A Year Gone By

A little over I year ago I jumped into this blogging thing with gusto, cranking out 10 or so blogs in a couple of months. It seemed to get some reads, some interest, mainly from my friends. Lot’s of indifference, of course, you’ve got to expect that, but some nice comments too. I got some Facebook likes, and then…….I stopped. Why?

Because it got terrifying. On Facebook it gets a much, much wider audience than I would have by just staying on WordPress, which was exciting at first. Then a little intoxicating as I looked at the stats – people were clicking! But then self-judgement came in and it suddenly seemed unbearably self-indulgent, boring and well, kinda embarrassing.

So I stopped.. And I must say I now have an enormous respect for those successful bloggers with thousands, tens of thousands of readers, letting it all hang out. What amazing confidence, such lack of self-consciousness – opening themselves up to the judgement and the brutality of the internet. Because with all the love they get, there’s a whole lot of nastiness thrown their way. It’s a brave person who blogs for a living.

A couple of my lovely friends have told me to get onto it again, and after a somewhat turbulent 12 months, I’ve had an urge to write. Please feel free to bugger off now, this is me time.

The Last 12 Months 

We built:

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Our very grown up house. I think it looks like a winery. Actually it could be with the amount of wine going through our place these days.

Nothing to get excited about yet – it’s more or less a shell. We are about half way and any further progress will be slow unless someone wants to throw a lazy couple of hungey grand our way (PM me for bank details).  We chip, chip, chip away at it one tradey at a time. And to bring in the bucks to get it finished, Andy continues to work away, which frankly is hard on the family and our relationship. But eye on the prize – when it’s built he can come home, get a lower paying local job and we’ll be a family together living in our glam country home.

We sent:

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Our girl off to kindy. With a 1st of March birthday, we had the dilemma of sending her this year, at 4 nearly 5, or waiting till next year when she’s 5 turning 6. I agonised about it right up to the day she started, and then for the first half of 1st term. She is fine, she loves it, is making friends and is loving learning to read and write. I will always wonder if she’d have been better off if we’d waited, and I suspect she would have been. But she’s fine, she’s happy.

We changed:

My work situation. By far the absolutely best thing that has happened in the last 12 months is quitting my job as a part-time financial planner. I’m not sure Andy agrees, but he’s supporting it bless him. We have one kid, one shot at it, and I wanted to do it completely. I wanted to be involved in her schooling, be there for her achievements, her school life. As it turns out, I haven’t completely quit the financial services world and continue to do some contract work, but it’s in my time and I’m not bound to an office, sitting in a job that my heart wasn’t in.

I’ve never been busier, with at least 2 hours of driving a day – a MASSIVE downside of rural life is the driving that’s involved with a young family. Everyday into town and back out and in and out again. Or hang in town and have to kill hours while you could be at home working, or getting the house clean, or cooking a great dinner for the family. Tippi is keen to get the bus, and we’re working towards that, but it’s complicated with a child with anaphylaxis and putting a 5 year old on a bus trip for over an hour carrying her own epipens is a tricky obstacle to overcome.

We lost:

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My mum. In the lead up to mothers day last year, I wrote about mum and her battle with ovarian cancer. She was doing so well with it it seemed. She’d endured more chemo, but still it hadn’t made her sick – she was definitely off, but not super sick like you see cancer victims in the movies. Maybe she was just being brave, but she was managing to live almost a normal life. She did hate the chemo though.

My sister brought her family out from the UK for Christmas, and we although we didn’t know it at the time, we had our last time all together. Mum was quieter than usual, with stomach and bowel issues dogging her a little, and a bit of vagueness she called “chemo brain”. By New Years Eve she was back in hospital with a bowel blockage. It was cleared for a while, but it came back and she was scheduled for bowel surgery in February to – in her mind – fix it once and for all.

But it wasn’t to be. The blockage became inoperable and untreatable, nothing more they could do. By then she had barely eaten for a few weeks, weight was falling off her. “Take her home” the doctors said, “keep her comfortable, give her whatever she wants.”

So we did. Mum never really grasped the fact that she was terminal, right up until the last week when she went into palliative care. My sister came out, leaving her young family in the UK for weeks, we all spent weeks going to and from Sydney to nurse her and be with her and Dad. And then, finally,just before Easter, we were doing the bedside vigil as we had been for a week. She was so weak, unable to speak or move. We sat with her all day, then at the end of the day, we kissed her, hugged her, told her goodbye, we love her, it’s ok to go. Her eyes indicated that she could hear us, and she loved us too.

