the tv off if no one is sitting in front of it actively watching (that includes the times someone falls asleep in front of the tv). What's the point? You're either watching it, or you're not. Using it as white noise is irritating.

This week I got a little more silence than I usually ask for. I lost my voice. I'm not talking croaky or husky, I'm talking no volume at all, not even a whisper. It's amazing how much difference it makes to my world. Because I'm silent, most people around me become quieter. A lot of people even whisper at me - I can't make a noise therefore my hearing must be acute. Other people come right up close to me and speak slowly like my hearing has been affected along with my voice. My sense of humour is having a ball.

It's not the first time this has happened. I spent most of my 20s losing my voice three or four times a year, then in my 30s I had 12 months without a voice. I had no volume at all for nearly five months, then had to use a portable voice amplifier for another eight months before my voice was back to normal volume. I've had to do voice exercises every day since to maintain easy volume.

With all this difficulty I have even getting a speaking voice to work, you can imagine what my singing voice is like! It's not that I can't hold a note - I'm just never sure which note I'll get or how long it'll last.

Lauren was 11 or 12 during that year and very quickly learned to respond to a click of my fingers. We developed our own sign language and had quite involved conversations with me not saying a word and her talking in shorthand. She can still say an awful lot to me just by raising an eyebrow. It actually fitted in really well with the dog obedience techniques I used throughout her childhood. I know it sounds odd to say I used dog obedience to raise a child but I did: lots and lots of praise when she did something good and growled at her when she did something wrong, just like we learned when we were training our dog. Of course I didn't realise until we took the dog obedience classes that that's what I was doing.

Now I have a few days of absolute silence inside my head. It's come at the most inconvenient time of the semester - right at the beginning - but there's nothing I can do about that. I'm scared if I don't take the time to rest and get it all working again I'll have another year with no voice. While it was an interesting experience, it's not something I want to repeat.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Walk like a dog

My daughter walks like a dog. I'm serious, it's not a joke.

The last few months Lauren has been getting some work done in her yard - major earthworks. She's still waiting for the digging to be finished so she can lay a lawn. She misses her grass and plants. She's the kind of person who will spend a couple of hours a day sitting in the grass destressing, and she hasn't been able to do that for nearly four months. It's driving her crazy.

Yesterday we went to a native forest for a long walk, just so we could get close to some trees. Today we visited a friend who lives on a mountain that has a significant national park, and went for walk around the neighbourhood.

I realised today that Lauren walks like a dog. We'll be walking along and she'll suddenly deviate from the path a few metres to sniff a flower or feel the texture of a particular leaf. Then she'll return to the path only to slide off the other side after a few metres to press her hand to the bark of a tree to feel the roughness and the warmth left by the sun. She'll get down on hands and knees to watch the dappled sunlight under the fronds of a tree fern. That was the pattern for our walks yesterday and today. If something catches her eye, Lauren will go and investigate, just like an inquisitive dog would.

It's a beautiful thing to watch and to be part of. I remember similar walks when she was a child. I always loved the way she saw the world - as a thing of peace and beauty, to be nurtured and enjoyed. I no longer have to field the never-ending questions of 'why' and 'how', but she still retains that same joy of nature around her. Spending time with her has reminded me of the simple joys in life.

Looking at the world the way Lauren does really works. I haven't felt so relaxed and happy for a long time.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Gems and jewellery

I love gemstones and I love designing jewellery. I have absolutely no training other than what seven years working in a jewellery store gave me but I love it anyway. I have a small collection of gemstones I've bought, mostly from e-bay.

As with nearly everything else I do, I have a system. I have found a few sellers on e-bay I trust and I generally stick with them. I'll even pay over my limit with them sometimes because I know I'll get what I expect. I have a limit to pay for items. Generally it's $20 including postage. Sometimes I'll go over but not often. I know $20 isn't much, especially when you include postage. Usually the adage 'you get what you paid for' works true as well so my little stash of gems isn't exactly a treasure trove.

Occasionally something really special will come through and it'll be a total fluke. I have a ruby that fits into that category. It's 1.35ct pear shaped and the most gorgeous pigeon blood colour. I have another ruby that definitely doesn't fit that description. It's 6ct oval cabachon and has some very interesting pink and white striations through it. No one could even suggest it's a good stone, but it is interesting.

When I can I have items made using my gems. I designed a set (pendant, earrings, ring) for Lauren using some lovely blue sapphires I got a couple of years ago. David has a ring with a 1ct black star sapphire set in it. The star is a bit iffy unless you get it in the right light but the ring looks great. The stone cost me 99cUS + postage so I'm really pleased with the result.

The last couple of weeks I've been buying for my sister, Sandra. Tomorrow I'll be posting the little stash I've collected for her. By the end of the week she'll be having fun designing jewellery for two matching blue sapphires, 10 coloured sapphires and 17 little amethysts. I'll send a couple of drawings of my own with them. Sandra and I don't see each other very often and don't really have a lot in common either. I'm enjoying buying gems for her because it gives us some time to be together, albeit via email, that we haven't had for a long time. It's lovely to touch base with her and share something with her.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bookcases and efficiency

I love bookcases. When I decided to convert my spare bedroom into an office I had three bookcases made to fit into the built-in wardrobe (almost floor to ceiling). I had a smaller one made to fit under the window and a double-sided one on wheels made so I could pull it over to my desk and pick books from it as I worked. They're gorgeous. When I moved house, I had the bookcases pulled out and brought them with me. This office (another spare bedroom) is a different size and shape but I've managed to fit two of the bookcases into the built-in wardrobe and the rest around the room.

