Checking in on 2017’s theme: Cusp

Back in January, I revealed my theme for 2017 as Cusp and wrote about it in detail. Now it’s time to revisit what I wrote then and see what I’ve learned from this year, where am I tracking as far as what I wanted and hoped for. Reading back over that post, I’m still deeply moved by it and how it managed to encompass so much of what this year means to me.

If I felt like I could see the end point back in January, now in August… wow. I can feel the end of this degree and the journey that accompanies it breathing down my neck. I feel like there has never been enough hours in the year, and that I’ll be crawling into December. But oh this year, what a thrill it’s been to just maintain awareness of this idea of liminality, standing on the precipice and revelling in being ‘on the verge of’: on the Cusp. Trying to gain as much grounding, support, practice, research, and learning as possible. Trying to balance that with self-care and maintaining my household amidst budget pressures. As much as this year is preparing me to leap, to fly, to take off into a newly created future, it’s a deeply grounding year and I have felt like I’ve revisited many things and reprocessed things, reawoken others – not all of it welcome. And yet, I persist.

So what does that look like in the specific focus areas breakdown?

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

Midwifery

It’s looking more and more likely that I’ll succeed at this goal I’ve had and be able to finish my degree in Midwifery and qualify to practice as a Midwife. That’s an incredible thing to contemplate. Equal parts exciting and terrifying. I’ve submitted all my applications for Graduate positions, I’ve completed the interviews. And now I wait, and hope. I did the best I could with references and applications and I’m secure in how that’s proceeded so far. I also maintain faith in knowing that the sky won’t fall if I don’t secure a graduate position for next year: I can and will make this work, it’s what I’m here to do.

I submitted an abstract to both the national and student conference for later this year and both were accepted, one for a poster and another for a talk, so I’m in the midst of doing that work for presentation now. I’m delirious with excitement as this will fulfil a long held goal to present at a professional conference. I can hardly believe that it’s really happening, but it feels welcome and resonates as ‘right’ for me: I want this, I want to contribute to research and midwifery, increasing evidence for practice, expanding boundaries, making positive changes possible.

I am still working on feeling ‘ready’ to be qualified and a professional in my own right. But I’ve still got two placements left, and I know that there’s a transitional period as a graduate too. But I know that I’m closer than when I started at the beginning of the year, I’m working as hard as I can at every moment for it to come together. And it’s not like I will ever stop learning and trying to improve my practice: that’s continual and part of being a reflective and adaptive practitioner.

A corner bathtub filled with sparkling bubbles, surrounded by candlelight, a glass of sparkling wine, and a book on the sideSelf-Care and Development

I’ve needed this focus so much this year and it’s been deeply central to everything – even Midwifery. I still have things in play to fulfil  me socially with chosen family and close friends bolstering the energy from my beautiful partners. I’ve got some new online spaces that bring joy and care my way and ground me and focus me in a way that I didn’t realise I’d been missing desperately. I love Slack. In my physical social life I’ve made it as easy as possible to say ‘yes’ to things and to spend time in ways that will energise and inspire me, allow me to keep working hard and pushing forward. Also this helps me to mediate the worst of budget difficulty and mediate the impact of mental health stuff our family is going through. It’s been a hard year, but my beloveds and I are consistent in that we all persist. That is always heartening.

I am still trying to do my nails regularly, and it still helps – especially when I am managing to follow through on the regularity specifically. I am reading for pleasure and I’m cooking some amazing food. I have been taking baths and focusing specifically on activities that allow me to relax. The media and books I’ve been consuming have stayed fluffy, I’m just letting go of doing any harder reading or watching this year, it’s all about comfort and optimism right now.

I have also been doing counselling which has helped and so very validating. It’s nice to know that I’m overall coping exceedingly well with extremely challenging circumstances. That central truth helps me to keep going and contextualises it so that I don’t think that how hard things have been is just ordinary hard or challenging. It’s not. On the advice of my counsellor I’ve been starting to meditate and this time around, with the app I’m using, I’m having quite a lot of success with it.

This year has been difficult in the self-care department not the least of which because there’s so much riding on this year and so much to do that there just never seems to be enough hours. But I also had a health experience that reactivated my post traumatic stress disorder and so I’ve been fielding that being more of an imposition than I’m used to for the past few months. While I’m not depressed, I have issues with anxiety, and they play into sleep, not exactly insomnia but not restful sleep, not enough sleep, too easily roused and anxious and thinking and driving myself to ‘do’ even when what I’m supposed to be doing is sleeping.

I’ve done an amazing job in this area, and I’ve needed it. I’ve needed my loved ones and their unstinting care and encouragement, being able to just trust in their love. I’ve needed to care for my loved ones, to be able to make a difference in the difficulties they’ve also faced – be outside my own head and be reminded that there is so much going on outside my own sphere. Also, giving in what capacity I can means that I can more easily accept the help when it is offered, and since I’ve needed the help, I have also needed to know that it is grounded in mutuality and love.

I said in January that Cusp is about being myself and letting that be okay and it’s still true – whether I intended to hold so closely to the importance of that statement or not, I don’t know but the actuality is that it’s underpinned everything. I am more myself than I’ve felt able to be in the past couple of years, I am more in sync with who I am and who I want to be – they’re not so far apart now. That’s pretty amazing, I can’t even pretend that I’m anything other than elated about that.

Reading and Media

As I said above in self care, reading and media has remained a comfort to me and is of deep importance. I can’t conceive of myself as someone without at least one book or television series in progress at any given time. I’ve focused entirely on fluffy and comforting subject matter though, I’ve had no space or coping for harder work in my head or heart  with this space. I have needed reading and watching to help  me recover and relax, so fluff and comfort it is. Excellent decision on my part overall. I’m not really sure how well I’m tracking against my reading goals at this stage – that’s going to be something I allow future me to deal with.

Round earthenware casserole pot with red duck curry, decorated with toasted flaked almonds and bright green corianderDomestic Life

Everything I said before about this being a harder year budget wise was true, and so meal planning and lifting our spirits in tiny ways has been imperative. It’s helped. We’re making it through. The image I picked is from Bat’s birthday dinner, I made Red Duck Curry with Pineapple as the main, it turned out pretty spectacularly! Fox is happier in new work, and we’re so close to the point where I’ll be able to work and we’ll have two incomes finally. And what a feeling that will be! Our most powerful tool domestically continues to be ruthless kindness and gentleness with one another.

We’re all operating at heightened stress, and often limited coping. With kindness and gentleness, any impact that could make things harder or more painful is minimised and often averted. We communicate really deliberately, making requests, providing support, being accountable to one another. Mental health challenges make this both critical and very hard, tiring work. So again, self care – for all of us has been critical. Also coming together and being together, I also think that’s been important, even if we’ve not really been able to make much of an occasion of things.

I had wanted to post here more about study, domestic life, and cooking in addition to books and review – but there’s just been not nearly enough hours. I’m going to just assume that will remain the case and I’ll revisit that idea as a next year one.

Relationships

I am profoundly blessed in my relationships. One partner and I celebrated our 20th anniversary – apart, because that’s just how finances crumbled this year and we’ll make up for lost time later. I love them more deeply than I thought was possible 20 years ago, and I cannot imagine my life without them. That’s the most notable thing to mention. But everyday life with my live-in partners is both a joy and a challenge for all the domestic life reasons above. But our commitment and capacity for each other astounds me and inspires me. I couldn’t have gotten through the past few years without all three of us and our mutual determination. Fox is in a better and better place, he’s grown so much even in the past twelve months, I think sometimes he scarcely recognises himself. Bat continues to persevere with Med school and  mental health – he’s pushed himself at every turn and I couldn’t be prouder (and at times more heartbroken as to the cost), he inspires me with his ability to just keep going, and his honesty around the difficulty.

