neither here nor there

The night before last we went for dinner at a friends house. They loved my broad bean dip and I loved their chicken casserole. So much so that I attempted to replicate it last night. But I guess that's neither here nor there. Cooking is something I do almost every night now and I'm trying to do it better but it's hard. Everything is hard. All I want to do is drink icy drinks, read books and take afternoon naps. Lazy, lazy, lazy. And in a weird sort of way I miss work. I miss the pay going into my bank account every fortnight and although I know that it's kind of crass to talk about money, I worry about it a lot. There's a funny conversation I've had with a few people about what we're doing. It comes up because I imagine it looks like we are living on thin air. Not true, and really it is totally OK. Absolutely it is. But still I worry. And seek to economise so as to spin out what we have for longer. But yeah, work. I also miss being someone who tells others this is the way it goes. Sorting out problems. Hanging around in the tearoom with my colleagues. And having a ready and socially acceptable answer when people ask me what I do. And oh yeah, having a world that's a away from here. Here is good but sometimes it all feels like it is falling around my head. I wouldn't go back to that work because the good aspects of working, in the end, didn't outweigh the crap aspects of the actual job. People remark that I look different, like a big weight has been lifted from me and I suppose it is true, leaving work has been good in that sense. It had to be done. But not working is not quite the paradise I imagined it would be.
There's a temptation for me to lurk at home more than I should. Our friends are so not the sort of people who would judge me for being unemployed and I suppose any other judgement I imagine is more in my head than from anywhere real. Oh actually, that's not quite true, in my last job, workers used to judge the unemployed frequently and sometimes quite harshly. Anyway the lack of structure in my life is starting to grate and although Grace has liked having me around, she has been disappointed in her holidays in a teenagery sort of way (at least that's how I imagine teenagers to be and I am probably wrong there). I have ruined her life and her holidays on a regular basis. There have been tears and slamming doors. It would have been good to go away but we couldn't agree on what to do and the idea never really got of the ground. In hindsight a camping holiday in Tasmania might not have been the best thing this year anyway. I don't think it has really been that bad, there have been some outings, play dates and activities. And anyway, we are gearing up for a big cousin visit tomorrow and that should be pretty fab.
So the other night, one thing I really enjoyed, apart from the company of course, was a visit from the lovely and delicate Twiggy. She sniffed me out and jumped onto my lap and spent quite a bit of time being patted, having her picture taken with my phone and purring. It's quite a privilege to be chosen by a cat other than your own and she stayed on my lap until the children started patting her and then she was off. I'd had a bit to drink when I took these photos but I like them, they capture the noir of the evening and Twiggy in her Twiggyness quite well I think  I'm glad school is back tomorrow. Grace will have some time off to be with the cousins but I am going to get busy. I have plans and I don't know if they are reasonable or if they are going to work but I think just getting busy might be the best strategy at this point.

renovations begin

We had a grand renovation plan from back when we first moved here. It's been refined and improved and we even had an interview with an architect. It was an ambitious plan and one we were not sure we would get approved by the council as it involved shifting the front door and building a hallway along the side of the house. Our house, indeed the whole estate in which we live, is subject to a heritage overlay, being one of the most complete returned servicemen estates in Melbourne. These houses while cute, are very, very small, with minimal sized rooms - think a small workers cottage but with more windows. Sometimes it feels a bit odd that there is so much restriction on what you can do with them. On the other hand, they are well built, quite light if you have a good aspect and just big enough.
. Our original plan would have given us a hallway (I really miss having a hallway), a big kitchen, a separate dining room and a sizeable lounge room. There would have also been a guest room, a revamped study for me and a big covered deck. There would have been room for most of our furniture and it was a killer plan, if I do say so myself. We would have needed to borrow quite a bit of money to do it and while we'd worked out that we could afford to make the repayments on the amount we wanted, the banks didn't agree. Then I quit work, so that was off the agenda for this year at least. About the same time we started talking about what we could do if we didn't any borrow money at all. And so plan B was born. We have gone through each room and worked out what we could do to make it meet our needs better. For example in the lounge room we need space for an extra armchair now that Grace is bigger.  Mainly so we can all watch telly or movies together. We need big bookshelves so we can get all our books out of the shed. The kitchen is not so easy. I can fit the fridge in the kitchen, as opposed to in the laundry, but then I can't fit a dishwasher. People seem to think we really need a dishwasher but it comes at the expense of cupboard space either in the kitchen or the laundry or sun room so maybe we can do without. I still have some thinking to do on that one.
We're going to open up between our kitchen and lounge room (but with cavity sliding doors for extra flexibility), improve and enlarge my study/sewing room, build a guest room which will also be Gerard's music room/study and then there will be a big covered deck with a sink and pizza oven/bbq. There are also plans for a new linen press, a preserving and bulk food storage cupboard, a camp equipment locker as well as various small ways to improve the bedrooms and laundry. If it all works, it will be good. Maybe not as fabulous as the original plan but a substantial improvement on the current space. We haven't drawn proper plans yet but have been wildly imagining each space. However as we know the direction we'll be taking, Gerard has started on some on the jobs to fix up parts of the house that we had delayed because they would have been affected by the big plans. Like fixing the front porch. He has repaired rotten timber, filled cracks, mended brickwork, added some wood work and basically made it look whole again. There is still a way to go, some more rotten timber to be repaired  some glazing and painting to be done and some tiling and lining. I'm also going to have a go at removing some crappy old paint from the bricks and concrete. Not quite sure how it's all going to go this year but feels like a beginning.