My only problem is the bookcases are over-full. I suspect it wouldn't matter how many bookcases I had, there'd always be more books than shelves. I spent all day today tidying one bookcase. Before I moved I had all my fiction books sorted alphabetically by author and my non-fiction by subject and then alphabetically by title. The system was brilliant. I've been studying since I moved here and haven't sorted my books yet. Having one bookcase sorted doesn't really mean much in the scheme of things. It's one of the fiction cases and, while it's not yet in alphabetical order, I do have all the books by one author together. That way when I get around to doing the alphabetical bit I won't have to search all over the room for each author.

It's exciting. I can look up now and see a whole shelf of Asimov, another of Eddings and Irvine and Dart-Thornton. Still another has Kevin J Anderson and W A Harbinson and Matthew Reilly. Whenever I'm looking for a book by any of those authors I'll know exactly where to find it. Only two large and three smaller bookcases to go. At least the fiction and non-fiction is already separated. That makes it easier. The non-fiction is also already arranged by subject, except for a couple of books that haven't been put away yet.

Having books easier to find makes it easier for me to read exactly what I want as well as making research easier. With all my gardening and herbal law books together and near all my medieval history books, I can find just about anything I need for my current w-i-ps. They're all just behind me too, so I can roll my chair back, grab a book and roll back to the computer, all in just a couple of seconds. I love being able to use things efficiently.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bedtime stories

I don't write short stories much any more; I've focused on novels for a while now. But this week I wrote a short story, just for Black Friday. A murder mystery.

My daughter, Lauren, rang after work last night. She finished around 10pm so the phone rang about 11 - lucky I was still up. We haven't seen each other for a while - nearly two weeks - so there was a lot to catch up on. She told me about work and how busy she's been. I told her about my new short story.

Immediately the response was "read it to me?". I picked up the papers, she crawled into bed with her cat and I read her the story over the phone. It's been a long time since I read her a bedtime story.

It reminded me of when she was little. Most nights she'd already have the book picked out and on the pillow next to her when she got into bed. Some nights she couldn't decide which story she wanted to hear so she asked me to make one up. We had a system where she'd say a sentence to start the story off, then I'd continue with a few sentences. Then it was her turn again. By the end of it we'd created a story that often dealt with all the problems she'd faced during the day or the week and found solutions for all of them - and all in the guise of an adventure story we made up ourselves.

It was fun. Just like last night was. I might not have gone to bed until nearly 1am but the time spent chatting with Lauren was precious. I am so lucky. I think just about anything else in my life could fall apart and, as long as Lauren was still part of my life, I'd feel like the luckiest person in the world.

btw: Lauren loved my murder story. She said it was scary and was so graphic she could imagine it happening in her home. High praise from someone who is usually stoicism personified.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A good reason to kill your mother

It's black Friday tomorrow and I have a meeting with fellow writers. We get together twice a month to critique each others' work, each chocolate and chat. It works well. We usually try to do something different on special occasions and black Friday is one of those times. We'll dress in black, have candles and maybe some wine.

Being the bright spark I am, I suggested those who had time could write a murder mystery to share on the evening. Now I have to do it. It was my bright idea, afterall.

I have a great scene for the victim (already dead at the beginning of the story). I have a murderer and a method of discovering who she is and how she gets what she deserves. I just can't think of one believable reason for her to kill her mother. I know she did it, I know it was planned and deliberate; I was there.

So far I've thought of:

Her mother refused to give her money to go to America to be discovered (time line too great)
Her mother told her she had to move out and make her own way in the world (who wouldn't want to)
The girl was abused and blames her mother for allowing it (done to death)
Her mother was co-trustee of a trust fund from her grandfather and wouldn't release the principal before she turned 25 (the other trustee had agreed to release the principal)

I'm still thinking about the last one. It might work if I can tweak it a little. I'm still looking for a logical reason. In my brain, everything has to have a reason; a logical reason. This girl is obviously crazy, so her reason won't be logical to me, but it has to be for her. I keep circling around greed and power as reasons for murder - they make sense to me - but I'm missing something here. This girl's motivation is something different and I can't grasp it. Maybe I should look at passion too.

And I have to finish this story tonight - the meeting's tomorrow and I've promised home baking so won't have any time tomorrow for writing.

Any ideas?

Monday, June 9, 2008

The murderers I have taught with

Last week the news was full of a massive raid for pedophiles. Four teachers were involved (so far there have been more than 80 arrests nation-wide). Every time something like that happens (thank heaven, not very often) a wave of dismay, disgust and disbelief washes through my workplace. It doesn't matter what school I'm in, the emotions and questions are the same. How could anyone think for a minute that treating children like that coud be right? How could we (as in someone close to the people) not realise and stop it earlier? Those poor children.

We don't dwell on the topic long. It's too upsetting. Just the thought of what the children have gone through and still have to go through in their lives because of it squeezes the heart and brings tears. We move onto other macabre topics that can have a humourous (bizarre humour, that is) twist when viewed from the distance of years. Last week, Nola, a lady I work with, came out with a classic phrase: "The murderers I have taught with".

