Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Our New Garden

Last month we moved to a new house. It was a daunting proposition with a 3 year old and a 2 month old, but somehow we managed it (even if I haven’t unpacked all of my clothes yet). Shroomi is very pleased with her new digs, and Puggle just seems a bit confused about the whole thing, so I’m willing to call it a success.

In our new home we now have an abundance of space; we’ve gone from a granny flat to a full house with gardens. I didn’t imagine this would be possible a year ago before we got our finances under control and paid off all of our debts, so now we are reaping the rewards of what was realistically not much hard work at all. There are obviously some adjustment pains along the way (“Scissors! What happened to the scissors?”) but overall everyone in our family is calmer and happier here.

The next thing that we plan to reap is our first crop from our new vegetable garden. One thing I have missed over the past few years is a connection to the land. There is something soothing about working the earth, nurturing plants, and finally killing them so I can eat them. We are experimenting with home schooling, so hauling Shroomi out into the garden with me has been an important lesson for us both. The first thing we learned is that we don’t haul Puggle out there with us, but I think she’ll come around in a few months.

Until I started teaching my daughter how to work in the garden, I had no idea how many distinct skills are involved. She now knows how to walk carefully in a garden bed so that she doesn’t stand on anything important, she can distinguish between weeds and plants that we want to keep, she can plant things and repot them, she can shovel dirt and identify debris that shouldn’t be in the garden beds, and now she is working on identifying the differences between seeds and how to space them while planting them. We’re even having some success watering things with the hose without squirting interesting things such as Mummy or the washing.

Our first lettuces are a week or two away from harvesting, and Shroomi is gleefully looking forward to eating the seedlings that she patted into the soil with declarations of “I love you, baby plant”. She understands the connection between the garden and the table, and that she will take her harvests to her father so that they can continue the skill development in the kitchen with home grown instead of shop bought.

When I first took Shroomi out with me, I wasn’t hoping for much beyond keeping her out of mischief and perhaps entertaining her at the same time. What I didn’t expect was the increase in pride and self confidence that she would experience. She is now an active participant in the creation of her new home, and she happily chatters about her work and success. Eating freshly grown produce is rewarding, but watching my daughter flourish is the greater reward.

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Old Environment New Pace

The past three months have gone so quickly that it has been difficult to keep up. We left Canberra at the end of June and moved to Melbourne. For me it was just going home, but for my partner and daughter it marked the start of a new chapter in their lives.

Before we had a chance to settle in we were on a plane bound for Germany. Shroomi was seven months old when we landed, and she learned to sit up by herself on the flight. Before we knew it she was crawling and pulling herself up to stand. Two more teeth made an appearance, and a third began emerging when we were in Frankfurt preparing to go home again seven weeks later. She met most of her extended family, attended her first wedding, attended her first funeral, and learned how to form friendships on the streets of France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria and Denmark.

My partner and I broke the paleo diet more often than we could count, and each instance reinforced our decision to begin it in the first place. I was on a rollercoaster of health symptoms that came and vanished as we switched between meals we could control and meals we could not. One day I could run up a flight of stairs while carrying Shroomi and 20kg of luggage, the next I could barely walk along a flat street without puffing.

Our attention turned towards career while we were away, and we began to ask ourselves what type of life we wanted to live and provide for our daughter. Which country did we want to live in? What type of work did we want to pursue? Would particular opportunities be open or closed to us with different choices? How important is extended family when making these decisions?

We came home in August, exhausted from our holiday, and immediately caught a series of nasty winter colds. After a few rough weeks of looking after a sick baby while we weren’t feeling so good ourselves, we began settling down to life in Melbourne. Job applications were written and sent, employers were called, and business plans were written. Shroomi has developed strong bonds with her grandparents and our days are now filled with a different energy to what we knew in Canberra. For the first time as parents we have genuine support, and we are able to turn our attention to things that are much more satisfying than just making it through the day.

It is difficult to comprehend how much has changed. Memories of Canberra are fading quickly and losing their emotional power. So many of our questions have been answered that we can start asking deeper ones. We are once again able to be more than just parents. We have been in Melbourne for a month, and there is a strong feeling of having arrived. There is so much left to do, but for now I am content to rediscover who I am when I don’t have to spend each day worried about the future.

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Where To From Here?

