Monday, November 30, 2015


November comes to an end today, with something of a bang rather than a whimper, as I submitted my novel project online exactly twelve minutes ago to achieve this:

I made it!! 50,010 words down, and I don't think they're all rubbish either, which is an effort I'm pretty proud of.

November was a challenging but really good month for me. The end-of-year busyness began to ramp up, especially from mid-month onwards. My big girls and I got to see Florence and the Machine in concert on the 11th. My partner and I managed a weekend away without the kids mid-month, which was lovely. I wrote so much, completing both NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo. I attended my final Novel in a Year class. I have been so enjoying my lovely new kitchen, which was fully completed a week ago today with the stove being installed, and doing much baking and experimenting with meals.

It was a huge month in terms of paid work, too. I finished with my first big client on 12 November, and had a whopping 5 days off before kicking into my new project for Big Client the Second on the 18th. I've been very busy since with it, and will be until 17 December, when I go onto 2 weeks vacation.

December will, I hope, be a month of blessings also. This week holds work, high school orientation, Christmas craft club, primary school end of year concert, and at the weekend, the final netball games of the year, a guitar concert and a Christmas lunch. Christmas preparations are in full swing, and the race to the end of the school year is well and truly afoot, with concerts, graduations, performances, sporting finals and parties aplenty; so it is going to be a very crowded month.

After the extreme wordiness of November, I'm going to take a break from writing for a couple of weeks. I may post some picture-posts, but I may not do that either - I am very busy with work and I am also really feeling the need for a breather from the intensity of the past month of writing all the things. I imagine I'll be back with the traditional Christmas-wishes post in due course, but I think I'll be pretty silent between now and then.

So as we all plunge headlong into the race to the end of 2015, I hope your December is bright. I'm off now to fold laundry, fill in endless school forms, and listen to music :-) I'll leave you with the last passage of Theory of Mind, my NaNoWriMo novel.


This air is as pure as crystal, as abundant as the stars above.
This air is air; not a facsimile, not a replication.
It makes itself through living systems, not machines;
it has reached the self-sustaining tipping point that Sani and Jod always believed it could.
If we fly away, it will stay alive for a million years. More, Jod had said, his face alight.
Absent a large-scale collision catastrophe, it’s seeded for good, now.
It’s what Briony saw, when she looked at the red dust.
What it could be.
Marginally higher in nitrogen than earth, a mere soupcon lower in argon;
but supplied with just the Goldilocks amount of oxygen to inflate human lungs,
to let us fill ourselves and breathe. In. Out. In.

Nasima presses close into my side. Eight years old, and a never-ceasing source of wonder to me;
her adaptation to almost five months aboard ship, and landfall on a strange world, one of uncomplicated delight.
I remember holding her, a newborn, her wide, wise eyes locked on the star outside the window.
Star baby, star child, I’d crooned, as Phoebe slept an exhausted sleep.
You’ll go to the stars someday, my child, my lovely child.
Newborns don’t smile; everyone knows that. Their mouths might distort a little in a smile-like rictus
but it’s nothing but the passing of gas (a thing they do a lot of).
All the same, I could swear she smiled at me, my star daughter, on that still midnight.

Mam, she says, her voice serious. Mammy, why don’t you open your eyes?
It’s beautiful out here. Please, look? I can see so far …
Phoebe murmurs something to her, hand pressing into mine.
For a moment I think, this is more than I can bear, more than I can compass.
I’m almost 55 million kilometres from where I was born, and I am lost and confused,
dazzled and sotted beyond imagining.
To be here, in the open air, the open Martian air –
But this is what we came so far to see, after all.

I take my daughter’s hand, and I open my eyes.


This is the 30th and final post in NaBloPoMo. All done for another year!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas is upon us

Today was our traditional tree - raising, decorating and carol-singing afternoon. Now I am feeling highly seasonal!

This is post 29 in NaBloPoMo. 29 down, 1 ... ONE ... to go!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

First dinner party

We had my Dad's birthday dinner here tonight, which was also my first opportunity to produce a proper dinner party type effort out of the new kitchen. It was SUCH a good experience. I did roast beef and roast veg at Dad's request, and made a chocolate mudcake for birthday cake. Everything worked so well, the kitchen was so spacious to work in, the clean-up was easier than ever before, and my parents, brother and brother's partner all liked the new kitchen, which was also pretty gratifying.

It was so nice to see everyone. I love my family, and we don't catch up often. My parents, and my brother and his partner, all live on the other side of town (close to each other, but a solid hour in good traffic from us), and we're all busy people, especially in school termtime. I wish we could see them oftener, but in reality-land, we need to just try to make the most of the times we do get together.

So this is where our lovely new kitchen really hits its stride, and where I am seeing the value in the money and disruption it cost. Being able to host meals for family and friends more easily and pleasurably is a great plus, just as much as the inprovement in our day-to-day family meal-making.

This is post 28 in NaBloPoMo. 28 down, 2 to go!

Friday, November 27, 2015

On knowing you're done

I woke up at 5:30pm from an almost 2-hour nap, one induced by a crashing fatigue, and here's the really important part - one that my three children allowed to happen by peacefully going about their separate business for that whole length of time.

The crashing fatigue itself was an indicator that at least one of my chronic conditions is playing me up (probably the hormonal one, given recent changes to medication). The best way to manage these crashes - where I go, over the space of five minutes, from normality to utter exhaustion so profound I can barely raise an arm and walking is actively painful - is to lie down. Sleep is best, but if it's not possible, *sometimes* quiet immobilized rest will do the job, although it usually takes longer to work.

