Thursday, 21 June 2007

brain fog alert

Good grief. Who knew it was so hard to keep up a blog? Those people who manage to write them every day have got to get jobs, or lives, or pets or something.

Since I last posted I've run an International Poetry Competition, organised an AGM (and got myself elected Chairman, so I can take over the world), managed several visits to help out my ageing father, published a couple of issues of a bimonthly magazine, organised the monthly programme for my Mensa group (three times) played mini-golf, came second at a couple of pub quizzes, run the home and farmyard alone while the husband went hunting (three times), read a dozen or so books (current reading: A Tale of Two Cities), and goodness knows what-all else. I haven't sent a personal email (ie one not related to work) for about 6 weeks, and my monthly poetry group looks like turning into a semi-annual event. This is what happens when you WORK, people!

So what have I got to post about now? Not a helluva lot, actually. I went to a poet's blog to see what she was doing, and she seems to be adding a poem a day. I'd be happy to write a poem a month, quite frankly.

Now I'm whingeing - didn't mean to do that. But at least I've thought of something to write about.

My youngest kid, the one still living at home, had a suicide attempt a couple of weeks ago. She took a whole sheet of the painkillers she has for painful periods, threw up, told me she had food poisoning, then slept for three days. Back to the GP for a change of anti-depressant, and referral to a mental health facility for young people. Depression is endemic in our family. I was dysthymic for twenty years, before I discovered, quite by accident, that a
small daily dose of a mild anti-depressant made me feel normal for the first time in decades. (I'll explain how I discovered that in a moment.) My mother and older sister have both made multiple suicide attempts, my younger sister has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and my brother and several of my paternal cousins are generally considered to be a little on the loony side. I personally prefer them that way, as they make for much more interesting family stories. They are still not as loony as my daughter-in-law's family, who beat them hands down, but that's another line of narrative. (My husband's family supplied the gay gene.)

The cure for dysthymia came about when I got shingles a month after my fiftieth birthday. The doctor prescribed the usual anti-viral stuff, and added a small dose of anti-depressant with the explanation that, as shingles is a nerve disorder, treating the nervous system with anti-depressants reduced the nerve pain. Made sense to me, anyway. So I took my pills, went off to Sydney for a funeral (well, I'd already booked the flights) and spent a week sitting on people's couches with hot wheat packs clutched to my middle. I was lucky - the shingles was gone within 3 weeks (and I went for acupuncture as well, so there'd be no long term nerve damage).

The upshot was that after 3 weeks of the a-d, I was happier than I could remember being for most of my adult life, and I've been on them ever since. I still get occasional blues and my energy levels are still a bit cyclic, but my thoughts don't get disordered, I don't get paranoid, and I can retain enough control to tell myself that the feeling will pass. On the occasions when the depression used to be bad enough for a higher-dose course of medication, I couldn't wait to get off them because of the numbing effect they had on me. On the mild dose, I get all the benefits without the side-effects, and I feel like the person I was in my twenties, before I had the first major attack of clinical depression. What really brought it home to me was a conversation I had last night when I was out at a Mensa dinner. The only person who turned up commented (in the course of general conversation) that he had only ever seen me lose my cool once, and that was just after my mother died (a year ago next Sunday). He's known me about 4 years, so that was encouraging feedback, considering the hair trigger I used to operate on when my mood was sub-optimum. It was a good moment.

So back to the daughter. She's doing well with the new prescription, we've had first contact with the mental health service, and she's getting on with her life while we wait to get to the top of the waiting list. When she's not depressed, she's a well-adjusted, achieving and friendly sixteen-year-old whom anyone would be proud to admit to living with. I got home late from visiting Dad today, and by the time I got here she'd got the washing in off the line and put it in our airing space to finish drying, and was in the process of cooking dinner. That's on top of cleaning out her rats' cage. I just feel sad that I couldn't protect her from the family curse - especially if she's inherited the suicidal form of it. Life without her is unthinkeable.

dying is kind of emo
- it's pass
é in too many ways -
please use another language
to tell me you're hurting
I promise I won't yell at you
I am so over losing my temper

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Holy cow but the time goes past fast. What have I got to show for not having been here for so long? Well, a few hats - my knitting project for March - and a much tidier garden. I've managed all but 2 days of an hour a day in the garden this month. I've weeded, pruned, planted, shifted, and cleaned up around the pond so the duck can get in and out easily. She likes to have a swim at about dusk, so once she's had it I put her to bed for the night in the aviary. This is not, you understand, a small aviary. It's 2 meters high, 3 metres across, and 8 metres long. It contains about 50 zebra finches, 6 Chinese painted quail, an elderly bunny called Twinkie, and, at night, the duck - a khaki Campbell/Indian runner cross called Clayton. As Clayton arrived as a duckling she imprinted on Twinkie, and thinks she's nocturnal. By day she hangs around with our hen, Tui, when she's awake. Being a teenager, she sleeps a lot during the day, leaving Tui to get on with her chicken-y things.

