Feb 25, 2015

Renovation 2015: Part One

We bought this renovator's delight in 2003. It took us a while to find the delight - the 'renovate' part was much easier to spot - but find it, we have. Gradually, over the 11 and a bit years since, we have transformed our 1906 unassuming, unmodernised villa into a warm, colourful home.

I knew what I wanted to achieve right from the start, I had a grand vision, but of course finances, time and energy levels play a big part in making it happen. Our kids were 10 and 8 when we moved in, and we all know what those years of school and sport and commitments are like. We did what we could, when we could. We painted and updated room by room, put in a new kitchen, new bathroom, replaced weeds and concrete in the garden with plants and paving, re roofed the whole house, new fences, and built on a huge family room. Inside and out, we finely tuned every aspect to suit us.

Except for one area... the laundry and back porch. This area is basically a tin shed attached to the back of half of the house. There are no foundations, all plumbing and electrical is above ground and exposed. It was just an add-on many decades ago. To be honest, I reckon I could give it a few good whacks with a sledgehammer and it would be gone. If I can still lift a sledgehammer....

 I always figured this would be the last area we tackled as my vision included enlarging the area, turning the old porch zone into a study, brand new laundry, and adding a much needed second bathroom (we are now a family of four adults, sometimes five, so we NEED another shit, shave & shower room) so a great fistful of dollars would be required. It finally looks like this will be the year it might happen.

So, the ideas I had swirling in the back of my head for 6 years, and which pushed and shoved their way to the front of my head 5 years ago when we finished the family room, and the tin shed eyesore was the only thing left standing between us and a completed home..... well, those ideas are now spewing out of my mouth, onto paper, and into my builder's head. Luckily, our builder has said Yes to every idea. So far. Smart man.

We haven't costed much yet... I don't want to be disillusioned just yet, please let me hang onto my dream a little longer.... but we are not naive. It won't be cheap. And possibly won't go perfectly...does any reno go perfectly?? But it should make for some fun blog posts.

I'll keep you posted.

Jan 29, 2015

My Aged Care Plan, Bowels Permitting

I missed out on writing a birth plan. I think I had my kids in the days just before it became uber cool to give your doctor/midwife/birthing partner/lawyer a list of demands as to how your labour was to be conducted, what intervention was allowed, which dolphin/rainforest sounds CD was to played, and how best to prevent your mother-in-law from being within 50 metres of you and your child.

Though, to be honest, if I had written a plan, it would've been quite simple.

1. Give me drugs.
2. The baby inside me is in control. Not me. Do whatever the baby wants.
3. Give me more drugs.
4. If you try to play soothing dolphin/rainforest sounds, I will hurt you. INXS is fine.
5. I apologise in advance for swearing, don't take it personally. You are probably not really a bitch/arsehole/fucking nazi sadist.
6. Seriously, just give me all of the drugs.

So I've decided to look ahead and write an Aged Care plan instead. Maybe I couldn't control the birthing hours, but surely I can have some control over my twilight years...assuming my bowels let me. Please see that my husband/children/grandchildren/carers/housekeeper/legal guardian/parole officer/cruise ship activities director/whom it may concern get these instructions.

1. Give me drugs.
2. I was nice to my children because I knew they would choose my nursing home. If I don't like it, I want to change my will and leave everything to the Asparagus & Brussels Sprouts Growers Association.
3. Do not serve me asparagus or Brussels sprouts.
4. Do not attempt to wake me up to check if I'm dead or alive before 7am. If you do, you will shortly be having people check if you are dead or alive.
5. If my body is failing me but my mind is sound, don't treat me like I'm a child. If it is the other way round, I like play-doh and colouring-in books and puppies.
6. If anyone forces me to play Bingo, I may regurgitate my dinner over their shoes. Seriously, fuck Bingo.