the peyton place snake saga continues

So the other day, the hot day, we get back from grocery shopping and lots of the neighbours are clustered around one of the houses, the one known as the chequerboard house. I say to Gerard, uh oh, I bet the snake is back. We go and see what's going on and sure enough one of the women came out her front door and was about to put her shoes on and saw a big snake on her driveway. One of her sons shows me a picture on his phone and sure enough it is a big snake. The snake has gone under the next door house (the chequerboard house) and they have people from the council there and the snake catcher is on his way. Everyone is eating fruit from their fruit shop which is in a big blue bowl on the bonnet of the four wheel drive. I really hope they catch the snake.
We go inside to put the shopping away and Grace is put on snake catcher watch. I don't want to miss them finding the snake. I want photos and I want a chance to see it and confront my fears in a safe sort of way. I also want to know that is gone. Although apparently they need to release captured snakes into suitable habitat less than 5k away and a lot make their way back into suburbia. The snake catcher arrives in a van the makes it pretty hard to mistake what he does. There is lots of standing around. We show him our snake skin in a jar and he and the men from the fruiterer's house and the chequerboard house poke around under the house. They have torches and spades. Not the snake handler, he has a sack and a long steel stick with a hook on the end. Our neighbour pulls some boards from his under house. It looks like these guys mean business. Another neighbour tells me how she found two empty snake eggs under a geranium bush at the bottom of her garden. She looked them up on the internet to confirm what they were. Apparently brown snakes are egg layers - I should google to check but I have the fear sort of under control and I don't want to mess with that. I feel a bit sorry for the woman who saw the snake on her drive way, she told me she didn't sleep for two weeks after we had our snake incident. I totally get her fear. Anyway, it appears that the snake (and possibly her children) is ranging around the court. There are houses nearby that still have mice, so I guess the snake has a territory.

Anyway the snake catcher did not catch our snake and as we all dispersed, I mentioned the brown snake to our next door neighbour who was arriving home and he said in an unpleasant and boorish manner, heh snake, whatever. I'm from Mildura and we have black snakes, brown snakes. I thought well, snakes are not the usual thing in North Coburg, and you'll be thrilled when the snake you are not looking out for bites your pit bull puppy. He wins the prize for the most unfriendly neighbour yet. There's now a whole new dynamic around the snake in the court and chequerboard man is being pressured into cleaning up his somewhat jumky backyard by his next door neighbours (the fruiterers) and the council. It is quite a thing. Gerard is booked to help load the skip, when it turns up.

reading in 2012

Last year was a pretty good year, reading wise. All things considered. A huge improvement on 2011 when I read so few books that I almost felt that I'd lost the pleasure of reading. Ah, the pleasures of a half hour here and a half hour year. Reading in the lunch room, in waiting rooms, when I should be doing something else, in bed, on the tram. Highlights? Definitely the Harry Potter series. Why did I wait so long? I thought Grace was ready for it but not quite. But me, I slurped them up. Books and movies. I also made a mistake when buying the last two books and bought two of one and missed another. So I read the Half Blood Prince on my kindle and discovered that I actually do like reading on the kindle. And I can read in bed much easier on the kindle, and without glasses. And it's much easier to carry around than a great big book. Other highlights were The Secret River and the Stieg Larsson books.