The crash happened when I was sitting in the car waiting for the kids to come out of school. When they piled in, all full of stories about their day, I listened, made appropriate comments, and then said: "Girls, I'm really tired. I want to lie down for a rest when we get home. Will that be OK?"

They all agreed it would be, and so, we got home, I gave them snacks, they set themselves up doing three individual activities on computers, TV and with a book, and I lay on the couch, snuggled up to a heat pack, prepared for a sleepy rest ... and fell fast asleep, only to waken much later when one of the kids called out to another.

Aside from being slobberingly grateful for the sleep, it made me realise just how done I really am with the baby and toddler stage of parenting. Such a thing would be literally inconceivable - negligent and dangerous - with tiny ones, no matter how shattered the parent is. Unless the kids / babes are napping too, daytime sleep is next to impossible when you have preschool-aged children at home and you are the only adult on duty.

I actually feel a bit sick thinking about how I would (or, more likely, would not) manage the demands of my various health problems, including my anxiety, and my professional life, if I was caring for an infant or a toddler right now. I think I wouldn't cope very well at all. I think it would be harder even than I imagine.

I love my three children fiercely, and I really loved their baby stage, and even their toddler years (well, mostly). If I had not had to have three caesareans, making a fourth pregnancy medically inadvisable, I would've liked to have had four kids, and would've probably had another close in age to my thirdborn.

But being 42, being prone to extreme fatigue snaps from at least two of my underlying chronic conditions, being at the stage where I am getting more serious about my poetry and also trying to build a viable freelance business, being ready and needing to start reinvesting more time and energy into my relationship with my partner, being called upon to do more and more in the community, being available to my kids as they grow and their problems become more complex ...

Well, for me, all of that is incompatible with the total immersion that is life with a newborn. It was a beautiful stage, but one I don't want to, can't, go back to. I know I'm done.

This is post 27 in NaBloPoMo. 27 down, 3 to go!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


I'm getting tired. The Month of All The Words is combining with work, the hectic social and school whirl of this time of year, and a dip in my thyroid levels to wear me down, and I'm feeling the beginnings of a fatigue slump coming.

Proper rests will be difficult until after Christmas, so I'm just going to have to make do with improper ones - stealing time when I need to so I can gear down, even if only for a few hours. Case in point: yesterday, I hit an unexpected pause in my work project, so instead of doing what I maybe should have (trying to get a grip on Mount Papermore on my desk, doing Christmas or birthday prep, doing housework), I just wrote my novel then went to the movies with my husband.

There's not much I can do about the big committments in my life, but getting through these hectic times when I'm tiring out is largely a matter of not sweating the small stuff, and trying to be kind to myself. That's going to have to be my motto for December, I think.

This is post 26 in NaBloPoMo. 26 down, 4 to go!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Notes from old friends

When I was an undergraduate at university, many years ago now, I had a group of friends that I was pretty tight with. We shared a hobby / activity that brought us together, but, particularly with some of them, the connection went deeper than that.

These people were my closest and dearest in the achingly critical years of 17 to 21; we holidayed together, studied together, did our activity together, shared the soap operas of bed-hopping and high drama that also characterised the early twenties for many.

It was a group that also had to process a shared loss, as one of the best of us died aged just 21 of cystic fibrosis-related illnesses in the middle of my third year. He was am amazing, brilliant person, and his loss was processed differently by everyone in the group, but there's no doubt that, among other things, it forced some growing up to take place.

I drifted away from the activity once I moved into my Honours, and later Masters, programs, which coincided with the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband, as well as my entry into professional work world. As a result, the more tenuous of my connections with the people in that group faded away, with little regret on both sides - those were situational relationships, rather than deep friendships. My core friends from that activity, though, remained my close friends, even as I moved into forming new bonds with people in my graduate program and in various workplaces.

Time passed, as time has a habit of doing, and my connections with most of the group became occasional and attentuated. My two best friends from that time, though, remained, steadfastly, two of my best friends in the world. We all attended each other's weddings (two of us were bridesmaids for the third); they were among the first visitors when my elder two children were born; we saw each other regularly and they were both vital supports for me when my close-aged elder two were babies and toddlers, and I was living in a fog of hormones and happiness and utter exhaustion.

Despite one of the two travelling back and forth to the UK with her husband for extended trips (1-2 years in length) throughout the decade from my marriage to the birth of my youngest child, the three of us never failed to keep in touch, stay connected, and stay close. The UK traveller, indeed, used to come and stay with me and the kids when my husband had to travel for work when my secondborn was small and sleep was at a premium. The kids absolutely adored her, and she was so wonderful with them, and to me. I really thought we would be friends forever.

Then, things changed. It wasn't that there was a break or rupture of any kind between us - any of us. It was a matter of long-suppressed personal demons taking the helm for my traveller friend, and slamming down the gate hard between her and the world. Over a six-month period, she became less and less responsive and social, culminating in her withdrawal, almost totally, from the world. To our sorrow, "the world" included my other friend and I. For a while, we still received and enthusiastically reciprocated emails, cards and gifts on birthdays and at Christmas, but about 4 years ago those mostly stopped too, although I did get an out-of-the-blue best-wishes email for my 40th in 2013, and my other friend got a card on the birth of her daughter a year before that.

Even though it's been five years since I saw my friend, and four years since any kind of meaningful regular contact, I still miss her, and I still think about her. Maybe more suprisingly, so too do my two older children. They were only 7 and 5 the last time they saw her, but she made such an impact on their early lives that they have never forgotten. I often wish that things could be different, and that we could see her again, if only to tell her how much she meant to all of us and how much we still love her.

