How A Good Book Can Change Your Life

In the months I’ve been labouring through the latest edit of my wretched manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the writing process and the impact that certain books have had on my life.

Open book, lit up with fairy lights.
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

I would like to clarify that my desire to have my own book published isn’t a narcissistic dream to become successful, living in LA and directing the movies to my stories. My motivation has always been to help other parents in our situation and to destroy the stigma around mental illness, i.e. to increase education.

And likewise, to learn about something new remains my main reason for reading.

In hindsight, I suppose I could have written a non-fiction account of what to expect from our situation – which, I imagine, would have been slightly easier to get published. However, I wanted to create a fictionalised account because 1) There are few fictions out there about ADHD, and 2) I believe that a good story resonates so much more. To tell my story in a non-fictionalised account, I would have to mask parts of the truth, to protect the privacy of others; in a fictionalised account, I can make my readers privy to the true feelings of the protagonists’ experience.

The power to change a mindset is crucial to me, because I am used to being on the other side of the reading process, and so many books have influenced my path.

I’ve missed books. And sadly, as a result of too many house moves, a shortage of space, my husband’s obsession with clutter, and our recent attempt at a minimalist lifestyle, we don’t own many any more.

That’s something I intend to change in the future: Firstly, because the living rooms I am always drawn to on Pinterest are the ones with metres of bookshelves; secondly, as much as I love its versatility, I’ve decided that the Kindle is a poor imitation of a book – God! I miss book covers – albeit that the screen version is much cheaper here in Australia; and thirdly, now I’ve seen how much pain the authors go through, I understand what a sacrilege it is to chuck them out.

We’ve kept certain books that mean something to us on a personal level. The old man has a dog-eared copy of some guide to golf by Nick Faldo, and a copy of Sapiens – a recent read that he believes changed his life, although not his ability to wipe down a bench top. And I have a copy of Little Women – which gave me so much pleasure as a child for the simple reason that the author had the same name as me. And The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion’s story of a neurodivergent mind – that resonated with me so much it inspired me to write my own interpretation of life as a kid with ADHD.

In fact, I loved “The Rosie Project” so much, I sent Graeme a fan-girl tweet about it that made it onto the inside cover of the UK version.

Then there’s Schindler’s Ark, a book the old man recommended to me when we started dating. The story of Schindler was undoubtedly my awakening to the imbalances in the world and the start of my crusade /against them. It was also kind of a freaky choice, because several years later when I was three months pregnant with NC – a very ill-thought-out plan in the first trimester of a pregnancy when you are permanently tired and cannot drink – we found ourselves watching the movie in a theatre in New York.

Clearly, I was very hormonal at the time, but the memory of that experience at the movies will always haunt me.

The story is obviously highly emotive, but when you watch the movie in the company of a mainly Jewish audience, their reaction stays with you. For that reason, I couldn’t watch it again, although I do believe that stories such as Schindler’s Ark have their place on the high school curriculum.

There’s a finale to this story. You see, a few years ago, I persuaded the old man to accompany me to a talk at the Sydney Writer’s festival where Thomas Keneally (the author) was interviewing another author. I wanted to put a face to the words of a book that had been so influential on me in my younger years. Back in my twenties in the UK, little did I know that the author was Australian, and lived a stone’s throw from where we live now.

And I would like to add that the man is a true character in every sense of the word, fully befitting of his reputation as a national treasure. He is one of those writers who sits passionately and publicly left of centre and is as compassionate and funny as you would hope.

You can imagine how appalled the old man was that I had (inadvertently) booked front row seats to the event, and yet during that hour in Thomas’ company, I didn’t even notice his awkward wriggles in the seat next to me as I hung onto every word that came out of the author’s mouth. It was one of those rare “moments” in life where everything felt like it had come together – literally from London, to New York, and finally, to Sydney.

Imagine if I had known as a child that one day I would find myself at a writers festival, sitting metres away from my icon. Le destin, as the French call it.

I do have one terrible admission when it comes to books, however. I am one of those awful people who can never remember authors’ names or the titles of their books – which, as you can imagine, has worsened in menopause. I couldn’t even tell you who wrote the book I’m currently reading, or its title, even though I am thoroughly enjoying it. And often, I will start a book, only to realise a third of the way through that I’ve read it before.

And yet, there’s something quite wonderful about that, as well. It’s like bumping into an old friend, who gently dislodges those precious memories that I filed away in another era, and takes me back to a place I wouldn’t ordinarily choose or have the opportunity to visit again otherwise.

The power of a good book to change the way we think is why I will continue to read and live vicariously through the lives of the many fascinating characters out there. It’s why I will always buy books. Minimalism is about spending money on experiences, and books fit that idea for me. They can be expensive, however, their ability to change the way we think in a healthier, organic way than social media, for example, is why they will be at the top of my Christmas shopping list this year.

The 7 Changes Necessary For A Minimalist Lifestyle

“A minimalist home is very intentional,” Joshua Becker explains in an article for Good Housekeeping magazine. “Each possession is there for a reason.” 

Simplicity. A glass jar with gum leaves on a white background.
Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

I’ve spent the past six months bogged down in the restructure of my manuscript, hence why I’ve not been as vocal on this site as usual. Anyone who has been through the visceral pain of editing 90,000 words understands the need to isolate yourself, without distractions.

However, you must also balance that sacrifice of your free time with the reality that years of hard work may ultimately amount to nothing. That was one of the inspirations for my last post, in which I purported the idea that there’s nothing wrong with contentment – a state of mind that seems particularly relevant right now.

Learning to be content with what you’ve got is important if, like me, you are the sort of person who is pulled in lots of directions, and regularly feels in a state of overwhelm.

That’s why why I’ve decided to take the idea of contentment a step further and I’m endeavouring to create it through the idea of living with less – the principles of which can be applied to every facet of our lives.

