Weekend Paradise

We went to visit family in Queensland last weekend. Here are some photos:

QLD #1
QLD #1
QLD #2
QLD #2
QLD#3
QLD#3
QLD #4
QLD #4
QLD #5
QLD #5
QLD #6
QLD #6

‘Twas a good weekend…

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The Cycle

I’ve noticed recently that my parents’ hands are starting to look like the hands of my grandparents.

Under Control, Not In Control

I have a perfectionist streak. I think I get it from my dad, who has always wanted to do things ‘right’. It’s something I continually struggle with, the knowledge that perfection isn’t achievable this side of eternity, and, no matter how hard I wish for it, or plan for it, or work for it, or long for it, it ain’t happenin’.

We don’t entertain too much, partly due to my dissatisfaction with our house, our yard, our lack of hospital-grade cleanliness, and etc.; the contrast between the picture that I have in my mind of how it (and I) should be, and how reality (bites) actually displays itself, grates.

So, preparing for having people over is always more of a big deal than I know it should be. I always over-plan, over-provide, over-panic.

This Thanksgiving (which we celebrated yesterday) was a bit different. Yes, I planned a bit more efficiently, and, consequently, was able to paint our spare room and mow our big back yard in the last week, as well as working full-time and fitting in all the ahead-of-time baking and table-preparing and vacuuming and bathroom-cleaning and etc. But, that wasn’t really what was different.

The morning of the day we have people over always looks a bit similar – getting up at a moderately early time, thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m in pretty good shape, I can fit it all in.’, which morphs into ‘Ah…perhaps I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.’, which graduates into a slight panic attack about 4 hours before guests are due, which becomes a grumpy, resentful attack on HL when I feel he isn’t ‘steppin’ up to the plate’ and helping, which rises to a feeling of impending doom as the hands on the clock spin faster and faster, inexorably dragging me towards ‘Battle Stations, all hands on deck, take that to the garbage, move those shoes from the hallway, help me with this platter, make sure the cat litter’s scooped out, you know you have to carve the turkey, right?, ‘. Stupid, huh?

Yesterday morning was starting to look a bit like that. I felt a little panicky and out-of-control by about 10.30 (guests arriving at 1.30pm) as I had so much to do, and I said to God, ‘Please, stop this. Make time slow down a bit, or help me to feel like I can manage to get it all finished in time. I’m not in control here.’

About half an hour later I noticed that everything felt smoother, I felt calmer, and I mused to myself, and God, I guess, ‘I feel more in control, I can manage.’ A minute or so later, though, it occurred to me that I wasn’t, in any way, in control, I didn’t have anything in hand by myself, on my own, no matter how hard I tried. More truly, I was under control. When I stopped, for a moment, in my rising panic, and asked God to take the lead, I surrendered my feeble attempts at being in control.

The rest of the preparations, while still busy and a bit crazy, seemed to shrink into proper proportion. Not everything got done perfectly, but it didn’t matter: there was much turkey and wine and laughter and true joy.

Thanksgiving was awesome.

Thanksgivy-whaty-hooey?

It feels a little odd to be ordering our 10kg (22 pounds) turkey, stocking up on cranberry sauce, planning pecan pie and green bean casserole, pulling out the harvesty decorations, and investigating new stuffing recipes. We celebrate Thanksgiving every year here in Oz, just like we did in America – except we celebrate on the Saturday after the real Thanksgiving, and we host it, rather than HL’s grandparents. It’s such a lovely connection to our American life, and my parents adore it, but we feel a bit alone.

Usually everybody around is preparing for the same holiday at the same time: hence the million turkeys at Safeway (29c/pound, rather than $7-8/kilo), pumpkin pie recipes in every magazine, the line at the grocery store, the Norman Rockwell-like depictions of family dinners on every tv channel. But, here, Thanksgiving is a novelty. A holiday that very few Australians can grasp (“Well…you have turkey, and gravy, and stuffing, and pie, and…you have the whole family around…and…then you watch sport on tv…and…umm…most people have the Friday off as well…and there’s lots of history about American Indians sharing meals with the new settlers, and things like that…and, that’s Thanksgiving…”).