7. Do not sit me at the dinner table with anyone who complains their food is too hot/cold/lumpy/mashed/bland/spicy/stale, who takes their dentures out, or who has a reflux problem. I realise this substantially reduces the number of dinner companions available to me, so I'm happy to eat alone. That way I can complain, burp, fart, and take my teeth out in peace.
8. If you do sit me at the dinner table with anyone I don't like, it will probably be best if I'm only allowed plastic cutlery.
9. I will not apologise for swearing. It is probably personal. You most likely are a bitch/arsehole/fucking nazi sadist.
10. Give me more drugs.
11. If I can't swallow the pills, crush them into a vodka cocktail.
12. When I start telling crazy stories from my past which may or may not be true, don't correct me or disagree. Just smile, nod and ask relevant questions. I may just be having dementia fantasies. Or I may be drunk.
13. My bladder and bowels are just fine, thank you. Stop making me go "just in case". I can control myself.
14. Ok, I accept that, on occasion, my bladder and bowels will let me down. This is why you should've fucking well listened to number 3.
15. If it can be avoided, I don't want to wear a nappy. Pretty sure I didn't enjoy them the first three years of my life, can't imagine I'll feel any different during the last three.
16. I know all the residents tie personal things to their walking frames to recognise them and avoid the infamous Edna vs Hilda Frame Stealing Incident of 2010. Nobody wants to relive that slow-motion chase. So if I want to tie a purple dildo to mine, let me. To be honest, by then I will think it's just a foot massager anyway.
17. If I start to go deaf, do not yell at me. I'd prefer hand signals. I've always been proficient at flipping the bird and, arthritis notwithstanding, I'd like to continue.
18. I'd like whoever ends up showering me to know a few things.... they were once perky, large, and magnificent; it was once a neat, dark, well-groomed triangle; and both areas functioned brilliantly.
19. I believe in dying with dignity. So if I look like I'm about to take my last breath, put chocolate in my left hand, wine in my right hand, and make sure my pants are ON. 
20. Seriously, just give me all of the drugs. At once.

Jan 12, 2015

From the Soundtrack of "Sound of Menopause"

(To the tune of Favourite Things...with sincere apologies to Julie Andrews and Rodgers & Hammerstein)

Night sweats in winter and flushes so sudden
Weight gain that makes you feel like you're a glutton
One word misspoken, oh how your mood swings
These are a few peri-menopause things

Anxious and nervous, irregular heartbeat
Sweating so much that you stick to the car seat
Scratching and rubbing your hot itchy skin
These are a few peri-menopause things

Vaginal dryness, erratic libido
Fantasies of James Bond in a tuxedo
Remember you're wearing a Libra with wings
These are a few peri-menopause things

Brain is so vague, so damn tired
The insomnia's bad
Just simply remember they're hormonal things
And know you're not fuuuuuuuu-cking mad

Hair loss and headaches and huge memory lapses
Take off your bra and your cleavage collapses
The mirror shows you now have four extra chins
These are a few peri-menopause things

Fingers are tingling and knee joints are creaking
Uterus cramping and bladder is leaking
Too swollen to take off your old wedding ring
These are a few peri-menopause things

Groaning and farting, your stomach so bloated
Wet yourself laughing, you hope no-one noticed
Flow is too heavy for products with strings
These are a few peri-menopause things

Think it's over, think again now
Still can't wear white pants
Just simply remember they're all normal things
And know you're not fuuuuuuuu-cking mad

(I hope the tune isn't stuck in your head for too long...three days for me...)

Dec 11, 2014

Cate's Christmas Crafts

Don't go buying expensive Christmas decorations. Make them yourself.

Every year this message is thrust at us from Martha Stewart-esque types, who seem to be able to turn a piece of twine, a jar of glitter and some florist's foam into a one metre diameter sparkling wreath with leaping reindeer and twirling angels who sing O Little Town Of Bethlehem.

I can do that.

And every year, these are the famous last words I utter before I am found, two hours later, rocking in the corner, with crushed green foam under my fingernails, knotted twine glued to my hair, and a glittery cleavage which is heaving as I sob to the tune of Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

No, I don't mean smooch. It's an acronym.
Keep It Simple, Stupid.
I saw a simple decoration this year that made me say I can do that with swagger.

How cute.
It's just a stick and ribbons, right? 
I can do that.

I raced out into the yard to find a stick (to be honest, I mean I wandered outside to put an empty wine bottle in the recycle bin a few days later and happened to tread on a stick which looked like it needed decorating) and raided my box of ribbons.

This was the result...

