Reflections of a shop girl.

This is the time when I reflect on so many things about the life I’m living. I think about the lives of others too, and can get very caught up in the emotion of their experiences as well.

We call it Christmas, but it is also known as Chrissy, Xmas, Chrimbo, Holiday Season, Holy Season, Advent, not to mention Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. It means slightly different things to each of us, and then there are families and communities that move like a murmuration, soaring and dipping with the ease of a unified flock, into the various traditions that work like glue. And they must not fail to make them happen. So appropriate gifts and tokens must be procured.

I do miss the inane, the reliable institutions

Penny is a Volunteer at the store and sometimes needs to get a better view of the stock.

in my family’s life, although I never knew I would.

Now I live in another country, where I look to fill in time working in a gift store when I’m not catching up on sleep, and communicating via the social media platforms, playing online Scrabble, or writing.

People are coming into our store with purpose and determination. I love seeing the effort and thought that people put into their choosing gifts.

I love how some, like me, will come in, looking for gifts for someone else, browse for ages, and then leave with a trinket for themselves. I applaud their little whimsy of selfish self- love. Maybe, like me, they will otherwise notice a distinct lack of concern from a loved one, or a gap in their family experience. Maybe no-one knows or can be bothered knowing what it is that that person would actually like to receive. This little gift for one, chosen and cherished by that one, will be appreciated and held close, as if it can amend for fractured relationships and missing pieces in a close familial experience.

Maybe.

I do appreciate the sense of captured treasure that that one has paid for, and takes away, proudly wearing it as a badge of honour. ‘It is mine, and I deserve it!’

I see repeat offenders in my store, the ones who come back again and again, even if to buy the cheapest and simplest of things; a card, a block of chocolate, and then come back to buy a basket to put their things in. And before you know it, they’re filling that basket with socks, candles, trinkets. I think of one lady in particular, who has a miserable chronic pulmonary condition, and sometimes hides behind a stand to gasp and cough in a frightening way. I thought I would need to call an ambulance the other night, but she rallied, and hung out in the store till closing time, then returned 2 days later. She refuses to stop shopping until she has thought ofeverything. She’s not a big spender, just someone who relishes the decision making, I can tell. I am certain I will see her in the store at least one more time before Christmas.

And then we get the sort of folk who duck in for shelter, for free coffee samples, and in the case of one guy the other night, to enjoy a good farting session right in the middle of the store. He left, soon after, but returned, to chat and laugh with our manager, and leave empty handed except for a refill of free coffee.

They are almost, all of them, welcome.

We see people who want to engage, share their preparations and involve you, the salesperson, in their Christmas preparations; the middle aged men with a long mental list of people and expectations, the older lady, excited about all those tiny grandkids she will be trying to entertain. Perhaps these are my favourite type of customer. They are infrequent shoppers, often romantic, purposeful, generous in their choice of gifts, and once we have packed their things into the carry bag, and sent them on their way, we smile after them, because we were able to satisfy their needs.

It isn’t always possible to do this, but we hope to do it.

Some people come in, already shopping fatigued, piqued at our lack of something they assumed we would have, and sighing, they resign themselves to buying something they have doubts about already. I feel as though such shoppers have already tainted the spirit of giving. Obviously, I can’t shoulder their burden for them. If they want to chat and unload a little, that’s Okay, but once they’ve taken their burden out the door I can’t help them.

There are the generalisations, the stereotypes of people, and then there are the unique individuals, who stay in my consciousness, long after my working day:

The woman who needed a list of things to do and places to visit in Adelaide, where she was going to be for a couple of weeks, caring for an Aunt, so I hastily wrote them down, (Hahndorf, the Food Market, the Museum, Vic Harbour etc).

The mother and teenage daughter, striking, tall, beautiful, who argued loudly in Russian between themselves at the counter, even as I processed their purchase. The older hippyish guy who said ‘Kia ora’ to me and wanted to have a long chat about the state of Seattle’s growing issues, and the beauty of life Down Under.

The woman who came in to buy gifts for her workers, but who was quite disparaging of them as well.

The woman who, having put her back out earlier that day, sat on the floor in the middle of the store to pet the Penny the volunteer’s dog.

The woman who rang up, anxiety in her voice, did we have any decent Christmas decorations, and would they be suitable for her children to choose some to buy? I

affirmed that we did, and they arrived, late in the evening, just before closing. Her children, who I thought might actually be little demons, were the most careful and articulate, well behaved children I’ve seen, but Mum was incredibly scared that they weren’t.

The tall, wistful woman who hung back in the shadows, pretending to browse, but was actually just waiting for her man to arrive, and when he did, she stood in the middle of the store holding his face kissing him again and again. He was trying to tell her he ‘fixed it, almost fixed it, tried to fix it,’ but she wouldn’t let him talk, she was overwhelmed with love and affection for this much shorter hero.

(I was replacing stock nearby and felt I needed to act like a repelling magnet, and give them as much space as they needed, though my heart was squeezing out its very lifeblood in emotion at this wonderful, spontaneous outpouring).

