If You Want To Get Out Alive (Run For Your Life)

I don’t know, this song feels kind of relevant this week. I’m drowning in school work and the world, and just… yeah. I feel like I’m running just to stay alive. The good news, though, is that tomorrow? SCHOOL. HOLIDAYS. I get two weeks of no work (though I have way too much I still need to do, of course). But anyway. Here’s to keeping running, and to hanging out for your next break

The League is BACK!

Starting this week, my monthly contribution to the Darkness & Good blog for the next little while will be chapters from my book, The League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheroes! In keeping with the spirit of the D&G blog, the offerings are raw and unedited – but hopefully you’ll enjoy them regardless 😉 A couple of things to note:

  1. Yes, if you’re a loooooong time reader you’ll recognise the first half of this story 🙂
  2. Not keen on serials in case the author doesn’t get around to finishing them? NEVER FEAR! LAOS chapters are scheduled through to the end of the year, which is halfway through the book. Tune in next year for the probably-thrilling second half!
  3. Yes, when all the chapters are FINALLY released there will be an ebook. Is true. Hurrah for the end of next year, I guess? O:)

4? No. I think 3 is it. So there you go: new story, pretty story, read story: go!

Darkness & Good button with red text on a white background, with shadowed, dark grey leaves in the background. The leaves have red ribs and stems. Link goes to http://darknessandgood.blogspot.com. The League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheroes

Sing Oh For The Want Of A Phone

You wouldn’t read about it. (Unless, of course, you are here now reading this text, in which case, SURPRISE! You are about to read about it!) You know how my wallet has been missing for a Significant Period Of Time? Well. WELL.

Episode nine-hundred-million in Amy Does All The Things: This Time, A Baby Shower Cake. This baby shower cake, in fact, if you are interested in pictures (and if you’re not, you might want to blink for a moment, ‘cause Imma post one here anyway HA).

Front shot of cake, a single-tier 23cm round cake covered in fondant (with sharp corners!), sprayed gold, with a glittery gold dream catcher centered on the front side of the cake (it extends above the edge of the cake by about a centimetre); three sprays of purpley-blue wisteria are arranged around the bottom of the cake at the front on the white platter; they are filled out with three baby pink daisies, three white daisies, some white daisy buds, a few wisteria leaves, and a gold glittery feather or leaf made to match the dreamcatcher.

This instalment of Doing All The Things involved finishing work, heading home to collect the fam + one extraordinary Canadian, packing All The Things into the car (because Cake, and trust me, when I say All The Things and there is Cake involved, I pretty much actually do mean ALL the things, forbearing only that proverbial kitchen sink), and driving 2.5 hours to my mother’s house. This is because I am a super sane individual who would never agree to make a cake for someone interstate during term time that they wanted ready for collection at 730am on Saturday morning.

AH HA HA HA HA.*

Oh yeah, SANE, that’s totally me.

Ahem.

ANYWAY, I’d also had a particularly emotional day at work, and packing All The Things was busy and intense because I was rushing because I really, really wanted to get to Mum’s asap so I didn’t have to stay up ucod***** to finish the derned cake. Lodged somewhere in the back of my consciousness was the fact that my phone was running flat, and I needed to grab my charger so that once we finally arrived at Mum’s, I could put set phone on to charge.

I grabbed the charger. We arrived at Mum’s. We hastily made beds for the small people (well, person; the larger of the small people is big enough for a non-small-person bed) and put them to bed, and lo, I dug into the cake. (Literally; I had to level the thing off first and foremost, har.)

And then there was this super lovely moment where husband revealed the good news he’d alluded to when he’d collected me from school: He’d Found My Wallet.

Rejoice!

Celebrate!

Sing oh for a wallet in its place!

…If only the story ended here. But it doesn’t, and because you are a Well-Trained Reader and because I have used Adequate Amounts of Foreshadowing, y’all know exactly what my next words are going to be (squee, mind-reading!):

I can’t. find. my phone.

