April (and it's over)

The title says it all. After nearly two years of planning and booking and training, I won't be going to Kokoda in July. I am somewhat devastated, but philosophical at the same time. After all, there's a lot worse than can happen. And I still will go - just not this year, and (most disappointingly of all) not with the group of friends who are all locked in for July.

The problem is, as it has always been, my knee. Answers are hard to come by so I'm still not sure whether:
  • a) the surgeon stuffed up,

  • b) I have a new injury

  • c) I put too much strain on the old injury, or

  • d) a combination of all three

Regardless the bottom line is that the knee has been getting progressively worse over the past two months and now complains loudly (actually it's more like an elderly whine) whenever I push it (or pull it, or tug at it, or just use it at all). A return visit to the surgeon resulted in ongoing physio, the probability of more surgery in a few months, and the strict injunction to avoid hills and stairs. Which sort of rules out Kokoda, as it's just a tad hilly. Given that my front door sits at the top of a flight of ten steps, this makes even domestic egress rather challenging. And although the whole Kokoda business started because I was after a challenge, having fun accessing my house wasn't quite the sort of challenge I was after.

So now I have some friends who are (rather flatteringly) unhappy that I won't be joining them. I also have a mound of near-new hiking equipment, including microfibre towels that are next to useless when you have a non-micro body. I also have an (expected) battle with the insurance company, and a ten-day gap in July when I'm not going to be welcome in my own home (if anything my offspring are more disappointed than I am - little darlings that they are), and a single night's accommodation in Port Moresby that I suspect I won't be using. And of course there's also the book I was planning on writing about the experience. All that's on the back-burner too. I hope it catches fire.

Anyway (deep breath), onwards and upwards as they say - although perhaps I should stick to the onwards and avoid the upwards. And while I've been sulking over the past month, I also spent some time playing around with an idea for a non-fiction book as my next project. That's what's called multi-tasking. And I think it's brilliant (well I would, wouldn't I? But fortunately my publishing company was also keen on the idea - so it's full steam ahead). The book is tentatively titled The Invisible Woman, and other remarkable phenomena of middle-age, and it will eventually explore all the different facets of middle-age for women - the good, the bad, and the indifferent. From the intangible, like invisibility and the empty-nest syndrome and 'cougar-ism' and mid-life crises, to the tangible, like those damn chin-hairs (what the hell is going on with those?!!). But I don't want this to be just research, or a self-help or how-to book, or even a (self-indulgent) story of my own close encounter with middle-age. No, I want it to embrace a whole variety of women. To hear their stories, and give them a chance to vent or purr or praise.

So the upshot is that this is the last entry for this blog and I'd like to thank all of you who sent comments, whether through the blog or through my email, over the past year or so. It's been a fun journey and I hope to pick it up again in a few years but for now it's officially on hiatus. And in the meantime, I'd like to introduce my new blog, which will complement the new project. It's called the middle-aged spread and can be found at http://themiddle-agedspread.blogspot.com/. Please come visit, and feel free to stay a while. See you there.

March (victory is mine!)

The title says it all (well, that and the previous post). In other words, the GOH have been closed and we are rodent-free!

March (this is war)