My partner and I are in a predicament. He is currently completing his PhD in physics, and expects to submit his thesis early next year if everything goes well. At that point, he plans to find a job doing a whole lot of stuff that I don’t understand. It could be work with particle accelerators, it could be work with semiconductors, it could be work with energy research (is that the same as semiconductors?), or it could be some additional science field that I’ve probably heard of but already forgotten. This means he wants to have a new job in 12 months.

In the shadow of his future career path is my own. I am able to work in two careers at present: writing/editing and administration. I am highly skilled in these fields, and I know that I could walk into a job doing either of them tomorrow. These jobs would pay well, and my financial worries would be over the moment I put on a suit and walked into the office. The trouble is that I never want to put on a suit and walk into either of those roles again. The issue here is not the suit. To do anything else will require retraining.

Our predicament? He is unable to tell me which country we will most likely be living in. We are looking at the global job market, and if you have ever looked at the requirements between countries you will appreciate how unpredictable they can be. I could spend an expensive year here learning something, only to arrive at our next destination and discover that my efforts are not recognised and will need to be repeated. Alternatively, I could spend a year waiting to migrate before studying only to see him secure a job here in Canberra.

We had initially focused our research on countries where the official language is either English or German. Both of us quickly eliminated the USA as an option, because it is too dangerous a place to live. (I’m sorry, dear American friends, but your country is insane and I sincerely hope that you are never shot by a lunatic while taking your children to school or going to work.) As his research continued, additional countries that officially speak neither English nor German were added to the list.

Now I not only need to train in a new field, but I probably also need to learn a third language. Learning German isn’t too bad, because I know that it’s on the list. But our third language? Short of picking up a few key phrases in every European language, I have no idea where to start. I assume I’ll have several weeks to begin once we know where we are moving to, but those weeks will include packing up our lives in Canberra and shifting them to another country.

The internet tells me that French is the third most common language behind English and German, with 24% of Europeans speaking it. Portuguese is fairly far down the list with only 3% of Europeans able to converse in it, but if we moved to Brazil it would become rather important. Dutch is a possibility, but only 1% of Europeans speak it as a second language; as with most of the likely languages, it is essentially spoken only in its native regions.

For the next year, we are potentially trapped: he won’t know which jobs are possible until he has written his thesis, and I won’t know which path to follow for my own life until I have a better idea of where we will be living. Without that information, I can’t look up professional requirements, and I would not be able to navigate a job interview in the local language. There will be an obvious and satisfactory answer out there about what to do for the next year, but at this point I’m stumped and can’t see it.


Time Saving Transfer

After the last round of musical houses, the gym that I have been working out at is now a 30 minute drive from where I live. This is not a great arrangement, and it is made worse by the realisation that there are three other gyms in the same chain that I drive past to get there. Of those three, one is in walking distance from my new home.

I have literally spent months pondering what I should do about this. Before you begin yelling at me via your computer, yes, I know that there is an obvious solution: transfer to the new gym. I knew this from the first second I began contemplating what to do. And did I do it? No.

Instead of transferring to the amazingly convenient gym, I have continued to drive to the distant one. Logic was not winning here, because logic can always be countered by other logic if you know the correct argument to use. I had a lot of flimsy reasons to stay at the previous gym, and I clung to them like a crazy woman.

While I was in Germany, the insanity of staying at the distant gym seemed obvious. I was determined to get home, walk into the closer gym, and request the transfer forms. I did that, and then walked home with them in my bag like some strange burden of guilt.

My head was filled with the most insane yet seemingly rational thoughts. A vague sense of social conditioning told me that it was terribly unjust of me to abandon my previous gym just because my circumstances had changed. It was unfair to withdraw my business because of something they did not have an opportunity to correct. Somehow I found myself convinced that I needed to do the right thing and give them a chance to resolve the issue.

I went to the gym for my scheduled training session, only to be told that the time had changed and I was half an hour late. Had I received the sms? No. This was proclaimed odd, and they agreed to reverse the charge to my membership.

Another week went by, and I did not particularly notice myself eagerly driving the half hour to get to the gym to do another workout. I sat at home instead, and quietly filled out the transfer form when I knew no one was going to see.

It was at this point where I knew I had slipped into crazy lady land. The only thing that was missing was a few dozen cats, and they would have been great companions because they don’t often exercise at gyms either.