The woman should have a blog with that title. She has enough stories to keep it going at least twelve months if she blogs a couple of times a week. Last week we heard of a teacher who apparently killed his wife, chopped her into pieces and put her in a garbage bag in the boot (trunk) of his car. At the weekend he took members of his family on a bushwalk in a forest and while they went ahead, he dumped the body. Bizarre. (My apologies, Nola, if I have any of the facts wrong.)

It's amazing what people don't notice about others around them. Even if things are noticed, they're often dismissed. No one wants to intrude. No one wants to get involved. Everyone wants to believe there's some reasonable and logical explanation. No one wants to believe that ordinary looking people do terrible things. It would mean we'd have to suspect everyone. We'd have to admit our life isn't as safe as we want it to be.

On one radio show, I listened to the announcer suggest an interview during the application process for a blue card (child safety certificate) would identify dangerous people. Everyone in Australia who works with children has to have a 'blue card'. It's basically a criminal check to make sure no convicted pedophiles get jobs close to children. I'm still wondering how an interview would help. People are innocent until proven guilty. If they don't have a conviction we can't accuse without reasonable evidence. We can't conduct an interview and say "You look odd; I think you're a pedophile". It's not as if they have tattoos on their foreheads proclaiming it so.

I feel very strongly about children being treated well, but I also feel strongly about making sure we don't set up a system of discrimination or harassment in our efforts to protect them. The system might need a review and we all know the law is years behind the technology, but everyone's rights have to be protected, not only childrens'.

Knee-jerk reactions have to be avoided. Everyone (ie most people) is horrified and upset that such a thing can go on under our very noses but we have to make sure our reaction is responsible, reasonable and rational. Witch hunts don't work. All they do is set up situations so that society becomes a scary place. People become afraid to express themselves in case it's mis-interpreted. That's not what our democratic lifestyle is about.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Olympic Dreams

This semester at uni I was fortunate enough to be part of a wonderful team of people. No doubt they'll all make their way into the blog at some stage. Tonight I want to talk about Heather.

Heather has booked tickets to China for the Olympics. She has clothing and banners in Australian colours and is getting really excited about seeing her daughter compete in the water polo. And they don't even know yet if she's made the team. It'll be another two weeks before it's announced.

I can remember Heather mentioning the training schedule early in the semester but it didn't click that it was serious training. I just assumed it was a fun thing, two or three times a week with a weekend game. But no, we're talking six to eight hours a day, seven days a week for months and months, just for a chance.

Heather's daughter is overseas now, training with the team and it's looking positive. Looking at Heather's face, the smile that never quite settles, the eyes darting with excitement and apprehension together, I began feeling some of the thrill of possibility. What a brilliant experience.

I hope Heather's daughter makes it. The whole family has worked really hard for this chance to compete at this level. Her daughter deserves to be able to get out there and strut her stuff. And Heather deserves to be able to watch it and let her pride in her daughter overflow.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Perspectives and perceptions

Today I presented a paper at a conference. It was a really short paper - only 10 minutes - so it wasn't a big deal but it was really interesting to get feedback later.

When I stood up to make my way to the podium I inhaled and ended up with a coughing fit. Great way to impress the audience from the beginning. It took a few minutes to recover, then I started. The technology wasn't with me. Every time I moved, the powerpoint skipped a few slides and I had to stop and backtrack. I'm used to technology failing me so I just rabbited on for a while about nothing in particular so there wasn't an uncomfortable silence, then continued with my presentation. I lost my place with my notes, got sidetracked with a remark about how much I enjoyed reading a particular article when I was preparing the presentation and finally finished about 20 seconds over time. I mentioned most of the salient points but I don't recall any eye-to-eye contact with the audience and I got tongue-tied a few times when particular words just failed me and I had to reword the sentence for it to make sense. To me it was terrible - not quite a disaster, but definitely not a polished professional performance.

During lunch and after the conference finished I had a number of people come up to me and congratulate me on a professional presentation. They thought it was informative, interesting and well-paced. They loved that I was relaxed enough to add a personal comment and that I didn't get at all fazed by the technology glitch.

Isn't it amazing how different people see the same thing in different ways? I would have loved for the proceedings to have been recorded so I could review it myself - see what the audience saw. I think that would be a good thing for a lot of things we do in our lives. Obviously our own perception of ourselves and our actions is often very different to the way others see us. If we could see the other perspective as well, we might develop a more balanced view of ourselves.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What is art?

I've just been catching up on the recent news articles. I'm not very motivated to keep up with the news - it's always depressing and negative. But once a week or so I read the headlines and read further into those that grab my attention.

The articles I've been reading today are about Bill Henson's most recent art exhibition. This situation disturbs me on so many levels I'm not sure what to feel. I am a great believer in fence-sitting - letting other people live their lives and make no personal judgements on them. That doesn't mean I don't feel strongly about some things. I cringe at the thought of censorship, particularly of art and literature. Freedom of expression is important.

But there is one thing I feel even more strongly about - the right of children to be innocent. Every time someone even suggests a child might have been mistreated or their innocence abused in some way, I feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck. My blood races through my body, readying me for a fight.

I go to art galleries regularly and over the years I've seen a lot of lovely photos of children, even naked children, that show various aspects of childhood and growth and society while still maintaining the beautiful innocence that childhood should be. The photographs in question apparently depict "a child under the age of 16 years of age in a sexual context." It worries me - and that's a typical British-style understatement made when you're so upset you can't think of an appropriate thing to say.