At the moment I'm reading the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey and I started off quite liking the stilted prose and slow moving and somewhat predictable story lines. I was going to read the whole series but now I'm not so sure. Maybe there's a reason I didn't also read these back when I was reading the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley in the 80s. Maybe I'll read something else when I finish this one and see.
Books read in 2012
The Chronicles of Pern, Anne McCaffrey 1993
Light Christmas reading. Dragons, new planet, space settlement. pedestrian writing. I don't know why I bother but it is strangely soothing. Back to mum.

Eragon, Christopher Paollini, 2004
Pretty standard quest book but with dragon. OK. Back to opshop.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, 2009
I tried to like this, really I did. But I just couldn't get a lock on the characters. I loved watching the Tudors on TV and I really wanted to read something a bit more literary about them. Perhaps my lack of knowledge of the Tudor period let me down. Opshop/clothes swap.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling, 1997
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling, 1998
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J.K. Rowling, 1998
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K Rowling, 2000
Harry Potter and the Order the Phoenix,  J.K. Rowling,2003
Harry Potter and the Half Blood prince, J.K. Rowling (on the kindle)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling, 2007
Oh the Harry Potter series! I lived and breathed Harry Potter for a good period of time in 2012. It was sufficiently engrossing to read at work during lunch time. Each time I finished a book, I watched the movie. I think my favourite book was the Order of the Phoenix but my favourite movie was the last one. So not the ending I expected. Grace is a little young for most of the movies and they don't hold her interest anyway. I'm thinking of somehow procuring (library?) the Stephen Fry cds and listening to them together - perhaps this winter.

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver, 2000
Enjoyed this, a bit slow in parts, but the sections come together in a satisfying way. Pass on to mum.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snickett, 1999
Another kids book that I really enjoyed. It's a bit stated and genre-ie but I quite liked how bad things kept happening to the children and how they tried somewhat unsuccessfully to overcome these things. Looking forward to reading more. I also like the drawings and the presentation of the book. Very cool. One for Grace when she is a little bit older so I'll put it in her bookcase to discover when she is ready.

The Girl who kicked the Hornet's Nest, Stieg Larsson 2007
I didn't think I would like this as much as the first, but I did. I think I also read the final book in the series during 2012 too. Total page turners and about as gory as I can handle. Actually maybe a bit over my comfort threshold. I tried to watch the Swedish movie and it was too scary for me, even though I knew what was going to happen.

The Secret River, Kate Grenville, 2005
Thought this was brilliant. I could imagine coming to Australia as a convict and then the life as a free man with family on the Hawkesbury. Hope I come across the sequel at the opshop. Might lend to mum.

On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder 1958
Loved this. As thrilling as when I first read it, actually maybe even more horrifying and rewarding as an adult. Can't wait to read all the others. Keep in the hope Grace will enjoy.

The Almost Moon, Alice Sebold, 2007
A dour but strangely compelling little book about a woman who accidentally (maybe) kills her mother. Opshop.

The High Cost of Living, Marge Piercy, 1978
Pacy, feminist, gender bendy or as the moderns would say - intersectionality. Might keep.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski, 2008
A great big book about a deaf mute boy on a farm who is unable to call for help when his father dies and what happens to his family subsequently.Pretty good but back to opshop.

Rowan and the Travellers, Emily Rodda, 1994
Love reading these kids books. Need to hide in Grace's bookshelf so she can discover it herself.

Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain, 2012
I bought this after watching this TED talk and being very moved by it. I've always felt that maybe there was something a bit wrong with me even though I know it's OK to be an introvert. What was great for me about this book is that it places a value on introversion. I'll be keeping this one.

Truth & Beauty, Anne Patchett, 2004
This was pretty good. Autobiographical account of a complex friendship. Pass on to mum.

Miss Smilla's feeling for snow, Peter Hoeg, 1992
I did enjoy this although I found it a bit slow moving in parts. I'm sure there were cultural references and subtleties about the Greenlanders that I didn't get. Back to the opshop.

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver, 2009
Another one I couldn't finish. It should have been great given the subject matter but I just couldn't engage with it. Opshop.

People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks, 2008
This was beautiful and I even liked the way it jumped around. Dad got a copy for Christmas. Back to the person I borrowed it off (see I can return books).

The Colour of Water, James McBride 1997
About someone growing up poor and black, with a mum who was white but wouldn't admit it. Interesting. All about family, race, poverty and getting through school. Might pass on to my mum.

The White Earth, Andrew McGahan, 2004
01/11 The best book I have read in a long while. I love the way the story unfolds and is quite different at the end to what you think it might be in the beginning. The sense of place, of entitlement, of ownership and how that is overlaid with history and complication and savage wrongdoing. Awesome. A keeper. Although I would lend it out I suppose.

