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This week our fence is being replaced. It is a consummation that we have devoutly wish’d for some time, and I can’t wait. I realise a fence is not an exciting thing to be sharing with you, but I do not even care, such is my happiness. I realise that the less charitable may read into my longing for a fence some sort of submerged wish to be isolated, to be cut off from and beyond my fellow suburbanites: to you, I say ‘didn’t ask.’

Our fence is was a depressing, gap-toothed affair held up only by the smell of buried cat shit and a nicked Liberal Party corflute. When our charming new neighbours moved in (having purchased the house recently vacated by the cats’ owner) we started talking immediately about fence replacements. They have two charming and lovely hounds, but even the most charming and lovely hound needs a sturdy fence (if only to prevent intrusion by additional charming and lovely hounds that would unnecessarily tax the kibble budget).

I am beyond excited about the fencing. (Another sentence I could never have predicted I would one day type without irony.) And not just for the practical reason that it will be less permeable by dogs and look nice, but also because I kinda enjoy having tradies around. I really, really like watching people who are good at what they do. I like watching competent people work. This is at the core of why I love watching videos of good chefs at work (Jaques Pepin or Thomas Keller, for example) and videos of musicians recording in the studio (the Devin Townsend Project’s videos about recording Transcendence were awesome to the max). We recently went full middle class and started paying someone to mow the lawn for us, and I swear on all things woolly that it’s tremendously soothing to watch. One dude whipper-snips, one dude mows, and a third does odd jobs like weeding, pruning and leaf-blowing.

So there was the excitement of having a new fence, plus the excitement of having capable, competent people striding about the place generally solving my problems. It was great. (For the doubters in the back there: they had already replaced our neighbour’s other fence, the one they don’t share with us, and done a bloody good job, so I had zero qualms about their competency and professionalism. Zero.)

The noise, however, was something I didn’t anticipate. I work at home, and noise can be a surprisingly big problem. I ended up wearing my noise-cancelling headphones (o boon to humanity), which meant that I blocked out all the noise but then leapt out of my chair every twelve minutes because I imagined someone had rung the doorbell. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

The highlight of the day was hearing the chainsaw stop suddenly and one guy yell “FUCK!” I tensed up, reviewing all my chainsaw-related first aid as urgently as I could: but then the laughter and talking started again, and the chainsaw restarted, so whatever it was, they weren’t too worried about it. And there wasn’t any blood on the driveway, so I guess they figured it out.

We have a lovely new fence now, thus making our yard completely impenetrable by doggos and presenting an attractive grey backdrop for future planting. I’m thinking dwarf flax.


One salty lady

Friends, I want to share with you the tale of the Great Salt Crisis of 2017. It’s a tale that stretches across time (well, back a few months) and delves into some of the more whimsical peculiarities that my body foists upon me and those that I foist upon it. Shall we?

Super important caveat: I’m not a doctor. I’m not a chemist. I’m not an endocrinologist. This is my experience and is not a prescription for your behaviour, your medication, or your nutrition. There’s no guarantee I’ve correctly understood the body’s chemicals and their actions. Please read this as an interesting story only.

Last year, as keen readers will no doubt remember me mentioning, was a bit of a meds maelstrom for me, as my endocrinologist and I trial-and-errored our way towards a new and better cortisol dose that will serve me more smoothly over the course of the day. We finally settled into a good routine in about August, and I’ve been on that pleasant and steady dosage ever since. Huzzah for good medical care, huzzah for an excellent endocrinologist!

It took me a long time to bounce back from the meds maelstrom. Due to some misunderstandings, I had spent the first half of the year on a very low dose, dragging myself from thing to thing in a grey and pallid state. (My endocrinologist, upon hearing about this: “You must be exhausted!” Me: “…I’ve been very brave.”) I lost a lot of fitness, partly (I presume) because of cortisol’s impact on muscle strength and energy/stamina overall, and partly because I simply couldn’t be stuffed exercising. After restoring myself to a healthy dose, we began the long and surprisingly slow course to regaining strength and energy. My stamina was shot for a really long time, and my recovery from exertion was slow and annoying.

