The Year of Intentional Living

We have decided that this is the Year of Intentional Living. We’re both lazy and apathetic and ‘easy way’-seeking, so we often find time and energy and friendship and inspiration and thoughtfulness and creativeness and ‘seizing the day’ slip away from us. This cannot continue to happen, or we will end up dry and empty.

There are three things that we’ve chosen to try and aim for this year in order to ‘wake up’.

One:
We choosing to eat more intentionally. Not healthier, or more cheaply, or more organically, or more ‘environmentally-soundly’, just more deliberately. More thoughtfully. More considered-ly. Eating not because it’s dinner-time, or because we have to finish the last of the cheese in the fridge before it goes mouldy, or because the cereal’s in the cupboard and it’s quick, or because everyone else is having cake…but because we really want an excellent cup of coffee, or because ‘the chef at this restaurant is amazing’, or because the smell of fresh-baked bread hits right as the stomach growls, or because sautéed asparagus, steamed fish with ginger and shallots, and saffron basmati is awesome.

I want to work toward deliberately choosing what and when to eat, rather than just eating.

Two:
We’re choosing to have people to our home more frequently. Neither of us crave social interaction at a high-level, but we’re both aware that we need it, and enjoy it. We also – due frequently to my ‘recovering’ perfectionism – don’t have people in our home often…which just perpetuates the issue. The less often people are here, the harder it is to invite them, and the more easily I can invent excuses why we shouldn’t. So, we have decided to have somebody, or bodies, in our house for something social, at least once a fortnight, even if it’s just my friend for a cup of coffee or my parents for dinner. And it will become easier and easier, and I will make less of an issue of everything needing to be ‘right’ before someone can set a foot inside our door.

I want to work towards natural hospitality by deliberately choosing to be hospitable.

Three:
We’re choosing to view, or attend, or participate in something ‘arty’, or musical, or creative more often. This is a small town, and it was hard to move here from Seattle where you barely have to think for more than a minute in order to come up with something creative to do, or see, or listen to. While there are certainly options here for connecting with ‘Art’, we have to look a bit harder, and we’ve been lax in doing so, and, hence, we’ve become a bit trapped in mediocre routine. So, we have decided that once a month we will consciously choose to go to a play, or an art museum, or a concert, or a performance of some kind, and we will engage with it. Because art makes life richer.

I want to deliberately work towards more depth, and creativity, and interaction, and inspiration.

Intentional living – so our lives don’t unintentionally drip away.

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How To Put Up A Christmas Tree (if you’re an American living in Australia)

1. Look online, in the phonebook, in supermarkets, on farms, in the bush, in the newspaper, and etc., to find a Christmas tree that even vaguely resembles the perfect, purpose-grown, multiple-to-choose-from, Christmas-tree-lot-on-every-corner typical American Christmas tree.

2. Fail miserably on all fronts.

3. Cry a little bit, because the ornaments are gonna look dumb on a spindly, ugly-ass, holey, sad little tree.

4. Buy the best-looking one you can possibly find (in a net, so you can’t really tell what it looks like till you unravel it), and pay $50 for the privilege.

5. Drag the thing home and unload it into the front yard.

6. Smile a lot, and try to convince your spouse that, ‘It’ll look ok once we set it up and put all the lights, and tinsel and ornaments on.’

7. Fail miserably, as your spouse looks at you with upraised eyebrows, and says, ‘Uh huh, right.’

8. Trek into the back of the garage to find a rusty saw.

9. Spend half an hour hacking at the bottom of the trunk so the thing will soak up water through the fresh wood.

10. Stand aside as your spouse takes pity on you, comes outside and fixes your sawing job in 2 minutes.

11. Stand the tree upright in the Christmas tree stand and screw it in as straight as possible.

12. Stand back and examine the tree for straightness and best-angle-facing-the-front-ness.

13. Scream and jump forward to catch the tree as it overbalances towards you.

14. Sigh as spouse walks out of the room cursing the misshapen ‘Charlie Brown’ tree that’s gracing your living room.

15. Spouse takes tree outside to re-evaluate.

16. Shout at each other a little bit to vent frustration.

17. Apologise to each other.

18. Bring tree back in, straighten it as much as possible and decide to live – unhappily – with it.

19. Come back from work the next day to find that spouse has made tree stand upright without the precarious lean.

20. Feel grateful that tree won’t topple over in middle of night and squish cats.

21. Drape tree in hundreds of lights, four different types of garland, and box after box of the ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ ornaments (you know, the plain, round, ball kind…) in the hope that the holes, twisted branches, and spindly-ness will be somewhat concealed.

