At 12.01am on January 1, 2014, as people outside cheered and turned up music and let off crackers, I was changing a very dirty nappy. One of those up-to-the-ears-all-up-the-back poops, that you cannot believe came from something so beautiful and teensy and precious. It turned out it was an apt way to start a year that was a bit of a shit, if I’m honest.
Usually, I do a year in review by looking back at my diary entries for the year. But reading my diary was far too upsetting and boring, so I thought I would take my sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy.
My sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy
1.What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
I became a ‘working mother’. I also ate a cronut.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I kept most of them. We moved out of our horrible hot granny flat in Balmain, I got a haircut, I got out and made some new friends, I am in the process of fixing my pelvis that got f-ed up when a baby passed through it, I read more.
A few of my goals for 2015 are: re-learn how to sew, make a complicated birthday cake for someone, go to the theatre, and make sure I mark special occasions.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, my sister Mary had the darling Alexandra.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
No. So, that was nice.
5. What countries did you visit?
Country NSW. That place is the bomb. Wide open spaces, excellent cakes, the best op-shops, old school friends, animals, brilliant melting moments and surprisingly fresh sushi.
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
Patience. Sleep. Fashion.
7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
April 26. We moved house that day and it was the greatest. July 21. That’s when I went back to work and the girl child went to daycare. August 26. The day we ignored our 10th anniversary. September 21, the day my baby became a toddler.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Going back to work. Making a bad-ass batch of cinnamon scrolls.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Scratching the side of my mum’s car in the Orange City Centre carpark. I will never forget that awful, heart-sinking feeling when I heard the sound of metal and concrete making contact.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I kicked post-natal depression in its teeth. I’m still trying to fix a case of pubis symphysis, which has me hobbling like a pirate. I am wearing a sort of velcroed, elastic, grey girdle belt as I write! Oh,mama!
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A car. She’s royal blue and we named her Barbara Bush.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
J-man, for being a boss legend. My sisters and mum and dad, for supporting me during the early months of motherhood. The girl child, for being ever so sweet.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled?
The woman who lost it at a checkout chick in KMart when she found out their selfie sticks were sold out two days before Christmas. And after a year like 2014, so, so many others.
14. Where did most of your money go?
To childcare. And the motor vehicle industry.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. The baby was about six months old, and still not sleeping very well, and I had been feeling pretty flat. I remember coming home after the show and telling J-man that I felt alive again.
16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Nominal, by #1 Dads.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?
a) HAPPIER. SO MUCH HAPPIER.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Relaxing and being creative. I pretty much never did those things.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Fighting and looking at my phone. I waste so much time on my stupid, fucking phone. Maybe a new year’s resolution should be setting fire to my phone.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
Eating. Swimming. Watching an enormous thunderstorm.
21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
No. But I didn’t fall out of love.
22. What was your favourite TV program?
There were so many good ones this year. Orange is the New Black, Veep, True Detective, and Chelsea Peretti’s comedy special on Netflix, One of the Greats.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No. My hate levels remain very critical, but stable
24. What was the best book you read?
This House of Grief, by Helen Garner.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Young Fathers. Palms.
26. What did you want and get?
A baby who occasionally sleeps through the night. A box of Haigh’s truffles. A new house. A lot of time in the country. Some wonderful new friends.
27. What did you want and not get?
28. What was your favourite film of this year?
Ah, man. This is a mean question to ask the mother of a young child. I really liked Gone Girl and was particularly chuffed to have seen Ben Affleck’s man jewels.
29. What one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having an interesting job.
30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Youngish mumish, watermelon print enthusiast.
31. What kept you sane?
Afternoon walks in Rozelle, especially after discovering Bellingen Gelato and their mint-choc-chip. It is spiked with real peppermint essence and is filled with a generous amount of dark chocolate shavings. PUT IT IN MY MOUTH IMMEDIATELY.
32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ira Glass. Justice Lucy McCallum. Justice Geoffrey Bellew.
33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Ah, man. This year made me mad in my bones. Gender equality. Racial equality. All of the equalities. Climate change. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Changes to the welfare system.
34. Who did you miss?
My mum. 300 kilometres may as well be 30,000 kilometres sometimes.