Early this year, I noticed I was really getting tired. And light-headed. In early January, while we were camping with friends, the bend-over-stand-up process by which one secures tent pegs into the ground was as a dizzying and exhilarating roller-coaster ride for me. I had to sit down for a bit. Later, while helping my beloved yoga teacher with her latest round of teacher training, I found not only was the bend-over-stand-up process by which we go through sun salutations and the prasarita paddottonasana series completely head-draining, but the whole day was nothing short of exhausting. Something was up, I realised, and it was probably cortisol-related.

I had a sudden flashback: while preparing to go camping and packing my meds, I realised my Florinef (fludrocortisone: replaces the body’s aldosterone) was getting to the pointy end of its lifespan. I checked the bottle: It expired in December 2016. “Aha!” Cried M and myself, high-fiving. I treated myself to half a tablet from a new, unexpired bottle, presuming that even if it was expired, I was probably getting some good out of the old ones, and shouldn’t take a whole new one. I called my endocrinologist. The conversation went a little like this:

Me: “Bad news and good news: the bad news is I’ve been feeling like crud. The good news is, I figured out why! My Florinef expired!”

She: “Really? Huh, that’s weird…tablets don’t usually go off that quickly. How’s your salt intake?”

Me: “My what? Yeah, fine. Aren’t I clever?”

She: “Well, it sounds like you’ve sorted it out. Good job. Just keep an eye on your salt levels for me, okay? It’s been pretty hot lately. Call me if the symptoms come back.”

The next day I felt awesome. The day after that, it was back to blobsville. I double checked my meds: definitely the unexpired, fresh bottle. And yet? Still no good. Fine, I thought. I’ll give the salt thing a look at. Over a mug of miso, M and I had a chat about what we eat. Since I’m allergic to nightshades (tomatoes, chillies, potatoes, etc. etc.), we don’t buy a lot of pre-made stuff. Most sauces and things like that are out, because they usually have a little bit of chilli or cayenne or paprika or potato starch or whatever. So we make our own—and don’t add much salt. Why would you? You get told from day one that salt is the Literal Devil and you Must Not Eat It. It’s second only to fat in the hierarchy of edible evil.

And then we gave up carbs. Carby foods generally contain a lot of salt, even the homemade stuff. So there’s another source of salt gone. And there’s a LOT of discussion on various low-carb forums and sites regarding the need to up your electrolyte intake when you ditch the carbs: it seems that there’s something about the relationship between carbs, water, and electrolytes that shifts when you drop carbs. Not for everyone, but definitely for me. So in the end, my salt intake was extremely scant. Mostly from cheddar and feta. Turns out you need salt to get by, too. It’s important.

AND THEN we have the confounding factor of Addison’s. One of the many roles of aldosterone is to regulate the body’s salt and keep it optimum. If you lose a lot of salt, such as through exercising when it’s hot, or even just sitting around sweating when it’s hot, the amount of aldosterone you produce increases, in order to reduce the amount of salt you pee out. Only, if your body can’t adjust it—if, for example, your body’s only source of aldosterone is a fixed-dose tablet every morningthere’s no message sent to say ‘hey, hold onto that salt, we’re running low’. To recap: I was losing salt through sweat (hot summer days, and also exercise more generally), I wasn’t replacing it in my diet (low-carb, no nightshades), and I was mysteriously feeling ill. And the reason I felt so awesome that day I had the extra half tablet of Florinef from the unexpired bottle? That mimicked increased aldosterone, which (temporarily) reduced the amount of salt I was wantonly discarding.

M was a champ and whipped up the saltiest dinners he could think of. I drank mug after mug of miso soup (800mg of sodium per mug, I’ll have you know!). Lucky I love miso soup. After a day or two of sudden and astonishing energy, I picked up some salt tablets at the chemist and now they’re a part of my daily supplements. I even keep a bottle in my gym bag, because I get sweaty at the gym and sometimes need a top-up.

So here’s the kicker: I feel better than I have since August. My stamina is bonkers good; my energy levels are higher than ever; and when I get out of bed in the morning, I feel awesome (sorry, I didn’t want to tell you). I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been a bit short of salt since we gave up carbs (in July), or if I’ve finally recovered from the six-month cortisol underdosing—but I suspect it’s the first option. This has been yet another astonishing revelation in the category of Quirks of Bethini’s System.

My endocrinologist is the best. A follow-up conversation:

Me: “You were right. It was the salt.”