The rational arguments to change gyms filled my head, and I found myself pacing back and forward in my kitchen, talking to myself about what the problem was. Everything was a sensible, logical package, and yet I still felt inhibited.

After an hour of pacing, which surely worked a few muscles and burned some calories, I finally realised that I was expecting to be harshly judged for my decision. I was anticipating censure from people who I give money to, simply for the act of no longer giving them money. My money.

I realised in that moment that I am expecting an emotional response to an economic decision. At some point I have transferred my power to a service provider, and that is never a sensible decision. Happily, my power is something that I can always reclaim in an instant. Other people might try to claim it, but they can never truly take it from me. With that in mind, I went to the closer gym yesterday and dropped off the form to transfer.

Now all I have to do is muster up the courage to go to the distant gym today and say goodbye to the people there.

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Writing Through POTS

Over the last few years I have struggled with my writing. The ideas simply do not come, or they come and are totally unusable as good creative material. When I first relapsed with POTS I had no idea why my fount of words had mysteriously dried up. I went from being so prolific that I had countless notebooks filled with ideas that I planned to get back to when I had time, to staring at blank pages and wondering how I ever used to write at all.

Since my diagnosis, I have learned that my ability to write is directly related to how well I am feeling. If there is inadequate blood flow into my brain, there is inadequate creative flow out of it. I cannot force myself to create under such circumstances. The best I can hope for is to quickly resolve the underlying problem and move on.

Now that I am aware of my very real obstacles, I have been able to deal with this sudden drop in creativity. In my alternative life, saying that I am working on a novel by going to the gym and doing ten sets on the leg press makes complete logical sense. The stronger my muscles are, the higher my blood pressure becomes, the more I can create.

When we moved house a few weeks ago I put in an incredible amount of physical effort. For several days there were few muscles that did not ache from use. I ate like a mad woman, burned off an incredible amount of energy, and then began to live my newly modified life.

As we settled into the house, my creativity and work output surged. Suddenly tasks that had been put off for months were completed. Stories were not only thought of, but they were written, edited, submitted for publication, and even accepted. I began to dream of my work again, waking up every morning buzzing with ideas that excite me. I attributed this to a reduction in stress and was thrilled with the results.

Today I went to the gym in Melbourne with my mother, and I decided to push myself. Sometimes there are things that you only want to do away from your personal trainer. With every exercise I tried, I was able to lift heavier and longer than I have been able to in years. Over the last two weeks I have put on a significant amount of muscle, and I proved that to myself today as I succeeded at more than I had dared to dream of.

I cannot determine if it is a reduction in stress or an increase in strength that has helped the quality of my work so dramatically. In all probability it is a combination. Now that I am working at this higher level, I am remembering all the old habits from before I got sick. Outlining plots while walking the dog. Writing scenes in my head while lifting weights. Wearing arm and leg weights while I worked in my office. Scheduling writing sessions to immediately follow exercise sessions. They all make sense to me now, and I am freshly amazed at how my instincts match the science so closely.

Whatever the primary reason for this improvement, increased strength and reduced stress are never a bad recipe for life. They are satisfying in their own right. And now, for the sake of my career, I have even fewer excuses not to keep them front and centre in my mind.

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No Longer Counting This Year

I moved house on Monday. Again. Seriously, I am beginning to consider buying a gypsy wagon and a few horses to pull it. The problem with this plan is that I would need a really big wagon for all of the stuff I don’t remember buying, and so many horses to pull it that I wouldn’t be able to feed them all.

I’d like to pretend that this will be the last move for the rest of the decade, hopefully the rest of the century, but I know it won’t happen. My boyfriend has two years left to complete his PhD, and at the end of that we’ll probably have to begin looking around for another place in another city. Or I could get pregnant with triplets. Or the landlords could put up the rent by a crippling amount of money. Or the house could burn down.

Given how many books I apparently own, that last option doesn’t sound too farfetched.

One of the nicest things about this move is that I am finally reunited with a lot of my stuff. At our previous house my things simply did not fit inside given how much our housemates own. I hadn’t realised how much I missed my plates, my cutlery, my furniture. Home is where the heart is, but part of that is also the memories attached to small objects.

With every box of my things that I unpacked, additional emotional currents were added to the house. It quickly transformed into a home. Each room of the house is already stamped with our mark and style. We won’t be gracing the front cover of home decorating magazines any time soon, but we’re comfortable in this place already. It is a space where we can snuggle down into our comfortable chairs and drift away for an hour.

