Drowning the Dream

Have you ever harbored a dream? Not just had one, but kept it, hung on to it, stashed it away in the depths of your heart to be dusted off whenever the time for it was finally right?

As long as  I can remember (and my sister says it’s been at least 30 years), I’ve wanted to go to Australia. Not just GO, but EXPERIENCE. BE there. Perhaps not forever, but certainly fully, completely, for a while. At the same time, I cultivated the unfortunate attitude of rolling with the punches, because, self-help books and Internet memes tell us, things “will work out”. And they do, of course, but what the gurus don’t tell you is that you have absolutely no say in the how or when.

According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Monkey. It’s an anything-goes kind of energy that can bring change when you least expect it. After the year we had in 2015, change was/is sorely needed, and as I strolled down a busy street in Fremantle last spring, the salty ocean air wafting up my nostrils, it felt for the first time in a very long time as if change might really come. Change for the better. It seemed positive.

That Schäfchen, our elderly guinea pig, died almost immediately after my return seemed to contradict that trend at first, but then I thought, now it’ll just be the two of us. Surely we can make things happen in our favor with one cat and two bunnies. DH’s dream is to return to Germany, to be with friends and write his bestseller that’s been on his desk for some time. I figured I might toodle off and follow my dream for a little while, killing two birds with one stone: I’d BE in Australia and make money, because after all, I am in one of those professions everyone claims to be looking for.

After initial reluctance to even consider this, DH and I sat down to look more closely at what would need to be done. Since we’ve just recently added two kittens to our family, he would have been more comfortable had I been able to take the rabbits with me, but alas, unless you’re coming from New Zealand, Australia won’t allow rodents (which makes perfect sense, since ours are desexed, indoor rabbits but hey, let’s not quibble). Anyway, he’d be stuck with cats and bunnies, but still asked me to investigate further.

I did. And what I found was Reality giving me a toothy grin and a big, fat Fuck You! In order to not screw up my visa application, it would be best to hire a migration agent. One returned a quote of $200 to make sure my paperwork was in order. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Then I must fork over $500 to the reviewing body in question so they can use my application stack to hold their desks down for three months, after which time they may approve me and may award me enough points to propel me to the next step in the visa process.

I’ve now spent $700 merely to get to apply for a visa! No clue how much that costs, as from here on, things get a bit murky. In any case, should Immigration and Border Control grant me a visa, I’ll have to get the obligatory health check, which back in the day I moved to the US was around $150 (for the US, 20+ years ago, if I remember correctly).

By now I’m out roughly a thousand dollars, after which I’ll have to find a job. The application process alone would eat up any and all savings I currently have, which is not an option for an unemployed person. In short, I can’t afford it.

Anita Goa writes on her blog that the Pisces moon brings release. I guess that means it’s time to use this dream to feed the fishes.

Now go back to the opening lines of this post. If you answered yes to my questions, you’ll know exactly how I’m feeling right now.

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Vyv does Oz, Take 3

Getting to Australia the first time took roughly 17 years from start to finish. The interval between Sydney and Perth was only seven years long. And now, it’s shrunk down to three. I take this as a sign that I’m either going to croak soon or get back even sooner next time. But who knows, my crystal ball has been rather murky since we moved here.

In any case, the time for travel is very nearly upon us again. In fact, yesterday was my last day at work. Another notch in the retail belt. I can’t say the customers have grown on me very much, although we did have a handful of lovely regulars. Everyone else: mainly shitheads. But that is material for a different kind of post. Let’s talk about some more pleasant matters.

Australia, land of sun, sea, sand and snakes who frolic on the beach. To my still fresh surprise, I am actually visiting friends there. And doing a fair amount of state hopping, which is only possible because my stays are also getting longer. Where I walked off the pounds during ten days in Sydney in 2006, I spent fourteen glorious days toodling around Perth three years ago. But this time, dear friends, I won the holiday jackpot with five whole weeks of sightseeing, music and flat whites. I’m returning to Perth, previously much snubbed by me during penpal days, voluntarily and happily, then casually jetting to Melbourne to see what they’ve got to offer, and up to Brisbane to find out how my former classmate ended up there when nothing in her bio could have predicted it.