She: “Well, the weather has been disgusting. Keep it up: don’t be scared to take more Florinef if you need it, but if your blood pressure stays steady, you can keep taking the salt tabs.”

Enter my new toy: a manual sphygmomanometer (blood pressure checker dealie). It came in teal! In a dinky little case and with a matching teal stethoscope!

Playing with a stethoscope.

Testing my new blood pressure dealie on an unresponsive patient.

Turns out they don’t even check you’re a doctor. Anyone can buy them.

Stay salty, everyone!


Deep and unnerving realisation

I’ve been working on my lovely Pinoli zippered hoodie for *mumble* months now (in case you didn’t catch that, the mumble was a number greater than twelve), and I think I’ve realised the cause behind my exponential increase in reluctance to work on it.

I’m not sure I want it.

I mean, I desperately want a Pinoli, but I don’t think I want the one I’ve (almost) made. Oops. I don’t think I want another dark green sweater; I don’t think I want one made with acryclic; and I don’t think I want one in the fabric I’m producing.

Close up of Pinoli texture.

Picture deliberately chosen to conceal how much I have left to knit.

Boy, that was tough to say.

I’ve been rereading the Yarn Harlot’s blog archives because I’ve had a lot of timeline-critical knitting to do and wanted something I can read without my hands, and something that comes up occasionally is the importance of producing a fabric that will wear well —  something with the spring and swagger that we like in knitting, and that won’t become saggy baggy elephant pants two washes into its lifespan. And unfortunately, I suspect that’s where we’re going.

So I have two options:

  1. Unravel, buy some other yarn, and knit the Pinoli that my little heart craves so earnestly. One with woolly bounce and rad contrast facings. (I’ve also seen someone on Ravelry made one without the stitch pattern and with a squirrel/heart motif instead and I WANT IT.)
  2. Finish, buy some other yarn, and knit the Pinoli that my little heart etc., and quietly consign the first incarnation to charity.
  3. Finish, and by some miracle, find myself in love with it.

While I kinda hope number 3 is what will happen, I suspect number 1 is where we’re headed. I need to figure it out soon, though: I’m getting knitter’s block. It’s like reader’s block, where the one thing you should be reading isn’t at all interesting and you don’t want to read it. So you read nothing. I’m not knitting anything (socks notwithstanding) because I’m not knitting Pinoli.

An odd thing about me (and there are many): I have a mild tendency to anthropomorphise damn near everything. So when I was photographing my Pinoli-in-progress for this post…I felt guilty. So here’s my final prediction: I’ll keep at it now, finish it somewhat resentfully, wear it three times out of guilt and then banish it to the bottom of my drawers until I next have a clear out.

Heck. Pass me my Bendigo Woollen Mills sample card, would ya?

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The Earth turns and I’m on it.

That sounds like a big, momentous opening, but seriously: this year is so far like being strapped to a rocket and it’s both exhilarating (WHEE WHERE ARE WE GOING) and astonishing (who strapped me to a rocket?). I have more work going on than I have in any other year as a freelancer (for the first quarter, anyway), I’m teaching yoga again, I’m knitting up a storm and slowly rehabilitating two quasi-feralised cats: there’s a lot goin’ on.

Did I mention I’ve given up carbs?

Goddamn it, yep. And…I’m really sorry about this…but it’s a bit great. Not in a “whoa, everything I eat is amazing!” way, obviously, because I’m not eating noodles anymore. But (and I didn’t want to admit this either) the difference in how I feel is noticeable. And the difference in M is just incredible. Whereas he was losing whole afternoons before we gave up carbs (I’m not kidding: there have been days where, if we needed to go out, I had to drive because he was so foggy and sleepy), he’s now charging through the days on full throttle, sleeping like a champion and changing the world for the better. It’s awesome. But I tell you what, mates: I’m super glad that we started the whole carb-free shebang last year. This year has been whiplash after whiplash, ever since…like, November? I don’t think I’d be able to get through it if I was still jonesing for udon. As it stands, we’re both tougher than ever, living off cheeses and cream and lashings of olive oil.

