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.

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LifeGoals

I’m ageing. Not gracefully, but luckily, not as rapidly as I feared. I lost my Mum, as you all know. I am still grieving for her. I miss her. We had some awful moments in our history as mother and daughter but all in all- as she died, our love for each other was completed. It was as good as it was ever going to be, and I miss her love, so much. Being a woman of 53 does not mean I don’t have to feel like this. I might be a mother myself, but I was someone’s only daughter and I miss that knowing I was precious to her. I miss her big arms, her softness, her smell. Mum always smelled good. I sit here writing in a summery dress of hers, a long one, with string straps. You might remember it, if you ever saw her in it. I have one of her last pictures of her with me and my cousins and she is wearing it. I wear a few of her clothes that look OK on me, knowing she would have wanted me to. I wish I could have brought more with me, but that would have been silly. I have plenty. I have tried not to be greedy. Of course, I probably should have been more so.

So what now, I ask myself? I have assimilated here in many ways. I am homesick, but the sting is becoming less distinguishable every day. I feel so at home in all my familiar haunts. I don’t feel like I’m somewhere ‘different’ anyway, though it might be brought to my attention that I have a ‘lovely accent’ on occasion. Sometimes, if an American says something really quickly I might miss what they said, and have to ask them to repeat themselves. No biggy. I rarely get intimidated in places and situations now.

I broke new ground when I went for two mammogram visits at the hospital this past few weeks. I have now had a surprise(!) unscheduled root canal treatment at the dentist as well. And other invasive tests. ‘No stone unturned’ as they say. (I have the ‘all clear’ by the way).

I shop at all different supermarkets now, I have caught buses for different destinations. I have driven a car here. I am feeling comfortable enough to not go outside my apartment if I don’t want to, and to go out when I do. I haven’t been into the city centre since I’ve been back, because the need to be a city tourist doesn’t motivate me so much now. I prefer to head into the mountains, or across the water to see new vistas.

So, am I happy? I am not entirely sure if ‘Happy’ is a destination, or a state that manages to bubble along and catches me in its flow at different times. I think it’s possible to know moments of ‘happiness’ in the midst of grieving. I didn’t have a belly laugh until I had been without Mum for a couple of months, but I did smile at things. I had moments of real joy with the people who I felt true connections with in those days around Mum’s death and funeral. And in between, my heart was as raw and sore as I had ever known it to be.

My last real, carefree moment was before I knew Mum was ill; back in March some time, after that, everything changed. My first moment of head-back laughing happiness happened probably a couple of weeks or so into our return home to USA, and was beer induced, and with our mates, who we feel super comfortable with. I remember it took me days to recover, but I also noticed I had moved up and out of a very dark place in my head.

At the moment I am ‘content’ and am pleased to be slotting back into the things I always enjoyed here. I would prefer to not have so much pain in my feet, but chronic pain seems to be a part of my life now. I am looking forward to either getting a little car or a motorized bike in the near future. I would love to be swimming regularly. It’s my happiest physical activity.

Johnny and I are much more relaxed in ourselves now. We certainly want a few goals though, so we’re in discussion about what our future might be about. I get a few stirrings about visiting places far away, as a teacher maybe, but I need to acquire some other language and teaching skills for that. So that’s a mid-term goal right there. Not an immediate goal, though ESL teaching and language classes are.

Short-term, I want to see and know more of the Pacific North-west. I want to also see if I can get myself to other places, like up-state New York, maybe Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana, Massachusetts, Wash. DC, Oregon and into Canada again. I am fascinated and craving for more of Canada. We’re looking forward to a mid-winter break in Hawaii with lovely friends from Down-under.

Johnny has some personal goals too, somewhat different from mine, but in our exploration of PNW we are in sync. I have to be the facilitator/organiser though. Otherwise, he is quite happy just getting around on his treadly, exploring the neighbourhood. And it is gorgeous. That Lake is only a mile or two away. It is truly beautiful, and you can see Rainier and it is magnificent.