Ok....so it needed work. So did my nails.

Look, I admit I didn't try very hard. I used the lengths of ribbon as I found them without any cutting and I had started the next bottle of wine. The stick wasn't even straight, for fuck's sake.
I showed it to my Facebook friends and we all had a good laugh at me. I figured that one day it would make a hilariously pathetic NAILED IT meme, along with all the other numpties who try to make things they see on Pinterest, like these...

 I decided to try a bit harder. That meant putting the wine away and finding some scissors. I kept the same stick though. Because I didn't need to go out to the bin again.

Come on, it was an improvement.
A bit.

So I quit fiddling with it. I decided I needed to build up to it slowly and not rush. I needed to approach it sensibly, methodically, and soberly. 
And fuck it, I needed a straight stick.

Eventually, I had to venture out to the bin again, and hunted for a new stick. I calmly and quietly redid the whole thing, I even ironed the fucking ribbons (that was a chore, I hadn't touched the iron for months), and finally....

I actually nailed it. Properly.
With added partridge. You know the song...a partridge in a ribbon tree....

I was so chuffed with myself.
Until...jeez....it's a STICK. And some RIBBONS. 
Whoop de fricken doo.

So tune in next week, and I'll show you how I'm taking a coat hanger, two ping pong balls, and a roll of faulty aluminium foil, and making THIS*.......

(*rest assured, I'm bullshitting. I'd need more than two ping pong balls)

Nov 14, 2014

Coz I'm 50

I turned 50 last month.
Momentous occasion, apparently.
It didn't seem momentous though. Nothing cataclysmic happened. I didn't suddenly feel different. I felt exactly the same as I had the day before, and the day before that. Probably because I've been a grumpy old fart for some time now. Considering that in the last 18 months my sister died, my mum died, my dad could've died (broken hip and surgery, aged 91), and I could've died (burst appendix, infection, etc), I was just glad to wake up on the day and breathe. Unassisted.

The day was no more, and no less, than what I wanted. It was exactly right. Perfect, in fact. A quiet day at home, with dinner at one of our favourite beachside pubs. The Husband, the kids, and ten close friends were with me to celebrate being alive. In the warm stillness of a magnificent spring evening, we stood and chatted, drinking wine and eating dips and bruschetta, while we watched the sun turn the sky orange as it set over the water. We then sat down to some lovely food, more wine, more chatter, and laughter. So much laughter. I'm not sure I even remember everything we talked about. The wine flowed as freely as the conversation, so it's not surprising. I know my boobs were quite popular; hot flushes were a topic, as were family gossip, baby news, sport and holidays; birthday parties and New Year's Eve plans were discussed; and I vaguely remember telling everyone the Rolling Stones would be joining us after dinner to entertain us. I don't think I fooled anyone, as they hadn't drunk enough at that stage. I'm having flashbacks of standing in a suburban street at the end of the night, hugging and kissing one of my oldest friends, marvelling at the fact we've known each other 37 years. I think "37 YEARS!" was yelled with incredulity several times. Miraculously, we all managed to walk steadily out of the pub at closing time, and all of my flowers and gifts made it home intact. Just don't ask me how my citrus flavoured Chapstick ended up in the men's urinal at the pub. That's a story best left untold.

                                          Lovely night, lovely view

Anyway, the only difference to my life since turning 50 is that I now end many of my sentences with "coz I'm 50".
Where once I may have said, "coz I'm grumpy", "coz I'm hormonal", "coz I ate too much", "coz I feel like it", "coz I said so", "coz I'm fat", "coz I drank too much", or "coz nobody will know", I am now finding "coz I'm 50" covers most situations.

"I need to pee."
"Didn't you just go?"
"Yes, but I need to go again COZ I'M 50."

"Let's use the elevator."
"There's not many steps, you can make it."
"No I fucking can't, COZ I'M 50."

"I'm so tired."
"I thought you said you had a good night's sleep."
"I did, but I need even more COZ I'M 50."

"I feel sick."
"You shouldn't have eaten all that chocolate."
"Idiot, it's not because of that, it's COZ I'M 50."

*sings loudly*
"Mum, stop singing."
*sings even louder and throws in some dance moves*
"MUM, WHY??"
"COZ I'M 50!"