I’ve also more or less given up Twitter. I loved Twitter, but a lot of the people I follow are (rightly) doing their (completely justified) grieving on Twitter. And a lot of the things that are guaranteed to ruin me, emotionally, for a few days, are popping up with discomfiting frequency in the news. So if you’ve tweeted something cool lately and been eating your heart out because I didn’t fave it, that’s why. For the time being, I’m sticking to Instagram, where the pictures are of knitting and the comments are optional.

So I’m working hard, reading hard (see previous post), avoiding Twitter, and knitting like the clappers.

Another confession: I’ve gone back to working with animal fibres. The reason I say ‘confession’ is that a few years ago I announced on this here self-same blog that I was renouncing animal fibres for a while. And, I’m sorry to say, a lot of the arguments I made then I still believe. But there is nothing like wool. There is nothing on the whole planet like sheep fibre: strong, soft, light, lush, warm, gentle on the hands, water-repellent and self-extinguishing. And here’s the kicker: it’s renewable and biodegradable. Once I realised all the acrylic yarn I’ve ever used is going to be with future generations (not in an heirloom way, but in a caught in the trachea of a sea turtle way), I decided that wasn’t the way I wanted things to roll. So I’m back on the wool and my heavens it is lovely. I’m looking forward to felting me some slippers come this winter, and you would not believe my rate of sock turnout right now.

You’d think with all this going on, I’d be just sitting quietly somewhere, clutching the edge of the furniture and murmuring soothing things like ‘purl two, knit one through the back of the loop’ over and over. As it is, I’m driving into the skid: I’m learning to cook crazy vegetarian low-carb goods, I’m reading poetry, I’m toying with trying my hand at weaving and I’ve taken up fencing lessons. Life wants change to shake things up? Then I’m a polaroid, baby.


The unread book problem

I’m not alone. I know as soon as you saw that title, you were already nodding sadly and thinking ‘same’.

I’ll be honest: in many ways I don’t think of this as a problem. At my last count, I had over 50 unread books waiting for me, in my collection alone. That’s not even counting my unread ebooks, nor is it counting M’s substantial collection that he shares with me because he’s awesome and likes me. 50 books. And not skinny weeny ones: big hearty books that would take me a couple of weeks to read. So that means I have easily more than enough books for a year without buying anymore.

The thing is, that count was done maybe eighteen months ago and I’ve been too embarrassed to do another count since then. I mean, sure I’ve read a bunch since then, but I’ve bought a much bigger bunch. There were a couple of times last year when I was too tired or too busy to read (although not many, let’s be honest), and…and…instead I would buy another book.

I know! Stop yelling at me. I don’t understand it either.

Much like knitting, where I have multiple projects on the go to ensure I’ve got knitting for every occasion (there’s listening knitting for podcasts and Simpsons repeats, there’s don’t-need-to-look knitting for social events and things I need to look at, there’s need-to-look-at-a-teensy-bit for long car trips, etc. etc.), I’ve got a book on the go for every mood and temperament. But that doesn’t fully explain the abundance of unread books. If anything, it just raises more insistent questions about not reading them, since I have no excuse for ever not reading.

Earlier this year I even thought about drawing one of those huge thermometers on butcher’s paper that people do for fundraisers, so that each time I finish a book I can add another line in highlighter and gradually track my progress. But, well, I chickened out. I don’t really want to know how many books I haven’t fulfilled my promise to.

And that’s the heart of it: I feel like I’ve let down all those books. (I should also feel a bit embarrassed by all the money I’ve spent on them, but because I know I’ll eventually read and relish them, I figure it’s just delayed value fulfilment.) I’m also a little uneasy about all the other things I’ve promised I will occupy my hands and eyes with — all the unkitted yarn, the unread French texts, the unpracticed violin just over there and GOD HELP ME the unstitched cross stitch kits I just bought in a fit of bewilderment where I thought I was someone who had nothing to do. But frankly enough about that. I don’t care to go into my apparent need to constantly build walls against the possibility of boredom, because I don’t like what it says about my maturity.

So what are we going to do about it? What do you think we’re going to do? We are going to READ, emmereffers! We’re going to READ THE DICKENS out of the TBR pile! (Which, ironically, contains no Dickens.) I’m going to slay this goldarn tower of delicious books even if it means I don’t buy another book for the rest of the year! (I don’t even believe that is possible, but I liked the way it sounds, so.) Behold my stern resolution, ye mighty, and despair!