One of my connections has fallen away in a very quiet way, and I’m just letting it go. It is sad, but I know there’s no actual hard feelings, just not enough impetus and energy and when I realised I was the only one holding on it became a little easier to just take a deep breath, and let it go and appreciate having enjoyed something special. Also, my capacity to drive connection against a tide like that is limited and if I’m lacking that sense of mutuality it makes sense to just appreciate the person and breathe deep and let go. I’m still a little sad, but I am overall okay with it. It is the right choice. The platonic romantic relationship with one partner reached 4 years this year, and we continue to revel in how excellent it is to enjoy each other in the form of really excellent dates and emotional support and togetherness. When so many other bits of our lives are  mutually really hard work, it’s just so wonderful knowing that there is nothing but ease and joy with each other. It helps. That goes toward self care too.

Friendships have been myriad and so rewarding and important, from chosen family and best friends to friends far away and online. I’m rich with amazing people in my life and honestly, the only way I’ve gotten through is with thanks to them. I wish that there were more hours, wish there was more energy and I could more easily show the difference people have made, and give them more of me.


Quote image: a with woman midwife loves what she does, but who she does it for more, less about doing to women, more about doing for women, trusting birth, trusting women.I am still committed to my overall intention being open to things, taking on as much as I can in preparation for what is coming next. Midwifery filters through every aspect of my life, my feminism, my activism, my passion. The image above is a quote that summarises pretty succinctly my central philosophy behind my practice.

I’m not quite as shiny as when I started out the year, I still feel capable, I still feel energised and determined. But I’ve been knocked around by the year, and I’m still struggling. I am learning how to take even better care of myself. I feel more than ever that I’m on the verge, that I’m so very close to the end of this journey, Midwife and all the promise and new beginnings that holds. I’m still in progress, there’s still so many loose ends… but I feel equal to them, and I’ll keep going.

 

2017 is on the Cusp

The new year rolls around again. Now that I’ve wrapped up what I got out of Chrysalis, my 2016 theme it’s time to open up my 2017 enquiry. That’s how I view a theme for the year in any case, a year long subjective enquiry that I let be the background focus for how I go about things. It informs the lessons I want to learn, the growth I want to undertake or the direction in which I want to throw my energy. It’s a no-sticks way of making the whole new year and resolutions thing work for me. If you’re interested, I wrote about my what and how of themes previously.

Without further preamble, my theme for 2017 is: Cusp

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, here’s the definition that resonates with me for what I’m focusing on this year:

“An interval of time just before the onset of something”

A theme is always a concept, intended to be big enough and broad enough to encompass an entire year, with flexibility. The idea behind Cusp for me, is that I’m still in the midst of a journey – becoming a midwife. I’m still in the process of transformation and I’m not quite done. Unlike my 2015 theme Becoming, I’m much closer to the endpoint and I can see that ending in the distance. I’m close. I’m on the verge. But there’s still a way to go. I don’t yet have my wings, I’m not quite ready to fly – but I’m approaching that point and so I feel like I’m in this liminal space, in between and not-quite. I like Cusp for the potential it makes me feel, for the challenge it breathes into me and the push for this last year of effort required to achieve this major goal, career and vocation change, who I am in the world, being that kindness and change I wish to see. Everything. On the verge, standing on the precipice: just before the culmination, on the Cusp.

Weeks ago when I was letting this word and concept  tick over in my mind, I had thought this would be another inwardly facing theme. I thought Cusp would go to work on me internally and that I would need to look inward to see the effects. Now, I don’t think that is the case. I think this is far more outward facing than I’d supposed, and that it’s a kind of embracing of the world at large and putting myself and what I am contributing out into the world in various ways. There’s still the internal component I’d already mused upon, but there’s also a call for me to be visible, be vocal and practise all that I’ve learned, consolidate it all and find out how it and I all fit together. It’s pretty exciting!

Let’s break down the areas where I’m directing my focus for Cusp, and what I hope comes out of this enquiry.

Text graphic with a turquoise background. Black text reads "Keep Calm, Study Hard and Become a Midwife" with a small black crown at the top.Midwifery

I want to complete my final year in my degree to qualify as a Midwife, this is so much the thing that I am on the Cusp of, it’s so close I can almost taste it! I would like to do this and maintain the good marks I’ve gotten so far. I want to do well in my last three prac units, and get the references I need for my Grad Year Applications. I also want to get all my numbers for things together so that I can hopefully do as few extra shifts for births and the like at the end of the year. I think it’s unlikely I’ll have all the numbers and not need any extra shifts, but we’ll see. I want to go to the Student Midwife Conference this year, and if I’m lucky one of the other professional conferences (that might be pushing it though). By the end of the year I really want to feel like I’m ready to transition into professional practice for real, have my own registration and the responsibility that goes with it.

Self-Care and Development

In this area I hope to continue the practices that I’ve found work for me in the past couple of years. I want to continue to refine the care and feeding of my extroverted self, surrounded by my wonderful introverted partners. I’m grateful to them for how loving and caring they are toward me, knowing that I thrive on a base level of affection and touch. I appreciate their efforts to give me what I need and that they notice how I in turn try and support and fulfil their needs.

Two hands showing nails over dark purple sleeves, fair Caucasian skin tone with nail wraps featuring glow in the dark multi-coloured eyeballs from Jamberry. I want to remember that baths, books, Jamberry nails, video games, walks, podcasts, dinner and great conversations with my wonderful friends are my favourite self-care mediums. I want to keep making time for these and have them fit into what promises to be a busy and demanding year. I’m getting better at this as time goes on, so it’s refining and continuing as I’ve already started.

I am allowing for some gentle untangling of some deeper and older emotional stuff inside, body stuff, family history stuff and being myself stuff. I’m not sure how that will go, but I’m allowing space for it to come about, without intending to specifically dig things out of my psyche and go to work on them.

That said, I do want to finally conquer the ridiculous molehill-become-mountain that is getting my driver’s license. It’s back in active progression as I’m doing practise driving regularly again and will aim to book a couple of pass-the-test lessons and then do the test and (hopefully) pass!

My intention for this year is that I reduce my overall anxiety, that I see a reduction or ending to those habits and telltales of my anxiety. I’d like to continue to dial back my hyper-vigilance as I can bit by bit. That’s hard. About as hard as I thought, but not intractable. It involves letting go, breathing out and trusting things to be okay and people to be okay.

Cusp in this area is about being myself, and letting that be visible and outward without fear, learning to be okay with it and not quite so terrified.

Reading and Media

This is purely for me, my leisure, my enjoyment of time  to myself and how to spend it. I want to read, enjoy book clubs, do reading challenges, catch up on some of the television I’m watching, play awesome games, keep up with podcasts and share that with people here and via social media. I want to keep reviewing books here and doing some interviews and blog tour things if I get the chance. I’ve already written up my reading goals for 2017 so I won’t rehash that. I think I’ll also just allow for another post at a random interval talking about the games, media, and updates to podcasts I love and so forth. This is the simplest for this category yet, but the intention is simply to just keep enjoying it the way I am and to share it outwards with joy and enthusiasm.