Meanwhile, it’s still summer here, another hot one, and the blackberries are thick on the canes. I have made one blackberry rich dessert and have enough for another. I think it will have to be a blackberry and apple pie, like my Nana Amy Cowan used to make.

I’m heading to the Baseball to watch the Mariners this weekend and I’m still trying to make up my mind about Bumbershoot. Johnny has to work every Labor Day weekend so I would have to go alone. I am not sure my feet are up to it.

Creatively I still have the long term goals of getting the book written, taking some better photos, blogging, journalling and doing some sketching and painting. And this seems to be a great place to do it.

It is still a great place to be doing anything, and a great time of life to be still learning and pushing forward.

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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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The Haunting Sound of Buses

14876228315451977476500

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 I will go tomorrow instead). I could also go to Third Place Books and write this afternoon, and also get some good bread. And cake. Mmm cake. I could go to a movie. I might have to travel to get to an independent theatre but that could be good too. I could hit up a couple of people and say ‘what are you doing today?’ But I think that is not likely. I am too lazy. And too unconfident/shy. I need to feel like my interest is at least going to be reciprocated. I need a plan, and to be very proactive if I’m planning anything. I need to at least give people notice. A few of our people are away this weekend, Johnny is working, and we went to a play on Friday night, so our ‘activity’ situation is very quiet. I COULD go to Green Lake and just walk the lake. A beautiful 3 miles. And then come home via PCC and GOOD BREAD. Yes, it’s a win-win situation.

Listening to the buses outside I remember last year, how that would create a ‘feeling’ in me, one of emptiness and hopelessness when I couldn’t find a friend to play with or confide in. Johnny would be working his shifts and I would be left to figure out my own destiny. I did try to be interested in things and do things on my own, but I was wasn’t so good at going out to things alone. It was enough that I was taking the bus to Fremont to the Literacy school in the rainy commuter hours, twice a week, an anxious soul, noticing absolutely everything, trembling inside. I was also immensely proud of myself for getting out there and just doing it, pretending at least to blend in, be a part of the stream, and having some sort of purpose for myself in this big town. But I was so conscious of being an alien, an observer, and I never felt completely at ease.

I cannot believe how much has changed in a year, and how we’ve grown. Without the input of others though, I could not have done it. The patience and generosity of our American friends here have made all things possible. We don’t realise sometimes how important it is to step outside the comfort zone to just do a little special something for someone, and how this can have lasting and meaningful impact for time to come.

For instance, if our neighbours hadn’t been late to the Star Wars party late in October 2015, and not bothered to talk to us, well, we would not even know them, their extended family and awesome friends. We would not now be beer swilling Karaoke artists, nor willing taggers-on at all things sporty and musical. We’d have been alone at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and had no-one to commiserate with over the 2016 election. We wouldn’t have seen hummingbirds feed on a balcony, nor Shakespeare in a park. We’d still be Darby and Joan, sitting at home on a weekend. If they hadn’t insisted that we come and ‘Happy Hour’ with them at the local watering hole, well we wouldn’t have met the other lovely people we know now through them.

If those Aussie-phile Kansas-city newcomers hadn’t decided they simply had to meet the ‘Aussies’ at another Apartment function, and I had managed to avoid them (I wasn’t feeling so social that evening, I just wanted my free dinner), well I wouldn’t know this particular wonderful couple and their delightful family. But thankfully they cornered me, and it turns out we have a heap in common, and we are quite mad about each other.

If those thoughtful, lovely people hadn’t stepped outside their own comfort zones to reach out to us, I am not sure I could have stayed here another year beyond that first, lonely winter. But they did, and we’re still here, and still enjoying ourselves.

I don’t sit here listening to the haunting sounds of the buses, and wonder if I will ever make friends again any more. I hear sparrows chirping, and yes, there is a bit of sunlight.  It is probably going to be a great day to walk around that lake. Even alone. The good bread I get to bring home later will be totally worth it.

