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.
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
Somewhere in rural Victoria, there is a young man who thinks I’m dead and/or unattractive. About an hour after landing in Melbourne, J-man, our friend Meg and I accidentally found ourselves on a steep bush track in a hire car made for driving to church. A 20-ish-year-old dude drove past us in a big ute and gave us an appropriate bewildered look. I looked at him, opened my eyes wide, raised my eyebrows and hoped he understand I meant “Help me. We’re about to die”, not “come hither”. He kept driving.
Happily, our road to certain death looked like this:
After losing traction several times, near-bogging, and a near self-bogging, we made it to our sweet BnB. It had ponies!
Then we went to Hanging Rock to watch The Rubens, one of the bands J-man co-manages, support The Boss. I get so excited seeing J-man’s bands succeed. Look! (Not seen: guitarist Zaac shredding it on stage left).
As we were waiting for The Boss to start, this is what Hanging Rock looked like. I told a funny joke heaps of times: “You know a bunch of schoolgirls went missing here, right?” It really was amazing how polite people were about it.
We saw most of his show the next night too, but the baby appeared to dislike all the vibrations. Get used to rock ‘n’ roll little one because your dad lives it and your mum sometimes comes along for the ride until 10pm.
We spent Monday and Tuesday in Melbourne. It was my first time. I liked it, but I didn’t go bat shit insane like I thought I would. I liked the laneways, the Yarra, the little shops for ladies, the fried green tomato burgers, the homemade crumpets, the duck fat potatoes, the art gallery and the trams.
Also, the breads.
I was just a touch disappointed with my inability to find anything to buy, so I spent today making up for it at op-shops and the outlet centre near my house.
a) A kaftan shirt from Vinnies because pregnant women seem to be relegated to polar fleece and Indian-themed garments.
b) A mug from Salvos to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Liz, you legend!
c) Some tassel earrings to distract from my suddenly outie belly button.
d) A stripey shirt. Ahoyness! I know my mum would tell me that horizontal stripes make you look wider, but I feel like pregnancy and peanut butter pretzels are the real culprits here.
e) A dress with embroidery on the front from Salvos. It was sold as “manchester”, but doonas don’t have shoulder pads, sillies! Also need to nappy san a mystery stain.
J-man likes to tell people he never gets hit on anymore because he “reeks of marriage”. I wouldn’t say he reeks of marriage: he is a dude who regularly stays out late without me (I like bed better than people), drinks and brews a lot of beer, and is a member of a naughty rap group that performs a song mentioning something called a “panty tsunami”.
On Saturday night, J-man offered to shout me dinner, dragged me from the couch and took me to see a band and get a burrito. He had been wanting to get a burrito since his birthday, when he went to a Mexican place in Surry Hills that helped him celebrate with a silly sombrero and a voucher for a free burrito. He was SUPER EXCITED about the free burrito and had mentioned it at least once everyday since Wednesday.
At the Mexi place, we had an exceptionally awkward encounter with the server.
Joel: Hi. Could I have a chicken burrito, please?
Me: Could I have a bean burrito please?
Man: Hang on please (Typing). Okay, a chicken burrito and a beef burrito.
Joel: Could I please have that weird green drink?
Me: Sorry, I said a bean burrito. Thanks.
Man: Yep, a bean burrito. You guys want hot or mild salsa?
Joel: I’ll have hot, please.
Me: Could I just have mild, please?
Man: Yes, the beef burrito comes with mild.
Me: Sorry, I asked for a bean burrito.
Man: The bean burrito comes with hot salsa.
Me: Could I just have mild, please?
Man: (Typing) Hang on … yes.
Joel: Could I please have that weird green drink?
Me: And could I get a Coke?
Man: Sorry, hang on (typing) … yes.
But this is where things got GREAT, and J-man handed over his voucher. As he pulled it from his wallet and unfolded it, it looked suspicious – it was just one of the shop’s flyers with a scribble of black texta on it.
Joel: I’ve got a free burrito!
Man: A free burrito?
Joel: A free burrito!
Man: (Looking at the flyer) This is not a free burrito. This is just a girl’s name with “FB” written on it, as in Facebook.
Joel: (Looking at the flyer) So it’s not FB as in free burrito? Ooooh … Facebook! Haha!
Turns out a sombrero must look really good on J-man, and the waitress wanted to get a little of that hot salsa. We sat down at a table where J-man declared “I’VE STILL GOT IT!” And flexed his muscles.
It made me think about the sunny one bedroom apartment J-man and I lived in when we first moved to Sydney. It was on a busy road in Cammeray, across from an RSL and a modern apartment block called Modus. We would say ‘Modus’ in a robot voice.
