Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Don't Look Back in Anger.

My Big Fat End of Year Meme

1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before? 
I am very proud of myself this year. Not only did I continue to do well at uni (studying my BA in English and Creative Writing at Murdoch) but I also undertook several courses via Open Learning. I studied and passed units in Forensic Science, Forensic Psychology and the Scottish Referendum. It was all interesting stuff and, for the most part, I enjoyed it.

I also managed to achieve a number of tasks featuring things I'd never done before. Some of these include: paint my nails black, take the kids to the beach by myself (thereby facing a major phobia), mow a lawn (I enjoyed it so much I've sort of made it my thing) and make a Swiss Roll from scratch (a complete and utter failure, but it did become an amazing trifle).

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 
For something completely different, I decided to celebrate turning 45 by attempting 45 tasks for this year. I'm not going to go into all of them (I completed roughly 30) but some of the things I achieved were: wash and polish the car, declutter 45 things from the house, play hopscotch with the kids, and make a donation to a worthy cause. 

Every year, Lee, the kids and I make resolutions (we call them yearly goals) and yes, I will be making more for 2015. Even keeping half of them means noting  achievements that I might otherwise not have noticed.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? My daughter, Cassandra, gave birth to Anthony. Not long after this she became a single Mum to Aisla and Anthony. 

4. Did anyone close to you die? Yes. My Uncle Neville died and it was devastating. I cannot convey how much I loved Uncle Neville and what he meant in my life and I still feel choked up when I think about him. 

5. What countries did you visit? Trenzalore. 
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014? Before I answer this, I'd like to hark back to the answer I gave to this question last year: "Connor's health returned to him. His illness is difficult on the family, but it's awful watching him suffer every day." Well, Connor has been Rumination-free since September and we have agreed to him rejoining the school system. So, the answer to this question now is: "Connor enjoying a full year at school."

In addition to this, I'd like to add that I'd like to see my adult children making choices that add security to their lives. I want my daughter and sons to step along a path that leads to a secure and happy adulthood.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? December 9. Erin and Connor had a joint birthday party (13 and 10) which celebrated their separate year of triumph. Erin this year enjoyed being Head Girl, a member of the Mandurah Junior Council and was named Dux of her school. Connor started the year as an extremely sick little boy of 23 kilograms, but ended it at a healthy 33 kilograms. He also started the year without friends (his illness made it impossible to have play-dates) but ended it with 10 children invited to his party. 9 came. The party was such a joyful event because it was the culmination of everything we'd put into practice for the year.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Achieving 2 Distinctions and 2 High Distinctions at uni despite also homeschooling Connor. I learned a lot about myself this year. Now I'm considering what comes next; Honours or a Degree in History?

9. What was your biggest failure? I don't feel I failed anything. I completed 4 units of uni, I took Connor through Year 4 as a home-educated student, I helped him achieve wellness, I kept Erin focussed on her studies and her activities. Lee and I sold our house four days after putting it on the market and found a new home 3 days later. I call that a positive success.

Okay, if pressured to come up with a failure, it's this. Despite sending 4 stories out, I failed to make publication. I did receive an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future competition, which isn't too bad, but a real publication would have been fantastic.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? My uterus was destroyed via an Endometrial Ablation Procedure. I was told it would be painless. It wasn't and the pain lasted nearly 2 weeks. On the plus side, I've now missed 2 periods. On the negative, I am still rampantly hormonal.

11. What was the best thing you bought? My second slow cooker. Our oven died earlier in the year so I resorted to slow cooking. In the end we only got the oven fixed because we're moving house, not because I want it back. I learned to bake bread, make roasts and concoct fudge in the slow cooker which helped me feel as if I achieved new greatness within the kitchen.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Erin has had the most amazing year and has worked hard for it. People tell us we must be proud and yes, we are, not with the achievement, but with the effort Erin put in. Our daughter was made Head Girl, was voted onto the Mandurah Junior Council and attained Dux. She did this while going through the usual hormone changes that attack 12/13 year old girls and she did so with a smile and a willing attitude.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? My daughter's ex-boyfriend. He routinely screws her over and then expects forgiveness. I hate this man more than I can express.

Also, those of my former religion. We are supposed to be a group that prides itself on love and yet, this year I saw no sign of this love. I went through a lot of hard times due to Connor's illness and not once was I offered a shoulder or a listening ear. As a result, I have decided I no longer associated myself as a member of that religion.

Conversely, thank you to every single person (a mixture of atheists, Catholics, Mormons and Pastafarians) who walked with us every step of the way. You actually epitomized real, human kindness and love.

14. Where did most of your money go? Bills, the car, the mortgage. Wine. Really. I spent 8 weeks alcohol-free and we had heaps of money during that time. 

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Christmas. Yes, I'm celebrating it this year and I can't wait. We have a tree and we have an angel, courtesy of our beautiful friends, Kris and Kim.



16. What song will always remind you of 2014? 

"Cap in Hand" by The Proclaimers. The Proclaimers are Connor's absolute favourite band of all and we could not take a car ride without one of their songs playing, usually "Cap in Hand." 

Also, it was the year of the Scottish referendum, which I studied, so the lyrics seemed particularly resonant. Really, Scotland, what were you thinking?