A place called Lantern Light, Ellen Miller, 1975
01/11 Bought at the Camperdown opshop because I liked the cover with its outback landscape and because it was about traveling from Lake St Clair in Tasmania up to Western Australia by car before the Nullabor was sealed. I loved this book and read it in a day. The story was a bit stated but the descriptions of traveling resonated. As did the relationships. One for the history/oz lit shelf.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, 2002
01/11 - I struggled to get into this book at first. Maybe because we were camping. But something had me persist and midway through I was hooked and searching out time to read. But the ending puzzled and disappointed me, I thought I must have missed something between Gen and Roxanne in my haste to get to the end. Maybe I'll read it again. Maybe not. It wasn't that great. Good but not great. From the opshop - might pass on to mum or clothes swap.

snake, your name is fear

A week ago I was pretty pleased with the way I was getting over my fear of snakes. I'd stopped anxiously scanning a room before entering, I'd decided I could go to the clothes line in thongs and without that awful tense fear in my chest. I'd decided that it was monkey brain stuff and that I could control it. Had worked out that humans are not natural prey for snakes and that being bitten was not actually my worst fear - there are after all spiders like redbacks or white tailed spiders that can give you a nasty bite and I'm not afraid of them. Also if you get bitten, you go to hospital. And anyway when was the last time anyone in Australia actually died from snake bite?

So a couple of nights ago we're having dinner outside and afterwards Gerard is watering the vegetable garden and he calls Grace and I over. I know he wouldn't be calling us to come and see a brown snake but still I am reluctant to go. He cajoles and I resist, but eventually we go. And there just by one of the tomato plants is some reptile skin. It's not a whole snake skin but it looks like snake skin. It is moist and fresh and straight away I begin to freak out. So, it wasn't a snake on the move after all  It is living in our freaking backyard and wrapping itself around our tomato plants to shed a skin it has grown out of. Not only is the snake still here but it is GETTING BIGGER. Just writing this is making my chest constrict and my stomach ache.
. . The next day, I ring the snake handler who came out the first time. He chats for a while about snake habits and seems to think that our yard may be part of the snake's range. Doesn't think there is much point in coming out to find and catch the snake unless we actually see it. Says that if we are worried that we should wear shoes in the back yard. He does talk to us on the phone for quite a while but it doesn't make me feel better about a snake in the veggie patch.

Over the next few days the fear grows and grows. I'm hallucinating snakes and don't even feel safe inside, even though that first time Gerard and the snake handler went through the back of the house really thoroughly and really there is no evidence of a snake being inside. And the sloughed snake skin was outside. I talk to people about the snake and people seem to get wise and tight lipped when I say it is a brown snake. People think brown snakes should be caught. I also hear lots of snake stories  About my neighbour who has had three separate snake bites. A dad at Grace's school who was standing neck deep in a river and a snake tried to beach itself on his neck. And about another woman who jumped into the Yarra river with friends after a music festival and emerged with a snake around her leg. I wonder if I'll ever be able to swim in brown water again. Another friend on Facebook mentions that the shamans believe snake energy is really powerful. I'd like to believe that somehow our house is blessed but I'm almost too fearful to google snake energy. Let alone useful information about how snakes behave..
Eventually I decide I need to do something and ring the council who put me on to the Department of Sustainability who put me onto some private snake handlers, including the one I have already rung. What I really wanted was for someone to say, oh no you can't have a brown snake in your yard, we'll send someone over and they will totally take care of it. I ring another snake handler and again, he's really nice, and again he doesn't think there is much point in him coming over unless we actually see the snake. Which really is the last thing I want.

Now five days later, I have a hold of my fear again. We've decided that you need to wear shoes to take the compost out and go in the veggie patch. But that thongs are OK on the grass and at the table outside. We're going to clean up around the backyard a bit more but probably not enough to eliminate all snake habitat, because it's nice to have some bushes and greenery around. And also we have heaps of building material that we have scavenged for the renovation project. It's saving us a heap of money that pile of weather boards so it's not going anywhere. I decided that what I needed was to engage with my space more so I spent a day cleaning out the study. I moved all the boxes and baskets, vacuumed behind things. The few things I couldn't move or see behind, I got Gerard to investigate with a torch. As he said, the snake is not that small, so hiding places are more limited than you would think. The study now feels very snake free. And you know, maybe it was a blue tongue lizard skin. But maybe not. Our house actually feels very rodent free for a change. Being afraid isn't going to make a bit of difference either way. I just have to learn to live with the fact that there are snakes around here.

