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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Buying into Buy Nothing - confessions of a shopping addict

So Buy Nothing is a thing. I get it. We live in a very consumerist society. Advertising is everywhere; on the tv, radio, print media, social media and websites and of course emails. It's overwhelming.

Use Facebook and ads will pop up for anything and everything, usually targetted to your age and gender. Visit any number of websites and you'll find an ad for something you searched for on Google recently (I'm sure there's a way to stop my search data being used like that but I can't be arsed finding it out). Click me, they urge, go on - click!

As I have a bulging wardrobe and every kitchen utensil known to man, I committed to stop shopping on 1 July 2017 for a minimum of three months with the aim of stretching it to twelve months.

I confess to being somewhat of a shopping addict. In addition to food and toiletries, I buy clothes, shoes, makeup, books, music and sometimes household goods on a regular basis. The woman at my local dress shop calls me her best customer, although I've been 'good' lately and haven't bought anything from her for six weeks, and that was only the second thing I'd bought from her all year.

But I digress. If I can make it to three months, I can increase my Buy Nothing week by week, month by month. Little steps, regular milestones, will make it easier. Rather like someone in AA taking it one day at a time.

I can see why Buy Nothing is taking off, however. Firstly minimalism is back in vogue, so to achieve it, you need less. Then there's the problem of rubbish and landfill we in the west create.

As well as being a consumerist society, we are a throwaway society. Globalisation has seen fashion become an entity which churns out new designs on an apparently weekly basis. (In fact there is a shop at Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney which promises new stock EVERY WEEK. Ye Gods.) With low labour costs in third world countries it's easy to spend $30-$50 for a new jumper or dress, or $10 on a t-shirt. I'm guilty. When H and M came to Australia I snapped up a handful of $7 t-shirts with absolute glee. After all, white t-shirts usually only last a year or two before they go grey or attract stains even Napisan can't remove. Then into the rubbish they go, too awful to even give to a charity shop.

My goodness, the amount of clothing that goes into landfill is terrifying. How wasteful we are as a society. How greedy. How eager to flash the plastic and buy more, more, more. I feel sorry for the fashionistas who are compelled to buy the latest look, racking up their credit cards to indecent levels, wearing items only a few times before chucking or donating. Because clothing IS so cheap these days, it is very much seen as throwaway after one season.

Granted, little of my clothing gets actually chucked out. Anything still decent goes to charity, damaged clothing gets used by me as cleaning rags before finally hitting the bin.  I get many years out of my clothes as most of what I buy is either fairly classic or interesting enough not to date. I have overcoats I've had for 20+ years and they're still fine.

The human cost behind producing cheap clothes for the western world is heartbreaking. Sweatshops, dangerous conditions, working hours which would cause strikes in Australia. Look at your clothing. Where is it made? Bangladesh? India? Turkey? China? Would you be prepared to pay, say, four times more for each item if it was made in your own country under decent working conditions?

And as for 'the middle aisle' in ALDI - oh, oh, oh! What a joy! The bits and pieces I have bought cheaply, such as weights and gym clothes, or a warm throw for the living room for a tiny $15, fill me with acquisitive delight. For I AM acquisitive, and it's something I'll have to overcome. I don't need more stuff. The majority of us don't need more stuff.


It's not as if I'm in my 20s and have just moved out of home and have to buy or acquire household goods on which to sit, or kitchen utensils and pots. I have it all. Mum left a house full of 'stuff' when she died and I'm still selling or giving away things in an effort to make the place less cluttered.

I'm going to find this Buy Nothing lark hard work I think. I have unsubscribed from various shoe and clothing email lists so I don't get tempted.