Today, I had an email from my other friend, with whom I am still in regular touch, although the busyness of our lives means we only see each other in person a couple of times a year. My friend had dropped her six-monthly "hope balloon" email to our withdrawn friend, not expecting any reply (we usually don't get as response now). To our mutual amazement, this time she did reply, briefly, saying that she is working through some difficult things and wishing my other friend well in her life.

Although it made us happy at first to hear something from her, on reflection, the email made me feel profoundly sad. Its phrasing was perfectly clear and unambiguous. There was not only no invitation to resume contact, even in writing as a first step - there was a definite closing of the door, a not-very-veiled suggestion that ongoing contact should not take place.

That this is my friend's right, I do not dispute for one moment. Any relationship, including friendship, must exist by the full consent of both parties, or it is no relationship at all. My feelings of hurt and sadness and rejection and, yes, injustice (We did nothing wrong! Why have we been cast off? whines the ego) are mine to deal with; they are not her problems and nor should they be.

But even so, even so. I miss my friend. I wish I could help her and be part of her life again. I think I'll always feel a sense of loss, when I look at her smiling face in my photos of my babies.

This is post 25 in NaBloPoMo. 25 down, 5 to go!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Songs about siblings

I've been thinking about sibling relationships recently, in a few different contexts. Musicians like this theme, too, sometimes in a very sad, achey-breaky kind of way.

I have five favourite songs about (at some level or another) sibling relationships. They're all people singing about their brothers. I suppose I favour them because I have brothers myself. At least two of them (one and three) are heartbreakingly sad.

One: Famous Blue Raincoat

My favourite version of a very favourite song. "And what can I tell you my brother, my killer/ What can I possibly say?/ I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you / I'm glad you stood in my way."

Two: Boss of Me

This one might be my younger brother's theme song for me, maybe :-) "You're not the boss of me now, and you're not so big..."

Three: Over in the West

I first heard this song on The Panel, and I just love it so much.

"But oh my brother when they ask of you / I just smile and say who cares? / He's over in the west and I don't know where / And though we are entwined I say / He's over in the west / Forever out of sight, but never out of mind..."

Four: He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

My Dad used to sing this when I hefted my then-toddler brother around as a 10-year-old. Memreez etc.

Five: You and Your Sister

By This Mortal Coil, a big favourite ... with a nod to the older sister's take on a no-good girlfriend.

I feel like I might have some poems about sibling relationships in slow germination at the moment. We'll have to see what grows.

Monday, November 23, 2015

All set

Big day of both work and novel writing ahead, but I have a TARDIS teapot full of Spi Chai tea and a biscuit barrel full of freshly made shortbread and gingerbread. It's all gonna be OK.

This is post 23 in NaBloPoMo. 23 down, 7 to go!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday afternoon

Beef and veg stew is in the slow cooker, the rich, meaty, red-wine, tomato smell competing with the sugary-sand aroma of the shortbread just out of the oven.

The line is full of wet washing, the rocking chair behind me full of piled-up dry washing waiting to be sorted.

I am working my way through a client document, quite enjoying myself getting stuck into my first proper task on this new project.

My 6 year old is colouring in at the dining table, telling herself a stream of consciousness story as she chooses shades and textures.

Both the older two are on their computers - one designing an entry for a Minecraft competition she's entering, one watching YouTube videos and snickering out loud.

The sun is shining, and the birds are in constant voice.

It's not bad, for a Sunday afternoon.

This is post 22 in NaBloPoMo. 22 down, 8 to go!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

All things come to an end (Poem)

All things come to an end -

good things and bad things and things that just are

the smell of a baby's head and the blossoms on the golden rose tree
the sweet first asparagus and the sky-swallowing pain of migraine
seasons and hours and nights of suffering
anything that lives, and all that which doesn't

true things and created things alike

prophets and mountains and species deep in the rainforest
dinosaurs and planets and superheated stars
probably, the universe itself

one day, in fire or in flood,
slipping quietly by, or smashed up in a collision of protons;
germinating the soil for the next rebirth;
arced in agony, or choked in smoke, or
peaceful, tired, laying down to rest

eventually, twilight passes by,
and velvet night comes in.

- Kathy, 21/11/15

This is post 21 in NaBloPoMo. 21 down, 9 to go!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Big one and little one

With a watercolor effect, walking to school.

This is post 20 in NaBloPoMo. 20 down, 10 to go!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Festive season coming

As every single media outlet, as well as all the children in my house, are reminding me, we're now a mere 4 weeks, 1 day from the end of the school year, and 5 weeks, 1 day from Christmas Day.

I often feel like the end of the year sneaks up on me, but that feeling is even stronger this year - I'm startled to be looking down the barrel of the end of 2015 so soon, and with such suddenness. My preparation for both the physical and mental demands of the season is woefully patchy, and there could be troubled waters ahead if I'm not careful.

The next 4 weeks, until the kids finish school, are going to be epic. In terms of events, we have:

- seven end-of-year type catch-ups / events with friends / clubs
- three Christmas Craft Club sessions at the local church
- my Dad's birthday dinner (here)
- three concerts for the kids - one at school, two from the eldest's guitar school
- primary school graduation for the eldest
- three birthday parties (two which only involve one or two of the kids, one for the whole family)
- five volunteer commitments each for partner and I
- two medical specialist appointments and in theory, dental appointments (although I might put them off til Jan)

This is in the context of all our normal work, school and sporting commitments - I am working until 17th December (the day before the kids break up school) and so there won't be a lot of slack in my time either. It's also overlapping with the final 10-day push on NaNoWriMo, which I am determined to complete.

I'm not feeling totally overwhelmed - yet - but I'm uneasily conscious that this may come. I've got about half of the gifts sorted, and our baking is well underway, so I'm not totally at the start, but with family Christmas being here this year, there is much, much more to do. (Memo to Self: Order Christmas turkey tomorrow!!)