This approach is called minimalist

Minimalism, as most of you will know, is a style employed in interior design and decoration. It embraces a modern, clinical feel, with no place for clutter – and you can adapt it to your lifestyle as well. These days, the term is being used more broadly to promote the appealing, pared back lifestyle many of us aspire to live, thanks to the stress caused by COVID.

Joshua Becker describes the meaning of minimalism in his article What Is Minimalism? in the following way:

“It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.

I could argue that this new idea appeals to me because I’m a middle-aged woman, sensitive to my invisibility, and it’s much easier to simply opt out of society than fight the ongoing ageism and gender discrimination. Or perhaps it’s because, financially, we have cut our cloth accordingly in line with our personal decision to semi-retire early.

Both reasons are valid

However, it is obvious that younger generations are also embracing this idea to change their priorities, and while I admit that in the past I ridiculed couples on those sea-change shows who opted out of the rat race, I think they may be having the last laugh.

Our priorities change with age

And what’s not to love about a way of life that promises more time to do the things we love and happiness, and contributes to the protection of our environment at the same time?

So how do you become a minimalist?

The minimalist lifestyle is about living with only the things you need. Minimalists are free from the desire to buy and accumulate more. Instead, they find happiness in relationships and experiences.” Joshua Becker

It sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not simply about sacrificing your day off for a spring clean in your home – although, that’s a good starting point.

No, there’s a little more to simplifying your life than decluttering. There’s a lot of mental work that needs happen and ingrained habits that need to change. And for some people, it can be hard to know where to start.

So to help you out, below are seven changes that are working for me:

  1. Being more intentional. First of all, you must really think about the purpose of your decision and what you intend to gain from it. Intentionality means basing your changes on what you want in your life, not what your kids or friends expect from you, or even what your partner wants. This is your life – and if your partner doesn’t agree with your choices, remove them with the rest of the clutter.
  2. Forget about owning stuff and consumerism. This is difficult for me. When I’m in a funk, my weakness is my compulsion to buy new things for that sense of instant gratification. As a creative, I also get a huge kick out of simply wandering around to mall and looking at beautiful things. Where I am making changes in this area is by buying less crap and only quality things I really need or recycled goods.
  3. Change your mindset and your priorities. A bout of depression or serious anxiety is the best push to make changes in your life – but I don’t recommend them. Instead of waiting for either of those to happen, prioritise things in your life that promote wellness and good health. Step into nature as much as possible, listen to inspiring or entertaining podcasts, exercise or meet up with friends for some free therapy. Make the time to switch off and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  4. Stop worrying about what others think. Remove toxic people from your life. People who don’t understand your choices, value your opinion, or who you can’t have a discussion without them shouting back at you, are not conducive to a minimalist lifestyle. Your friends should treat you with the same consideration you treat them.
  5. Stop competing with others. Forget about the Jones’. The ugliest part of our consumerist society is the way we pit people against each another, and social media has exacerbated the problem. In my thirties and forties I made myself miserable by comparing myself to others who had more, and when I attempted to keep up with them, all that did was make me unhappy. The qualities I envy in my friends now couldn’t be more different to the ones that impressed me when I was younger.
  6. Be grateful. I have why me days, where all I do is moan about what I haven’t got, or why shit seems to always happen to me, but I’m getting better at putting those negative thoughts into perspective. Feeling sorry for yourself is completely valid, as long as you don’t let the negativity overtake everything else.
  7. Create processes – I have a scatty brain, particularly right now, during menopause, and the days I don’t organise myself and write a to-do list, I achieve much less. Of course, it’s much easier to get distracted when you work from home – like many of us do now. One minute, I’m writing, the next I’m flicking through social media, the next I’m playing with the dog. But you must be accountable to yourself for how you prioritise your time. You don’t have to be productive all of the time – far from it – you just need to be productive when you must be. Having processes means you’re not always chasing your tail, and you’re more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment at the end of each day. The old man and I share the chores in our home – like walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher and the cooking – and being organised prevents resentment building, and makes that first Gin and Tonic each evening even more special.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.

Bad Dreams? I Blame Anxiety

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash
Of course, sleeping in the garden might be my problem and I could simply invest in a bed.

I used to have this theory about dreaming, which was that only creative, imaginative people had them. I admit that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that the old man doesn’t dream.

As a middle-aged, menopausal woman on anti-depressants (who struggles with sleep), the only bright side to the kind of dreams I have – imagine GOT crossed with Psycho – are that as a writer, even crazy dreams offer up some wonderful ideas for content. But I can’t deny that it would be refreshing, occasionally, to have some nice, vanilla dreams. You know, the sort of dreams where I’m sipping expensive cocktails in exotic destinations or sexual dreams, with the men of my fantasies. Rather than dreams where I’m falling off cliffs or being chased by knife-wielding rapists.

Let me share the one I had last week. Interpret it as you will.

The dream began with me introducing one of my best friends to a new friend of mine, who swiftly replaced me in my BF’s affections. Unsatisfied with that, this interloper continued to torment me throughout the dream, popping up in other parts of it to enlighten me about secrets my BF had shared with her – the sort of secrets that she had never shared with me during our entire twenty-year friendship.

During this REM version of Mean Girls, I found myself back at uni in the classic dream of being late for, and not having prepared for, an exam. This time, however, I was studying for a degree in science, and not only was I late, but the only preparation I had done for it was to skim through a Year 6 book on nature.

While I was mulling over how I could make the life cycle of the amoeba relevant to a tertiary physics paper, I was also struggling to locate my seat in the massive exam hall, where thousands of candidates were waiting to take the same exam – each of whom was already in their seat and eyeballing me.