I could tell the meaning of a word like serene,
 D                            G        A
   I got some `O' grades when I was sixteen,----
 D                                  G             A
   I can tell the difference 'tween margarine and butter,
 D                                  G           A
   I can say "Saskatchawen" without starting to stutter.
         A          D            G               D          A
   But I can't understand why we let someone else  rule our land,
   NC           D
   we're cap in hand.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer? 1)Happier. My boy has been well for 3 months, which is all we prayed for last year. 2) As for weight and money, they're about the same. We're moving to a smaller house in 2015, so we should see more money on pay-day.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? I kept up my study, I wrote more than I did last year and I looked after my children. All in all, I'm happy with my level of activity this year.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Commenting on Facebook. What a complete waste of time and energy. I won't be commenting much next year, because really people just want you to validate their own opinions and that's not always the case.

20. How will you be spending Christmas? Drinking beer and eating food with my brother and his partner and our children. Raymond and I weren't the closest growing up, but we are beginning to discover just how much we love each other. I can't wait.

21. Who did you meet for the first time? My best friend Sharon introduced us to her husband, Adam. He is her third husband and he's perfect. Sharon and Adam have the sort of simpatico that you usually only see in partners who have been together a long time.

22. Did you fall in love in 2014? I am so in love with my husband, Lee. He is the reason I managed to get through 4 units of uni, Connor's illness and the stresses of Cassie's break up. He stands by my side, holds my hand and lets me know that all is right with my world. He is the love of my life, the most important person in my world. 

23. What was your favourite TV program? "Community"! Kate Eltham and Rob Hoge sent us a surprise package for Christmas and inside we found 3 seasons of this show. One episode and we were addicted and I've since watched them right through 4 times. Community was definitely my Number 1 show for 2014.

Also, this year we allowed the Battersby children to watch Battlestar Galactica for the first time. Watching their reactions to each important plot development made me fall in love with the programme all over again.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No, not really. I don't do hate, not really. I hate actions, but not people. Well, apart from the one person I do hate, but I hated him last year, too. Treat me badly and I'm likely to forgive you. Treat my kids badly, however, and you're on my list of hate.

Oh, and Tony Abbott. Is he not the most hateful man in Australia?

25. What was the best book you read? I read some fantastic novels this year: The City and The City by China Mieville, The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey, and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. 

Without a doubt, however, by absolute favourite book was Havenstar by Glenda Larke. This was my Goodreads review: "There is so much I want to say about this novel but some how the words fail me. I've read a lot of books this year, for uni, for judging and for personal pleasure. This book is, without shadow of a doubt, my favourite to date. There was absolutely nothing I didn't love about this work: the characters, the setting, the world-building and the religion, each and every part of it was pitch perfect and believable. I fell into the world of Stabilities and Instabilities, into Havenstar and into the Chantries seamlessly." 5 stars. 

I can only gush about this work and how amazing it is. A masterpiece of our time.

I just want to add that the edition I read was published by Ticonderoga. There's history to this book and I'm glad Russell Farr went ahead and picked up with others left off.

Brilliant.

This wasn't one of my most prolific years for reading, but it was a year filled with quality. 

26. What was your greatest musical discovery? I can't decide between Baxter Dury and The Hilltop Hoods. Dury's "Happy Soup" taps into my sadness and desolation, while "Cosby Sweater" by The Hilltop Hoods instantly lifts my mood. I find myself dancing the moment the opening beats start.

27. What was your favourite film of this year? "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll." A docudrama about Ian Dury featuring Andy Serkis in the lead role. Not only did I fall back in love with Ian's music, I also discovered and become a fan of his son, Baxter. I also loved "Eric and Ernie", a docudrama about Morcombe and Wise.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 45. My Triffitt kids surprised me by picking me up and taking me out for lunch. I had Chili Mussels.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Having one story published. My stories were good (one received an Honourable Mention) but they did not find a home and I am saddened by that.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014? "Does my butt look big in this? How about this?"
31. What kept you sane? "Community." BBQs with the McMinns. Talking religion with Sharon. Watching Connor slowly get his life back. Wahu wine.


32. What political issue stirred you the most? I don't know. I'm fairly new to this politics thing and I seem to have come to it during a particularly bad time in Australian history. We have a dreadful Prime Minister who should be called to account for his actions. 

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.  This, too, shall pass. I suffered a fair amount of depression this year, to the point where I considered self-harm. I got help and support from my family, but through it all I kept my eye focussed on tomorrow. 
34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. 
"I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today
Aha aha. Aha aha."
Yeah, that was my year. It started miserably, but we're finishing it as a happy and strong family that fuels itself with love and laughter.

Oh, dear. Is that the time?

On May 29 of this year, I posted that I'd be using this site to record recipes. And then, on May 30, despite my better judgment, I went back to Facebook. You know what happened next.

So, here I am on December 23, getting ready to record my year in review and accepting that, after seven months, maybe I need to update my blog.

Okay, to begin with, here's a recipe. I've been very active on a certain slow cooker site on Facebook which links really well with the slow cooker central website. I've been an active member for about four months and, as a result, have been exposed to a couple of fads. My favourite recipe to come from the site is this Obsession sauce which I use for all sorts of sauces.

