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Friday, November 26, 2010

No prizes, no awards...

Yesterday I received the dreaded letter from the organisers of the short story competition I entered a few months ago. They thanked me for entering, advised me I hadn't won anything and encouraged me to develop my writing. It was just your standard rejection letter.

I promised I would post the story here once I knew the results, so here it is:


“I don’t think there were violins,” she said “but there were definitely sparks. The sexual chemistry was quite strong between us, do you remember?” Her head tilted to one side as the recollection of that initial shock between them took hold.

She continued to fold his clothes. His suit had been dry cleaned the previous day. She took it out of the plastic wrapping and examined it for any oddities. Sometimes the cleaners left marks but today it was perfect. She removed the little bits of paper they had left pinned to the waistband and the collar.

“It was all in the eyes. I think I drowned in your eyes that day. They were so deep and so brown.” She paused to look in his eyes again then turned her attention back to his clothes. She had just ironed his shirt and proceeded to fold it in exactly the way he liked it. He was so fussy about his shirts. She hated folding his tops that way, sleeves to the back, the sides brought in and then the whole garment halved. It was the way his ex girlfriend had folded his clothes so many years ago and the process always brought back bad memories. She turned to the wardrobe and took a clean, white singlet off the top of the pile on his shelf and rested it on his shirt.

“You know, I still get shaky when I think of the day we met. It was in that tavern, what was the name? The one on the corner of the highway, it looked almost Spanish in design. We had just started going there every Sunday session. Never mind, the name will come to me. I had gone there with Bill. You were with what’s her name, the blonde one? I never got to know her really; probably because you and I ended up leaving together. That caused a fuss, didn’t it? Anyway, I was sitting on the table and I had on my favourite skirt. It was summer and very warm. I think I had a singlet top on. I usually did wear a singlet top with that skirt. The table was made of long wooden planks with unsanded ends and when I kicked my leg back against the edge it scraped against my calf. You saw me jump and came over. Do you remember?” she didn’t look up and her hand stroked the lapel of the jacket she was about to lie out.

His silence was becoming familiar and it didn’t seem to distract her or stop her telling the tale, although she paused to turn to the wardrobe where she found his favourite black belt and a matching tie.

“I knew we would end up in bed as soon as our hands touched.” A longer pause followed. She held her hands out in front of her. For a moment she saw them as they had once been smooth, brown and unwrinkled. She wondered at them now, loose skin, wrinkles and prominent veins. The transition had gone unnoticed for so long that she couldn’t remember when they had changed. But they were the same hands that had felt his electric touch that day, so many years ago. A shiver went down her spine as she thought of it. She let her hands fall slowly down her body, caressing the hips, once so slim her hip bones had jutted out. She had been so proud of those bones. Now they were nowhere to be seen or felt.

She thought about the skirt she had worn that day. It was her favourite skirt, made of soft free flowing blue cotton cut on the bias so the full skirt moved around her calves as she walked. It was floral, tight waisted and fitted from the waist to her hips, with a cream lace inset that ran unevenly about a foot above the hem, giving glimpses of her honey brown legs. She sighed. The days of tanning her body were long gone, as were the days when she had been proud of it. Old age was not fun.

“You know” she said, sitting down on the chair next to the window “the kids would be horrified if they knew how much we enjoyed sex and how often we ‘did it’.” It became difficult for her to keep a straight face. Her smile widened until it cracked the lines around her eyes. She laughed out loud and covered her mouth with her hand, an action remaining from her teenage years. The kids might be adults now with children of their own but to her they would always remain kids.

“It seems pretty amazing the two of us would bring such prudes into the world. My God we weren’t prudish at all, were we?” Her head slipped a fraction to one side as her memories took her on a journey in time. “Once they stopped being babies we had to be so quiet. I think I was forever sticking my head in the pillow!” She chuckled. “I miss those days.”

For a moment she forgot her age and tried to curl one leg under her as she had done so many times in the past. But something cracked and something else refused to move and she had to get up instead and pace a bit to get the blood flowing again. Maybe she would take up yoga or Pilates? She missed the flexibility of her youth. She had practically never sat properly in a chair; perhaps only around her parents. Her sitting place of choice had always been the floor but she often had to make do with curling herself unconventionally on a chair or perching on a table.