Finally, an adjudicator took pity on me. Relieved, I followed him as he directed me to my place, whereupon – and get this! – he pulled a machete from his apron and cracked open my chest to reveal my heart – which was bizarrely the first time I noticed that everyone else’s heart in the room was exposed. Even weirder, was the immediate sense of calm I felt, that finally, I was like everyone else. Hence, it was only as I shuffled about in my seat, preparing to start the exam, that I noticed that my heart was different to everyone else’s – because mine had bulging lumps in its arteries. Clots!

The finale to this horror story, was my embarrassing (somewhat deja vu) attempt to get my computer going and onto the exam program – because apparently, I was a technophobe in my dream as well as in real life. Until, fortunately, my neighbour took pity on me, setting me up in the nick of time for the start of the exam. I remember throwing him a look of gratitude as I placed my headphones on confidently as the examiner called out Start – which is when I discovered that I had no sound.

It is no secret that bad dreams and night terrors happen to anxious people, and unsurprisingly, I can relate almost every detail of that dream to current concerns about my health, work, and the fear of not living up to expectation.

But if my mind is really that bloody imaginative, why can’t I have nice dreams for a change? Why can’t I have the dream where I’m a famous author, who sells the film rights to my novel to Steven Spielberg, who then picks Meryl Streep to play my character in the book? Why can’t I dream about lunch with Meryl – where she perfects my accent, we sing Abba songs together, and she reveals all of her inner secrets to me, like the one about her best on-screen kiss?

BTW – My money’s on Robert Redford.

It Must Suck To Be A Vegetarian At Christmas

I never thought I’d say this, but for once I find myself in total agreement with my father’s view that political correctness has gone mad.

According to The Independent newspaper in the UK, a researcher has proposed that idioms such as “bringing home the bacon” and “flogging a dead horse” should be removed from the English language because the imagery they create is offensive and upsetting to vegans and vegetarians.

Veganism is on the increase, and at a time when some celebrate Veganuary and it’s just as easy to buy veggie burgers and sausages in supermarkets as the genuine dead animal, while I agree that an awareness of the sensitivities of others is important, where does it end?

The next step will be to stop insulting plant life as well, because surely, “as thin as a twig” has to be body shaming to the twig in the same way that the accusation of being “as red as a beetroot” is typically used as a derogatory observation.

It’s never easy to make a stand for your beliefs – particularly when it comes to food choices and intolerances – in the face of, (shall we say), old-fashioned principles. However, sometimes Karma has a funny way of evening the score. And one of those times took place during my recent holiday as my father reached into the fridge for a swig of orange juice one morning and grabbed at my carton of almond milk instead.

A smile may have crossed my lips as I watched him spit the offensive liquid over the kitchen floor after the barrage of insults inflicted on both NC and myself in relation to our dietary choices – hers vegetarian, and mine dairy-free.

For this is a man who prides himself on being a “war baby,” and hence, eats everything – a fact that was rammed down my throat as a child every time I refused to clear my plate of food – which was often because there is NOTHING (shudder) the man will not eat.

“Sell-by” and “best before” dates are ridiculed in his house. Indeed, the more moldy and unappealing a piece of food appears, the more gusto the man demonstrates in its consumption.

That was why I was careful to remind him about NC’s vegetarianism prior to our arrival – she only eats fish when she feels like it is pushed – a warning that was met by the usual muffled grumblings of disgust. And when I went on to inform him that I was currently dairy-free – for health reasons – I’m certain that his derogatory whoop of disgust traveled from the northern to the southern hemisphere with the speed of light.

If I’m honest, I knew that I was pushing my luck when I requested vegan cheese and almond milk – although anyone would think my request was that he smuggle a stash of heroin through Bali rather than be seen buying vegan cheese from Waitrose.

For, as I suspected, it is still not deemed fully socially acceptable in some circles of the UK to be vegetarian or lactose intolerant, which makes it tricky to eat out. Added to which, the British diet is influenced by the climate and is heavily laden with meat. But while the word tofu may still be met with some confusion, I did manage to find a decent coffee with rice-coconut milk as a substitute and we were also introduced to a fabulous veggo restaurant near Oxford Circus called Ethos. And trust me, there’s no danger of getting fat there either because they charge you by the weight of your plate.

I pity vegans, particularly at this time of the year.

A roast without meat, (or in Australia, shellfish and salads, but without the shellfish), is nothing to get excited about at Christmas lunch, and neither is Mum’s nut roast substitute that everyone knows is little more than reconstituted stuffing.

But, each to their own.

Poor NC remained admirably stoic as her Grandad ranted off a list of sustainable fish to her every mealtime while we stayed with him – a list he had learned by heart in an attempt to either understand or ridicule her beliefs – I’m not sure which. And as I watched him force-feed her prawns and mussels, he made me swear to consume every last morsel of vegan cheese from the fridge prior to my departure, just in case it contaminated the dead animals.

At 53, I Think That I Finally Have The Maturity To Embrace Yoga

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You can call me “Madonna” from now on because, since my four-hour yoga retreat on Saturday, I am officially at one with my body, nature and the limitations of my pelvic floor.

Unlike the majority of my mates, I’ve come a little late to the yoga party. I’ve struggled to find my inner or spiritual self, or whatever everyone else seems to get out of it. And fortunately, the excuse of a dodgy lower back – the pain in which is exacerbated by stretching parts of your body that aren’t supposed to be stretched – has given me an excuse. And yoga is also expensive, especially when compared to homemade Freeletics on the beach, that increase your dickhead factor at the same time.

Many of my friends have turned to yoga in later life, for the purposes of body strengthening and to rid themselves of stress. And I must admit that the type of people that do yoga always seem to have an aura of calmness about them that I envy (sort of). They’re a bit like born-again Christians – they just seem like nice people – something I hoped would rub off on me as I set out for Saturday’s session.