Obsession Sauce

1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp Mint sauce (I probably use more like 3 or even 4 Tbsps of the thick sauce because I really like mint)
1 packet French Onion soup
1 onion, diced or sliced into half rings (I personally prefer sliced into half rings)

Mix together, pour over any cut of meat (I love it on chicken) and place in slow cooker on low for around 4-6 hours depending on speed of slow cooker.

Too easy. Too delicious. I serve with mashed potatoes and carrot, but you could also serve on rice or with roast veges. I have also used the sauce to marinate roast lamb before slow cooking (cook on low about 8 - 10 hours).


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Adapted recipe - Australian Eclair Cake

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm going to start blogging the recipes I adapt. The first featured recipe first appeared at Chef in Training and immediately took my fancy. This is Eclair Cake and I have to admit that it was, for me, love at first sight. However, like any great love, there's always room for improvement and as it's from the US, we here in Australia don't have two of the ingredients - Cool Whip and Graham Crackers. However, I am a smart and versatile little cookie (or biscuit as we say here in Oz) so I thought over my options and decided to adapt the recipe using Vanilla Fruche and Savoiardi Sponge Fingers. The reason these ingredients came to mind is because I make an amazing trifle using both these ingredients and even my trifle-ambivalent husband wolfs it down when I make it. So, a few weeks ago I made the adaptation and sure enough, it was a huge success.

Today the kids and I made it for tomorrow night's dinner (yes, it is one of those recipes that does well with a good rest) so I thought I'd post the recipe and a few pictures. Now, be warned, I'm not posting here with a view to food-porn, I'm posting recipes made in my own kitchen and photographed with my Samsung Galaxy 3 camera. They're not high-gloss or high-tech. They're more like a story your mama would tell you, wholesome, true and unfiltered.

So, here it is, my Australian Eclair Cake.

12 Savoiardi Sponge Fingers cut in half along the join (I use the really big ones)

1 packet vanilla instant pudding
500 ml skim milk
2 tubs vanilla Fruche

Frosting:
3 Tbs Meadow Lea Light Spread
3 Tbs cocoa
3 Tbs skim milk
1 cup icing sugar

1 cup white choc melts
1 cup milk choc melts

Method

1. Sprinkle pudding mix over milk and beat for 1 minute. Transfer to fridge and allow to cool for 14 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, layer a square casserole dish or cake tin with one third of the sponge fingers.

We're having my sons over for dinner tomorrow night, so I've doubled the recipe. They'll thank me later.


Second layer of biscuits on top of pudding layer

Depth shot. I think I might need a deeper dish in future.

3. Once the pudding has set, remove from fridge and mix in both packets of Fruche.
4. Spread half the pudding and Fruche mix over the sponge fingers.
5. Add another layer of sponge fingers (should be another third)

Frosting layer. The frosting is somewhat runny, but this is a good thing as it soaks into the various components of the cake.
 6. Add rest of pudding and Fruche mix and smooth over.
7. Add rest of sponge fingers.

8. In a separate bowl, slightly warm the margarine into the milk until it is just soft but not melted. Add cocoa and icing sugar and beat with an electric mixer until well combined and free of icing lumps.
9. Spread over savoiardi layer.


I'm not hugely fussy on making it look elegant. I want people to know I made this.

Erin stirs the chocolate melts


Connor turns Pollock with the white chocolate layer.

Apparently there's a smiley face in there. Apparently.


Erin also tries to be all Pollock about it, but turns more towards Pro Hart.


10. Heat both lots of choc melts but do not combine.
11. Once thoroughly melted, drizzle white chocolate over frosting layer.
12. Finally, drizzle milk chocolate over white and place in fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.



Layering. It's not just for the 90s fashionista.


The savoiardi biscuits soften under the layers giving this its cakey-consistency.

So there you have it. Real food, real photography, real adaptation in the wild. I so can't wait for tomorrow night.








And now for something a bit different

Today I discovered a major flaw in my decision to delete my Facebook account. It all comes down to recipes or, rather, the lack thereof. Particularly my own. A couple of weeks ago I found this recipe on Facebook and really wanted to give it a go. The problem was, it's written in Americanese using USian products. However, I am a good cook (or so I believe) but better than that, I'm an excellent adaptive cook. I can take almost any recipe and make it low-fat or kid-friendly or Australian. And that's just what I did. I took the Eclair Cake (linked above) and turned it into Australian Eclair Cake. 

I cannot begin to describe just what a massive hit this was in our house. People not only begged for seconds, the bowls and spoons and serving utensils were licked so clean it was almost impossible to tell whether they'd already been through the dishwasher or not.

Tomorrow night I have my adult sons coming for dinner, so I've decided to make Australian Eclair Cake for dessert. The only problem is, I'm no longer on Facebook. Okay, in this case I don't really need the recipe (it wasn't that hard to adapt), but just thinking about the process I went through made me realise just how much I rely on FB as a storage system. 

I really, really do not want to go back on Facebook, so I've decided to blog my Evolved and Adapted recipes instead. I was all for starting a new blog, but Lee convinced me to use Battblush instead and use labels to make searching for recipes easier. I'll be using the labels adapted recipes and/or evolved recipes according to whether I've taken the recipe from a different site and used it as a base (adapted) or whether it's an old recipe I've learnt in the past and made my own (evolved). Where possible I shall endeavour to always either link to the adapted recipe or reference the evolved recipe. 