My sisters and I left Dad alone with her and went home to Mum and Dads house where we’d all been staying together. Dad came home soon after. We were shattered. Then, within half an hour of Dad leaving the hospital, they called. She’s deteriorated, it’s very close. Did we want to go back?

We talked about it and decided no. We’d said goodbye. She’d held on all day, waiting for us to go. This is how she wanted it, she wanted to spare us from the moment. We sat together until the call came, and when it did we hugged each other close and wept.

At Christmas time when we were all together, we never dreamed we would be burying her by Easter.

Fucking cancer.

The Aftermath – so what DID happen to Jaq?

It’s 24 hours later, we’ve had time to figure out just what the hell happened last night. The truth is, we’ll never really know, but this is the favoured theory at the moment;

We think there was a feral cat under the veranda. Jaq got into a frenzy chasing it, it dashed into the shed. Tussle ensued, cat sprayed (hence the vile stench).

Jaq, always an excitable thing when it comes to cats, got so worked up that her body went into overdrive. It wasn’t about the cat anymore, she knew she was in trouble and needed to get inside the house. She couldn’t calm down, she was beyond the point of no return.

Her heart gave out.

That’s our most plausible explanation of why a 4 year old fit and healthy dog would suddenly die without a scratch on her. It explains the banging and barking, the stench, and the lack of physical damage. The vet agrees this is most likely but won’t be definitive without an autopsy, and we’re not going there, it’s done.

Thanks for the messages and phone calls of support, dear friends. We are all fine, sad but moving on. That’s life in the country, they say.

Xxx

What the Hell Just Happened to our Dog?

I came home from work tonight tired and cranky. Andy is away as always during the week and I knew the fire would have gone out, it’s freezing here, and raining now and I dreaded getting home to the dog feeding frenzy, a freezing cold house,  lighting the fire, dinner, kids bath and bedtime. Any me time felt a long way off, and with Tippi sick this week, I’ve been unusually disturbed through the nights so I’m tired. And grumpy.

So grumpy in fact, that I took it out on Andy over the phone. I hated this farm tonight, it got to me as it does sometimes. I fed the dogs with more resentment than usual – no love for them as they wag their tails furiously in welcome – then headed inside to get the fire lit. ABC for Kids was on, but Tippi was chatty and laughing, feeling better after a few days of illness. I just wanted her to be quiet and watch TV.

At some point, I became aware that Jaq, our 3 (4?) year old kelpie was barking more than usual. She is a farm dog; an outside dog mostly, only coming in on occasional nights to sleep on the lounge room floor while we watch TV. She barks a lot – there’s a lot to bark at here. Wombats, kangaroos, rabbits, foxes, feral cats. We’ve got them all, and I go out several times a night to rouse on her and tell her to shut up.

But this was her different bark. I went outside, and here things are hazy. This wasn’t normal. She was under the veranda, scuffling, a high pitched yelp, desperate. It sounded like she was chasing something big. Then to the shed, yelping, banging, what was this creature she was chasing? I’d no idea what was going on, and I was scared. I rang Andy. What was getting her so worked up? I called her, to my surprise she came but she was manic. Under the veranda again, banging, yelping, high pitched, not her usual bark. I called her back again, she came. She was crazy, she was at the front door yelping, begging to be let inside. Andy, helpless from Brisbane, called our neighbour and told him to get over here.

I let her in the house. She ran from room to room, more yelping, she was terrified. Trying to sit, looking at me with imploring eyes; “help me” she seemed to be saying, “help me”. I looked all over at her, there were no obvious wounds, no blood. A vile stench that I couldn’t place. I tried to calm her, but I was scared of the wild look in her eyes. Tippi wanted to pat her, I yelled at her to get away. This wasn’t our dog, she’d lost her mind. Running, yelping, then into our bedroom and … silence.

I tentatively went in, Andy on the line. She was lying on our bedroom floor, still, foaming at the mouth, breathing only just. Then nothing. She was gone. Eyes open, glassed over, the most still she’s ever been. She’d died in that moment, terrified, on our bedroom floor.

I couldn’t help her.

Two hours later, I still can’t really process what happened. Maybe we’ll work it out, maybe we won’t. Tippi, surprisingly comprehending of the finality of death cried and cried. For the first time ever she turned down the icecream I’d dished out. She’s in bed now, fell asleep in under three minutes. Her first experience with loss, they were good buddies, Tippi and Jaq.

Tonight, when the world mourns the loss of a great actor and comedian, we also mourn the loss of Jaq, our very own Red Dog. She was Andy’s dog, and he is alone tonight in a hotel. The loss he must be feeling. I’ve never missed him more.

