Friday, May 31, 2013

Learning the non-art of hospitality

What my kitchen really looks like

I'm not sure about you, but it's a great temptation of mine to want to look like I have everything together all the time. As a bit of a perfectionist (Tom would laugh at "a bit"), I don't like people to see my weaknesses, and I like to do things well.

But the thing is, being a perfectionist stops you from being able to really open yourself up to people. It means you're less likely to be spontaneously generous, because you want that home-cooked meal to be perfect, or you feel you can't give that thing away without wrapping it nicely first. And it means you tend to intimidate others and make them feel like they have to have everything together to be around you.

I know I've stepped into houses where everything is perfectly aligned and dusted, and thought, ok, I can never have you around to my place. Or times when I've been embarrassed to give someone a lift in my messy old car.

But what is this communicating to people? And what does this mean about my heart?

Recently I've been forced to put my anxieties around having it all together aside and be OK with reality. The first incident occurred when Tom decided to invite some friends of ours over without warning. I was delighted to have them over, because we'd been meaning to catch up for ages, but I wasn't so cool with the 5mins notice.

Because they were coming straight from church to our place and Tom needed to buy some extra food to make our planned dinner go further, I had to drive one of them to my house while the guys went and bought  food. I couldn't even steal 2 seconds to pick up the washing off the floor, or sweep up the kitty litter in the bathroom. I actually felt quite worried and stressed on the way to the house wondering how bad we'd left it.

As we drove towards home, I expressed my embarrassment to my friend, and she kindly told me how she's had to learn to be less worried about how her house looks, or the meal she's cooking when people come around, so that she can be more hospitable. Her empathy instantly made me feel OK about the way our house looked as she stepped in the door.

That said, I couldn't help but sweep up the grains of kitty litter Iggy had flicked around the bathroom.

And then today, I met a friend and her kid at a local cafe for a coffee, which was nice because I didn't have to think about tidying up. And then just at the end of our coffee she asked to come for a walk back to my house so she could feed her baby. Of course I said yes, but once again, there was an element of anxiety about the state of our apartment. As we walked in, I picked up that jumper, explained away some mess and apologised for the state of things. She kept assuring me it was fine, but I felt pretty embarrassed, still.

It's really quite silly, because I know when I go to other people's houses I don't judge them if their lounge room isn't arranged at perfect right angles and I actually feel more comfortable if the environment isn't so squeaky clean I feel like I'm destroying the zen. And yet, no matter, how much I remind myself it's the act of hospitality and the friendship that matters, I still angst about this stuff. Gosh I can't wait till I can get over myself and be OK with the mess that is me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cross-cultural moments in front of the TV

For those who don't know, my husband (wow sounds weird writing that) is half-British, half-Singaporean/Chinese. He only moved to Australia 4.5 years ago, making him only quasi-Australian at best. I'm always astounded, though, at his knowledge of Australian politics and the things he knows about my country that I don't.

But his knowledge definitely wears thin when it comes to watching television. We'll often have cross-cultural moments, like last night.

Tom had switched on the ABC and we were watching Margaret and David's At The Movies. At one point he commented on Margaret's appearance. Shocked by his lack of respect for her, I said "She's an Australian icon!" To which he replied, "Who is she?" I had to stop myself from coughing up my tea, before replying, "That's Margaret," in a very matter-of-fact tone. Still puzzled, Tom said: "Oh, Margaret." "Yes," I replied, "of Margaret and David." And that was that.

The night before it was an advertisement for Celebrity Apprentice featuring Dawn Fraser. Tom asks, "Is that Malcolm Fraser's wife?"


I look forward to the many years of cross-cultural confusion ahead of us, and the time when it might be reversed, if we ever end up in the UK.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When cute kittens turn infectious

Iggy in ignorant blis

So about two months ago, we got a cat. It was a bit of an impulsive decision, but not entirely spur of the moment. The mistake we made was visiting the shelter "just to have a look". People, don't do that, just don't. You will return home with a kitten.

Anyway, it was all cuddles and playful bliss until Tom found a bald patch with flaky skin on Iggy's chest the size of a 50c piece a few weeks ago. Apart from saying eww a lot, we felt compelled to look after the little guy, so took him off to the vet. Well that was a mistake. People, don't do that. Listen to your mum who is a nurse and knows stuff and tells you to just get some fungal cream and anti-dandruff shampoo from the chemist. Listen to her. After our ill-advised trip to the vet we were back home, $160 poorer, without any confirmation of what our little kitty was suffering from and an order to wash everything in sight, just in case. Oh and they told us to get some anti-fungal cream from the chemist (like Mum had suggested). Being a rainy day and dryer-less, off Tom went to the local laundromat to wash ALL OF THE THINGS. 3 hours and $35 dollars later, everything was fresh as a daisy: couch covers, doonas, blankets, sheets, even the carpet.

A week passed and we wondered how we were supposed to keep ALL OF THE THINGS clean ALL OF THE TIME. Our kitty didn't seem to care about his red hairless patch, and he just kept licking the cream off as soon as we put it on him. And we still didn't know what was wrong with him. The results of the zillion dollar test they were running hadn't come back yet.