Unpacking things that have been in storage for so long has also shown me how many of my objects I am not attached to. I could easily sell dozens of ornaments, accessories and books without noticing they are gone. If I consider how much is still in storage in Melbourne I almost become overwhelmed by how many things I own. Why did I buy all of this stuff, and why have I kept it for so long?

Letting go has become increasingly important to me over recent years. All this stuff that I no longer want or need is another part of a journey that I need to continue. Having it in my mental space weighs me down, and it takes up room that could be better used with other things. I would rather be worried about the exciting adventures that lie before me than the clutter that lies around me.

I wonder how many books I can trade for one of those horses…

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Wanting to Go Home

I had my first spectacular “I want to go home” moment last week, and I am still trying to emotionally balance myself from it. I was upset by something that happened and, as I sat here in Canberra thinking of all the people who would have easily helped me through it, I began to feel very alone away from Melbourne. The friends who would have made totally inappropriate jokes until I laughed were far away. The friends who could have cuddled me until I felt safe again were far away. The friends who would have pumped me full of chocolate and sugar were far away.

My regular support network from Melbourne has noticed how increasingly difficult it has been to get in touch with me over the last three months. It is not that I have tried to withdraw from them, but rather that my usual means and times of communication have been disrupted by external influences. The habits that are inherently mine have been displaced, and the emotional needs that were satisfied by these actions have gone unfulfilled.

In some ways I have been trying to stop a slow descent into an emotional death by a thousand cuts. Occasionally I find a way to pull myself back up for a few days, but these times are separating, leaving ever larger gaps between them. My sense of organisation is fading along with my desire to maintain it. Things that are critically important to the bigger picture of my goals are barely able to raise much interest, and when I am interested I find myself wondering how on earth I will accomplish what I need to do.

This is incredibly unhealthy, and I know I need to stop it sooner rather than later. I must go back to carefully creating a mentally safe space for myself, where I can recharge and recover as needed. I’ve obviously reached one of those x steps back points, to balance out my y steps forward since moving here. That’s ok, it happens to all of us even at the best of times, but that doesn’t mean I should let the steps backwards continue.

I knew this might happen when I first moved to Canberra. I had planned a lot of things that would help me through these moments, ways to distract myself and keep moving forward. Ways to entertain myself, challenge myself, and to relax as needed. I had not anticipated that they might be insufficient. My life in Canberra has to be different to my life in Melbourne, but I am at a loss as to what an authentic version of me living in Canberra will look like. This is the loneliness that makes me crave the company of my friends in Melbourne; the loneliness of not knowing how I fit into my own life.

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Shifting Needs

It has quickly become apparent that the house we are currently living in will not be suitable to bring a baby into. While the building itself is a classic family home, and the yard is complete with a sandpit and a swing hanging from one of the trees, there is more to a suitable environment than some grass around four walls.

Our bedroom is small, and with the furniture crowded inside I am already struggling to navigate easily. I can only imagine what it will be like by the end of the pregnancy. I have stared at the dimensions, considered bringing out a tape measure, and given up. There is no room to put a bassinette, let alone a cot. Our options will be to co-sleep or banish the baby to my office.

The few small things that we have bought for the baby are in our wardrobe. It is so narrow that it only has a single door, and my boyfriend and I have had to move half our clothes to the wardrobe in my office. He owns a set of hanging shelves, which has helped the space problems considerably, but we are only starting out purchasing things. Babies seem to need a lot of stuff, and I don’t know where it will go.

We have already found ourselves having discussions with the other couple who we live with. At first we had hoped that they would be fine with the pregnancy, but within minutes of telling them the awkward conversations began. I was asked to not change the baby’s nappy on the couch. What were our plans to ensure that their sleep was not disturbed? Were we going to buy a proper family home and move out? The second most hurtful: how could we do this to them? The most hurtful: who would bring a baby into a share house?

Their questions brought a few home truths that we did not see coming. There had been a moral judgement, and we were apparently deemed inadequate. She knew about our baby clothes, which were in tucked away in the privacy of our wardrobe, and when questioned had the gall to lie about how she came to find them there. The power dynamic in the house has shifted, and it is clear that we are not in any position of bargaining power in our own home.