So, we love the whole hoopla of it – celebrating American culture and history and HL’s background and childhood memories, and etc. – but, we feel a bit far from home.

12 litres of milk…

Mother and Son was a delight, and I remember the anticipation of waiting for the next episode. My family always watched it together when I was a child, and I was thrilled to find out recently that a friend owns the series on DVD. We’ve been watching from the beginning, and we saw the episode below last week. Ruth Cracknell was such a joy, and Garry McDonald the perfect son.

Travel Nightmare

Sigh, going nowhere
New Zealand trip is postponed
Passport expired

My parents were supposed to be in NZ today. They got to the airport and were informed that my dad’s passport had expired. Fortunately everybody was very nice; the passport office hustled and organised a new passport within 4 hours, and the airline rescheduled their flight for tomorrow morning, so, not too much of a loss, but, boy, that is a literal nightmare for me.

Just Because

I feel angry and resentful. Just because someone else is disorganised, or self-focussed, or manipulative, or demanding, does not mean that I am required to acquiesce to them. My plans do not have to change just because someone else is put out. Just because someone else is frustrated, or childish, or knows how to lay out a passive-aggressive guilt trip, does not mean I have to feel sad, or controlled, or infuriated. I am responsible only for me, I cannot and do not control other people’s happiness. Just because someone else might lash out, or wheedle, or presume, does not mean that it’s my fault, or that I need to ‘be nice’ just to keep them ‘happy’. Sometimes conflict is helpful in the long-term.

But words are easy.

He felt awful

I studied Robert Lowell in Senior English when I was at school. He was one of the first poets I had studied whose poems needed to be unpacked to be understood, and I found their complexity fascinating and their content somewhat disturbing. We focused on Life Studies, and one of the facets that intrigued me was how open Lowell was about family failings. While my family, growing up, was a very open and welcoming one, it was still very private and loyal, so, to watch the Lowell family dissected and their insides laid out for inspection was a discomforting thing.

Terminal Days at Beverly Farms
At Beverly Farms, a portly, uncomfortable boulder
bulked in the garden’s center
an irregular Japanese touch.
After his Bourbon “old fashioned,” Father,
bronzed, breezy, a shade too ruddy,
swayed as if on deck duty
under his six pointed star-lantern-
last July’s birthday present.
He smiled his oval Lowell smile,
he wore his cream gaberdine dinner-jacket,
and indigo cummerbund,
His head was efficient and hairless,
his newly dieted figure was vitally trim.

Father and mother moved to Beverly Farms
to be a two-minute walk from the station,
half an hour by train from the Boston doctors.
They had no sea-view,
but sky-blue tracks of the commuters’ railroad shone
like a double-barreled shotgun
through the scarlet late August sumac,
multiplying like cancer
at their garden’s border.

Father had had two coronaries.
He still treasured underhand economies,
but his best friend was his little black Chevy,
garaged like a superficial steer
wtih gilded hooves,
yet sensationally sober,
and with less side than an old dancing pump.
The local dealer, a “buccanneer,”
had been bribed a “king’s ransom”
to quickly deliver a car without chrome.

Each morning at eight-thirty,
inattentive and beaming,
loaded with his “calc” and “trig” books,
his clipper ship statistics,
and his ivory slide rule,
father stole off with the Chevie
to loaf in the Maritime Museum at Salem.
He called the curator
“the commander of the Swiss Navy.”

Father’s death was abrupt and unprotesting.
His vision was still twenty-twenty.
After a morning of anxious, repetitive smiling,
his last words to Mother were:
“I feel awful.”

Robert Lowell

Sittin’ in the theatre, readin’ the program, and waitin’…

I posted the poem ‘Effanineffable’ a little while ago, and in the last few days there have been lots of people coming here because of that post. Not quite sure why the sudden interest, maybe there’s an English class somewhere doing a unit on ‘The Poems of T.S. Elliot’, dunno…anyway, I started thinking about the first time I came in contact with Elliot’s ‘cat poems’.

