Thursday, December 27, 2007

Boxing Day bumbling 'bout

Christmas Day has come and gone, and in its wake left wrapping paper, half-naked Barbies, scattered Lego, wilting salads, and tired but happy children.

Boxing Day we spent with family up at Mum's farm, reading multiple sets of instructions. There were instructions for tamagotchis (given to the kids by my sister), and instructions for a game called Hyperdash (given by my mother). We puzzled over how to set up a magician's kit, a science project set and a remote-controlled car. We sat around talking silly talk, eating lychees and rumballs, and then went walking, looking for koalas (from left to right - my sister, Benjamin, me holding hand of unseen niece, and Laura).

This big sleepy-looking guy was more than happy to pose for photos.

This year, I wanted to get through the celebrations without getting frustrated with any relatives. Christmas doesn't feel very loving when you're mentally berating a loved one in your mind! I prepared myself beforehand, reminding myself that we are all different people, with different ways of thinking and living - none of them 'right' or 'wrong'. And miracle of miracles, I enjoyed myself, and enjoyed being with everyone else, and I don't think I drove anyone else nuts either (that I noticed!). Of course, there was the moment when my husband and brother got a bit tetchy with each other, but that's not anything to do with me!
Even if Aunt Sal made a snarky comment about your weight, or the fruitcake you'd slaved over turned out dry; even if you got a little snippy with your mother or yelled at your kids; even if there was sadness or sickness to face - I hope you all had some truly happy moments over Christmas.
Seasons Greetings my friends.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

yuletide blues and gratitude

"I sort of feel disconnected from everyone", Belly said softly. "Everyone's just so busy - I don't get time to talk to anyone."

Another friend wrote a blog post about feeling lonely in her own home, surrounded by kids and husband, despite the rapidly approaching festive season. 'It shouldn't be like this', she seemed to be saying.

I'm also feeling a little pensive. Belly was right - we get so busy attending Christmas functions (during which we buzz here and there, talk to this person and that, but rarely touch on anything more than the superficial) that we get stressed and harangued and lose the closeness to loved ones that we all so desire. We find ourselves sitting on the back deck with our beagles (or labradors, or Great Danes, or whatever!)

I always tell my patients that Christmas is never a good time to stop their anti-depressants. It's just too much. Too much family bickering, too many parties to attend and meals to cook, too much brandy eggnog, too many gifts to buy in crowded shopping malls, too many hours spent together in close proximity. We all adore the idea of Christmas .... it just doesn't always live up to expectations.

So if we aforementioned women - all women who have families who love us, challenging professions, plenty of food, safe homes, decent clothing, and good health - if we privileged and fortunate women feel inexplicably bereft with the approach of Christmas, then how do less fortunate women or men feel? How does it feel when your child asks for a remote-controlled jeep and you know the budget will only stretch to a supermarket Matchbox car? How does it feel to know the only Christmas dinner you'll be eating is baked beans on toast? How does it feel to know that your alcoholism/drug habit/mental illness has driven away everyone you ever loved, including your own family?

I don't know how it feels. I can only try to comprehend. I can try to comprehend, and then I can shake myself a little and put a minor mood swing into perspective. Because even if Christmas can become hurried and hassled, the goodness and giving is in there somewhere to be found. I'm going to sit and write some heartfelt Christmas cards tonight. I'm going to squeezehug my husband when he gets home from playing squash. And next week, Belly and I have a date for coffee, dessert and girl talk. Christmas is going to be flawed yet fabulous this year!

To all of you who take the time to read and to comment here - to leave witty, inspiring, empathetic or just plain silly comments on my blog .... thank you. Your support and friendship to me is one of the most truly Christmas-y things there is! And if any of you have been struck with a touch of the Yuletide Blues - fear not; you are not alone. I propose we all drink some spiced cider, hold hands in a circle (swaying a little from the cider), and sing "Auld Lang Syne" kind of off-key but spiritedly.

You are some of the most funny, interesting and kind people I have met. I am grateful to 'know' you.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

good dog

Now that she's middle-aged, bordering on elderly, my beagle is sweeter to me and nastier to others. She reminds me of those eccentric older women, who get softer and more generous with their children and grandchildren, but increasingly cantankerous and demanding with the rest of the world.

Rather like a human, Millie was all for cuddles and snuggling as an wee thing. She would lie on my lap for hours; she would follow me around. She loved pats from anyone, and would wag her skinny little tail in delight. But soon enough she became irritated by affection. She would wiggle away from pats and hugs - off to follow a likely scent. I would find her and come sit with her, only to have her spring up and run away. I jokingly described my dog as a cat to anyone who would listen (and apologies here to all cat-lovers, because I know that many cats are in fact affectionate!)

As time has passed, though, Millie has become both more loving and more snarly. She would let me rub her tummy until well into the next century. She would taste a small morsel of anyone who stuck their hopeful patting hand through our front fence.

I sat, just now, at the top of our back steps. Millie sat beside me, and leant into my side. I patted her tan fur, and scratched just behind her ears. Millie lifted her muzzle and turned towards my fingernails. I rested my chin lightly on her soft small head; "Good girl Millie", I crooned. I sat by my beagle dog in the dense and balmy evening air until mosquitoes began to bite me.

I reluctantly came inside. I sat down to write about the comfort of a warm dog, leaning.

Friday, December 07, 2007

tinned sardines

Sometimes I forget how odd we humans can be. I fail to see the strangeness of a situation, because it has become so familiar.

Last night I was washing my face in the bathroom when I heard beside me a low, restrained cough. It wasn't an intruder. It was our neighbour Keith, whose master bedroom is a mere four metres from our bathroom.

All at once, I felt the sheer ridiculousness of urban living wash over me. I felt almost sheepish, thinking about my home. It struck me as fantastically bizarre that, with all the space on Earth, I have chosen to live in a wooden box, next to hundreds of other wooden boxes, in the middle of a veritable ocean of wooden and brick boxes. I live so close to the nearest house that I can hear my neighbour cough quietly in his bed. It's ludicrous.

I understand why, from a practical point of view, we humans have tended to congregate together. Now that we no longer till the soil and raise livestock to be self-sustaining, most of us need to live near other humans for employment. And with people grouped together comes the infrastructure we have come to rely on, such as roads, power and water. In cities and towns we find schools, law enforcement, welfare agencies, hospitals and many other important services. I also know that to own more than a standard block of land in the city costs a great deal - both in purchase price, and in annual rates. The larger city blocks have steadily been subdivided, until we are all living on tiny pieces of land, our houses teetering precariously close to each other. We live our lives scrunched closely together, witnessing each others' lives whether we like it or not.

I actually don't mind living near other people. I find people generally quite interesting, and I like our neighbours. I love living four streets away from my dear friend Belly. It's good to be close to shops and schools. And when I want some open space, I can retreat to Mum's sweeping acres of countryside.

I still find it strange to consider the closeness of city dwelling. Last night I could have piped up and offered Keith a cough lozenge.

I reckon I could have even chucked it in through his window.

N.B. - I suspect 'chucked' may be an Australian slang word, so for those non-Aussies - 'chucked' as we use it here means thrown or threw. For example:

"I got chucked out of class"


"I am going to chuck it all in and run off with my gym instructor"


"She got drunk and chucked up in the taxi"

OR (my personal favourite)

"If someone doesn't help me with this soon, I'm going to chuck a wobbly!!" (translation here - throw a tantrum)

As you can see, 'chuck' is a versatile and descriptive word. Try to use it at least once today!


Sunday, December 02, 2007

seven years ago

When they laid her on my chest, all bloodied and limp, I felt concerned and protective. I prodded her gently, and said, "C'mon .... breathe, baby, breathe." I waited anxiously to hear her cry, but once she did, and the nurse had taken her to be wrapped, I felt not profound love, but relief.

After relief came fatigue, and giddy excitement, and pride, all intermingled. But within a day or so, no more, came love.

There came a love so all-consuming that it left me sobbing at the end of each day, because never before had I known a love so blistering. I was blindsided by emotion. Suddenly I knew that my life would never be free from fear again, even if I pushed my fear to the deepest recesses of my mind. I had a daughter. I knew I must protect her for years to come; I knew I would love her as long as I lived.

That baby has grown into a brown-eyed, pony-tailed, soft-hearted girl. She is different to her mother - she is more confident, less impatient, kinder - but she thinks like me. I understand my daughter in a way that bonds me to her, far beyond any genetic connections. I love her not only because I am duty-bound to, but because I see in her something recognisable and warm and familiar. Just as I am drawn to my oldest, closest friends, so it is with my daughter.

It has been seven years since this girl baby came into my life. Still I am blindsided.

Happy Birthday Laura. You are a wonder and a delight.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

thank goodness for rhubarby friends

I was around at Susan's blog the other day, and I loved the words of this poem she posted. The poem is all about being grateful for our many different types of friends. My favourite line was about being thankful .....

"For crotchety friends, sour as rhubarb and as indestructible"

I have a gal pal I have known since high school days, who is definitely one of the rhubarb friends. Not that she's nasty or always gloomy - just that she likes things the way she likes them, and she's not afraid to tell others precisely how.