Who knows the stories behind these moments? Sometimes I get to know, but most of the time I do not. We are seeing greater numbers of people in the store than ever. We have a very quiet year until this six week pre-Christmas Shopping period, when it all blows up, exponentially. We don’t have a choice but to get as many unpaid, available staff in as possible, and make a fist of it. We have a mission, to make a profit for people in developing nations, to keep their little industries and workshops going, and their lives fulfilled.

When the crowds diminish, then we get to really engage with people, and talk more about our Not-for-profit mission.

It’s a great mission, and I hope I can one day meet at least one or more of our makers- who we count it a privilege to assist.

One thing we always do is try to make a connection, build a bridge by letting our customers know why it is important they spend their dollars here. Sometimes we fail to get that message across, maybe because we have no time, or they came in because we had a cool product that was cheaper than the other shop across town, and it doesn’t matter to them who made the things. Whatever the case, they usually come in because our things are handmade and are often from recycled, repurposed goods. There is a lot of value in those kinds of things around these parts, I’m proud to say.

The take home for me at Christmas, is that I do feel a lack in my experience of intimacy,, family, tradition and joyful expectations of just hanging out with people in a spirit of celebration. I can’t rely on my circumstances or my emotions to align properly. I’m all out of whack. I desperately want my family near me. I am unsure where to put myself. I get a few of these moments with our very kind friends here, but nothing can replace what I lived with throughout my life as a parent and friend in my home environment. Well not as yet.

Meanwhile, this gig in the gift shop, it does fill some gaps. I get to talk to real people, people who matter a lot in that moment. Their lives are meaningful, and they are grabbing their own Christmas experiences and running with them. I am a part of that process, just for a moment. It is a moment of intense sentiment and sometimes anxiety.

I get to know and reaffirm the sense of intention and positivity that gift-giving brings into others’ lives.

For a short period of time I pooh-poohed the whole ritual of Christmas presents, and now I have learned to appreciate them again. It’s a vicarious practice at the moment, as I have other issues of anxiety over preparing and posting things, but that’s another story.

Right now, it’s a moment by moment savouring.

Enjoy your own version of this, and Merry Christmas.

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Late winter- Spring Flings

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This year has been a weird , slow process, and I really haven’t felt as though there has been much to write about- but I’ve had a few adventures. I went to Hawaii in February and then I went to Texas in March. Last month I visited Harstein Island again, and next week, we’ll be in Portland OR, and then in July, Montana. We’ve had brief catch ups with people from home and afar, and this has been as usual, a wonderful thing. And on another level, life has just meandered along, quite ordinary, and really, we could be at home, doing very similar things.

Hawaii was a warm, delicious, fragrant and relaxing pause in the interminable wet winter of 2017/18. I got to hang with beloved Kiwi mates, the Nicholsons, I got to wear shorts every single day. I got to swim with turtles, hold an octopus, and eat as much pineapple as I could.  We sat on the beaches, watching surfers, hung out, drinking cocktails by the pool, and drove all over the island of Oahu. I watched Johnny drink as many Mai Tais as he possibly could. It is  a wonderful thing to wake up every day, and consider how to have fun for an entire day, for 7 days in a row, especially with good mates from across the globe.  I think times like this are really the icing on life’s cake. Luckily we got some lovely memories on film, and none better than the sunset cruise we finished our holiday with. I will remember this with so much joy.

And then it was over, and it was back to the routine rainy Seattle life. Only I changed it, I decided to leave the Literacy Source for a while, as I had a couple of little ‘things’ bothering me. One of them, was that I was just not feeling the joy any more, as I had been when I first began there. I still really loved my students, and whole premise of what we were doing, but I just wasn’t fitting in any more. I didn’t know where I belonged, I wasn’t really using my teaching skills, and felt quite useless. I knew they could spare me, so I thought I would gain back some free time, and also take care of this ‘other’ thing, which I will explain later. They were understanding , and gave me beautiful signed cards, and lots of love and best wishes. I know I can return some time in the future.

Then, the opportunity to go to Austin came up. I had been crossing my fingers and hoping for an invitation to join Sylvie and Takiaya, AKA ‘Divide and Dissolve’ on the road somewhere on their tour, and the SXSW (South by SouthWest) Festival in Austin provided the perfect timing and location. I was invited and was able to stay with my friends from Melbourne/Geelong, Mary and Carl. I couldn’t believe my luck- they extended their hospitality to me, and I didn’t have to ask if I could crash on them.

Austin was flat, it was warm, very warm, and expansive. I got to smell skunk, wafting through the evening air, as we drove.  I received wonderful hospitality from my friends, which included Mary’s amazing Greek cooking, Carl’s car rides and home made waffles, and knowledgeable and experienced book-shop browsing. I scored well. I found Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes on CD for $2 and Marquez’ Autobiography for $1.