Domestic Life

This year looks to be crappier budget wise, but we’re going to try and make it work as best we can, it’s the last year where budget should be so very hard and that too is reflective of the theme Cusp. That means meal-planning and using little inexpensive things to keep our spirits up and to make us feel better about things. It’s easier to deal with a strict grocery budget if you’re still able to make awesome and interesting food. Since Bat is also back to sharing more of the cooking that actually looks less stressful and more possible. Household things in general seem to be mostly running more smoothly and fairly, with room for tweaking but there’s no real ‘hard’ attached overall. I want us all to feel like the breakdown is fair, achievable and that we live as well as possible in a lean year. I have some light aspirations towards decluttering – specifically in my bedroom/wardrobe space but I’m simply identifying the desire and not putting any specifics around it at this stage. It’s all possible. I would like to post more about food, cooking and meal-planning this year if I can manage it around study and book reviews.

Relationships

A white cat and a black cat cuddled together in a soft nest where their paws and tails make a heart shape. I want to enjoy my relationships, friendship, chosen family, family, romantic and other poly-connections. I want to spend time and appreciate the wonderful people in my network.

I want things to continue to improve emotionally and in mental health for my live-in partners, it’s been a hard few years, and this year is intended to be the last ‘flagged’ hard year as after this we should have better income options which will take much of the pressure off and give us some more options. Fox is in the best place he’s ever been, but with that still comes new lessons and difficulties – like trying to learn how to actually relax. Bat is doing alright and is doing what he can to maintain that ahead of going back to Med School. His new boyfriend from the US is also planning to visit this year which I hope consolidates Bats feelings of love and safety and possibility, and that it helps him to get through the academic year.  I want him to feel loved and supported and know that Fox and I are behind him eleventy percent, and that we welcome N as his partner too.

I want to spend my 20th anniversary with my partner K who is interstate and I’ve not caught up with him in person since 2014, because money. But it’s our anniversary and there’s a lot going on to make this possible for him to be over here and for us to spend time together. We’ve been through so much together, we mean so much to one another – and despite living on opposite sides of the country, that doesn’t change. He’s still the person who wants me to have the most amazing life and wants to contribute however possible to that, and I want the same – he made it possible for me to move to Melbourne and it was the best thing for me, despite how deeply I miss him constantly.

I want to spend time with my other poly connections, enjoy the company and try and find some way of spending time regularly instead of sporadically – that ends up stressful, I’m making space for that to become easier. It’s hard with no central scheduling, competing priorities and obligations, distance, and lack of money to make things easier. I’m still allowing for the possibility.


Overall what underscores Cusp for me is being open to things, allowing for possibility and being willing to take on things, try things, do things and see what happens. I still have to be mindful of energy levels, resilience and self-care but I  feel much more capable of that at this point. This is less detailed and specific than in the past couple of years, but I feel more freedom at this point to see where it leads and to just let things happen. Hopefully that means more reflection posts along the way as I learn things too. Here’s to 2017, Cusp, and getting ready to take the leap, letting myself be with the moment, on the verge and almost arriving at the destination of Midwife.

Reflecting on Chrysalis for 2016

As always before I do my reveal and discussion of my new year theme, I like to reflect on the year past and what I learned from my enquiry over that year. In 2016, my theme was Chrysalis, envisioned as below because I felt I needed a protective place to recover, a suit of armour to prevent further damage and needed to be inward focused in order to get through another year of study, another year where I anticipated many challenges and much stress. It was a reactive theme, but even so I still put forward aims that I hoped would be part of the enquiry and part of what helped me to heal, you can read about how I originally imagined Chrysalis back in January of 2016.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

So now, in January of 2017, where do I think my past year of enquiry has taken me? What happened, what did I learn. What will I take forward and what will I let go?

Overall

Reflecting on this theme, I think what I got from Chrysalis is exactly what I needed: comfort, peace, healing, protection, love. I spent the year reinforcing in every way I could a recovery of my energy, rebuilding of my resilience, and letting go of some of my perfectionism to make way for simply trusting that things would happen – like dinner on the table when I was in the depth of study doom. It was a year where it sounds like I was selfish and that’s true, but it’s the selfish of desperation where I had very little left I could pour out and give – I’d exhausted  myself and everything inside of me to get to the end of 2015.

Things that contributed to that state included my study, partner illness and financial stress. To share a little more, I am studying a demanding degree course in Midwifery, which I love and am passionate about – but it is one long push, there are few lulls and it is demanding intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Being realistic about that doesn’t make me love it less or less committed to being the best midwife I can be.

It’s no secret that one of my live-in partners has been in the depths of mental-health crisis for the past couple of years and this has taken its toll on him, but also on Fox and I as we do our level best to support him, protect him, and encourage anything that draws him out of the depths of it. The best outcome for 2016 was a dramatic shift in his mental health and while it’s certainly a massive relief to see, and we all hope that it will continue onward and upward it’s not a magic wand and there’s a lot of work and time before I think he can look back and say ‘This is behind me’. Right now he can say that he feels like the worst has passed – that feels true for Fox and I too.

Which brings me to that other stress point – we’re still on one income predominantly. Over the past twelve months I did some part time work which eased the pressure for most of the year. Fox has continued to be our breadwinner, he’s stoically dealt with the awfulness of his job and company that has steadily declined in all level of satisfaction. The likelihood of redundancy looms ever stronger and we’re doing our best to hold out for that as a means to give ourselves the best buffer and chance to weather a change in job and income. Fox’s dedication as a provider is incredible as is his own commitment to his mental health, which has improved slowly and steadily over the years since he first started tackling this. I’m so proud of him, so grateful to him and I can’t wait to repay his faith in me and my studies by giving him the chance to pursue his own studies.

So finances still sucked but they sucked a little less, and we  made as good a use of that as we could – we didn’t need to be so strict on meal planning (that will be a necessary change this year), we could get takeaway on occasion and did so at several points where ‘too hard’ hit. But that has been hitting less and less as Bat has recovered more mental health and capacity. There is less worry and so work happens more evenly distributed and support flows more freely in all directions. Bills were paid, we had some disposable income occasionally. I was able to invest in some training to go with my Midwifery studies that will hopefully set me up to be an attractive graduate candidate when I apply this year for a position for 2018. All the ways in which I dedicated energy to self-care, to recovery and resilience paid off, for me but also our family. We’re all in a better position personally at the end of 2016 to go into 2017.

Reading, Media and Fandom

One of my big realisations for 2015 was just how much reading for pleasure grounds me, and is a self-care mechanism and stress relief rather than simply a luxury. I’d spent most of the first two y ears of my study feeling guilty for still reading fiction and then I learned that it’s a small and regular thing I can do to look after myself and enjoy my days and weeks. So I made that a priority for last year, and letting that joy be there for myself rather than worrying that I should be studying was so helpful. I read some amazing books (my favourite books of 2016 post is still pending, but I’ll edit and link when I’ve posted it).

Blue banner image with picture of a book in white and the text Goodreads 2017 Reading ChallengeI loved reading and reviewing this year and I exceeded my reading goals in lots of ways – and there’s still room for improvement in others, as it should be. We’re never done, there’s always more room to grow and more to learn. You can read more about my reflection on last year’s reading goals if you like, or see what my goals are for 2017 in reading – I won’t rehash them here. In short: read books, review them, especially books that are diverse in important ways, and books by Australian Women Writers. Try and read 75 books in the calendar year.