Even though we grew up in a tiny little town, many, many hours away from ‘the big smoke’ my parents, and, in particular, my mum, wanted to make sure that we weren’t disadvantaged culturally. Not only did we go to every possible theatrical, educational, cultural or musical performance within 200 kilometres, we were also periodically taken on the 7 hour trip to Sydney to see the ‘big shows’ – ‘Les Mis.’, ‘Starlight Express’, ‘Cats’

Every production we went to see was amazing and cemented a love and appreciation of performance which is undertaken with high production values, and I could rhapsodise about any of them, but I’ll confine it to the relevant one.

I think I was about 10, and my brother 6-ish, when we went to see ‘Cats’. (Actually, I just checked the Wikipedia page, and, yes, I was 10.) There’s a moment, right before a performance begins, when you’re flipping through the program, thinking about the possible plot/music/action, looking at the photos of ‘the principals’, and slowly immersing yourself in the experience, when the possibilities seem uncontained, when you get little glimpses into what the next 3 or so hours could hold, and the anticipation builds.

The set of ‘Cats’ is somethin’ else. The immersion of the audience into the action  environment  world is instant, even as you’re clambering to your seats (in the nosebleeds for us 🙂 ). The rubbish dump that houses these ‘effanineffable’ cats is built to scale and encases the whole theatrical space. As humans play the cats in this colony of strays, all of the props are built to dwarf the humans, so the proportions of the empty cans of Coke and the rotting tires and the old newspapers are huge. And, not only is everything supersized, it doesn’t stay on the stage. All of the seats in the theatre are surrounded by piles of massive and intricate garbage, close enough to touch.

As we were ushered to our seats I was truly aware that there would be no wondering in that moment before the start of the production. It was so apparent that there would be no desire to curl up on the floor and fall asleep during this show. I sat, entranced, feeling engulfed by the elaborate stage dressing that had leaked from the stage into the audience. Even though the excitement and joy was immense during that time of waiting, it was not, in any way, to be compared to the excellence of being swept into the actual show itself.

I remember the delight, even as I was not really understanding the ‘plot’, as Webber’s music and Elliot’s strange and magical and detailed words created something. Something that was about an unknown and obscure, but complex, world, that contained depth and mystery and…completeness, I guess.

I might be overthinking, over-remembering, but I can feel myself – 23 years ago – feeling transported and overjoyed at this glimpse of a world.

I wonder if I forget sometimes that, in terms of eternity, I’m still just sitting in the audience, reading the program, anticipating the world to come. The set’s pretty elaborate, and reminds me that the bit to come – the ‘real’ production – is gonna be overwhelming, and all-encompassing, and characterised by high  perfect production values. Effanineffable…

Childhood was a long time ago, and far away

Yesterday I was playing around on Google maps, street level, and I had a sudden inclination to ‘wander’ ’round the small town I grew up in. I ‘walked’ past my high school, down to the corner where I used to linger with the boy I liked, along the main street, looking in shop windows, past my church, from my house to the pool… The internal reaction was surprisingly visceral.

I was physically back there a year ago, just driving around with HL and a friend, and it was nice, and a bit nostalgic, but not a particularly deep response. This ‘visit’ was different. I felt almost physically ill from the assault of a million, million early memories. The smell of the chlorine, the pebbly feel of the post office foyer, the coffee shop where I had my first ‘grown-up’ birthday party, the crunch of the gravel under my feet as I walked past the 3rd last house before home, the steepness of the hill that I rode my bike up, the tall gateposts at school I would sit on and swing my legs…

I don’t, in any way, want to move back there, or ‘go back to childhood’ in any way, but the gut-wrenching realisation that all of that is past, gone, not even ‘visitable’, was affecting. The linear nature of living is hard.

Reasons I’m Grateful For My Husband #3

I’m a bit nosy.

