Thursday, April 12, 2018

When your hair defines you. Or shaving your head does.

I was wandering around YouTube this week looking for hairstyles for fine hair, like mine. Mind is currently just longer than chin length and I'm contemplating going for a pixie again. But I digress. Somehow I wound up watching a video by a young woman who had gorgeous long hair (the kind of hair a saddo fine-haired person like me lusts over). YouTube can lead you in directions you had no original intent of following!

This young woman lamented she was mainly known as The Girl With The Very Long Hair among her peers. It was as if nobody tried to find out more about her as a person; her hair defined her.

So she shaved her head.

Her hair had been down to her backside. Brave girl. And she rocked the stubble look when it was done, she was gorgeous. But one thing was missing from the video. What did people say about her afterwards? Did they mention her personality when talking about her? Her likes and dislikes? What she laughed at, what she despised? Was she still defined by her hair - or rather, lack of it?

It led me to draw this little story.  And no, her name is not Freya. I plucked that out of the ether.

Freya shaved her head

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Coffee and Yoga. Mind, body and spirit.

When I order coffee at a cafe it's usually an espresso. That little cup of black gold, black magic, call it what you will. If I'm feeling particularly enamoured of the idea of darkness, I'll order a double short black.

It's something that's been a treat from time to time as until recently we didn't have a coffee machine at home. We had a French press and I got rather sick of the mug with milk that was our typical morning tea.

A friend gave me a coffee machine, new old stock, 8 years old and never used. I suspect some plastic pipes inside it had perished or died, as I persevered for a few days, cleaned it, followed all the instructions and never got anything better than dark sludge out of it.

So I bit my lip, mentally apologised to the environment, and bought a wee Nespresso machine. Reader, I know I'm bad. Those pods take forever to decompose. You can't recycle them. But the bliss of popping one in, touching the button and watching an espresso materialise before my eyes, for one fifth of the cost of a cafe one! And I can have one EVERY DAY. I wouldn't walk to our local cafe every day and hand over $4.50 - my espresso was a weekend treat only.

Thankfully there are several brands of compatible pods, and the Vittoria espresso is nicely dark and deep and strong. L'Or isn't bad, either.

And my husband now makes his own flat whites for morning tea and is in heaven.

So what a tasty start to the year we've had.

Coffee cheers my spirit, in moderation is good for the body and gives my mind that little jolt to cheer it up when it doesn't feel like doing work at the computer.

Which segueways nicely into yoga. Now yoga is arguably much better for the mind, body and spirit, and I've taken that up recently. Like, last week, officially. I had been teaching myself from magazines and YouTube and websites, but I bit the bullet and joined a fitness centre that teaches yoga, pilates and barre.

I've decided I'll try and do 3 yoga classes a week, 1 pilates and 1 barre, as they are the only ones that fit in with my schedule - i.e., doing it during business hours. I have no desire to head out at 6am or fight peak hour traffic and overfull classes at 6pm when I'm getting hungry. I'm treating yoga as work - work on myself!

So far I'm loving it; I'm doing yin yoga and hatha yoga. While I do a fitness class on Fridays (bodyweight, light weights and cardio) which makes me realise just what muscles I've used, I'm getting complaints from muscles on a daily basis, but only mildly. It's all good.

I'm feeling a bit calmer - I think! The one bad thing about the yoga place is parking. It's in a shopping strip where the main car park is being redeveloped so parking is at a premium. Last Friday I was driving for 20 minutes around and around the other car park areas there desperate for a spot, almost screaming and my blood pressure going through the roof as I didn't want to be late for my class. I had allowed for 15 minutes to find a park. This rather negates all the good yoga does for my mind, body and spirit I suspect!

My neighbour put me onto the yoga centre as she has recently joined it too, so at least she'll be coming to some of the same classes and urging me to go if I'm feeling lazy or depressed and don't want to leave the house.