*puts on track suit pants*
"I thought we were going somewhere today?"
"We were, but I've been out for 3 out of the last 4 nights and it's all rather exhausting, so I can't be bothered even putting make-up on and doing my hair, let alone choose a decent outfit, put shoes on, and leave the house, then possibly have to smile and speak to people, because today I think I really, truly would hate all of the people and possibly want to stab them, COZ I'M 50."

And then there's this.

Testing my poop.
Coz I'm 50.

Oct 27, 2014

I know it's only rock'n'roll but I like it...

The Rolling Stones came to Adelaide, stayed for over a week, put on a magnificent show, and left. And I am glad I witnessed it all.

I have never been a massive Rolling Stones fan as such - I've never bought one of their albums or been to any of their previous shows, I never had their posters on my wall or fantasised about being swept off my feet by Mick Jagger's lips - but we figured this was a once in a lifetime event for us Adelaidians and we should be part of it. 

The concert was meant to be held back in March and was to be the official opening of the revamped Adelaide Oval. It was postponed due to the tragic passing of Mick's girlfriend, and although it was no longer going to be the Oval's first big, exciting, capacity event (there has since been a full season of Aussie Rules football), we held onto our tickets and said, "What the hell, let's see the Stones anyway."

And I'm so glad we did. It was a perfect October night, warm and still (see photos below). As Mick said, the delay meant "the concrete in the stadium had more time to set", and I think it also meant the band were fresh and sharp after a relaxing week in Adelaide, rehearsing at Glenside Studios. Or as Mick described it, "the grounds of a mental asylum". (Yeah, it was a mental hospital....my great great grandmother was once a resident there, but that's another story...)

Anyhow, the Stones delivered an energetic, mesmerising, crowd-pleasing show for almost two and a half hours. From the opening of Jumping Jack Flash to the finale of Satisfaction, they did not disappoint. When a lot of blokes their age are buying caravans and learning lawn bowls etiquette, these ageless dudes are wearing glittery jackets, prancing around on stage like teenagers, and thoroughly enjoying themselves, and GOOD ON THEM. Fan or not, you have to admire their staying power. To not implode, as a band, in the dog-eat-dog world of rock is a credit to them, and their die-hard fans.

They've still got it. Whatever 'it' is. And you can now add me to their list of admirers, who appreciate good music and a good show for exactly what it is.

I know it's only rock'n'roll but I liked it.
Yes I did.

The walk to the Adelaide Oval from the city, across the river.

I spotted Richard Wilkins' hair from thirty metres away.

Despite a few early vertigo issues with our high, steep seats, we were pretty happy with the view.

There was a social media selfie competition for a prize...can't even remember what for...

We got to watch the sunset as Jimmy Barnes played a set and the stadium filled up.

We waited a bit....and then it was on....

It was a gas, gas, gas.

Oct 22, 2014

Family, both real and fictional. (two book reviews)


'Oh, for fuck's sake, Morag!'

And so begins a week of fun, tension, anxiety, insecurities, confessions, mistakes, bitchiness, embarrassment, realisations, and, ultimately, growth for four women and their teenage daughters in Kylie Ladd's fourth novel, Mothers and Daughters.

Yet again, Kylie brings us real people. She writes intelligently, with great insight. She doesn't sugarcoat personalities. Some are vain, some are laid back. Some are proper, some are sweary. Some are innocent, some are crude. Some are sweet, some are nasty. JUST LIKE REAL LIFE! If, like me, you don't want to constantly read about vanilla characters, but wish to be reassured that we all have flaws, we all have issues, we all live complex lives, and we all like a wine or three (ok, that may just be me), you will love Kylie's story.

Fiona, Caro and Morag, with Caro's daughter Janey and Fiona's daughter Bronte, set off for a week of tropical luxury in beautiful Broome to visit their old friend Amira, and her daughter Tess.
Only it isn't luxury. 
The community where Amira has taken a one year teaching job has no internet, no mobile phone reception, and has banned alcohol. To say the city slickers are in shock at the primitiveness is an understatement. The tropical heat adds to the tension as the characters adjust to their surroundings, and some uncomfortable and occasionally ugly behaviour begins to surface... and that's just the mothers. The teenagers have trouble getting along, resulting in bullying and dangerous recklessness... and when Morag's very individual step-daughter, Macy, enters the mix, the dynamics shift with some unexpected results.