Gotta go already - the teenager has come home from making scary movies with her friends (see:

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Busy busy busy

Well, goodness. It's been three weeks since I was last here. Shows how hectic work has been. I had three meetings in one night (all prepared by me, as secretary), minutes to type up and distribute - the last job not yet done - and a magazine to publish. The magazine is fun. A couple of years ago I set myself the goal of having my own column, and now, as Editor, I have one. It's only bimonthly at this stage, for cost reasons, and my new goal is to upgrade it back to monthly, which it was until last year. Only, why would I create work for myself? Because if it's monthly it can be more timely. A lot of stuff I find on the web and in other newsletters I get can't be included, and instead I post it on the website of the organisation I work for (, but I know that that isn't the first port of call for a lot of our members. It certainly wasn't for me before I took the job. So I need to be mindful of what the members need - timely and frequent information on competitions, events and useful and interesting publications. All in good time.
I'm still getting the hang of the job. I've already missed the deadline of the first funding application I was to make, because I was foolish enough to try and have a life outside work. I went away for the weekend between the committee meeting that approved the funding application and the deadline, so I didn't get all the paperwork done. Fortunately there's another funding round in the same organisation at the same time the following month, so I'll get it done this time.
The good thing is that, working from home, I've figured out the best working routine for myself. I work in the garden in the morning and do a twenty-minute de-clutter of the house afterwards (divergence: I have lived in my house since 1973 and brought up 4 children here, the last of whom, at 16, still lives at home, and I still have nearly everything I ever acquired in my child-raising days, along with the detritus of a great many hobbies). After a post-gardening shower and lunch I aim to start work at 1pm, and work 4 hours. By doing this 5 days a week, I fulfill the requirements of a twenty-hour a week job, keep the garden looking good, and am slowly working on the house, which is much too big a job to contemplate doing any other way.
I'm not technically employed for twenty hours, but to carry out the duties outlined in my contract. However, for what I'm being paid, twenty hours is probably on the generous side, and I can keep on top of most of it in that time. And 4 hours, 5 days a week, is a good rhythm. It also means if I start late (as I sometimes do after sleeping in during a particularly demanding week) I just keep working until my 4 hours are up. It works! Without the constant demands of children, I find this very satisfying.
The best part of working from home is the dress code. That's not to say that I slop around in a house coat and slippers - no. I like my clothes too much to neglect wearing them, and I do have to pop out to the bank or Post Office occasionally. But there's no uniform, no expected standard, and I can indulge my dressing preferences in whatever way I like, which in the past has generally earned the desciption of unusual. I prefer unique, myself.
And I can take time out to watch my grandson Zac play soccer, as long as I make up the time. Or visit my dad. Or have lunch with my sister. It's all good really. Why doesn't everyone do it? Probably for the same reason it took me so long to do it - the security of properly paid employment.
Anyway, I'm happy and contented with my lot these days, which hasn't always been true, and I'm still finding the time and creative energy to write new poems. Two this week, and one of those is a re-write of one I wrote about ten years ago, which never quite seemed to work. With the benefit of ten years of experience and the increased knowledge I've gained in that time, I've managed to make it work, and I'll enter it in this year's competition (which is another thing I'm responsible for).
Enough. I've got a poem to type up and try and finish. There's one line that's giving me trouble. If you ever read (somewhere) a poem called emo serenade you'll know I resolved it. You heard of it here first.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Here's to you Mrs Robinson

I've changed the name of the blog. No reason. The old one was boring, probably. I haven't done anything shareworthy - oh except have yet another birthday. It was a good one - number 2 daughter rang me from London in the morning, I went shopping, went to the movies (of which more in a minute), drank chilli-flavoured hot chocolate, found one of those little hole-in-the-wall shops that Terry Pratchett made famous in his Discworld novels and bought a genuine macrame suspended coffee table that smells like it has been in the shop since the 70s, attended an exhibition opening without an invitation, visited number 3 daughter in her new flat (that's apartment in USA-speak), and had chocolate cake and pavlova for dinner (supper) with my sisterand number 1 daughter and her family. As the youngest (number 4) came with me and my sister to the movie and other afternoon activities, that means I actually had contact with all of my children in one day - a miraculous rarity which I am still awed and delighted by.

The movie. We went to 'A Prairie Home Companion'. We laughed. We cried. We had ice creams. We were the only three in the theatre. This is a great movie. It roller coasted between extreme emotions in the twinkle of a star, of which there were plenty in abundance. It's the first movie in which I've actually liked Meryl Streep. Kevin Klein is genius. Garrison Keilor is Garrison Keilor, and I could happily have watched the movie with my eyes closed, so restful is that familiar voice. Lindsay Lohan was suitably moody, except for her wildly exaggerated sell-out at the end of the action. It didn't need it. Go and see it.