I've noticed another difference in my mental state - I want or NEED to do some sort of exercise every day now. Either yoga, pilates, barre or a good brisk walk. For this little sloth, that's a very good thing indeed.

And if yoga doesn't perk me up, fresh espresso will!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The joys of that first swim of summer

OK, it's been summer here for a while but I've been busy cat sitting as well as being lazy on my annual break. But it's time to talk about swimming. Some people swim all year. Summer or winter, they disrobe and don the bathers and hop into the gym pool, or council pool, (always indoors and reeking disgustingly of chlorine) and laboriously do laps and laps of freestyle, backstroke, butterfly or whatever takes their fancy.

That's hard work. Needless to say, that's not me.

The laps are hard work but also disrobing when you know it's single figures outside, or at least well under 20 degrees. Eww. And the chlorine puts me off. Not only for olfactory reasons, but my psoriasis hates it.

No, for me swimming is a purely summer pleasure concerning salt water only, and thus to be looked forward to immensely. It is, for me, the best part of summer, which is usually too hot for me to get decent sleep or exercise after 7am.

I don't swim at a gym or council pool. I don't do laps. I do enjoyment at my local river baths or at one of Sydney's beaches, with or without surf.

It's all about the sheer joy of being enveloped in, and moving in, cool water on a hot day.

It was nearly two months ago when I slipped into the silken, calm, warm water at Balmoral beach for the first time this summer. It always surprises me, small-brained creature that I am, that immediately I'm in the water I become a mermaid or an otter, totally at home with the concept of propelling myself around with arms and legs, playing no-touch-the-ground with the sand. I don't even think about it.

There's a joyous weightlessness about swimming. In the water, I'm my sylph-like 20-something again, rather than a 55 year old trying to kill off the last 5 kilos that will take me back to my 30 year old weight. I feel energised, young, and, cellulite or not, gorgeous.

It's something to do with the sun on my skin, the salt water, the feel of sand beneath my feet (and at the unnetted part of Balmoral, the knowledge I'm shark bait. That sharpens you up).

Balmoral Beach, Mosman, Sydney. In November, few people were swimming during the week.

That first swim was definitely the Ahhhhhh moment. The water, at low tide, was warmed by the sun but I didn't have to go out far for my feet to no longer touch the sand. I did some exercises using my limbs against the heaviness of the water, I swam back and forth, I lay on my back and drank in the sun, the salt, the happy shrieks of children on the beach, and I felt totally at peace.

So during the summer I lazily swim in the river baths five minutes away or Balmoral, fifteen metres here or there of freestyle, or my own creations, sculling like a rower on my back or doing an underwater dog paddle sort of thing with my head out of the water. In the baths at high tide I dive or bomb from one of the platforms - bombing takes me back to my 11 year old self, the one who was unselfconscious.

Our local river baths.

One thing I don't like is putting my face in the water to swim; never have. My eyes hate it and I forget to breathe properly. When I dive or bomb my eyes are squeezed shut and don't open until my head pops up out of the water. I can manage very well with goggles and a snorkel however.

In the surf I love to feel the waves pounding against me. The big ones, eyes firmly squeezed shut, I dive under. The lesser I jump up with, lifted high and often with my arms wide and a big grin on my face. Then there are those that I body surf, or surf with a boogie board. And of course I mistime it here and there and get dumped by the surf, rolled along the sand clamping my eyes and nose shut, trying not to breathe until I'm rolled unceremoniously onto the shore (to the delight of teenagers). An hour in the surf, pushing and pulling against the tide, is hard work. We usually take our surf beach days in two 30 minute swims in the morning. That's enough to work up a huge appetite for lunch at a local cafe. (We love North Narrabeen beach by the way. My grandparents lived there when I was a kid and it's always felt like home.) My skin feels amazing after an hour in the surf, and so does my mind.

North Narrabeen, 9am on a Sunday. Bring it on!