A general disclaimer: Recipes are one of those handwavery things that tend to suffer from a mishmash of copyright information and misinformation, so if you think I've stolen your recipe then please contact me so we can discuss it. As far as I can tell from my research, it's almost impossible to copyright a recipe as lists of ingredients and the method of putting them together cannot be 'owned'. What can be owned is the literary way in which those two 'ideas' come together. So, if your ingredients say "1 cup SR flour, sifted", that cannot be copyrighted. However, if you say "1 cup of SR flour, sifted beneath the golden rays of God's sun as the cock crows" then yes, you own copyright on that. I have as much right to say "place in fridge for 8 hours" as you have, but I cannot repeat your instructions to "Place in Aunty Mary's favourite red pot, the one Uncle Ralph gave her as an anniversary present and cook on middle shelf for 8 hours." I can say "Place in 9 inch square dish and cook on middle shelf for 8 hours."

I think. If you disagree, feel free to discuss.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Binding Books

Yes, two blog posts within one hour. After the last post I feel the need to talk about something a little more thoughtful. So, here I am talking about my relationship with books.

I was always a precocious reader. The earliest book I remember reading out loud was Dick and Dora at the beginning of Grade One, just to prove I could. My teacher (Miss Gaunt) then went into a Grade Two class and borrowed books for me to read. The first novel I remember reading and immediately re-reading was The Chrysalids. My Grade Three teacher (Miss Barradene) read us the first chapter on a Friday but I couldn't wait through the weekend to find out what happened next, so I asked to borrow it. Happily for me, she said yes. I returned it Monday, complete and then had the joy of listening to it being read a chapter a day until the rest of the class caught up.  The first novel I read in a day was Five Go To Smuggler's Top when I was in Grade Four and after that I was disappointed if every book wasn't read in a day.

Then came Grade Five and my childhood ended.

I discovered adult novels and possibly at just the right time. My mum left when I was nine. The repercussions of this have been discussed at length but one of them includes my access to reading matter. When Mum left she really didn't have time to pack much more than a bag and my ABBA cassettes (true story). In her wake she left most of her clothes, her sewing machine, a half finished knitted jumper and two book cases filled to the brim with books.

Oh, and my brother and me. But that's not the point of the story.

The point is: Books! Lots and lots of books. And not one of them was forbidden to me. The first adult book I read was Gone with the Wind. I was 10 years old and had no understanding of the American Civil War, or slavery or white trash, but I did have a thorough and abiding appreciation for the importance of a pretty dress and so I was hooked. It took me slightly longer than a day to read (in fact, from memory I think it took me about two months because I still had to read children's books, too) but it was well worth the read. I came away from Gone with the Wind with the knowledge that the man you love is not necessarily going to be the man of your dreams.

The next book to be plucked from the shelf was Audrey Rose. All my life I had believed in God, but my God was a Catholic God and I was not aware that there were other forms of spirituality or looking at the process of death. Audrey Rose introduced me to the idea of reincarnation and for many years I became an absolute believer in the notion. Now I see reincarnation as being unfair - what's the point of living multiple lives if you have no memory of the life that's been, but for a while there I tried to imagine what my next life would be like and believe it or not I found a lot of comfort in that.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I found myself at the end of the year reading The Thorn Birds. Actually, I didn't read it all the way through the first time and all because of the adult language. I was the child of a truck-driver who had a truck-driver's vocabulary and yet I had a bit of the prude about me, even then. I hated bad language, so when the f-word popped up in The Thorn Birds I put it aside and went onto something else. A few months later I girded my loins, picked it up again and devoured it. Very quickly it became one of my most re-read books of all times. In fact, I think I may only have read The Time Traveller's Wife and Clan of the Cave Bear more regularly than The Thorn Birds. This was the first novel I ever read that featured Australia as the setting and I was amazed to discover that my country could be written about in such a way. In time I came to read Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Sun on the Stubble, They're a Weird Mob, and many more classic Australian novels, but it was The Thorn Birds that made me feel my Australianness.

Recently I've had occasion to buy and re-read all these (adult) novels and to my surprise (and pleasure) it's The Thorn Birds that stands up to my childhood memory of it. The characters and setting feel both fresh and familiar to me as I anticipate every moment just before it happens, but I'm experiencing them as if its all new and unknown. I feel a bond with this book, a tie that comes not just from being an Australian reader but also an Australian writer. There's a loneliness at the heart of the book that I hook into, a loneliness of self and spirit that I 'get'. I have read a lot of Colleen McCullough's books in my life, and I love them all, but this is the 'special one' the one that made me think like a young adult rather than a child.

Maybe that's why I'm feeling a bond to these books at the moment. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my childhood lately, not just about the bad times, but also about the good. Mum's death at the end of 2012 has me thinking on what was and what brought me to this point. I love books and when I look back, most of my 'good' memories can be tied to a book. My mum and I had some pretty awful moments in our life, but one aspect of our combined time together on this planet was our joint love of Clan of the Cave Bear. No matter how mad we were at other (and I was always mad at her) we could sit down together over a glass of wine and discuss our love of the Auel series.

It might also explain my great love of wine.





Counting chickens

Last Friday Lee and I had a conversation that basically went:

Lyn: Connor's been at school full-time for two weeks now. I'm writing heaps and the house is clean and I'm feeling at a bit of a loose end. I wish I had decided to judge the Aurealis Awards this year because I'm feeling that I need something else in my life.