beach weather

Last week, I forget exactly when, we went to the beach for dinner. It was the day before the total stinker I think and was part of my "we need to leave the house at some point" campaign. We took one of Grace's friends, so she had someone to play with. Although there was a lot of chatter from the back seat, which I'm not used to. It felt strange to be crossing town on a weeknight with almost no traffic. As usual I got all nostalgic as we drove down Bluff road and past the street where my nan lived in a house like ours, then as we passed the street where my mum grew up and where my nan had her last unit.

-- Once we were at the beach and unloading the car, the lock in the boot broke. Gerard fixed it in less time than you would imagine and we headed down the path to Black Rock Beach. I had planned we would go to Half Moon Bay but I got my directions a bit wrong. As it turned out, Emily texted us that there was a sewerage spill there, so lucky. Gerard freaked at the lack of shade, and our lack of beach umbrella, but I found a little nook in the bushes that had just enough space for the four of us and plenty of shade. I tried not to obsess about snakes (more to come on that later). I took the girls down to the water and it was surprisingly cold. We were all brave and dived in. The sand was rougher on my feet than I remembered. And yet it was absolutely blissful. To be in the water, to be looking at the water and the sky, at the beach with people on it. Just gorgeous.
- - Later we had some dinner, stinky cheese and biscuits, vegetables, smoked oysters, chips, fruit, frozen fruit boxes and iced water. And then another swim. Later Gerard took the girls to look at the rocks and I had a swim by myself, then a relax and a read of my dragon book on the kindle. When the girls came back we had another swim, we watched the sun sink lower and lower into the sky and then packed up. Icy poles were a topic of conversation and finally I relented and said we could stop for icy poles if there was absolutely no whinging or complaining from anyone as we climbed the cliff and got in the car. So we stopped in the dark somewhere near St Kilda and bought icy poles. As we drove off the car started feeling and smelling a bit funny. G stopped to have a look and water and oil were good but it was a slightly anxious ride home. We think it is the exhaust and we're waiting for our mechanic to come back from holidays (we totally trust our mechanic so worth waiting for). Perhaps we shouldn't have let the coat hanger fix become so long term. Oh well. We can bus it and bike it for a while. -

a brand new year

Hmm, 'tis shaping up to be another pyjama day around here, but we do have some activities planned for later in the week. In amongst the sloth pleasant relaxation, I've been thinking about my plans for the new year and mostly they are very modest. Things like:
Begin and end the day with a big glass of water.
Learn to be comfortable on a bike again.
Read lots of novels, even if they do have dragons in them. Actually I intend to read the whole Pern series by Anne McCaffrey to start with. It is reading time and all the other worlds I go to that are most precious to me, not just the academic/literary worth of the book. That said, I'm going to at least try and read some more challenging books because it is good to be stretched. But mostly I want to maintain the habit of reading.
Work on not being so fearful. There have been various patches in my life where I have had extreme fearfulness and anxiety before and I've got over it before. Just recently had a whole week of full on snake phobia and it's monkey brain stuff. Time for it to stop.
Use my real camera as well as my phone. Love instagram but it is nice to have proper DSLR photos too.
Make nicer dinners. Do good things with food and drink. Share them with family and friends. Likely to increase the pleasantness factor of our life.
Make stuff. Buttons, toys, clothes, websites. See what happens.
Work on the house. Make it better.
Making nori rolls and pavlova and eating delectable cherries. Happy New year!Nori for dinner. Yum!
Last year was a stinker for me. As I unwind and have more and more weeks without the three day hell interval that was work, I become less and less sorry that I left. And more myself. It's funny but family life has improved in a whole lot of ways too. We seem to be on an upward happy cycle. Last year was a horrid cycle of becoming unwell, adjusting medication and/or lifestyle, feeling better for a while then becoming unwell again. The unwinding process has taken me to some strange and slightly discombulating places but as I feel the spaces of so much better starting to emerge, I know I made the right decision.

We spent the New Year quietly at home. I made nori rolls for dinner and a pavlova which friends came around to share. As the year turned we went out on the streets to watch the fireworks and wobbled home to put a very tired Grace to bed. Sometimes very low key is lovely and just right. So goodbye 2012 and hello brand new 2013.

I do hope 2013 is full of lots of good things for you all. Happy 2013!