If we plan to see a movie together, the options are quite limited. She only likes sweeping historical romances or quirky English comedies.

If we go out for the day, the schedule is entirely dictated by her stomach and its need for fuel every two hours.

She terrifies the younger nurses at work with her abrupt manner. KP once walked up to a nurse (who KP had heard had been scratched on the nose by a patient) and wordlessly began rubbing the more junior nurse's nose with an alco-wipe. The terrified younger nurse remained stock still, silently submitting to the nose-wiping, until another nurse came by and murmured, "Her elbow! Not her nose! The guy scratched her on the elbow!". KP told me this story with barely repressed glee - such was her delight in her ability to strike fear into the hearts of others.

When she orders a meal at a restaurant, she asks for so many ingredients to be removed that I'm sure the chef whips off his hat and stomps on it, out back. She has given me a list of foods she doesn't eat, for when we invite her family over. There are 19 or 20 items on the list.

My other friends think KP is fairly weird, and I know they wonder why I like her so much. Fatty calls her a 'crazy woman'. But I'll tell you why this woman is so dear to me.

She sends me cards for no reason.

She makes me snort laugh.

She cooks roasts and invites us all over (roast meat and certain veges are on the acceptable foods list!)

She asks me how I am, and actually wants to know.

She hates to kill anything, even spiders.

She bosses me into doing things I wouldn't have ever tried without her urging. (Not that learning to knit, wearing green or eating high tea are world-changing events, but they've been fun!)

She offers to give me a neck massage before I've given her one. She offers to mind my children. She brings lavish pavlovas when she visits. She lends me books she thinks I might like. She nurtures me like no other friend does, my sweet/sour rhubarby KP.

So charge your glasses please, for a toast - to all those pernickety, feisty, difficult yet spectacular friends......

and to KP!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

in my dreams last night....

I was a tobacco lawyer. My job was purely to defend cigarette manufacturers against lawsuits. I was striding through the city streets, not ever reaching a destination. I came across an old school pal of high integrity, and she frowned and avoided my gaze. I was accompanied by my fat beagle dog on a leash. The dog snarled savagely at anyone who came within a few metres.

I was surfing the net, and came across a comment on another blog left by the delightful fifi. She signed off with her last name, which was filiaria (it has a certain ring to it, right? Fiona Filiaria?). I was thrilled to discover fifi's full name, and decided to look her up in the phonebook when next I visited her city.

I was shopping, and came across an older couple who are both patients of mine in real life, in the car park. "Wait, Bessie!", I beseeched the lady. "I want to show you something beautiful I bought. I'll just go to my car and be right back." But instead of going to my car, I got distracted and went back into the shopping complex. Two hours later I emerged, to see the sweet older couple still sitting in their car, waiting. I bolted over, and breathlessly apologised, mortified and desperately sorry. Bessie calmly replied, "I am extremely angry with you. What you did was terrible." They drove off.

There were other dreams, too, but more jumbled and nonsensical and incomplete. I am a profuse dreamer, and can recall at least one dream from every night, often many more. Other people I know, like Fatty, say they rarely recall their dreams. What about you?

Sunday, November 18, 2007


It's unusual for me to be frightened. Not because I'm especially brave, but more because I'm not one for taking risks. There'll be no bungee jumping, paragliding or skydiving for this little black duck.

Calculated risk I'm comfortable with. At least - calculated risk where the risk is predetermined by myself to be very low. I'll happily fight an opponent at karate (knowing I'm wearing a chest guard, mitts, mouth guard and shin guards), I'll loop the loop on a rollercoaster (knowing that death by rollercoaster is not a common event), hell, I'll even occasionally NOT FLOSS. I am woman, hear me meow. This afternoon, though, I was genuinely afraid.

I was at the movies with Fatty, my husband. As he juggled drink, chips and tickets, I wafted off across the foyer to use the bathroom before the film began. Trudging ahead of me was a young man with scruffy hair. His jeans were so long that they trailed along the ground, obscuring all view of his shoes. He turned to look at me as I fell in behind him, both of us heading down the hallway to the toilets.

We came level with the women's facilities, and the man turned to look at me again, this time more of a stare than a look. I ducked my head and headed into the women's, noting with a feeling of disquiet that there was no main door - only a corridor that hooked around. Just before I disappeared from view, I glanced down the hall again. The long-jeaned youth was standing just outside the men's room, his eyes accusatory and suspicious, pinning me with a glare of pure malice. It was evident to me at this moment that the guy was not well.

The women's toilets were empty. For some reason, despite my unease, I went ahead and entered a cubicle. I was listening all the while for the sound of footsteps, knowing that if this mentally-ill man tried to harm me, there would be no-one to hear me yell. I was across a carpeted foyer, along a hallway and around a corner from my husband. This knowledge did nothing to calm me.

I was out of the cubicle in record time, washed my hands nervously and sped back to Fatty. I told him the story as we walked to our movie. I explained how threatened I had felt. I had to force myself not to twist around when, in the almost deserted movie theatre, someone came and sat in the seat just behind me. Fatty replied airily, "Well, really, you could be killed in lots of places." Thank you, my sweet.

So all's well that ends well (as they say), and I was not stabbed to death by a psychopath. It's all good. I'm happy. I presume my family are happy to still have me around. It's bound to be a relief for the cinema cleaners, too. But if I should fail to post for more than a week, you'll know what's happened.

I'll be in a psychiatric ward on account of my persistent delusion that someone is trying to kill me in a public toilet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

heart and soul

I know I wrote a morbid-sounding poem last week, but I haven't fallen into a pit of despair. It was a bad case of Mondayitis, with a bad little haiku to mark the occasion. (Thank you, though, for the supportive comments and bloglove you sent me! I took a great deal of comfort from them all)

Although I'm not sad, I have been feeling very emotional. I've been gazing at the tiny freckles on Laura's nose, with sheer adoration. I've been thinking of my younger brother and sister, and how I love them more than they may ever know. Benjamin's cheeky attempts to boss me around have made me grin, and tell him, "Good try!", while we both fall about laughing. Tears run down my face when I watch news items about tragedy and loss. Every emotion seems intensified just now, but it's not unpleasant. It's like my world is programmed for high definition.

In a music store today, I listened to the album recently released by the Choir of Hard Knocks - an Australian choir comprised of homeless and disadvantaged people. Many of the choir members struggle with addictions to alcohol and other drugs; many have mental health problems. I had seen programs about this choir in which I heard them sing, and have read articles about the group. Yet despite this, I found myself listening today, transfixed, with goosebumps rising all over my arms. The music wasn't technically perfect, but it was sung with such intensity. And when the soprano soloist's voice rang out, the notes were so true and clear and unadorned that my throat went tight with the beauty of it.

I know the world can be a nasty, scary, awful place. Things happen that are sickening, sad and soul-destroying. And yet ............ flawed though we may be, we as people also have the most incredible capacity to bring joy into each others' lives. It doesn't take much to make another person feel cared for, feel loved, feel noticed. A wave, a brief conversation, a smile of commiseration, or lending a hand for a moment - these small acts become amplified, like ripples on a pond, radiating outwards and spreading happiness to all those around.

The future can be brighter, because we all can be kinder to each other. We may show kindness towards our own family and friends (well, for the most part!), but what about the mother who no-one ever talks to at school pick-up, or the cashier who looks exhausted, or the elderly man who looks unsure of his bearings on the street? There are so many opportunities for us each to make a difference. I'm trying to remember this.

It seems to me that life can get so busy, it is easy to race along in the current, never stopping to consider where we are actually going, or even to notice about what we are doing, day by day. So I relish these days of high emotion. Because what could be worse than not feeling anymore? What could be worse than ceasing to weep at sadness, ceasing to hoot with laughter, and ceasing to tingle at every nerve-end at the sound of voices sung from heart and soul?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Thoughts on a Monday Morning


Monday sidles in
Makes snide remarks and sniggers
Hopes to see me weep

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Giant Bug

Children take time to notice their surroundings, and mine are no exception. I can't count the number of amazing sights I've seen because my of my childrens' powers of observation.
Benjamin wandered out onto our back deck earlier this week, only to come shrieking back, exclaiming, "Mum, Mum! You have got to see this!". I lugged myself up and away from my coffee and paper, and was rewarded with the sight of this huge Titan stick insect.
As fast as you could say 'enormous bug', Fatty had a wildlife book out, and we identified the insect. Although the blurb says the insect is around 25cm, our Titan stick insect measured 36 cm when I held the ruler directly next to him. We grow 'em big on our back deck!
As the Titan stick insect is the biggest insect in Australia, and as OURS (well, OK, the one on our back deck) was sooooo long, I informed the kids this morning that we may well have been visited by the longest insect in our entire continent. "Really?", Laura enquired in hushed tones.
"Really", I replied, smiling - glad that it's a Saturday, glad that such a small thing can enthrall our whole family, and thankful above all for children - the most astonishing creatures of all.