“And dance,” she paused “do you remember how we danced? There was one time in the nightclub at that place along the coast. They were playing techno and they had one of those dance floors with the coloured squares. We had just stopped in for a few drinks and we ended up on the dance floor showing the locals how to move. God we could move in those days. I loved techno then. It was so wild.” She thought for a second about jumping up and down to illustrate her point but decided it was probably safer to reminisce about the moves she used to make rather than demonstrate them. “Of course it was disco when we first met.” Her favourite disco music from the time began to jumble in her head and she felt disorientated for a second. “I wore black ‘Grease’ pants.” The past appeared to be punctuated with fashion statements and music but that made sense to her. “We had records then, vinyl they call them now. I wonder where we put our old ones.” Again she looked at him without expecting an answer. She was not disappointed.

She stooped slowly, picked up his shoes and put them near the pile of clothes on the bed. Then she opened his sock drawer and stood for a moment deciding which pair he should wear. “You never did have any fashion sense did you?” she tossed the rhetorical question at him. “If it wasn’t for me you would have worn odd socks and strange shirts.” She smiled again thankful that today’s memories were all happy ones. “Remember that awful shirt you had on when we first met? It was bright red with white buttons. Lord only knows where you had bought it, some Op shop probably. It didn’t take me long to get rid of it.” She picked up a pair of black socks with white diamond shapes down the sides and threw them onto the pile of clothes. They landed, rolled and stayed. She grinned.

The hollow sound of footsteps coming down the hallway seized her attention. They stopped for a brief but lonely moment outside the bedroom door. She caught her breath, steadied herself by looking into his eyes and waited. There was a soft knock at the door.

“Mum? Are you alright?”

It was her eldest son. She could picture his lofty frame leaning in toward the door. It must be difficult for someone so tall to be so quiet. The other two would probably be downstairs with their wives and the grandchildren. She had vaguely heard ‘shushing’ sounds as the women had tried to silence their offspring.

“Mum, the men from the funeral place are here. They’ve come for the clothes.”

She touched his cheek for the last time through the cold glass of the photo frame. She placed the photo on the pile of his clothes. The last clothes he would ever wear. His eyes looked as if they were following her movements. She lifted the photo to her face and searched his eyes for something, perhaps one last spark. Then she kissed his lips, rubbed her lipstick off the glass and set the photo down again. She was ready.

“You can come in sweetheart.” She said and then realised her words hadn’t made a sound. She cleared her throat. “Come in.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Now that spring has finally sprung and I’ve finished study until next year, I can get stuck into spring cleaning. I’m not sure if anyone has ever researched this urge some of us get while we are also fighting off hay fever, but it certainly grips me every year at about the same time the pollen attacks.

I started in my bedroom. Out came the clothes I haven’t worn in more than a year. Then I sorted the jewellery, some of it dating back to my high school days. In the process I found the precious first teeth my sons had lost so many years ago. Shame I didn’t sort them into which teeth belonged to which son! I had some issues when it came to hats. I rarely wear hats, but I do like the ones I have. I even have a black beret that used to be my mothers. The hats went back into my wardrobe.

By the end of the day I had a garbage bag full of clothes to give away, a stack of jewellery and handbags to sell on eBay and I’d torn my favorite jeans. I’d also discovered a pair of brand new court shoes that I have had for over a year but never worn because they suddenly shrunk a size when I got them home. So as I’m sitting here typing, I’m also wearing the court shoes over a pair of tennis socks after spraying them with leather stretcher in the hope they might become comfortable.

Today I will go through the various study books, papers and odd bits and pieces that get thrown in a corner of my room. I really need another bookcase to stack things in. I also plan to tackle the hall and bathroom cupboards. I’m sure there are things in there I simply don’t need any more.

There is something very satisfying about spring cleaning. It can be a spiritual affair. I love the end of a day of cleaning when you can sit back, exhausted, and admire your work.

Speaking of spring cleaning, our old boss left last week and our new one starts this week. In the few meetings we have had with him it looks like he will be a vast improvement for our department. We are keeping our fingers crossed that this isn’t just the “honeymoon period”, but the light at the end of the tunnel is certainly burning a hell of a lot brighter than it did before. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to work tomorrow.