Can all of the mothers and their daughters survive this week without harming their relationships?

You'll have to read it to find out.

Kylie Ladd, along with Maggie Joel (who I reviewed HEREand Fiona Higgins (who I'm reading and enjoying right now) are touring the eastern states of Australia (not Adelaide *sad face*) for Allen & Unwin's Wordy Women tour. They will be talking about life, love, books and writing. It starts this Friday 24th October. Details of venues and dates HERE.


Okay, hands up if, at some point in your life, you, or your sister, mother, grandmother, aunt, daughter, neighbour, friend, or doctor's surgery has been in possession of a copy of the Australian Women's Weekly.
I expect there are a lot of hands up.
If you have read a Weekly in the last thirty years, then you have also probably read Pat McDermott's hilarious, honest, wise and sometimes poignant column. As a young adult, it was the first (and sometimes only) article I read when either my mother or older sister bought the Weekly and passed it on to me. I loved her light-hearted musings of family life and knew that if I ever got to write about my future family, I would want it to be in the same vein. Unfortunately, I worked in a bank. The only thing I wrote was cheques. And not to me.

Pat was the first to introduce me to the term MOTH (Man Of The House), an acronym I have now used many times. Life with the MOTH and five energetic kids is shared with warmth, humour, and an immensely relatable simplicity and charm. The joys and frustrations of raising the mischievous Ruff Red (son Rowen) had me laughing on many occasions, but I stopped laughing and gasped in horror last week when I received Pat's book and realised the adorable little Ruff Red is now an ADULT! I AM SO OLD! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!? I also turned 50 last week, so that didn't help.

Now we can all relive some of our favourite stories, as well as catch up on anything we've missed (in my case, the fact that WE ALL GOT OLD) in Family Matters, a collection of Pat's much-loved columns. Her glorious observations of The Witching Hour ('between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, so technically it's two hours of misery') which, I swear, does not change from generation to generation, will have you nodding and laughing. And possibly crying, if your kids are still in that phase. I had tears, but of laughter, while reading the Running Of The Bulls emailing saga, and also during Pat's description of Bad Babies (Ruff Red, again)... "Bad Babies don't like cats. The feeling is mutual."

This is the perfect book showcasing thirty years worth of love, laughter, memories, and experienced wisdom, and I'm thinking it would make a great Christmas gift for anyone whose family has grown up with the tales of Pat McDermott's lovable clan. 
I promise the laughter will make you forget your age.

RRP $29.99

Oct 7, 2014

Half the World in Winter

Grief over the loss of a child. Guilt and blame. Lack of communication. A marriage on the brink of collapse. An inappropriate attraction. A fatal accident. A man seeking revenge. An elderly relative slipping into the depths of dementia. A family, quietly and subtly drifting apart.

All great themes for a modern novel. But equally enthralling, perhaps more so, when set in 1880 London. A time when coal was delivered to the door, boys rode for hours on their bicycles to deliver telegrams, and a woman's greatest fear was not being able to keep her full skirts away from a lit fireplace. A time when your wealth and social importance determined where you sat at a dinner party, the thickness of the border printed on your personal stationery indicated how far you were into your mourning period, and young men were travelling to foreign places to fight a war they didn't necessarily understand with no promise of a safe return (I'm not sure we've progressed far on that last one, unfortunately).

Such is the life of the Jarmyn family in Half the World in Winter by Maggie Joel

I don't always love historical novels (sometimes they're a bit dour and grim), but Maggie Joel has painted such a vivid, detailed picture of Victorian life that I was swept up in it completely. There is a richness and warmth in this story that made it easy to be invested in the lives of not only the Jarmyn family members, but the servants and peripheral characters too. Everyone has to deal with secrets and tragedies, no matter their social standing, and there is empathy and understanding for every character's ill-conceived actions.

There are some charming and humorous moments amongst the drama (especially involving the cook, Mrs Varley), which do not take anything away from the more serious themes...just like real life...and the slow unravelling of exactly what transpired on one devastating day to change the Jarmyn family's lives is compelling.