I also listened to my favourite podcasts and I looked for ways that I could keep listening even when I wasn’t working. Favourites continued to be Galactic Suburbia and Fangirl Happy Hour, and I continued to really enjoy Tea & Jeopardy. New favourites include Sheep Might Fly, Magical Space Pussycats, and in non-books and fannish areas,  Acts of Kitchen and The Birth Hour. I also fell in love with the Booktube channel Books and Pieces, I highly recommend it. I managed several really great walks (and Pokemon Go was great for this as well) while listening to podcasts, which was a happy goal to achieve. Plus, I’ve also gotten to a point where some of my general online productivity like organising recipes or sorting stuff etc can be done to a podcast background so I’ve stayed mostly up to date and in love with the voices and conversations of intelligent women, who are so switched on and aware, so emotionally present and generous. This kind of listening brings such joy to me.

There were a few other media things I did to contribute to self-care and taking time out. I played games and in particular enjoyed Stardew ValleyNo Man’s Sky, Pokemon Go, and Armello this year. My favourite movies were Deadpool and the new Ghostbusters, pretty equally, although I also really loved Zootopia too.  With music, I set up a Pandora radio station for Hamilton and other Broadway musicals so that I could have background music that mostly made me feel better about the world and let me relax and think about the stories the songs were telling. Like a large percentage of the rest of the world, I unexpectedly fell in love with the Hamilton soundtrack and listened to it time and again over the months in the second half of the year. I think Lin Manuel Miranda is a gift and should be celebrated.

Midwifery

White banner with intersecting circles Hands, Heart and Mind and the kind of midwife you will be. Midwife is in the centre of the intersecting circles.In taking on Chrysalis last year, in my original post on the subject of midwifery I said:

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac.

This area is one in which I’m particularly proud of the outcomes. I excelled academically in 2016, beyond even my high expectations of  myself. I worked exceedingly hard for it too and I’m so pleased that paid off. I also went back to prac and it went well. I achieved that aim too, to regain my confidence in my practice and to do well in my clinical placement. I’ve also started asking for and collecting recommendations and I’ve been doing additional workshops, seminars, conferences and courses to supplement my study as part of my efforts toward applying for a graduate year position. They’re competitive and I’ve my sight set on one in particular (I have yet to work out my second and third preferences) so I’ve been working hard already to achieve this. I also had my halfway mark assessment, and it went well, and I’m feeling confident in my ability to prepare for my final assessment at the end of 2017.

I went into 2016 still so passionate about Midwifery but feeling shattered and uncertain. I have emerged from the year with a greater consolidation of experience and knowledge, as well as an even greater passion for midwifery. Calling. Vocation. I never though those words would be ones I could really identify with and yet, more than ever I feel this.

Self Care and Development

I did so much better with this area of focus in 2016 than in previous years and I think the shift in making it about care as much as development helped with that. I wanted to grow, but I didn’t want to push myself in to painful spaces when it was obvious to me that I needed to draw in energy and seek out joy and connection, love, and comfort. Through that focus I did grow and learn. My confidence returned and grew. I’m more sure of myself in conversations and my opinions and ability to contribute meaningfully. I worry less about perception (in some ways, in others this is still a work in progress).

A box with a book, and bath bombs in it, with a subscription to the official Book Bath Box includedI had the best birthdays this year, Bat and Fox made it perfect for me with the most thoughtful gift – a Book Bath Box subscription, and because that would arrive months away they also made up their own version to give me on the day! So sweet! They spent the day quietly hanging out with me and cooking me an incredible birthday dinner – pork belly with caramelised pears on silky potato mash and a brownie cheesecake birthday cake dessert. It was perfect! So relaxed and peaceful, I slept in, there was no stress and I felt whimsical and full of love the entire day.

I wanted a better year for my partners and I do think we all got it – although there were still so many hard things about the year, so many ways in which we just needed to dig deep and focus on the fact that we love each other and would somehow make it through as a starting point. I do recommend that as a starting point by the way because if as a fundamental assumption that has shifted, then a different conversation may be necessary. But I love my partners, I trust them and I value them. I feel loved and trusted and valued. This is especially true of my partners whom I cohabit with, where we’ve created a little family for ourselves.

But my other partners are just as important in different ways and I love and value them for what they bring to the world and my life too. I trust that I bring them good things to their lives as well. There are a number of partners and close friends, chosen family who I wished I could have seen more of throughout the year – and yet energy and time where in short supply. It was also a hard year for some of them and I know this impacted on us being able to make time and scheduling work. My platonic romantic partner and I spent quite a bit of time together, mostly in quiet conversation and having lovely cheap dinner dates in the city – spending time and keeping each other feeling sane and cared for. She had a hard year and I hope that what I could do to stand behind her helped. I did get to spend time with two of my Perth partners who came over and that was wonderful and messy and I’m so glad – even though I was in the midst of semester so it was also hard. But right now, there is no ideal time. We made it work. Overall with people and social, especially partners I did the best I could but I wish I’d have managed more somehow.

2016 marked another year where I didn’t get to see my longest term partner, K. Our 19th anniversary came and went and I missed him more than ever. We’re starting to make determined plans for our 20th anniversary together because even with crappy finances, somehow we will make this happen. K has been one of the most integral parts of my life for about a third of my life and no matter how things shift and change for us, he remains one of the most important people in my life, and someone who’s happiness means the world to me. I know that I mean similar things to him.

Collage of 4 pictures, 3 landscapes of hinterland and bay overview, one with a plaque about Apollo Bay and the Great Ocean RoadI did have a year that was more social than the previous one, and it was part of my extrovert self-care mechanisms I put in place. I attended our local science fiction convention Continuum and has the most wonderful time, it was seriously one of the best things I did this year. Followed by my trip to Apollo Bay with a friend where we cooked, and explored and lounged for a week – it was great. I organised with chosen family members to do semi-regular dinners and host them so that I could soak up the social time, but have it be easy and love filled and not a struggle at all. I did regular vid chats with @dilettantiquity which was wonderful for both of us in several ways and was one of the our mutually most successful aims for 2016. I did several more frequent chats with others who are far away and that meant a lot to me too, I want to continue that in the new year.

My health was mostly very good, pain and strain were well managed. Reflux stopped being an agonising problem and is well managed. I had some reproductive health issues but thanks to our wonderful public health system, they’re all taken care of. I judiciously applied bravery, reward and lots of care mechanisms to deal with the emotional and anxiety strain these issues posed and I came through it all really well. Pokemon Go deserves the most credit for me improving my activity levels, I enjoy wandering and will quite happily do that for several kilometres in order to catch the little monsters or hatch eggs. It’s low key, easy and satisfying and I value that ease as much as the compelling fun nature of it.

A large number of books piled onto a shelf creatively, a shelf next to that is empty.I did declutter and organise my physical things better (I need to revisit some of it as it got away from me in the last part of the year). I obtained some second hand bookshelves and unpacked my books (still a work in progress, one shelf needs stabilising). I also enjoyed more of Melbourne in tiny and cheap ways that brought me a lot of joy. I walked along Southbank several times (in part because Pokemon). I wandered through the city and admired how beautiful Melbourne is. I went to several Wheeler Centre events and marvelled at the speaking programs they have and the way I think it contributes to our city and people overall.

I blogged throughout the year – here less so than I hoped but I did manage to keep things up reasonably. I maintained my 5 things habit throughout the year, although I have decided to change it going forward. My blog is as important to me as reading and I value having spaces to chronicle, to write and share with people that are more thoughtful than the immediacy of social media.

I didn’t get to any different cities in 2016, we’ll see if that’s different in 2017 – finances say doubtful. I didn’t get my license either, this still hangs over my head. However now that I’m in a better mental space than I have been in two  years it looks like it is vastly more possible than it has  felt for ages. I’m just trying not  to use this as a stick to beat myself with. I will get there. I will. Eventually.