Looking back, it’s funny to think how young we really were. I broke down over a plate of hash browns soon after moving in. J-man accidentally scraped a work car along the side of our garage, taking off some of the wood frame. We had a washing machine so old and awful we had to load buckets of water into it. Our borrowed couch was yellow and quickly faded and attracted weird oily stains. I wore terrible clothes to work and, so green and nervous, was sure I was going to get fired everyday.
It was also where we grew up. J-man decided to quit his desk job and start his own business in music management. I became tougher and made far fewer phone calls home. We became good cooks and Sydney adventurers. We came home to it excited and changed after J-man proposed. On the deck one morning we set a date to go overseas for six months and I rushed inside and called my boss’s secretary to make an appointment to quit my job.
On the weekends we would have breakfast at a cafe in the middle of a strip of shops a few blocks away. It was so cheap and served an amazing sweet and slightly chilli tomato sauce with bacon and eggs. It was the perfect start to a Saturday and a lovely, delicious routine.
One day we walked up the road to find the cafe had closed, with a sign on the door saying “Sorry. We won the lottery”.
Postscript: I accidentally left the stove on and burnt my jam while writing all this down. Serves me right for being such a sentimental baby.
Arrive. Take the subway from JFK to Brooklyn, put your bags down, slap on some Lady Speedstick and hit the town. Go to Roberta’s for pizza and beer (served in jars!). High on jetlag, don’t speak much to your husband and stare into space.
Day One. Call in that favour with Mayor Bloomberg and have him arrange a welcoming parade for you. Agree to share your glory with the Super Bowl champions.
Day two. Go to Cowgirl in the West Village and commence your three week challenge to become a human corn chip. Salsa optional.
Day three. Go to the Comedy Cellar. I can’t guarantee that Louis CK will show up. Or can I?
Day four. Meet up with some of your best buds and go Alec Baldwin hunting at 30 Rock. Synchronise a dance to Adele’s Someone Like You with your husband as you glide on the ice.
Day five. Ensure your farts really do smell like roses and unicorns by consuming a rose petal donut from Doughnut Plant.
Day six. Go to a sports bar called Professor Thom’s and insist they change the channel to the Grammys. Drink a bunch of Bud Lites and commentate.
Day seven. When the den of iniquity that is New York City starts to become too much, escape somewhere south and cleanse your black soul. Somewhere simple like the Trump Taj Mahal casino hotel in Atlantic City.
Day eight. Defy all understanding of science, physics and astrology by driving your hire car onto a boat. Arrive in Delaware and visit Dogfish Head brewery. Watch husband almost wizz himself when he sees his beer hero. Eat a huge meal at the Dogfish Head brew pub and have cheese induced nightmares. (Below is the boat.)
Day nine. Go to Washington DC. As a consummate traveller, show distain upon your second viewing of the White House and that god awful Lincoln memorial and go for chocolatey cocktails with the interns instead.
Day ten. Continue your pilgrimage deep into the heart of Amish country in Pennsylvania. Check out weird-ass shoes in an antiques shop in Gettysburg.
Day eleven. Take a ride in a buggy with an Amish man named Ben and his horses Soldier and Sarge in Intercourse. A delightful boy from New Jersey will ask Ben “How do horses show love?”, followed closely by “What happens if they break wind?”. An excellent insight into both the mysteries of horses and modern marriage. Reward yourself with those famous Amish delicacies – chocolate covered chips!
Day twelve. Go to Philadelphia’s Museum of Art, which is showing a large collection of Van Gogh works. Ignore culturally significant art and grope a Rocky statue instead.
Day thirteen. Go to Old Greenwich, Connecticut. You guys, this is where the 1% and their French bulldogs live.
Day fourteen. After returning to New York, topple the city and claim the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza as your throne.
Day fifteen. Further help fund Donald Trump’s important work of, ah, whatever it is he does by going ice skating on his rink in Central Park for a small fee of what feels like $50 and your first born.
Day sixteen. Visit MoMA. Take pictures of artworks because they’re always so interesting to look at later.
Day seventeen. Walk over the Manhattan Bridge and admire inspired street art.
Day eighteen. Go to Tom’s Restaurant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, for a Wonder Years-style eating experience. Take photos while a group of NYPD detectives attempt to duck out of frame.
Day nineteen. Mark your final weekend in New York with brunch at Buttermilk Channel, where the food is amazing and the Bellinis are free (free!).
Day twenty. Rediscover your love of Tex Mex potato chips while watching the Oscars at a bar. Order more for you shalt never look like Emma Stone.