Honestly, I am excited. But also regularly waffling about the grade of excitement. While I enjoyed Perth quite a bit last time, it was also occasionally quite challenging. This time could be far better or far worse. What will people’s expectations be of me? What are mine of them? And what will I eat for dinner once I move out of my AirBnB place in Bassendean, where my hostess will cook for me?

The journey begins on March 30.

My Two Cents: Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution

As I am now two days away from finishing this program, I thought I’d give you an idea of what it is and what it does. Almost everyone knows of Jillian Michaels by now. She has been a celebrity trainer on several seasons of “The Biggest Loser” and has her own collection of cookbooks and workout DVDs. Her motivational style is often described as “drill sergeant”, so if getting yelled at by someone on your tv screen, Jillian might not be the trainer for you. Personally, I tend to yell back and that gets me through most workouts.

Body Revolution is, in my opinion, Jillian’s answer to all those two- and three-month workout programs BeachBody has been cranking out, and as such, it stands up fairly well to the behemoth. You get twelve strength workouts and three cardio workouts, divided up over three phases, each phase lasting four weeks. Each phase is subdivided into two two-week mini phases. Confused? Here’s what month 1 looks like:

Weeks 1 and 2:

WO 1, WO 2, Cardio 1, WO 1, WO 2, Cardio 1, off

Weeks 3 and 4:

WO 3, WO 4, Cardio 1, WO 3, WO 4, Cardio 1, off

The strength workouts consist of four circuits interspersed with four minutes of cardio exercise. The cardio programs consist of circuits of varying numbers of individual exercises that are repeated three times. The entire program is progressive, incorporating more and more plyometric (jumping) moves as you go along.

Basically, you’ll only be doing each single strength workout four times before switching to the next level. The cardio workout stays the same for the entire four weeks. This allows you to build up strength while at the same time providing new stimulation for your muscles so they continue to be challenged ( the principle of muscle confusion). As you likely won’t be using very heavy weights, this will keep you and your body stimulated. How heavy should you go? Jillian and crew use three sets of weights, 3, 5 and 8 pounds. You will find that for some exercises you can go heavier, so if you do have extra weights at home, keep them nearby. You will also need an exercise mat and a cable. If you order Body Revolution from Jillian’s site, you will get one of her cables included. If you order from Amazon, you will not. I used some of the tubing we have from our BeachBody programs, and that worked fine. As your strength increases, you may need cables or tubing of varying resistance.

Before I go on, I should tell you a bit about me as an exerciser. I love strength exercises and prefer heavier weights than the ones used here. However, as a rule, Jillian will ask you to go through most exercises fairly speedily to give you an aerobic effect and burn extra calories. I also have huge problems with balance, so especially in the later phases, I modified. A lot. Do not be afraid to! Finally, I have joint issues that prevent me from being able to, as instructors like to say, land softly on my feet. This stresses my knees. Again, I did the best I could and modified where I couldn’t. So that’s me.

Overall, I had a good time and found the program effective. Since I don’t weigh myself, I can’t say if and how much weight I lost, but I’ve definitely toned up nicely and improved my overall strength. What I really didn’t like was the increasing appearance of plyo during the cardio intervals. Cardio 1 and 2 each included a couple of moves I wasn’t very good at, but as the month progressed, so did I . Cardio 3 felt terrible from the get-go, and after three tries, I gave it up and added running to my routine, instead. Normally, even if a routine is difficult, I plod through it and end up pleasantly exhausted. Cardio 3 frustrated me to the point where I’d actually come out of is aggressive. Dropping it helped. I also modified the cardio intervals during the last two weeks in the strength routines. For example, instead of cannonball jumps, I’d run in place or do buttkicks.