Yet the fact remains that I haven't seen the photographs, so can't judge for myself if they're art or pornography. I'm left with no option but to trust in the authorities to do their job properly and not persecute someone with little reason.

That worries me too.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Old friends

Wendy and I met when we were seven. I took one look at the new kid and knew she'd be my best friend. Eventually. She was short and round and had the straightest, whitest teeth I'd ever seen. Her smile made me want to smile. Still does.

The early years weren't all smooth sailing. We didn't become bosom-buddies immediately and stay that way. There were fights and arguments and long periods when we simply didn't talk to each other. But by the time we started high school, we were inseparable. I thought we'd be like that forever.

Then Wendy left town.

I remember writing long letters to her and waiting anxiously for a reply. I understood she had things happening in her life that meant she wouldn't write immediately but a letter always arrived and it brightened my days. She meant the world to me.

She came back home for a visit once and I remember spotting her down the end of our street. Both of us just squeeled and took off running - towards each other - and ended up collapsing in a heap of laughter in the middle of the street. It's always like that when I see her. The sheer joy of being alive and with her.

We've known each other 40 years now. We've had our children and lived our very separate lives. Sometimes we've lived in the same town, sometimes not. Once we didn't contact each other for 18 months. I think I lost her address and she thought I was angry about something. I don't remember. I just know when we found each other again everything was the same. Something in my life clicked into place and became whole again.

We have absolutely nothing in common. She like cutesy poetry, chain emails and country-western music. I like antique furniture and symphonies. She looks at me as though she thinks I was abandoned by aliens. She calls me a snob (in the nicest possible way). I look at her and think surely only abduction by aliens could sort her head out. I call her mad (in the nicest possible way). But none of it matters. Underneath all the teasing and the differences we hold the same values close to our hearts. I admire her and respect her more than I do most people I've known, even if I don't agree with all of the decisions she's made. I know she feels the same about me.

I think you only have so much time in your life for friends so the number of friends you have are necessarily limited. Wendy and I don't need each other in our daily lives, we just need to know we're there, each for the other. And if I ever run out of time for friends, she'll be the last to be crossed off the list.

The eyes have it

I always remember peoples' eyes. Their mouths and hands too, but the eyes have it. That doesn't mean I know what colour their eyes are but I always remember what emotions they portrayed.

My father had eyes of the palest blue, like the sky directly above on a hot summer day. Bleached blue. They always smiled when he saw one of us (me and my sisters) like he couldn't imagine a better thing to look at. They often looked sad when he didn't think we were looking. Sometimes overwhelmed - I guess raising four girls in the 60s and 70s pretty much on his own can do that to a man. Once, only once they looked both scared and angry.

I was 16 and two hours late coming home from the movies with my boyfriend. We'd driven to a town an hour away on the open highway and on the way home the fan belt broke. We had to keep stopping at farm houses to fill the radiator with water. Not once did it occur to me to ask one of the farmers if I could ring Dad and let him know what had happened. It was in the days before mobile phones, even before car phones.

When I walked in the front door he came towards me and the look in his eyes terrified me. He crowded me until I backed into a wall and wagged his finger less than an inch away from my face. It was the most violent I'd ever seen him. He was so out of control he was shaking. I can't remember most of what he said to me. I know he waited until I told him what happened but everything between "Where were you?" and "Don't ever scare me like that again" is lost. But I remembered his eyes and made sure I never made them look like that again.

My daughter Lauren's eyes glitter with a zest for life that encourages me to join in. I've spent a lot of years studying her eyes and know that most of the time they're brown but sometimes they're bright green. I think it has something to do with her health and what vitamins or minerals her body is lacking. I could look at her eyes for hours and never be bored. Every interest or joy or sadness is reflected there and, by just looking at her, I can share it.

I have no idea what colour David's eyes are. I've been going out with him for 7 years, living with him for two but can't remember the colour of his eyes. I know they're soft and gentle and make me want to sink into his arms and stay there. Over the years I've seen them change from tense to relaxed and content. They smile a lot now. They reflect his personality too - generous and caring.

Most eyes are like that - not generous and caring, but reflect the personality of the person.

I met one person years ago whose eyes didn't do that. It was a student I taught, a girl who was very nice and polite and worked hard. Her eyes were silver. Not grey - silver. It was a hard, solid silver, immovable, not molten or changeable. They reflected the light so strongly it was like looking into a mirror all the time, or a flourescent light. I found it very disconcerting. Even when she laughed or cried, her eyes didn't change. The tears made them look shinier but that's all. The colour was so strong that I could see it clearly from across the room, not like other people's eyes where you have to be up close to see exactly what colour they are. It was always a shock to turn from the board and look at the faces of the students in the room - all the other students were faces, their eyes just part of the shape, but with her I saw her eyes first. I remember being thankful that she was a student and I didn't have to try to get to know her or like her because I found her eyes very difficult to deal with. I also remember hoping her classmates didn't have my difficulty. It would have been awful if her friends had judged her because of her eye colour - something she didn't have any control over.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Getting old

Do you remember how, when you were young, anyone over 20 seemed ancient? I remember looking at my father's friends and thinking they must be nearing retirement age and hoping they had a home (facility for the aged) picked out. And they were only in their late 30s at the time. Oddly enough I never viewed my father as old - not until just before his death when he started looking a little fragile.