Never mind. I intend to enjoy this season, even if it has the odd hair-raising moment. There are not an infinite number of Christmases in which my whole family will be with me, and it would be a shame to waste one feeling poorly.

This is post 19 in NaBloPoMo. 19 down, 11 to go!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The memory of things

Yesterday my youngest daughter and I made shortbread dough. Shortbread is soothing to make, for me - the rubbing of butter through the mixed flour and sugar is almost contemplative. C, my 6 year old, loves it because it's messy and tactile, and anything messy and tactile gets two thumbs up from her.

Later, as I was rolling out the chilled dough to cut the cookies, C busily sorted through our big box of cookie cutters. We have a fairly extensive and colourful plastic collection, featuring the standard cookie and geometric shapes as well as a bunch of different animals and random things like machines, vegetables, and Christmas and Halloween themed cutters.

Watching her lift each one consideringly, I was reminded strongly of when I first bought these cutters. It was a decade ago, when my eldest was a toddler and my secondborn a baby. I remember it with total clarity, which is in itself maybe a bit surprising, considering how much of that time is a fatigue-tinted blur.

I was at the local shopping centre with my girls, to meet a friend with her son. We met up several times every week, this friend and I; she lived locally too, just five minutes away on the opposite side of the suburb to me. Her son was four months younger than my toddler, and she was heavily pregnant with her second baby (another son, as it would transpire). We met on Wednesdays at the library for Preschool Story Time, then took the kids to Donut King for babycinos and cinnamon donuts for them, coffee and glazed twists for us. (This was in the days before my Coeliac diagnosis, and before my heart decided caffeine was similarly off the agenda).

We'd been friends with this woman and her husband for a long time - long before any of us had children. My partner and hers had met over computer gaming interests in their late teens, and had been friendly ever since. I got engaged to my partner at about the same time as these two started living together, when she moved to Melbourne from Perth. We got to know each other well, and we all liked each other a lot.

We ended up becoming a close foursome; we spent at least part of most weekends together, taking our combined four dogs to parks and beaches, having movie pizza nights and going out to see bands, taking up hobbies together. (She and I did a quilting course in Geelong, at the Wool Museum, I recall. We were both bad at it, but I enjoyed it, the process and the feel of it and the six Saturdays of relaxed chatter as we travelled together to and fro).

When the baby-making phase began, these friends were the first non-family people we told that our first girl was on the way. She threw me a lovely baby shower, at her newly-built, massive, house, even though she was five months pregnant herself at the time. When her son was colicky, it was me who came and walked the floor with him to give her some respite in those long, long afternoons. (I was fortunate that my own baby, by then 6 months old, had passed through the worst of her unsettled phase and was generally quite content to lie under the playgym gurgling).

I recall this particular day, that we decided to spice things up and nip into Big W before heading to our respective homes to initiate afternoon naptimes. (This is what passes for excitement when you are primarily a home-bound parent of a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old). It was just about this time of year too, November - all the Christmas decorations were up everywhere.

And the first thing we saw when we came into the shop was a huge display of cooking paraphenalia, complete with a set of 100 cookie cutters for the princely sum of $14.99.

We bought one each. I remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. (Actually, probably more clearly than some conversations I *did* have yesterday).

"It's going to be so much fun to teach them to bake!" she'd said. "Can't you just see them - all four of them - lined up at the counter?"

I'd laughed. "Gingerbread production line," I'd said.

We'd smiled at each other.

Neither of us had any idea then that in less than three years, her family would be completely transformed, when her husband took a job in Dubai and she and the boys followed him several months later. Once they were there, and not long after, her marriage  was ended by his actions, as he left her for a woman he had been seeing before she and the children arrived.

She never did come back to Melbourne, but returned with her boys to Perth instead, to where she has family and community support. We tried our best to stay in touch, but it hasn't been successful - I have heard nothing from her in the past five years, and the email address I had for her bounces now. Once with ambitions to a career in mind/body healing, she retrained as a secondary school teacher, and the last I heard from her, she was making a go of that in one of the toughest public schools in the city.

It's been a long time, but I still miss her. I miss the person I used to be, when we were younger, and sometimes I miss the lives of my past - young coupledom, early motherhood, slow-molasses days of both tedium and delight. It's so strange how a box of cookie cutters can bring all that to mind so vividly.

This is post 18 in NaBloPoMo. 18 down, 12 to go!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pitfalls for the unwary: Renovations edition

As I might have mentioned once or a million times, we are in the middle (or hopefully close to the end) of a kitchen renovation at my house.

This process kicked off back in August, with the getting of quotes and choosing a supplier, and the selection and purchasing of the appliances, but the construction phase really started in the week of 19 October, with a four-day Empty Out All the Junk From the Kitchen Whhhhhy Is There So Much Junk blitz before demolition commenced on the 23rd.

We've gone the almost-whole hog, retaining nothing from the old kitchen but the slate flooring and one section of wooden wall panelling. The cabinetry, appliances, sink, benchtop and extraction fan have all been replaced, and three of the wall sections replaced with caesar stone.

Four weeks into the process, we've made a lot of progress, but it would be fair to say, not quite as much as we'd hoped by this stage. We have our cabinetry, stone and oven / microwave installed and working, and, excitingly, as of yesterday we also have a kitchen sink again. (Washing dishes in the tiny, low-set bathroom sink was getting pretty old, not to mention hard on the back).

The extraction unit is installed and working, including the external wall vent. We have all required new power points (a lot of them) and a new isolation switches and circuit boards to support them. We're using the cupboards / pantry fully, with everything tucked away into its place (and a lot less junk among it, as we did a thorough clear-out when we unloaded the old kitchen).