35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
I’m still learning how to live in the moment. Not in the idiot-girl-in-your-university-dorm-inspirational-quote kind of way, but I need to just to look around every day, and be content with what I have.
36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year
I got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house
And we’ll collect the moments one by one
I guess that’s how the future’s done
How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map
Today is the first Christmas J-man and I have had together in the six years we’ve been dating and marriaging the hell out of each other. It’s also the first Christmas I’ve ever had without my family, so we decided to combine some of our families’ traditions to make it one giant superhero Christmas.
As you probably don’t remember, J-man and I are total cheap skate hippies and instead of buying a plastic Christmas tree (they’re so bad for, like, the earth and Bambi and junk) each year we collect sticks and decorate them. This year we are in San Francisco and I was afraid any sticks we might collect would have tarantulas in them. Tarantulas and rattle snakes and Michael Myers. So we decorated a candelabra instead:
We collected the decorations from around the world and plan to keep them forever and, when we have kids (which, if I have any say, will be tomorrow), we can tell them the stories behind each of the little trinkets.
- The wooden black cat at the top and the apple at the bottom were decorations we bought at the Holiday Market in Union Square in New York. It was a super cold day and I was so excited to be having my first cold Christmas. The apple is because of The Big Apple and the cat is sort of a memorial to J-man’s late cat Lucky.
- We bought the egg-shaped decoration at a flea market in Sofia, Bulgaria. There was a funny cast of characters behind the market stalls, including a legless man and a faintly-bearded woman. Lots were selling military paraphernalia, so I really hope this innocent-looking decoration isn’t actually a Christmas grenade.
- The little wooden man was bought from a flower shop in Salzburg. It cost something like six euros and the woman told us he was uniquely Austrian. We later saw them in every country for about one sixth of that price. Still, I guess it’s a nice reminder to never, ever return to Austria.
- The wooden red and white heart is from Paris. I would have loved a jewel-encrusted Eiffel Tower bauble, but I would have had debt collectors cutting off my fingers and threatening my family. We bought this little number from a supermarket, along with bananas and footless tights.
- The little angel next to the wooden man is from Budapest, one of my favourite cities ever. We were there in September but already the city was lit up and Christmasy and beautiful.
- The little Venetian mask is from Dubbo. Oh, you’re so gullible. It is, of course, from Venice – a seriously magical, out-of-this-world place. I’ll look at this and remember the pink and peach sunset we watched just after I’d thrown a hissy fit when a hawker forced J-man to buy me two roses for ten euros. I really have been the most wonderful travel partner.
Yesterday – Christmas Eve – J-man and I did our present shopping, food shopping and a little baking. One of my favourite Christmas memories is helping mum make a chocolate Christmas tree, complete with icing sugar snow. So while J-man talked to his family for the first time in six months, I tried to recreate the joy. I think what I actually made was a chocolate cow pat:
Last night we drank Gingerbread man cocktails – made from vanilla vodka and ginger ale – and ate an array of dips and salads. All my Christmas dreams came true when we found It’s A Wonderful Life playing on cable television. It made me cry, poor old George Bailey.
This morning we woke up and exchanged gifts. I bought Joel his newly-discovered favourite beer Dogfish Head and Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom. He bought me some bow earrings I’d pointed out, a Macaron cook book and a necklace with an Eiffel Tower charm. Am I not the luckiest gal in the world? Afterwards we cooked a breakfast of pikelets, strawberries and bacon and eggs. After that, we devoured:
Later today, we’ll eat more and nap. Merry Christmas, y’all.
I’m no Jack Kerouac, but I’d like to show you what a day on the road looks like.
0800 – Wake in a mysterious budget hotel room and make sure valuables and innocence are still in check.
0815 – Eat breakfast. Sometimes it comes from the red WalMart “cooler” we bought and other times it is provided by the hotel, with a healthy dose of Fox News on the side. Democrats are such idiots, y’all. Also, imma gonna picket me some funerals.
0845 – Pack the car. Originally we had a silver Honda with Michigan number plates. We called her Michelle, because she was classy like the First Lady. Michelle was in desperate need of a service though, so we had to swap her for a blue Camry hybrid in Memphis. We have named her Blanche. Please note the Girls! Girls! Girls! sign in the background, below. That should give you an idea of the calibre of our accommodation.