I suppose that l felt finally mature enough to “own” my “queefs” as I contorted my body into poses I wouldn’t even attempt in front of the old man after a cask of wine, and to chant without cracking up. And the idea of switching my mind off for a few hours from my to-do list, what I’m cooking for dinner, and what’s next on Netflix, held some appeal.

But FUCK! Yoga is seriously harder than the “Jane Fonda Workout,” when you really try; particularly when you’ve been sold the event as a three-hour sleep-fest by a well-meaning friend and so you’re in the zone for an expensive three-hour nap. My relaxation scale goes from 1. being knocked out on medication, to 10. watching back-to-back episodes of “The Bachelor” on the couch with a bottle of wine, so, no, I don’t call balancing on the balls of my feet – bum three inches off the floor – relaxing. Although I did surprise myself with how wide I can still open my legs – something I shan’t be sharing with the old man.

The Sanskrit mantras sounded like a foreign language – because they are – and I had no real idea to whom or what I was chanting as I Ommed in unison our passionate Canadian yogi, who was on the guitar. But who am I to knock something that frees your mind from the anxieties of life? Indeed, I quite enjoyed working my fingers busily around my beads, ignoring that little voice in my head that kept asking me ‘what the fuck are you doing?’

Be honest, give anyone a neck massage, an eye pack and a warm blanket and most of us will do whatever the fuck is asked of us. And it’s easy to be cynical about things we don’t understand or that take us out of our comfort zone – something I AM a natural at – but when we give them a go, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

Not even the idea of a vegetarian lunch in recompense for two hours of physical purgatory phased me afterward. Admittedly, I’m not certain that I fully relaxed my skin, my organs or my bones (?) during the session, but I did manage to dislodge one of those hard bogeys that really hurt during the nasal breathing.

 

This Birthday, JOMO Replaced FOMO

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It was my birthday yesterday. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that I am now 53, in others, it feels like it has taken me bloody ages to get here. The most important part, I suppose, is that where I am, feels right.

The kids and a good bunch of friends came over for a late lunch; twelve of us squeezed around a makeshift table in our living room due to the unseasonable weather outside.

Girlfriends often ask me why I don’t just book a table at a restaurant to celebrate my birthday, but I’ve always loved the idea of a long table of ‘family’ like they do in the Mediterranean, enjoying good food, wine, and banter, with no rush to be anywhere else.

The old man knocked up his Sangria – somewhat of a tradition now – and each couple brought along a plate of food – tapas-style this year. Spanish meatballs, spicy lamb cutlets, prawns, and salads were washed down with cheese, two delicious homemade Spanish tarts and several (!) bottles of red wine.

I felt very lucky. It was a very special day, the sort that I do less frequently now that I no longer need the validation of people constantly around me like when I was younger.

My life is much more about JOMO (Joy of missing out) than FOMO (fear of missing out) these days, most likely because I feel more comfortable with who I am and how I manage whatever time I have left.

In my twenties and thirties, we entertained a lot, much to the old man’s horror. In fact, that insatiable need for acceptance pushed our relationship the closest to a fracture, until we found a compromise. Inevitable, as a Leo, I love to be the center of attention – as long as it’s on my terms with people I’m comfortable with. But if I’m being brutally honest, those gatherings were about something more than simply whipping my flowing mane around, they were about boosting my self-esteem and fuelling my ego.

Sometimes, they were necessary. Itchy feet precluded us from ever settling anywhere for too long. In fact, the old man often jokes that as soon as I start to make too many friends -squeezing him out of his comfort zone – I force him to consider the next move.  So, we were never the couple at the top of the guest list. We had to work hard for acceptance; to keep reminding people who we were. Throw some social anxiety into the equation – and my semi-permanent resting bitchface – and sometimes it felt like an ongoing battle to be included.

FOMO is normally associated with Millennials as they are thrust into the competitive, adult world of social and professional ladder climbing under the spotlight of social media.  But at some point in our lives – once we come to terms with what we have, find some peace within ourselves and discover the glaring truth that only a few things REALLY matter – we enter our JOMO phase.

JOMO means different things to different people, but for me, it means not worrying if I am in bed by 9 pm on holiday or on a Saturday night when everyone else is out partying; it means not going on that mega trip of Europe because everyone else is doing it, and it means being strong enough to say no. It means looking forward to getting into my PJs by 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, Maltesers on my lap, in front of a good movie.

I’m sure that JOMO has something to do with my body slowing down. Or perhaps, it is simply about feeling more comfortable in that body, but for me, it is also about learning to prioritize my own needs again and my time, which becomes more precious by the day. It is about listening to what I need, rather than trying to please everyone else.

The Problem With Inviting People Over Is Then You Have To Clean The House

We had the surrogate family over for Easter lunch yesterday; no pressure really but it meant that my slovenly attitude to housework was at risk of exposure and that the dust on the floors may need more than a gentle push under the sofas. mini-pigs-2185058_1920

 

It’s funny how that works: how you can live in denial like a deliriously contented pig in shit for weeks and the only thing to push your shame button is the judgment from your friends. What’s even stranger is that once I commit to a clean, I get an almost perverse sense of pleasure out of it, and after thirteen house moves since the kids were born – a lifestyle choice they attribute to our general dysfunction – I’m actually not that bad at it.

 

In general, though, I give pretty much zero fucks when it comes to housework, mainly because I resent the archaic belief that it is “women’s work”, but also because at this age you realise that there are far more interesting ways to fill your time than cleaning the grout between tiles with a toothpick – such as watching Netflix and eating chocolate. NOBODY NOTICES, ANYWAY.

 

The old man does his share of the housework in our house, but badly, in the hope, I imagine, that his half-skewed attempts will be shameful enough for me to do them next time. So apart from the chores that one does to prevent the whole family coming down with gastro, the bare minimum normally has to suffice in our crib.