All my teachers seemed old too. I was shocked when two of my female teachers got pregnant one after the other. Surely they were too old to have children. Didn't all your bits rot after the teen years?

By the time I was 15 being 20 was cool. My first boyfriend was 20 - he had deltoids and a six-pack stomach and three hairs on his chest. Impressive stuff. I look at the photos now and, while he was particularly well-built compared to the other 20-year-olds at the time, he was still skinny and weedy. His mid-20s was when he looked like he belonged in his skin. When he was 30 he'd lost the six-pack and other muscle definition but was still slim. I saw him again a few years ago when he was in his late 40s and he looked soft and rounded, passed his prime. I look around me and a lot of men follow a similar pattern. They look best in their bodies in their mid to late 20s.

But even with the body, they don't appeal to me. My tastes have changed. The skinny six-pack just looks like a kid who needs to get dressed and go back to school. Now I think hairy chests, bald heads and defined but not muscle-bound bodies look best - especially if the chest hair is salt-and-pepper.

I'm not even sure my tastes have changed because I've aged and become a little more realistic, or if I just like men closer to my own age. Maybe it's just that I couldn't stand for the man next to me to look better than I do. Can you seriously imagine a 40-something who avoids exercise and eats too much chocolate could possibly compare favourably (physically) to a 20-something who works out regularly? I suppose it would depend on who's looking.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Achievement

My daughter finished the last assessment for her diploma today. She'll graduate in July. I'm so incredibly proud of her I can't hold the smiles in.

It hasn't been easy for her. The journey has been seven and a half years long. During her first year (she was 18) her best friend was kidnapped and murdered. During the 14 months that followed we lost nine close friends and family. She tried to keep going through it all but within six months dropped out of college. I'm surprised she lasted that long - and she was still achieving good grades.

Last year she went back and re-enrolled, knowing she'd be going to all the places she and her friend used to be, knowing she'd be studying the same course in the same rooms. It wasn't an easy decision to make. Add to that her uncertainty that she could finish it at all and it was incredibly brave. And today she finished the last assessment of the last subject and knows she passed.

She rang me at work, but I don't carry my phone there. She messaged me, and rang me after work. I could hear her jumping around as she spoke to me. The smile on her face was a tangible thing even though I couldn't see her. She dropped into my place when I told her I was coming home for a few minutes before I went to uni, just so she could smile at me and give me a hug - oh, and eat the pumpkin soup and cake she found in the fridge (she'd forgotten to have lunch). When she left she took a pile of books with her - she hasn't been able to read much while she's been studying.

We're going out to dinner tomorrow night to celebrate. I can't wait. I want another glimpse of the joy in her face.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Knowing people

My daughter is 25 today and as many of the family as could make it gathered at my place for lunch. I brought the extra table up from downstairs, put out the good china and chilled the champagne (sorry, sparkling white wine - it wasn't French). That was the limit of the formalities.

My daughter arrived and proudly showed me that she'd taken out her earrings in preparation for presents. She loves the emerald earrings I gave her - has been anticipating them since I took her pendant from her last October so I could match the stones. My mother gave her a bottle of Frangelico. It looked a lot like a $50 note to me, but my daughter swears that Nanna must have known the last bottle was finished last week and replaced it for her.

My sisters amaze me. They're so aware of other people it's humbling. I know they've known my daughter all her life but they haven't seen her regularly for a few years, and yet they still chose the perfect gifts for her. My oldest sister gave my daughter a pink leather picnic wine carrier, complete with a bottle of my daughter's favourite wine, an opener and a stopper. Perfect for my daughter and her partner to take to the byo restaurant they were going to for dinner tonight. My younger sister quilts so she handmade a kitchen set for my daughter. There was an apron, a trivet for hot dishes and two circular oven mits. The fabric was printed with psychodelic cats. The colours and the cats were absolutely perfect, as was the theme. My daughter works two jobs, studies and manages her house (with boarders) but still loves to cook whenever she can find the time.

It's not just my daughter that my sisters know well. It's everyone they meet. I don't know how they do it. I can't. I remember peoples' philosophy or attitudes towards others but I don't remember their personal tastes. People I've lived or worked with for years and know really well still draw a blank in my gift-giving mind. I can tell you how kind someone is, how intelligent, how generous, what they think about various political decisions. I can tell you how their eyes sparkle when they discuss something they're passionate about but probably couldn't tell you what sparked the passion. I can look at them from across the room and tell if they've had a good day or bad day and be willing to either listen or distract them out of it, but couldn't tell you five minutes later what the problem was. Sometimes I can tell you their hobbies, but there is no way I could discuss their current project or what they might need to further that project. Not even if I spend an hour discussing it with them. I don't remember the details. The minutae escape me. Constantly.