0900 – Set up the GPS (named Wendy, who has a beautiful Brooklyn accent and a penchant for spontaneous, illegal U-turns) to guide us to our next destination. Open door on advent calender pinned to the back of the driver’s seat.
1200 – Have an in-car snack. The best thing I’ve found at petrol stations in America, other than fresh bananas and transvestites, is a hazelnut cappuccino. I love them, but limit myself to one a week because I’m pretty sure they’re flavoured with pure corn syrup and pigs’ blood. Joel tried his first twinkie on the drive between Oklahoma City and Amarillo.
1330 – Stop at some road side attractions, which have included everything from road signs (Texas, duh), a big blue whale (just outside Tulsa, OK), VW Beetles driven into the sand (also Texas), NATURE (Texas) and dead raccoons (not shown).
1500 – Check into our new hotel, usually in the boondocks. Surf cable channels (my favourite discovery is the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). Make prank calls to other rooms. Remove pants.
1515 – Realise we should actually do something with ourselves. Sometimes these things include having Christmas at Elvis’ house in Memphis, or having a chocolate soda at Nashville’s original soda shop (again, I have to limit myself because my trunk is getting so full of junk I’ll have to take out insurance on dat ass, just like Beyonce)
(This is our friend Garth. Garth and Dale, two of Joel’s friends from home, joined us for a couple of weeks. I don’t think they expected me to love bum jokes with such a passion)
1900 – Eat dinner. We’ve had some incredible meals in the US, but I think my favourite was barbecue in Memphis. We shared the dining room with a bunch of fat truckers, some cops and rowdy families. It was the most genuine American experience I’ve had.
Dollywood was closed.
I will admit that I cried when I found out. Visiting Dollywood and supersizing a McDonald’s meal were the only two things I desperately wanted to do in the states. I know, dream big! I’m not a huge fan of Dolly Parton’s music, but I love her kitsch southern style and I like to imagine she is exactly like her character in Steel Magnolias. She’d paint your nails in a nice, coral shade, gossip with you over biscuits and grits and then come to your funeral in something tight and low-cut.
Anyway, it turns out Gatlinburg, Tennessee – the neighbouring town of Pigeon Forge, where the great Dollywood lies – is possibly the greatest place on earth. It’s pretty much a permanent amusement park, so it was a nice consolation prize.
This was an amazing shop called Aunt Mahalia’s Candies, where they had all kinds of dreamy fudge, boiled sweets and candy canes. It was near a tobacco shop where the shopkeeper told J-man he was welcome to fill up his pipe with free samples. I also saw my first Mormons here, but thought it would be rude to take photos or ask for hairstyle tips (no, really – back combing? teasing? shoulder pads to lift the pouf?)
On the next floor was this boot, hat, whip and gun shop. Channelling Dolly, I thought briefly about buying a pair of red cowboy boots. As J-man was trying to convince me to get them, the owner (who was wearing denim overalls and, for the purposes of this story, chewing straw) said in a rich, southern drawl: “Be careful it might bring out the cowgirl in ‘er and we won’t be held responsible for anything that happens”. Needless to say I wussed out and didn’t buy the boots, fearing I would uncontrollably rip my shirt off and mount a raging mechanical bull, before birthing an illegitimate child called Something-Ray on the spot.
This was taken in the same mall, between a nunchucks and knuckledusters outlet and a quaint shop that sold hideous glass figures of barnyard animals. I was trying to do my best Dolly Parton sexy wink to go with my hooker outfit. As you can tell, that definitely needs more work. It’s hard to wink with a lazy eye and fishnets that are riding up.
Lining the streets were all kinds of wack things like this. Countless fair rides, fudge shops, permanent Christmas villages, gun and ammo shops, diners, grills and fast food chains. There were even the equivalent of carnies in residence – two tattooed brothers who ran the local Burger King and were spotted smoking cigarettes they’d found on the footpath. Only after J-man finished eating his handmade triple cheeseburger.
But it wasn’t all fairy floss and incest. Before leaving Gatlinburg we took a short hike in the Smoky Mountains National Park. There were icicles hanging from rocks, dramatic waterfalls, beautiful tall trees, autumn leaves and… snow!
What an amazing way to spend the first day of December.
Only 23 days ’til Christmas!