Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Good Things Happen Too

The past month has taught me something about myself: I struggle to share the positive things in my life. There are a lot of toxic people around me, the sort of people who twist my words and use them to hurt me, and to protect myself I keep a lot of secrets. This habit spills into most of my relationships, but instead of feeling safe I just feel isolated and lonely.

I need to work on this.

In the spirit of getting started, I wanted to share some of the good stuff that has been going on.

Shroomi turned two a few months ago. She’s big, strong and healthy. She can count to 20 in both English and German, and read the corresponding numbers. We’re struggling a bit with the alphabet, but that’s mostly because she doesn’t understand why some of the capital letters don’t look anything like the lower case letters. She is turning into a charming, polite, thoughtful little girl, and I’m absurdly proud of her.

I finally got around to learning French. Once I found a method that worked for me things became much simpler. There is still a lot of work to do with vocabulary, and my pronunciation is probably terrible, but I feel confident to try talking with the natives.

The website that I’ve been building for more than a year is online at www.languagelearning.ninja/. There is an incredible amount of work that still needs to be done on it, but I faced my fear and put part of it up. Users can register, play some of the games, and work with 6 different languages. Originally I was going to work on the language and content side of the project while a programmer I know did the code, and we were talking about bringing a designer on. Working with other people fell through for various reasons, but I still managed to launch by the original date, and with more languages than we originally discussed.

Following on from the previous point, 18 months ago I only knew how to write basic HTML and CSS. Now I can program in multiple languages and I do full stack development on an almost daily basis. I’ve nearly finished two IT units through Open Universities Australia, and for my programming unit I’m currently sitting on a 100% mark. A bit of external validation was just what I needed.

I found a great physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health. Thanks to her I can now go a full week without needing to see a chiropractor for intense pain, and that’s a week full of activity including running, jumping, climbing and baby wearing. My strength is improving daily, and I don’t have to be careful every time I want to do a basic movement. The relief from constant pain has been exhilarating.

We’ve decided to do a bit more travelling. Shroomi and I will spend a month travelling together through Europe before her father joins us for a few more weeks. This trip is going to be a blending of all the success I currently have in my life: my relationship with my beautiful little girl, my increasing health, my passion for language and finding ways to work remotely.

We pay for the tickets tomorrow.

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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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Kicks For Daddy

My boyfriend booked a three week trip to Germany and Finland early in my pregnancy. We then counted the weeks, and joked that the first kick would happen while he was away.

Who says babies don’t have timing?

He was on the flight from Hong Kong to Frankfurt when I felt the first kicks. It was incredible, exhilarating, and he was out of reach for sharing. That flight felt painfully slow as I sat alone at home, wanting to tell the world but also wanting to tell him first. I kept an eye on the clock, mentally tracking his progress through customs, various train connections, and the obligatory reunion with family before he could call me on Skype and tell me he had arrived safely.

The stunned expression on his face when I told him that the baby had begun kicking made the wait worthwhile. Disappointment lost to amusement, and we laughed that our baby had been so perfectly predictable.

While he was away the kicks became stronger. I began feeling tiny flutters against my hand as the baby grew. It was easy for me to detect the movements, because I also had the internal sensations to guide me.

He arrived home the day before his birthday. We spent the better part of his birthday trying to coax the baby to kick or wriggle, anything so that he could share the experience. Each time our precious bundle of predictability would stop as soon as there was a hand on my belly, and start again as soon as the hand was removed.

Eventually midnight rolled around, and we decided to leave the baby alone. Not to be deterred, we tried again for hours the following day. My boyfriend changed tactics, and rested his cheek against my belly. Presumably intrigued by the new type of pressure, the baby responded with a good, solid kick to the face.

When the moment was over and the baby had lost interest, we quickly checked what time it was in various parts of the world. The international date line was still moving over America, so we had 20 spare minutes of his birthday. I decided that was good enough, because tiny babies can’t be expected to understand about time zones. It might be a technicality, but Daddy got kicks for his birthday.

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Tasmania 2013

Several hours before my offer to study Architecture at UC came in, my boyfriend convinced me that we needed to spend a week in Tasmania. The timing probably could have been worse, but I’m not sure how. Unfortunately the flights were already booked and paid for, the rental car was already booked and paid for, and I felt a bit committed to the trip. Uni would have to wait.

