Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bryn's last year at primary school...

Today was a big milestone day in this house; our Bryn started his final year in primary school. Every time I thought of this day during the last year, I felt my guts jig. Like almost every other parent whose child seems to be growing at the speed of light in front of them, I stand gaping helplessly at the prospect of my baby leaving home. Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself, but seriously, I'm afraid to blink. Don't blink, whatever you do, just don't blink.

I've posted most of these photos in another post on this blog, but he's so cute, I don't think it'll do any harm to repost them all these years later.

Look at those shorts! They're like culottes, he inherited them from his big brothers, and Ari just grew out of them last year. His uniform was all size 4 and it still swam on him.

He had great hair, don't you think? The relevance of this question will become clear further down. He was pretty excited that morning. He'd spent the previous 3.5 years tagging along with me to drop offs and pick ups, so to him, the school was 'his' and he had been counting down the sleeps to this morning.

Erik and Luey were starting
grades 4 and 3 respectively. Luey was pretty happy to not be the 'youngest' Bird boy at school anymore. We only lived a few hundred metres down the road from the school - on the same street - so the plan was for the  boys would walk Bryn to school and home again. Not during the first month, because he was finishing early during those weeks but after that. So, that morning we 'practiced' with them walking him to school by letting them walk ahead.

Seriously, how cute were they?

Like his brothers, Bryn went on to love going to school. He had the same opportunity as the others to come home and be homeschooled if he changed his mind about formal education - he never did.

Sadly, unlike the older two, Bryn was not able to finish primary school at the one school. A year and a half ago, we transferred the younger boys to a new school when the old school failed Ari. Bryn was not a fan of this move. His friends at the other school had been a bit hit and miss when it came to consistency and decency, though, and it didn't take long before Bryn made new friends at the new school. His new friends have made a great difference to his sense of belonging, rounding out his school experience.

So, today he started the last year of primary school. He's exploring his identity as an emo and so you will not be able to see half his face in these last couple of photos. Being his totally lame mum (do we still use the word lame?), I much prefer the hair he took with him into prep. Setting that aside, I can tell he was swinging between being pretty chuffed at being one of the oldest kids at school - a senior, and knowing that at the end of the year he'll be saying goodbye to some of his friends.

Uncharacteristically, he was actually okay with having his photo taken. He didn't hide behind his hands, which is the current, expected response to having a camera pointed in his general direction.

Um, just to kind of mirror the photo at the top of the blog with the three boys in it, I had our youngest baby join the boys in Bryn's old position...

Finally, here is the obligatory side-by-side. Someone said to me that he's changed a fair bit. Being his mum, I really can't see it. Yes, his face is longer, his chin less pointing (because his not grinning), his hair is just awful (C'mon, I can say that, can't I? I'm sure it was in the parenting handbook...). But his eyes are still gentle. 

Honestly, it scares me a little that next year he'll be starting high school. That's pretty much how I
felt when he was in 4 year old kinder. Primary school seemed like a big place for such a little person. He grew into it, he'll grown into high school, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, I'm going to savour this last year of him being a primary schooler - even if he is a proud older-than-most-of-the-others grade 6er.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Home [mini] reno...

Whoa! It has been a busy week! I can't believe it's the weekend already, and even the weekend is looking chockers. School starts back on Tuesday for the younger boys. These school holidays seemed to disappear into a vacuum. It wasn't so many years ago, that the holidays seemed to drag on with bored kids, and chaos and mayhem. These holidays have been low-key, but not boring.

This week - well, since last weekend - has been all about a mini renovation of the living room. Here's what it looked like before last weekend...

We started off by relieving the furniture gridlock. Over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we passed on the bits and pieces in the picture below... Oh, a funny story! See the cabinet with the glass door, and the bust at the bottom. Well, the lady who put her hand up for the cabinet also asked if the bust was available. I had to tell her that was my dad's head that my mum had sculpted, and so, no, my dad's head was not for sale!

Next. we took the coffee table to my parents. My step-dad had built it for Dave and me when Erik and Luey were tiny. It replaced a rickety old coffee table because Erik was in the habit of climbing on the coffee table leaving us wondering how long it would be before it collapsed under him. I had stained and varnished the table, but the plan was always to sand it back once the boys had stopped using it as a stage, or to sharpen their teeth on. At the time, we couldn't have known that would be another two boys and 15 years later. Step-dad sanded away the orangey stain, a red texta scribble by Erik (don't worry, I took a photo of it first), and all manner of dents from tooth marks (I wasn't kidding about that tooth sharpening), wooden toys, cutlery, and who even wants to know what else. It came up beautifully. I was surprised to see just how lovely the wood grain was!

The stain on the legs had been too thick and looked like rust coloured paint. I hadn't sealed the legs at all because I always meant to sand them back myself, but just didn't get around to it. Step-dad sanded the legs back and this time I decided to paint them white. Dave absolutely loathes painted wood furniture, so I had to put my foot down about this decision...

Not too shabby (chic), hey? Well, not shabby at all, actually. We oiled the top with linseed and turps. I'm so happy with the end result. I think the legs really lighten to the impact of the sturdy table in the small living room area. Dave doesn't hate it either...

I couldn't wait to put a runner and candles on it as soon as we got home. It looks so Scandinavian!

By the end of the weekend the living room looked much lighter and brighter over all. It was nice to have a fresh look to start the year with. On Monday, I hung a star tea light holder I'd previously hung in the hallway the Christmas before last. The hall ceiling is so high that the led light star just seemed to disappear above our heads. In its new position, the star not only breaks up the white space, but gets to be enjoyed. I put coasters on the coffee table - for the first time ever - and we're even using them! Got to protect that new surface, you know.

All these renos were finished just in time for Harlem's first mum to visit and meet us for the first time - how serendipitous, hey? As you can see, the living room is now a great compliment to Harlem's prettiness!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

New horizons...

Yesterday, I withdrew from the doctorate I've been working on for the past 3.5 years. I received condolences on my loss, but none are needed. This is a happy change for me.

I had come to realise that the reasons I entered the doctorate either no longer applied or were not going to be realised by continuing on. With the difficulties I had been having with my supervisor because of her inappropriate comments on my life outside of the doctorate, and her persistently unstable emotional state - swinging wildy and unpredictably from extreme praise to extreme displeasure in the span of a week - it was a relief to realised I need not continue in this abusive relationship.