The Band seemed to be very chilled out, though excited to be in Austin. They were running on the ability to do things on autopilot I guess, after a month on tour. The 17-seater van had to pull up and disgorge its contents, and then parked in a legal parking space nearby, about 3 times a day, in a city that had virtually rerouted every main road through its middle, due to the festival. Venue hosts had to be buttered up and placated (or not!)  It was the best place for people watching I’d been in for a while. None of this was easy, and I did what I could to help, including sitting front seat alongside the band driver, Marcus, and speaking to the Texas uniformed a couple of times while we negotiated the labyrinth. That was interesting, and yes, white female privilege is a reality that smacks you in the face in Texas.

It was such a delight that I got to watch my daughter’s band, somewhere completely different, and I got to wear a ‘Destroy White Supremacy’ tee-shirt. I sat in the swanky bar at the brand new hotel where the band stayed in the city, in this tee-shirt, and watched how it affected people. It was a real door opener – I got to shake a LOT of hands. I loved this unifying and instant recognition effect. I got to hang with my Sylvie and this was the ultimate joy.  I had such late nights, and lived a rock-star life for just a few days, and I felt right at home! Takiaya, Marcus the Driver, and Bonnie the sound tech were such a great bunch to hang with. It was a real buzz for me. I hope they ask me to come along again one day.

I got to see that Austin is indeed the ‘Seattle’ of Texas, having a thriving artistic aspect, just going by the people I saw, and the places I got to peek into. Mary, my host, paints and works in collage/media in a studio she rents which is part of a much bigger collective, Canopy , located in a re-purposed manufacturing building. I met an Australian transplant, David Kerrigan,  from Melbourne also, who had written a book about his journey through India on a motorbike, and was a mutual friend of my hosts. (You really should buy/read his book-  Man, Dog, Bike, it’s a fun read). It was nice to mix with Australians, and connect over our lack of social niceties! (Seriously though, not really, just good people from home, who already understand the ways of Australians!)

The other ‘thing’ I mentioned earlier, that required me to take some down time, turned out to be a kidney stone. I’d had an inkling around Christmas time that things weren’t all good in that department, and some tests revealed a 1.6 cm one in my right kidney, and a developing one in my left kidney. The long and the short of it is that I eventually ended up being able to get a Lithotripsy (which is a procedure where they shatter the stone with sound waves, under a general anaesthetic). It takes about an hour; you spend half a day in the day surgery, then all going well, you go home, and prepare to pass fragments of stone. (I won’t apologise for the details of this stuff- because it could happen to any of YOU and you just might like horror stories anyway).

My initial recovery was about a week long, – although I initially looked like bouncing back in record time. Late on the first day, however, I started to become really ill. I got worse through the night, and in the finish spent a few hours in the ER having another CT scan and X-ray, pain relief and anti-nausea by IV,  after many hours of agony and constant vomiting. Let me tell you people, these little buggers are not fun at all. Morphine did absolutely nothing. The hospital sorted me out though, and found something that worked a treat. Apparently stone fragments were moving along, and causing me the pain as they shredded through the tiny tubes.

I can only give the highest praise to the staff of that particular health provider. They were fantastic: patient, sensitive, thorough, respectful- I could put myself in their hands and feel really safe. Four days later I got some ’results’ and began to feel a lot better. I quit my pain meds that day. I got a head-cold on top of that recovery- so spent about 3 weeks out of action, wondering just when life might resemble normality, and my ribs might stop aching.

I began to think, ‘Hopefully I am well on the way, now’… After back spasms settled two weeks later again, (unrelated, or maybe not?)  I am definitely over this period of enforced slow-down. It has taken so much longer to recover than I expected- but I have been able to write a lot, and think a lot. My writing has suffered though, hence the long gap between blog entries. I am gradually getting more routine and discipline in my week, and intend churning out a lot of words before I have to return home for visa renewals next May.

I’m feeling incredibly settled here. My apartment is groaning with objets d’amour and things I think that will be useful and keep us assured that we do a little more than just exist. This has been a ploy, somehow, to be able to comfort myself, (ourselves) with reminders of why we’re here, with just a little memorabilia from home, and somehow stave off feelings of loneliness and alienation. It has worked, to a degree, but not entirely. It’s taken a whole range of things to instill the connections that have really stopped that constant water-treading sensation, that of an overboard puppy in a huge sea. But it has happened.

The friendships, the involvement with local people and local issues, eg. going on the Women’s March, concerts, being guests at people’s vacation houses, being available to mind people’s pets and properties, extending hospitality as much as is possible in a tiny flat, have all counted towards feeling ‘at home’. So has being ill, as it turns out. As much as I have hated my constant connections with the health system, it has ALL not been so unpleasant, and certainly helps smash some of those anxieties about dealing with US bureaucracy. I often get to meet really decent people in such settings, (especially the health professionals). Yes, we do pay a lot of Health insurance, (and we did at home, as well).

While the month of April was a sad series of medical things, it was an appropriately desperate run to the finish of a miserably dank winter and finally the beginning of a warm and light May.  Spring, which is notoriously cold and damp, thankfully was unusually warm, sunny, and fragrant. I am not sure I can live anywhere that doesn’t have four seasons anymore! Well, if I do, there will need to be a trade-off- a great one.