So if I'm buying nothing, what are the exceptions for me? Which non-nothings will sneak into the house aside from food etc for us and the animals?
  • Toiletries and cosmetics. I don't buy many cosmetics but I'm not going to go without an eyebrow pencil when my current one dies (local supermarket, $14, and seriously good).  And I don't go mad on toiletries like I used to 20 years ago. I estimate in the next 3 months I will have to buy toothpaste, soap, 1 bottle each of shampoo, conditioner, Nuxe Huile Prodiguese and Nutrimetics Nutri-Rich Oil as these are my staples and I'm running low on them. 
  • Nails. I like having nice nails. It's a pick me up luxury that costs me about $40/month.
  • Hair. Yes, my foils cost money but damned if I'm going to go grey.
  • Books. But only e-books as they are cheaper and don't take up physical space, or I'll rejoin the local library and borrow.
  • I may have to get supplies for my business such as paper and ink for the printer, but then I've always been frugal with my business.
  • Gifts for others' birthdays. Unless I have something I can make or something new I can regift. There are 3 birthdays I have to cater for so I'll have to be canny.

And that's it. For the next two and a half months at least. Wish me luck. Hope I can conquer this shopping addiction and be a Buy Nothing person.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

When good cats turn bad

I mentioned in a recent post my cat friend Fred. Fred has been an angel to look after in my fill-in-for-a-friend cat sitting business. He has a reputation for turning aggressive at the click of a finger, but I haven't seen it.

Until today.

Poor Fred. His owner is away for another 9 days, and he's feeling lonely and starved of his owner's affection.  I walk inside and he immediately head butts my legs. I talk to him, stroke him, pick him up and cuddle him.

Marion the cat sitter told me not to trust him. I haven't ignored her; I've simply come to my own conclusions and watched him carefully. I thought I had his measure. Thought I had the balance of affection just right.

Today I sat on the sofa as soon as I got there (my third day doing this as I've become more confident with this tricky boy) and Fred happily jumped on my knees, purring ecstatically. He purred so hard saliva dripped from his mouth onto my jeans, and I held him and stroked him and talked to him, and importantly, gave him the 'cat kiss'; that slow blink that tells him I'm not a threat. I thought we understood each other perfectly as he slow-blinked back at me and we stayed happily together for five minutes, until he turned and bit my hand.

Not hard, you understand. It was a gentle bite, the sort cats give you when they can't decide whether they want to sit on your knee or not.

So I took my hands off him and still kept talking to him in a quiet voice, soothing and calming, mentioning his name every five seconds and putting in "good boy" all the time, too.

Fred got off my legs and I could finally get around to fixing his food for the day.  He followed me into the kitchen, head-butting and happy.

I decided to do a visual check of the flat for furballs and vomits - you know what cats can be like. Fred followed me, chatting happily and meowing me details of his life. Clearly he slept in the main bedroom with his owner, as the duvet was cat-rucked and he jumped onto it demonstratively.

I checked the room and turned to walk out. And Fred pounced.

Gawd, my left leg has copped it from cats this week!

He grabbed it with both front legs and tried to sink his teeth in. Bless demin. Good old jeans. I felt his claws and teeth but he didn't break any skin.

I turned and shook my finger at him and snapped, "No!" and he immediately backed off. I suspect I was heading into "his" territory, his sleeping room, and made a note not to do that again.

He was still a bit swishy-tail while I cleaned his litter tray, but was back to smooching against me before grabbing my leg again in the living room. This time no claws or teeth, just a firm grip from his strong little legs, and I had the "No!" going at him before his legs were all the way around mine.

His owner has since told me he gets over-stimulated with too much affection; he does it with her too!

So it's a hard call. I want to give Fred the affection he needs while his owner is away, but not to the point that he attacks me.  He looks for me now every day and cries when he hears my step, as I go to his elegant flat at much the same time each day.  He engages with me, makes lots of eye contact, and is desperate for a cuddle and snuggle.

There are pills marked 'for emergency only' if Fred has a real conniption and goes truly violent with me, but I have left them on the bench for today. I'll see how he is tomorrow.

In a way he reminds me of a Siamese who shared my life for 13 years; another boy who loved a cuddle but would use his teeth.  Maybe so much ecstasy is too much?

Does your cat turn aggro after a cuddle?