Having spoken to the powers that be, I found understanding for my position, but nothing suitable as a proposed solution. It was a compromise which would see me working with a panel of academics overseeing my progress which seemed feasible. However, this panel would still include the supervisor who was causing me both mental and physical distress (I was suffering anxiety, depression, migraines, low blood pressure, increased insomnia, stress induced seizures). It was a compromise that would cost me far more than it would cost the university.

At the meeting yesterday, it was suggested that with such a short period of time until I finished, it would be a shame for me to withdraw. I explained that I felt the degree was not offering me the practical skills experiences I had hoped to develop and build on. I had been actively discouraged by my supervisor from writing and presenting papers, or attending conferences after having done these things just once - not attending and presenting at conferences meant no way to network and get the word out about my research. I had not been offered any research assistant or tutoring work.

The head of school told me yesterday that these things were not 'that important' to gaining employment as an academic. This made me laugh. I told him, I had no hope of becoming an academic, that I - and my peers -  had been told on multiple occasions that the competition for academic positions was getting tighter. Although I would have a PhD, I would not have experience or publications to back it up. I would not be able to compete with other applicants.

He said there was plenty of work outside the academy, I counter that it was not necessary for creative writer to have a PhD to write or work in the field of writing. He said many workplaces require or prefer applicants with doctorates. Then we returned to square one, me not having publications or practical experience and therefor not being able to compete with all the other applicants with PhDs, anyway.

I told him I am 45 years old and do not have the time to waste on a degree that will not benefit me in the long run. By the time I graduate I would be 47, going on 48. He said there were people in their 70s getting PhDs. I said, 'But they're not working, are they? They're filling time. I didn't enter the doctoral program to fill in time. I entered to become more employable, and this degree is failing to make me so.'

He asked me what work I wanted to do, did I want to be a high school teacher? Honestly, if I had wanted to do that I would have done a degree in secondary teaching. I told him I want a job where I can make a real difference in a person's life, not sit around theorising about writing. There are swaths of industries in which research is paramount; science, psychology, even sociology. Research is not paramount in creative writing (literature, yes, creative writing, no).

Even if I have to volunteer my time to help people who actually do need help, that will be better than volunteering my time to write a thesis no one will ever read. The time to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk has arrived.

Finally, he realised I was determined to withdraw, and so I did.

I already have projects lined up. I will be launching my novel in April, and (thanks to the creative writing I did during the degree), I have 3/4 of another manuscript down on paper (or is it computer file), and will now work on finishing it.

I have completed some training to become a community educator for Guide Dogs Victoria. I have put my hand up to work on a two year exhibition in the city - also with Guide Dogs. I have signed up with a pre-employment course at Vision Australia - just to be on the safe side, because well, we are living below the bread line in this house - considerably lower than we ever have before.

I am going to approach both Guide Dogs and Vision Australia for more volunteer work in the next week.

It's all go here, and I'm already feeling so much better than I have in a long time. Already this year, just in the month of January,  feels like it is going to be a great year; getting my manuscript publish, have my teeth fixed, setting plans in motion to live a life of giving.

But this year is not about me. This year is about being present for other people.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Summer bucket list...

I'm a doer. I tend to like to 'think up problems' as Dave puts it, and then want to solve them YESTERDAY.

Of course, I don't see it that way at all. From my perspective it's more like identifying areas of potential improvement and then hatching a plan to IMPROVE. I like my version better.

So, the things I've decided to improve this summer...

1.  Repack the garage. You know how it is, everything is nicely stacked and put away, and you get a new tv, or it's someone's birthday and they get a something is a box, or the dog food comes in these big, frankly, unnecessary boxes. Hello, supplier? You're delivering by courier to the door, and the food is already in a tough bag and really isn't going to burst. Honestly, it's just fine without the boxes - which are now a shrine to cardboard in my garage.

2. Tidy and sweep out the laundry. Our laundry is downstairs, next to the garage, and has a badly stain cement floor, so we don't bother washing it. Over time, the laundry becomes a depository for old clothing that is no longer useful - usually worn out and torn. It is also a repository for Dave's ever-growing collection of liquid detergent bottle. I think he thinks they'll come in handy one day. That day has not come yet.

3. Organise hard rubbish collection for the old Bunkers bunks, the old washer dryer that died when we moved to this house (we replaced it with an analogue old Simpson that cost us $40 and has worked hard for the past two and a bit years).

4. Clear out the little boys toy/hoarding cubes in their Expedit shelves from Ikea. It's been a while since the last purge of little bits of paper, cardboard creations, baby toys they've forgotten they even had, and unrecognisable broken bits of plastic they cling to, whispering, 'My Preciousssss"

5. Rid the house of furniture that we no longer even realise is 'there'. Things that aren't particularly useful, and that we keep walking past and not even noticing because they've 'just always been there'.

6. Donate my CCTV to Vision Australia now that I'm decided to withdraw from my PhD. I received it from them to help me with my studies, but I'm not going to use it enough to justify keeping it to myself when there are students out there who can't afford their own but who would benefit greatly from have access to a CCTV.

How is my bucket list going? Well,

1. The garage is mostly done - just a few more things have to be sorted and taken to the op shop.

2. The laundry has been cleared and swept out - it looks amazing compared to how it looked before.

3. The hard rubbish pick up will be here next week and the things going onto the nature strip are set up in the driveway ready to be moved to the grass.

4. The boys' boxes have not been tackled yet, but there is still time before school goes back.

5. The furniture has been listed and the grandfather clock, cabinet, and candelabra have all been claimed and will be picked up before the end of the weekend. The corner tv stand is still looking for a new home.

6. I have yet to contact Vision Australia but I'll do that by the end of this week.

So far, so good.. There is always something else I can do but if I get through this bucket list I'll be very happy with the achievements these summer holidays!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hospital policy and Ari's birth...

Every now and then I see someone ask about birth weights and times of delivery (whether before or after 40 weeks). It's always a bit of shock to the system when the inevitable prem birth (36 weeks or earlier) is mentioned. Often these prem babies weigh the same, if not more than Ari did at birth.