I don't often think about it. I don't like the picture of myself it paints. It's one of the things in my life I avoid rather than confront (exercise is another). It makes me look self-absorbed and uninterested - someone I'd rather not know. Knowing a person that well means I have to involve myself with them, offer part of myself to the relationship. I'm happy to talk about just about any topic and to share experiences but none of that, for me, requires an emotional involvement. Knowing someone well enough to know what would really please them requires an emotional commitment. I don't do that very well. I don't have a need to feel that close to a lot of people. I don't want a lot of people close in my life, so I avoid getting to know people on too personal a level, although my willingness to discuss almost anything might make that seem a little odd. That doesn't mean I don't care about people but the level of deep knowledge, sharing and trust needed to allow me to decide on the perfect gift isn't achieved with very many people.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Galway Oyster Festival and why I love reading

I've been reading "A Celtic Book of Days" by Sarah Costley and Charles Kightly. I read that at the beginning of September the Galway Oyster festival is always held. There is even an account from 1802 in the book. It particularly mentions the art of opening oysters.

I used to work with a fellow who was from Galway so I at least know where it is. Naturally, I wondered if there was still an oyster festival held at Galway. So of course, I went to Google and found the festival. According to this site, the festival began in 1953 - somewhat later than the account in the book I've been reading. I've assumed it had fallen away and the townsfolk decided to resurrect the festival in 1953. It's now at the end of September, not the beginning as indicated in my book. It would be really interesting to see if they still have a connection to the Celtic origins of the festival and how that manifests in the current day.

There's an oyster opening competition with the competition winners listed from 1968 with nearly half the winners since then being Irish. I wonder if they're local as well. Australia provided 1982's winner. (They seem to have a problem with their code on that page, and one Irish fellow is flying a Norwegian flag - I might email them and let them know.)

This account illustrates very clearly exactly why I love reading (one of the reasons, anyway). I often read about things and wonder if it's still happening, or if that country is exactly as described. Then I begin the research. I've spent weeks on some projects, just finding out the answers to all the questions a book has raised in my head. Nova Scotia has been on my list of places to visit if everything in my life evolved that direction simply because I read a book that described the wind and waves and islands of that area. It's stayed in my head. I want to go. Now Galway has grabbed my attention. I think I'd need a little more than an oyster opening competition to get me to put Galway on my list of places to see, but it's certainly worth knowing about.

And that leads me to writing. A lot of the things I learn while I'm reading and researching will trigger the 'what if' question for me. I'll jot a few notes down, draw a couple of pictures and before I know what's happening I've got a new world or a new story unfolding in front of me. Tonight my writing brain is swirling with images of oysters, porridge, mermaids and uses for urine.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers' Day

Today is Mothers' Day and traditionally a time for as much of the family to gather as is possible. Most of us managed it today, having brunch at my sister's.


It was different today. There were quizzes. Now most people might wonder why that's so special but most people haven't seen members of my family with a quiz in front of them. We don't stop until we work it out.


The first one was famous lovers with one part (usually the second part of the couple or the least well known) given and you have to come up with the rest. It's very Australian-oriented. One couple you had to have been watching Australian television in the 80s or British television in the 90s. There are also a few royalist ones and some from the bible (I borrowed my niece's bible to get those ones). A couple of them had two possible responses. For example, for Lancelot, do they want his wife, Elaine, or Arthur's wife Guinnevere? There were a couple in there that were wrong. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and Donny and Maree were brother and sister, not lovers. It's like 'some of these things are not like the others'. I've taken them off my list.

(I did try to put the list on another page but haven't figured out how to do it. How difficult can it be to link to a file? I'm obviously putting in the wrong path or something.)


Of course there were discussions and arguments - that's how we work. Each of us likes to be right and each of us needs to be convinced that someone else's answer is right before we back down. It makes us present logical and convincing arguments and it makes us learn how to accept defeat, although no one expects it to be graceful.


The other quiz gave cryptic clues and we had to come up with the name of a town or suburb in Queensland that was the answer. For example, Chinchilla was the 'frozen beard'. My mother finally came up with the answer to that one. It took us quite a while and we all felt a bit silly afterwards considering we've all lived in that town or at least spent significant time visiting.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Paragliding

Today I went paragliding. Well, when I say 'I went paragliding', I mean I drove over an hour up a mountain, sat and watched others take off, swirl around in the air currents and then land. My daughter, her boyfriend and best friend went up there for my daughter's birthday present. I was designated driver, caterer and support personnel. I had a ball.

We stopped at a narrow strip of green grass that disappeared over the edge of the mountain. People would lay out long narrow sails, straighten ropes, click themselves into harnesses and onto the sail, fluff the sail to fill it with air and then simply walk off the edge. It was exhilarating, and I was just watching.

The process took some time. There was one tandem flight before our group. They managed to catch a few really good thermal currents and stayed aloft for quite a while. Then we had to wait for the air to be right again. It was changeable all day, sometimes brisk, sometimes flat. My daughter was first off from our group as it's her birthday next week and this was the present from her boyfriend.

I love watching my daughter experience something new. The mix of apprehension, sometimes fright, anticipation and excitement on her face is wonderful. Her eyes were shining and she couldn't stop smiling.

The wind dropped suddenly just as they left the ground and they dropped quickly over the edge, never gaining the height some of the other flights had achieved. I've added a short film of their take-off. They even made walking off the edge of a mountain look natural and peaceful. I don't know how long they managed to stay aloft, perhaps 50 minutes, but most of it was out of view. I wandered over to a separate section of the lookout every now and then just to make sure they were still in the air (I'm a mother, I'm allowed to worry). In the end they couldn't find the right currents to bring them back up the hill and had to land at the bottom.
We drove for 40 minutes down a winding road to collect my daughter and her flight controller and then brought them back up to the top. Even losing sight of them for a time and having no response on the two-way radio for a while, I was still much calmer than I was when my daughter tried rock climbing. I don't know why. Floating around like a bird just looked like a more natural, less violent or intrusive activity that clinging to sheer rock faces.