Is this program for everyone? No. And I’ve never said that about a program before! If you have knee, back, spinal or wrist problems, it is imperative you discuss this routine with your doctor first. You will spend a lot of time doing variations on planks, squats and lunges and pushups! Also, in WO 12 there is a -in my opinion- rather pointless move called Wheel Pushups which, when done incorrectly, can lead to serious injury. If you are not able to do a wheel (see yoga), please don’t. I simply left it out but you could substitute a different exercise instead, like a reverse plank. If you are a beginner, don’t be afraid to try this. Modify if you have to. Go slowly. Don’t be afraid to drop your weights if they are too heavy. Pay attention to form first and foremost and worry about reps later.

Some reviewers on Amazon complained that they didn’t feel challenged enough. If you are a fitness competitor, you should probably not waste your time and money on this program (but you wouldn’t anyway, would you). As a regular intermediate or advanced exerciser, take advantage of the “up button” moves: do more, go heavier, go faster, modify up.

I hope I’ve touched on the important points. If you have questions, leave me a comment.

 

The News (Which Ain’t Much)

It’s a postcard snowfall. You know the kind: medium-sized flurries driven across the bare backyard by a cold wind,while the blue and red specks in the naked bushes can only mean that the birds have decided to give it a rest and simply watch. They’ve had a good breakfast, the birds. We do try to please everybody.

PeeWee guinea pig is feeling tops today, so I’m holding off taking her back to the vet, though we’ll likely have to drive over soon anyway. The cat’s still scratching, and that’s not good.

A superficial glance across the living room will reveal that my furry males have decided to settle down, finally. The dogs are stretched out on their beds while the up-and-coming author (let’s call him Papi) is doing his homework on the couch: reading about the details of writing. Upon closer inspection, however, you will find that the rabbits have chosen this exact hour of the morning to explore the possibility of denuding more of the wall near the bar. Alternatively, they will likely chew on the cardboard boxes left up there for them, all the while plotting how to best get into the bedroom, where of course they are not allowed.

As for me, I’m feeling pensive today and glad that my to-do list is mercifully short. There’ll be a workout later this afternoon, as on most days. I’m pleased to imagine that it is doing me some good, although I find that assumption somewhat difficult to verify. Most likely, I will take some time to continue working on the surprise I’m making for my sister. That, in turn, has given me an idea for something for my mum. Ideas are good, as long as you remember them. I frequently need to remind myself to write things down these days. Too much going on in the old noggin.

Last night I started a new cycle of poetry, titled “Seven Lifetimes”. So far, I have a rough draft on how I want to set it up and the beginning of two of the poems. I recently learned that Sylvia Plath frequently wrote with a thesaurus at her side. Perhaps I will give that method a try. I rather like the notion of fine tuning wording.

And that, for those of you who actually read the blog to keep up with the Joneses, is all the news I have for today. Do feel free to drop me a line and let me know how you have been. Snowy greetings from Deerfield Manor!

On Reading Sylvia Plath

She writes in untidy riddles, this woman,

Schizophrenic mysteries

Too complicated for a simple mind

Barely able to navigate the twists and turns of detached narrative

The double innuendo;

Digging for deeper meaning like a mole in its burrow

Peeling more layers of meaning than the proverbial onion skins

Descriptions that express nothing,

Mockingly hinting at having overlooked something

If she wrote today

Her medium should be Facebook

And she the queen of fragments and things left unsaid

I am simple. I write simply.

I cannot fathom the depths of her arctic currents

And every time I take a dip

I end up drifting on Poetry Creek

Without a dictionary

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Three Things That Are Better in Germany

It was dark when I woke up in a puddle of sweat. For a moment I believed that I had been overwhelmed very suddenly by that second female affliction, menopause. But then a sound penetrated my sleepy brain, a constant, low hum, like air being forced through a vent. The central heating had kicked in sometime before my moist awakening and somehow missed its deadline for shutoff. It ran. And ran. And ran. Certainly, it was cold outside (so cold, in fact, that today school is cancelled. Again. I’m writing this with a sneer of disdain) but the temperature had been set at a comfortable 70 F for about ever without causing me nightsweats. I decided to check on the rabbit room, where keeping the right temperature for the nagetiers is tricky business. As soon as I entered the kitchen, where the floor is criss-crossed by heating pipes, I became suspicious. Pushing the door open to the laundry room/hallway, I was nearly knocked on my behind by an escaping rush of desert wind. Clearly, the house was being unreasonable in its heating attempts! Having turned the temp down a degree, I lay on the couch trying to go back to sleep when it occurred to me that heating is one of those things Germans do better (depending on architecture, actually).