You see, Ari was born at 41 weeks and three days. So, a week and a half past his estimated due date. He weighed 2.6kg, which is the average weight of a baby born at 36 weeks.

For having been born at 41.5, Ari was in the 3rd percentile for gestational age. Now, that in itself is not significant - many smaller babies are small because their parents (particularly, the mothers) are small in stature. Small babies are not surprising in those cases.

However, my first three babies were 4.5, 4.0, and 3.9kg each. So, my babies tended to be bigger than average for gestational age, not smaller.

This has often had me wondering what would have happened if I had been managed within the hospital system. Would I have been monitored with more ultrasounds? Would Ari have been considered at risk for failure to thrive? Would I possibly have been induced early?

Ari was average length for my kids, about 51cm. He did have the smallest head circumference, though, at 31.4cm, basically PI! The others had been 38.5cm (yes, really, and yes, that did hurt), 36cm and 37cm. So, Ari's head circumference was also significantly smaller than my other babies (mind you, he's gifted, so small head does not equate small intelligence capacity).

Ari was born at home. His birth was boring and uncomplicated - and fast, a whole hour of active labour. He wasn't sick in any way. I did have to send a friend out to buy him 00000 baby rompers (which were big on him), because my kids had never been smaller than 0000 - and then only for two weeks or so. That's was probably the most exciting thing about his birth.

Would he have had such a peaceful, uncomplicated birth in a hospital?

I guess I'll never know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bryn's holiday...

It's been pretty quiet around the house for the past few days. We're experiencing what it would have been like to have two kids.

Very quiet.

Too quiet (I know Dave doesn't believe there is any such thing as 'too quiet', but this is my blog, and for me it's just too quiet).

Mind you, that said, I have to say, of our four, the pairing of Lukas and Ari was alway going to be the most harmonious. They're both so laid back - Ari does chill with a fair bit of energy, but he's a cheerful kid who doesn't get stroppy because someone is looking at him in an annoying way. I'm pretty sure those two get that easy going nature from their dad, because they sure as hell don't get is from their mum. Had we had just Erik and Bryn here, it would have been quite a different story. Both of those boys are very emotionally charged - yes, they probably get that from their mother. I'm not criticising them at all, it's just how it is. They're highly strung and they haven't  gotten along in forever.

So, anyway, quiet, too quiet.

So, Bryn has gone away with a friend's family to a camping site down the coast. It was very nice of them to invite him, especially as he's gone for ten whole days. From what he's said so far - which isn't a lot - he's having a good time going to the beach, eating food cooked over open fire. I'm sure he's getting minimal sleep, and I'm wondering how he's going changing his phone - poor millennial... I swear that's not the sound of me laughing... Well, maybe just a bit.

He's managed to lose a hoodie already, I'm glad I insisted on him taking a second one. Being the clothes horse that he is, the photo above was only taken a few hours after he left our place, and it's not the same outfit we saw him off in. I hope he didn't wear all his clothes in two days. Washing machines doing usually get packed in sleeping bags...

Poor Bryn has always suffered keenly from middle child syndrome - Luey is also a middle child, but apparently he didn't get the syndrome, lucky kid. Bryn tends to feel like he's always missing. In the real world, where the rest of us live - he really isn't.  For example, he's the first of our kids to ever have a sleep over. Now he's gone away during the holidays, which none of the others have - well, not including Erik, of course. Erik will be  doing all sorts of things we could never provide for our boys.

edited to add

Sorry, I just had to add this photo I just came across while writing another blog post... Poor middle child...

I'm very happy for Bryn, in any case.

But, it is very quiet.

Friday, January 13, 2017

50 things about me...

1 - I cannot sit still, it makes me irritable. I have to be shaking my legs, or bouncing, or swinging in a chair. (I LOVE my egg chair!)

2 - The only reality shows I like are 'Real Crimes' shows.

3 - I haven't read a novel in at least for years, and I haven't listened to one either. As a writer, I have a strange kind of guilt about this.

4 - I get eye strain so bad that it feels like my eyes are swollen and on the brink of bursting. I get eye strain in both eyes even though I can't see a damn thing out of the left eye. It just doesn't seem fair.

5 - I like Brussels sprouts.

6 - Coconut oil smells like vomit to me.

7 - My kids and I share a wicked sense of humour that poor Dave just doesn't get. It's quick and a lot like sparring, but all in good fun. He just thinks we're talking nonsense. I secretly love that I've passed my sense of humour onto them.

8 - I love modern art.

9 - I've cried at the deaths of five public personalities. In order:  John Candy, because he seemed like such a nice guy and he died so suddenly; Princess Di (I cried for three days straight), not for her so much as for the loss of life, of a person who struggled so much with themselves and with their reality -just when they seemed to have found some peace; Whitney Houston because her voice was so beautiful and her life with Bobby Brown had changed her so much - I always hoped she find her way back to a safe place, and then she died; Robin Williams because he brought so much joy, and insight, and talent, and hair to the world but succumb to a disorder that robbed him of his ability to see how much people needed, appreciated, and loved him; finally - of course - George Michael. My George whose voice made everything better. I just can't believe he's gone.

10 - I have terrible insomnia, as I write this it is 6am and I haven't slept all night. Melatonin fixes my insomnia, but I ran out a month ago and haven't been able to afford to get any more.

11 - I'm a neat freak, except in my own bedroom where I have a magnificent  floordrobe!

12 - I like me coffee white and my toast black - okay, not black, but quite brown.

13 - I love courtroom dramas as a movie genre.

14 - I don't like to get wet, but once I'm in water, I'm in my element! I am the sort of person to needs a shower to wash off their day.

15 - Elephants are my familiar, my totem animals, and I often get gifts featuring elephants because I love them so much.

16 - I'm addicted to research. I am constantly researching something, whether it is the life of someone in history or popularity, or the etymology of a word, or cultures and subcultures. If I don't have something to research, I feel unsettled.

17 - I love to paint, or rather pour paint. I'm a colourist rather than a painter.

18 - I'm a post-duelist, I believe there is no good or bad, not right or wrong, no beginning or end. Every is everything else.

19 - I'm superstitious in some ways. I believe the number 27 and George Michael singing are auspicious to me. I believe the connection speaks to each of us in a language we understand and for me seeing the number 27 or hearing George Michael is having the connection tell me to take note of my surroundings.