My boyfriend has agreed that we have to move out. We had come into this house with dreams that it would be our home until we left Canberra, and those dreams have now crumbled around us. Neither of us want our baby to be born into an environment with toxic emotional energy. Our options are to shift now, before we go to Europe later this year, or shift when we get back and I’m potentially too far along in the pregnancy to help with moving. Either way, I don’t want to deal with the stress of this, but it seems I have no choice.

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Dominion is Mine (But Only Because I Bought it)

Board games have become a central part of my social life. When I was nine this would have been delightful, but at 29 it is just confusing. I attribute this sudden change of events to moving to Canberra and having precious little else to do.

We discovered Dominion when we were in Sydney last month, and when we returned home I ordered the game and the full set of expansions. It has kept the household busy most nights, and is sometimes a good way to unwind, sometimes a good way to stir each other up before bed. It is earning its keep with the hours of entertainment that we are deriving from it.

As I write this post, there is a game going on in the next room. Dominion has wound down for the evening to be replaced with Balderdash. We have background music from various movie soundtracks softly playing on a laptop, disturbed only by laughter and excited conversation. There is mood lighting, partly provided by the light where we cannot adjust the dimmer switch. It is a relaxed environment, and a far cry from the way my evenings were typically spent in Melbourne.

While the games are essentially a fun way to relax together, they are also an interesting way of observing the psychology of the people I live with. We all have such typical strategies for playing games that it is easy to predict how we will each react, even with new games. After a few times through with a particular game, our strategies slowly evolve to block each other. A few more times through, and we are evolving our strategies to block the evolution of the other players. Eventually we return to our original strategies and use very careful bluffing to disarm each other.

It becomes easy to tell who feels tired, who is distracted, and who is in a slightly more aggressive or peaceful mood than the previous day. Our mental state changes the shape of each game. We are learning to watch each other, to pick up on those subtle differences in attitude. It forces us to become highly attentive of each other. Both sets of couples become more or less affectionate as the game progresses.

Our household is chatty, but I suspect we are learning more about each other through these games than through conversations. While meaningful things are discussed, thought processes and values become clearer through action. Relaxation makes us less guarded and more honest. There is no way to hide our decisions behind the cards.

These are the sort of evenings we will look back on fondly years from now. They are calm, relaxed, and free of stress. We are bonding, and it strengthens our relationships with each other. Still, I have plenty of evenings where I wish we were doing something more exciting. Life is full of so many daring possibilities, and instead we are sitting quietly at home nearly every evening playing together. It would be great if we could somehow do that surrounded by the bright lights of a vibrant city.

Hmm. I wonder if there is a board game that includes that…

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Yesterday I noticed that a former friend had deleted me from Facebook. Since I only noticed this because I was trying to find him on my friends list so that I could downgrade him to an acquaintance it is hardly a loss. After consulting with another friend about when he deleted me, we established that it was probably over two weeks ago.

The discussion quickly shifted away from the former friend to my current friends. Who has been getting along, who has found new sources of conflict, who has come closer, who has drifted away. It has only been a few weeks since I was last in Melbourne, but I was surprised by how much has happened in the interim.

For over half my life, the bulk of my relationships have included a significant online component. Email, chat, video calls, online games, and a range of other tools have kept me in touch. The line between my local friends and my interstate and international ones has been blurred for so long that I often forget it is there. This provides a timelessness to most of my relationships, and it means that I can frequently pick up where we left off after a gap of months or even years.

This group of friends is different. My relationship with them has been augmented by technology, but it has been based in the here and now. If we do not see each other for a week, there is a sense of distance. The dynamic of the group shifts so quickly that daily conversation is often required to keep up.

Now that I am in Canberra, I am aware that I am losing currency with the group. I no longer spend most nights with them. I am not having those daily conversations with multiple people. My real time knowledge is out of date in a way that I had not expected so quickly.

A few years ago, I would have become distressed at the idea that I am losing my friends. By moving I possibly will lose a few. But if they will not remain my friend due to a few kilometres and a few movie nights, are they truly my friends to begin with, or just people I hang out with? I hope that my meaningful relationships will be just that – filled with meaning. For me that meaning comes from mental intimacy, emotional honesty, and a willingness to be available to each other when it is needed most. It will be interesting to see how many of my Melbourne relationships survive this transition.

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