That's all terrific, but we're not quite there yet - the cooktop has yet to be installed, and the final finishes need to be done. There are three fairly sizeable areas that need to be sealed properly in the walls, plus the floor sealant needs to be applied, a few adjustments made, and so forth. I'm not entirely sure when we will be all done and dusted - I'd love to say by the weekend, but I just don't know if that's going to come off.

The kitchen we've put in is a great improvement on what we had, which was a very old vinyl and timber-clad set-up, original from when the house was built in 1988. In particular, replacing dark wood-look with antique white has lifted and lightened the whole space, and choosing caesar-stone has already shown benefits on both benchtops and splashbacks. (It is a hella *lot* of stone, which wasn't cheap, but it's superbly easy to clean and maintain). We have more useful cupboard space now, a better bench layout, and a kitchen that is going to be much easier and more pleasant to both bake in and cook for large groups in. (This theory will be put to the test Saturday week, when I host my Dad's birthday dinner party for fifteen here!)

Although I have no regrets at all about doing it, there are some lessons we've learned along the way and pitfalls we just hadn't prepared for. It's been both more expensive and more disruptive than we'd anticipated, and I have found the process moderately stressful. Here are the particular take-away points that have occurred to me.

1. When budgeting for the kitchen, don't under-budget the trades.

Our cabinetry and benchtops have come in for the quoted price. Similarly, we budgeted a set amount for appliances all up and that is what we spent - we got a double oven, microwave, induction stovetop, sink & tap, and extraction unit for our price. (It would have been possible to spend so much more, but not really possible to spend less given that we have no gas-line in the kitchen so are restricted to electric appliances).

However, what we did not allow nearly enough tolerance for was the cost of tradies - electrician and plumber. We knew we would have to get both in to do the disconnects and reconnects, and we knew we needed extra powerpoints. We significantly underestimated how much time / labour would be involved, and we also didn't know we would need add-ons like a new circuit board (extra $650), new isolation switches (extra $300), off-market fittings (extra $500) and a pressure valve for the tap (extra $250). Our costs have blown out by 25% overall from our preliminary optimistic budget, and almost all of that has been in unanticipated trade costs.

2. Don't under-estimate the amount of stress and disruption that living in a partial building site incurs.

Not being able to use all or part of your food preparation area for significant amounts of time is quite stressful, but what I have found even more stressful is the parade of workers through the house and the noise, dust and disruption this causes.

From cabinetmakers to stonemasons, electricians to plumbers, barring one hiatus week while we waited for the stone, there haven't been more than a handful of days since 24 October when we've had no-one at all in the house. I've had days when I've been working at home, at my desk which adjoins the kitchen, with headphones and a face mask on, trying to screen out the power tools and dust. I've also lost work time to periods of power down so that installations could occur.

It gets messy and dirty and uncomfortable, especially if you are an asthmatic. I have a new appreciation for why people move out while their houses are being renovated, and if we ever did it again, I'd probably pool two or three rooms and do it that way myself if we could afford to.

3. Being your own project manager is time-consuming and hard

There has been a marked variability in the reliability of service providers throughout this process. Our main contractor, the cabinetmaker, has been by far the best, turning up when he said he would, doing meticulous work we're super happy with, and being easy to deal with.

Every one of the others, though, has presented challenges of one kind of another, whether it be delivering the wrong appliances (the warehouse), not being able to come for ages (the plumber), not showing up or communicating at all (the electrician), or mis-measuring and needing to recut (the stonemason).

There have been several times across the course of this project when, if my partner and I had not had a detailed and firm understanding of what needed to be done and in what order, things may have gone very badly. There has also been a lot of frustration with trying to co-ordinate people's attendance to actually do their bits of the work. My partner and I have had semi-regular check-in discussions to make sure we are both in command of all the facts and can present a united front, given that it is sometimes one of us and sometimes the other who is actually here during works.

So unless you have the money to hire a building contract manager (we didn't) or go with a full-service kitchen outfit who do everything (again, too exxy for us), you need to allow a substantial amount of time and be prepared to put in a lot of effort to make sure the project runs smoothly (or runs at all). This part was probably less of a shock to my partner than to me, as he's managed renovation and fit-out projects for work, but I was a pure novice at it.

4. Be really clear about where the money is coming from

We actually did OK on this front - we'd already decided that we would fund the kitchen from a combination of draw-back on the mortgage and the first two-thirds of my payments from my just-concluded big freelance project, and even with the cost overrun, that has proven sufficient. However, I have heard many horror stories about people who tried to wing it with juggling payments between cards and accounts, and ended up in horrible strife, owing money to service providers or deeply in debt. No renovation is worth that, it really isn't. If there isn't a clear path to paying for it all - one with a generous toleration for overrun - I would say, don't start.

Overall, was it worth it? Yes it was, and I think this is going to be even clearer as end-of-year baking and festivities really kick off. Would I do another room again soon? Crap no. Both my head and my bank account need significant time to recover before I'd even consider it.

This is post 17 in NaBloPoMo. 17 down, 13 to go!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Beautiful places

This is post 16 in NaBloPoMo. 16 down, 14 to go!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Last night, still on our little holiday, two things happened. One was personal and immediate, which was that I became violently ill as a result (I think) of ingesting gluten. The second was much more chilling, which was that we became aware of that of which we had been blissfully ignorant - the terrible attacks in Paris, which have now been claimed by ISIL.