20 - Likewise, I believe if I'm creating something, a social media entry, a baked good, a story, and it is undone in some way, it means, 'Stop. This is not the right direction - try something else.'

21 - Feet gross me out.

22 - I loathe wearing shoes, they cause me to feel claustrophobic.

23 - I crave sunlight, but am not an outdoorsy person.

24 - People who don't own their choices are people I can't be friends with.

25 - I believe sexuality is fluid and cannot be categorized as 'straight', 'gay', 'bi', 'trans' or 'a'. I do not categories myself as any of these.

26 - I don't like the colour brown.

27 - I love silence.

28 - I worry about monopolizing conversations. I know I do it, and I'm constantly trying to keep it under control. The struggle is real.

29 - I can zone out to scary levels, like ,'I didn't notice the truck that just crashed through our lounge room wall' scary.

30 - My current favourite word is 'shenanigans' and I can't seem to find an appropriate time or place to use it, which is annoying.

31 - My current least favourite word is reconnoiter. I didn't even know how to spell it and Google was not very helpful at all! That word gets stuck in my head like an earworm - my brain repeating it over and over like the song that never ends.

32 - Morning light makes me sneeze.

33 - I have discovered my favourite coffee cup and convinced myself if it ever breaks, I'll just have to stop drinking coffee.

34 - I didn't know I had blue eyes until I was 44, and when I found out I was so excited because I always wanted blue eyes.

35 - My passport says I have hazel eyes. I want a new passport.

36 - I have a goal to visit Hawaii. I've been to Iceland, Japan, and New Zealand - all with similar landscapes because they are situated where two tectonic plates converge, and I feel like I need to go to Hawaii to finish some sort of quest.

37 - I've decided to rename my next guide dog Sherlock, I don't care if it is a boy or a girl, it will be Sherlock.

38 - Most of the nic-nacs in my house are made by family members, be they pottery, paintings, statues, furniture, or craft works (the nic-nacs, not the family) - and this is why I'll never be a minimalist.

39 - I gag every time I brush my teeth.

40 - Being ambidextrous, I can apply mascara with either hand, so no mascara on the bridge of the nose for me.

41 - I can thread a needle in seconds with my eyes closed. I have a 95% first attempt hit rate.

42 - I can't wink or whistle.

43 - I am a whiz with bedding. I can fold fitted sheets and dress a duvet in less than a minute - and therefore I am relegated to doing these jobs every time. Yay...

44 - I love telling stories - but couldn't read a story aloud if my life depended on it.

45 - I can take any snippet of conversation I hear and build a story around it.

46 - I am profoundly aware that strangers' lives carry on after I see them - and I'm extremely curious what those lives are about.

47 - The incorrect use of subject/verb agreement by native English speakers is like fingernails on a chalk board for me, as is people using 'I' when they should be using 'me' - hint: it is not always 'X and I...'.

48 - I love road trips.

49 - Reading braille gives me motion sickness.

50 - Nothing is as satisfying to me as making people laugh. If I had a super power I'd want to be that.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mine and Harlem's One Year Anniversary!

(This post was written on the 11th of January, but because Princess - that's Harlem, not me, in case you're confused - needed a toilet break, it didn't get posted until after midnight)

One year ago today, I went to the Guide Dogs Victoria campus and was shown my room and told to settle in and then come to the common room.

I remember feeling just a little disappointed that Harlem wasn't brought to my room immediately, but figured it would be soon. That was at 9am.

During the morning I and five other new guide dog handlers listened to talks about the history of guide dogs, how to care for a guide dog, how the pet insurance we were given would work, and how to monitor our dogs for health and wellbeing.

Then we had lunch.

After lunch we did some training with our instructors on how to use the harness, and what basic commands we'd need up front - and how to give those commands (it's definitely not as simple as saying, 'Take me to the shops.'

All of this was done with the instructors holding the harness and walking in front of us. They showed us the right positioning in relation to our guides when walking and when standing still.

But no dogs were to be seen.

Then we sat in the common room again. By now we were all getting a bit antsy, and so after a talk about public behaviour and how to handle people who wanted to pet or otherwise distract our guide, the instructor asked, 'Any more questions?' and one of the other students asked what was on all of our minds, 'Are we ever going to meet our dogs?'

The instructor smiled and said it was finally time and that we should go to our rooms and wait for our dogs to be brought to us, and then we'd have fifteen minutes in our rooms alone with them before any more training happened.

Lord that wait was long! I remember sitting on the bed, then getting up and checking my hair - because, you know, the dog might want a respectable looking owner. Then trying to be casual and sitting at my desk checking Facebook, and finally sitting on my bed again, waiting, waiting.

Then there was a knock on the door and my trainer, Luca, asked if it was okay to come in. I wanted to yell, 'Of course it is, bring him in NOW, put me out of my misery, I've been waiting seven months already, hurry it up!' But I couldn't because we'd been instructed to be very calm when the dogs came in and let them approach us.

Luca opened the door and Harlem all but lunged at me. I soon learned this is how he greets everyone, whether he knows them or not - he is a very social dog and I've yet to see a person he doesn't like!

We were given our 15 minutes together and he sniffed around the room, while I sat on the bed, then came to me. Then he went to the bedroom door and sniffed at the bottom of the door and started whining. I was a bit unsure at this point, maybe he didn't like me?

This is also part of his personality. He becomes very attached to his carer. He was extremely attached to Luca and didn't like being separated from him at all. For our entire three weeks together he remained focused on Luca, and it worried me. I really had nothing to worry about, though.

Over the next three weeks we spent every moment together, except on weekends. The first weekend it was hard to leave him. On the second weekend, I was holding back tears as we left. On the third weekend he came home with me to stay forever. The best way I can describe my feelings that day is that it was as close to bringing home each of my boys for the first time as it could possibly be.

That day was the 29th of January, but I still consider this day to by our first anniversary because a year ago today we started our guide-and-handler relationship and team work.

To celebrate today, we went for one of our most familiar walks to the local shopping centre. On the way he led me around a car parked across the footpath, and safely back off the road onto the footpath. He took me to the curb of each street I needed to cross and when it was necessary, he targeted the pole for the lights. He targeted the library doors and the empty seat at the information desk. He led me around the higgledy-piggledy book shelves, and then took me out and found the foot path again. He found the entrance to the shopping centre, and Maccas where Bryn and I bought drinks. Then he targeted an empty table and chairs for us. Finally, he took me home again. We work like a well oiled machine now.