Overall: Some may find it a bit long, but I think it was necessary to capture the period detail and intricacies of the time. Well written, entertaining and enjoyable, and an eye-opening education about an era of social niceties, mourning periods, and railway travel I knew nothing about. 

This book was given to me by the publishers Allen & Unwin

Sep 24, 2014

The Colour Purple...and Red...and Black

I lost control last week. Well, it didn't just happen last week. It was a gradual decline over a period of months, perhaps even years, where my need to feed my addiction had spiralled, resulting in agitation, desperation and chaos.

I'm talking about my bookcase. 

My fiction bookcase, to be precise. I have one bookcase in our living room which is crammed with assorted non-fiction books and photo albums. The only fiction titles in there are a set of Reader's Digest Condensed Novel volumes and two Lance Armstrong autobiographies.

My larger fiction bookcase lives in our waiting-to-be-renovated back room - it's sort of a cross between a sunroom, an enclosed porch, and a tin shed - and I get to admire all of my much loved novels every time I pass through there to the laundry. Which is often. 

It was always very neatly filled. Organised. Sorted in a genre and size combination, which worked very well until the shelves reached capacity. But even then, as I started collecting more and more books, stacking them on top of rows, and in front of rows, there was still an order to it all. I could lay my hands on any book I wanted without searching high and low. I just knew where they all were. But when my daughter came to me recently with a list of novels she needed for Uni, it took me ages to work out what we already had and what we needed to buy, I spent 20 minutes searching for The Great Gatsby only to find it on the first shelf I'd looked at, and we somehow ended up with two copies of Jane Austen's Emma (and NOBODY needs that).....I knew something had changed.

I cast a critical eye over the bookcase and realised the Day of the Triffids had arrived, only instead of plants, I was going to be overrun by books.  I even suggested that if I ever went missing, the search for my body should start on the crime fiction shelf. I decided I needed to do some major rearranging, but instead of culling and alphabetising (which would be the sane, sensible thing to do), I instead wanted to sort my books by colour. Because wouldn't that be pretty and would magically give me more space and make everything look neat and tidy and let's not forget pretty....

I had visions of this...

And this...

And this...without the small child...

And especially this...without the white sofa...because chocolate fingers, duh...

And one of my friends (who I had previously mocked for sorting by colour, and who was now probably laughing at me) sent a pic of his for inspiration...

So I set the day. I got my stepladder and dusting cloths ready. Grungy tshirt on, hair tied up, sturdy shoes, and I was off and running. Well, climbing up and down. I admit I was worried I may have a breakdown over where I was going to place my Harry Potter books, because ALL THE COLOURS...

...but I forged ahead, thinking I'd leave them until last and where they should be would all become clear...as if I'd drunk Liquid Luck (new code for vodka).

But one hour in to My Big Colour Coding Adventure, I reached a turning point when it became clear just how many black books I have. SO MANY BLACK BOOKS. Big black, medium black, little black books. Hard black, soft black, black jackets. If I'd kept gathering all the black together I would've ended up with at least three or four entire shelves which looked clinically depressed. 

Dilemma. Do I soldier on with my magic rainbow ideas or try and return the poor frightened books to their original positions?
I did neither. I did a bit of rearranging and got everything back on the shelves....and the result...

                  Before                                             After

Yep. That's right. I climbed up and down the ladder and faffed around for two whole hours with NO DISCERNIBLE RESULT. It's a mash-up of genre and size and colour blocks, and poor John Grisham has his bits all over the place.
It has dawned on me that My Big Colour Coding Adventure was doomed to fail. With the volume of books I was trying to sort, if I'm not going to cull the numbers, I need a whole wall of shelves. (I also need more purple books). I have more books than space, so it was never going to be a pretty, magical rainbow, but more like unicorn vomit.

I do seem to have made a little bit more stacking room (by some miracle, although I'm sure that's a delusional illusion), I did get to spend an afternoon with lovely books in my hands, and I even inspired others to try their own Big Colour Coding Adventure, but now there is less order on my shelves than there was before.

And I can't find The Great Gatsby.


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