 

Escaping, The Build and The Kid

 

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Yesterday was overcast and rainy all day, then suddenly the sun popped out for a few minutes in the afternoon and threw out an amazing light, the whole place was literally luminous. In the country, there is always something interesting and beautiful happening in the sky.

Escaping

I think it’s essential that primary parents or care givers get some time out now and then, it makes them a better parent. I had my turn on the weekend when I drove solo to Sydney to have lunch at China Doll at the Woolloomooloo finger wharf with 2 girlfriends. We’ve been lunching together three times a year for over 20 years. Our lives are quite different, so it’s pretty much the only time we spend together, yet we know each other’s lives in detail including all our secrets. This time, we hadn’t caught up for over a year, and I don’t think we drew breathe for the 5 hours we were together. It was also heaven to eat Chinese – we tend not to with a peanut allergy child – and China Doll is bloody yum and the people watching is second to none as well.

I like my wine too much to then drive 2 hours home, so invited myself to stay at another girlfriends house for the night. Three of us – school friends from the 80s – drank more wine, devoured a cheese platter and shared the familiar banter that 30-something year old friendships allow.

The Build

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The slab is down – the first milestone reached. Apparently there’s a lull now while the steel gets fabricated, and we should have a frame in a few weeks.

Mum

Thinking about Mum a lot. She had her routine, post chemo blood test which showed an increase in cancer cells, dammit. Then a full body scan shows something sinister lurking in her spleen. She has no symptoms, so no treatment required just yet, but the doctors advised them to bring their trip to Europe forwards, as symptoms (and therefore more chemo) are probably only 2 months away. So next week they are off to England to see their 4 grandchildren, and my sister and BIL for 6 weeks, and all the time Mum has to try not to be thinking “shit, I’ve got cancer”, and not be terrified any time she gets a bit of indigestion.

The Kid

Speaking of Chinese, am nervous about 2 firsts happening this week with Tippi our 4 year old child with severe allergy to peanuts, and what was once a severe allergy to egg that now seems to be diminishing.

A couple of weeks ago, Tippi’s preschool teacher called me aside to tell me they were looking at Chinese culture, and wanted to take the kids to the local Chinese restaurant for lunch. For most people with a peanut allergy, Chinese is unthinkable. I would never consider it, and when the teacher raised it my heart started racing, and tears sprung to my eyes as I thought of Tippi’s devastation at missing out. She just loves eating out, we do it quite regularly and to eat out with her friends would be a dream. In that moment, I decided I would have to take the day off work and keep her home so that she was not left at the preschool when all her friends were playing grown ups at the restaurant.

As it turns out, the owner of the restaurant has a peanut allergy child, so I was willing to listen, and long story short have decided she can go, and I will go too. Tippi is so excited. Me? I’m shitting myself. This is FAR from comfortable. But various things I wont bore you with have lead me to allow it – I will be there with 4 epipens in my handbag, and my stomach in my mouth. I’m cross with the preschool – at which Tippi has been since she was 1 – for putting us in this position, however I do acknowledge that they are incredibly careful with allergies, there’s not been once incident in over 3 years and they wouldn’t do it if they weren’t completely comfortable. The preschool director goes to this restaurant with her nut allergy son.

On the upside – maybe we’ve found a safe Chinese restaurant, not something I ever thought I’d find, certainly not in the Southern Highlands.

And then, next weekend Andy and I are both leaving Tippi with my mum and dad for 2 nights as we go to the Yarra Valley for a weekend of frivolity with old, old friends most of whom I’ve known since we were kids. This is the first time in her 4 years she’ll be waking up without either of us, she’ll deal with that, although will no doubt kick up a little fuss.

It’s the food thing that worries me – Mum is careful but has made mistakes in the past (that have been caught just in time, so no disasters) and is pretty terrified of the epipen. We’ll be doing a full training session on epipen use for the 1034th time, and after that it’s up to Mum. Outings will be the hardest part – they cant stay home for 3 days, and Mum isn’t used to ordering for Tippi when out. Pack her food, mum, I will be requesting.

Anyhoo, I’m determined to go, trust, and have a wonderful time with my husband and lifelong friends whom I see only every few years these days. Kids are left with their grandparents all the time, Tippi adores hers and at the ripe old age of 4, she’ll cope. Wont she???

So I tentatively step in to this week of fearful firsts and tell myself that it will all be fine, and it’s worth it. Don’t make a liar of me please Universe

How do you go leaving your kids? Have you been able to escape lately?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fireweed and burnin’ shit

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I don’t participate much in the physical running of the farm, it frankly doesn’t interest me, but autumn brings what is becoming a family tradition – the picking of the fireweed. Although it looks kind of pretty with it’s bright yellow flowers, fireweed is dangerous for cattle and if left can spread over an entire paddock in a very short space of time. Some of the properties around us haven’t kept on top of it, so it inevitably spreads to us.