Harlem is also my companion. I suffer from agoraphobia, which is vision related, and he has supported me when out and about, making sure I don't walk into people which is one of my greatest fears. Unlike a cane which will tell you there is an obstruction in front by making contact with it - whether it's a chair, or another person - Harlem makes sure I sail right past obstacles. No more tripping people over with the cane!

He, like all loyal pets, is sensitive to my emotions and will come to comfort me if I'm not feeling well, and share my excitement when I'm feeling great!

He comes with me everywhere. We've seen a few movies together. If he likes a movie - he liked Rogue One - he'll stick his nose between the seats in front of me and watch it with me. If he's not impress - ahem, The Girl on the Train - he'll go to sleep.

Harlem loves his work and whines if he thinks I'm going out without him - this happened a few times when he was recovery from surgery in August/September/October. He gets very excited when the brush and cloth come out because it means going to work.

For about four months in the past twelve months, he wasn't able to work due to injury and surgery. Boy did we both know it. I pretty much didn't leave the house until the last three weeks of his recovery and I loathed using the cane, so only went out with other people who I could use as sighted guide (people with vision who basically do the job of the guide dog). But we survived and have been working together for the past three months now.

When Harlem was recovering, it looked like he might not be able to work anymore and that I might need to get another guide. While we've long since decided he would spend his retirement with us, we were all sad for him that he might not be able to work anymore because he loves working so much. For now though, he is fine. When the other leg goes as well- there is a 95% chance it will - , he will probably need to retire so we're hoping that doesn't happen for a few years yet.

Let me tell you a little about who Harlem is.

~ He is loyal (all dogs are, given the opportunity), which means if I go into another room and he can't come with him, he'll lie down in front of the door waiting for me to come back out.
~ He is a guts. When it's breakfast time, he'll start begging and drooling. If I'm sitting down, he'll sit in front of me, as if to attention, and if I ignore him, he'll shift his weight as if to say, 'Notice me!" but he'll never break contact with me and if I look up, he'll be right there waiting to catch my eye. He never tries to lunge at the food and eat it as soon as it's in the bowl, he'll sit still as a statue waiting for me to give him the command to 'Go!' One time, I got distracted while putting the measuring cup away, and I left the kitchen with our giving him the command. A couple of minutes passed before I came back, and he was still sitting there waiting for the command to eat. He wolfs his food down in 10 seconds flat - I've timed him.

~ He dreams every evening, and he runs and barks in his dreams. For many months that was the only time we heard him barked, and it was a muted 'bubble' bark, which sounds like cartoon bubbles popping. Finally, one day he barked at something and it took us all by surprise because it was such a deep, solid bark. He is not a barker.

~ He grumbles when he doesn't get his way. That is, he actually mutters under his breath in a disgruntled manner. It makes us all laugh, and I usually say, 'Now, don't you take that tone with me, mister.'

~ He vomits at a drop of a hat! This dog vomits on average once a week - usually from anticipating dinner. He can start licking his lips up to an hour and a half before dinner, and that is never a good sign. We tell him to stop licking, and often he will stop, but sometimes it's just too late, and he'll eventually start heaving and then he'll vomit. He does it at home, and he does it when we're out if it's close to dinner time. Even the trainers are perplexed about this idiosyncrasy.

~ He loves his plushies, and never rips them apart. He snuggles up to them every night, and is a cute as can be. We have many photos of him hugging his panda bear.

~ His all time favourite treats are carrots - which we have given the covert name of, 'Orange sticks of joy' so he won't get too excited when they come out. He can't hear the difference between 'carrot' and 'cat', so we ask him if he wants' a 'cat' - which we think is hilarious, but might one day get us all into a lot of trouble.

~ At 2.5 he's still such a puppy, and I'm kind of thinking he'll always be a puppy even when he's a 12 year old, Grumpy Old Man.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Working each day at a time...

Change is hard.

They said it takes six weeks for a new habit to form. I tend to think it's not so much about time as it is about mindset. Remembering that you are trying to make a change is probably the hardest part.

I keep finding myself slipping into the habits I am leaving behind. It's a two step forward, one step back situation. It's about developing persistence, reminding yourself to remember each day, only that day. If you can stay on course that day, it is one drop of water on the stone.

When my kids were little, before Bryn and Ari were born, I had very unhealthy ways of dealing with the daily stress of parenting. I would blow up when stressed, I would throw stuff, slam things, and yes, I smacked. I smacked a lot. I smacked every day, often more than once a day. I have a lot shame about that period of parenting, and in so many ways, I see the negative impact it had on the older boys - particularly Erik, who took the brunt of my anger.

Knowing I was doing wrong, I swore every day I'd find a better way. Every day I seemed to fall back into the old habits of just going with the anger, the frustration, and the fear.

It honestly took years. Years of regret, years of apologising to my boys like an alcoholic the night after a bender. Slowly, far too slowly, but slowly I reigned in my behaviour. I found other ways to deal with my feelings. I worked on seeing the world from my boys' perspective. I read books on empathy and acknowledging their feelings and mine. I read books on the stages of development. I sought help from doctors and counsellors to recognise the issues I was having and to find help. To ask for help.

Things changed, but only once I started working one day at a time, one situation at a time. I learned to walk away, then to listen, then to see their perspective, then to empathise. I found ways to talk to them and to breathe to give us all a chance. Finally, I discovered humour. Seeing the ridiculous in a tantrum over cup colour. Seeing my stress over mess that would only happen again tomorrow anyway. Seeing that they honestly believed their world would end if they had to go to bed at the usual time - because, you know, obviously we were waiting until they went to bed to have ALL THE FUN.

My point here is that time alone would not have changed my bad parenting habits. I had to work on my attitude towards the change. I had to accept that I wasn't going to be perfect, that I had to own my failings - it wasn't my kids' faults that I failed to reign in my temper, that was all on me. It wasn't my parents fault for not setting a good example, I remember how it felt to be afraid when their temper rose, so there was no reason to believe my kids experienced different feelings when my temper rose.