Friday, October 26, 2007

in which I record my dumbass tendencies for posterity

I never claimed to be clever. My dear friend Mr Woo doesn't call me Jellyhead for nothin'. It's just that sometimes I go months without doing something majorly stupid, and I convince myself I'm just middle-of-the road silly.

I went to the shops today on an present-buying errand. Gift purchased, I left the shopping mall to go fetch my daughter from school. I headed for where I recalled having parked my car. No car.

After wandering that parking level for awhile, I decided to try the next level up. Feeling a lot like Jerry Seinfeld, except without any friends, I strode anxiously around the top car park. No car. I began to feel panicky. Time was ticking away, and even if I found the car immediately, I was going to be late to collect Laura. I tried phoning the mobile of another school mother, to see if she could help. No answer.

Now sweating in the heat, and with tears prickling at the corners of my eyes, I headed down to a lower level. Except, in my haste, I went down three levels, effectively skipping the actual car park where my abandoned car lay waiting. Half running, I scanned the basement car park as I jogged. No car. By now the tears were leaking out my eyes and running down my cheeks. I finally came to my senses and phoned my best friend, Belly, who lives not far from Laura's school. Belly promised to go meet my daughter, and to let her know that she wasn't forgotten - that she merely has a hare-brained mother.

With shaking voice and tear-stained face, I stopped an elegantly-dressed woman to ask her if she knew where there was a taxi rank. Kindly, and without further questioning, the lady explained how to find a cab. Running now through the shopping centre, I ignored the heads turning my way and prayed that none of these spectators were patients of mine. If any were, they probably wouldn't be for long. I wasn't a sight to inspire confidence - professional or otherwise.
It's a worry when your doctor can't find their own car, cries about it, and then runs erratically through a public place.

I found the cab rank. There were seven people waiting ahead of me. With quavery voice, I asked the elderly couple in front of me if they minded if I jumped ahead of them in the queue. The husband calmly suggested I take the same cab as they did - after all, they were going to the same suburb. I gave up on my queue-jumping plan, and stood meekly next to the very short old couple. I hoped fervently that Belly had managed to wrangle her two small children into the car, find the school gate, find a park, and meet my daughter before she became upset.

A taxi-driver leapt out of the next taxi, and spoke with the passengers ahead of me. The waiting crowd frowned, and the driver spoke with the old couple ahead of me. The small, round old man turned around. "He says he's not going to take passengers for any long distance trips," the old man informed me. "These others want the airport. You go with him".

With grateful thanks, I leapt into the cab, and we drove to Laura's school. My daughter stood chatting happily with Belly and Belly's daughters. I burst into fresh tears, before quickly controlling myself again. Laura looked puzzled. She tells me she's only ever seen me cry once before. She told me she'd been 'not one bit' worried when she'd had to wait back with the 'uncollected' children. "I knew you'd come, Mum", she soothed.

I thanked Belly for saving the day. Fatty came home and we drove to the car park. We found the car. We came back home at last. I apologised profusely. And Fatty neither laughed nor grumbled, but instead went and picked up pizza for dinner. The man's a keeper.

As you can tell, I'm feeling embarrassed and dopey. So if you have any stories you'd like to share involving lost cars, crying for no good reason or neglecting to care for your offspring properly...... this is the place to do it. Ready, steady, go!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


It seems to me that the wanting of something can become an entity all its own - that even when we no longer desire a certain object, a hoped-for-outcome, a special person - that the yearning itself lives and breathes still.

As a schoolgirl of fourteen, I had a silly crush on a dark-haired boy in my music class. He seemed to be universally liked, he was handsome, he was friendly yet somehow maintained a slight reserve. I was angular, pale and had a tendency to blush. I had plenty of friends, but wasn't wildly popular. I was desperate to be noticed, hoping fervently to be adored.

The boy was nice enough to me, but never showed any interest beyond friendship. I don't blame him in the least - I was so insecure, so hopelessly romantic, so doey. I think back to how I gazed at the boy adoringly, and it induces waves of nausea.

After a couple of years of being politely dismissed, I stopped the gazing. I still thought the boy was a decent guy, I still thought he was cute, but I didn't pine for him any more. I developed some self-esteem, and I realised there were other boys who actually did think I was attractive. I dated a couple of guys. The boy was just another school pal. One day I saw him on campus at my university. He had grown a beard, and I teasingly told him he looked like a terrorist. There was nothing left of my past hankerings for the boy.

And yet....... at least once a year, I dream about this boy. I dream that I am young and fresh-faced and a single girl. I dream that we are talking. Sometimes I dream that the boy says he wants to be with me; mostly I dream he tells me he feels nothing for me. I am overjoyed, or wretched with sadness. I wake from the dreams and shake my head in disbelief. I haven't seen this boy, now a man, in years. I rarely think of him in my waking hours. I am married to a man who I respect, admire and love passionately. It seems ridiculous that my mind would return to this 'boy' who is of so little consequence in my life. I can only surmise that my dreams of the boy recur because he represents my first experience with longing. The boy means nothing, but the yearning he invoked goes on and on.

In just over a week, I'll be attending my school reunion. The 'boy' will most likely be attending. I am somewhat ambivalent about the possibility of his presence. After all, I spent the final two years of high school being underwhelmed by him. But I cannot deny a degree of curiosity. I wonder what he'll act like, look like, be like.

Mostly I wonder if seeing this relic from my past will flush away these dreams of inadequacy and rejection, and the rarer dreams of mutual puppy love. It's a waste of brain space to dwell on this rubbish - even if it is during sleep!

Maybe the dreams will disappear like so many strands of old spiderweb. But maybe they won't. Maybe my secret heart will keep on longing aimlessly - like the long-ago girl who wished for love but believed herself unworthy of it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

flora and fauna

I'd never visited the South-West of Australia before, and I savoured the sights everywhere we went. Here are a few photos to entice would-be visitors, to bring back memories for previous visitors, and to allow others to live vicariously
This was a treetop walk in Walpole, where you can stroll along (or wheel yourself along - the walk is wheelchair friendly) 40 metres above the ground. Talk about having a bird's eye view!

This peacock boldly waltzed through the beachside cafe, unperturbed by the attention he received.

Flowers in the wildflower section of Kings Park, Perth.

A quokka, sitting pretty. These small hopping marsupials are found only in Western Australia, and mainly on Rottnest Island.

A red tingle tree, showing the staining patterns that make these trees so eye-catching.

Laura, feeding a Western Rosella with wild birdseed given to her by another tourist.
Happy Weekend to all!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

making believe

My kids are reassuringly kid-like. They do all the things I've seen and heard other children doing. They giggle, they wail, they butt heads (literally) and they hug each other. They charge from one end of the house to the other, leaving a trail of toys strewn in their wake. They tell me I'm beautiful and they tell me I'm mean. They make up imaginary friends. They come up with words that have meanings known only to them. So I don't know why I should find their latest carryings on so intriguing, but I just do. Maybe it's because I wish I was half as creative as they are.

When I write, I write about my life, my patients' lives, my family and friends' lives. I write everything based on the truth (or at least my version of the truth!). The only creative part of the process is finding words and phrases to convey meaning, to build atmosphere, to tell a story. I haven't written a work of pure fiction since high school English class.

While on holidays, I realised I'd been hearing the kids using a certain funny name over & over. I quizzed them about this - 'Where did you hear that name? Is it someone from a movie? Did you see something about this on TV?'. The kids sounded miffed as they retorted that no, they had made up this title themselves. It started as a joke, they patiently explained, as if there was no chance of me ever having done anything similar.

It seems one day, Ben (or Laura - neither of them can recall who) put a hand down onto a coverlet in the rented unit, and found it felt a bit damp, slightly slippery. "Ewwww!", they squealed, "This bed's all greasy!"
The other child, beginning to giggle, sputtered hysterically, "Greasy Grandma's been there!"

And so it went on the entire holiday. At times of peak boredom (probably whenever Fatty and I declared it was Quiet Time, during which we were not to be disturbed from our reading and coffee drinking unless in the event of gushing haemorrhages or other such crises), a sudden cry would come from the children's bedroom.....

CHILD 1: "Stop! Don't sit down there!"

(unintelligible response from child two)

CHILD 1, now crowing in delight: "Greasy Grandma's been sitting on your bed!"

Why Greasy Grandma? I don't know. Neither of their grandmothers are remotely greasy! It makes no sense. Unless there really is a Greasy Grandma, who silently slides her way sinuously across sheets and quilts, coating them in a fine layer of oil, giving bedding that 'slept in' feeling that has us pulling linen off the mattress and heading for the laundry.