22. Stand back, look at the tree, and realise that this is a vain hope.

23. Come back into the room a few minutes later to find both cats sleeping under the tree branches, enjoying the lights and the pine-y smell.

24. Trim the tree that evening with spouse, listening to Feliz Navidad, placing the most special, and memory-laden ornaments towards the front.

25. Add handful after handful of tinsel to fill in remaining empty spots.

26. Sit on the couch with spouse, look at the lights and realise that it turned out pretty Christmassy after all. 🙂

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.

‘I love the nightlife’ – not so much these days, actually

Our Saturday night consisted of Chinese food and Fiddler on the Roof…and I enjoyed it so much more than our staff Christmas party last night (think alcohol, screeching laughter and much estrogen).

I’m grateful for mates

The pump on our washing machine was burnt out. No water would drain, and so we were left with gross, saturated washing, and regular floods in the laundry. Our friend is an appliance repairman. Our washing machine now works perfectly. So, instead of having to fork out $800+ for a new washing machine, we paid ‘mates rates’ (= the price of the new pump + a cup of coffee), and our washing machine works like new.

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.

Christmas – bah humbug?

Christmas is coming.

Around this time last year I didn’t really want Christmas to come. Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year; the high point of the year’s arc. But, at this time last year, my life felt a bit crappy, and Christmas – the hoopla of it all – seemed so overwhelming.

I’d been working for the previous 3 years at a local software company, and, I say this with no exaggeration, it was the most demoralising, draining, hurtful, undermining, confidence-stealing, soul-destroying employment I have ever had. At the end of the 3 years I didn’t feel like myself; I wasn’t even sure of what my skills and gifts and abilities were anymore. My manager would tell me I ‘wasn’t as talented as I thought I was’, blame me for mistakes he made, set up staff against each other, play favourites, treat many hard-working, honest, loyal, clever, mature, wise, trustworthy, responsible, long-term employees as naughty, deceitful children – worst job I’d ever had.

I lost myself. Depression was always lurking, and frequently close to the surface. The problem was that I was so beaten down that I couldn’t see a way out, couldn’t believe that I would be able to find another job because, apparently, my skill set was so low (read: under-appreciated) that I should just be grateful to have a job.

Inertia was my enemy. I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for anything, particularly not finding a new job, and, Christmas? Who could be bothered to prepare anything? It was just all too much work. So, I didn’t. I just sat at my desk every day, sinking, and came home at the end of each day and sank into both my couch, and a depressive coma. I couldn’t be bothered to prepare meals, let alone write the annual Caradoc Christmas letter. Any Christmas planning was forced and joyless.

This from a freak who so completely ‘discovered’ her childlike Christmas glee while living in beautiful and Christmas-crazy Seattle, that she shipped back to Australia 4 huge boxes of affectionately-named ‘Christmas crap’, can’t walk past a store with ‘Christmas crap’ in the window without pressing her nose up to the window and sighing wistfully that she can’t own it all, and who normally begins planning ‘Christmas crap’ decorating sometime in October. So, I was dreading Christmas.

And then, a miracle. I was fired. There was a ‘restructuring of the business’ and almost my entire department (a dozen or so) were, ‘regrettably’, no longer required. It was a shock…but it wasn’t. It was scary…but it wasn’t. It was a ‘sucker punch’ to the gut…but it wasn’t. It was a relief…yep, pure relief. My situation had been changed for me, when I no longer had the capacity to change it for myself.

And, at that point, HL didn’t have a job either. So, there we were, heading to Christmas, neither of us working, and I was just so grateful. Christmas was a bit lean last year, but so much more joyful than I had expected it to be.

Both of us, also miraculously, ended up falling into work that is right and appropriate for each of us at this present moment (HL driving cabs, and me working at a school, which I love) and I’m planning for Christmas, joyfully.

Kitchen Light

Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee

Joy-bringers

Cheesy, but true.

Kitten

Kitten

Other Kitten

Other Kitten

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.

Sunlight

Morning Sun

Morning Sun

Homesick

We had an American family who are here on sabbatical enrol two of their children at school today. I get a rush of excitement every time I hear an American accent around me, so it was lovely to meet them and chat, albeit just for a very short while. I miss America terribly, so it just seemed natural to talk about Seattle as ‘home’, which was a bit surprising to them.