 

I’ve found that “training” is the key.  Usually, after six weeks, our bed sheets walk to the laundry of their own accord and “doing their own laundry” is one of the ways I’ve taught the kids about responsibility. So, in theory, all that’s left to do before guests arrive is a quick whizz around the bathrooms to pick up hair and to pop my head in the pantry for a quick head count of the moth population.

 

I am a tidy person, but cleaning is boring. It was one of the reasons I hated my maternity leave – that expectation that I would have time to clean just because I was incarcerated in the house for long periods of time. The old man might pretend to be clean, but the depth of toast crumbs and nose hair and the tesselating coffee rings on his desk tell a very different story.

 

Sometimes I think my paternal grandmother would turn in her grave if she saw how far hygiene have been compromised in our house. A mother of the fifties, she was one of those women who took pride in polishing her front doorstep until it gleamed with a brilliance that put everyone else’s in the street to shame. She used to spit on my glasses to clean them, much to my horror. She would be horrified if she knew that I’m the kind of lazy that will wipe the bathroom floor with bath towels in desperation and whose fridge only gets cleaned each time we move house.

 

Which, fortunately, is often.

 

But having said all that, the kids have rarely been at death’s door and I have always believed in building up their immunities through exposure to bacteria and dirt. In my opinion, the ‘sniff’ test” is a pretty good guide when it comes to clothes washing, especially since the old man decided that one wash a week is more than adequate. And as young adults, the kids do their own clothes washing these days, even if typically they are at opposing ends of the clean clothes spectrum – while Kurt washes his entire wardrobe every day, NC (for once her mother’s daughter) and ever the most logical of all of us, admits to reversing her undies to stretch the cycle that bit further.

I Can’t Do It All

shouting-1719492_1920It was with a heavy heart that I closed the final chapter on my day job today, in pursuit of fulfilling some dreams and kicking some goals before it’s too late.

 

I’ve loved my job and at the end of my last ever face-to-face meeting with a client today, for a brief moment “doubt” stepped in. I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people in my role that helped me evolve into the open-minded/hearted woman that I’m proud to have turned into over the past few years. It also opened my eyes even wider to what the world can possibly think it is going to achieve by closing its doors to immigrants and denying all of us those precious opportunities to embrace, share and learn from different cultures.

 

I told my employer I was off to chase some dreams when I resigned because there is some truth to that story. But I’m also aware of how unprofessional it would sound if I admitted to her that in reality the balance between my work and home life has become too tricky to navigate, and something has to give. So I’ll admit it to you, my readers. I’ve been angry for a long time. I’ve sought medication and therapy to control my stress levels and calm the internal storms that keep raging, but they haven’t worked, so changes need to be made – for the sake of just about everyone who knows me. I’ve had to accept that I can’t do what we women are meant to strive for; I can’t do it all.

 

I’ll say it again, I can’t do it all, and I refuse to feel ashamed of that. It won’t be me who changes the world, and that’s ok. More specifically, I can’t support my son and his needs and loss of direction and hold down a demanding job at the same time.

 

I’m not superwoman or Gwyneth.

 

What I am, though, is bloody lucky, because I’m fortunate to have choices as a woman – they call it “privilege” these days – and I am aware that my choices are ones that many women will never have. The shame attached to that admission kept me at work for longer than I should have stayed, to the detriment of both my son and my health. But as they tell you at the gym – apparently – you need to listen to your body and your heart, so that is what I’m doing. The final justification I needed to make this momentous leap into the scary vortex of the unknown came from the old man when we were on holiday and I admitted to not coping – like he didn’t know – and he reminded me as I sat in the corner of the room rocking, that we only have one life, and that we are in the fortunate position to have choices.

 

I know. I bagged a good’un. 

 

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do: for the remainder of this year I’m going to get my son back on track, in a consultant capacity only, (as per my therapist’s recommendations), and as opposed to the way I used to try to help him as a meddling, helicopter parent. In the two weeks since my workload has lightened up a little, I’ve already seen the difference some quality time with him has made. For the past year, I have allowed his age and social presumptions dictate my own expectations for him, and I forgot that he is Kurt and he is his own person, and it has never been a good idea to compare him to his peers. His stepping stones to adulthood will happen when he’s ready, and they won’t be defined because someone has written in some parenting manual that he should be doing things at the same time as other kids his age. That never happened during his education, so it’s unlikely to happen now.

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the time to talk to him and more importantly, to listen to him. We’ve laughed together again, I’ve taken him to the doctors and for coffee and driving, and amazingly he passed his test first time – a massive boost to his confidence. And that success has infected all the complex facets of his personality and where he sees his place in the world in the best way, and on a practical level, it has meant that finally, he has some means of independence from us – a freedom he has yearned for but not quite been able to reach by himself.

 

He is already talking about travel and going back into education – without pressure from us. (Honest). More importantly, he is talking to me again, probably because I’m not barking or sniping at him at the same time as writing my endless “to-do lists” and deciding which parts of my life to prioritize.

 

So I will be here for him for a while longer, and in between the challenge of getting my son back into the realms of loving life again, (and I will join him in that challenge), I’ll also submit my book for publication and see if there’s any damned way to make the paltry sum of money I need to keep the old man off my back, from writing.

 

Concessions will need to be made, of course, so that I can chase my writing/perfect mother dreams – financial mainly, much to the old man’s delight. Because unless I sell my book (and the following twenty with film rights), we will continue to have the ugliest house in the street. The big car is already up for sale and I will have to return to the role of “house bitch” for a while as the old man works extra hours to formulate a plan of how to bridge the shortfall in our earnings. But as long as he doesn’t cut my weekly wine allowance, I will be stoic.