Now I'm going out for dinner to my brother-in-law's home. It will take 15 minutes to get there, assuming we find the right street immediately which we have yet to do since he moved into his house three months ago, and we are due there in 2 minutes. The Man of the House is outside sanding the walls in readiness for painting, and will no doubt want to wash up and change. What am I doing still here?

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Book and Theatre Review

The dinner went well. No leftovers, which is a good sign. There were only 7 diners in the end - second youngest daughter's partner had an essay to write. Which didn't stop her from texting s-y-d at least 4 times during the meal because she was lonely. My English sister had a ball. She lives alone these days and misses family dinners.

I finally finished reading TC Boyle's The Inner Circle. It was good - it was TCB after all - but more character-driven than I am fond of. I like a good plot, I'm afraid. But at least I finished it, unlike Drop City, which I couldn't like.

I've also read Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy, and loved it. It took me a while to get into. At first I thought it read much like a first novel from a good idea that someone might go back to and rewrite after having a successful publication experience (as Fforde indeed has); but as I read on I became more and more aware that it is actually just as accomplished a piece of writing as the earlier books. Need I say I loved them too? It's a superbly realised crime story with a difference - all the main players are nursery rhyme characters, including Humpty Dumpty (the victim) and Jack Spratt (the seemingly overlooked but very much under-estimated detective). References to other fictional detectives (Inspector Moose of Oxford, and Inspector Dogleash) are amusing, and the short newspaper items that introduce each chapter are mini masterpieces of fictional journalism. A great example of two merged genres: fantasy and crime. And I think there's a Fford I might have missed, so I'll have to have a look for it next time I'm at the library.

However, much as I enjoyed Spratt's crime-solving genius, I have to say the highlight of my last few weeks has been Menopause, the Musical! This stage show knocks the socks off anything I've seen in years. It helps that I knew most of the songs that were adapted for the show ("It's my body, and I'll cry if I want to", "Just stand and fan" [to "Stand by your man"], and "My thighs" ["My guy"]) to name the most memorable ones. "Fever" hardly needed adapting at all! Baby boomers unite - you've nothing to lose but your hot flushes. It's not only hysterically, eye-wateringly funny, it's remarkably empowering, and the scriptwriters and talented performers achieved it without once diminishing men in the process. The man sitting in front of me (surrounded by middle-aged and elderly women) laughed as hard as anyone. It's very impressive, and I'll probably have to go and see it again. It'll be worth the cost for the Tina Turner parody alone.

The comet is still barely visible, on the nights when the sky is as well, but it won't be for much longer. It's been fun.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Eating on a holiday

It's Sunday of a three-day weekend, and it feels like there's no urgency to do anything. I guess that's the holiday feeling. Though I have plenty to do - I've got 8 people to cook dinner for tonight. Have a barbie, I hear you say.

Sorry - the whole entertaining thing is not mine. I read lots of house and garden books and magazines (because I love design and seeing what's possible), and I'm so over the whole indoor-outdoor flow thing. Isn't there anyone in suburbia who can honestly admit, 'actually I hate entertaining a crowd, can never think what to feed them, and wish I could afford to eat out with people instead'? No. Those people don't spend a squillion dollars renovating their houses. We are the ones whose aforesaid crowds would have to slum it on a rotting deck and eat whatever vegetables are left in the bottom of the fridge 2 nights before shopping day.

So why am I doing it? Because my daughter and her partner (both university students) come to dinner after they work on Sundays, have a regular family meal sitting at the table telling jokes and reminiscing about the time Dad got his leg stuck in the deck after stomping on it in his size 8s to see which bits were rotten (and other such family treasures), and then we watch 2 episodes of Buffy (we're half way through season three). Now that's what I call entertainment.

Only tonight there are complications. My brother-in-law offered to come and set up new email addresses in the wake of getting broadband (since I remain stubbornly incompetent about this sort of thing, and still know more than the man of the house) and so I asked if he wanted to come for dinner at the same time. His response was suspiciously rapid - it must be a while since I last invited him. And my sister (the English one) is currently on her own as Dad (with whom she is staying) has gone off on a road trip with his marginally younger brother (they are both in their 80s) to see my ailing cousin, so I suggested she come as well, so she can catch up with weekly-visitor-daughter (and partner) and brother-in-law (and partner).

So there's me (who doesn't normally eat an evening meal, and no starchy foods), youngest daughter (vegetarian, hates carrots), second-youngest daughter (carb queen, no vegetables), s-y-d's partner (fussy eater like myself, but not as easily managed, as I haven't known her long enough), sister (prefers raw food only, but willing to adapt for company), and three men with hearty appetites who will eat anything, thank goodness, though one likes his food as spicy as possible and the others are fond of mild curries only. Where do you start?