Lee: Well, surely there's something new you could do or try.

Lyn: I have been thinking about going back to uni full-time as an internal student.

Lee: There you go. Do that.

Fate: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


Connor came home from school, walked through the door and started vomiting. That was Friday afternoon. It's now Wednesday afternoon. His Rumination Syndrome has, overnight, regressed to being as bad as it's ever been. I haven't written a word. I have barely cooked. I haven't touched housework since then. Connor is pale and depressed and looks as if the world is ending. We can't get him to smile or laugh or play. He's just lying on the couch being totally miserable which, I think, just makes him worse. Hoping to distract him with something positive, we tried to send him to school this morning. He lasted all of two hours before his teacher gave up and sent him home.

I'm not asking for pity or sympathy or a shoulder. I'm mainly recording this because it needs to be recorded. I need to remind myself that yes, this is bad, really bad, but he's been bad before and then he got not-so-bad for a while. The school is more determined to help out this time. Last time they sent him straight home on the first sign of illness. Now, they give it four attacks before they call me.

There are moments I want to cry in frustration. I really thought the worst was behind us, that we were now working towards wellness. We were, for the most part, getting our lives back. Now I'm second guessing myself and wondering if I did the wrong thing by putting Connor back into the school system. I feel as though I can't cope with this again and then I get up and cope with it. My washing machine is back to running constantly and the house has redeveloped a sickly smell that clings to everything.

We are going to try school again tomorrow. And we're going to try everyday even if it means he's doing a mixture of school and homeschool. I feel it's important to keep him in the system this time so that when his symptoms calm down again he'll already be in the routine.

Until then, I'll be here, at home, staring out the window as the world goes on.

Friday, May 23, 2014

On commenting

I've had a few people email me to say they wanted to comment but couldn't. I put a block on commenting mainly because of the spam content I was getting. I have, however, opened commenting up once again, but it does come with a proviso. If I get spam or negative comments (as in, the reason I left Facebook) I'll have to block them again.

I am glad you're reading me and I love to read your reactions. So far I am really enjoying my total freedom from Facebook. For instance, now Facebook is gone, I'm writing roughly 1500 - 2000 words per day. Just this morning I've written 1300 and I've been up for an hour.

Having received three books in the past five days (The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, The Autumn Castle by the wonderful and amazingly talented Kim Wilkins [thanks, Kim] and My Story - Lady Jane Grey by Sue Reid) I'm reading a lot. I'm also working on an assignment on Woolfe's Mrs Dalloway, plus researching the various witch trials of the 17th Century story while writing a story about them. So far The Witches Pit is 5000 words long and is roughly half way.

Okay, I admit, a few zombies have died at the hands of my plants and more than a couple of pieces of Candy have been Crushed, but on the whole I'm nowhere near as tied to computer games as I used to be.

What's more, I've been contemplating my spirituality and where I'm at. Yes, I believe in God, but my belief in the way I worship has taken a beating lately. There is going to come a point when I have to make a decision and believe me, it's no easier than the drawn out decision to leave Facebook. In fact, there are many, many similarities between the two. I've survived losing one. Can I survive losing the other?

So, that's where I'm at right now. Hopefully next week I'll be somewhere else.

That's life.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Trigger - it's not just the name of a horse

If ever Lee or myself were to die due to anything other than extreme old age, it's likely that any police officer investigating the case would walk into our house and immediately point the finger at the surviving spouse. Not that there's anything amiss in our marriage. We are, as most of you know, two people who have the utmost respect and regard for each other, two people who make the most of each day we get to spend together, two people still very much in love. 

We also love serial killers. Okay, we don't love the people themselves. I'm sure some of them (BTK for instance) loved their families, and others may even have been the charitable sort (ahem, John Wayne Gacy). However, I think we can all agree that serial killers are, generally speaking Not Nice People. No, what Lee and I love is reading bios about them, watching documentaries about them and taking in movies and TV programmes featuring them. When it comes to being writers, serial killers provide a wonderful treasure trove of stories and histories and we love them all.

However.

There are two serial killers who, for me, cause all sorts of anxiety within my bruised soul. Lee and I watch any documentary or docu-drama about this pair and immediately my heart speeds up and I go into panic attack mode. Lee checks with me over the course of the programme to make sure I'm okay and I always assure him that I'm hanging in there. He knows these two set off feelings of terror and helplessness in me. They are, in a word, my trigger.

That's the power of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady.

Even typing this I can feel my blood thumping in my ears. Anything to do with these two sets me off, and yet, for reasons I shall go into shortly, I persist.

Last night we watched a docu-drama about Lord Longford's relationship with Myra Hindley. Even before it started Lee asked if I was sure I wanted to watch it. I assured him I did. He pressed play. Straight away we had original footage of the case and the tent surrounding the recovered bodies. This is terrible stuff, but it's not what upsets me. I know it's coming, but for now I can sit, ostensibly detached, and just observe while we're taken through the drama of Hindley and Brady. 

And then it arrives. The picture and soundtrack that terrorizes me; the photograph and voice of Lesley Ann Downey. No matter how much I steel myself, how much I prepare myself mentally, it happens. I see that child's face, hear the pleading in her voice, and I'm lost in the fear of being helpless, of begging for freedom, of wanting to go home. 