 

And every cloud has a silver lining – at least there will be food in the fridge again.

 

 

A Tree Change For Your Act 3?

I’d never heard of the expression “tree change” before some brave friends of our did exactly that and moved six hours north of Sydney to the foothills of a beautiful inland town called Bellingen. 

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When you go for a dip and someone’s playing a f**king didgeridoo.

 

Tree changes are a real thing and another retirement option when we reach this middle stage of life with a limited amount of time left to get it right and find the secret to happiness and a better lifestyle. It’s inevitable that as the kids step closer to independence, our priorities change and the draw of freedom away from the ongoing constraints of city life becomes harder to ignore.

 

As opposed to a sea-change, a “tree change” is favoured by ‘thousands of Australians who are ditching the hectic city life in favour of a more relaxed pace in the country’s regional and rural towns. Housing affordability and a yearning for greater work/life balance sees many Aussie couples and families make such a tree change and reap the many benefits of flexible work arrangements. Better connectivity through technology and improved infrastructure enables them to work from home more, have a faster commute, or set up their own home-based businesses.’ (Realestate.com.au)

 

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Christmas markets in Bellingen

The old man and I talk endlessly about what he has termed our Act 3, because even though we don’t voice it, as non-believers we know we are approaching the final chapter of our lives, and we don’t want to f**k it up. Each argument discussion takes us one step closer to some clarity about what each of us want once those halcyon days finally arrive and we’re free to put ourselves first again.

 

So far, here’s what we agree on:

 

  • Neither of us want to be consummate travellers, and certainly not with each other, because history has proven that the combination of Mr and Mrs Anxiety on any form of transport where we are not at the controls is a recipe for disaster.

 

  • We came to Australia for a beach life and both of us find our peace by the water. The fluctuating temperature of my menopausal body means I need cool water close by if the old man is to have any chance of surviving our Act 3.

 

  • In reality, we did our sea change eleven years ago, when we first moved to Australia and I’m feeling jaded from starting over, so I want to remain in the environs of Sydney and downsize to a shoebox to save costs if we have to. I’ve had to reinvent myself and make new friends so many times, I don’t even know who I am anymore.

 

The problem is:

 

  • The old man’s plans involve locking himself away from society, preferably in a man shed with WIFI, where he can watch sport all day, live on a diet of Twisties, and only has to make limited conversation with his chosen canine companions.

 

Evidently, there are some things that still need to be worked out.

 

Our friends in Bellingen wanted a lifestyle change and bought “Moo River Farm” impulsively, set on 45 acres, which handily came with a house and an old dairy on it. They live in the house and have converted The Dairy into a sumptuous holiday cabin, sustainably, using local salvage. Their eye for design and detail is written all over The Dairy, from the romance of its four poster bed with mosquito net and bedsides made from local milk urns, to the copper sink in the en suite with taps formed from gas pipes. The house offers a restful, rustic decor in keeping with its surroundings and infused with touches of its local history.

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When The Princess forget she wasn’t a farm dog and had to be saved by dad.

 

Lush, green pastures are fed by a river that winds its way through the land. Committed vegetarians, (information they’ve been forced to conceal from their new farming buddies), they intend to grow their own food as well as small crops, such as garlic and macadamia nuts, which they will sell at the local markets. Animal life is abundant on the farm, and they exude a quiet confidence, safe in the knowledge that there’s no danger of them becoming sustenance. Pets that roam the land include dogs, chickens, cows and horses as well as the sort of wildlife Australia is famous for, I imagine, the kind that we refrain from bragging about on tourism sites.

 

Inevitably, it’s hard work to make money out of any new venture, and takes a huge amount of enthusiasm and passion to start over again at this time of our lives; but nowhere more so than on the land and in what can be an unforgiving climate. Although physically challenging, the change in our friends’ lifestyle and the way in which their world has already slowed down to the pace of their environment is evident, and it has fired up their interest and increased their knowledge about how to protect the environment; knowledge that they are passionate to share.

 

Now I’m not one to blatantly plug products on this site, but if you fancy a taster of this kind of lifestyle, you can find The Dairy at their website (here), or on airbnb, and trust me, the minute you enter this property, all the stresses of modern living evaporate and your heart rate quickly acclimatises to the slower, healthier rhythm of the streams close by… and you will lose weight…or maybe not.

 

Moo River Farm is a retreat of sorts, but far from cut off from civilisation. With a wealth of nearby water holes for dips on those HOT AF days, there is also the buzzing town of Bellingen to explore, offering an array of community-based activities, live music, a monthly market, boutique shopping, and a plethora of wonderful restaurants dedicated to healthy-eating foodies.

 

A green paradise, in contrast to the ocean paradise of a sea-change, a tree change would afford the old man the sort of privacy he aspires to, yet it would be close enough to a thriving community to give me the sense of belonging I would need to put up with him.

 

More food for thought.

 

Keeping Your Eyes Open In Middle Age

I decided recently that with my advancing years it was time to embrace some culture before it’s too late.

 

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Photo courtesy of the Opera House and Australian Ballet

For someone who believes herself to be creative in so many ways, I have always struggled with the level of intellectualism required to interpret the different art forms. Abstract art confounds me, there’s a voice in my head that tells me to fart loudly during serious classical music renditions and the theatre sends me to sleep.

 

Musical theatre, pantomime, or a good old-fashioned comedian are more up my alley -choices, I assume, that herald back to my working class roots where we cheered ourselves up with ribald humour, ostentation and revelry.

 

But I have tried to like the ballet, which is why when some girlfriends suggested a group outing to the Opera House, I jumped at the chance – even though getting tickets to the event was almost as difficult as securing tickets to Adele.