I joined another little writing group last fall, called the North Seattle Creative Writer’s Club which has turned out to be a lovely source of camaraderie and mutual encouragement. I also joined a book club, a very established one, ‘Great Books’ , which has been around since forever. This feels like being at Uni again, the book discussions are just like the ‘tutorial’ except without being quite as scary. I feel so at home in this environment. The only really noticeable thing is the ‘USA-centric’ content, of just about everything we read. I was actually asked if there was such a thing as ‘Australian Literature’ by another member. I live for such moments, by the way. I really love to bring an Aussie ‘take-down’, (just a little bit too much, maybe! 🙂 )

Yes, I occasionally still get very lonely, and get pangs of homesickness, or at least a yearning for the gums and rivers and beaches of Australia; the green, green grass of Aotearoa.  I rarely have ‘news’ to share, I just like being held in someone’s thoughts, and them in mine.  It doesn’t matter if it’s at home or here really. (I could have had the kidney sagas at home, just as easily! How tedious though. ) Connections get deep because of blood, because of a mutually shared experience(s) and existence at a given time. They can seem to be eternal. But they do require a constant watering and nurturing. This is what I have learned after nearly three years away from home.

I have had to let go of so many attachments here, and things of much affection, that I wanted to keep. Like my desire to move my dogs over to USA. Independence, and freedom to see my kids when ever we get an opportunity. Having a car, and being able to get do as much extra travel as my heart desires. Reality here is not that different from reality at home- you have to live within your means. I’ve had to let go of a lot of things, but not my deep connections, I hope.

 I hope that people I’ve been really close to, will continue to be happy to be present in ongoing conversations, and that people will remember that we exist all the way over here, and are a part of your lives, still.  I still thirst to hear people tell us about things, just ordinary things about their lives. Their haircuts and dental surgery.  Their mishaps and exploits.  We can’t sit around yacking all day, can we? But get on your Face Book Chat, and shoot me a line, I can reply while you sleep. A postcard. Or an Instagram photo. A short email.  What ever you can spare- I’m still interested. I might be doing ordinary things here, just like you are there, but I still like to catch up. And you’re my life connections. My heart.DZ-qjRFV4AA2Kpz

Memorial to a Mourning.

30/3/2018

I slept for 9 ½ hours last night, and at nearly midday, I am still groggy, and feel myself PLUNGING into depression. I can only attribute this to the fact that it is a year since my Mum took ill, and my life entered a realm of focus and intensity I had never known, not since giving birth to a child, anyhow. Nursing a loved one into their final hours, being the go-to person, being responsible for a relationship that faltered, shattered, rebirthed time and time again… dealing with all the extraneous relationships and demands, trying to hear my own thoughts throughout… it was a hellish and yet incredibly enriching and loving experience.

I don’t wish to have those moments again. I do wish I had had words for Mum, that might have soothed and consoled her when she faced the reality that she was dying. I didn’t have words though, I only knew to hold her, to stroke her hair, to hold her hand, to make her little morsels of food, to re-arrange cushions, to endure, somehow, her brief rages and delusions. She and I had had many words in the past- we had said hateful, regretful things to each other. We had at different times, abandoned, rejected each other. We had hurt each other deeply. And now here were were, forgiving without words, just holding each other in a loving embrace, at every possible moment.

I wasn’t holding her, at the end. She had been sleeping in her morphine slumber for most of the day, snoring in that guttural, phlegmy, ghastly way that a dying person does. It hadn’t deterred me from staying close, cuddling her, telling her I loved her. My last act that I had hoped she would be conscious enough to know, was to help bathe and dress her earlier that day, before the last doses of sedation led her into obliviousness.

I stepped away to allow my uncle some time with her- (he had just stepped off the plane from NZ), and sat with my cousin in another room for a while, trying to get my head around the fact that Mum was about to pass away some time in what was to be possibly a long vigil. The nurse helped us move recliner chairs into the room, and my cousin was about to depart for the last time, leaving my Uncle with me and Mum. She bent over to kiss Mum goodbye. Then stopped us in our chatter, and said, ‘wait, I think her breathing is changing’. We rushed to her side to see Mum make final, bird like mouthings, but taking in nothing. And then she was still. There was no more breathing to be done. It was finished.

My brothers arrived within the hour after, and spent time saying goodbye, weeping, it was just awful, and also very peaceful. I then was weeping my last tears on her cold, empty shell. Her warmth had left her immediately. I was shocked. And I knew I didn’t need to, but I gave her one last kiss goodbye as I left, hours later. That shell had done amazing feats of strength, in its time. 

If I had never felt like an adult before, I did in the few days afterward. And I also felt incredibly small, and childlike. I sobbed into the arms of a newly acquainted friend of Mum’s , who stopped to check on me in the most timely way. I let my Aunt and cousins fuss around and look after me. I could only act out of my raw soul. There were no thoughts or preconceived notions of how I might handle situations or people. I lost my way a few times, with people, I know. I would get angry with people who were trying to console, or befriend me on Mum’s behalf, if I didn’t know them well- with the exception of Mum’s lovely art ladies, most of whom I did get to know during Mum’s illness. My reactions might have been hurtful, but I needed to bar the way occasionally, and not become an enabler of a cloying and unnatural sympathy, that to me was just not comforting, but suffocating.