So, why do I do it? Why put myself through such torture?

Recently, on Facebook, a friend stated they can't read or watch or interact with anything to do with the Holocaust. That's their trigger and they refuse to allow it into their lives. That got me thinking about my own life and the triggers I have. Oh, I have phobias (don't even look at my belly button) but they don't induce a neurosis-linked episode in me. Despite all that happened to me as a child, I can handle books, movies, stories anything to do with rape, child abuse and incest. I'm not saying I view such things with detachment. I don't. I very much identify with what's being presented. I take it on, I make it part of my experience, I rejoice in the fact that I made it out in one piece. I don't like what happened to me, but I do like who I am. I can handle anything of that nature that comes my way.

Except Lesley Ann Downey. She was a child, a little girl of ten, who was kidnapped, tortured, assaulted and murdered. Witnessing what she went through never fails to tear me in two. I know what it is to be her, to beg for freedom, to fear for life, to know that this is it, the final moment. I know what it is to have no will, no voice, no rights in the eyes of the other person. Every time I hear of it happening to Lesley Ann I feel that loss anew. I want to hide away and not be found. I want to be safe even while knowing there is no such thing.

So, again, why do I do it?

Lee and I talked about it at length last night and as we did so it began to make sense for me. It's because I'm here and she's not. That part of my life ended when my tormentor died. With him gone I was free to pick up the pieces and try to put myself back together. Obviously, as with any broken thing, there are bits missing, but I am relatively as whole as everyone else out there and I'm okay.

Not so for Lesley Ann. She never got away from her tormentors. They used up the little bit of life she'd had, then buried it in the moors. Only two parts of her remained behind: her voice, recorded on tape by Hindley and Brady, and her pictures, reproduced by the pair as they tortured and molested her. People view those pictures, hear that voice and they feel disgusted. Their focus is on the killers, not the victim. This is a situation we face over and over as we buy into the various media representations of serial killers. It's always about the killings, not the dead themselves. In Lesley Ann's case the viewer may feel sympathetic pity for the child but they don't place themselves in her situation. And that, I feel, is where I come in.

Despite my horror of the situation, I feel an empathetic bond with Lesley Ann. To live this life to its full with all its trials and its blessings is a privilege I have and she doesn't. I am alive and I am able to understand and digest what Lesley Ann suffered, and so, I do. I hear her words and I take them in. I remember them, I hold them close, I place them with my own memories. The pictures of her are placed next to those of me, both the good and the bad. No, it doesn't help Lesley Ann. She's dead and generally forgotten. As a result, there should be someone who knows what it is to be that child, to feel the absolute horror of it both peripherally and personally and then be able to push past the ghosts of Hindley and Brady and be with the little girl whose voice is still alive. 


Monday, May 19, 2014

End of this (current) era.

Today I took a massive step. Tired of the ugly toxicity of Facebook, I decided to close down my account. If you look for me there you won't find me for I no longer exist. Good-bye 'friends', good-bye Bejewelled Blitz, good-bye hours of trawling through a multitude of status updates only to find them filled with hate, bile and nastiness.

I am a humanist. In fact, I think the term may, actually, be secular humanist. I believe in the over-all goodness of humankind, the over-arching kindness we're capable of extending towards one another in both the best of times and the worst of times. I know humanity is linked by acts and thoughts of love. I believe in the power of one and many.

I really believe this and yet, trawling through the updates filled with ego and hatred this morning, I came to a startling realisation. I would not invite many of the people on my flist into my home to eat with me, so why did I allow them into my house day after day? What, in reality, were they doing to improve life (no, not mine, but their own)? Did they really think spouting hatred at one another was the answer? After some time spent moving back and forth along the various newsfeeds I sat back and wondered just what it was I was gaining from these so-called 'friendships'. And what were they gaining from me?

The answer, it appeared, was absolutely nothing. How could we enrich each other when all we're doing is talking but not listening? Nearly every post I read was nasty either in the original post or in the comments that followed. Opinions were slapped down and nobody really cared what anyone else thought.

And then, finally, came the last straw. I followed this link about friendship and realised, this was it. This summed up my feelings perfectly. I've ended friendships in the past. I've known when a relationship became too toxic to support and needed to be eradicated. I'd culled a bff-situation that had once been the virtual love of my life. I'd severed the bad links in the past and, after the grief of separation, I'd discovered a freedom of thought and spirit that made breathing easier. So it was with Facebook. It was time to acknowledge that the relationship was over and that I needed to move on.

So, I went onto Facebook and gave one hour's notice. I was leaving. What really surprised me was the number of PMs and comments I got supporting my decision. Lee, knowing how lonely I get, tried to talk me out of it. He advised me to cull the false-friendships rather than myself, but in the name of equality I needed to make a sweeping change and so I did. Those who are my true friends are still with me. We can still contact each other to catch up.

Look, end of the day, I really do care about people, both individually and as a group. I don't care what your political leanings are, or your religion, or whether you prefer soy milk over cow's. I don't care if you prefer cats to dogs or Mansfield over Woolfe. Your opinion is important but so is mine. You matter to me. My family matter to me. I matter to me. My membership on Facebook is not important. You are. And therefore, you know how to reach me if you want to talk.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Ups and Downs of a Life More Than Half Lived

At the beginning of the year I posted 45 things I wanted to achieve in my 45th year circling the sun. If you've been following my blog you'll know I got off to a flying start and achieved quite a lot in the first two months. And then, suddenly, thanks to writing, uni and general stuff, I slowed down. Well, I'm happy to say that this week I unexpectedly managed to find the time and circumstances to cross another three off my list.