Has Greasy Grandma been to your place today? Better go check your beds.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

it does a body good.....

to see new and beautiful places.
But it does a body a whole world of good to come home, too. I missed you guys! I spent last night reading your blogs and thinking how much I have come to be fond of all of you. For instance I am sad that fifi is going away, and I won't have her bright and quirky posts to read while she's gone (though of course I do want you to have a wonderful time fifi!)
I discovered that my wicked friend Heather was trying to sell my soul to the highest bidder! You just can't tame those Texas wildcats. But seriously now -thank you Heather, for keeping the home fires burning and posting for me!
I also remembered something I discover every time I go away on holidays to escape my life:
I actually like my life. I like my home, I like my job. I love my family and I love my friends. I even love my goddamn dog.
Now. If only I loved washing dirty clothes as well.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


*Most of you who read Jellyhead's blog regularly can probably guess who I am. I came to play at Jelly's place while she is away on holiday guzzling wine and cavorting on the beach.*

My friend Jellyhead called me tonight. She's away on a two week vacation thus we've not been chatting almost daily as per our usual routine. I'm suffering greatly. I think she may need to take me with her on her next holiday. I'm just sayin'.

I told her, "I almost hacked into your blog to write a guest post but wasn't sure how you'd feel about it." She answered, "Aw, that'd be okay so long as you don't reveal anything about me." I giggled, "Girl, I am gonna tell alllllll your secrets."

Then she said, in that lovely Australian accent, "You DO know how much power you have, right? Knowing so much about me?"

I assured her that I'd never tell her secrets to the world*. After all, she knows my secrets too. I also let her know that I don't feel powerful -- only lucky to be her confidante.

But I've been thinking tonight about how right she is. In my opinion, learning to love and trust someone new is an act of unparalleled bravery. We have to screw up our courage in order to let ourselves be seen and known -- the good and the bad. We have to emotionally disrobe and stand naked and shivering before we can be wrapped in the warmth of friendship and love.

Jellyhead's right. We hand over immense power when we decide to love someone new. And then we have to pull the soft cloak of friendship tighter about us and pray that no one walks away with our heart.

*Those of you who really want to know some of Jellys's secrets can send me payment in the form of cash, check or money order.

(Just kidding, Jelly. )

(And, I MISS YOU!)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

missing in action

I'm not sure if I should say I've been missing in action, or missing in inaction. I've been a very slack blogger lately, neither commenting nor writing (though reading everything - always reading). I've been feeling worn down at work and at home, and migraines have been descending upon me like mean sprites, poking my tender brain with their knobbly fingers. I'm craving a holiday like some sort of vacation-junkie.

Today I sheepishly phoned a woman I'd consulted with last Saturday morning. It had occurred to me during the week that when I'd seen this polite and sweet lady (ironically, to assess her progress in managing her anxiety), I had been somewhat distracted (some would even say anxious). At the time I saw Tara, my appointment schedule was in disarray, with extended time spent dealing with a previous patient who admitted having attempted suicide that morning, and another before that who was having a crisis of a different nature. So here was Tara, seeking some reassurance and a listening ear. Yet there I was, thinking of the restless waiting room, and wishing Tara had come to me for just the anxiety management, rather than also with her children's test results to be looked at and a request for two more referrals. I wasn't focused, I wasn't listening well, my empathy had flown the coop and I didn't give Tara the kindness she deserved from her family doctor. So I phoned her today and admitted it. Told her I was sorry that I'd been distracted; admitted I'd been stressed but apologised that I should have put that stress to one side the minute she entered the room. Tara thanked me, but told me there was no need to be sorry. She told me I was only human. Which is true, but still. That seems like a handy excuse for just about anything.

A holiday would be good. My patients need a holiday from me, and I'd love to be in charge of nothing more than buying fish and chips.

But hey! What's this I see in my crystal ball, what is this blurry portent of my future? I see ..... my family, I see ..... a plane, and look! - there's a stretch of wild windy coastline not far from a major wine-growing region. It's a HOLIDAY !!!!

In two days, we leave for two weeks of R&R. I'll be unlikely to post while I'm away, but will try to find an internet cafe and check blogs now & then.

Take care of yourselves, everyone. Meggie and Heather, feel better soon. John, I'm sending you a big hug. Freefalling, I hope you are enjoying your blog-holiday, but hope you get back to blogging when you feel ready. T, you get a big, tight hug too. And a kiss on the cheek.

In a while crocodile :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Somehow I was coerced into collecting for a major charity last week. When I say 'coerced', what really happened was that some quietly-spoken young woman phoned, and politely asked if I would door-knock in my street. In reality, I was held to ransom by my own conscience. This particular charity is a very deserving charity, and one which funds projects that benefit the health of millions of Australians. We're not talking a fund for visually-impaired seeing eye dogs or anything.

I set off, wearing the supplied badge that proclaimed me as a bonafide collector. I spoke to many friendly people who all disappeared back into their homes for some small change. Our neighbour in the big house next to us donated $10. Towards the end, I rang the bell at one of the fanciest houses in our street.

I should clarify that our street is an old street in this city. Although we aren't far from the city centre, this street was once part of a farm. Eventually, around the turn of the century, the farm was subdivided and the area was developed. There are many old houses - some renovated and lovely, and some in states of disrepair. There are also some more modern, but plain, houses. There are no architect-designed mansions. The most glamorous houses are some modern houses built to replicate the look of the older houses (I call them replicants), except they are twice the size with none of the character of the older homes.

I buzzed the doorbell at one of these flashy 'replicants'. A woman came to the door, and I explained the reason for my visit. She frowned and shook her head at me. "No, we're only donating to cancer at the moment", she replied.
"Sure, no worries", I reassured her.
"I mean, you can't give to everything, can you?", she persisted, a little tetchily.
"Yeah, that's fine, " I answered, "Thanks anyway".
I thought very little of what she'd said. I figured perhaps her family had recently given a large amount to cancer research. And what she said made some sense - I supposed she was right that you can't donate to every worthwhile cause.

But then I crossed the road to a small, derelict-looking home. The roof sagged. The yard was overgrown. As I passed a towel-covered deck chair on the front patio, there was an unmistakeable reek of urine. I surmised that an elderly person lived here - probably alone. It was evident that funds were tight. I considered not knocking at all, thinking it best not to bother this pensioner with requests for money they obviously didn't have to spare.

I decided that it would be patronising to make this decision myself. I decided to rap on the door and let the occupant decide about any donation.

A quavery voice called from the depths of the house - "Who is it?"

"It's Jellyhead, your neighbour from number 17, " I bellowed through the door. "I'm collecting for the National Heart Foundation".

"Hang on!" came the quavery voice, this time a little nearer. The door rattled as bolts were drawn back and the knob turned. The smell of cigarette smoke hit me almost before I glimpsed the wizened old lady. Her face was weary and folded with age, and her hair hung around her cheeks in clumps, like dreadlocks. Shadowing her face and hair was a black hood, giving her an extraordinary and very witch-like appearance.

The old lady smiled at me. "I'm sure I can find tuppence to give you", she remarked cheerily, shuffling off into the sooty darkness of her home. I stood at the door, amazed. I had expected to be turned away. Yet this ancient crone, who evidently had so little herself, was willing to donate to charity.

Returning with a twenty-cent piece, the old lady croaked, "It's not much, but here you go."

"Thank you!", I replied, meaning it with all my heart. "Just imagine if everyone gave twenty cents - how much money would be raised". (for our population - approximately 3.5 million dollars)

"Well, that's true!" the old lady cackled gaily.

We said goodbye, and I walked away across the acrid-smelling porch. My mind was racing, and my emotions were whirling and eddying. I felt that something profound had just happened with this cigarette-puffing, odd old lady.

Generosity is a small old woman on my street.

Friday, September 07, 2007

tales of a gym bunny

You didn't know I was a gym bunny? Well, perhaps it's the term 'bunny' that you're struggling with. I mean, it's true I attend my local gym twice a week, almost without fail. But given the state of my thighs and the fact that my upper arms are beginning to wave in the breeze..... well, considering all this I might better be called a gym hag. But 'bunny' sounds much more cheery. So try to swallow your misgivings, and let me be the bunny. he he.

Today, this ageing bunny took herself to her usual boxing class at the gym. This gym class is renowned for being brutal. Our pumped-up instructor can do a handstand directly from a crouched position (go on - try it!), he makes us 'ski sit' against the wall for minutes on end, he makes us shuttle run, do sit-ups, run, do push ups, and run, and run and run. He is a tyrant. But he makes us all very fit.

Into this class of mostly thirty-to forty-something mothers wandered a petite, immaculate Eurasian-looking young woman in tight black lycra. I fiddled with my long loose sweatpants and straightened my T-shirt as I enviously eyed her neat hips and miniature thighs. This chick was not just slim, she was tiny. Tiny in a way I will never be unless I acquire some hideous wasting disease. On her delicate frame, though, her smallness was cute and appealing.

Ms Tiny took up a position off to my left, and began to punch the air, as we warmed up. I was gratified to see in my peripheral vision that she looked a bit awkward, a bit unco, as we Aussies say (unco=uncoordinated). Almost immediately, though, my cheer turned sour as I turned and caught a glimpse of her face up close. Dark eyes, button nose - overall disgustingly pretty. I am opposed to this kind of excess physical beauty on principle. I believe it encourages moral laxity in the afflicted individuals. Also, these people make me look bad.

I kept punching the air, wondering to myself if perhaps Ms Tiny might be really dumb or even better completely humorless. I comforted myself with the fact that she was unlikely to make carrot cake like I can.