It's going to be roast venison (the man of the house is a hunter - it's our staple meat) sliced and served with a bed of rice and whatever vegetables I can find in the bottom of the fridge 2 nights before ... cut up large so they can be extracted as necessary, in a rough approximation of a moderately spicy Senegalese dish technically based on fish. Plus falafels. And a completely indulgent dessert because everyone likes Eton Mess (except possibly second youngest daughter who, inexplicably, doesn't like cream. But there's ice cream as well). The barbecue (and Buffy) won't even get a look-in.

PS We managed to see the comet on night 2, only just, as the clouds were at the horizon, but McNaught was barely above them, then last night it rained, so no luck on night 3.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Comet excitement

Wow! I got to see a real comet. I mean, I saw Halley's in 1984, but it was a pipsqueak compared to McNaught. It appeared in a miraculously clear patch of sky in the south west above the hills of Wellington at about 9.45pm on 19th January, and it actually looked like a comet, with a real tail and everything. Initially, watchers thought it was moving fast across the sky, but it soon became apparent that it wasn't moving - the clouds were being particularly vigorous in creating the illusion of movement on the comet's part.

One cool aspect of the experience was that I was with my sister, who lives in England and with whom I'd been to Te Papa (NZ's national museum) and dinner, so it was a special thing to do together. The comet was bright enough to see with the naked eye (through the pinhole of my clenched fist in my case, as I forgot my glasses) before there were an appreciable number of stars out, and despite the city lights reflecting off the clouds.

I hope to see it again tonight; possibly not so bright, as "they" said last night would be the best night to view it, but I'm thinking the cloud cover is not really clearing. It looked promising this afternoon, but things have taken a turn for the worse, weather-wise.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Joining up

Well, I don't know what to expect, but it seemed like a good idea to have a blog. I've long been computer-phobic and now I have a job in which I maintain a website. Go figure. So now I garden in the mornings and spend my afternoons at the computer. It's not how I expected my life to go, but it seems to work. This is my first post, and I haven't actually decided on a theme yet. I kind of thought I would do my personal profile first and that would suggest something to me, but I haven't discovered a way to do it yet. I expect there'll be a lot about books, mainly the ones I'm reading at any given time.

eg I'm currently reading T C Boyle's The Inner Circle. I first read The Tortilla Curtain and loved it, then I had a go at Drop City and hated it. Didn't finish it, though I tried really hard. It was just too fragmented - I couldn't get familiar enough with the characters to care about them, and the narrative was hard to follow and basically not that interesting. When I stopped reading, at p.140, I had no curiosity about what happened to anyone when they were left to their own devices. Obviously I'm not enough of an ageing hippy to relate.

The first-person narrator of The Inner Circle isn't particularly likeable - a bit self-absorbed, if anything - but at least I'm interested enough to wonder what's going to happen. And I am enjoying the adventure of assessing the plausibility of the character study of Dr Alfred Kinsey (yes, that Dr Kinsey), which so far is quite convincing.

So, today I've finished composting the roses in the aviary (50+ zebra finches, 6 Chinese quail, an antiquated miniature rabbit, and a duckling of uncertain breed who appeared on the neighbour's front lawn last week and is resisting all our efforts to become friends), emptying the compost bin in the process. I started to turn the middle bin (there are three of them) into the finishing off one and then the timer rang to tell me I'd finished my allotted time and I put down my spade in great relief. I'm out of condition, clearly.

Work consisted of updating the info on the website, as I do every day, answering emails, dealing with the mail I collected last Friday, put in a bag and forgot about (oops) and drafting a letter asking for a quote for some equipment I plan to apply for a grant for. It doesn't sound very exciting put like that, but I love organising things, and being in sole charge of the organisation that pays me is so much better than my previous job, where my working conditions were at the mercy of an incompetent team leader who didn't actually know what I did, and the structure of my days was determined by some underpaid minions in a call/contact centre who knew even less.

When I started to work from home people told me I would have to figure out how to resist the temptation to procrastinate by putting in a load of washing, or start dinner, or whatever. Well, hello! Isn't that the point of working from home? That you can do those things, and not have to try and fit them around someone else's schedule? So I do. Because otherwise I'd be staring at the screen all afternoon, and everyone knows that's not good for you. Ok, so I get to go out and check the post box or bank cheques and that sort of stuff, but when I was in my previous job, I didn't work non-stop. Does anybody? So this works. It's taken me nearly 4 months to figure out the best schedule for me, but it takes that long to settle into a new job anyway, doesn't it? Actually, I don't know the answer to that. I was in my other job for 26 years, right from when I left university. It's only in the last year that the working conditions changed and became impossible - before that I was reasonably happy, doing my work efficiently and effectively.

That's probably enough for one posting.