Cooking

A table set with many dishes of food including a quiche, ham, turkey and several sides.The framing for this was trying to maintain things that worked to take stress out of decision and uncertainty. To reduce the cost of food, but to eat well and enjoy the meals we have together. I wanted to maintain my enjoyment of cooking and not have it be something that always felt like a chore. This was successful overall. Meal planning fell largely by the wayside in any formal way, but we did try new things in that vein and they have potential. The repository of recipes is more accessible and easy to navigate by people other than me. Fox did a bunch of cooking, including for Bat’s birthday dinner and did a magnificent job all year when it was his turn. Bat is cooking more and we’re back to enjoying trading cooking between us and sharing it as the joy it has been in the past for us.

We had people around regularly and good food was always a part of that and we all enjoyed that massively. Low-key dinner parties are our favourite social events to host and sharing great food with those we care about is enjoyed by us all. Fox remains enamoured of our BBQ which continues to be adorable. We hosted Christmas with chosen family and a friend this year, it was our turn – 3 years in, it’s officially a  tradition now! We over-catered and went way over-the-top for our feast, it was glorious and a massive undertaking that paid off. The inset photo is of the feast at the time of serving before we devoured about 5% of it.

Much of our ‘make-from-scratch’ things like stock and bread fell entirely by the wayside – we ate more pre-prepared stuff in general. But I was busier, made less decisions and organised less. And we still got fed, there was still delicious food and it was good for me to let go in this way and trust the others and let them figure things out so I could concentrate on work and study priorities where they impacted on my ability to do household contributions. I was successful in abdicating adulthood at various points when it was necessary and being supported by my partners in this. It was important and necessary (and hard to do) but worth it.


Chrysalis was a year that I wanted to focus on care, recovery and resilience. It was that for me. I got all of this in so many ways – expected and unexpected. The letting go and simply trusting in my partners and the people around me was a valuable lesson, and one I want to take forward. I still think that my expectations of myself when I read over my planning from the beginning of last year was too demanding, wanting too much of my finite energy, time and skills. That too was a lesson – and I know amongst those I am close to that this I am not alone in this trait. I spent the year re-framing things so as not to beat  myself with sticks. The point is not to punish myself for failing to achieve all the myriad things I wanted, or for forgetting things or cutting corners. Actually the point was to learn that the sky doesn’t fall when you do these things and in some ways, it turns out even better emotionally and in the final results.

I am grateful to this theme, it has been a gift and an inward focus that I’ve consistently put energy into. And in all the other ways I achieved what I put in, that was true with this enquiry too. And now with this reflection, I can draw a line  underneath Chrysalis and move on from it’s protective shell. It’s time to move  properly into 2017.

Moving on from Becoming and 2015

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.

More Recent Meal Plans

This time I’m going to try and bunch them up in the general fortnightish organisation that they started out in… we’ll see how that goes. The point of meal planning for me, for our little poly family comes down to a few things:

  • Saving money on groceries
  • Eating really well, really delicious food that is exciting, and doesn’t make us feel like we’re missing out on eating out by being poor.
  • Avoiding the temptation of takeaway which invariably is not as satisfying as going out to a proper restaurant and/or I could have made a decent version myself.
  • Teaching Fox to cook, hoping he comes to enjoy it as much as I do in his own way.
  • Getting to try out awesome recipes and enjoy the results, also to devise my own recipes and improvements on things.

19th September Meal Plan:

  • Pasta Piselli – pasta, peas, chicken broth and parmesan. A simple pasta, but not my favourite of these although it was perfectly tasty.
  • Spiced lamb cutlets with sweet potato and spinach risotto – this was in part to use up a sweet potato and spinach I had, but also I had lamb racks in the freezer I’d gotten cheap on a previous shop. It turned out really well and reminded me why I love lamb cutlets so much even if they’re usually too expensive to indulge in. Delicious little morsals – ours were spiced with a lavender salt that goes so well with either lamb or beef.
  • Yottam Ottolenghi’s Pastitsio – this recipe took a bit for me to get to, but my goodness, when I did…. Wow. On the strength of how good this tasted, I bought his new recipe book Nopi (on special). This was glorious – first time I think I’ve ever made a ‘proper’ Bechamel sauce, and now I get why you may want to bother with that. The sauce was beautifully flavoured and uniquely flavoured – not like any cottage pie or Bolognaise I’ve seen in other recipes or made before. I *highly* recommend this recipe, it’s so delicious and worth the effort. We used maccaroni as that’s what we had, and it worked well – any small tube like pasta works well I think. (The other recipes on this link are also intriguing).
  • Boosted JookBoosted Jook – this is the first time I’ve really tried any kind of congee, because mostly the options on offer involve seafood which is not appealing at all to me. I used the leftover Christmas turkey carcass I’d been saving and looking to use up, as the bone flavouring and wow it was delicious. We added Chinese sausage in ours with coriander and chilli – it was just so unbelievably good. I can absolutely see why people have this as a go-to thing for when they’re sick, it’s perfect for it. Also easy to make and really variable depending on the flavourings you have on hand, or are inspired by.
  • Proscuitto and Mushroom Spaghetti Bolognaise – this was a great recipe, simple and a nice twice on the usual Bolognaise pasta, but not in ways that are super expensive as the amount of prosciutto is pretty small, and it’s fairly cheap from the markets.
  • Chicken Peratal – interesting looking curry in a different style from those we’ve made before. It was really flavourful and I really love making things from whole spices rather than ‘use x curry paste’.
  • Cacio e Pepe – one of the simple pastas that is often a last minute ‘cbf’ lifesaver. It’s simple, flavourful and there’s very little to it – somehow these recipes are always the ones that pack more flavour from tiny beginnings. Love it.
  • Lamb Shanks with Creamy Parmesan Risoni – this is one that we didn’t do because the weather turned too hot to contemplate shanks and slow cooking. It is still a recipe I want to make though.
  • Chicken Provencale – This was a great recipe, flavourful and worth the effort of roasting the capsicums (I say this even though I didn’t have to do the roasting – Ral cooked most of this fortnight as I was in essay hell).
  • Indian Lamb Curry, with goat – we didn’t get to this for the same reason we didn’t make the lamb shanks. The weather was hot enough that the idea just didn’t work. Dear Melbourne, never change with your mercurial weather, I love you so.
  • Balsamic Lamb Salad – this remains on the meal plan – it’s been pushed forward a couple of times now, no particular reason, it just hasn’t appealed to make specifically yet.
  • Blood Orange and Vanilla Panna Cotta – a dessert I made because blood oranges are in season and are glorious! Also, creamy gelled desserts are the best – this one made with agar is also vegetarian friendly. My first time using agar and it’s awesome, would love some agar powder rather than the bars though.