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So every autumn when the fireweed begins to show, we all head out to the paddocks to fill big hessian bags full of the stuff. Tippi has fun because it feels like picking flowers, and what little girl doesn’t love that. So we walk, and pick and chat in the cool, afternoon sun.

I’ve learned a few things on these fireweed missions:

1. We have paddocks in Australia, not fields. They are never to be referred to as fields.

2. Baby cows are NOT calfies. They are calves. No exceptions.

3. It is apparently not funny or cute to refer to alpacas as llamas, its irritating. Which is funny, don’t you think? Farmer Andy doesn’t seem to think so.  And no, we can’t have one for a pet.

4. Blackberry bushes are also a weed, even if they do make good pies, so they all got ripped out and now I wish we had just one.

5. We also can’t have geese, or a peacock, or goats for pets, although I haven’t given up on some of those yet. Peacocks eat baby snakes. I want a peacock.

6. A heifer is a girl cow, a steer is a boy cow that’s had his privates removed. Actually I’m not sure if I’ve got that right.

At this time of year, there’s massive moths – or are they bats – as big as my hand fluttering at the glass doors at night trying to get in to the light and scare the crap out of me. But at least the snakes have gone to bed for the winter. Although, does the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having mean they might still be up?

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And it’s bonfire season. Still, clear nights spent outside in big, warm coats eating sausages in buns, talking shit, burning shit, stars like you’ve never seen them before. Pass me the red, will you?

 

 

The Grown Upness of It All

I’ve been playing grown ups for six years now. I became “we”, cohabitated, turned 40, bought a farm in joint names, had a baby, got married, got a will, life insurance, a self-managed super fund.
I’ve had earnest discussions with other mums about schools, sat in meetings with school principles (now that’s intimidating – tell me it gets easier), managed anaphylaxis and the health issues of ageing parents, changed careers, worried about child nutrition and stopped racking up my credit card to its limit.
But nothing has ever felt quite so grown up as this:

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We’re building a house, a real house, a family house – from scratch. Formwork, earthworks, footing, slab pour – all words that I don’t think I’ve ever used in my life have become part of our daily vernacular.

Our Grand Design, 5 years in the planning, is on it’s way.

And that, my friends, is grown up.

SLAB PARTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I Did a Tree-Change But it Didn’t Make me a Gardener

When contemplating a tree-change, images of weekends spent pottering in the garden came to mind. We would eat an abundance of home-grown fresh produce and any excess will be pickled or frozen for use when out of season. We would never shop for fresh produce at Woolies again – on Saturday’s I would frequent the local farmers markets to buy anything we haven’t grown. When visitors came to dinner, everything on the plate would be home-grown, including the meat.

The first two years, I had reasonable success with snow peas and zucchinis.  Tippi would go out to the veggie patch and pick and eat her own crunchy snow peas – I’m a natural! The strawberry plants thrived but didn’t fruit very much, but I was undeterred – they’ll do better next year!

The problem with veggie patches is that they require attention ALL THE BLOODY TIME! Turn your back for a few days and the weeds start to take over, the snails slide on in and the birds have a party. On a fine spring day, I will happily spend an afternoon in the veggie patch clearing, weeding, digging, planting, fertilising, watering. Allen Seale would be proud! (to readers too young to get the reference, he was a gardener on TV in the 80s famous for his whistling lisp)

Then I’m done. Until the next warm spring day that is a) on a weekend and b) on a day that I FEEL like gardening again – that can be weeks for even months later. Damn, stupid veggie patch doesn’t just look after itself. By the time I get back to it, I have to start again. And then the same happens, so I start again. Then the same happens again. And then it’s winter and there’s no bloody way I’m digging around in dirt when it’s 4 degrees outside.

Five years on, that veggie patch and I are still not friends. This year we actually got a few strawberries – all of which my daughter ate – and I have a huge bush of parsley of the old fashioned kind – you know, the curly stuff no one uses anymore – and that’s about it. No snow peas, no zucchini, nothing. Zip.

Wouldn’t you think that the very act of making a tree-change (rather than just talking about it forever) would automatically grant you magical gardening abilities?

It doesn’t. Here is the fruit of my every now and then labours:

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There’s actually some tomatoes in there, but they’ve been there for weeks and just stay green.

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Oh, and I still haven’t been to a local farmers market. I’m going this weekend I promise! Our guests do eat home-grown beef and lamb, but I can’t take credit for that – that’s Andy’s job.