As of writing this my phone has now been missing for five days and I have to say, it’s gigantically more of a pain in the bee-hind than losing my wallet ever was. I HAVE NO PHONE. This leads to tremendously awkward situations like realising I have a scheduling clash****** and having to pull a call out ON FACEBOOK to ask for babysitting assistance.

Or like my husband being called to say the baby need collecting from daycare because: Sick, only I’m the one with the car but also did I mention no phone, and him having to send me emails about this and me being three steps away from class (I lie: I was actually IN the classroom when I read said email, though to be fair the students weren’t yet, nor had the final bell gone. PHEW.).

BLAH.

PHONELESSNESS.

WHAT EVEN IS THIS.

And we don’t even have a landline, so I am all like HEY I NEED TO CALL— and then I’m like BUT WAIT NO I CAN’T.

So you know. Doing All The Things, new subtitle: Perpetually Hunting For My Stuff. Or you know. Just, My Life: Losing All The Things. Or at the moment: Do All The Things (Except All Those Things That Require A Phone).

THIS IS SERIOUSLY CRAMPING MY STYLE, Y’ALL.

MY STYLE.

CRAMPING.

Oy.

Also, vey.

And if you have spare positive thoughts you could send towards my phone, I’d definitely appreciate them <3

* To be fair, I did practise being assertive and informed them that the cake could only be collected at 11:30am, because I did require SOME sleep after all.**

** “Some” in this case means about 5.5 hours; I finished up at 2am for the night***, showered, went to bed, and groggily arose 15 minutes after my alarm went off, at 8:30am.

*** This is one of those TOO TIRED TO OPERATE DO NOT DRIVE HEAVY MACHINERY moments, because I literally could have gone to bed 1.5 hours earlier but I broke the first batch of ganache**** and didn’t make quite enough the second time >.<

**** By which I mean, I was stupid enough to assume that even though white chocolate ganache is a finicky little bastard to work with, because I had been successful once before I would thus be successful again, at late notice, running short of sleep. Spoiler: I was not successful.

***** Until Crack Of Dawn (TM)

****** Wait, no, realising I had a scheduling clash was caused by my own stupidity, not by losing my phone. Though if losing my phone was caused also by said stupidity we can extrapolate that possibly this splitting hairs. Woo, extrapolation! *\o/* <— (a pompom-waving person, in case that needed clarification)

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So, About Those Priorities

Trying so, so hard to make this wonderful quote from the inestimable Maggie Stiefvater my mantra this year. I’ve noted before that getting enough sleep is the key to managing my stress levels, anxiety, and also healthy eating. Some days I’m better at it than others. When we have company, I SUCK at it, because although I do actually passionately adore sleeping (because DREEEEEAMS, y’all, DREEEEEEEEEAMS!!!), people are also INCREDIBLY SHINY and VERY, VERY STICKY, just like this lounge I’m presently sitting on which is super sticky because I should get up and go to bed but it seems like someone has superglued me here oh wait that’s just the remnants of the kids’ breakfast okay never mind move along nothing to see here. O:)

SLEEP. I should get some, you should get some, and we all should be happy and sleep together.

Uh, um, or not. I mean, like we should all sleep at the same time. Or, like, in times appropriate to our particular time zone. Or, look, you know what? Just go to bed already, okay? I don’t care what time it is, just go… sleep.

Sleep is important. You should probably get some.

<3

Every Time.

Every time I begin to despair about the futility of my efforts, the largeness of the task, the apparently insurmountable stupidity that stands between us and a better world… Every time, when I am tempted to give up, to feel like nothing I do could posibly matter, I am sent something that reminds me otherwise.

One week these stories.

The next, this blog post.

And today, this awesome video.

Enjoy.

Possum Inna Box! (Also, Possums vs Opossums)

Did you know possums and opossums are actually totally different species? If you’re Australian or Kiwi you might be aware, but I learned the other week that the rest of the world is not so familiar with this fact! The rest this all came to light is because for few days there, we went up to our garage every morning to find the boxes and brooms in disarray – and then there were footprints on the car’s windscreen – and then droppings. Oh yeah, and BLOOD, both on boxes and the car bonnet, because our resident pest was, of course, a female on heat. La. Initially we’d thought the footprints were cat; although we live in a cat-contained suburb*, we have been known to have a cat wander through our backyard every so often, and assumed one had just gone into the garage one night when we’d left it open and been getting warm and cozy on the car.