Day twenty one. Go to Central Park before your flight and cry into your ridiculous coat.
That means I’ve stopped eating meat, but I still eat fish because they don’t have eyelashes to make me feel bad about eating them. Since my decision three months ago I’ve slipped just a couple of times and eaten meatloaf, a quarter pounder and two sausages.
The best way I can explain my decision is: I just have too many feelings. Eating meat made me feel a little bit sad and guilty, especially because it was just so delicious. I’m a complicated woman, as J-man likes to say.
Here are some other things that make me feel the way I did when I ate a steak:
– Seeing old men alone and crossing the road.
– Spending the weekend doing nothing.
– Spending the weekend doing too much.
– Hearing a baby cry.
– Throwing away rotten food.
– Buying home brand products.
– Spending money on anything, including groceries or a doctor’s appointment.
Every year or so, J-man gets a new obsession. One year it was Chris Bath the newsreader, another time it was the White Stripes, then it was cooking pizza from scratch and at the moment it is brewing beer. J-man’s interest in beer has also extended to cooking and spices and flavours and experimenting in the kitchen. Let’s just say I now know so much about yeast, I could turn one bread roll into a thousand loaves and name thineself the messiah.
This whole thing has caused the biggest relationship rift since Kris Humphries pushed Kim Kardashian into the ocean while they holidayed in Bora Bora and she lost one of her $75,000 diamond earrings on the bottom of the ocean and then cried and we all thought it was the end and all the kittens in the world died.
Just two nights ago a discussion about cooking ended with J-man calling my salads “just a bunch of stuff cubed in a bowl” and my vegetarian cooking “boring”. I’m pretty sure he called my face “dead ugly” and then kicked a puppy too. Then all the kittens in the world died. Needless to say, I stormed off to the bedroom and sulked like any 25-year-old woman would do. I mean, c’mon cooking is my thing.
After travelling for six months, J-man and I learnt never to judge a city by the way it looks when you arrive. The international bus station in Berlin is a cement wasteland in the middle of a beautiful, mysterious city. The train into Venice gives you a tour of the romantic city’s bowels, rushing you past the sewerage plant and factories. The station in Sofia is a dark death chamber filled with groups of toothless men smoking cigars and eyeing you off like they’re figuring out how to bundle you into their boot and sell you into sex slavery … OK, so that’s a pretty accurate indication of what that city is like.
The only place where the first impression was the right one was San Francisco. The day we flew in, a couple of weeks before Christmas, it was cold and drizzling lightly. We drove into the city, pointing out the views of the bay, the tall terraces, the colourful rows of houses and the crazy-scary hills. The airline had lost our bags, but our sweet taxi driver was playing Buddhist chants and I felt calm, inspired and happy.
I will conveniently skip over the following four days where I totally, irrationally flipped out over loss of said bags, walked through the Tenderloin district alone and in tears and spent an inordinate amount of time crying and watching 16 and Pregnant. I’m pretty sure J-man spent an inordinate amount of time researching the best route to Reno for a quickie divorce.
The reason why I’m writing about San Francisco now, after all these months, is because I’ve actually been unsure whether I can do it justice. Here, I’ll try:
We were lucky enough to be housesitting for a lovely family and caring for their sweet black cat. We made a temporary home and spent our days cooking, exploring the neighbourhood, eating, drinking and taking excursions to different areas. One day we spent an afternoon in Golden Gate Park, before becoming immersed in Haight Street and all its amazing shops and characters. Another day we went to Chinatown, wandered down some side streets and ended up in a bustling restaurant where we were the only tourists. We went to countless movies, and dissected them over food at Mel’s Drive-in while putting old Christmas carols on the juke box. I had my first, real American pecan pie. We celebrated our first, and probably only, solo Christmas; combining our family traditions and sharing them only with each other. We hired a car for a day with the intention to end our drive by going over the Golden Gate Bridge. We got caught in terrible traffic and by the time we drove over it, I couldn’t have cared less because I was BUSTING to wee. Later we managed to convince a guy at a garage to let me use the toilet by telling him I was pregnant. We got coffees and walked along the shore at Crissy Field. We saw in the new year by having a decadent dinner and then watching the fireworks on top of a hill. I had grown a little pudgy on our trip, so every morning I climbed the hill and walked while taking in a 360-degree view of the city.
Up on that hill, I thought about just how crazy it was that we made it right through Europe and drove across America to San Francisco. Steve, just a small town gal, was here in San Fran-freakin’-cisco. I don’t mean to be all “ah-ha moment” lame, but I started to think about our future and what might be possible. When we came home, some of those hopes came true.
San Francisco is definitely my favourite place in the world.
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.