Summer, I love you. When I'm in the water.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

So she slept through my New Year's Eve party ...

Every New Year's Eve we have a party. Not a huge one, typically between 12 - 20 people. Because we live reasonably near the harbour and rivers, we pile into cars at midnight and head down to the riverside to watch the famous Sydney fireworks, then pile back in again, come home and the party starts to wind down.

Whingy, when she is in Sydney for NYE, expects (and gets) an invite to the party. The years she does come, she absents herself around 9.45 and goes inside to have a nap on our sofa until 11.30. This year was no different except that Mr Whingy also nicked off for a nap - into the spare bedroom.

Their excuse? They'd been up since 7am. Me, I'd been up since 5.30am as I had 8 cat sit visits to do, plus make food for the party. Did I nap? Nope. Didn't have the opportunity in the afternoon and wasn't tired until after midnight.

I do think it's the height of rudeness to leave a party and have a nap in the middle of it (unless you're over 75 and feeling it).  One of my other guests joining us for the first time, Posh, was horrified. "Does she do that every year?" she gasped, looking at Whingy on the sofa.

"Yup," I replied sadly.

"How bloody rude!"

My girlfriends Posh and Ms America felt that Whingy thought they were boring if she had to nick off for a sleep. They felt insulted. Old girlfriend Sushi has been to my NYE party for the last 20 years and knew what to expect from Whingy, though. She was amused rather than insulted, but surprised that Whingy hadn't asked for the music to be turned off so she could sleep in peace. Or rather, simply turn it off herself.

The rudeness didn't stop there. In 2017 we finally replaced our 30 year old sofa. The new one is a couple of centimetres longer. However, Whingy didn't think so. She complained the new sofa wasn't as long as the last one and she couldn't stretch out as much to have a sleep.

I hope the Whingies go interstate for this year's NYE. I can't NOT invite them to my party or there will be fireworks that put the Sydney NYE ones to shame. And I can't say to Whingy, "Do you mind not having a nap in the middle of my party as other guests feel insulted?" or she'll accuse ME of rudeness.

If only narcissists could see their real selves when they look in the mirror.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The everyday life of a cat sitter

So I haven't blogged here since July. Shame on me. But time flies when you're having fun.

And having fun I have had. I've taken on a lot more cat sitting work, and boy, let me tell you, it's the most stress-free role I've ever had.

Okay, so there's a lot of driving around, which, depending on the time of day, isn't exactly stress-free, especially when you encounter drivers who seem to have picked their driver's licence out of a cereal packet. But my feline clients for the most part are a joy.

In the last few months I've only come close to being attacked once. By a cat I'll call Sybil.  In fact I'll call her Syko Sybil. (Which looks better on paper than Psycho Sybil.) Here's a cat with personality plus. One personality is nice and normal. The other, the evil twin side, can take the lead in a second. Snarls, growls, hisses and threats. For no particular reason. She's healthy, before you ask. She gets regularly checked by the vet, but she's a rescue cat and who knows what went on in her life before her owner took her home and gave her unconditional love (and probably got scratched and bitten a lot since then).

Some cats are ambivalent. "Oh, you've come to feed me. Good. Feed me and I'll bugger off and sleep somewhere. Cheers." They eat, ignore you patting them and encouraging them to come for a cuddle, and stalk off. Cats will be cats.

Some are love bunnies, and it's these I enjoy the most. They miss their humans and want contact. Pats, strokes, cuddles, brushing. I have heard purrs in every key, and been climbed on and head butted by dozens of joyful furbabies who enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs.

The most rewarding in the last few months has been a pair of Sphynx brothers. I'll call them Da Boyz. I've never really been excited by the idea of a basically hairless cat. Photos show them wrinkled and often, it seems, with a frown on their face. I thought touching them would be weird. It is, in a nice kind of way. They are covered in peach fuzz. Their feet, bony and prehensile, are strangely enchanting. They are agile and very smart; think of a cat who thinks it's a monkey. Their tails are like whips; thin and tapered, and they curl them up elegantly against their flanks when they sit. Waiting for their food, standing up and yelling at me, their tails quiver expectantly.