18. Clean out the walk in robe. 

To be honest, I hate making goals regarding cleaning. Keeping the house neat and tidy should come naturally to any house wife, shouldn't it? Shouldn't it? It doesn't come naturally to me. I hate cleaning and can always think of something I'd rather be doing, such as playing with my kids or reading or writing or...well, really, that's it. Also, I'm now married to a man who'd rather see me happy and relaxed with the kids rather than cleaning and handing out orders to the family, so he actively dissuades me from housework. I love that there's no pressure to Get Things Done, but at some point I begin to notice just how much it's built up and suddenly everyone is given a tea-towel and a spray bottle and told to get into it.

Last Wednesday was that day. Lee had spent the weekend painting Connor's school-room. We had put everything from that room into our bedroom, so as the painting came to an end and the various items removed back to their appropriate place, I once more began to notice just how bad the walk-in robe really was.

So, I grabbed a chair, placed it in the middle of the robe and made a thorough survey.

It was worse than I thought.

I had an hour before school started, so I called the kids in and between us we emptied the robe out. We were half way through when Erin had to leave. By this time I was sniffling and wheezing, so took this as my cue to ingest a hayfever tablet. It didn't help. I spent the rest of the day removing items, dusting them, dusting shelves, making decisions regarding what would be kept, thrown or given away. Piles were created, then dealt with. I vacuumed, I sprayed, I wiped, I put back. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but it was done. The walk-in room was spotless.

Here's the down part. I ended up with dreadful hayfever that I couldn't control. I had to double up on the dosage it was so bad. By Thursday I had what felt like the beginning of a sinus infection, tinnitus and asthma. Ventolin and two days of colloidal silver have seen off the infection and asthma, but the tinnitus remains.

But at least it's done and (ahem) dusted.

Our room is not normally like this. This was how it looked when everything from the robe was removed. Honest.

After. I love my robe. I'd say about 85% was removed and either thrown or given away.


Which leads me to:

25: Declutter 45 things from the house. 

This was accomplished without me even noticing at first. It was as I was marking off #18 that I happened to look down the list and notice this one. I'd already decluttered 28 items at that point, so the disposal of old magazines, kid art, old shoes, outgrown clothes, tatty handbags and other paraphernalia (including two wedding dresses) brought the total up and over the 45 mark. The bonus of that was a great feeling. What wasn't so great was opening the bag to my wedding dress and finding it covered in yellow and brown stains. I was hoping to sell both dresses, but in the end mine has to go to the Sammies. I'm not paying to dry-clean something I'll never wear again, so off it goes.

It's time to let go of the past and hold onto the present whilst exploring the future. My dress from my wedding to Lee. 



And, finally, the loveliest goal reached this week:

29: Play a full game of hopscotch with the children.

This was one of those unexpected moments that make life that little more golden. Lee and I had decided a weekend break was in order. The kids were desperate to try archery, so we decided on Toodyay, a town we'd often passed through to visit my Mum, but one we'd never seen properly. We did some research and found that the Moondyne Festival was coming up. Connor and I had covered Moondyne Joe (local bushranger and convict) in our lessons on WA history, so this all seemed to coincide nicely. We saved up our money, made our reservation and then, on Saturday morning, left on our trip.

It was fantastic. Lee and I have created a very strong and loving family unit with all our children, but what we have with the Battkids is really special. The four of us make a core unit that has faced, weathered and defeated some pretty big storms. Erin and Connor think nothing of holding hands while walking together and so that was us in Toodyay, being a family of tourists, the kids walking together with Lee and I arm-in-arm behind.

Armed with nothing but our good humour we arrived at the Archery Park and announced ourselves as absolute beginners whose only claim to experience was watching The Hunger Games. We were given a basic lesson, given our bows and arrows and told to go off and enjoy ourselves. And so, we did.

I have to admit, I was really nervous about Connor. My darling boy has the best personality in the world, but he is given to bouts of stupidity. Yeah, he mucks around and plays the fool. No, don't tell me it's a boy-thing. I have two other boys and they're not on the same scale of silliness as Connor. I was fully expecting to have to be on Connor's back throughout the entire excursion, pulling him up, reminding him how to behave.

I needn't have worried. Connor was excellent. Erin was also excellent, but then Erin's behaviour is always of merit. We knew she'd be fine. Connor's brilliant behaviour was an added bonus. At the end of our time I could only compliment my two wonderful children on their amazingness (yeah, it's a word. My kids prove it.)

Anyway, on we went to Toodyay. We had a lovely time touring the town, eating out, eating at the van, eating in the car. One of the rangery-types at the caravan park lit a bonfire and encouraged the kids to feed it while we sat back and enjoyed the show and a bottle of wine.

Sunday came and with it the Moondyne Festival. I won't go on about how great it was, except to say that we enjoyed it very much. At the end of the day we toured the Toodyay Gaol where Moondyne Joe was kept for part of his incarceration. As it was festival time, they'd made it an interactive experience with games and dressing up. One of the games on offer was hopscotch. The kids begged me to play. They didn't have to beg too hard. I told the kids the rules and away we went.