We began our holiday by flying into Launceston. I had convinced myself that it would be larger than it was, and it seemed even smaller since most of the shops were closed on Sunday. After a walk through the city we decided to continue on, and saw several of Tasmania’s largest towns in a single day. Most of them were also closed.

In the afternoon we drove through the mountains. My boyfriend is obsessed with them, and he was thrilled that I suggested the route. After a few relaxed hours of driving, we ended up in Strahan. It is a tiny village hidden away on the west coast. The scenery is magnificent, and outside the main tourist season it was quiet and relaxing.

After our stay in Strahan we drove through the mountains to Hobart. Compared to the deserted Sunday streets of the other places we had been to, Hobart was a refreshing source of activity. We decided to use it as a base, and made day trips to anywhere else on the island that we wanted to see.

This was the first holiday we have taken together where we spent time relaxing, reading, and generally doing the things we aren’t chilled out enough to do at home. I did a bit of work on assignments, sketching potential models while looking out over the ocean or nibbling at an indulgent breakfast. He developed a new obsession with Harry Potter.

I know that I probably should have spent the week in classes and finding research materials, but there was something magical about watching the Tasmanian devils squabbling over dinner and stopping the car so that an echidna could cross the road. These are experiences that I could never have by cramming and living my life at a hectic pace. There is always time to read another journal article, but I wonder how long these animals will be easily seen in the places where we saw them. Some things just shouldn’t be put off until a later date.

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A Change of Tactics

Visiting Melbourne is normally stressful for me. I have a lot of friends from different groups, and arranging to see people winds up with me driving all over the city until I am exhausted and grumpy. I rarely find a way to visit everyone that I would like to spend time with, so then I add guilt and frustration to the mix. This is a bad combination, and I usually spend the trip home quietly stewing about it to myself.

One of the most frustrating aspects for me in going home has been trying to manage the perceived expectations of others. I fear that some people expect me to continue seeing them with the old schedules and routines that I used to see them with. This is the path of least resistance for them, and I have felt unable to vary my side of the arrangement. As a consequence, there are people I see often who have not realised that I spend most of my time away from Melbourne. This means my time with them has no special significance for me, and clearly it has none for them.

Last month I went to Melbourne for my birthday, invited 60 people to spend the evening with me, and had perhaps half that number respond. Of that group, half bothered to turn up. Many of the people who cancelled at the last minute (assuming they cancelled at all) had been the people most vocally excited to see me again.

It was a disappointing experience, and I spent a few weeks rationalising what had happened. Ultimately, I spent over $200 to visit people who then did not bother to keep our date. I had no idea what happened to most of them, and no intention of chasing them to find out.

This time, when we went to Melbourne over the long weekend, I decided to change my tactics. Only my parents knew that we would be there, and I asked them not to tell anyone. I took the time to visit my grandmother. She was the only person I drove to see, and it meant I was not losing hours of my weekend. It was much easier, and surprising her was fun.

I still wanted to see my friends, but I also wanted to keep it casual and on my terms. Instead of sending out a Facebook invite that would be hit and miss, I decided to call people. This is something I haven’t done for years, and it really felt like kicking it old school. The invitation was simple: come at a certain time and bring a plate of something to share. I invited people until we had a full table, they turned up at the specified start time instead of 3 hours later, and I had a good idea of who was coming.

Most importantly, I knew who would not be coming and why. I didn’t spend the entire evening worrying that something had happened to someone, feeling compelled to wait around for hours just in case they were running late, or playing through scenarios in my mind where being forgotten was the best available option. The emotional turmoil of going home was gone, and the weekend away felt refreshing for the first time in a year.

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My Increasingly Global Accent

While I was in Germany, I began to worry if I would recognise the Aussie accent as Australian any more. This struck me as a totally irrational fear – how could I not recognise my own accent – but it stuck with me. As the days stretched without hearing another Aussie, and as my German accent improved, I began to wonder if they were there around me and I simply didn’t recognise my country men and women.

People I spoke to in Germany were startled to learn I’m Australian. Most thought I was from California, and the few kiwis I spoke to thought I was one of them. I know my accent isn’t true Aussie after a year of linguistics in university, but I hadn’t realised it had become so multinational.