The verdict from my daughter was that the adrenaline rush is higher with skydiving (her birthday present two years ago) but the length of enjoyment with paragliding is much better.


video

Monday, May 5, 2008

Emeralds and birthdays

Emeralds are the birthstone for May. According to some legends they're also the symbol of truth and honesty. My daughter didn't like emeralds for a long time but I think that's mainly because the only ones she'd seen were the created emeralds in the less expensive jewellery shops. Since I gave her an emerald pendant for her 21st birthday she's been in love with them.

My daughter's 25th birthday is in a few weeks. Apart from the fact that I can't believe it's been 25 years, it's a significant time. Deserving of a special present. In October I went to see my former employer and asked him to source some emeralds for earrings. That's when the problems began. Emeralds aren't easy to match at the best of times but trying to get two exactly the same size to match in colour and quality to the pendant was almost impossible. Everything was either too light or too heavily included. Emeralds usually have a lot of inclusions. If you see a cloudy emerald, it's because of the inclusions. The one in the pendant has only one inclusion that is almost completely hidden by the setting. That made matching the stone even more difficult.
I was working in a jewellery shop at the time and the owner sourced the most gorgeous Columbian emerald for me. Emeralds are often set in yellow gold because the yellow warms the green of the stone. I was amazed at the clear green that came through when set in white gold (it's actually a little deeper green than shows in the photo).

We finally had some success last week. I'm not sure if he managed to source them from Columbia (my preference as they're the best colour) or from somewhere else but the colour is the closest we've been able to get with the clarity. It looks paler than the pendant now, but once it's set it'll be very close to the same. Yes I know it's a slightly different tone of green - emeralds are so hard to match you just can't be that fussy.

Because we've had such trouble my former boss got in a larger stone as well as the two I wanted for earrings. It makes sense to buy the one for a ring now (for my daughter's 30th birthday) while I can get it, even if it didn't come anywhere near the budget! So that's what I've done. The earrings are currently being made up but I have the stone for the ring. Unusually there's a slight band of lighter colour across it - that doesn't happen often with emeralds - but I like it. It's yet another aspect that proves it's a natural stone.

I love looking at gems and designing jewellery. I have five years now to design a ring for my daughter. The last one I had made for her was designed because of the shape of the stone. Very few variations presented themselves to me - at least ones that would suit her and that she would wear. This one is oval so there are many more possibilities. I just have to make it complement the simple setting of the pendant and earrings. I'm sure she'll forgive me if I add a couple of diamonds though.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Kookaburras

There are kookaburras around here. If I wake early enough (around 3 or 4 am) I can hear them laughing around the neighbourhood. If I get up and listen carefully I can track each couple as they mark their territory and warn other mated couples away.

I'm not up that early very often.

Yesterday the local couple were in my back yard. It was 6 am so too late for the territorial laughter. There was simply the gargling warble that usually precedes the full-throated laugh of the bird and then silence. They were hunting.

I looked out my kitchen window and there they were, one perched on the edge of the trampoline, the other on top of a lattice frame. Grey-winged kookaburras, of course. The blue-wings can't laugh at all - they cough. The bird on the trampoline gargled a few times, each time thrusting its long beak forward and arching its neck to make the sound. It's a magnificent thing to watch. At once graceful and instinctive, uncontrolled. They sat there in silence then for nearly an hour. A couple of times one of them would fly the short distance to the ground and return to their temporary perch with a worm or lizard in its beak.

It doesn't matter what they catch, it always gets thrashed against the perch, even the poor worms that couldn't possibly have needed much tenderising. I've seen a kookaburra do that to a mouse. Swing its head violently to the side, slamming the mouse against the branch of a tree. Even from across the road I heard the bones crunch. Swing, thwack, swing, thwack. Again and again until the kookaburra was finally satisfied and tossed the limp bundle down its throat.

I think kookaburras might be my favourite bird. They're loyal and protective, joyful and patient. They're large enough for me to see in a tree without having to search for ages with the binoculars. The colouring in their feathers is magnificent. Every shade of grey and brown and cream, and the blue-wings have the most magnificent electric blue streaks in the primary feathers. Their laugh is infectious. It makes the cool pre-dawn darkness a thing of joy; the day ahead something to be anticipated.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Finished the book

I finished writing my current book last night. Well, actually I finished it last week, but went back to it yesterday to tidy up a bit. I rewrote the last chapter so it flows better and wrote a whole heap of prophesies and extracts from books to go at the beginning of each chapter, so that all the strange terms I use make sense. I know it needs a lot of editing still, but it's such a good feeling to finally reach the end. I've been working on this one for about two years - in between working five days a week and studying and the myriad other things people fit into their lives.

I even know what book I want to write next, although I really should finish another one I started a little while ago. Actually the one I want to work on is probably top of the pile simply because I have a beautiful new notebook to use for the planning. I've already done some planning - created the world and the threatening creatures and the major characters, all with complete biology and diagrams. I have motivation and internal and external conflict, a history and a mystery to solve, good guys and bad guys and man-eating beasts and, of course, a love interest. But that's where I stop. I know where the book starts and I know where I want it to finish, sort of, but no clue at all about how to get from A to B. It will require some thinking time. The really fascinating thing is that I know by the time I do work out how to get from A to B, B will have shifted to an entirely new place and I'll be surprised all over again. I love writing.