Obviously I'm not in any of these pictures because I was taking the photos. Lee may have one which I'm sure he'll blog at some point. Meanwhile, here are pictures of my kids. Because I love them.




The Toodyay Gaol people put on an amazing experience for families. Well done! 


You can find more photos of the Gaol (including Erin and Connor) at the Facebook page 

It was one of the best half-hours of the weekend. We threw our rocks, we hopped, we cheated. It was wonderful. Some of the better goals I've achieved have centred around enjoying myself with my family, particularly my kids. Which brings me back to my original point. Don't fret about housework. Spend more time with your kids. In 20 years Erin and Connor will remember jumping squares with their Mum, not that she kept the bathroom clean. Do what is right for you and the people you love. The rest will follow in its own time.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It's been a year, but...

It's been more or less 12 months since Connor's first attack of Rumination Syndrome. At the time we had no idea what the problem was. All we knew was our child was extremely ill and nothing seemed to help. We tried changing his diet, cutting out certain foods and introducing others. We tried Gaviscon and special waver-tablets that they give to kids going through chemo. Nothing helped. He was tested for every allergy and every disease, including leukemia. Everything came back negative. The doctors shook their heads. He saw at least 6 different doctors but none of them knew whether it was physical, social or psychological (I now believe the latter. Which doesn't make it less of an illness.)

Three times he was hospitalised. The final time I took him to Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and refused to leave until he was admitted. Meanwhile his sick bag filled and filled until, finally, it exploded.

They admitted him on the spot.

24 hours later (or 3 months, depending on how you time such things) we had the diagnosis. Rumination Syndrome: no cure, no real treatment. Try chewing gum. Try breathing exercises.

Nope, they didn't work.


Finally around January, just as we, as a family, had learned to live with the illness and make adjustments to our life, we started to see a slight improvement. Day by day we noticed some lessening of attacks. 40 became 30, became 20, became 10. From attacks every day we started to see the odd day missed. This was mid-February and Lee and I were starting to raise the possibility of Connor returning to school. Mid-March we started to see records broken.

3 days clear.

5 days clear.

A week.

The only thing we could put it down to was time and maybe, perhaps, Chamomile Tea. It was something we'd tried about 2 days before the first signs of let up and even now we notice it gets worse if he doesn't have the tea for a while (such as when he's been at his Nanna's).

Vomiting would recommence in between but for shorter periods.

Two weeks ago Connor enjoyed 9 days straight before he started again and even then it was only once a day for 3 days.

We could handle this. If Chamomile Tea was the answer then we were happy to make it an ongoing part of our life. The school was contacted and yes, they were only too happy to take him back.

No conditions. Connor is now accepted as having a disability because he's registered as such with Centrelink. It's amazing the difference a legal label makes.

Guess which 9 year old is super-excited about his first day back at school tomorrow? It's been a horrible, awful year, but this is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday, Lee and I took Connor to meet with the teacher who'll be picking up Connor's schooling. She's a young thing, early 20s, sweet, kind and everything I could have asked for. In fact, she's everything I did ask for. I put in a request for a teacher who is understanding of Connor's illness, who will make allowances for it, will be patient, will understand when he has to run from the classroom without explanation. The teacher was allocated and came to the meeting loaded with ideas on how to handle Connor. Our boy will be given a card which he'll place on the table when he has to leave suddenly. This way he doesn't have to put his hand up, but she'll see at a glance why he's left. No other child will know what this means, just Connor and his teachers.

Yes, teachers. He's been allocated to an assistant (there is another child with needs in the class) and she will give him any help if there are problems. He's also being given a blanket, beanbag and pillow and a 'chill out' area, so if he feels too sick to continue, he can lay down, then return when he feels ready. The theme this year seems to be "Let's keep Connor at school." This time last year they called me at the first sign of vomiting and told me I had to pick him up. In the end I gave up and home schooled. The feeling this year is very different. They asked me how many vomit sessions constituted a mum-call. I decided on four, usually because this is the point where Connor starts to feel weak.

We've decided to break him into the system slowly, one day this week, one day next week, two days the following...etc. Today Connor told me he wants to go two days next week. I'm more than happy to let him self-pace the return.

I am so pleased and happy with this result. Meadow Springs Primary School is an amazing place and I'm incredibly happy with the education and care my children have received there. The staff are nothing short of wonderful and deserve all the recognition in the world. The consideration they are giving our boy is second to none.

Below are some photos I took a few minutes ago. They show Connor getting ready for his big day. I'm as excited and as nervous as a new mum watching her baby enter their first day at Kindy. Yes, I'm scared. What if it all goes wrong? What if Connor hates it and wants to go back to homeschooling? What if I return to my normal life, only to have him get sick again.

Well, it's a no-brainer really. I'll hold Lee's hand and make the decisions as they need to be made. We've got through this together, as a family and we'll go through the next chapter in the same way. Because that's what we do.

Hat into bag, just like any other school kid.



Vomit bags into bag. Not quite like any other school kid.

"Tomorrow is going to be the best day ever..."

"I'm so excited, Mummy. Can you tell?" Umm, yeah, I sort of gathered.

My happy, beautiful boy, returning to life as a 'normal' school kid. (Ignore the messy bed. That's how Connor rolls.)