I’ve just found a new favorite quote:

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Maria Robinson

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The week that was

Our family achieved a few milestones this week; there were also some memories and some announcements at work.

On Tuesday my youngest son had his final exam for the year and his final school day for life. We have one more function to attend – the annual Awards Night, and he is finished. On the same day and practically at the same time, I sat my final exam for this semester. Tuesday would have been my mother’s birthday if she were alive. That same afternoon the head of our department emailed us with the details of the person who had been appointed as our new Executive Director.

On Friday our Manager resigned.

Today my eldest son graduates. I will be attending his graduation dinner together with my other two sons, my ex husband and his girlfriend. Today is also my father’s 91st birthday.

After I finished my exam on Tuesday, I picked my son up from school. There he was, sitting on the grassy bank near the street, enjoying the sun. It was the last time I would ever pick up any of my children from school again. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Apart from my first day at school, and after that my first day at the different schools I attended (we moved a lot); I can’t remember my mother either taking me to school or picking me up. Perhaps she did, I just can’t remember.

I remember walking to school, I remember riding my bike to school and I remember catching the bus to school. I remember melting in the heat of summer, running through the rain and struggling through the snow. Sometimes I was with friends on my way to and from school, sometimes on my own.

I didn’t always take my boys to school or pick them up. They would often walk or catch buses or trams. Sometimes they met up with their friends before or after school, going for coffee or a kick of the football. I was often working and couldn’t do the school run as well. But the times they needed me, I was there. I think I will miss that more than anything else – being needed. And yes, I know they will still need me, but it will be in different ways. Like I said – it’s the end of an era and the beginning of the next.

In the words of Fall Out Boy – “thanks for the memories”!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Weighty Issue - Part 2

So how did I manage to lose 3 kilos (6 pounds) you ask? Well, first you have to know that I love food. I love healthy, tasty food. I love crisp salads, I love spicy food, I love chilli, I love cheeses and I love sweet food. I have no intention of giving up food for some sort of shake or replacement. I also enjoy wine and have no intention of giving that up either. The other thing you have to know is that, while I have nothing against exercise, it bores me to tears.

Faced with those realities and the fact that I’m very stubborn and determined to do things my way, I had to devise a plan that would include good food, wine and exercise that wasn’t boring.

I’ve made four major changes to my eating and exercise patterns:

1) Firstly I’ve limited the amount of wheat I eat. I know wheat is in practically everything, so I’m not paranoid about it, but I’ve cut a major amount of it out of my diet. Instead of the 4-5 pasta meals we used to have per week, we are now having 1-2 and the other meals are based around rice or potatoes. I buy bread made from spelt, kamut or oat flours. Spelt and kamut flours are ancient grains which are gluten free. The breads all taste very good. I have wheat free cereal in the mornings – it’s made from oat clusters with cranberries and almonds – I add dried blueberries, flaked almonds, fat reduced Greek yoghurt and fat reduced milk. I would buy gluten free pasta, but it’s very expensive (the bread isn’t cheap either) and the boys eat such big helpings, I just wouldn’t keep up.

If I go to a friends place or out for dinner somewhere, I eat wheat if it’s being served. But I do notice the difference the next day. Since minimising my wheat content I’ve been less bloated and have no wind problems at all.

2) I’ve limited the size of my meals. I cook pretty much the same meals as I always have but I take much smaller portions for myself and I don’t go back for seconds! I have also stopped snacking between meals. I make sure I always have breakfast, during the week its cereal and on weekends it can also be eggs on toast. I rarely buy lunch; instead I take leftovers from the previous evening’s meal. If I do buy lunch it will be a piece of salmon because I don’t often get to cook fish at home.

I cook on non stick pans without any fat. I don’t use butter. I use an olive oil spread and olive oil for cooking if I need. I usually buy fat reduced or fat free dairy items and I check labels for fat content, etc. We eat a lot of stir fry dishes, pasta dishes like spaghetti bolognaise or gnocchi with a simple sauce, or steak or chicken with salads and home made oven baked chips (both potato and sweet potato). I don’t often make desserts. If I do they are usually fruit based.

3) I drink far more water than I ever did before – just plain tap water. I guess I’m lucky as I don’t like soft drinks at all. I used to drink a lot of coffee, but I’ve limited myself to one large cup in the morning and sometimes one in the afternoon.