I don’t mean to be, I think it comes from trying to be ‘helpful’, trying to ‘fix things’ for people. I’m quite socially aware, always paying attention to what’s going on around me, especially in terms of people and relationships and interactions. When I see a situation that’s potentially awkward or embarassing or painful I feel the need to intervene and insert humour, or smooth ruffled feathers, or avert an humiliating scene.

And that’s all good and well.

But, I seem to feel responsible for things that aren’t my responsibility: worrying about hurt feelings when I have done nothing to cause them and can do nothing to soothe them; intervening in arguments/discussions/questionings that have nothing to do with me; being concerned that people don’t have ‘all the information’ and trying to give it to them; feeling irritated that ‘that person shouldn’t be doing that, it’s wrong’.

I don’t know why I do it. Maybe it’s something to do with being uncomfortable with conflict, feeling empathetic, being a bit judgmental…who knows…but it’s not healthy.

HL isn’t like that as much. He’s more of the ‘Who cares? That’s their business.’ kinda school. Not that he’s uncaring about people, but he’s not burdened in the way that I tend to be. And I’ve learnt so much from that. It’s not always up to me to ‘fix things’. I don’t always have to remove all social awkardness. I don’t have to patch up other people’s arguments. It’s not my job to be weighed down by situations I didn’t cause and can’t solve. I don’t have to be in ‘other people’s bidness’. I can’t live other people’s lives for them.

And I’m grateful for that influence from HL, that tempers my drive to insert myself into places where I’m not needed.

You are not me… *lightbulb*

Yesterday HL started work (driving a cab) at 7.30am and came back at 8am to take me to work. (We’ve recently become a 1 car family and it involves some tricky organisationing.) When he arrived he asked if I’d prefer to be dropped off at the car so I could have it after work and so he wouldn’t have to come and pick me up at the end of the day. That sounded like a good plan so – “Sure!”.

As we were driving we turned off the usual route to where the car usually is parked (quite close to work for me) and started heading out of town.

“Huh? Where are we going?”

“I’m parked at a different place today. You may have noticed I’m driving a different taxi than usual.”

“Oh, yeah…so you are. Well, how far is it? I don’t want to be late.”

“I don’t know, just up here a bit.”

“Oh…ok…it better not be too far out of town, or I’m gonna be late.”

I don’t know, ok?? Just up here a bit.”

*annoyed silence from me*, and then…

“Well, look, can you remember if it’s a long way out? It’s already quarter past 8 and I’m s’posed to be there in a few minutes and we haven’t even got to the car yet…You should have mentioned to me that the car was parked out of town before I decided. I would have said no, or we could have left earlier. I’m quite annoyed actually, ‘cos I’M the one that’s going to have to explain why I’m late, you’re already at work.”

“FINE…stop complaining, it’s too late now.”

“But I’m going to be late! Is it up here? What’s the road called?”

“Tait Road. I think it’s just around this corner, but we might have already passed it. ”

“Well, can you find a place to turn around please??”

“I WILL! I just want to be certain that it’s not still up ahead and then I’ll turn around. Just STOP TALKING PLEASE!”

And then clarity struck.

HL and I are not the same person.

My inner monologue tells me to keep pushing until I get a sign of contrition, a conciliatory gesture, and then forgiveness explodes and the bubbling anger trickles back down into the cracks of my personality. HL’s inner monologue tells him to protect himself, defend against anything that threatens to upset his balance, even when it’s a reasonable irritation at something frustrating. And that insight led to my burst of clarity.

HL finds my pushing scary.

It’s upsetting if I don’t let up and allow him to retain/regain his balance. Even if all I’m looking for is an apology or any signs of regret, my escalating irritation has the entirely opposite effect.

It’s not an easy thing to grasp, rather than just ‘know’, that you and your spouse are DIFFERENT. We’ve been married for almost 10 years and I’ve only, just now, ‘got’ that my anger/annoyance/irritation can be frightening and put HL on the back foot, urgently defending himself.

I guess I had never quite understood the power of that anger, and always saw HL’s increasingly defensive actions as giving me less and less power, rather than more. Which, in turn, meant that I often increased my level of irritation just to provoke him into an apology, which increased his defensiveness, which left me feeling more powerless, which led to…well…ultimately, hours of coldness with each other.