New year, who dis?

I love New Year’s. Christmas is good and all, but New Year’s is my favourite. On New Year’s Eve, I clear the day and clean the house. I do the stuff I don’t normally do when cleaning generally, like scrubbing the splashed gunk off the kettle and washing the front of the dishwasher. Last year (whoa, 2016 is last year) I even took the garbage/compost bins out and scoured them, outside and in, until they were immaculate. Why? Because I like waking up and feeling the excitement of a whole year of potential, and waking up to a clean house increases that tenfold—it’s starting the new year as I plan to go on.

On New Year’s Day, I have a tradition of doing a little of all the things I want to do a lot of during the year. I’m not superstitious, but that’s the best damn way of spending a day I can think of and I’m happy to use a public holiday to legitimise it. So I cook, and eat, and play my violin and my clarinet; I knit and write and go for a walk and lift some weights—and this year I sipped champagne in the bathtub while reading an excellent novel because I’m just that fancy.

I’ll be honest: it was a busy day.

Every year I think about all the things I want to do more of: more music practice, more writing, more hiking, more whatever. And I’m slowly (slooowly) (sloooooooowly) coming to realise that time is a zero-sum game. The more time you spend doing one thing, the less you have to spend doing another. Look, I know this isn’t rocket surgery, but you wouldn’t believe how many days I plan out as if this is completely not the case.

It would be lovely for me to report that this new wisdom has encouraged me to do less this year, and do it better. But no. Instead I’ve signed up for fencing classes (awww yiss), I’m teaching yoga again, and I have such plans for hiking, travelling and strength training that I have to remind myself periodically that I have a job and actually have to spend time working as well. (Not to mention sleeping.)

So instead of setting myself goals and resolutions this year, I’ve decided to set a few gentle boundaries, mysteriously in the second person:

  1. Read the books you’ve got. Let’s see how long you can go without buying a new book. (Currently enjoying a four-week streak of not-buying, which is amazing, but there’s another tab open in the browser RIGHT NOW with a book I’m probably going to buy as soon as I have a glass of wine.)
  2. Bigger breakfasts. You’re sick of hitting the wall mid-morning and then spending the period from 10:30 until 12:00 every day complaining about being tired (I expect M’s a bit over it, too).
  3. More sleep. Well, if you insist.
  4. Pair of socks on the needles at all times. Earlier this year I realised my sock drawer was mortifying: everything in it was either worn through or didn’t fit. (It’s totally possible to stuff up the fit on a sock.) This is not a proud state for a knitter, and in the months since I’ve made about seven pairs (phew)—and hot dang, I’m back on the sock wagon.
  5. Knit the yarn you’ve got. Okay, you can buy that yarn for that rad sweater you’re going to make, but everything else has to come from the stash, capisce? If you’re feeling stumped and uninspired, see point 4.
  6. If in doubt, go for a walk. You never regret a walk.

With these firm principles in mind, I feel like I can march safely forward into 2017. C’mon everybody!


In summary

So 2016 was a doozy, huh?

In a broader cultural sense for the Western world, is was a honker of a year: even leaving aside political upheaval and the deaths of idols, it was a year of vehement public discussion and agitation. Everywhere I went, the culture felt raw and bruised. Then the conversations turn down the path of ‘can you really grieve for someone you never met?’ and make a swift turn into ‘is a year ever really bad or is that just perception?’ and then abruptly end up in the cul-de-sac of ‘how dare you police my twitter stream’, before devolving into bickering about who forgot the map.

But this isn’t the space for that discussion. This is my blog and I’mma talk about me.

2016 was an odd year for me. It feels like it went on forever. When I recall going to, say, Wanderlust, in February 2016, it’s so long ago that I have to check whether it was a dream, a memory, or just something someone told me about.

A big part of 2016 was spent being very unhealthy. Alert readers will recall that I have Addison’s disease, and in late 2015 my endocrinologist and I discussed reducing my meds dose. I obediently did so, despite how cripplingly tired it made me. I managed: but that’s about it. It was bloody awful, retrospectively, but at the time, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and got through it, somehow. In mid-2016, I saw the endocrinologist again for my six-monthly checkup, wherein it was revealed there had been a misunderstanding, and I wasn’t to reduce my overall dose, just the first-thing-in-the-morning dose. Well thank criminy, because I felt like grey mush.