The longer I’m ‘home’ here in Australia the more I realise how American-ized I became while living there. I will always be Australian, and Australia will always be my heritage, but America looms large in my thought patterns and tastes and desires.

Seattle…the islands and the mountains and the Pike Place Market and the lakes and the winerys and the deserts and the coffee and the music and the ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ and the snow in winter and the ferrys and the farmers’ markets and the seafood (sushi!) and the funkiness and the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ at Christmas and Leavenworth and Winthrop and the crazy-ass indoor malls and the shopping and the Space Needle and the Seattle Centre and the monorail and Bellevue and the houseboats and the Hiram Chittenden Locks and the Norwegian-ness and the Japanese-ness and Lake Union and Lake Washington and the Puyallup Fair and U Dub. and Ivars and dungeness crab and Gasworks Park and the piers on the waterfront…

I’m sick with longing.

Silhouette

Winter Evening In My Backyard

Winter Evening In My Backyard

*sniff*

HL and I have both been feeling stuffy-nosed for a while now. HL, in particular, seems to have continual ‘can’t breathe, my nose is too blocked’ symptoms, at the same time as being entirely free of other coldy-fluey indications. I, mostly, just have a sensation of not being able to clear my sinuses, no matter how many times, or how hard, I blow. It seems this has been the case, on and off, for some years now.

Our house is crappy. It’s a 1970, brick, poorly built and maintained, suburban box. The longer we live in it, the more problems seem to surface. One of the major issues, for me, is the hideousness of the windows. They’re single-paned, metal-framed, cheap-ass, sliding-glass windows. Just about every one of them seems to have a crack or a chip or some such damage so as to let the outside in. Consequently, we have a real moisture issue in the house.

There seems to have been no adequate ventilation planned in the design of this house. Every cupboard has a musty odour, the carpets, in certain spots, smell mouldy, there is continual condensation on the glass in the house, and we seem to have an out-of-control black mould infestation on our bedroom windows. No matter how frequently we air the rooms and clean the mould it always returns.

And that connects me back to our nasal issues. I am sure – I’ve convinced myself – that a lot of the sinus blockage, and, well, ‘snot’, is due to the mould. I know that black mould has been linked to respiratory problems and it doesn’t make sense that it isn’t damaging us. It seems to be a huge issue to fix definitively, though, and, as the house doesn’t belong to us, I don’t feel that I can either demand that it gets fixed (at great expense to the landlords – my parents) or spend the dollars myself to replace the windows, carpet, cupboards, etc…

It’s a problem, especially as we’re thinking of having kids, and I certainly don’t want a child to be exposed to unrelenting toxic mould. I don’t know what to do, other than open windows and doors a lot (tricky in freezing winter weather), leave fans on much of the time, continually clean off mould and work to replace the carpets with hardwood floors. *sigh*

A Moment In Our Morning

Feeling not very wordy, wordy at the moment, so, in lieu of words, here’s one of my favourite pictures of HL:

HL Making Coffee

HL Making Coffee

Beauty and Warmth

Dahlias From My Garden Earlier This Year
 
Ruffles

Ruffles

Velvet

Velvet

Curlz

Curlz

Rich Red

Rich Red

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Our bathroom has been a piece of crap structurally for a very long time – broken and cracked sink, every single tap corroded and leaking, vanity shelf rotted away, bathtub spout running constantly (2 bathtubs full a day), shower walls wet and rotting inside the wall…

It has caused much unhappiness and annoyance, watching our bathroom collapse in on itself, but, as the house belongs to my parents (it used to be my grandmother’s and was inherited by my dad when she died), it’s not really in our power to ‘make thing happen’ to help the situation, other than minor cosmetic fixes.

Today – hooray! We had a contractor in and WE NOW HAVE A MOSTLY WORKING BATHROOM! The complete tear-down and replacement of the shower is on the back-burner, but just about everything else is in perfect working order.

It feels luxurious to be able to store toiletries on a shelf without a huge rotted hole in the middle, to be able to fill the sink without having it drip through to the vanity underneath, to use taps that turn on and off easily and that aren’t corroded so badly at the base that they constantly pool water, and to go to bed without having to shut the bathroom door to stop the sound of gallon after gallon of water pouring down the drain. I say again – hooray!

(And, in honour of the author of the words that make up the title of this post, here’s an extract from Jabberwocky:

Extract from Jabberwocky
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Lewis Carroll   )