In the day of Mini Me – Mini being my nickname given to me, lore has it, by my sister- the typical German house had radiators in every room. To prevent the heat escaping through the window, a practical ledge divided the space between window and wall. Our were usually covered with jungle-like arrays of various plants. The advantage of this kind of heating system is fairly obvious: you need only heat those rooms which you want warm, and temperatures are easily and individually adjustable. Central heating is one of those pervasive concepts whose logic escapes me, particularly in a house designed like ours, where the thermostat is near the cathedral-like living room which takes half the day to warm up to the same degree as the rest of the rooms, anyway.

It wasn’t only the heat, however, that kept me from catching much-needed zzzs last night. Having shared dinner with DH at a new restaurant the evening before, I was experiencing some physical discomfort. You see, despite the fact that to the best of my recollection I was never nagged with claims like “Starving people in Africa would be glad to have this! Now finish your food!” as a child, in a social setting I have a hard time reminding myself that I don’t need to finish my food, especially dessert. We had split a lovely black bean dip and enjoyed our reasonably sized entrees when disaster struck: our waitress apologized while informing us that our chosen dessert, apple pie, was out. Then she apologized three hundred times more before offering us the other menu selection, DeBrand’s raspberry truffle torte. DeBrand’s is the local chocolatier, much praised (and prized) around these parts, and the combination of chocolate and raspberry sounded tasty, so we went for it. What we got was a large slice of fluffy cake dyed pink, covered in marshmallow-like cream and a layer of fudge, crowned with an ice-cold (and hence rock-hard) truffle and surrounded by copious amounts of whipped cream. The whole concoction was so sweet, it was sickening. DH literally tossed down his fork in disgust after having eaten less than his share. I, however, stuck with a companion cup of coffee, found myself unable to do the same. And thus I ended up with aforementioned discomfort and the realization that Germans do dessert better. Why?

Firstly, it appears unavoidable altogether to get any kind of dessert here that does not include whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Some come with both. It’s uncreative, predictable and incredibly boring, not to mention that simply slapping an extra milk product onto a plate does nothing for presentation. Secondly, although there are restaurants that offer bite-sized desserts now, the majority banks on quantity. Even if the rest of your meal was just the right amount, the minute you give in to your poor waitperson looking at you with those pleading eyes that subtly remind you that they have a student loan to pay off and very much require you to eat dessert so the tip will be larger, you’ll be saddled with some monstrosity that will do little to satisfy that tiny craving for sweets you had and go far to keep you from getting a good night’s rest. Just as DH is weaning himself off large (= bucket-sized) beers, I am going to wean myself off those fatty globs of sugar.

Which leads me to the third thing Germans do better, and that is coffee. Yes, still. Since my first visit to the US in 1989, gastronomy has undergone a renaissance as far as coffee goes; most places will serve something far better than the ol’ cup of Maxwell House kept on the warming plate all day. Then again, simply besting Maxwell House is not in itself a mark of distinction. In Hoosierville, the average cup of coffee will set you back about $2. Admittedly, there are free refills until you are ready to spend the rest of the day in the bathroom or your heart gives out, but why would you want to drink slop until you get there? Even restaurants like the one we went to last night, where the food is nothing short of excellent (as long as you ignore the dessert menu), the coffee was, at best, meh. Also, coffee is all you get. That is, a mug with something caffeinated in it. Forget about espresso, latte, cappuccino. Even Italian-inspired places would rather spend their money on near-identical decoration than a decent espresso machine. And that is just sad.

Lest you think I am dissatisfied with our current lifestyle in Hoosierville, I promise to present you with some things that are actually better than in Germany soon. Meanwhile, enjoy your weekend!