I've minded Da Boyz twice. The first time was only for a few days and they were keen to tell me they wanted food, and didn't mind the odd pat. But no cuddles thanks. Feed us, clean up after us and we'll watch you and get a bit closer each day.

This month I've had them again, for two and a half weeks on and off. And things have changed between us. Firstly Smaller Boy decided he'd hop up on my knee for a cuddle after food, and he did, nestling his very warm body against mine and purring furiously. His bigger brother watched from on top of a cupboard for a couple of days and then decided it was his turn.

Well. Big Brother has been the most affectionate cat I've ever minded. After feeding (and settling himself for a pee on the toilet - they are both trained to pee over a human loo) he would run to the sofa and jump up, yelling at me to get my butt over there too. Then he'd settle on my knee, firstly kneading me, then marking me by rubbing his head all over the front of my clothing. I'll never wear a white t-shirt to his place again! He would gently touch my cheeks with a soft paw, and lie in my arms like a baby, purring furiously and gazing lovingly into my eyes.

I found I was really looking forward to visiting Da Boyz each day as they were so engaging and loving. After a bit you don't miss the fur; you just cuddle the warm feline body and get smooched and adored in return.

Their owner is a lovely person too; I contact all owners with updates and pics daily, and some respond at length and others don't. Da Boyz's owner is as outgoing and delightful as the cats.

Then there's Chubby Girl The Food Obsessed, who has to have her food measured out in timer bowls which go off at intervals so she doesn't binge eat. She's a butterball and on a strict diet but somehow doesn't seem to lose weight. She's quite affectionate and playful. Her friend Timid Tom on the other hand hides in a cupboard and has his food in a special bowl than will only open to the chip embedded in his collar so Chubby Girl can't steal it. My role with him is to leave the food out and just check he's okay; Chubby likes a brushing and for me to throw balls for her, or some kibble, so she gets exercise by chasing it, preferably up the stairs.

I have, for my sins, agreed to work for four hours on Christmas Day doing cat sitting. The owner of the cat sitting biz has mobility issues and can't handle places with stairs, whereas I look on stairs as fitness aids. My husband G is ok with this, as we're having seafood for lunch rather than the whole baked turkey thing, but it's going to feel weird heading out to work on the country's Big Day Off. But if I don't feed these little sweeties, who will? It's not as if cats celebrate Christmas.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dog days

It's winter in Sydney, and what a winter! Bright, sparkling sunny days, warm and delicious in the sun, cold at night so you can snuggle under a duvet without getting too hot.

Because it's still getting dark early, I have moved into my winter routine. I stop work around 3.30, gather our two dogs and take them to an off-leash area five minutes' drive from home. I can work then when it's dark until it's time to cook dinner.

I could walk there, but our older dog Rose the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is twelve now, arthritic and easily tired. She's delighted to go in the car to her favourite spot, but doesn't run around with other dogs any more; she simply stays at my side or toddles at my heels and has the odd trot around.

Ellie our toy poodle is eleven months old and is delirious with excitement when I let her out of the car.

Because the parking lot is usually pretty empty on weekdays I park at the same spot, near the entrance and she's down the path and onto the grass before I've even shut the car door.

My, my, she's fast. Our little racehorse, chasing anything that moves. Pestering pigeons in the park, I paraphrase, after the song Poisoning Pigeons In The Park.

A happy soul, she easily makes friends with dogs of all sizes and ages. She has rumbled with a Briard sheepdog four times her size, and has endless fun with Cavoodles, who are apparently the dog du jour around here.  I know at least five different regular Cavoodles who frequent the park.

It lifts my heart to see her have such fun, to watch her lithe body transform from a black ball of fluff into a lean, mean, galloping machine, tail used as a rudder, ears flying back behind her head.