Terrorism is well-named, it seems to me. It's designed to throw entire nations off-balance, into a perpetual state of fear, because no-one can know when the next attack will be coming or from which direction. It is a war waged as much on the mind as much as on the body. The radical uncertainty in England during the heyday years of the IRA springs to mind, along with this current wretched war being waged by ISIL and Daesh.

Like everything, it's both complex and not. What gives birth to terrorism isn't, I believe, religion (or at least not any particular religion); it's disaffection, and extremism, of any stripe. True, some kinds of radical extremism tend to lead to individual rather than group action - the not inconsiderable number of right-wing "Christian" terrorists over time (ie Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik) tend to committ their atrocities alone or with one or two accomplices, rather than as part of cells. There might be an interesting analysis to be done as to what it is in the right-wing Western mindset that gravitates towards lone-wolfing, rather than group action. Lone wolf terrorists still do massive damage, though; Breivik himself killed 67 people, acting alone, which is almost half the number killed in Paris by what looks like 5 or 6 separate cells.

The debate that will now be re-ignited is what the balance should be between self-protection and compassion, and as an Australian, living in a country noted for its exceptionally hardline refugee policy in the last decade, this makes me weary and sad. I assume that this is not a primary concern for ISIL - indeed, it might even be a goal - but it is going to be harder and harder for all people of Middle Eastern and North African descent now to live in the West and be accepted, and doubly, triply, so for Muslim people. Of course, the fear experienced by the West, which then leads to rejection and hostility, provides a perfect petri dish in which radicalisation and rhetoric of hate can get a toehold; and thus the problem continues to self-replicate, maybe indefinitely.

The news at the moment is reporting that one of the attackers was just 15 years old, and another had successfully claimed refugee status after leaving Syria. The tragedy of this cannot be overstated, not just for the immediate victims. The millions of Syrians now fleeing the brutal conflict in their country, and ISIL's reach, are now inevitably tarred with the West's fear of more attacks, and will struggle to obtain the help and refuge they so desperately need. On a domestic level, I believe this day has decided the next Australian election; fear is a powerful motivator, and I don't think Turnbull, leading the party of most stringent (and cruel) refugee rejection, can lose now, especially given his personal popularity.

I feel that we may be headed for a dark time internationally with terrorism, and that things may get worse before they get better, most notably for the regional victims of ISIL who may now be unable to find refuge. What happened in Paris was unutterably sad and terrible. What is happening every day in Syria itself is even worse, and the victim count is just going to continue to rise while ISIL's star is in the ascendant.

This is post 15 in NaBloPoMo. 15 down to go - halfway there!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mini-break on the Mornington Peninsula

This is post 14 in NaBloPoMo. 14 down, 16 to go!

Friday, November 13, 2015


somewhere by the sea
far from the voices of young
we are two again.

- Kathy, 13/11/15

This is post 13 in NaBloPoMo. 13 down, 17 to go!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Florence + the Machine

Last night I took my two elder girls to see Florence + the Machine play at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. We just had general admission lawn tickets, but as ever at the Bowl, the sound quality was fantastic.

I'd promised the girls I would take them to see Florence the next time she came to Australia. They are both such fans, as am I.

They have been to music shows before - I took them both to Cyndi Lauper in 2013, and I took the elder to Indigo Girls in 2012, while their Dad took them both to see Angus and Julia Stone earlier this year - but this was their first outdoor event, and their first time going to see an artist that they had actively campaigned to see. (The other concerts, while they enjoyed them a lot, were suggested by me, rather than importuned for by them!)

I wondered how the late night and massive crowd would work out for them, but they were both quite resilient to the conditions (well, after we moved away from the group of 6 hipsters chain-smoking right next to us, despite the prominently displayed No Smoking signs RIGHT BEHIND OUR HEADS.)

The eldest insisted on going off to the loos by herself as needed - which was a bit of a challenge for my overprotective instincts when it got dark, but I squashed my urge to restrict her. The 10-year-old got sleepy at one point so, without fanfare, lay down on our picnic rug and had a 15-minute kip, waking up as bright as a button to dance to the next song. Overall, their ability to handle themselves was admirably high.

Florence played a fantastic set, opening and closing with two of our favourites. She closed with Dog Days are Over, arguably her most famous song of all, which brought the house down, but she opened with one I like even better ... this one.

The girls sang along, ate the chicken and rice we'd brought for a picnic dinner, and loved the Nutella crepes I treated them to for dessert. I even cracked and bought them a t-shirt each, despite being slightly appalled at the price (when DID merch become so horrifically expensive)?

It was a good night. I enjoyed the show, but I enjoyed the opportunity to be out with them even more. It won't be many years at all that they'll want my company at things like this; I want to soak that up while I can.

This is post 12 in NaBloPoMo. 12 down, 18 to go!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On changes to plan

Back on 1 August, when I took on my current major freelance project, it was scheduled to end on 30 September, right at the tail end of the school holidays. My plan, at that stage, was to work hard til the 30th, enjoy our 5-day spring family holiday, come back and have a couple of weeks catching up on life stuff and facilitating our kitchen renovation before starting to source new work.

The best-laid plans of mice and men, etc.

Firstly, although the spring holiday still happened, my project got extended to 16 October, which was a readjustment to my ideas about the first two weeks of term. Then the kitchen reno got pushed back a week to start, and has dragged on longer than we'd hoped (it is *almost* there now, but it's felt like a pretty lengthy 3.5 weeks so far). Then, just as I was looking with longing eyes towards 16 October and Stumps Day on Project, the client extended again, so now I will in fact be finishing with this project tomorrow, on 12 November.

Of course, from the time the second extension kicked in, I've been diligently telling myself, Never mind though, it's all good for the bank account ... and you'll probably be really quiet with work from then on. Maybe you won't get any at all til next year! (This thought was both attractive and terrifying in equal measure - the ancient push-pull of more time / better health management / family tasks vs money to pay the bills).