 

I didn’t ask too many questions about the performance beforehand, nor did I read the synopsis – a mistake in hindsight. I’ve seen Swan Lake a couple of times and assumed that ballet is ballet and that it would be similar in theme – you know, chocolate box scenery, skinny ballerinas with the immense discipline to resist muffins so they can contort their bodies into ridiculous poses, and men prancing around in tights.

 

But I was wrong.

 

Albeit that there were lots of men prancing around in tights, “Nijinsky” was a contemporary ballet rather than “classical’, and so stylised that it made me feel like I’d unknowingly taken some of Kurt’s illicit substances within the first ten minutes. Devoid of the comfort of coloful, schmalzy scenery, the troupe of “Australian Ballet” dancers proceeded to enact the “rise and tragic fall” of the ballet legend. Even I was able to interpret that the man had a pretty fucked-up life, which the company interpreted with lots of foot stomping, flesh slapping and rolling around – which I can fully identify with – but there were also scenes of homo-erotica, (if I’m not mistaken), and even the odd three-some.

 

At one point a group of male dancers strutted across the stage in army jackets and underpants, to be joined by Mrs Santa en pointe and I may have whispered a WTF?…so you get my drift.

 

I like to think I have an open mind and it was an interesting experience, if not completely intelligible or compelling for me personally, but the main feeling the performance invoked in me was relief that I hadn’t invited the old man, who frankly would never have forgiven me.

 

However, this is from the perspective of a self-confessed philistine whose idea of the perfect Saturday night is at the pub with a meat raffle on offer. The dancing was, judging by the enamoured audience (ie. the people who should have been there), mesmerising; the orchestra was outstanding and even I sat back in awe at the talent and passion on display. With forty or so talented members of the company and a full pit of equally talented musicians, it was better value for money than the Crowded House concert out front of the Opera House with a few prima donna band members and some stoned roadies.

 

And it opened my eyes, which is always wonderful at this stage of life, even though they were desperate to close most of the way through the show. Do I feel a better person for it? Not necessarily. But it did confirm two things: 1) to keeping trying new things and not let my age stop me, and 2) to accept it graciously when something turns out to not be my thing and put it down to experience.

When Your Kids Selfishly Decide To Become Vegetarian

For the third time in her short life, NC has decided to give up meat and become a pescatarian.

 

tuna-576938_1280She is an environmental vegetarian which is apparently the practice of vegetarianism or veganism based on the indications that animal production, particularly by intensive farming, is environmentally unsustainable. Industrialised agriculture contributes on a “massive scale” to global warming, air pollution, land degradation, energy use, deforestation, and biodiversity declines. It is estimated that the livestock sector (including poultry) contributes to about 18 percent of global GHG emissions expressed as 100-year CO2 equivalents. According to Wikipedia.

 

As an aspiring climate scientist, who Mr Trump and Mr Turnball should be highly fearful of, NC feels it’s time to make a personal stand.

 

Which, while all well and good, (and myself and the old man count ourselves as supportive parents), it was predictably hard to prevent the eye roll  when she informed us about it and the telepathic question might have passed between us as to who would buy the bacon this time – a surefire way to persuade our daughter to stop being so selfish making mealtimes hell on earth to plan for.

 

Unfortunately, she seems more rigid about her principles this time.

 

I respect and value everyone’s choices in this world as long as it doesn’t affect me too much. I’m happy to go to vegetarian restaurants with my veggo friends – perhaps made easier because I’m quite partial to veggies in general as well as having certain somewhat embarrassing issues with red meat (see this post) – but I refuse to pay an arm and a leg for a piece of wild salmon or get the old man to fish for fresh tuna for our “picky pesky”.

 

Because although she eats fish, she will only eat certain types of fish now, and tuna, the lazy/cheapskate cook’s answer to getting fish down your kids’ necks, is off the menu completely.

 

Such limitations have had ramifications for the House Bitch who can be somewhat of a prima donna and is freaking the fuck out because he plans the meals, does the food shopping and occasionally pretends to cook. And for a man who finds Spaghetti Bolognese a stretch of his culinary skills, food without meat is a real conundrum.

 

In fairness to NC, she has offered to cook more often now and has produced several interesting vegetarian meals over the past weeks, which included a spaghetti dish where the only other ingredient was wilted spinach. As you can imagine, the boys raved about it, rubbing their tummies with glee and satiation until the minute NC turned her back and they ran to the fridge in search of protein.

 

She seems to be fairing quite well on what is effectively a cheese and egg diet and I’ve only seen any sign of her principles cracking once, when we came together for our traditional kebab night on Thursday. The smell and sight of those juicy beef slices dripping from the edges of our pitta bread, while falafel crumbled pathetically from her own, produced a look on her face akin to that of most of the world when Trump won the presidency. Disappointment at how much political choice can truly suck.

The 5 Ways I’m Restoring My Mental Health

Taking the ‘body’ theme a step further from my last post, I’ve been feeling a lot better in my body recently. And when I say ‘in my body’, what I’m really talking about, is in my head. 

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This image came up under ‘positivity’… which is obviously why I used it…PHWOAR!

 

But first of all, (and for the record), my recovery is still a work in progress and so, fear not, this post is not about trying to emulate Mrs Smug Blogger here. I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be back to my old Whinging Pom self by my next post.

 

In fact, you may not even have gauged this extraordinary shift in my outlook from my recent writing, because good news is hardly my style, and I’d be quite mortified to be known as one of those bloggers who makes her readers want to stick their finger down their throats because they’re so fucking perfect.

 

But for those of my faithful, who read my blog more than once a year, you’ll know that I began to suffer from some anxiety issues with the onset of middle-age, along with some mild depression. In the words of Adele, ‘shit happens’, and we all have our crosses to bear, and some of us just don’t carry them quite as easily as others. But when my skin flared up with Rosacea about six months ago – one of those physical markers that tell you that things aren’t quite right – vanity kicked in, forcing me finally to address my lifestyle and make some significant changes.