Once the meds thing got reorganised and I was on a better dose, there’s no doubt that I felt much, much better right away. Plus, now I had a (not entirely fictitious) excuse for everything I’d flubbed, forgotten or flunked in the first half of the year.

Buuuuuuuut. Six months of low energy has a long shadow. I’d spent the six months so easily drained and so tired that it’s amazing I didn’t give up on everything: all the physical things I love to do were just wrecking me. I’d hit the gym on Friday morning, lift weights, and then have to more or less take the afternoon off. So I reduced loads, cut back, and I’m sure more than once simply gave up and skipped exercising altogether. I lost a lot of ground: it was noticeable when walking next to M, whose easy walking pace had me winded and desperate. So once the meds got sorted, we began the tedious process of regaining stamina and strength. I look back over 2016 and realise that I wasn’t really where I wanted to be, health-wise, until about October. (I hasten to add: I’m in great shape right now, and the meds adjustment was ultimately for the better.)

Workwise, it was my second year as a freelance editor and indexer: less terrifying than the first, but not without its moments. I had a more constant stream of work, and more repeat customers, both of which are soothing to the freelancer soul. And, even more excitingly, I feel like I’m a better editor than I was at the start of 2016 — although this is based entirely on personal perception, not measurable metrics.

We travelled a lot: New York, Lausanne and Berlin were the trinity of the mid-year trip (which thankfully came after the misunderstanding vis a vis meds had been acknowledged, but before it had been entirely smoothed out, and well before I’d fully recovered), and all three were as wonderful as ever — including the trapeze class I mentioned. We also went to New Zealand with M’s dad, in an effort to show him some glorious fodder for his camera and also to see glaciers.

And I read millions of books. Okay, not millions, but I read a *lot* of books this year. Occasionally I wonder if I should keep track of the books I’m reading, but honestly, when you run your own business, you’re really not at all interested in giving yourself another admin job to do.

So there was a lot of good stuff in 2016 (again, only commenting on me and my business, not the world at large), but it felt somehow uncollected. It’s easy to see how the meds issue affected everything in 2016: it was hard to sustain interest in anything, let alone everything. I’m therefore turning towards 2017 with a renewed attitude of excitement and optimism.

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Nobody’s surprised but us

It will surprise nobody to hear we adopted the cats.

Brown rests atop my laptop

The newly adopted Brown finds a comfortable perch

Let me explain.

We have never met our next-door neighbour. We befriended his greyhound, whom we dubbed Fenceface, and recognised from a distance his two cats, who we called Turtlecat (because she’s a tortoiseshell-and-white) and Brindlebum (because she’s a brindle). The cats were shy and kept their distance: Fenceface was flea-ridden and tried to come inside when there were storms or hot-air balloons about. All three seemed lonely and outside a lot.

Last year, we noticed that Fenceface was becoming thinner and thinner. We tried to reassure ourselves that she was a greyhound, and we were probably just imagining how thin she was — but it was becoming obvious that she hadn’t been inside for a while and she was pretty hungry. We started giving her some dog biscuits whenever we saw her; we decided our neighbour was away and nobody was coming over to feed her.

Then, about twelve months ago, a dude came down our driveway and introduced himself: he was a friend of our neighbour, and wanted to know if we’d seen him lately. He explained that he and our neighbour used to be cops together, and they’d seen some pretty nasty stuff. Now retired, our neighbour was self-medicating (to a fairly catastrophic level) with alcohol. We swapped numbers and promised to tell him if we saw our neighbour. He texted us not long afterwards, saying our neighbour was in hospital, and thanking us for our help. Fenceface vanished entirely: we assumed she’d run away, perhaps picked up by the pound or the RSPCA. We checked their sites and found no dogs matching her description.

After a week or so, we realised nobody was coming to feed the cats. So we casually left some cat biscuits in the garden. Just scattered about, like windfalls from the cat biscuit tree. The cats were not fooled for a moment, and the next day were sitting expectantly on our back lawn. When it rained, we moved the biscuit feeding spot to the back deck, so they could stay dry (and so we didn’t have to deal with melted biscuit sludge everywhere). Little by little, they became less shy: they started to come when we shook the biscuit box, and even let us pat them.