I do feel regret that I couldn’t have expressed myself better at such a time. However, I also know, that I was, as I have said, at my rawest, my most vulnerable, and most honest place.

I still think about the best of Mum’s people, and know that at this time, too, they will mourn Mum, they will think about that dynamic paradox of a woman, and their relationship to her, her effect upon them. They must miss her. Many of them were intimately involved in her dying days, as Mum had wanted them there. How special, to be close to someone as they leave this world.

I may not have treated them as well as they might have deserved, but I hope they have forgiven me.

I am moving on, and while it took me a good 10-11 months to actually believe that she had gone for good, as the 12 month mark nears, I have come to a sort of peace and acceptance about the fact that she is gone. She is still a dynamic and tangible memory- I can summon her voice, her perfume: her physical imprint is as strong as ever in my psyche. But I know she is not coming back, and that her journey really ended, 12 months ago.

I am not dealing with sadness every day, except for in this recent few days, when I am thinking about her constantly. I‘m not sure that I have been consciously avoiding the pain of remembrance in the previous month, but I’ve have been too busy travelling, experiencing new things, being with my daughter and friends, in new places, and have been living an exciting time.

Now that things are quieter, I get to face the reality of Mum, that I still hurt, and she is and always will be a huge loss to me.IMG_4931.jpg

Settling in for the Winter

The change of seasons has been quite pleasant. I was dreading it because those lovely, long, sunny days that flow on forever were coming to an end, and I felt like I needed an endless summer. Come on Universe, I was saying- I need a cuddle! A big fat solar cuddle filled with cold mountain streams and sunshine and salads and bare legs…

I did have the company of my girl, Sylvie, for a couple of weeks, and like last year, when we hung out in Chile, it was a time for just being happy in each other’s company, doing a few new things, and indulging ourselves, Mother-Daughter style. That was precious.

Gradually though, life returned to the normal- Sylvie had to go back on the road, tour wise, then back to Australia, and I had work at the literacy school again. This time, a new class for me, teaching computer skills, as well as literacy. It was a source of stress for me at the time, but I know was quite helpful in getting me back into the swing of  life here. I had no time to wallow in my emotions, and I had to be reliable. I am grateful for that season now. I cannot quite believe I did what I did, but I understand it was about getting me through the mourning process, into the present day and functional again. I might never have made it out of the whirlpool of depression, if I hadn’t had something to pull me back into reality.

This is WHY I document things too- otherwise I might miss something- I did some very enjoyable things over summer, but looking back it was hard to remember, as the atmosphere was also tinted with the grey haze of grief, (and the smoke from forest fires). I do want to remember the good too. Especially my time with Sylv.

I am now getting into the layering up to go out thing. I plan my trips out, will it be warm where I am going- should I wear a raincoat or a warm coat? Hat, no hat, gloves, no gloves- (rarely gloves yet). Waterproof shoes or not? (All my shoes are pretty well waterproofed). I have taken a zillion photos of the Fall leaves, and these have not made it onto this blog as yet, but enjoy some of last year’s… We have had an exquisite Autumn this year, due to a drier, colder weather pattern.

I am still trying to justify the buying of a cheap car, which is not a big deal for us, really- except for the fact that it’s another responsibility. And should I, could I, take on the added burden of a little rescue elderly dog? We all know how important animals are to the well-being of a person, and how much trouble one could be as well, but I am seriously missing the companionship of a little furry friend.

The thing is, upon reflection, after this fast disappearing year, I can honestly say that I am feeling very cosy now, very settled. I have a bad bout of  homesickness at times, I yearn for people, I see the odd picture of home that makes me extremely nostalgic, and I think I could just up and leave for Down-Under again, just like that. And then, after a bit of a cry, it passes.

I am now feeling adjusted enough to this cycle now, that I think, well why shouldn’t I get the dog, buy the car, look around around for a cheap house to rent in a nearby suburb? (We actually love our apartment, but would incur extra costs to keep a dog and a car).  And maybe I am settled enough now to take on some paid work, and become a part of the machinery here? Earn some bucks, get the car, spend some money, save some money, get even more settled, get the pet, do some more travelling, give up the idea of returning home to live…? Really? Could I do that?

You probably know as much as me, that it probably isn’t quite feasible. I just know that I don’t lose sleep wondering how I can get home again, or about what I will get up to when I get home, but I am also unsure about what I am here in the States for. I am still in a kind of limbo, unsure of the next steps. All I am certain of is, it would be very hard to leave the communities of people we are involved with, and also, there is no actual plan for returning home, yet. And I need to see more of  this continent and Europe while I am a short flight away.

So forgive me, don’t take it personally; I am just ready to feel more settled. I understand everything about our situation could change, but for now, it looks stable. And I need to feel at home without feeling ripped in half all the time. This is easier for me here. Here is where I live, and I do love it.