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You were a long time coming, 2017

 

12/30/2016

Today is like Spring. It is almost warm. I had that feeling in my bones before I even looked outside.

I am ready to embrace some New Year’s Resolutions for myself. I didn’t do so well on some of them last year. I set writing goals I didn’t stick with. I am getting better at NOT beating myself up about everything, and this might make me slack but, I believe the self-acceptance thing is even more important to me.

I had far more adventures than I could find time to write about this year. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think and reflect about them. I still am writing, but I am still adventuring too. I am happy and proud of myself for doing different things. For saying ‘yes’ to Chile and walking up so many hills there. For seeking out Neruda’s Valparaiso house. For flying back at a moment’s notice to help bury my Stepmother June, an awesome and very much missed pillar in my Dad’s family. For having the wisdom and strength to not go back to Australia, just because I was ‘in the neighbourhood’. For going to Belgium at short notice too, and for being brave enough to use my 3 French words. (Wish I’d used more.) I said ‘yes, we’ll be there’ to an invitation to share Thanksgiving at a beautiful holiday house on a Puget Sound Island, meaning constant social interaction and chilling back with new friends. Some of my adventuring was actually quite difficult, not all of it comfortable, and certainly ALL of it was very expensive. I wish I had done even more though.

I gained in confidence and flow in my teaching reading skills in the adult literacy school. I made beautiful new friendships there, solidified others, was challenged and uplifted by my students’ lives and achievements. My paltry 4 hours teaching a week has added up to over 162 hours of face to face teaching and preparation, and I know I am a valued part of the school. This means the world to me. I have been told I ‘add value’ to the whole process of teaching these very special individuals, who are on all points of a journey to bettering their own lives. I cannot think of a more rewarding thing to be doing. I will probably add another teaching session to my week in 2017.

The work I do at the store, (if you can call it ‘work’) is social, and fun and I am still finding the stock has a certain allure- I want to buy a new scarf nearly every week. (I try not to). I get to hang out with really lovely people of all ages, from different walks of life, and find out about them.We all have slightly different reasons for being there, but are united by our concern for the artisans we support.

For both Johnny and I our cohort of friends grew considerably in a short space of time, but remains stable, and we hang out with a group of fun, mature and slightly younger, beer appreciating teachers and ex-teachers. We really love to be able to kick back and relax with these people, who have accommodated us willingly, and drag us along to concerts and baseball games, brewery openings and parties. They give us rides, and ask us to their ‘things’, keep us entertained and stop us from taking ourselves too seriously. We sing karaoke with them, see bands, look at art, eat amazing food, and generally educate each other about our respective cultural quirks. Introducing words like ‘dink’, ‘arvo’ and ‘wobbly’ and such is a bit of a hobby for us, and collecting these Aussie-isms is a hobby of theirs. ‘Humour’ is common language we all seem to share, so laughing is what we do most of the time.

Happy Hours at the Ram have become a weekly ritual, and now that we are bona fide members of the famous ‘Mug Club’ we are enjoying the novelty of drinking cut price beers out of massive pint glasses and trying to pair this beer with sustaining and not hugely fattening food. I’m not sure we can win this struggle, so we try to eat as many vegetables and healthy homemade stuff as we can through the week. We are not always successful. I am finding the traditionally (bad) revered ways of eating here much much more attractive to me as time goes by. We have an exercise bike and try to move about as much as we can, but I have to say, my gold fish bowl existence, and looking out at the wintry streets from my very cosy couch is far more preferable at the moment.

I have begun to enjoy binge-watching on the Netflix again, this year a change from dramas and crime; I am finally embracing the meta-narrative that is Gilmore Girls, and I am really loving it. I think it is a very sweet piece of writing, both in its script and in its character development. I am only half-way through the 8 series and I am unsure how I will go on with my life after it finishes.

I am able to divorce the reality of Gilmore Girls from my own reality, don’t worry, not too much anyway.