*Meaning cats are not allowed to wander free outside the house.

But! The footprints were not feline (which closer examination proved), and it turned out we had a possum. NOT an opossum, something that will become very important in a minute, because we don’t *have* opossums in Australia, but instead, a possum – in this case, a regular, common brush-tailed possum 🙂 We contemplated possum traps and such like, and then one morning we didn’t have to, because my husband went out to the garage to find this:

 

Int she cute?? 🙂 We cornered her easily because although she wasn’t terribly fond of us picking her up, she was comparatively placid for a wild animal, and boxed her up to relocate (carefully, because possums and territories etc etc), and that was that. I told Twitter, and the world exploded momentarily. WHAT IS THIS CUTE AND FURRY CREATURE? the world seemed to ask. IT IS LIKE A GIANT, SHINY SUGAR GLIDER.

Well, yeah, actually, because they’re both Australian marsupials. This is a REAL possum, I told Twitter, a MARSUPIAL, not like common American *O*possums.

Heh. Turns out American Opossums are marsupials too. Who knew? So, to celebrate the mutual learning that went on around this experience, here is a handy-dandy list I’ve compiled for you on the difference between possums and opossums:

Appearance

POSSUMS: Cute and adorable, like fluffy, furry little kitties with big, round eyes and petal-pink noses.
OPOSSUMS: Look, I’m pretty fond of mammals generally, so let’s characterise its appearance as a cross between a rat and a hedgehog. My US friends tell me this is generous.

Smell

POSSUMS: Their pee is pungent, but not, like, puke-gaggingly so. The possums themselves don’t have a particular smell from my human perspective.
OPOSSUMS: The internet says “almost like a skunk”. I’ll just leave it at that, shall I?

Temperament

POSSUMS: Bold, curious, hungry.
OPOSSUMS: Rabid, demonic.

Habitat

POSSUMS: Trees, usually of the eucalypt varieties (not hard to find in Australia, let’s face it). Caravan parks. If you’re unlucky, your roof. Maybe even the roof of your caravan or tent in the middle of the night? Possies are territorial and have their own demarcated areas.
OPOSSUMS: Under your house. They burrow?! (Possums that burrow, what even is this.) But generally just *around*, wherever nocturnal creatures hang.

Annoying Habits

POSSUMS: Don’t leave fruit (especially, but most food really) out at night or they’ll raid it. Mating possums in your roof are noisy and the pee-stink makes it into the house (but to be fair nesting in house rooves is common enough that we have possum removalists, but not THAT common).
OPOSSUMS: My American friends tell me that they will destroy your garbage, your hands, your lives, your sooooooouls….. Though the internet is helpfully full of organisation protesting that they’re really actually not aggressive and they only hiss to scare you off and really they’re adorable little demons, so pwecious, aren’t vey, pwiddy widdle critcher…

To end, more possum pictures, proving the difference in temperament. These are from my honeymoon (eleven years ago, yipes!) and yes, my husband did get bitten, but only because the poor critcher mistook his thumb for a bit of pineapple. The possum was appropriately contrite 😉

(And for the sake of accuracy, did you know that most problems attributed to opossums are actually usually caused by other animals?)