After six months or so, we had a beautiful surprise when Fenceface came back! Not only was she fat and flea-free, she was registered and proudly sporting a new red collar with her tags. She pranced around the cats, and they purred and schmoozed her warmly. We only saw her a handful of times after that: our neighbour was in and out of hospital, and whoever had adopted Fenceface was bringing her over for visits, not stays.

Time passed (imagine leaves growing and changing colour in a time-lapse montage).

The cats grew increasingly comfortable: Brindlebum, in particular, would make regular dashes indoors as we went in and out, and even squeezed herself in through an open window in the middle of the night. As winter settled in, they established themselves on the two camping chairs we left on the back deck (for our benefit, not theirs, but whatever). The nights grew colder, and we worried about not having live cats to give back to our neighbour when he came home. So we put out second-hand jumpers and towels and made them comfortable.

We went overseas for a month: we bought an automated cat feeder to make sure they were kept alive. (At this point, you should start shaking your heads at our ongoing denial of having any cats, but trust me, the whole thing seemed reasonable.) While we were away, one of the neighbour’s dogs broke it free of its moorings and emptied it. M’s dad, who was checking up on the place, began feeding them. We returned to find two suddenly enormous cats addicted to Science Diet kibble, and surprisingly euphoric to see us.

We settled into a routine: feed the cats morning and night, lots of pats, and generally try to ignore them scratching and meowing at the windows, begging to come in.

And then, just the other day, our neighbour’s house was suddenly active. There was a skip out the front, and industrious noises. Something had clearly changed. We screwed our courage to the sticking place and headed over to (a) introduce ourselves; and (b) try to give the cats back if possible. Well, instead of meeting our neighbour, we met a team of hardworking professional cleaners. The manager had a wee chat with us, where she gently explained that our neighbour “is no longer of this world.” I realised later that we had put her in a terribly awkward spot: imagining explaining to two strangers that someone else, who is also a stranger to you but clearly not to them, has died! She must have been dreading our reactions. She explained the beneficiaries, who were paying to have the place cleaned up, hadn’t said anything about cats, so there the matter rested.

Which meant we had two well-established cats to decide what to do with.

Ultimately, despite neither of us really wanting cats, it seemed like the best option was to adopt them. Our reluctance stemmed from (a) M’s allergy to cats; and (b) our frequent travelling, which seems unfair on them.

We opened the doors and encouraged them in. Brindlebum — whose name has since become “Brown” because, well, it’s easier — was like “FINALLY”. She moved in immediately and didn’t stop purring for a week. Her sister, Turtlecat, who is now known as “Bert” because that’s what she seems to say when she meows, has not been so confident. She came inside on that first day and after a few moments PANICKED and started howling and howling to be let out. We’re making slow progress, where each day she comes a little further inside for her food: eventually we’ll get her comfortable enough to close the door behind her for a while. Slow progress, but progress all the same.

So there we have it. We are now the somewhat surprised owners of two cats. Brown kept us awake for her first couple of nights indoors, since she is so happy to be inside that she simply walks around the house meowing. This happened again on our first night back after our trip to New Zealand. She doesn’t want to go out, nor does she need food: she’s just purring and happy. It’s hard to stay mad at her for that.

Brown looks

Brown giving a Brown look.

My idea of fun, part 2

I’m in New York this week (WOOOO!), which means my first opportunity to explore my newly-discovered ambition to fly on a flying trapeze. I read Delilah S. Dawson’s splendid and inspiring post about trapeze lessons last year, and decided I was going to do it when I was next in an area that promised it. And then our trip to New York came up and I remembered it.

I put off booking. I put it off, put it off, until the last minute; the night before. I worried about getting hurt and having an Addison’s crisis and no insurance to pay for it. I researched the cost of setting broken limbs. I had butterflies all evening. A local friend said he’d done it a few years ago and warned me not to over-arch my back. Since I have a strong and bendy back already, I jokingly asked about the walk from my metro stop to the location, and whether I would get shot. (Those who know me know I wasn’t really joking. They’re shaking their heads a bit and rightly so.) I’ve never really recovered from the time Google Maps sent me marching merrily through one of the more dangerous areas of Miami. Reassured that I was completely unlikely to be shot en route, I mentally prepared myself.