The class continued as we punched in pairs. I was paired with Heidi, a warm and funny woman who smiles all the time, even when she's punching. When she really relaxes, she also makes sound effects as she punches, saying softly, 'Shhhww, shhhww', as she belts the mitts.

I was getting pretty tired by the time The Taskmaster instructed us to lie on our sides on the small platform at the front of the room, hips at the edge of the 'step', fingertips behind ears. 'Touch your elbow to the floor, come up, then down again.... keep going until you've done twenty side-crunches', he ordered.

Ms Tiny was positioned next to me again. 'Good', I thought to myself. 'She's bound to be bad at this. She's so scrawny, she'll have no power whatsoever'. But I was forgetting basic physics. Ms Tiny's muscles were a tad smaller than mine. But her torso also weighed about half as much as mine. Off she went, bobbing up and down interminably, while I sweated and grunted and thought about ways to kill Miniature Gym Bunnies.

Finally, I was finished - but of course Mini Gym Bunny had finished before me, and was sitting pertly nearby. I sat up, shaky..... lurched.... and knocked over Mini Gym Bunny.

What? What are you suggesting? It was an accident.

I can't help it if she's so puny that one bump from a slightly chubby knee sends her sprawling on the floor. Besides, she should know better than to show up her elders and ugliers.

Even though none of it was my fault, and frankly she deserved worse for daring to be so cute, Mini Gym Bunny was dismissive of my apologies. She frowned and refused to even meet my gaze. Anyone would think there was something awful about being bowled over by a jealous, sweaty, baggy-clothed (possibly smelly?) gym hag.

I can't see the problem myself.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

behind the bedroom doors

It's not all blood and guts and sweat and tears, being a doctor. In fact, as a family GP, there's very little blood, and never any guts whatsoever. (Sweat and tears there are plenty of - and that's just from me after a long day). One thing that my job does entail is an almost unparalled access to peoples' inner lives. I hear about drug experimentation, I know about past criminal convictions. I am told of abortions and illicit affairs. I hear all kinds of secrets, because people know their secrets are safe with me. Unless someone plans to harm themselves, or others, I cannot break confidentiality. My lips are sealed.

So when I find out all sorts of details about peoples' sex lives, I cannot help but be intrigued. I mean, there are not many jobs with such a direct line to these nitty gritty facts. People tell me things I wouldn't hear from my closest friends. I get to find out what's happening behind all those bedroom doors. Honestly, it's been an eye-opener.

About ten years ago, I was sitting talking to a suburban, married, 30-something woman about something unrelated, when she suddenly asked me how to use a device made for 'safe' female-to-female oral sex. I'm sure the whites of my eyes were showing as I tried to coolly describe the correct usage of this piece of protective plastic. Firstly, I really had no idea beyond the vaguest concept of how this gear should be used (but surely there are instructions on the packet?!). Secondly, my mind was racing as I thought in confusion, Hang on! Your husband comes to this practice, too. Does he know about this? Are you two going to be okay? As it happened, they weren't okay - they eventually divorced. And thinking back, I wonder if this lady made her query as a way of letting me know she was bisexual (or gay), to make me to realise that all was not as it seemed. (Either that, or she thought it would be hilarious to watch a nerdy young doctor stammer her way through an sex-related explanation!) I'm not sure what happened to this lady, as I moved from that practice a few years ago. However, her husband has continued to consult me at my new practice, and he has since happily remarried.

The most captivating sex tales I've heard involve societal preconceptions about youth, age and intimacy being turned on their heads. The general community seems to expect anyone over the age of sixty to retire from all sexual thoughts, desires and activity (heaven forbid that we not all look like smooth-faced, flat-bellied movie stars whilst having sex!!), while we assume the youth of the world are going at it like rabbits. So it was a lesson for me to be allowed a window into the lives of 'May' and 'Kylie'.

May was a feisty 78-year-old widow with beautiful shoes and sparkling eyes. She was smart and vivacious, and maintained an active social life. Inevitably, she would tell me about various men who asked her out. May didn't seem too interested in any particular man, until 'Ralph' came along. Then suddenly she talked of Ralph doing this, Ralph saying that. May and Ralph went out for meals. May and Ralph went walking. They went to dances. Things got even more serious, and then everything began to unravel. May was miffed. Ralph only seemed interested in being 'intimate' with her once every few weeks, whereas May was ready to get busy every few days. Being the outspoken woman that she was, May complained to me bitterly in her heavy Eastern European accent, "A vo-man has needs, you know!". And in her hurt, she huffed, "And he needs to take pills to purrrrrr-form! My husband never needed any-sink!". It was difficult to keep a straight face around May, but somehow I'm sure May wouldn't have minded if I'd smiled. She was grinning herself half the time.

Kylie was just a teen when I first met her. She wanted to begin taking a contraceptive pill, and I was asking her routine questions, including whether she could possibly already be pregnant. Kylie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She admitted shyly, "Well, it's been awhile since we know." Familiar with the usual stories from teens with raging hormones, I assumed we were talking about a whole three days here.
"Did you use any protection?", I queried.
"Um," Kylie stalled. "Well, I'm not sure. I can't really remember. But I know I'm not pregnant. There's no way I could be."
"How can you be sure?", I asked, beginning to feel frustrated with this verbal tennis match.
Kylie paused. "Well ...... we're not really that into sex. Neither of us."
"Okay..." I prompted.
"And so.... (I'm thinking that this is like pulling teeth. Large, impacted wisdom teeth)... "so it's been awhile."
"Awhile?" I echo.
"Yes," Kylie replies, "About three or four months." I quickly retrieved my jaw from the floor so I could continue to speak.

Turns out Kylie and her boyfriend liked to do a spot of horizontal dancing at Christmas, New Year, and on each of their birthdays. That's it. And for those of you who are thinking that a relationship like that would never last - that the boyfriend must have been secretly seething with sexual frustration (you cynics! you sex-obsessed people!) - I have an update. It's been more than ten years, but Kylie showed up at my current place of work the other day. She has since married the boyfriend. They are very content together. And now, they have sex at Christmas, New Year, on their birthdays.......

and on their wedding anniversary.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

manners and mortality

Moving on now from the delicate topic of religion and faith........ (funny how this is a topic that is almost considered taboo. I see plenty of posts about peoples' sex lives, but rarely writings about spirituality. It's as if discussing religion is way more impolite than discussing favourite sexual positions. Odd.)

I spent last night tossing and turning and dreaming of giant livers, glistening and distorted. I dreamt of masked surgeons. I dreamt of the lady I saw yesterday - the lady who sobbed in my room, as I informed her that her CT scan showed a cancer growing on her liver.

To be brutally honest, I'm not sure why I am so disturbed. I have met Diane* only twice now (usually she sees another doctor at the surgery where I work). She is not someone others warm to ..... the receptionists moan about her being an 'awful woman'. As I called her in to my room yesterday, I asked her if her husband was coming in with her, and she spat out "No! I don't want him anywhere near me. He's useless." Howard sat a mere six feet away. He quickly grabbed a newspaper, and studied it fiercely.

I ushered Diane to a chair in my room, closed the door, and sat down. I told her gently and simply, "The scan shows you have a cancer growing in your liver." I passed tissues as she cried. With her permission, I called her husband in. As he tried to comfort her, she swatted his hand away and told him to 'Shut up, Howard!'.

When I have to break very bad news in my job (which, thankfully, is rare), I often feel quite emotional. I have to steel myself and blink more than usual. I am inclined to get very attached to my patients, so to tell one of my regular patients that they have a life-threatening condition always twists me up inside. But with Diane, I felt concerned yet calm. I let her cry awhile, while I stayed dry-eyed. When her sobbing abated, I quietly explained that I had made an appointment for her to see a surgeon. I passed more tissues, and answered her questions as best I could. An hour later, I drove home thinking of this unhappy, grumpy woman, who was now devastated, bewildered, terrified.

When I was younger and more self-absorbed (yes, more!), I had no affection for 'difficult' people, and outright disliked patients who were rude or irritable or demanding. I took their impolite behaviour as a personal affront. I bewailed their lack of manners; their failure to show me the appreciation and respect I felt I deserved. Why was this person so angry and annoying, when I was being so helpful and nice?! Yes, folks, I thought it was all about me.

These days, patients can still rub me up the wrong way, but I hardly ever get in a stew. It has dawned upon me that sometimes a person is 'awful' because awful things have happened to them; because they have been treated awfully by others; because they did not have the intrinsic resilience to survive what life has thrown at them. I may still find their behaviour offensive, but I don't take offence. More than that, I develop a strange sort of fondness for some of these perpetual pouters. One of my patients stridently refuses medication for her depression, continues to smoke like a chimney despite her diabetes, tells me she wishes her husband would die, and complains that I haven't helped her sleeping problem one iota. Yet she keeps coming back, and I care about her; I want the best for her. I believe I understand her.