(Also, although the phrase is ‘playing possum’, only opossums pretend to be dead. And of course, apparently they stink while doing so 😉 :D)

Celebration Food: Reimagining “Junk” Food

I mentioned last week that I want to work on prioritising my sleep in an effort to make it easier for me to reclaim my health; the past few years have wreaked havoc on my body (highlights include two pregnancies, the second of which totally warped my body’s response to hormones, a hyperactive thyroid nodule, and a gangrenous gallbladder…) and the past fourteen months in particular have eaten my sleep. When I’m tired, I don’t *do* any less, I just eat more to compensate for my lack of energy – which in turn means I have *less* energy, because I’m usually snacking on chocolate and processed sugar, not healthy food >.<

Part of the problem is that back in 2010-2012, I had to avoid processed sugar entirely, as well as yeast. It was intense, extreme, and done for health reasons, not by choice – and it utterly destroyed any willpower I had regarding junk food. It’s taken nearly five years of being allowed to eat sugar again to get to the point where I won’t compulsively eat it when it’s in front of me, regardless of whether I want it or not. Add to this the fact that I’m a sucker for a good guilt trip and the fact that it’s at least 50/50 that work will be equally as insane this year (though I’m strongly hoping not), and the prospect of trying to clean up my food intake doesn’t exactly thrill me.

But! I have discovered from a variety of experiences that I am particularly susceptible to verbal framing. Psychologies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy suggest that fundamentally, everyone is, so I’m sharing this in case it might be useful to anyone else. I’ve blogged before about removing the word (and consequently the concept of) ‘should’ from my vocabulary, so it occurred to me that I might try a similar trick with ‘junk’ food. There are a billion articles out there about why we shouldn’t call it junk food, but the suggested alternatives are always lackluster: Special food. Sometimes food. Occasional food.

The problem for me is that these terms, while avoiding the guilt trip inherent in the terminology ‘junk food’, aren’t really any more specific. How often is occasional or sometimes? (Hint: I can probably trick myself into thinking it’s every day, especially during marking season.) What constitutes ‘special’? Hard to say for sure. So I came up with an alternative: Celebration food.

Straight away you can see the flip from negative to positive, which hammers that lurking guilt away hard. Great. However, is ‘celebration’ really any more specific than ‘sometimes’ or ‘special’? Well, maybe. I mean, I can see people easily making the excuse that every day is a celebration, or that there’s something to celebrate in every day, etc etc etc, but I grew up in what I affectionately call a ‘Pinterest family’, long before the days of Pinterest itself. Which is to say, 1) my family knows how to party in style, and 2) celebrations such as birthdays and Christmas are very *clearly* demarcated from more regular, ‘ordinary’ celebrations. In my head, ‘celebration’ means a very particular thing, and to cheapen the concept simply for the sake of consuming food that, really, isn’t doing any wonders for me beyond my taste buds… It introduces almost a moral angle to the whole issue, and I’m unlikely to contravene it. I’ve already caught myself a couple of times, reaching for the sugary food, and gone – Wait, is this *really* what you consider to be a celebration? – and have left the sugar where it was. I mean, of course, I’ve failed quite a few times, too, but on the whole, as a concept, it seems to be a positive thing. And it means I don’t have to forego entirely, which, when I was, led to awkward birthday party situations and such like. And I mean, come on. You’ve seen my cakes. Don’t tell me I have to utterly forego tasting them!! 😀

So. My rationale for the reimagining of ‘junk’ food into ‘celebration’ food. Leave a comment and let me know: What do you think? Does it resonate with you? Do you have any similar psychological tricks you’ve used to break yourself of bad habits?

<3
A

Stuff I Did In 2016, And What I Plan To Do In 2017

2016. Man. What can I say? It’s been a flaming hellfire of a year for a lot of us, and it seems pretty determined to go out with a smashing bang (I say as I write this on Dec 30). But. There have been a lot of good things this year too. If you need a reminder, hit up this list of 99 ways the world improved in 2016; it’s super inspiring and a great, positive balance to all the negative garbage of this year.

On a personal note, this has been a somewhat tumultuous year for me, involving among many other things emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder in March (which turned out to be gangrenous!!), and returning to work full time after maternity leave. The full time bit wasn’t planned, and added a whole bunch of challenges to the year, especially since I missed about a month of work with the surgery and all. Blah.