My marriage is my most important human relationship (Ephesians 5:31-32). I am so grateful for this small moment of insight. ‘Backing off’ will be much easier because of it.

(We found the car minutes later and I wasn’t really that late to work. 🙂 )

Grand-orphans

When HL and I first met we had 5 grandparents between us. He had a Grandma and Grandpa, and I had a Granny and Poppy and a Meerischen.

My Pop died of lung cancer just before I moved to America, Grandma died of lung cancer about 5 years later, Meerischen of heart issues shortly after, Grandpa of complications after a fall a couple of years ago and Granny a few months ago, when her body just got too old. HL and I have talked about how ‘orphan’ is the term for a person who has no parents left, but what is the term for those who have no grandparents? HL has suggested Grand-orphan.

Sometimes it will strike me out of nowhere that neither HL or I have any grandparents left alive and I will be reminded that we have been together since before all of those deaths. We were having lunch today and I said to HL “We have no grandparents left. They all died.”

I don’t know why I feel the need to point out when people are dead. I do it a lot. Almost any time we talk about someone who used to be alive and now is not, I am compelled to say “They’re dead now.” I think maybe it’s something to do with needing to be reminded that all is ephemeral, even people and things that seem to be steadfast.

We live on the edge of death, with it ineveitably looming, sometimes near, sometimes far, but always looming. I’m not afraid of death, as such. In fact, I’m not afraid of dying at all. I am afraid of grief. Especially sudden grief. Especially waking up the morning after, and the ‘thwack’ of sudden grief memory.

Death feels like a mistake. Like it can’t possibly be the case. Like there was life and then…not. Like this wasn’t the original plan. Some deaths feel better than others. Grandparent deaths at least often feel as though the timing was right, they were tired, sick, ready. But parent deaths and spouse deaths and children deaths… I s’pose as HL and I get older these some of these will seem more natural, but death will always feel, to me, like a mistake has been made.

Web 2.huh?

There was a course run at work recently which was designed to introduce people to the Web 2.0 concept. I was having lunch near where the session was taking place and it was a fascinating thing to watch 20 or so middle-aged plus (mostly) women struggle with internet networking, blogs, youtube, wikis and the like. I spoke to a friend who was at the course about how she thought it was going, and whether she was learning anything, and she said that she still didn’t really know what the session was about.

Web 2.0 in a nutshell, to me, means connection, communication, co-operation, and so we talked a bit about how the internet used to be seen primarily as merely a tool for recording and passing on information, but how it’s now seen as much more of a people-linking interactive ‘new way of doing things’. It was a real insight into how difficult and alien the grapple with technology can be for a generation who were adults before home computers were commonplace, ubiquitous.

I was a very small child when we first had a computer in our home in ’79 or so. It was one of the very first ‘regular’ computers in our town, probably one of the earliest in the country. Lots of families had Ataris and Commodore 64s but my dad was one of the first to jump on board with the new technology coming out of a small American company called Apple that would evolve into the multi-billion dollar Mac brand.

We had an Apple II+ if I recall correctly, and I recall, with delight, the utter joy given by hour after hour playing Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess (the first 2 hi-res adventures), Turtle and later, the original Print Shop. It felt as though a door was opened, through which an ever-expanding and complexifying landscaping could be viewed, and, ultimately, romped in.

My dad was able to see the amazing potential of these machines as being far beyond the ‘super calculator’, and has instilled in me, from a time almost before I can remember, my connection with technology that feels normal and natural. I am utterly grateful to my dad and so, so proud of his enthusiastic ‘jumping aboard’, which pushed him far ahead of many of his contemporaries in the area of personal computing.

Part of the reason that I am grateful to my dad is that computers were so much a part of my growing-up that the internet just seemed like the next door, which then opened onto an even bigger, and more amazing and bewildering and exciting landscape. And then, in 1997, I met HL online.

Web 2.0, schmoo point oh… The computer was ALWAYS about connection and communication and co-operation for my dad.