I thought I would start writing last night, immediately after closing the file of the other one, but it didn't happen. I have the picture in my head for the first scene but after the herione captures and incarcerates the hero, I don't know where to go. I'm also having trouble letting go of the characters from the previous book. This is the second book I've written with these characters and they feel like friends. I don't want to just abandon them. I do have a third book following the lives of some of them in my head but I wanted a break from them. I wanted a totally new world with different problems to solve.

So now I have separation anxiety for people who don't even exist and I know if I don't revisit them I'll grieve for them too. My sister once told me I need to get a life but this is my life. I just have real friends AND imaginary ones. :)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Being a mother

My daughter is nearly 25 and a joy to be with. Last week she lost her voice. This is a regular occurrence and often coincides with an upper respiratory tract infection. It happened to me all the time when I was her age. If she doesn't get antibiotics for it, the loss of voice can continue for weeks. Not good when her job relies on her being able to speak.

Yesterday morning I got a phone call. On answering, there was nothing there but as I was expecting her to call I held on. Eventually I heard a soft whisper. How she expected to communicate on the telephone with no volume, I don't know. The request: 'Mum, can you take me to the doctor?' Isn't that sweet?

So that's what we did. I went in with her to 'interpret' - something that hasn't happened since she was a teenager. Then we went to the shopping centre to have the prescription filled. Of course, you can't go near shops without shopping so we bought shoes and dvds, then went home and cooked lunch. After lunch we played with the wii for a while then gave each other manicures. I even had the opportunity to tuck her in for a nap and kiss her forehead as she dropped off to sleep. Another thing that doesn't happen very often anymore.

It was a beautiful quiet time. She couldn't talk and I didn't feel the need to fill the silence. The habit of working together the way we used to when we lived together just slipped back into place, with each of us having our little tasks, swapping tasks as the need appeared, and the whole thing dovetailing almost seamlessly. It was comfortable and comforting.

None of this would have happened if she hadn't been ill. Am I an awful mother for being grateful my daughter needed to go to the doctor and wanted me to take her?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ANZAC day

Tomorrow is ANZAC day. It's one of those odd days that is many different things to many people. ANZAC day - 25 April - marks the day that Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli in 1915. The whole campaign was an absolute disaster. Not only was it poorly planned using eroneous intelligence, but we were landed in the wrong place. Yet the Australians and New Zealanders held their position for nine long months. Today, we commemorate the things that campaign brought to light about the Australian people. Courage, Compassion, Mateship, Honour. There are services of remembrance held around the country on ANZAC day. The first one is at dawn (that's when they landed at Gallipoli). Not every town or suburb does a dawn service but there's usually one within easy driving distance. The next services are at either 9am or 11am, depending on the decisions made by the RSL (Returned and Services League) in the area.

My father was the President of the local RSL branch for many years before he died. Even though he was British, ANZAC day held special significance for him. It was the only time during the year he ever drank more than one drink. The day would start with the dawn service of course. I'd wake at 3am and listen as Dad made a pot of tea before he left. The dawn service is, of course, held at dawn. Afterwards the RSL put breakfast on for members and guests. Dad would stay at the RSL hall, entertaining dignatories and toasting lost mates, until the next service at 11am. That's the one families usually go to. There's a parade of returned and current servicemen, youth groups, schools, etc. There are speeches and "Nearer my God to thee" and "Amazing Grace" are sung.

The Last Post is played by a lone bugler and silence reigns for two minutes (the first minute is to be thankful for those who survived, the second to mourn the loss of those who didn't). I love that The Last Post finishes on a high note - a note of hope and promise. It makes remembering the ANZACs less futile. Reveille follows, in the dawn service it's timed to be played as the sun peeps over the horizon. A new day, a new beginning, a new life to live. The Ode to the Fallen is recited, often just one verse:

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

Then:

"Lest we forget."

Emotive and poignant.

After the 11am service the RSL put on lunch for members and guests. Dad would usually roll home around 6pm, flushed from the scotch, a smile on his face and ghosts in his eyes.

Like many men, Dad enlisted with his mates. He made more friends during his service. He was the only one who survived the war (WWII).

The ones the fighting left alive, cholera took. Dad told me once about being admitted to a hospital along with 200 others (he and most of the men had cholera). He was one of only two who left the hospital alive.

He never spoke about the war, only ever mentioned a couple of his experiences during that time. All the emotion was tucked away behind his iron will and only allowed out on ANZAC day. Every year he was devastated. It never got easier. It never went away.

Not everyone attends an ANZAC day service. Many, especially when the ANZAC day holiday creates a long weekend like this weekend, go away with family or friends. Camping is a favourite at this time of year. I was talking with my mother this evening - she's staying overnight so she can attend the dawn service with my daughter and me. She got quite angry at the idea that so many people treated the day as just another holiday. It's not what those men and women in all the wars have fought for.

I disagree. I think that's exactly what they were fighting for. Our freedom to choose how to celebrate the fact that we have a choice in our lives. Our freedom to live the safe existence we enjoy. What else could possibly be worth fighting for?