4) Now here’s the bit that might make you laugh, or at least smile slightly. I knew I had to increase the amount of exercise I did, but I also knew I hated walking around the block and my knees hate me if I run anywhere. I get bored very easily with walking, even with my youngest encouraging me to plod around the local oval. I also don’t have much time in my day for exercise. On the other hand, there are a few TV shows that I enjoy watching and I realise that the time spent in front of the TV is very unproductive. The outcome is that for at least 30 minutes a day of my TV viewing time I walk and jog on the spot while watching! OK, go ahead and laugh – I’m used to it because that’s exactly what my boys do! One day I’d like to get an exercise bike, but that’s definitely in the future.

Three times a week I also do some exercises when I get out of bed. I use a resistance band to do some tricep exercises, and then I do some sit-ups and a few leg exercises. It takes about 10 minutes.

I do make a conscious effort to move more on a daily basis. At work I will print things out on the farthest printer from my desk. At home I will get up and get whatever I want instead of asking the boys to bring it to me. It all helps!

That’s really all I’ve done but it seems to have worked. I don’t have to lose a huge amount of weight. All I’m trying to do is get to 69 kilos and have a waist measurement of less than 31 inches.

I will let you know if I make it!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Weighty Issue - Part 1

My mother’s late onset diabetes haunts my life continually. Not to mention my parent’s high blood pressure and my father’s heart problems. My mother freely admitted that all their conditions could have been controlled and even cured if they had stayed a healthy weight and exercised frequently. She struggled daily with her weight but often lost enthusiasm for healthy food and walking the dog. When I visited she would conceal her eating – a nibble here, a morsel there, just a tiny piece of cake or a smidge of cheese – but it all added up and her daily calorie count would soar. By late afternoon she would be too tired to walk the dog and could barely summon the energy to put dinner on the table and clean up afterwards.

My mother was not always overweight. She was a skinny child, a slim teenager and young woman. Although she never spoke of it I guess she put weight on with pregnancy, just like millions of other women across the world. My mother’s aunt also acquired late onset diabetes, I believe also due to her weight increasing in middle age.

On the other hand my father has never seemed to care about his gradually growing girth. His excess weight settled mostly around his waist and belly and he often makes a grand show of pulling in his stomach and showing everyone how slim he still is. I wish it was so.

With all this family history of overweight and disease, it is any wonder I am constantly conscious of my own weight? I too was always a skinny child and teenager and, until my first pregnancy, it was never difficult to keep my figure. However, as a stay at home mother of one, two and then three boys, I found myself constantly snacking with the boys or neighbours or friends and my slim figure disappeared.

When I separated from my husband I lost 14 kilos (about 28 pounds) seemingly overnight. They fell off me. I stopped eating the leftover food from my boys’ plates, I started walking and I eventually got a gym membership. I felt fantastic. Until about five years later, the fat started creeping back on. And its not easy to keep those extra pounds at bay once you hit middle age.

Apparently I’m not the only one. I have read in the news that Australia is now the most obese country in the world. Our schools are making oversize chairs for our children to sit on. Hospitals are having to supply oversize beds for the sick and injured. Funeral parlours are building oversize coffins. Where is it going to end?

About three weeks ago, after my daily climb onto the bathroom scales, I discovered I had gained 5 kilos (about 10 pounds). I was horrified. The last thing I want to acquire is diabetes or any other unnecessary illness. I decided then and there to lose the weight and keep it off.

I know what has caused my weight gain. I’ve put more calories into my body than it is capable of burning off in my sedentary, computer based work. As we get older our body simply doesn’t need excess energy if we aren’t going to do any exercise to get rid of it.

Willpower is the key; willpower and a belief in eating healthy, moderate meals and exercising regularly. We have lost the ability to say “no” to that extra piece of cake, or the sugar laden soft drink. We have lost the ability to put together a delicious meal from healthy ingredients because it’s far too easy to buy ready made food full of fat, salt and sugar. I was determined to find that willpower again.

Since I climbed on the scales about three weeks ago I’ve lost 3 kilos (about 6 pounds). I would ideally like to lose another 4 kilos. I’ll let you know how I did it in my next post and I’ll let you know if I manage to reach my goal.