Like any change, I had to own my past and move on to my future.

This is integrity, and integrity is my ultimate life goal.

So, the new habits; I acknowledge my back steps and remind myself in each situation what I will achieve and how I will achieve that. Sometimes, I ignore myself, but that is wholly on me.

Change is hard. Change is worth it.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

The best day of my life... This year.

Yesterday was so exciting for me that I crashed into bed before having a chance to blog about the big event of the day.

I signed the contract for my book!

This is surreal for me. I've been talking about getting a book published for so long now - since I started this blog eleven years ago. In the intervening decade  I've had quite a few pieces of writing published in other people's books (anthologies), magazines, online and so on, but never a book is solely my work.

So, this one is completely my own. The novel is aimed at a young adult audience (though I've had adult readers who have told me they'd happily read this book just for themselves), and the working title is Hidden. The novel draws on the mythology of Icelandic elves - the kind Tolkien based his elves on, though Icelandic elves don't use bows and arrows or where fine jewellery and long robes.

Hidden is in the final editing phase at the moment and will be launched somewhere in Melbourne in April - the venue hasn't been decided on yet.

There is talk of it also being released as an audio book so it can be available to the blind - which is not surprisingly, a particular passion of mine.

It's really happening! I'm not expecting to become a sensation or anything, but it is my little dream come true. Also, it might make it just that little bit easier to get another book published in future, maybe with the same company if this one is reasonably well received. Nothing is guaranteed, but I'm working on a another manuscript, you know, just in case.

So, 2017 is already off to a brighter start than 2016!

There is other, not so joyous, business I have to take care of later this month before I can really move on to bigger and better things, but interestingly enough, the other thing also saw progress yesterday bringing it closer to finalisation - which I interpreted as a sign I'm on the right path this year. I'll update the blog when the other business has been concluded. Sorry to be so vague, but I don't want to have to come back and eat my words later. I only mention is because both these rather meaningful happenings occurred on the same day.


I'm excited!

Also, I'm going to set up a writer's blog to raise my profile a little in preparation for the novel launching, so watch this spot for an update and link to the new blog.

Don't worry, though, you'll still find me here...

At the Bottom of the Garden.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Code Cracking Housewife...

Calm the farm - I don't consider myself a housewife. First of all, I respect real housewives enough to acknowledge I lack all the skill and determination it takes to run a household well, I wouldn't belittle the works of housewives by passing myself off as one. Second, I can be a crappy wife at times - not that Dave would ever say as much, he is both smarter and nicer than me - so, no house in its right mind would have me. I'm more like a house grandma, here for all the fun bits, but I get tired and need a nanna naps regularly.

Anyway, I was quite pleased with myself yesterday when I figured out how to manipulate code to get a widget I'm particularly fond of to work on this new dynamic blog template. When I changed my blog template on the 1st I discovered my Statcounter widget stopped recording visits. I knew people were visiting because I actually talked to some of them, but none were registering on the widget. 

I LOVE this widget. It tells me how many people have visited my blog each day, where they visited from - including the suburb for most domestic visits. It tells me what time the arrived on the blog, which posts they read, how long they stayed, what device and platform they used, and their IP address. Yes, you share all this information with sites you visit on the net. Something to think aboutt.

I use this information to target my work, to know which posts are the most popular. I use it to know where people come from to my blog from (whether it was through Google, or a direct link, and whether that link was from Instagram or Facebook, or another source). It tells me if and what search words or phrases were used to find my blog, or find certain topics on my blog.

So, I was quite upset when this widget stopped working. I wasn't sure why it wasn't working but figured it had something to do with the changes I made on the 1st. At first I considered whether or not Blogger was blocking the third party information filter, or perhaps they had removed to the code for it. I checked the HTML template and saw the Statcounter widget was still visible. So, using Statcounters instructions, I tried to reinstall it in case the code was broken in some way. That didn't work. I noticed none of my other widgets were visible on the blog, so I went to the layout of the blog and deleted all the widgets and tried installing the Statcounter widget from the start. It was also a no go. I googled and found a solution that required me to enter a code script with my Statcounter ID. That didn't work either.

All of this was requiring me to copy and paste (and sometimes add to) the Statcounter code for Blogger, or specifically for dynamic blogs on Blogger. The cut and paste procedure was automated (click on the code and it highlighted the entire code and copied it), so I was trusting the code was as it should be.

Then I looked at the code itself, and it occurred to me that the first couple of lines and the last couple of lines were superfluous to the function of the widget, so I employed the automated copy procedure I'd been made to use several times before, only this time instead of copying to the HTML code template or the CSS window in the advanced settings for the template, I copied it to Notes, then edited the code, copied it to the HTML template and VOILA! it worked!

I've still got it! 

I am not a coder or a programmer but I still have the ability to work a problem and through persistence, determination, and patience (yes, patience - ME!), and not least willingness to get it wrong over and over, I made it happen. I'm so proud of myself! It was a timely reminder that I have skills and abilities, even if others can't see them.

While I don't have the skills to be a decent housewife, I have no doubt a housewife would have the skills to do what I did because she has all the skills I mentioned; problem solving, determination, patience, and persistence.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

When having major dental surgery...

Feel free to skip the rambling backstory and move on to the helpful tips I found - just below the next image...

In early February, I'm having major dental surgery. It has been a long time coming. I've been suffering broken teeth for 20 years now, Mostly in previously filled teeth - of which I've had an extraordinary number - some not. I never had braces as a child despite having very crooked and gappy teeth. Not only was it prohibitively expensive, but I have suffered dentist phobia ever since having a root canal without anaesthesia at the age of four (my front teeth had been knocked out in an accident and the only dentist in the very small village I lived in at the time, panicked - or didn't really care enough - and did the root canal without anaesthesia).

I have avoided dentists most of my life and my dental hygiene has not been the greatest - I've never flossed, like ever. My own kids didn't see a dentist until early 2015. None had cavities despite being 15, 13, 9, 1, and 6.  I'm not boasting, just illustrating the extent of my phobia.