This is a story that has nothing at all to do with Kokoda, or training, or diets. However it has become somewhat of an obsession over the last week and therefore I shall share it with you regardless. On the grounds that misery loves company (and if I pass away through sleep deprivation, then at least there'll be some evidence of the cause). See, it all started when I was clearing out D1 (daughter number one)'s room for D2 (daughter number two) to move into, and my foot went through the floorboards. This wasn't such a big deal as it sounds because I was well aware the floor needed replacing. However that night [insert creepy music], the size eight-and-a-half-but-sometimes-nine hole transformed itself into an Amityville-horror-style Gates Of Hell (hereafter to be known as GOH for short). I was woken by a loud gnawing noise, closely followed by footsteps and then a shrill scream. Apparently D2 had gone to investigate (hardy soul that she is), and a mouse had run over her foot in the darkness. Anyway we laughed about it merrily (blissfully unaware that laughter would soon become a thing of the past...), and I said I'd set some traps the next day. Then we went back to bed. An hour or so later I woke to something crawling heavy-footed up my neck (I kid you not) - and leapt out of bed so fast the room span. The mouse probably (although this is by no means certain) got as big a shock as me and was long gone, while I spent the rest of the night drinking coffee, scratching at my neck and shuddering uncontrollably every so often. I sort of looked like a rather unstable recovering drug addict.
The next day I discovered a large section of gnawed wood at the bottom of the closed door to the room with the GOH, so I figured that the mouse must have become trapped in the house and been trying vainly to return to the nether regions (aka Hell). This hypothesis was confirmed by the fact the dog (who, despite all visual evidence to the contrary, rather fancies herself as D3) carried on for quite a bit, trying to get beneath my bed, before giving up and curling on top for a nap. Yes, it seems the bloody mouse was still there, underneath. I immediately sprung into action (all that coffee helped) and locked the dog away before setting a multitude of mouse-traps around my bed, down the passage and, leaving the door now open, around the GOH.
That evening mouse-traps went off periodically (which did nothing for my frayed nerves), but no mouse was captured. So that night, and the same for the next three, I set fresh traps (not my favourite, or most skilful, activity) and then closed all the doors before going to bed. And each time, in the early hours of the morning [insert even creepier music], I woke to the sounds of loud gnawing, scratching, gouging. Which only ceased when I opened the doors just a little to allow easy egress to the GOH (actually I stand at a distance and prod the doors open with a walking pole and then race back up the passage to my bedroom while making oddly high-pitched whimpering noises). And each morning I have found fresh gouges in all the (previously smooth polished walnut) doors at the far end of the house, plus - now - patches of crimson carpet having been devoured around them (FYI that's not blood, the carpet was already crimson - I like colour). The traps are either set off, but empty, or just ignored. The poison I've left out has also been rejected (meaning the mouse is either clever, or just fussy). And I have averaged about three hours sleep a night.
Now this story would already have a fair degree of 'yuck factor' about it - except further investigation this morning revealed a scattering of clues - each one considerably larger than what one would expect of a mouse (unless said mouse has serious bowel issues). Those, plus the mega-amount of damage done to the (closed) bifold doors have led me to only one conclusion. That's right, remove the word 'mouse' from the previous story and substitute [insert really, really, really creepy music] - 'rat'. Which sends the yuck factor skyrocketing into the stratosphere - and I'm not even going to think about the whole crawling-up-my-neck thing. Yes, it seems I have a psychotic rat wandering my house each night and losing his temper with the woodwork whenever the doors are left closed. It's like being married again.
No wonder the traps weren't successful. He was probably chortling at my ignorance each night as he set them off with a twig and then snacked on the peanut butter as an entree for my woodwork. But at least D2 has stopped saying things like 'oh, but mice are so cute' - and she's also taken to sleeping with the dog in her room which, judging on the dog's performance thus far, isn't going to be much protection anyway. But at least she's sleeping - which is more than I can say for me.
But tonight, ah yes, the tables shall be turned. I have just purchased ultra-strong, super-over-the-top rat poison and tonight the bastard dies. I may poison the totally useless dog and cat while I'm at it. I could just put something heavy over the GOH but I've seen enough horror movies to know that's not the answer. And in the case of this particular fiend, he'll (that's right, he's a 'he' - I'm sure of it) probably just break a window. Or ring the door-bell (and get a key cut). So it's war. And I have every intention of winning - just as long as I can stay awake.

March (the month after January...)

I have made a unanimous decision (voted for by me, myself and I) that this year March shall be known as the month that immediately followed January. There are several reasons for this:
1) I have long thought that February held a reputation out of all proportion to actuality,
2) If it can't hang around long enough to make an impression then it doesn't deserve undue recognition (28 days! Hardly worth turning the calendar over), and
3) I spent most of the month sitting on my backside eating licorice (don't ask because I don't know) while engrossed in the winter olympics. Therefore negating the month will also negate my self-indulgent sloth and (mostly) erase residual guilt.
So there you have it, and suddenly I am actually ahead work-wise for 2o10 and can begin March with a clear conscience and a surprising depth of knowledge regarding Axels and Twizzles and the optimum air-time for an Alley-Oop and/or a Backside 720. BTW & FYI, eating copious amounts of licorice in one sitting is probably not a good idea. Although it did give me a good excuse not to go out the following day, which justified more couch-sitting and licorice eating, which... well, you get the picture.
So with February done and dusted (and put on notice to lift its game next year), I am also not late in thanking everyone for the lovely birthday wishes in January. They were all much appreciated and I must say I am thoroughly enjoying my fifties thus far. As far as preparations for Kokoda go, however, I have hit another snag with my knee playing up, yet again. This has resulted in weekly visits to the physio, and several weird and wonderful exercises that have my offspring chortling rudely every time I attempt them (really, is 2 x 20 squats while rubbing one's back up and down the doorframe really that amusing?). And I have a return visit to the surgeon in two weeks to see if the operation last year was as successful as they thought at the time. I'm thinking the answer is probably no. In fact I'd take bets.
However the training continues regardless. One of the most challenging being a 20 kilometre hike up and down bloody mountains that we did with our trekking mob last weekend. It was brutal, but a bit of a wake-up call. Which, now that I come to think of it, is what we (at least Cathri, Maria and myself anyway) have said after each heavy bit of training for the past few months! I think we must be napping in between.
But onwards and upwards, and our next training walk will be the hill/&%$*! mountain behind my house next weekend, and then The Run For The Kids in the city on March 14th (where proceeds go to The Children's Hospital). And the latter will actually be a good guide as to how far we've come as it was one of our first training expeditions last year. Either that or it'll be a wake-up call!