Bereft

 

I’m home, finally, after a long trip back to Australia, which began in that cold and late arriving Spring, back in early April 2017, and saw me returning to Seattle into warm sunshine on July 2nd.

I nearly blogged while away, but found it a bit tricky. I was extremely busy for the first half of my 85 days, and then I was too scattered and depressed for the 2nd half.

I booked my flight in early March, with the intention of getting back to Geelong to take care of a house, a couple of dogs, and make some headway towards the possible sale of our home. But by the time I came to fly out from Seattle, however, the day after my birthday, April 5th, my agenda had changed completely. I was going home to spend time with my mum, who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, only weeks before, and was not expected to last more than weeks.

So off home I went. Grateful for some quiet hours on a plane to have my thoughts to myself, and focus on what was ahead, I found myself on the spacious Air NZ ‘sky couch’  which meant I got to spread out. It wasn’t the most comfortable space I had ever slept on, and my left foot was throbbing with gout or whatever it is that makes the big toe swell up to 3 x times its size, but I was ALONE. I had been entertaining visitors for what had seemed like months, and I was craving some slower, quieter space. I have become a very contented hermit in may respects, or at least, I enjoy pottering about on my own, not speaking for hours. If you met me, you might think otherwise, but you see, I spend so much time thinking things through, and I love to share ideas and talk to people when I can. I need to make up for lost time then. When I am constantly with people, I get so easily exhausted from conversations and from being social, and I can’t wait for bed time. EVERY DAY. I think I am probably an introvert with a pseudo-extroverted coping mechanism.

I had no idea what I might do to be more helpful to the situation with my mother, but as I drew nearer to my destination it became evident that I was to be the Primary carer and that Mum would come home to be nursed in her familiar environment, for as long as possible.

I was terrified that this might be the case. I had always dreaded this moment in time, when my Mum might be helpless and totally dependent upon me, and that I might have to be the one to physically help her. I also am one of those people who SAY they can’t do the thing, but then ACTUALLY DO the thing. I took myself in hand, somehow, and consented that Mum needed to do this, and that I needed to get on board with her wishes. We would have the help of one of Mum’s more recently acquired friends, K, plus some other new beautiful friends, some old mates, my Aunt, and other

cousin M. My brothers were round about, as they were able to be, in amongst their regular routines.

I was so blessed to have the help of a capable and loving cousin, a favourite niece of Mum’s, who had been there for her own younger sister with Lymphoma, and her father with Liver Cancer. A few years younger than me, my gorgeous cousin is a talented and diplomatic woman, who took charge and made things happen. She and Mum loved each other. J’s respectful and tender care of Mum touched me so deeply. Over the first few days at home I got to see other people handling my Mum, in all her cantankerousness,  with deft sensitivity and tact. I had not managed to cope with Mum at all over the last few years. In my menopausal vulnerability and anxiety I had run out of puff. I had run away to another land altogether. I had abandoned my own mother. Thankfully, other people hadn’t at all.

Over the days that followed, when Mum came home, and proceeded to hold what was, ostensibly, a continuous house party for two weeks, my eyes and heart opened up in ways I had never thought possible. All those years that Mum and I had toiled over our differences, our hurt feelings and divided passions, we had, both of us, harboured a completely warped love for each other. I had not even had an inkling about this for decades. I had only recognised offences, slights, insults and mistakes. I had based my perception of our relationship on only the negative energy which flowed between us. I forgotten how much I had actually LOVED and still loved my Mama. But I also got to know how much Mum’s love for me had not diminished at all over the rocky, battle scarred years, either. I didn’t doubt it again, not once, after my first visit to her when I arrived in Australia on that day in April. I arrived as the long-distance and beloved offspring of this prodigiously popular woman, walked into that room, and never once looked back. The doctors at the hospital were obviously confused for a brief moment, as my cousin looks quite a lot like my mum and surely such a caring and loving woman as J must have been her daughter? I never for a moment thought I could, as Mum’s actual carer, step into J’s shoes to do as well as she had, but I did know I owed it to Mum to at least try.

I got 19 amazing days with my Mum.

She died peacefully and painlessly after 2 days in hospital, following a valiant effort to survive the ravages of a fire-storm of a disease; to extend her own life beyond the reality of it for a few, hard fought weeks. Nothing could quench my love for my mum, as it turned out. Not distance nor silence nor the worst of human experiences.

The wrap up of Mum’s affairs took up the next few weeks, and I had to get South again to take up the care of the dogs and house and meet up with Johnny after 55 long days apart.

I felt emotionally quite depleted, having cried and talked and walked as much as time and the busy-ness of it all would accommodate. At one stage, whilst in the throes of cleaning through 5 years of untouched hoarded wardrobe stuffing, I took myself up to the Gold Coast to clear my head. I stayed in a modern, minimally furnished apartment, 14 floors up, with views all round. I stayed in bed, I watched movies, I ate chips and ice-cream. I wrote. I cried. I sat, quietly, and did nothing for 2 whole days. Then I came back to the flat, the clearing out, and the care and love of the people who had buoyed me and carried Mum and my family through all of this.