I was bloody nervous. I had butterflies in my tummy, but the nervous diarrhoea got rid of them quick-smart. Walking to the space was good; it reassured me, and got me moving around to burn up some of the adrenaline. The staff were cheerful, friendly, and welcoming: nobody laughed at me for asking where the change room was or anything.

And you know what? It was terrifying. Fun. Amazing, fun, exhilerating, and utterly terrifying. Every instinct in the body says “don’t go up that big ladder”, “don’t hold that big swing bar” and “for the love of God don’t jump off!” and yet you have to do all of those things. It was an amazing rush. And utterly terrifying.

On the first swing, you learn how to get started, how to flip backwards and wrap your legs over the trapeze, let go, and swing by your knees for a bit. It’s amazing how available this is: I honestly thought we’d spend ages practising just the basics — turns out nope! You’re upside down and going for it on your first try. Then you catch the bar in your hands again, unhook your legs, and let go.

I bounced along the net (which was awesome fun) and gently flipped over the edge to the ground (as per instruction). And joined the queue to do it again. I was hoping that after the first go, I would feel such a joyful rush of adrenaline that I wanted to do it over and over — I’ve heard skydivers tell me that’s what they felt — but honestly, I was glad to get back on the ground.

The second time was better, no doubt about it. By the third, I was getting super tired. The adrenaline and fear were draining me, and my calves were getting sore. On the third swing, we dismounted with a somersault, which was kind of amazing: you barely do anything and just let the momentum whisk you base-over-apex before plopping into the net again.

The fourth time was the big enchilada: the catch! After inverting and hanging by your knees, you arch backwards and reach your hands out, grab the wrists of the catcher, and let go of your trapeze! It was exciting! I nearly opted out, and had to talk myself into it quite firmly. I had someone record a video of me while I was doing it, which spurred me to slightly greater confidence: to my astonishment, I did it! First try and everything!

It was fun: I challenged myself to do something exhilarating and scary, and it was totally worth it — but would I do it again? Not so sure. I’ve rewatched the video and been delighted at myself, but when I watched someone else’s GoPro video of their experience, I felt nauseous and scared and had to almost look away. So maybe once is enough for me. But I’m glad I did it!

My idea of fun


Canberra just got its first puzzle room and it’s the best damn thing ever.

A puzzle room is a challenge: the organisers lock you in a room for a set amount of time and you have to solve a series of puzzles to let yourself out. The rules vary from room to room, but generally if you don’t get out within the set period of time, you lose; if you do get out, you win. There’s usually a story behind them that gives extra importance to getting out of the room, so I feel particularly guilty that we went eight minutes over (sorry Casey). The builders of Riddle Room, Canberra’s first puzzle room, have built something spectacular. An immersive, challenging, exciting, adrenaline-spiking series of puzzles all in a tiny, tense, dark little room.

The premise is this: you have volunteered to enter a little girl’s subconscious to find the cause of her endless nightmares. If you get out, her nightmares end and her sanity returns. If you don’t, you’re trapped in her feverish mind forever. Embrace the premise and have a blast.

I was a bit jumpy to begin with, because I just didn’t know what to expect — but once we cracked the first puzzle, thus releasing me from the little room in which I was locked, isolating me from my two companions, the three of us knew that all our years playing Monkey Island had finally come to bear. Each puzzle — and there were some doozies, using problem-solving skills I’d never used in real life before — helps you along the way and you can unlock the next set of clues, one by one whittling your way towards the secret of the little girl’s nightmares. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. We giggled and fumbled and squealed our way through, as well as jumping at every sound, creak and idea and occasionally shining our torches in each other’s eyes. It’s completely dark and the atmosphere is creepy as all hell (if you were one of those kids who couldn’t get enough of books with “real life photos of ghosts” and then couldn’t sleep for days, you’ll find this ominous place delicious), but if you love logic puzzles like codes, hidden messages, and association clues, you’ll have an absolute ball. The scariest moment for me was when I took a step backward and bumped into M, standing on his foot and terrifying myself. Yep. (There’s no way I should be running around in anybody’s subconscious, let’s be honest.)

One of the owners told us afterwards that they’re planning on opening more later this year and I’m SO EXCITED already.

Read more:

And then book yourself in here:

Riddle Room