January (and happy birthday to me!)

Today I turn 50, which I now realise looks far more daunting written down than said out loud (or maybe I've just been desensitised to the verbal version). It also doesn't feel quite real. For instance I just zoned out for a few minutes, hypnotised by the numbers 5 and 0 and trying to relate to them in some way. I don't even like 5, and 0 just reminds me of anorexic models and/or my bank balance. However, whether I want to or not, I am now in my fifties and shall remain that way for exactly ten years. Just enough time to start feeling comfortable before I have to exchange them for my sixties. Gulp.

But as part of my celebrations (which lasted for ten days and were known, around our house, as The Festival of Ilsa, or Ilsafest for short), six of us did the Lighthouse hike last weekend at Wilson's Prom. This involved driving down to the Prom, finding the correct overnight carpark (more difficult than it sounds), taking the shuttle bus up to a place called The Saddle, and then walking for about twenty kilometres down (and up) to the lighthouse. To make things a little more interesting we had to carry everything we needed for the night, and the next day, on our backs. The whole thing resulted in several lessons learned the hard way, such as:
1. Twenty kilometres is a very long way.
2. Backpacks are a pain in the ass (and shoulders and neck and lower back).
3. Those second helpings of turkey et al over Christmas were probably not a good idea.
4. Waving one's hands around a lá the robot from Lost in Space (you know - danger, danger) does not deter march flies.
5. March flies bite, and it hurts.
6. Visors are superior to caps only when one is unlikely to receive severe sunburn on one's scalp.
7. Sunburn on one's scalp is extremely painful.
8. Leanne can be quite mean when it comes to post-walk stretches (she can also get quite excitable about tuna).

But even with all the trials and tribulations, the truth is that we had a ball. This was assisted enormously by the fact that we brought some delicious food along for the evening and a good deal of alcohol. Scotch and chardonnay and champagne - all of which of course had to be drunk that night so that we didn't have to cart it back again. Relaxing with proud, well-earned exhaustion in one of the most beautiful spots in Victoria, watching the sun set over the wild, pristine coastline, and then retiring inside to enjoy a three course meal. Good food, good company, along with a challenge to body and soul - I can think of no better way to start my second half-century!

December (with a merry Christmas to you all!)

When you mention 'December', it tends to conjure notions of Christmas, with Santa and tinsel and the rich, heady, succulent smell of roasting turkey (I'm getting hungry just thinking about it). With lashings of gravy and crisp roast potatoes and moist pumpkin and plum pudding with whipped cream and... (okay, deep breath). My point is that when the whole month is taken into consideration, I think the best descriptor is actually 'relentless'. That influx of catalogues, pausing just for Christmas itself, the determined stream of shoppers that head out each day with credit card and attitude, the bombardment of must-have toys and treats and technology, and the way so much has to be crammed into so few days. That slip past so incredibly rapidly. Faster than any other month, so that you blink and they're gone. Like one of those view-finder toys from the eighties. Click, click, click.
And every year I make a vow that the following December will be more relaxed, more organised, more casually sublime. But of course nothing changes. Then again, maybe that's what makes it December. That relentless rush, the frenetic consumerism, the glorious kitsch, the over-abundance, and that the feeling of being ever so slightly out-of-control. Like this morning when I slid my credit card over to the cashier and she looked at it and then looked at me, and I looked at her and then looked at it - and realised it was, in fact, my organ donation card. Quick as a flash I said: "What? Don't you barter?" But unfortunately my cutting edge humour was totally wasted on her and I left the store with, as usual for this time of year, my credit card severely dented and organs relatively intact. However that was still a sight better than last night when I managed to argue with a very rude store clerk (Kmart), a pushy woman on the elevator and my amazingly, hugely, ridiculously argumentative fourteen-year old, all in the space of ten minutes. But the thing is that despite everything I love Christmas, really love it, and so all it took after I got home was tumbler of good quality Christmas spirit and I was back in the swing of things.

And I raise the same glass (or maybe a fresh one) to wish you all, each and every one, a lovely festive season. With hopes that you survive December relatively intact and arise on Christmas day with enough energy to have a riproaring good time and a very merry Christmas! Cheers!

December (lost on the edge of suburbia)

Enjoyed a lovely Kokoda get-together on Sunday, where we went for a fairly decent hike and then returned to partake of a companionable smorgasbord lunch on the decking. The sun was shining, the air was mild, the food was delicious, the company sublime. Everything, therefore, a far cry from our last walk a few weeks ago. Which had been enough to make several of us seriously reconsider the wisdom (i.e. sanity) of this whole Kokoda idea. I mean, if we can't even walk up the side of a hill in suburbia without problems, what hope have we got over there?