However, I have had many problems. Currently, I have four badly broken teeth and one that needs a decent sized filling. I went to have two teeth, that were causing me abcesses and pain significant pain, pulled in January last year but the dentist felt the teeth were too complicated to remove in the clinic, she recommended I see a surgeon. I didn't have the $1000 or so it would have cost to go privately, so my only option was the public waiting list - which I'd been on for a year already at that point anyway. Many months last year were spent taking antibiotics and chemist shopping for Neurofen Plus (seriously, they want ID to buy NP, so I had a few people going to various different chemists to source this, currently over-the-counter, drug.

In October, I finally got the letter saying I had come to the top of the list. On December 23rd I went to an assessment appointment. The surgeon said four teeth now needed to be taken (they just keep breaking). He also wanted to take all at the same appointment - Dave nearly fainted, but part of me was relieved at only having to go through it all one time. 

The appointment is in early February - I can't remember the date, the 6th or maybe the 9th, I have wiped the date from my memory to preserve my mental health, I think... They'll text me.  Recovery is going to be a bitch - I have accepted that. Eating through a straw for  2-3 day (maybe longer depending on how bad I feel), Soft food for 2-3 weeks... It'll be a blast! I won't be sticking to the low carb, high fat eating lifestyle, that's for sure. Anyway, one cannot subsist on cheese and avocado alone.  

So, I've been researching what I'll need during recovery and I thought I'd share:

DRUGS. I'm counting on good drugs from the surgery first up, but after that I'm going to need back up. Ibuprofen is not recommended because it thins the blood and you don't need to bleed any more than is absolutely inevitable.

Cold packs - the net recommends 15 minutes on/15 minutes off to minimise swelling and bruising.
something to hold them on as well - it doesn't say how long you need to continue the on/off routine, so I guess you have to use common sense, probably not for three weeks, right? I saw someone use a long cotton scarf to achieve this - like when people used to have the mumps.

Pillows - these are to prop you up in bed for the first couple of rights, to prevent swelling.

Lots of rest - this is fairly self-explanatory. Basically, don't to expect to be doing normal duties for a day or three after the surgery. Luckily, I have older kids and a wonderful husband who doesn't work and can basically do everything. I haven't clued him in yet, but he was at the appointment, so I'm guessing he has an inkling away.

Foods (or vitamins, but foods are always going to be beter) that aid healing. These are apparently foods containing vitamins A and C.

Vitamin A food:  Cooked sweet potato, cooked carrots, cooked dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. Kale, cooked frozen spinach, bok toy), cooked butternut pumpkin, fresh cos lettuce, dried apricots, rockmelon (that's cantaloupe to you Victorians), red capsicum, cooked tuna, mango, cod liver oil, whole milk, peas, tomatoes, peaches, papaya,

Vitamin C food: Yellow capsicum, guava, dark leafy greens (as above), green kiwi fruit (I didn't know kiwi fruit came in other colours!), broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, cooked tomatoes, fresh peas, papaya, chilli peppers, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, pineapple, 

So, that'a a lot of green smoothies, fruit smoothies, cooked veggies and so on for the straw/very soft food days.

Obviously, you can eat a whole range of other foods - I reckon ice cream must be good, right? These foods just aid healing more than other foods.

It's recommended you drink cool drinks the first few days as hot drinks will (excuse the visual) loosen blood cloths in the holes and lead to more bleeding.

So, there you go!

And, as always - prevention is better than cause... So, keep that dental hygiene up!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

What's your special skill?

Mine is catching dog vomit.

Yes, really.

When I was in training with Harlem last January one of our group's instructors told us a story about a guide dog handler in Melbourne who expertly caught her dog's vomit in a toileting bag in the back seat of a cab. She was on her way somewhere (obviously), when suddenly her dog started heaving. Somehow, through her panic not to have her guide throw up in the back of the cab (cab drivers can be very touchy about dogs in their cabs at the best of times), she whipped out a toileting bag and placed it over her dog's snout - much like a feeding bag for a horse.

At the time, I remember being very impressed by the story of this handler's lateral thinking skills.

A few months later I found myself sitting in a carpeted coffee shop in the CBD, when Harlem started heaving. He is prone to doing this in the late afternoon because he starts anticipating dinner about 1.5-2 hours before he is due to be fed and he hyper-salivates at the thought of filling his belly. Sometimes we can stem the flow of impending up-chuck by telling him not to lick (as in lick his lips). But sometimes that doesn't work so well.

So, here I was in Gloria Jean's and Harlem was making those familiar wobble-board noises with his stomach. The image of the handler in the back of the cab came to me, and I grabbed a plastic toileting bag from my handbag and shoved it over his snout just in time to catch the offending liquid.

Oh, the excitement! I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my amazing feat of resourcefulness, but to my disappointment, people were sipping coffees and chatting, oblivious to the miracle which had just taken place.

A month or so ago, I had the opportunity to tell my instructor about this, which amused him greatly. I was only the second person he'd heard of doing this.

Last Thursday, I went to Young and Jackson's (pub) in the CBD with a handler friend of mine. We ended up in the second floor lounge having been drenched by a storm up on the rooftop balcony. not long after ordering drinks, Harlem started making that familiar and dreadful sound. Once again I managed to save the day before he decorated the carper (what is it with him and carpets?). This time I was appropriately (!) acknowledged and congratulated by a couple of guys at the next table - they'd never seen anyone do that, they said.

Today, we took Ari to see his paed. It was late in the afternoon, and the paed's office had carpet. You see where I'm going with this, right? By now, of course, I've become a dab hand at averting the Pavlovian catastrophe with a handy plastic toileting. The paed. hovered somewhere between impressed and kind of grossed out, I think. At least his carpet was saved from Gastric Dressing a la Harlem.

Cool, hey? I'm the Canine Vom Whisperer. I wonder if that's a valid CV entry?

Monday, January 02, 2017

Goodbye TV

No, no, no, I haven't gone and thrown the tv in a box in the garage again - Luey is still traumatised from the time I packed away the TV when he was two and he had to call his Grandad Lester to ask for advice about what a boy was to do now that mum packed up his 'Best friend' (I kid you not).

No, this time it is just the realisation that we simply do not watch scheduled television these days - unless it is to check the news, but even then it's easier to just look online, or better still not follow the news at all. I could go on here about the news being a way to keep us all paralysed with fear and hopelessness, but that's another blog post.