3rd October Meal Plan

  • Open Lasange with Mushrooms, Tarragon and Goat's CurdOpen Lasagne with Mushrooms, Tarragon and Goat’s Curd – this was glorious! We made our own pasta and everything, it was just amazing. The mushrooms were so flavourful, the tarragon and goats cheese a perfect compliment. I want to try this style of lasagne with other flavourings too as it was both light and satisfying, but a much better style of lasagne for Summer.
  • Beef skewers with broccoli, capsicum and red onion on the BBQ, turned out fantastic, despite the fact that we forgot that we’d planned to drizzle them after cooking with balsamic vinegar. Served with a classic potato salad – so very good on a warm night.
  • Ricotta and Chive Gnocchi – we finally got to making this! We’d planned to fry it, but I didn’t in the end as the sauce I’d made to go with it was ready – I’d planned to brown butter and sage, but didn’t have any sage or pumpkin at the time. We had *heaps* of gnocchi left over too.
  • Citrus, Ginger and Tofu Salad – we tweaked this a bit and it was a stir fry rather than a salad but it was really tasty, the tofu was baked and took in the flavourings really well, definitely want to make this again over the warmer months.
  • Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Corn and Cilantro – or red capsicum soup with corn and coriander. This came together on a day where nothing seemed to quite go smoothly, but it was so worth it once we served it up. All the flavour came together beautifully and the lightly sautéed corn was just perfect.
  • Petits Pois à la Française Redux – this recipe has become a new favourite, grilled lettuce? Who knew?! We managed to get fresh peas for this and some really nice free range bacon. The creamy buttermilk dressing was light and brought everything together and it was just such a good dinner. Especially when we added poached chicken breast to it – want to make this again and again!
  • Gluten Free Peanut Sauce – the plan was to make this into something impromptu, but it’s still on the list at present and we haven’t made it yet. It’s a good option for ‘cbf’ nights as it’s easy and generally we have the ingredients for it to hand, and something to add to it to make it a meal.
  • Pomegranate Roast Lamb – we used pomegranate molasses instead of the fruit for this. The roast was cooked perfectly but the marinade didn’t really penetrate and so this was a little average for my taste. The dinner was overall great though because of the quality of the roast, but it wasn’t because of the recipe.
  • Chicken Marsala – this was fantastic, the chicken and sauce went perfectly with the spaghetti and I felt like I was eating from an Italian restaurant.
  • Roy Finamore’s Broccoli Cooked Forever – which I served on homemade pizza bases with buffalo mozarella added just as it came out of the oven. This broccoli recipe is divine – it’s rich and flavourful, decadent and with a hint of spice. I made mine with capers instead of anchovies so it’s also vegetarian (and easily vegan if you forgo the cheese).
  • Spanish Tomato Soup with Serrano HamSalmorejo – Cold Spanish Soup with Serrano Ham – I tweaked my approach to this recipe as I was using canned tomatoes, and so I cooked it up together for a bit and then let it come down pretty much to room temperature while I made the garnishes. It’s a great texture and flavoured soup, the garnishes really add to it and I can imagine that actually served cold that it’d be amazing!

I’ve just done the meal plan for the next fortnight, but mostly the recipes are from recipe books in the house and are not easy to link to. Maybe I’ll write a few up if I like them well enough. I also think I’ve finally managed to find the one place in my house to photograph meals that doesn’t yield an overt yellowing of the light. No idea why it happens but anyway, hopefully I’ll get better at photographing things and making them prettier (soft goal, I’m not attached to this, only to actually taking pictures and sharing them).

Sharing ongoing meal planning experiences

So the whole meal planning thing has taken root in our household, and this is something I’m glad about as I think it makes a bunch of things easier – especially given my particular role in our three person household is managing of food decisions and a large chunk of the cooking. I’ve been using a Pinterest board to track my cooking and recipes so that both the result and the recipe are in roughly the same location, so take a look there if you’re interested. Below is a few dot points on general things I’ve learned in this meal planning process, mostly particular to our own situation but maybe useful for readers too, and below that a bunch of recipes and my commentary about making them, or not, and what worked and didn’t.

  • You need to work out what you need out of your food – do you just need it to do dinner and not have leftovers cluttering up the fridge. or do you actually need leftovers for lunches and frozen meals for later?
  • The last point is a necessary thing to try and figure out about your needs because that influences how many recipes/meals you need and also what kind of things you might pick for the fortnight. Roughly I’ve worked out that including some leftovers for lunches/frozen meals (either or) we need 10-12 meals/recipes per fortnight.
  • This is dependent on the activities of the fortnight, if 2 of us are out every day at uni and need lunches, that’s a factor, but if one of us is home most of the time, different provisions are more useful.
  • It’s probably important to build in some flexibility – you can plot out a plan for what most nights are going to look like, but having gaps where you can either eat leftovers, or do something spontaneous can be useful (especially if you have back up super cheap/easy options on hand).
  • This is hard but worth it, but I really notice that having a well stocked pantry helps with variety and awesomeness of things I can make cheaply. The hard part of this is knowing what particular ingredients like vinegars, sauces, spices etc are useful for you and how you like to cook and eat. Then the next thing is to spread out across shopping trips buying and maintaining those things so that they’re generally on hand, but not an onerous expense.
  • I’m still noticing and marvelling at the difference it makes to have homemade frozen stock on hand, it saves a massive amount of time because they’ve already simmered for ages, plus the ingredients are super cheap and often can be done using up a bunch of kitchen scraps that would otherwise go to waste.
  • We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to divest from supermarket meat, mostly we were avoiding it anyway but convenience kept us hooked for a while. The straw was just the lack of quality and the limited range/flexibility. Also, it’s not really cheaper than the cost of meat at butchers I can find at markets near to me – this may differ for you. I’d love to do a free range meat delivery but I’m not that organised yet, plus it’s a bit more expensive than I can afford right now. Still, we’re enjoying the bounty of better quality meat, and I’ve had some great luck with specials on cuts of meat that I really love – like lamb racks/cutlets.

So some of the meal planning I have done in the recent months – note this is the plan and not it’s execution. These links are from mid July through until the end of August. There’s a bunch of stuff here and I initially tried to plot it out by meal plan sections but it’s been a bit too long for that to make sense. I’ll try and do it for the current fortnight’s plan in another post.