A few days later, and a phone call to the vet confirms it's ringworm, a highly contagious fungal skin infection. We'll need to come back to the vet to get an elizabethan collar for him to stop him licking the cream off - $5.80 thank you. Oh and be careful, because you could get the infection from him.

So for the last two weeks, our five month old kitten has been wearing a cone of shame 24/7, having anti-dandruff baths every third day and has been basted in anti-fungal cream daily. Meanwhile, every 20 minutes I google ringworm just to freak myself out again at how easily it can spread to humans. My awareness of every itch is surprisingly directly proportional to my time spent googling.

But the kitten is cute. And we love him. So it's ok.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The human zoo

It's been sweltering in Melbourne lately. I can't remember the last time it rained proper, and temperatures have been above 30 for a record-breaking 8 days (with three more to come). The whole city feels like it's under attack from the sun, which is something I'm sure I'll be longing for in a few weeks time when grey autumn skies move in.

Over the weekend Tom and I helped some good friends prepare their country property to host a wedding in a few weeks' time. The hard yakka finished early, so we skipped off to a local lake for a dip. After a few nervous attempts at jumping in, I finally made the plunge, and was glad to cool off. There's nothing like swimming in a natural body of water in the middle of summer... although there's something about lake swimming and not being able to see the bottom that is a little unsettling.

Nearby us was a group of local teenage boys jumping into the water from a rope swing hanging from a gumtree. We sat there watching them for close to an hour, without much conversation between us. It was surprisingly fascinating watching these boys fling their weedy bodies into the water without a thought for their safety; every attempt, a punctuation mark between life and death. One of us remarked how similar it felt to being at the zoo, just sitting and staring at these living creatures rollicking in their natural habitat. If anyone was watching us I doubt they would've stayed for long, how boring we would've seemed sitting on the banks, doing nothing but stare. How strange we are, homo sapiens, who find watching each other so interesting.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A long haul flight

Awkwardly posed with some baby flamingos in Singapore

Well would you look at that.... seven months just went by.

Life has been a little hectic, to say the least. Getting married, changing job, moving house, going overseas and changing church within two months was interesting. I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone out there considering it. But you know what? Here I am on the other side. Thanks God.

Back in January, Tom and I were flying home from a very last minute trip to the UK to visit his sick father. We had to make two connections, with a total time in transit of 30 hours and I was feeling jet-lagged, exhausted and a little overwhelmed. I was sick of being in between places. I just wanted to be home. I wanted to be settling in to our new place, starting a new routine, finding a new normal.

I realised that's how I'd been feeling for about 6 months. As life threw up some pretty big challenges, I'd felt off balance, like a deer in headlights, at sea for as long as I could remember. In the lead up to getting married, I just felt this great sense of being on my way towards something more stable, but I wasn't quite there yet. I was in transit.

And now here I am, writing from our little apartment in between doing some odd jobs and writing projects. Life feels a lot more normal, and I'm ready to write here a bit more.

As for what this year holds for me, it's still unclear as I'm currently jobless, but I'm studying part-time at bible college, doing some freelance work, continuing the Spoken Project and getting used to being a wife. Hopefully I'm going to learn more graphic design skills too, that's a big dream of mine over the next few years. Meanwhile, Tom and I are watching lots of Downtown Abbey, laughing at each other and getting used to living in a one bedroom apartment. Fun times.

Watch this space.

How about you? How are YOU?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Call me maybe

If you can overlook the name of the site, pretty much, this is the best thing ever. Pop songs turned into cat songs. Here's Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe'.

I'm not even a cat person, and I think they're just plain awesome.

All alone and loving it

I recently took a week of forced solitude in the beautiful wine region of Heathcote, where a dear widow friend of mine lives.

After catching up with my boss and finding myself in tears, he suggested I go offline for a little while, spend some time alone with God, and with ample time to read, pray, think and reflect.

I've not been a retreat type of person in the past. My thinking has been, it's kind scary going away by yourself and what if you freak yourself out, and can't you just keep going and just hang on for a bit longer?

But I can't tell you how good a week of no email, and no phone was for my soul. I didn't realise what a burden communication was until I wasn't carrying that weight any more. Interestingly, the things I missed most were google and a few friends who I speak to regularly. But other than that, not having to respond to anyone or anything was AMAZING.

I also understood the value of solitude for the first time. I'm an introvert, but an introvert who forces herself to be up the front and engaging with people a lot, and one who even when she's 'alone' is still connected. I find it hard these days to curl up with a book for longer than 10 minutes.

But when I went away, I found myself devouring books in front of the fire. Suddenly, with no interruptions and no option to interrupt myself (hello facebook, twitter, email, sms...), I couldn't stop reading. It was the best!

And I had time, real, proper, extended, time to be in God's presence. To just be. And to take all the stuff going on to him in a way that didn't feel like it was a task on a list to be completed.

So, I'm a bit of a convert to the retreat. I'm going to try and have a no technology day at least once a month (hoping to make it more regular than that, but you know, baby steps), and have a retreat once a year.

I want to foster a more healthy spiritual life, beginning with solitude, rest and being in God's presence.

Have you done a retreat before? Did you find it amazing or totally frustrating?

I've spoken to a few friends who've loved it or hated it. I'm curious about you!

Photo: the room I spent much of my time in.