Dave and I, and well everyone in this geeky household, have been waiting with baited breath for three years now to see the next instalment of Steven Moffat's Sherlock Holmes - we were getting quick blue in the face, you know. It didn't disappoint but don't worry - no spoilers here (I know how it goes). But here's what I want to comment; the subscription stations try to hold viewers to ransom over their favourite shows. You see, in order to see Sherlock fresh off the cutting room floor - yeah, yeah, I know those don't exist anymore, but anyway - you have to be subscribed to STAN. Now, I am one of those (few?) people who loves TV but resisted signing up with Foxtel at any point in the last two decades.  It was only recently - a year ago - that I subscribed to Netflix and that was because Erik asked for a voucher for Christmas so he could watch something I can't remember the name of. Watching Orange is the New Black had nothing to do with, neither did revisiting Gilmore Girls and then seeing the four part return in November.

So, I went to the dark side of subscriber television because $14 a months seemed reasonable. I mean, commercial television is complete shite. Whichever pimple-faced seventh graders they get to do the programming for each station, should be sat in a dark room to watch reruns of Bewitched over and over and over again until they cry, or die of boredom (which wouldn't be that long really, but you get the point, right?). I'm not opposed to sacrificing a couple of tweens for decent television content...

The contempt the stations have for their viewers is rank. Even when they do serve up something other than dog-eat-dog style reality TV (I will never understand people who are entertained by watching other people debase themselves for the chance to be interviewed five years later and have to admit it never actually changed their life for the better after all), the stations take a slackers approach to consistent time-slotting (yes, that's a word), or even just finishing a season. Let's not even dwell on the ABC, which has completely sold out and is now just a quasi-commercial content pleb.

All of this forces people to turn to subscriber television. Subscriber television is not too expensive, and you can watch all sorts of shows not available on commercial TV, AND you can watch them whenever you like in whatever amount suits you at the time (hello binge watching Sense8). It's really very easy to access; most people have the technology right there in their home. Also no ads - not even station ads. It's truly exhilarating (I have a very low benchmark for exhilaration).

But there is a lot of overlap between providers. I can watch iZombie on both Netflix and STAN. Same goes for Orphan Black, Black Mirror, and Penny Dreadful, so I'd rather not pay twice for the same content - especially when I really only want to watch Sherlock Holmes.

Ah, but then there is the 'free month trial'. I have to admit, I've made the most of that to catch a few shows that are 'exclusive' (for a short period of time) to one provider or the other.

What an age we live in, hey? I remember almost scratching my eyes out waiting for Dad to finish watching the cricket during the summer holidays - and then dying a little when I missed Skippy anyway. Kids these days to complain about having nothing to do? They don't know they're alive.

Go figure.

Meanwhile, Lucy's best friend isn't so much fun to play with anymore. Not since Netflix and YouTube moved into the neighbourhood.

Childhood friendship is so fickle.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy 2017 Everyone!

Can it be? Has Sif actually sat down at her keyboard, opened her blog, and wrote a post? It must be a New Years Miracle! Well, something like that, anyway.

This is the second time I attempt this blog post. The first time I tried using VoiceOver, but it seems I still have a ways to go with that particular accessibility mode. So, I'm back to using zoom for the time being, I guess.

Today, I'm going to list my intentions for 2017. I thought this might be a good way to focus my thoughts on the wonderful year ahead. Let's get to it!

In 2017, I intend to:

* Breathe - breathe deeply, expand my lungs, push my diaphragm down, relax my shoulders, and let those endorphins flow. Take deep breaths when I feel overwhelmed, or angry, or sad.

* Withdraw from the PhD.

* Hug a tree - that is get in touch (literally) with nature. Yesterday was a beautiful day and I went out into the back yard and lay down in the grass. I felt the blades prickle my skin and it grounded me in a way I haven't felt grounded in a long time. Apparently, I also haven't been out in the back yard for anything more than a few minutes in a long time, because Dave got worried and sent Luey out to make sure I was okay. Oh dear! So, curly my toes in the dirt, feeling the rain on my face, letting the wind carry my tension away - that's the idea.

* Stop apologising and start thanking people instead. Thank them for waiting, for listening, for showing me a new way I can work on myself and grow. 

* Work with my Gratitude Journal Daily - a journal I bought last year to help me focus my thoughts and intentions and work on those parts of my life that have suffered from neglect.

* Have my YA novel published and launched. I've been told the launch will be after Easter and to invite all my friends and acquaintances in Melbourne (or further afield, if they can make it). I don't have any specifics just yet, but I'll keep everyone updated as the information comes in.

* Keep writing - I have a specific project in mind, but I can't say much about it just yet.

* Walk - I'm making no promises about how often or for how long because I want this to be something I do that is a joy in my life, not a burden.

* Eat clean - I know what works for me and this year I'm going to make that my habit, just to feel better. I am hoping this will help reduce the migraines I've been experiencing with increasing regularity, and also elevate my mood and energy levels.

* Drink all the water.

* Keep growing out my hair without treating it with any chemicals or hair colouring agents.

* Continue to wear head wraps. I have found covering my hair to be liberating and a communal act of mutual support. It has had the added benefit of mediating the anxiety I have been living with for the past couple of years - so, it's a good thing and I'm going to continue embracing it.

* Volunteer with Guide Dogs Victoria. I have already put my hand up for the community education programme. I have a training day coming up on the eighteen of January, which doubles as an interview, I've heard. So, here's hoping it all goes well because teaching and advocacy are two things I have a vocation for.

* Volunteer with Vision Australia. I have heard there may be teaching opportunities with VA, but honestly, I'd be happy to doing anything.

* Be present with my wonderful, amazing, beautiful, crazy family.

* Declutter - This month I've taken up the challenge to declutter the same number of items as the date for each day. So, one thing on the first. two on the second and so on. From there I'll continue on using the Konmari system which is working beautifully with my clothes.

* Put an image with every blog post.

* Blog regularly.

* Continue to work on learning braille, learning VoiceOver, learning how to work with Harlem, and generally learning to accept that I am going blind, faster and earlier than I really expected. 

* Embrace endings and new beginnings in the knowledge that it all serves to improve my life and understanding of my place in this existence.

* Listen.

* Hear.

What are your intentions for the coming year? (you don't have to tell me, just think about it)

Good Job!