It was our first trek together since Hall's Gap, and Wayne's first with us en masse (which will give him an idea what it will be like trekking with eight middle-aged woman), and my first since surgery, and Cathri's first since developing a severe chest infection that she really should have gone to the doctor about but didn't so it lasted much longer than it should have. Anyway, it all started relatively smoothly (metaphorically speaking - in actual fact, as we were trekking up the Mt Dandenong firebreak, the route itself was covered with rocks and assorted other definitely non-smooth debris). We were a bit staggered, with the latecomers bringing up the rear, but that seems to be par for the course. Problems started about a third of the way up with Lyn having to stop because of early-onset exhaustion, shortness of breath and some chest pains. True to our spirit of camaraderie etc, we left her sitting on a rock and continued on. Which, come to think of it, doesn't bode all that well for any of us who might fall a little behind in Kokoda. Incentive, I suppose, to keep up.

We reached the top without too many issues and then parted from Wayne who decided to go back the way we had come (hmm...). This seemed a little straightforward to the rest of us, choosing instead to do the long hike down the side, past the television antennas. Now, because this descent isn't as exhausting as the direct climb, it allowed us ample opportunity to chat. In hindsight we may have overdone this a trifle because we promptly got lost. For the next two and half hours we were not to see another human, apart from a rather strange lady who appeared out of the undergrowth dressed in pyjamas and loudly announced that this was her backyard. I may be a little cynical but she didn't seem like the ideal candidate for directional advice.

The main problem was that we actually didn't know we were lost for quite some time. And this ignorance meant that we actually got more lost, so by the time we realised we were lost, we were really, really lost. Does that make sense? Not that there weren't some high points. Like when the lead group, Annie, Lorraine and Cathri, were seemingly attacked by a rabidly shrieking cockatoo (admittedly this may not have been such a high point had I been amongst the lead group). On closer examination we discovered the bird's target was, in fact, an absolutely huge goanna that was determinedly inching it's way up a tree towards her nest. She was not surprisingly livid with panic, swooping down to attack the goanna over and over, as her relatives screamed their support from further down the mountain (some less vocal and more physical back-up may have been more helpful). In sympathy with her maternal instincts, we pitched a few (tiny) stones at the goanna but stopped when we realised that, if anything, we were driving him (do you like the instinctive gender assumptions?) towards the eggs. Eventually though, worn down by the cocky's attack, he turned tail and fled down the tree and into the undergrowth. There, no doubt, to bide his time with cunning patience. Because sadly, now that he knew where they were, those eggs were most probably doomed.

There were also some low points (apart from the whole doomed egg angle). The lowest being when Cathri rolled her ankle on a rock and went down like a sack of potatoes. One minute she was chatting cheerfully, the next she was a moaning mound of injuured humanity. I'm pleased to say, however, that we never considered leaving her where she was. Not seriously, anyway. But this was the point where being lost ceased to be in any way amusing, and actually became a concern (for Cathri, a rather painful concern).

We spent the next hour walking (or limping) in what seemed like circles. We were in phone contact with Lyn (who was now sitting in her car back at the start) but could see nothing that even suggested suburbia. Even the pyjama-clad woman was long gone (perhaps thankfully, as there was something a little disturbingly Stephen King-like about that one). Eventually we reached a small clearing with a number of roughly-hewn paths. Cathri was finding it more and more difficult to walk so while she rested, several of us set out to discover which, if any, path led to civilisation. Lorraine took the narrowest one, heading determinedly towards a bushy area with copious undergrowth. Never to be seen again.

Well, strictly that's not true but I wanted to inject some drama. Actually we saw her about six minutes later, after she had hiked down this goat-track, shinnied under a barbed wire fence, walked across the overgrown yard, found a house, ascertained there was no-one home and then worked out that a nearby driveway should be roughly pointing in the direction we needed. I should add that Lorraine is not one of us who has a service background. No, of those four ex-long term Army Reservists, one was listening to the radio in her car while waiting, one was lying on the ground emitting intermittent moans, and the remaining two were taking advantage of the temporary hiatus to catch up on stuff. Which was probably got us into this mess to start with.

To cut a long story, and a good few hundred metres, short, Lorraine returned to heroically lead us from the wilderness. Lyn was found and directed up the driveway where she collected Cathri in her car and drove her the rest of the way. And shortly afterwards we all parted company, heartily sick of each other. A planned one and a half hour walk had turned into a four and a half hour bush-bashing fiasco. And while all this was going on, Wayne had run up and down the side of the mountain not once, but twice, and had even taken the time to deviate off the track and visit an historical aircraft crash site. Bloody men.