  • Salmon fillets with blender Bearnaise – this didn’t happen and the ‘recipe’ was mostly just to fuel an idea that would work better from us (I like some fish, but not salmon generally).
  • ‘No Time’ bread – currently my favourite go-to bread. I do it a long way because we don’t have a microwave, but the rising time is a fraction of what is needed otherwise. Also the texture is great and flavour really pleasing.
  • Asparagus with Sage Butter Pasta – this pre-dates my plan to try and focus on more seasonal fruit and veg, but wasn’t my favourite asparagus or buttered pasta recipe.Asparagus and Sage Butter Pasta
  • Pasta with Lemony Sauce – I haven’t yet made my own pasta for this, although the recipe suggests doing so (I think it will be awesome and plan to do so at some point). This is another simple sauce that does a lot with very little. Love this one.
  • Buttermilk and Oatmeal bread – I had buttermilk to use up and I was curious. Also, this is a period in which I was home a lot, so had time to bake. This was a great bread – a little sweet for my taste as an every day bread but it was *delicious*.
  • Butter Chicken – one recipe I found that looked like it was worth trying – and it definitely produced a good butter chicken-y type flavour, which was reminiscent of getting good Indian food, but not really there at all as far as the overall look and feel go. I now have two other recipes from friends who say they are awesome, so I’m keen to try those at some stage too.
  • Broccoli, Parmesan and Lemon Soup – had leftover broccoli and this was a spectacularly good use for it! Great soup, so much flavour and each element was apparent! Easy and delicious to make, will definitely become part of the winter soup staples.
  • Spiced Lamb Casserole with Thyme Dumplings – made this with kangaroo which worked really well, the dumplings were light and fluffy. I used quince jam I had in the fridge instead of quince paste which was great. This is a recipe that appealed to me as a stew but especially because it doesn’t rely on tomato for flavour (I was a bit over tomato dominated flavour things at this point).
  • Pork with Cider and Cream – this recipe was fantastic! So good, so tasty! Loved it from start to finish! We had the pork cheap from a previous market shop where pork was on sale, used frozen broad beans and easily justified a bottle of cider to try this out – so worth it. Highly recommended.
  • Made roast chicken – had originally intended to make Barbara Kafka’s Simplest Roast Chicken, but it was a night where I was with Fox in the kitchen and I just showed him how to make a roast chicken on the fly by feel – not intentionally, but getting him to touch the chicken took enough effort that I didn’t want to fuss with a recipe – I’d still like to try this one though.Fox's First Roast Chicken Dinner
  • Made pull-apart rolls in preparation for making these Panko crusted fish sticks with lime and tarragon aioli into fish burgers, but they were tiny – so we had sliders! They were so cute, but next time I’ll make bigger rolls (the recipe did indicate they were dinner rolls, I should have realised).
  • Red Currant and Rosemary Lamb Shanks – this was another recipe that I was drawn to because of the lack of tomato dominance. It was a bit of a hunt for the red currant sauce (which had been in the supermarket the week before!) but it all worked out. The sauce didn’t thicken as much as I’d have liked for this so I’ll tweak that to try and have that happen next time, but it was flavourful and I do want to make it again.
  • Ginger’s Lamb Vadouvan Chili – this recipe was on the list but didn’t get made, it’s still one I’d really like to make, but it might be getting a bit too warm in the year for it.
  • In this fortnight, I also made chicken stock, which turned out to be a particularly good batch.
  • More baking, I made Bette’s Best Sour Cream Cake – which lasted the entire week and was *delicious* It was moist and flavourful, plus was versatile. We had it with cream and cherries one night as dessert.Bette's Best Sour Cream Cake with cherries and cream
  • One of my partners from Perth was visiting, is vegetarian and wanted to learn to cook. So we spent a chunk of time on that for his benefit. One of the things we cooked was Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup, which even if you don’t like celery, is utterly gorgeous and well worth trying.
  • Another dish that I tried to teach my partner is Andrew Feinberg’s Roasted Broccoli Frittata which is absolutely one of my favourite recipe finds. This is gorgeous, glorious, utterly incredible. Do it as the recipe suggests, cutting corners means you miss out on the delicious custard-y texture which would be a shame indeed.
  • We were out with friends and there were burgers, so we needed to come home and make burgers. Ral made *amazing* homemade burgers, with Wonder Fries – and it was just so so so good. (Vegetarian partner was off exploring Melbourne this night).
  • Broccoli Pasta Bake – my own recipe, that I want to write up at some point because my cheese sauce rocked, and it’s gotten better and better each time I do it. When all else fails for inspiration, fresh broccoli and cauliflower (including the stems), cheese sauce and cheese with breadcrumbs on top.
  • Another easy pasta dish, Easiest Alfredo Sauce, aimed at teaching my visiting partner – but he was struggling with this idea of what cooking consistently meant so he begged off for this. We made this sauce for a fresh pasta we bought from the markets – goats cheese and truffle ravioli. We added the broccoli for freshness and it came together beautifully.
  • I had on my list of meal plans for quite a while to make this Traditional Beef Daube, it gave me the runaround with ingredients and being tired and not reading the preparation properly – I totally flaked on it. But, it was so worth it in the end, rich flavours that just made us all happy. Would definitely make this again.
  • More pasta – it’s a staple in our house and an easy way to get Fox to cook as it’s the kind of cooking he’s most comfortable with. So we made Donna Hay’s Pasta with Pumpkin and Sage Brown Butter. That and we had sage to use up. This pasta with sage was much better than the other one – I think I’ll use this brown butter technique with the asparagus recipe in order to bring out the best in it next time.
  • There was in August this magical day that heralded the warmer weather to come and it was all the excuse we needed! We barbecued a flat chicken a seasoning mix called ‘Duck Duck Goose’ that had fennel, juniper berries, cassia, star anise, Sichuan pepper, orange peel, cloves and marjoram. It went on the charcoal BBQ and was so delicious! For sides I made these Roasted Pomegranate Carrots, and Lemony Roasted Cauliflower with Oregano and Garlic – both of these were absolute winners as sides, I’ve made both again since.
  • I love that soup has become such an easy go-to recipe. This Speedy Tuscan White Bean Soup came together really well – despite the canned beans (which can sometimes have a weird flavour from being canned). We added bacon to the top of this and Ral fried slices of bread that were so thin they became these delicious crouton slices – it felt like a much fancier dinner than it actually was, which is always nice in a fortnight where the food budget is a bit gloomy.

Fortnight of meal planning #2

It’s fairly frequent at this point that we find ourselves with a very tight budget fortnight. However, the past 8 weeks or so have not been kind to my ability to meal plan as part of keeping costs down. We’ve managed, but it’s been a bit piecemeal overall. We’re in the middle of another fortnight where we’re trying to keep groceries to the cheaper side of things, and since exams are now done, I’ve made a meal plan. Details of the plan I’m working from are below.

General notes: 

  • Past!me has still got stock to draw from (but I think next fortnight I should make a point of doing a batch of beef and chicken stock).
  • Also I took advantage of cheap ethical meat on sale butcher I like at the markets recently for both chicken and pork options.
  • Still well stocked for spices, vinegars and a bunch of dry good things.
  • This meal plan I wanted to dig into my ‘untried’ recipes folder on Taste.com.au and try a bunch of things I’ve been meaning to for years.
  • I wanted to try and avoid too much repetition of standard familiar favourites, just as part of the challenge.

Meals: 

This time I did have a loose time frame, but it follows the same basic principles of evaluating having enough meals for the fortnight, including lunches and taking into account the potential for leftovers.  This particular fortnight, I was away in Ballarat for a couple of days (and a post from that experience is brewing too), so my partners had a couple of nights where dinner was up to them and not planned specifically. The dishes I proposed for this fortnight:

  • Beef Ramen – this was my own on-the-fly recipe and was for a dinner party night where timing needed to be flexible. I make a soup broth, make the noodles and slice up the meat and veggies thinly. I then use the very hot soup to cook the ingredients in the bowl upon serving. (Note: a tender, lean cut like eye fillet works best for this).
  • Japanese Vegetarian Hotpot – this turned out beautifully, and though I forgot to take a picture, it looked much like it did on the recipe page. I didn’t use the egg for this recipe and didn’t miss it, I did add some extra veggies and didn’t tinker with the soup base and it was delicious. Scope for tweaking, if I wanted to I’d make it spicier.
  • Tuscan Bean Soup with Bacon – I decided that on this occasion I wanted to add bacon to this recipe, I thought on it’s own it lacked a little something and I wasn’t interested in hunting down other recipes to compare and figure out what when I was pretty sure adding bacon would just bring the awesomeness to the table. It did. I slowcooked the leeks with the bacon and garlic for about 40 minutes, not letting them brown much at all. I didn’t mash the beans – it didn’t seem necessary. It turned out really delicious, hearty, comforting and filling.
  • Mapo Tofu – I don’t have a recipe for this yet, but I’m on the look out. If you have a favourite one, please let me know. Loosely, fermented black bean sauce, Szechuan peppercorns, tofu, pork mince all deliciously cooked together over rice and greens.
  • Butter Chicken – This recipe looks like it’s worth trying as a start to figure out what makes a good butter chicken recipe when you’re trying to build it from the beginning. We’ll see how it turns out!
  • Pork Chops with Red Onion and Pear Chutney – This was tonight’s dinner and really, I only used the recipe for the chutney. That said, it was inspiration and worked really well – the spicy red onion and pear chutney was fantastic! And it was quite quick to put together. I sold a sceptical Ral and Fox both on the awesomeness of pork chops, so a win from all angles I think.
  • Asparagus and Sage Butter Pasta  – I know asparagus is out of season so I may yet do the familiar pumpkin recipe that’s similar. However, asparagus is Fox’s favourite and he’s had a rough few weeks so it’d be something to spoil him with and the pricing atm isn’t horrible (it might actually be on special this week).
  • Chicken and Potato Provencale – I’ve made this before, but not for Ral and Fox, and it’s a good quick and light chicken dish that works all on its own without needing extra sides. I might even include the olives for the first time…
  • Pasta with Lemony Sauce – This recipe I have also done before, but not for my partners, and just for fun I’m thinking I might make the pasta myself for practice, as I’ve barely done it and always want to do more.