Turns out ... notsomuch.

I've just been very fortunate to secure an engagement on a major project for a different organisation, doing quite similar work to that I've been doing, but in a new environment. My new client is comfortable with my preference to work at home other than for meetings / briefings, and the work is very substantial - it will amount to between 2 and 5 days every available week between next week and the end of March next year. (The nature of it will necessitate a tidal work pattern, where more hours are performed coming up to document release dates and fewer in weeks when documents are out for review).

So my ideas about having a long, long summer have been kyboshed. I'm still taking 17 December - 4 January off - the kids finish school for the year on the 18th, and I am hosting family Christmas Day here this year, so I really wanted to keep that pre-Christmas week free of work. I can't remember if I've ever worked the gap between Christmas and New Year, but I certainly have no intention of starting this year either.

I would've liked to take longer. I was looking forward to taking longer. But the exigencies of this project just make that impractical. It was certainly not an issue over which I was prepared to give away an interesting project that will assure my income is at a solid level for the first half of next year at least.

I won't go onsite to the client in the January weeks if I can avoid it. I think I'll manage, juggling around the kids, with a combination of swap days with friends, fun days out with grandparents, my partner taking a week off, and home days where the kids and I do our own things, in our own ways. I certainly won't work 5 days any of those weeks, either, leaving some time for beach, park and library trips, ice-creams by the bay and afternoon teas in cafes.

Sometimes changes to plan are scary, and sometimes they are good. Sometimes they are both at once :-) The biggest trick for me is going to be pacing myself so I don't precipitate another health crisis; I will no doubt flare off and on with my chronic conditions, but I can manage flares in a way that means I can keep functioning if I am careful and don't try to thrash myself along.

It's nice, though, to have work, to feel like I didn't make a mistake leaving my job earlier in the year. It's nice to think that when I decided to try for a work style and pattern that suits me and my family, that the gamble has paid off. That makes me feel good, even while I am a little daunted too.

This is post 11 in NaBloPoMo. 11 down, 19 to go!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The strange thing about motivation

Yesterday I had a very low motivation day. I had work to do, a house to clean, and a target of getting almost 3,000 words down on my NaNoWriMo novel. I also had 8 quiet, peaceful hours available to me, with the kids doing after school care, and I had slept much better on Sunday night than my recent wont, so I was less pulled down than I've been. Yes, my targets were ambitious, but I had close to perfect conditions for achieving them. Everything was aligned, except for one tiny detail - motivation.

I struggled hard yesterday to get things done. I did still manage a respectable 2100 novel words, some paid work, a teleconference with my new client, and catching up on the clothes washing, but this was only achieved by constant self-trickery and self-flagellation. My resting state was ... resting. Skimming Twitter. Picking up a book to just read a few pages. Making endless cups of tea. Sitting in the garden with the dog, "just for a minute".

Today, the motivation has returned in spades, but right now the opportunity is severely limited, as the stonemasons are here installing the benchtops and splashbacks in my new kitchen - which is directly adjacent to my desk, with no wall between. The noise and strong odour mean that I can't really work or write, just exactly when I have rediscovered a bit of fire in my belly to do so.
The mind can be a very frustrating thing!

This is post 10 in NaBloPoMo. 10 down, 20  to go!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Haiku for a hot spring morning

shimmering in sun
dogs pant on leads, while children
trudge, hot-toed, to school.

- Kathy, 9/11/15

This is post 9 in NaBloPoMo. 9 down, 21 to go!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday flashbacks (ie Timehop for the non-iPhoners)

On this very day last year (2014)

Three girls poring over worms, November 2013

C is for Cookie - November 2012

Baking toddler - November 2011

Out in the garden - November 2010

Bouncing time - November 2009

This is post 8 in NaBloPoMo. 8 down, 22 to go!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Hard time coming

When there is a hard time coming, when it is just upon me, the world seems to flatten out, lose colour, seem less real.

My face in the mirror looking strange to me, like the face of someone I didn't ever know.

Things that always bothered me at least a little (loud music, crowds, surprises, interpersonal conflict) start to become unbearable.

Things that never bothered me - things I find enjoyable, even - start to grate against my skin, like new shoes rubbing.

Born in the body, the malaise grows and spreads, ably assisted by the part of my mind and personality that loves catastrophe, and sends dark dreams of end times.

When a hard time is coming, my eyes sting with the effort of keeping them open to the day, while my heart stings with the painfulness of being in the world and of it.

Joints that swell and ache, muscles that weaken and tremble, a gut that clenches and spasms, a heart that flutters like a moth under a glass - these are the cause, and the symptoms, and neither and both. These are the markers I can point to, when I say, to those around me -

I'm so sorry. I don't feel good.

There's a hard time coming.

This is post 7 in NaBloPoMo. 7 down, 23 to go!

Friday, November 6, 2015

After the storm

Melbourne had an intense day of weather yesterday. We even had a tornado-ish (tornadette?) to go with our extreme stormy conditions. Thunderbolts, lightning, lashing winds and rain ... it was like being inside a movie, and not a fun one at that.

My drive from my client site, usually an easy 20-minute run, to the school took over 45 knuckle-whitening minutes; I was slobberingly grateful to arrive unscathed, and to have not witnessed any catastrophes on the road. By the time the school bell went, the worst of the weather had passed over us in the west, and was headed for the city and the eastern suburbs.

After the storm, my 6 year old and I came home to a quiet, drenched yard, steaming gently in the late afternoon sun. She jumped in puddles, while I squeezed fluid from the sodden laundry on the line. The birds began to sing again, and the dog yawned hugely in the return of the warmth of the day.