Today, though, my thoughts keep returning to Diane. She faces a huge battle with this nasty ball of malevolence growing inside her. From what I can tell, her emotional reserves are low. Her medical history means that any surgery carries higher risks. If she survives the surgery, her fight may not be over, because the scan showed there has been spread beyond the liver. This woman who defeated another cancer, over a decade ago, now must face up to a malignancy once more. I doubt that Diane will have much support, because I suspect she has alienated many friends and family. Misery loves company, but no-one wants to come visit.

I do not know what exists beyond our lives on Earth, but just in case this is IT, I'm living my life as well as I can. I love my life. But what of Diane? What does she think of the life she has lived? Does she feel satisfied with any part of her life?

Was she frightened last night, as she lay stiffly beside the husband she shuns? I'm certain she was scared.

Scared, and utterly alone.

*As usual, names and other medical details changed to protect patient privacy

Sunday, August 26, 2007

righting the wrongs

Fatty and I have been taking turns reading 'The Folk of the Faraway Tree' to Laura and Benjamin each night. It's a lovely, fanciful story.

The other night, I read to the kids about a tiny goblin who wanted to know the secret of forgetting. He 'had once done a wicked thing, and couldn't forget it'. So the goblin went to the cave of the Wizard Tall-Hat to ask for help.

When the goblin left the cave, the children in the story asked him what the secret to forgetting was. The goblin answered them thus:

"I'll tell it to you, because then if you do a wrong thing, maybe you can get right with yourself afterwards. It's so dreadful if you can't."

"Well, the Wizard Tall-Hat told me that if I can do one hundred really kind deeds to make up for the one very bad one I did, maybe I'll be able to forget a little, and think better of myself. So I'm off to do my first kind deed".

The day I read this, I was feeling uneasy about something I'd done wrong. I don't know that it was a 'very bad one', as the goblin put it, but I knew I'd made a hasty and silly decision. I'd been feeling guilty all day. So it was uplifting to read this funny little book, and to remind myself that the best way to atone for a wrong deed (beyond apology, or fixing the wrong - which may not always be possible anyway) is to concentrate fiercely on doing many more good deeds in the future.

We all like to tell ourselves that we are 'good' people, and I believe that most people are 'good' at heart. However, it is frighteningly easy to slip off the path of honourable behaviour. It's all too easy to be jealous, to say something unkind in anger, to pass on nasty gossip, to tell small lies, to be uncharitable. I know, because I have transgressed in every one of these ways.

On the rare occasions I go to church (weddings, christenings, when staying with my husband's family), I almost always enjoy the sermon. Perhaps because it's a novel event for me, I find myself really listening to the words of the minister. I soak up the message, because I know myself to be flawed. I know that I need reminding of how to be good.

I'm not a religious person, though, so going to church seems hypocritical. When prayers pledging belief are read aloud, I sit silently. When the congregation goes up for wafers and wine, I remain seated. And once, in my twenties, I sat through a christening sermon in which the minister explained how we are all born 'wicked', and that we remain thus until we are christened. Those who are not christened, the minister explained, stay wicked in their hearts. I sat, distraught, through the service, and left in tears (I've never been christened).

So without a regular Sunday sermon, I try to stay on the straight and narrow by being accountable to myself - by examining my own behaviour, and trying to make changes when I go astray. But I get busy, and I get lazy, and I forget.

Inspiration for me in the constant struggle to live a 'good' life has come from an unexpected source. Almost every day, John Cowart writes on his blog, Rabid Fun. John is wryly funny, he is anything but pious, and he is always striving to be a better person. He quotes the bible, and he takes lessons from everyday life. I read and enjoy every post. If you want humble wisdom, go no further than this blog!

Socrates said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. I reckon he, too, must have been a pretty switched-on guy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

talking point

I said to my friend Heather the other day:

"Do you ever feel that you never finish a conversation? That you never hash out a topic fully, to the point where there is really nothing more to say?"

"Yes, I know what you mean", she confirmed.

I'm wondering now if it is all women with young children who feel this way. Is it simply the fact that we have children to care for, as well as the household duties and/or paid jobs? Will this feeling go away when our children get older? Or is this some modern affliction of all women, where we want to do this, read that, see that, listen to this, study that, make this and more? Are we, in trying to live rich and fulfilling lives, forgetting to take the time to just be?

Maybe I just need a holiday, but I feel like every day is too busy, even the days I spend at home. There is washing to do, or fold, or put away. There are meals to be made. My kids want attention - chatter listened to, books read, games played. There are balls of dust and dog hair to be swept up. There is always some darn thing to be done. I still spend time with my friends, but they also have their own families, their own sets of duties and obligations, and our time together feels like all-too-brief snatched moments.

I sometimes wish I could just spend a whole day with a friend, once a week. Spend the day to talk, eat, talk, walk, talk, drink wine, and talk some more. Because the occasional couple of hours with a friend is too infrequent, and never feels like enough time. I crave those kinds of conversations I had as a younger woman, where a friend and I would talk, or let the other talk, or both talk in turn, until everything felt alright again; until we both felt that we had expressed ourselves and were understood by the other.

Earlier this year, I spent an entire weekend with my dear friend Chooky. This was something I hadn't done since having children (almost seven years ago!). Words cannot describe how blissful it was to do whatever we pleased, whenever we pleased, all the while catching up on each others' lives. By the end of the weekend, we both were on a high. Our conversations all reached their natural conclusions. We had been heard. Our worries had been lifted. All was well, and our friendship was reaffirmed.

I know things will (hopefully) get better as my kids get older. I know I will feel better in a day or two (probably after I spend tomorrow afternoon having coffee and confessions with Chooky!). For now, though, I'm using you, my readers, as an outlet. I'm venting. So please forgive the self-indulgent complaining, and please no-one tell me to pull my socks up and stop whining.

(Chances are, by the time you read this I've not only pulled up my own socks, but folded ten other pairs as well)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

if the shoe fits

Seeing those abandoned brown shoes the other day got me pondering how shoes can reflect their owners. Not literally, of course, unless they're patent leather shoes (which my mother recalls being warned about, because devious boys were thought to peer at these dangerous shoes in order to catch reflections of unsuspecting girls' panties! Can you believe it?! I mean if they were ever that conniving, I almost feel the poor buggers deserved their glimpse of underwear. Of course, I say that as someone who's never worn patent leather). I mean that shoes can give important clues about the wearer.

When I was a struggling student, I owned a pair of cheap brown flats, a pair of black flats exactly the same, and some battered running shoes. It was better than being barefoot, that's for sure, but it's still nice to be able to afford some decent shoes these days. Because many times shoes simply tell us that the owner is on a tight budget. But once a person has enough money to even buy one pair of shoes they truly fancy, then I think this choice says a lot about the shoe-wearer's personality.

I dragged out my decent shoes, and examined them closely for 'evidence'. (And may I just add here that when my husband arrived home from playing squash, he looked at the array of shoes on the kitchen floor, looked expressionlessly back at me, and then went wordlessly off to shower. He's very accepting like that. Frustratingly un-curious perhaps, but also endearingly accepting!) I realised that many of my shoes don't quite embody the true me, but were chosen because I liked what they seemed to represent.

These red shoes I bought not so long ago because I've always loved other people's red shoes. They looked cute, they looked funky, and they were on sale! I do feel good in these shoes, like maybe I'm not so matronly and mumsy after all. But with my fair skin, the colour is not as good on me, and they're not true Jelly footwear.

These boots are undeniably sassy (shhh! nobody ruin my fun by denying it!), and I liked the idea of that. However, although I like to think I am at least occasionally flirty and appealing, mostly I am sensibly hanging washing and reading and cooking pizza. So these boots are not really me.

These dazzling gold wedges I found at an 'op-shop' (for non-Aussies, this is short for 'opportunity shop' - second hand stores which sell pre-loved clothing and other items at very low prices) to wear to a 'disco'-themed party. In my sequined purple dress, gold lame pants underneath and gold wedges, I tell you I was stunning. Stunning to the retina at least.

As much as I'd like to think I am stylish, or sexy, or cheeky, the truth is I am a straight-forward person with just a pinch of something interesting.... not fascinating, but (I like to think anyway!)not completely dull either. Rather like these shoes. I wear them all the time, I like them a lot, and they're so comfortable that I feel sure they like me too.

So now I'm issuing a challenge ....who dares post a picture of their favourite, most-like-their-owner shoes? I'd love to see yours if you care to share! Failing that, at least leave me a comment describing your most-loved pair!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

the truth is....

While some people seem to get inspiration from their angst and turmoil, I find that any negativity in my life leaves me with nothing to say. At least, nothing to say on my blog (Fatty and my friends will attest to that - I am rarely one to suffer silently). However, today, in desperation for subject matter, I'm going to write about what's on my mind anyway.

Right now, I am struggling with some mixed feelings towards one of my close relatives. This person I love dearly, but this person is quite different to me, and I am intolerant of this. I want my relative to be like me, because of course I am the gold standard for perfection (cough).

I have never been very good at agreeing to differ over something and moving on. Or rather, I have never been very good at this when it comes to someone I love. I so desperately want to feel that my loved one and I are in synch. I want us to be in harmony, our thinking aligned, laughing at the same things and railing at the same injustices. Of course, life doesn't work this way. Everyone is different, even if only in small ways.