Pork chop with spicy red onion and pear chutneyPicture of tonight’s dinner, the pork chop with spicy red onion and pear chutney. Served with sweet potato mash and steamed green veggies.

The main grocery shop for all of these meals was about $140 ish – I’m really pleased with this as it pretty much means we only need to buy milk and a few extra veggies by the end of the fortnight (and the asparagus because it’s easy enough to buy that on the day I make the pasta). Things I already have in the freezer include the pork mince, the chicken thigh fillets, the chicken thigh cutlets, the pork chops.

 

Other meals I’d like to make soonish (ish): 

  • I want to recreate a dish I had in Ballarat with Skud just this week that was a pork sausage and kale polenta lasagne – so delicious and Tuscan peasant food style. It was fantastic. I was very inspired about food the whole time I was in Ballarat, this list really shows that.
  • Roast lamb with all the trimmings – I blame the very cold weather lately.
  • Black bean Mexican style soup – this is Skud’s recipe and I remember having it last year and meaning to make it once it got colder again, still plan to do this on a cold night and make it nice and spicy.
  • Curried cauliflower soup – again inspired by Skud, because homemade soup is the best way to be greeted out of the cold. Also, it was delicious and am certain, simple and cheap – attractive qualities!
  • Fish things because Fox would love more fish more regularly, and the challenge for me would be to find stuff I also think I’d enjoy eating (I like fish, but it was hard work to get to that point).

One income between three

So I live in a poly household in Melbourne, myself and my partners – who are the ‘on paper’ relationship. I’m the ‘single’ person who lives with them. And unsurprisingly Centrelink have been awful, one of my partners earns too much, so his partner can’t get the Austudy he’s entitled to. I can’t get Austudy because even though I haven’t claimed it before, the fact that I have an undergraduate already precludes me from support when I need it. Because I of course planned the massive career change and letting go of 10 years I spent pursuing another career all for nothing…

So we subsist on one income between the three of us, and it kind of works. It kind of works because one of our parents is in a position to help us with rent. It kind of works because we all genuinely work together and try hard to be good about money and all the messy emotions it brings up together. And we recognise that at this point in our lives and relationships, we’re intertwined financially.

We all contribute to the house, in various ways, and so we’re all entitled to the income. There’s not much to go around but it (mostly) pays the bills, the rent and groceries. I’m better than I ever have been about making groceries last, making food last and making it delicious and so we don’t often *feel* poor. Even though we rarely can have a night out, or dinner out, or go to the movies or any of those things we could  manage occasionally when we at least had some welfare support.

I’m writing about this because I am looking at the meal plan I made on the fly yesterday for the next two weeks to get us through a fortnight where anything we can avoid spending on food, can pay bills. We’re not late on anything, but we’re working hard to keep it that way. In any case, I thought I’d share what my meal plan was and how I decided on it for this particular fortnight. Namely, what stuff has past!me done that makes this next two weeks earlier. Let’s do that bit first:

Past!me has:

  • Made oodles of stock, so I have vegetable stock, beef stock, and chicken stock in my freezer. I also have plenty of frozen veggie scraps to make more (and we are running low on veggie stock).
  • Stocked up on some dry goods that are good for stretching things, accompanying things, part of the regular stuff we would use and works for a bunch of the ‘go-to’ meals we might make.
  • Looked at what is in the fridge and freezer that can be used for the fortnight easily: some beef mince, a lamb roast, 1/2 a cabbage, 4 small zucchinis (I still don’t have a plan for them yet).
  • I also have a well stocked pantry for spices, vinegars and other similar ingredients that you often need for various recipes and are good to have on hand to make awesome stuff from very little.
  • Made a beef and barley stew before the meal plan but that meant it was there and could be part of the planning process straight away! One meal and a fair few lunches down!

And now for the meal plan. I reasoned that counting leftovers and the need for lunches for me at home and Ral’s uni lunches for the next two weeks, we needed about 9-10 meals.

So this is what the meal plan looks like:

  • Tunisian Chicken (I had everything except the chicken and the coriander).
  • Marcella Hazan’s Smothered Cabbage Soup (I have everything for this).
  • Chana Masala (I needed the ginger and I bought some cheap dried chickpeas rather than use the canned ones I have).
  • Chicken Adobo (I needed the chicken and spring onions).
  • Alfredo Pasta (I do have some cream but it’s going on chocolate cake for birthday dinner tonight, so that remains the only thing I need).
  • Marcella Hazan’s Tomato, Onion and Butter pasta sauce (I have everything for this – we almost always do).
  • Macaroni Peas (I had just finished the last of the frozen peas and have bought some more).
  • Bukhara (This is where the lamb roast will go, and I had everything else except the ginger, which I bought for at least one other recipe).
  • Spaghetti Bolognaise (I have a great recipe for this and had the mince in the freezer. Plus, it makes a large pot. I had everything for it except red wine and we bought a cheap decent bottle).

So that’s 9 so far and I’ll see how far that gets us before I evaluate further. It’s a whole lot of guesstimation at the moment, so we’ll see how close or far off I am toward the end of things. (Maybe I’ll even remember to blog about it.) There are several options that are cheap that I can rope in at the last minute like Dal Makhani, or this gorgeous Broccoli Frittata which always impresses, or make a risotto or soup – those are always good go-to options.

So, there you have it, my angst, frustration and making the most of it in the form of meal planning. What makes things easier for this fortnight is, I’m home and I have very few commitments so I can do the cooking and make things work and spend extra time eking things out and adding to my stash of freezer meals without extra stress. The reason I’m trying to meal plan, spend as little as possible AND still maintain my freezer stash is because I’ll be away from home in June on prac, and it will make life a lot easier for Ral and Fox dinner wise if half of them are already made. It will also make it cheaper for them, which will be important because I anticipate needing more of our budget while I’m staying away from home and going to the hospital every day.

I have to say that my meal planning and frugal skills are both inspired by, and not nearly as well established or finely tuned as my best friend Sarah’s. She can do amazing things with meal planning and frugality. But all in all, I do well enough for what we need right now, and I pass it on to my partners. One  of whom is an exceptional cook, and also quite accomplished at making do, the other of whom is still learning the very basics of cooking. In my mind, this stuff is part of that basic learning.

Anway, have a picture of last night’s Tunisian Chicken dinner (not the prettiest plate unfortunately). Alas I forgot to take a picture of the cake! But I made this amazingly simple and delicious Chocolate Bundt Cake, which is not expensive to make and is one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I’ve ever made.

Not the prettiest plate, but Tunisian Chicken with couscous for dinner.