 

Fear not, my fellow alchies, I haven’t become tee-total or a complete fucking saint/martyr and given up the wine, although according to an article in Spectator Health this week, The Great Alcohol Cover Up, governments have been vastly exaggerating the safe levels of how much we can drink.

 

As I suspected…and SO much more on this in a later post.

 

And I haven’t followed any crazy, unrealistic diet either, or really lost any weight for that matter, but I am feeling better, and more importantly, feeling better equipped to cope with what is thrown my way – because let’s face it, all the new-age positivity in the world can’t change what fate has in store for us.

 

So here are the five things I’ve changed in my day-to-day life – not dramatically, but enough to make the difference I needed:

 

  1. I Removed several toxic relationships in my life that unbeknownst to me at the time had actually begun to affect my health. We make many friends and acquaintances during our lifetime, but we also change as we develop and sometimes we have to let go of relationships that become more of a challenge than a pleasure.

 

  1. I tweaked my diet. Led by the gazillion articles I digested on how to treat Rosacea (and much to the chagrin of the old man), I ordered every natural product I could find online to treat it. Long and short, the Apple Cider Vinegar did fuck all, but I’m definitely less bloated and nauseous since I began to take a serious look at the acid levels in my gut and my ‘flora’. I started taking daily probiotics as well as eating more green shit, which seems to have created a better balance. I’ve also (virtually) eliminated red meat, because although I’m an absolute caveman when it comes to roast lamb, I always felt lethargic and crap after it and it consumes unnecessary calories in my book. Finally, I found out what a standard glass of wine actually looks like (shock, horror!) and I am more careful now in terms of portion control – of both alcohol and food. Unhealthy pre-dinner snacks have been replaced by chopped up veggies and healthy dips and for breakfast I only have fruit and yoghurt.

 

  1. I slowed down my pace of life by doing and taking on less, AKA I learned to say ‘no’. I’m that person that can’t say ‘no’ and I pride myself on being an achiever. I used to kid myself that I function better when I’m busy, and maybe when I was younger I did, but not so much now. I had begun to resent all those activities and projects that took up my time and never gave me any sense of satisfaction. I ended up in the horrible position of not doing anything particularly well. I didn’t have the self-discipline or confidence to withdraw from those activities by myself but fate stepped in/I was pushed and situations changed, although admittedly it took every ounce of strength not to replace them with something else I didn’t really want to do. But I now have the luxury of extra time to focus on my ‘real’ job better, as well as my personal priorities, that include ‘me.’

 

  1. Don’t laugh but I’ve become a serious walker, not with the intention of losing weight or getting fit necessarily, but to clear my head each day and give myself time to think and review what’s going well in my life and what needs adjusting. ‘Walking’ cleanses my soul, helps eliminate the bad stuff that plagues my head and burns off about 300 calories/hour that I can use for wine later in the day.

 

  1. I’m sleeping better. I forgot to mention that I’ve also (virtually) removed caffeine from my diet, which has stopped a lot of those nasty menopausal hot flashes and sweating. I’m not that bore that orders water in a café – I still drink decaf tea and coffee – but I’m definitely sleeping better since I made the switch. It could also be because I’ve done numbers 1-4 above, of course. Did you know that ‘sleep’ is apparently the most important factor to longevity of life? I’ve also tried to get off the computer at least half an hour before bedtime and even managed to read a whole book!

 

Day 5 Of Sobriety

It turns out that I’m not an alcoholic like the old man said; or only an amateur one, anyway.

 

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I reached day 5 of sobriety today. I had intended to go right through the next two weeks without a wine, but you know how it is…

 

Stuff…work…life…and WHY THE FUCK WOULD I WHEN I OBVIOUSLY DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM?

 

I lasted five more days than I expected to. Which I see as a success.

 

But it was definitely time.

 

My body was reeling from shock at the amount of alcohol I had forced my liver to process over the holiday period. On top of Christmas and New Year, we drank our way through several other minor celebrations and self-medication is so good for helping with Kurt-stress.

 

We middle-aged women might not have biological clocks ticking away to taunt us these days but we aren’t immune to the risk of illness or premature morbidity and every article about the increased risks of breast cancer and heart disease has felt like it is aimed directly at me recently.

 

Women have this innate talent for feeling guilty about anything and everything.

 

Obviously, feeling guilty about my parenting fails wasn’t enough to sustain me, (and in spite of giving up ciggies a good decade ago, which should have given me free entry into Royal smugdom), my body now makes me feel guilty whenever I so much as sniff a bottle of wine.

 

Apparently, women are the worst offenders when it comes to alcohol-abuse, and I can well believe it because most of my friends indulge in a crisp Chardy or two of a weekday evening. How else are we supposed to cope with children and men?

 

It’s so unfair that light, regular drinking is worse for your liver than binge-drinking.

 

And what makes it even harder for me to drink properly is living with Mr Holier-Than-Thou, who in spite of a fractured rib, is still exercising and can merrily survive on water during the week.

 

He tuts whenever I pour myself a glass of wine and I get a pain in my stomach from the guilt.

 

I thought tea might be a good replacement for my nightly wine, but one small mug defied all scientific logic and somehow managed to produce gallons of urine so I began to suffer from sleep deprivation as well as the irritability of withdrawal.

 

I’m relieved (and surprised) there’s been no sign of the shakes, but disappointed that I don’t look and feel like one of the Tampax advert girls or a yogi, either. And it goes without saying that I’ve defied science again by becoming the only person in the world to give up alcohol and not lose any fucking weight.

 

It’s the habit that’s hardest to kick. I don’t know what to do with myself during The Project or when I’m writing that last-minute blog post and need inspiration.

 

I just don’t feel that creative on water.