… 1/5/2017 …Today I am trying to end this pathetic couch-ridden existence I have taken up- nursing a horrible hacking cough (apparently an actual ‘flu’). I have been annoyingly unwell this last month, with a few days respite for the Christmas long weekend, but perhaps I shouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. My immune system is taking a battering.

I’m trying to make marmalade out of a glut of lemons I sliced and froze months ago. It looks awful and isn’t setting, so I am cooking it to death- and then will bottle and leave up in the cupboard, just like I used to at home when my preserves didn’t quite work out. (Which is fairly often.) I did use a recipe though. Sort of. It smells great. I will be sad if I have to turf it.

I have spoken about our fun lifestyle, and I guess it makes sense that my immune system is down, but then I do wear sensible, warm clothing, and I buy good food to eat at home. I take a good multi- B vitamin, I don’t eat much meat. I make soup, full of vegetable, legumes, and lots of goodness. I still struggle to sleep well, but I have gotten myself into good habits with my bedtime routine and am looking after my own needs; it’s not like I am not good at self-care. I am the Queen of self-care. I just have a lousy immune system. I also neglected to get a flu shot this autumn. And I catch public transport.

Anyway, while I have no voice to have actual conversations I am getting in some very nice quiet spells, just watching Netflix and amazon movies. And playing Words with Friends. I am neglecting my creative side yes; I seemed to bottle-neck for a while there, with too many writing projects on the go- so am reverting to this journalling /blog thing to alleviate some of the pressure, while I try to get things get back into some sort of order and focus.

I am now dreaming about the return to the Motherland Australia as I have only a few more months to go before I have to come home for a while. When I get home, I have a huge list of things I need to concern myself with, in order to make sure our life back here in the US can continue and run smoothly. We very definitely like living here, for so many reasons, and will continue for as long as we can.

Don’t get me wrong, I do miss Australia, the continent, the beauty of the beaches and the bush. I can’t wait to get some wet sand between my toes again. I miss a lot of what makes the communal aspects of living in Aus so special- the relaxed lifestyle, the flexibility of routine, the refusal of Australians to become regimented by the establishment. Americans seem to either not notice that they are, or actually like to be organised and told what to do and feel and when to do it, a lot more than Aussies do- and that is fine, there are so many of them, after all. So it’s kind of weird about the whole election thing- when no one was obligated to enroll or vote. Still scratching our heads over that one.

People are just as busy as we are at home, with work and extracurricular activities, but there is a degree of spontaneity I am really relishing here with my American friends that I couldn’t quite attain at home. It may also be a bit of a cop-out but because we aren’t American, we can be a bit more detached about the traditions and cultural aspects that our friends are a part of- we can’t be instantly acculturated with a fervor for pumpkin pie, or Superbowl, for instance. But we’ll turn up and see what it’s all about, sure (with the option of not liking or wanting to participate.)

Our free and easy way of doing our social life is also possibly a lot to do with the fact that we have jumped into a great void of untried experiences with strangers, and were so out of our ‘comfort zones’ it’s shocked us into being a lot more adaptable. I like this new life and the jolts of reality that force us to respond in fresh ways. There wasn’t a good deal of that potential for reinvention back home, and now there is. You can’t even pay for this wonderful way to grow in your personal life. (Although, we actually did pay.)

So my marmalade hasn’t been a total success, and there goes the 6 good jars I’ve been saving for this. My kitchen is even tinier than the one I had at home, and there isn’t a pantry either. However this hasn’t stopped me from trying to cook a lot of food in it, and I guess I am still addicted to saving and preserving. I think may I have a problem. I have a fresh batch of gravlax in my fridge. Too much for us of course, but there was no way I was going to waste that salmon we didn’t use because I felt too ill to cook it.

I think I’m going to need to get some pectin and redo this marmalade and re-sterilise my jars.

Maybe I could make a New Year’s resolution to not undertake preserving and cooking en masse without adhering to a recipe explicitly.