After the first minute or two she'll gallop back to me, do a circle and around me, and be off again. She's always clocking where I am, and always comes back to me for reassurance, pats, the odd treat.

I love doing this in winter as the days are cool and she can run like fury without getting too hot. There are fewer people there in winter and most of them have dogs; the serious dog people. Unlike summer, when you get picnickers, fisher folk, teenage lovers, sailors and heaps of kids.

Summer is a different story; muggy and hot unless the breeze is blowing from the right direction. The dogs pant and I get sweaty when we go for our walk around the point. I love the winter dog days. The coolth. The warm coat, and perhaps a scarf. And most of all the energy of Ellie.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The forgotten women - over 60, single and broke

I was thinking earlier today about three women friends who are all in the same boat: over sixty, single/divorced, childless, and with not much money or income to their name despite running their own businesses. One in particular, who doesn't own her own place, is looking down the barrel of a pretty dismal retirement, assuming she can ever afford to.

There's a theory by The Barefoot Investor that one can retire quite happily with $250K in superannuation, get the aged pension (part or full depending on your savings) and work maybe one or two days a week (both for a bit of extra cash and to keep your mind active).

That's fine but my three friends don't have $250K in super. Luckily one owns her own apartment. She also has more in super than the others, so I think she'll be better off. Let's call her Sherry. Sherry started her biz eight years ago after taking redundancy from her employer. Sherry now has a disability so will be getting financial assistance from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Her quality of life is going to get worse as time goes on, however, so Sherry needs to assess where she is going to live as she is likely to be in a wheelchair sometime in the next couple of years.

Friend number two, who we'll call Shona, hasn't paid off her house. Her partner left her two years ago after 20 years and Shona apparently doesn't have access to her partner's super. She doesn't have enough super of her own to survive on, so she's keeping on with her struggling biz and hoping that when she reaches pension age in about two years' time she'll own her house. She's renting the house out at the moment to pay it off, and living in the granny flat.

Friend number three, we'll call her Sue, is the worst off of the lot. She had to dig into her super early to pay for major surgery. Divorced many years ago, she got a rough deal out of the marriage and has never owned her own house. Her beautician business is struggling but at 65 she's applied for the pension to make ends meet. I worry how she's going to survive in Sydney with rental prices skyrocketing. At the moment Sue is doing a long term house sit and not paying any rent. She is considering house sitting as a way of life or becoming a companion to an elderly woman. She doesn't want to move from Sydney.

If I have three friends in my relatively small group of friends who are in this position, I wonder and worry how many more women are in the same boat? How many have been ditched by their partners for someone younger (poor Shona!)?  How many are worrying that when they retire they won't be able to pay the rent? How many will have to consider moving out of a major city such as Sydney and Melbourne, leaving their friends and maybe family, and moving to a country town where rents are cheaper but where they may miss the city life and culture?

Women's wages have always been less than that of males so women have a rough deal to begin with when it comes to saving for their retirement, on the whole.

Well, you may say, why do these women continue persisting with struggling businesses? Can't they get a job? Huh!!! Despite the government urging employers to take on the over-50s, it's VERY hard for women over sixty to get a job unless they are highly qualified. These days qualifications are everything; a single degree hardly counts any more. To be in the running for a white collar management job you need a double degree at least. Shona has part time work in addition to running her business but can't find a full-time job in the region where she lives.

This is a generation of single women who are going to find their retirement years extremely tough - particularly if they haven't paid their home off. When these women started in the workforce, superannuation contributions from employers weren't compulsory. It's likely many women will have started a super contribution late in their working life. For those entrepreneurs who have their own small and struggling business, you can bet the contributions will be lower than that paid by an employer.

I think we are going to hear a lot more about the plight of 'forgotten women' in the next ten years as they hit pension age and rents continue to rise. It breaks my heart.