Naturally, I have a good blend of Australian, Irish and Canadian. My extended family was close growing up, and so I picked up large parts of my grandparents’ accents. After spending several years working with a Greek family, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me I had traces of that in there too. There were a few more years working with South Africans, and I’m fairly sure my accent didn’t escape that unmodified either.

After two months in Germany, I could hear the German creeping into my accent. My paranoia took off at this point, and I began to wonder if the reason I wasn’t hearing other Aussies was simply because my accent had drifted far enough that, when I compared their accent to mine, it was too different to recognise.

When I arrived at the airport on the weekend, the thick Aussie accents around me were startling. I still recognised the accent as home, but I could hear how different my own accent is. It was the first time I had properly noticed it about myself, and I was stunned. It’s one thing to be told, and another thing to hear it for yourself.

During the week I have kept to my multinational community, only now realising how few Aussies are in my current social circle. The person I live with is German. Our friends are from more countries than I can name. The service providers I talk to are British, or lived there for many years. The staff at my favourite café are all migrants.

It was while I was sitting at the café that an Aussie walked in with his girlfriend and began talking. I looked up, astonished that the accent was still obvious to my ears. He caught me looking at him, and I quickly looked away. This must be part of what people mean when they talk about reverse culture shock. The name makes sense; it feels quite shocking at the time.

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My Immune System Blames the Government

On any international flight arriving in Australia, there will be an announcement asking passengers to advise the crew if they feel unwell, as it is a requirement of Australian quarantine that incoming flights notify them of sick passengers.

I have become convinced this week that my immune system takes note of the announcement and begins assessing the plane. It casts a sly glance around, whispering “come to me, my darling” to any germs that might happen to be passing by.

And the germs come. Oh, sweet god, do they come.

I never get sick on domestic flights, so I can’t put too much belief in the plane itself being the cause. I rarely get sick on long haul international flights when I am outbound, so I can’t even tell myself it is the long confinement that does it. And I never feel sick, until a day or two after my body has heard the announcement.

There are some souveniers I don’t particularly want to bring home, and the sort of cold that keeps me asleep for longer than jetlag can is on that list. I prefer things such as books, postcards, and little tourist maps of where I have been. They’re easier to carry, even if the germs do weigh less.

If I wanted to be rational, I know I could make a good argument that it is probably the result of becoming run down on my holidays. It is difficult to maintain the sort of nutrition your body is used to when travelling, and I know that I need to keep a certain level of balance with my diet or things begin to get unpleasant. There is also a significant amount of increased activity when I am travelling, and not always as much rest. It places a toll on my system, and coming home is the perfect time to repair the damage.

I get it, but I don’t have to like it.

Instead of being rational, I am going to continue my quiet blame of the Australian government and their rules. It makes me feel better when I’m stranded on my couch, unable to move without setting off another sneezing fit.

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Auf Wiedersehen Germany

My two months in Germany end today. All I could feel this morning was excitement that was drowned out by relief. No more hotels, awkward language barriers, or heavy luggage. I’m finally going home.

Despite teasing comments from my friends, I did not embark on this trip to “find myself”. There was a long list of objectives, and that was where I focused my attention. Still, I have learned a lot about myself while I have travelled. It is almost impossible not to when you are away from home for so long.

I have learned that I’m pretty good at dealing with problems, but useless at it when I am tired or feel unwell. My I-can’t-cope-with-this basket has shrunk dramatically, while my I-don’t-want-to-deal-with-this basket has grown correspondingly larger. I’m not a fan of having problems, but there are an awful lot that I’ve learned how to deal with.

I have learned that I’m a pretty creative person, but only when I feel relaxed. As soon as I begin to feel anxious about outside factors that are beyond my control, I diminish my own ability to solve my problems. There is so much I am capable of working out if I just take a few deep breaths and get a grip.

I have learned that there is a lot of stuff that I don’t want to buy into, but I still need to learn how to spot most of it from a distance. There are a few values that I hold dear – such as substance and quality – and a few that I want to get as far away from as possible. I’m not interested in wasting large slabs of my time because something is the done thing. If it doesn’t fit my values, I just want to walk away from it.

I have learned that I love travelling, but prefer it in shorter durations. I feel compelled to embrace the trip to the point that I cannot embrace the other things that are important to me. It is too easy to put my life on hold while I am away, and this creates a lot of tension for me that I don’t enjoy or need.