But! Despite–or, perhaps because of?–all the rubbish I’ve been dealing with this year, it’s been a great year for learning. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my dreams, my goals, and my work habits, and that’s something positive I can take forward into 2017 and hopefully use to have a fabulous year next time around. One of the best things I’ve done is finally get a handle on an organisational system that really works for me; I’m a full-time high school English teacher (which means 5 classes plus a tutor group/roll call class), I have two kids under school age, I’m trying to build my writing career as well as managing a micro-publisher as part of that, I run a hobby-business with my husband sewing baby things, and I dabble in cake-making on the side (and by dabble I mean I’m setting myself up in the long run for that to be another hobby-business at the very least). Suffice to say, I have a lot going on. So developing an organisational system that actually works to help me keep track of all this has been a lifesaver. I might do a post on that later this week?

But probably the most important discover I’ve made this year in a personal, visceral kind of way is exactly how much it’s possible to achieve simply by showing up on a regular basis, even if that basis is only literally a couple of minutes here and there. I started experimenting with things like taking my laptop to appointments where I knew there was a good chance I’d be in the waiting room for >5 minutes, and actually using that time to write. Also on the writing front, I’m on my way towards learning how to write tired. This might not sound like an especially good or exciting thing, but with the whole full time teaching and two preschool kids thing going on, if I can’t write tired, I pretty much can only write during school holidays. Learning to write tired has meant learning to be a lot more prepared with my writing time–something that’s applicable to everything I’ve done this year, actually. Being able to juggle a lot successfully without losing your sanity or spending every day stressed out and wired means doing exactly what I advise my students to do in exams: don’t rush blindly in, even if you’re worried about running out of time. Take 5-10 minutes to plan, so that once you start writing, you can be effective in using the remainder of your time.*

* Pity I didn’t take that planning advice to heart with this post. It would likely have been a lot more coherent 😛

So most nights end the same way: a quick review of my diary-brain, recapping what needs to happen the next day. If I can manage it, I’ll do the same over breakfast: a quick review, providing an outline of the day ahead and refreshing my memory regarding what I’d like to/need to achieve. And that’s exactly what I mean about coming to my writing sessions more prepared: I’m learning to make better use of outlines (see, e.g., my plotting posts from my visit with Liana Brooks back in October) and when I sit down to write, I usually know at least the rough shape of what I need to say.

The other thing, though, that’s allowed me to get better at fitting writing in around my crazy life, is learning to be more forgiving of myself. I’m a total Slytherin in that my life motto is, “You are not called to be ordinary”, but this doesn’t mean I have to beat myself up about not acing every single thing I do–especially things like first drafts. Learning to write tired has meant learning to bear in mind that first drafts are exactly that: drafts. They don’t have to do anything except exist–and most of the time, when I remember that and am able to just let go, the words that come out aren’t half as bad as I inevitably expect them to be anyway.

So in a rambly way, that brings me to the actual most important lesson I’ve learned personally and viscerally this year: letting go. We all KNOW we should do it, we all KNOW what it means… but to be able to do it? It’s an on-going journey. This year has come with a lot of baggage, but I’ve sifted through it, found the bits I need to hold onto in order to become a better person, and the rest? The rest can go right where it belongs: into the rubbish.

2016, you’ve been a hell of a year, and you’re going out kicking. I can only hope that 2017 will look at what you’ve done, and decide that it can be better. 2017, you’re still new, and young, and beautiful. Sift through that garbage pile for the gems; don’t forget the good things humanity is capable of; don’t forget that you’re humanity too. We’re in this together, you and I, and dammit, we’re going to make it good.

 

** This was originally going to be a simple YAY I WROTE 2 NEW NOVELS AND A NOVELLA THIS YEAR AND THERE WILL BE NEW PUBLISHED THINGS FOR YOU TO READ NEXT YEAR post, but, well, it isn’t. But still: yay! I wrote two new novels and a novella! And the first few chapters of Fox Red were published in the YA anthology That Moment When, which is hitting the bestseller lists on Amazon as we speak! 🙂 And at the bare minimum, 2017 will see the release of the Darkness & Good short story anthology, my non-fic book From The Ground Up: How To Build A World That Really Works, and my YA contemporary fantasy novel, Fox Red. Woo!