The aftermath of a storm is always marked with calm and release, both literal and symbolic. So much storm und drang, to arrive, safe, if bruised, on the other side.

It brought to mind  my favourite, if one of the least generally popular, songs from Mumford and Sons' first album. After the Storm isn't as flashy or poppy as a lot of their other songs, but it speaks to me of the quiet that comes after stress and travail, the silence at the heart of the wind, and love struggling through pain to emerge, speaking its name, into the sunlight.

"And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears / And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears"...

This is post 6 in NaBloPoMo. 6 down, 24 to go!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Day 5 check-in

 It's been raining all night and is still raining, and I've slept badly, troubled by peculiar dreams (one involved adopting a crocodile who then ate all the neighbourhood cats ... my subconscious is a disturbing place sometimes). Unable to sleep, I thought I should make some use of the time before I head off to work - so here I am, checking in re my Month of All the Words.

Today is day 5 of NaNoWriMo, and I'm tracking OK as far as stats go - I'm staying just a whisker in front of the goal word count each day, and I have a little over 7,000 words down that I think are not entirely rubbish.

However, the easiest stretch, both in terms of writing (I like beginnings, less good with middles) and available time, is behind me. I haven't been working from 1-4 November, but I have two full days of work ahead of me now, followed by a busy weekend, a fully booked week with work next week, and then a weekend away. Maintaining the daily writing target is going to be a challenge for me, especially as I'm sleeping poorly and not in the pink of health. Still, no-one ever said NaNo was meant to be easy - that doesn't make it not worth trying.

The novel is evolving into a strange kind of science fiction / mystery thriller / lyrical hybrid - a hot mess of unsaleable genre-smushing, in other words - but I'm satisfied that it is following a true path at the moment, rather than a dead end. I have a clear picture in my mind of what the next two scenes need to do, and a broad idea of where the story goes from there. If I'm going to lose my way, I'd reckon it'll happen around the 20,000 word mark, but I'm hoping the momentum of the exercise will carry me safely over that dreaded slump point.

Writing in verse is liberating for me and I am very happy with my decision to tell this story in a verse novel rather than a "straight" novel. I am more at home as a poet than as a prose writer, and I think it's important to go where the energy is. This story's strangeness can be nicely counterpointed through the allusiveness that verse allows, and I think the vehicle is right.

The story is set about 75-100 years in the future, and I am amusing myself by throwing in occasional present-day cultural references that might resonate (although I'm avoiding doing too much of this). My central premise is a world with massive climate problems, but where the movement of people has become normalised and national borders are much more porous than now, and generally accepted to be so. Communication technology is seamless and advanced, but there are still no flying cars (d'oh!) Gene tech has advanced too, and gene tinkering means that most people who don't die of climate-induced disaster or by human violence can reasonably look for 120 years of life.

Certain mutations have been enhanced with genetic engineering, and there is a body of people - the Mind-to-Mind cabal - who have the ability to perform microsurgery on the minds of others using only their own mental energy and capacity. This isn't quite mind-reading or telepathy - they can't communicate in speech-like thoughts to each other, nor can they strip-mine the thoughts of most others - but it is somewhat like very targeted telekinesis. This skill is obviously very useful in several contexts, from the repair of both brain injury and mental illness to the intervention into the minds of violent threatening individuals to render them harmless.

Of course it isn't simple and it is feared and resisted by many, but that's the general gist of it.

Here's a small sample of the story so far - this is part of a scene where my protagonist, Ket, is being questioned by two law enforcement officers with very different agendas about the opening incident in the story, where she managed to disable a gunman holding up a corner store by getting inside his mind.


I don’t need a second invitation – I slide into her frontal lobe, soft as a kitten’s paw;
if she hadn’t lowered the shield, she’d never know I was there.
(I heal complex psychic wounds for a job. Doing no harm is my bread and butter.)
She’s laid it out neatly, in the mental equivalent of flashing neon; a trainee Minder,
one with half my range and sensitivity, couldn’t miss it.
Major Crimes is opposed to Mind-to-Mind, it says, in bold lettering. Not exactly lettering,
but the analogy is close enough.
The Commander of Major Crimes in the Apac region cabal has a score to settle.
We’re not sure what it is, but he’s looking for a wedge. He’s decided you may be it.
Tread carefully, now. Give them no reason. You are needed, free.
I glance at her sharply.
We in Security Response have need of a Minder with your abilities. I will do what I can.
It is your onus, though, to give them no purchase for their calumny.

I say, Well, Officer Obela, I went into the store around 8:45am or so. I wouldn’t want to say *precisely*, you understand – I had no reason to particularly note the time, and I didn’t do so.
He scribes carefully, his arm tucked under itself crabwise in the manner of thwarted lefties.
For what purpose did you enter the store? says Pham. I recognise the lead and seize it;
if I am to emerge unscathed from this, I will need Pham’s help.
I smile ingratiatingly. I had need of feminine hygiene products, I say brightly, judging
(by the appreciative smile ghosting on Pham’s face, correctly)
that Obela is traditional enough to be discomfited at mention of both my bleeding womb
and that I have one, at all.
Tamponas, you know, I say, twisting the knife. The little micro-tubing, for vaginal use …?
Obela nods quickly, his face flushed.
It feels a little unfair, given the rest of what I saw in his straightforward mind –
a man via transition, he himself knows what it is to bleed, a memory surgery has not erased.
I shrug off the instinct to relieve his uncertainty. I need him off-balance
I need him unsure, if I am to be sure of a free walk from this room.

This is post 5 in NaBloPoMo. 5 down, 25 to go!