I have learned that there are things I want to achieve in my life, and that I won’t get them if I don’t devote my time and energy to pursuing them. I am capable of doing so much, and now is a great time in my life to prove that to myself.

Now, at the end of my trip, there is so much that I want to relearn. I want to remember what my bed feels like, what my pillow feels like, what my couch feels like. I have definitely learned that there is no place like home, mostly because it has all of these things.

Especially the couch.

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Sexy And It Knew It

In the tourist guide for Berlin is the statement that the city would rather be poor and sexy than rich and impotent. When I read that I had to laugh, because it is so true of the Berlin that I remember from a few years ago.

Walking around Berlin this week, I can sense a change in the city. It is subtle, small, and hard to identify, but it has been bothering me. I am undoubtedly seeing a different part of Berlin than I saw several years ago, but vague comments from friends that Berlin had changed over recent years kept me working away at this mental puzzle. Had Berlin really changed, or had I?

As I was stepping out of the U-Bahn, overwhelmed by advertisements desperately pushing the sexy claims, I suddenly hit on the problem. Yes, I have changed, but so has Berlin.

The Berlin that I remember and immediately fell in love with was not a place that advertised. It was a place that was gritty, real, and plagued with issues that it seemed to be ignoring because it was too busy doing its own thing. The Berlin that I am seeing now is so self conscious that any residual irreverent attitude has been difficult to track down.

Sexy doesn’t need to advertise. Sexy knows you know, and it knows that you know that it knows, and that is already too much analysis because sexy has probably lost interest by now and wandered off to do its own thing. Sexy doesn’t need to advertise because it doesn’t care – that’s what makes it sexy in the first place.

Think about the people in your life, and picture them at their sexiest. Are they standing there posing in contrived outfits and working it for the camera, or are they so filled with life that you find yourself wishing you could share a tiny bit of whatever they’ve got? I know that when I think of the sexiest moments of my loves ones, I always remember those times when they were absorbed in something that gave them passion, positive energy, and a sense of fun. That might be in front of the camera for some, but they are a small minority.

I have two more days here before I go home, and I hope that I will be able to find that gritty, real Berlin, hidden underneath the wealthy impotence of the people who have jumped on the bandwagon in the hopes that it will make them sexy too.

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Four Nights in Trier

Last week I spent four nights in Trier, a small German city near the border of Luxembourg. It is rich with Roman architecture, which is what drew me to the place. The proximity of Luxembourg was an added bonus, and I had plans to go there on a day trip before I left.

Trier was one of those cities where I simply kept walking around and admiring the buildings. There are a lot of styles crammed into a small space but, unlike some other German cities, it seems to work there. It does not have the look of reconstruction after wartime devastation. Instead it appears naturally developed, and not at all hurried.

I decided to focus on Trier before I went to Luxembourg. I’ve realised that I find travelling stressful when I am constantly city hopping back and forward without a particular emotional purpose. Day trips are fun but, when I am taking a day trip away from a weekend trip, they mess with my mental schedule and confuse me.

My final full day there arrived, the day to go to Luxembourg, and I found myself procrastinating. I would be very busy, then it would be time to go to the station, and I would somehow miss the train. It was only ever by a few minutes, but it was enough.

Instead of getting frustrated with myself, I decided to observe my behaviour. It dawned on me that I was happy being in Trier and not travelling anywhere else. After almost two months of travelling, I yearned to be stationary for a while. Luxembourg represented more transient movement, and I didn’t want anything to do with it.

I can imagine the howls of protest from a few particular people. I can hear their arguments clearly in my mind. “You should have done it, you’ll regret it later.” “It was so close, why didn’t you put in the effort?” “But you’ve never been before, you should have gone.”

Perhaps.

But perhaps not.

After I decided that I was no longer going to Luxembourg for the day, I ventured back into the old city of Trier. Overnight a festival had sprung up and blossomed. The streets were filled with people. Children carried balloons, music played in every corner, and stages were set up for dancers. Everyone around me appeared to be happy. The bookstores were even filled with dogs.

I never would have known about the festival if I had gone to Luxembourg. Perhaps there would have been something equally wonderful there too. What I do know for certain is that I would have missed out on a fantastic day in Trier, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to embrace being stationary for a while.

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