I wish I was with them still. I love that little town, where Mum spent her last years. I still have my Aunt and cousin M there, in my Mum’s little place. I can go back. My brothers and their partners, the nephews. Some very kind people. People my mum loved , who loved her, and loved me in turn, and who I will be forever grateful to. Lots of Love. Lots of memories. Lots of reasons to go back.

I look at those pictures of my life and still want to share them with Mum. I still want her to be doing her art at her beloved Art Group. I miss her so badly. I will miss her forever.

 

 

Take Me Home, Country Loaf

I’m in my favourite place for a casual coffee and snack in my local area. I live in a pretty commercial corner of the town, which boasts about 5 Starbucks and one cosy café, one old-school diner, a food hall, and several other franchised café/eateries such as ‘Chipotle’, ‘Panda Express’, ‘Red Robin’ and ‘Subway’ just to name a few. When I can, I love an excuse to take me out of this highly commercial area so I can enjoy a good coffee, and a good vibe in an independent business. My local café is often too dark, the food is pretty ordinary, and the noise unworkable. There is no nice vibe, in fact it feels hostile at times.

Here, where I am this morning, up the road a bit, away from the shopping district, there is the smell of coffee and good, smoky bacon. There are always a lot of relaxed people around, many in my own demographic, as well as younger and older. Lots of dog owners (though they keep dogs outside). People play with their kids (or ignore them) on a big rug at the back. Many people have become familiar faces to me. There is light. The coffee is excellent. The food is usually delicious. They make a maple and bacon muffin which is awesome. I meet here to ‘write’ every Friday morning, though sometimes it’s purely a social gathering. Oh, and they know my name now, when I order stuff!

This place sits up on Roosevelt Rd, along with a few pubs and another couple of restaurants, amongst other small businesses in Mapleleaf. I love this part of town. It is a very steep 15 minute walk up through the suburb from my place, or it’s a short bus ride.

I can get a really good fresh croissant here, or a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin or a Bagel. There are lots of cakes and quiches to choose from. There is a range of great looking sandwiches that they will make fresh, including the BBQ pork, the Cuban, Turkey, cream cheese and cranberry, Tuna salad, Mediterranean roasted veges, (though I’ve yet to try one).  I often get a croissant with ham and cheddar, which is chockers with good ham, unlike in Australia, where the meat portion on a sandwich is distinctly light-on. (I really think there is no excuse for skimping on the meat in a sandwich, because they are incredibly expensive, for that tiny sliver of turkey or beef or pork they give you at home.) Let the Americans take credit for knowing how to put together a good sandwich.

Although don’t get me started on the bread. AS we speak, I am stocking up on par-baked and bakery breads in my freezer, because there is no such thing as a corner bakery for miles or a milk bar where we can grab a loaf on my way home from places, and I live a good walk from the supermarket. I have tried several of the packaged brands of bread, the white, the whole-wheat, the grainy, and they all stick to the roof of our mouths. They have so much sugar in them. They feel wrong, they taste wrong. Only the Italian style or Sour dough breads are less sugary. The good bakery breads are excellent, but as I said, I have to get to a supermarket that is out of my way when I’m in transit, so I make special ‘bread shopping’ trips to stock up. If I had a bigger kitchen, I would make my own.

I love to buy a sandwich at QFC, an upmarket grocery where I can also get a hot sandwich from the deli counter on my way out, and savour it’s deliciousness on the way home as a reward for walking up to the supermarket along the noisy, smelly road. They give them names like ‘The Rainier’ or ‘The Snohomish’, and pack them full of really nice cheese, pestos, relishes, mustards and Boars Head Cured meats. I always feel like a bit of criminal for ordering one, but it is so worth it to get one. I always get it cut in half so it can be stretched to 2 meals, or shared.  One day Johnny and I greedily thought we could eat more than a ½ roll each, and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich as well to share on our way home. We were really hungry and it was a very cold and grey day. We walked past the old homeless guy on his wheelie-walker on our way in, and the minute we saw him again on our way out we knew we had to give the grilled cheese to him.  I will one day be greedy enough to order one for myself.

These are but a few memorable foody experiences I have had here in Seattle, in USA generally. I wish I could say I’ve had many more, but I really did know what I was in for, moving here. I knew it could be a challenge, to be able to eat what I was used to here. I knew the food would, at the very least, look different, and possibly taste differently. I have been really fortunate to fall in with foody types, who have travelled, and have shaken loose their need to have every little thing BBQed, covered in buffalo sauce and bleu cheese and other indiscriminate flavourings, or in a burger… people who ‘get’ food, and care where it comes from, and that it is different the world over.  We’ve been taken to a place that does oysters and raw food, which is possibly the best place in town, we’ve had amazingly cooked Central American food at a gaudy old garage painted up to be a festive cantina- served Mojitos with plantain chips and moles to die for. We’ve had beautifully cooked Bistec et frites in a French restaurant, crab dips, lobster rolls, Aussie style pies, authentic Mexican food, Indian food, Korean banquet, Yum Cha and Southern style food truck delights. We had Caribbean style jerk cooked food in beautiful sandwiches, in another converted garage. (This up-cycling of mechanic workshops into restaurants is to be commended).  We were fed a delicious crab and lobster filled ravioli- lasagne at Christmas. We have had fresh filled dumplings cooked for us, pork ribs and roasted chickens and lamb chops cooked for us by our friends in their homes. Beautiful, fresh and nutritious food.