One of my worst qualities is an overdeveloped sense of justice. I want everything to be fair in life. I become upset if I feel I am doing more than my share, in any situation, without thanks or acknowledgment. I demand appreciation from my husband. I secretly get irritated if a friend neglects to thank me for doing her a favour. Although I cultivate an image of sweetness and light, underneath I am a cranky grudge-bearing, score-keeping old cow. Now you know. The truth is out.

'Jellyhead' may have a dopey smile and a wobbly brain, but she's also got a steel backbone and a stick up her a**. Not to mention quite frequently her foot in her mouth.

(Now there's a mental picture you don't want to dwell on)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Open Mic at Jelly's Place

Every now and then I get requests from people who have something to say and nowhere to say it. It's important to have a voice, thus I offered my blog as a forum for discussion.

Without further ado, I present this anonymous post for your ponderance:

Way back when I started blogging, years ago, I sat perusing the vast blogosphere in search of inspiration and entertainment. I wrote in my blog only occasionally and only for the benefit of family and friends. My posts were chatty and filled with pictures of my family and I never considered what it might be like to join a community of anonymous bloggers and write in a style that might entertain or engage them without compromising too much of my anonymity.

But then I came across a blog, written by an anonymous stranger, that reached out and sucked me into her world. It was so well-written that I often sat reading it with tears streaming down my face --whether they be tears of laughter or sadness. I cared about this person. I worried about her. When she stopped posting, I feared that I might never know how her life turned out.

To be honest, I idolized her in a way. Her wit. Her writing talent. Her unique way of putting things into perspective.

Then one day I read a story from her childhood. It was written in that same beautiful, flowing style that I loved so much. I was carried along by her gentle and confiding tone but was left shattered at the end of the last paragraph.

This woman-- this warm, witty, beautiful, talented, engaging woman -- experienced horrors that I have never, and will never, have to face. Many of them she experienced very early in her life. Extremes of brutality and indifference shaped her personality.

Much of her wit was formed out of a desperate desire to alleviate anger with a well-placed quip. If she could make the grown-ups who surrounded her laugh, she could often avoid fanning the smoldering flames of their tempers. Her gentle, nurturing nature developed when she tried to shield her siblings from treatment similar to hers. Her habit of shying from praise was a result of her learning to be invisible to avoid notice and thus avoid being belittled or beaten.

To me, it seemed an unacceptable trade-off. That her stunning, magnetic personality was a result of having the stuffing beat out of her by Life--it wasn't fair. I ranted and railed against God, against Life, against societal pressure for people to marry and bear children whether they're narcissistic hedonists or not.

And the gentle writer grieved that she had brought pain into my life. Because her heart is so beautiful, she worried about me. She lived through these horrors. I only had to read about them. And she worried about me.

She said, "God lets things happen for a reason. These things happened so that I could learn and grow and be kind and help others." I refused to believe that the God I love, a gentle and caring God, would let anyone suffer such atrocities for the sake of personal growth. So I said, "That's bullshit!" (I am nothing, if not eloquent.)

And she stood back and waited for me to finish the process of sifting through the information she'd given me and the resultant anger and sadness and heavy grief that set up shop in my chest.

And now, I still hate it that she's ever suffered. But I am able to appreciate that I have a beautiful person in my life. I am able, once again, to appreciate her writing and the depths she can take me to with it. I am able to appreciate her. Period.

Sometimes, though, I am still caught by surprise by the strength of my reactions to the reality of what her life has been. Last night, I sat up late, unable to sleep, and read through the archives of a blogger who's new to me. I was turned on to this new person's blog by a mutual friend and have immersed myself in her archives for the same reason I was drawn years ago to the aforementioned writer. This new writer is witty, engaging, enormously talented and pulls me along with her through depths of despair and back again only to make me laugh until I think I might pee.

I made my way through her archives, hoping all the while that I wouldn't find what I suspected would be buried there. But I found it anyway. Tales of neglect and abuse and emotional agony inflicted on her by the very people who should have been her fiercest protectors. The fact that I had suspected as much all along certainly did not make me feel victorious. Rather, I felt beat up. I was surprised to find that my breathing was ragged, my jaw clenched, angry tears welling in my eyes.

So, this is how it is. Those among us who have this phenomenal power to pull us into their lives and to find their way into our hearts, effortlessly --it's almost always because we sense the wells of pain inside of them. We sense it, even when they are causing side-splitting laughter with their self-deprecating humor or bringing us to our knees with sadness with their uncanny powers of observation and communication.

We sense it and we try to pull them to us. We try to protect them and make it so that the bad things never happened. And because they are wise, and patient, and gentle, they step back and allow us to explore these extremes of emotion that we might never have felt had we not encountered the stories they have shared. They don't remind us that it was harder for them to live it than it was for us to read about it.

As for me, I'm so thankful to have chanced across these remarkable women in the blogosphere. No matter how limited their involvement in my "real" life, they have made an impact. I am kinder, more empathic, more gentle, and more generous because of the impressions they've made upon my heart.

But from time to time, like last night, I am still going to cry at the injustice of it all. I am still going to have moments when I question God and accuse Him of neglect and abuse for allowing such atrocities to befall the most innocent and vulnerable among us.

I stand up for them now, when I can. It doesn't help much. But the point is that I want to help and that I care and that my eyes are opened to the knowledge that not everyone gets to have the sort of life that was given to me.

If knowing the stories of these women can affect change in one person and if I can help even one child, maybe God really did know what He was doing.

Whether I like it or not.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

stepping out

As I walked back to my car, I saw them sitting on the curb - a pair of brown leather men's shoes. The leather was still glossy and intact; the shoes were a stylish cut. They sat neatly, side by side, as if waiting for their owner to return. No-one else was around. I couldn't stop staring. Even once in my car, I eyed the shoes curiously in my rear vision mirror. The whole situation puzzled me greatly.

The house which the curb fronted was small and unlovely, with peeling white paint. It sat amidst the car fumes from the main road. I found it hard to imagine these expensive-looking shoes belonging to anyone in this house. And if the shoes had been a special purchase, a saved-for splurge, then why had they been abandoned so callously?

I wondered if perhaps the shoes were pinching the Italian-shoes-man, as he walked home from the bus stop after Friday night drinks. Did he swear softly, as he stopped and gently eased the shoes from blistered or aching feet? Did he sway as he placed his footwear with drunken precision by the curb? And did he then smile with relief as he lurched away in his brown socks, feeling the grass soft and springy underfoot?

If only the tongues of those shoes could talk.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

pizza parlour

One of my very favourite foods is PIZZA. So when my blogger friend Mimi wrote a post about making an easy pizza dough with her kids, my mouth began to water. I cheekily asked for the recipe, and Mimi kindly obliged.

With Fatty away over the weekend, I decided it would be fun for the kids and I to cook together. This recipe truly was easy, and the kids had lots of fun measuring and adding ingredients, and then kneading the dough. I encouraged them to punch, pinch and pummel the soft floury ball, to ensure they got rid of all their fidgets and flibbertyjibbets. Laura was very methodical, copying my pressing and scooping and re-pressing. Ben enthusiastically did a few 'karate chops' on the dough, just for good measure.

The smell of the warm dough rising filled the house and made me feel all capable. Accomplished. Chef-like. I mean, who would dare mess with a woman who makes her own pizza dough, right? I rang my mother to tell her proudly that finally I was making my own pizza dough, just like she used to do when I was a child. Mum sounded bemused, as she often does.

Of course, eating the pizza was the absolute highlight. The pizza base was not too flat, not too puffy - just perfect. I admit I may be biased. I was the head chef in this pizza parlour. But don't argue with me on this one, because I am now, after all, a woman who makes her own pizza dough.

Thank you Mimi - the pizza dough was just as delicious as you promised, and we had a ton of fun making it!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Millie the dog

Our dog is not adorable. She looks sweet enough, but she is simply not one of those wonderful, trustworthy, loyal family hounds. Not in the least. She is snarky, she is greedy, and she snores like a truck. Yet somehow this annoying beagle has insinuated herself into our hearts. I can't explain why I love her, but I indisputably do.

It's not as if Millie tries to be endearing. Far from it. I can think of countless ways she unhinges me.

When no-one is paying attention, Millie sidles into the house and fossicks through the bedroom and bathroom bins. She sneaks away with tissues, and drags them out to the lawn for chewing. When our children were small, Millie would steal nappies and do unspeakable things to them. She once ate a whole packet of my birth control pills, the morning I was leaving on an overseas trip. One Easter, Millie found Laura's Easter eggs and ate the lot. This dog is a stomach on legs.

When we have guests over, and we escort them to the door as they leave, Millie quietly gets up on the table to eat the leftovers. She doesn't give a hoot if she gets caught. We can yell, smack her, lock her out, ignore her for hours or all of the above, but Millie doesn't mind. She is undeterred. She does the very same thing at her next opportunity.