We’ve have tried Southern fried chicken in a few places, and I can’t fault it anywhere. It is always delicious. All I know is, I should never really have it.

All the same, as much as Seattle is fast becoming a foody destination, (according to word on the ‘street’), the idea where a café is a more casual place where there is restaurant style great food available has not quite caught on. Not in the suburbs, at least. People still expect and receive the over-sized sandwiches, huge plates of diced potato and bacon with everything, hot or BBQ sauce with everything, and there seems to be an expectation for people’s plates to be loaded up with no space left. Loaded up to the roof in some cases. Lunch is often a 3 courses on an order affair, with soup, salad, chips to go with your sandwich, panini, burger or bagel. You feel weird just ordering a sandwich. But I quite like the ½ sandwich +soup options in some places. (You don’t have to be a pig). You are often expected to order at the counter and bus your own dishes. As nice as the staff are at the counter, they don’t often clean up after you. Everyone knows where to put their dirty dishes. Salads are often very much a chopped up bowl of everything in a bowl. I have seen maybe two carefully arranged salads on a plate in 20 months.

Breakfast, on the other hand, is a FULL plate of stuff, and often a pancake to go with it. The American breakfast is seemingly a tradition that will never budge, especially since people in the west will now eat biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and waffles, and even pulled meat on their eggs Bene, (which often is smothered in béchamel and not hollandaise). The Avocado Smash phenomenon and the Shakshuka are happening, but only in those very trendy cafes where people line up out the door, such as you see on Portlandia. The best option if you don’t want to walk out feeling like you’ve done something really dirty and need to go and take a long shower and hit the gym all afternoon, is to have a breakfast bagel or croissant. Which is what I do here quite often. They don’t actually do big plates of food here, just sandwiches, quiches and cakes. Beautiful cakes, wholesome and generously full of fruit or nuts. Their coconut bread is to die for.

Today I am going to do something different for me, and order pie (fruit, probably berry), only I didn’t see any pies in the display case at the counter. But I do know that, unlike at home where you feel very strange and humiliated to ask for things you cannot see, I know I can ask here and they will probably want to give me along and well explained story about the display case being broken or the pie oven being broken or the berry supplier being on strike. And then we’ll probably get talking about my accent and about someone’s sister who went to Adelaide or somewhere. It will be pleasant and not humiliating. And then I’ll order something else.

When I leave here I will probably hit QFC and grab some good bread and maybe even a sandwich for Johnny and I to share for lunch. If we go to the pub later it will mean a fairly naughty food option. Happy Hour Food is often quite calorie heavy. Cheese balls, Fried curds with a delicious raspberry sauce, Fries, pulled pork potato skins, pizettes, nachos, burgers, sliders, buffalo wings are some of the things you might find on the menu. One of our 2 locals has much more fresh fare, (woodfired pizzas and salads for example) and the other has much more traditionally prepared, aka fried food. Unfortunately the one with the cheap Mug Club beer is the one with all the greasy options. My favourite item on their menu is a raw tuna Poke ‘nachos’ on fried wonton skins, with mashed avocado, jalapeno slices, spring onion and a teriyaki dressing. It is really delicious, but doesn’t seem to line my stomach for the ensuing pints of beer well enough, unfortunately. It has taken months of experimentation to figure out the best ‘drink friendly’ foods to begin a night on, and to work out that a starter snack of something small but stodgy then another later on after a couple of drinks, then maybe a THIRD night cap (small) supper is possibly the best way for me to cope with 3-4 (or more) pints. It can get pretty washing machine-like in my tum at times.

(I’d better poke in a disclaimer here: while I am not on a strict calorie controlled diet, I am actively trying to NOT put on MORE weight before I return home to the land of salad days). A heavy meal when drinking is just stupid. Dessert is ridiculous. No-one needs that much food! Well I don’t. I don’t move enough.  And then, if brunch is on for the next day, well that is just really asking for more lard to deposit itself on my rear…

I’ve actually decided against the pie. The shared monster sandwich Johnny and I will have will be quite enough food for the rest of the day.

Until ‘happy hour’.

The Haunting Sound of Buses

briarpatricia

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Sitting in bed this Sunday morning without a social agenda, I was reminded of how I felt a year ago, sitting in bed alone, when Johnny had to work and I had nothing planned for myself. How miserable I was! Now I can hear those buses coming and going without feeling I should be on one. I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that it would be very dank and grey outside. And cold. And lonely. And yet I knew I should probably force myself up and out. Now it’s like, ‘Well what fun could I be doing if I could be bothered doing it?’

I could go to SAM, and Pike Place Market. I could come home with very good bread. I could also go to the Ballard Market, and again, come home with very good bread. I could go to the WOW festival over at North Seattle College (But…

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