Then Millie has some other quirky (read idiotic) habits. If we have visitors over and decide to lock Millie outside, she gets very upset. She whines and whimpers. She stations herself on the back deck, right outside the dining room, and periodically leaps up in the air so she can glimpse everyone inside. Our guests are treated to the sight of a beagle head, ears flying, appearing at the window at intervals.

I haven't ever owned another dog (or cat, or bird), but from talking to experienced pet-owners, it seems animals each have quite distinct personalities. Millie is no exception. She is gluttonous, obstinate, sneaky and grumpy. And yet, she also waits for me on the front deck when I go out - even when Fatty and the kids are home, and she could be lying inside in the warmth. She leans against me as I pat her soft caramel head. She waits, without sound, at the back door each morning, until we finally notice her sitting there. Sometimes it is an hour before we register her presence, yet Millie sits motionless, silent, as if she is The World's Best Dog.

The sweetest habit of Millie's is one I cannot explain. I have no idea what leads her to do this, but she does it every night.

Last thing at night I open the back door, and tell Millie to go outside. She obeys, albeit with a mournful sideways glance. Then she heads for her kennel on the back deck, and settles in as if she were sleeping there all night. But as soon as I walk down the hall to bed, Millie makes her way under the front of our house and sleeps on some old shelving directly under me. The lying down in the kennel is all a charade! Millie has never slept a single night there (I know this, in case you're wondering, because I have to endure Millie's nocturnal snoring, echoing up through the floorboards!). And yet each evening, as if trying to appease us, she pretends she is snuggling up in her doghouse for the night. And then instead of sleeping in her kennel, or on her dog bed under the house, Millie lies much less comfortably, for the sake of being nearer.

No matter how irritating, a dog always loves. And that, I suspect, is why we forgive them almost anything; why they worm their doggy way into our deepest affections.
Millie the weird, naughty beagle ...... we love you, nose to tail.

Friday, July 20, 2007

dinosaurs and diaries

This is the horrific scene that greeted me when I entered our side room the other day. I thought for sure this was the work of my bloodthirsty son, but no, 'twas my bloodthirsty daughter who created this attractive tableau.

Last night I was tired and irritable and anxious about various things. I sighed as I plonked down on Laura's bed to read books to my little rugrats.
"C'mon guys - choose your books", I intoned drearily, as I sat mulling over this and that.
Ben came striding in confidently, carrying one of his favourite books - a journal-style story, written from a wombat's perspective.
"I've got one!", Ben announced. "I've got 'Diarrhoea of a Wombat' ", he crowed. (The actual book title is "Diary of a Wombat")
I began to laugh as I explained to Ben about diaries, and my worries receded into the distance.
Kids are good like that.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

fowl play

This is a story involving two dear friends, 'Ocker' and 'Belly'.

Ocker was in my year at medical school. Ocker is a sunny, friendly sort of guy. He is knowledgeable, and a very good doctor, but in some ways he is just a little naive. And take it from me, I am very familiar with naivete. Being somewhat naive myself.

Belly, Ocker's wife, is pretty switched-on, but being of a quieter nature than Ocker, she tends to defer to his opinion, unless she is absolutely certain of her facts.

The other day, Belly, was around here having a cup of coffee with me. She was chatting about backyards and gardens, and she mentioned that she and Ocker had been toying with the idea of buying some chickens. Both Belly and Ocker thought that chickens might be nice pets for their young daughters, with the added benefit of providing fresh eggs. However, they had recently discussed things further, and the idea had been shelved.

"Oh?", I enquired politely. "What made you decide against it?".

Belly shifted uneasily. "Well", she explained sheepishly, "Ocker reckons that unless you keep a rooster with the chickens, the chickens won't lay. And we can't have a rooster in suburbia." Belly paused, then added sceptically, "Ocker says the only way to get chickens to lay without a rooster is to get a stick, and gently poke them in the backside every day. And no way am I going to go around poking chooks' bums."

"What?!" I fairly shrieked, grinning from ear to ear. "That's not true! Chickens lay eggs without a rooster. I can't believe he told you that! Belly, he's pulling your leg."

Belly chewed her lip thoughtfully. "No, I don't think so. He didn't have any sort of smirk when he told me. I can tell when he's teasing me."

"Well then someone's told him that, maybe even years ago, and being a city boy, he's never found out it was all a joke, " I decided.

"I'm googling 'chickens laying' and there's absolutely nothing here about sticks", my husband called from the dining room.

At this unusual interjection, I collapsed into laughter, and Belly joined me as it dawned on her that her wise husband was not always as wise as he seemed.

So which came first - the chicken, the egg, or the stick up the chicken's bottom? Only you can decide. Vote here. Vote now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

these happy golden years

The little blighters are bound to cause me untold headaches and heartaches through the years, but just now my children are still innocents. They are sweet-natured. They say adorable things. They haven't yet learnt to hate their parents.

Laura is prone to leave me notes on the bedside table when she's done something wrong. The words fill me with sorrow and remorse, as I read her plaintive,"Mummy I'm sorei wehn I was beeing bad". The experienced parents reading this will now be nodding sagely and intoning, "Ah! She's got you!". I fully admit the cute apology note sucks me in every time. I am reeled in - regretful, and forgiving, and vowing never to be such a crabby mother again. Until the next time those kids annoy me.

Benjamin doesn't bother much with apologies. His tactic is to charm the pants off me, as a sort of a preemptive strike. He schmoozes and compliments. He snuggles and kisses. Yesterday, he hugged my back energetically as I bent over to help him with his shoes, telling me, "Oh, I love you Mummy. Why would I ever love anyone more than you?". You've got to admire this kid. He's got the smarmy lines. He'll tell his girlfriends that they have hair like silk, and lips like rose petals and eyes like shining stars. It's all becoming clear.

I am trying to savour every embrace and enjoy every crayon-adorned message. I know teenagers don't touch or talk nearly as much as little ones do. If I get more than the odd grunt and occasional pat from my adolescent children, I'll count myself lucky.

So today, and every day, I am thankful for these small children - my kind, soft-cheeked Laura, and my loving, grinning Ben. They bring so much laughter and new light to my life. And I don't care if they have me in the palms of their sweaty little hands. Wrapped around their sticky little fingers. I'm a willing victim, I'm a captive audience, and, above all, I'm their besotted mother.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

my friend and I

I was twelve. I was scared about starting at the large inner city high school, but I was excited as well.

Every day I caught the dusty, smoke-belching bus to school. I knew none of the other kids on the bus, but they seemed to know each other. There was Desiree, of the tanned skin and trendy feathered haircut (yes, yes, we're talking back when Farrah Fawcett hair was oh-so-cool!). Desiree had a husky voice and a knowing laugh and I was way too frightened of her to attempt conversation with this high school diva. There was the tall, tall Year 12 boy who was a swimmer and sat at the back with his friends. He would smile at me as he made his long-limbed way down the aisle and I would almost pass out from the thrill. Then there was a petite dark-haired girl in my grade, with the longest, thickest plait I'd ever seen. Her hair may have been old-fashioned, but she chatted breezily with everyone and was obviously popular.

One day, the gods of fortune smiled upon me, and this pint-sized girl, 'Chooky', sat beside me. I managed to convince her that, although I had a nasty haircut and no bus-friends, I was worth getting to know. We became best friends. We have remained friends, despite never being in the same class (well, apart from one geography class, during which I distinguished myself by having a confiscated letter to Chooky read out to the class by the stern elderly teacher .... "Dear Poo-Head, This class is making me fall asleep zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...hey, do you still like Michael? I think he likes you, anyway..."), not attending the same university, and working different jobs.

Chooky has had an incredibly tough life. Her father left when she was three, and has shown minimal enthusiasm for his role in Chooky's life ever since. Chooky's mother was a frightening woman who was in and out of psychiatric hospitals during Chooky's childhood, and rarely had a kind word to say to my lovely friend. And yet, Chooky is a phenomenal woman - a loving and loyal friend, a sought-after manager with a large company, partner to Goodguy. I don't know how she has done it, but she fills me with awe. My Chooky is an inspiration and a wonder.

This weekend just passed, Chooky whisked me away on a 'girls weekend'. It was my surprise birthday present from Chooky. And what an elaborate gift it was. We flew (yes, flew in a plane!) to a tropical locale. We stayed in a fancy hotel. We ate lazy lunches and drank a mango daiquiri while sitting by the pool. It was the most luxurious weekend I've ever had.

And yet.... the best part of the weekend was simply talking with Chooky. We caught up on news, we teased each other. We also reminisced about the beginnings of our friendship, and spoke about what we mean to each other now. Chooky told me that she believes she would not be the same happy person she is now were it not for her friendship with me. It brings tears to my eyes here and now just to write these words. It is the greatest compliment to me to be credited in such a way, whether true or not. I told Chooky that I consider her part of my family, and I do. Chooky is my lifelong friend and my soul sister.

She may be a dear friend, but she didn't love me enough to let me photograph her in her stripey pyjama pants. Humph.

You can't see her face, but you don't need to see it to know she is beautiful.