Thumbnails are linked to larger photos
This "Christmas letter" was written in December 2005

Christmas 2003 was my first without Helen, who's now living in Holland. I started the New Year as usual - a complete wreck after the Christmas break in routine - so January was the month of acupuncture, apart from a flying visit to Sydney for my nephew Daniel's second birthday.

As a result of reaching an all-time low of wreckedness in 2003, I was booked in for a Pain Management course at Canberra Hospital in February, and I wasn't looking forward to it. I'd had to wait so long (the application process began in April 2003) and undergo so much scrutiny (several sets of interviews) that I reckoned These People hadn't the first clue, and my opinion seemed to be confirmed when I was:

  1. berated for not waiting by the phone for the offer of a place, and
  2. directed to front up for three weeks, full-time, in Canberra's hottest month.

How could I be expected...?

The runup to the course was so horrible that it almost had to be some sort of test of commitment. Luckily I was at the point of trying anything. Even now, when many of the gains I made during February have been eroded by new problems and the unavailability of safe medication, I'm glad I went. Here's what I took away from the course:

I haven't used a walking stick or sticks since the course and I was able to cope with stairs again for quite a while (and intend to again, when my knee is fixed). I also learned that I can keep things under better control if I do a set of stretches and some sort of exercise every day.

For those of you who reckon you've heard from me even less than usual, you're right. All this moving takes time! I'm pleased to report that I'm only swimming once a week now (see Swimming, 2002) and that's mainly to get Dac early to work on Monday mornings and catch up with some friends at the club. The rest of the time I'm walking or clogdancing.

After the course, I attempted to focus on the renovations. This is how it has gone:

Stage 1 December 2002 Proper insulation
Stage 2 September 2003 New windows (old page)
Stage 3 October 2003 Bathroom renovation (old page)
Stage 4 April 2004 Gas central heating
Stage 5 June 2004 Removal of loungeroom wall
Stage 6 September 2004 Kitchen renovation
Stage 7 October 2004 Kitchen & loungeroom painting
Stage 8 November 2004 Loungeroom recarpeting
Stage 9 December 2004 Floating kitchen floor

Dac gave me some home design software for my birthday so I grappled with that and the kitchen plans for quite a while. I had gas central heating installed so that I could get rid of the "fireplace" that took up half the loungeroom, and started making arrangements for the wall between the loungeroom and kitchen to come down.

Dac had April off, so we did some travelling then - a week in Queensland visiting Dad and Eva, a week in Adelaide visiting Dac's parents, and three days at the wonderful Coriole Music Festival. I've written about the South Australia trip on another page.

We came home to find that we hadn't read the heater manual thoroughly enough and our cats had been enjoying a very nice warm house.

Tap shoes with fluoro orange laces Taps! Inspired by the pain management course suggestion that we do things we'd always wanted to do, I started attending evening classes in tapdancing. My first disappointment was not being able to have red shoes like the lucky tapdancing girls at primary school: "men's jazz tap" shoes - plain black laceups - were my lot, although I brightened them up with fluorescent orange laces.

I soon discovered that tapdancing involved being constantly on tiptoe (difficult), and a great deal of hopping and leaping (impossible). Fortunately an alternative had been suggested by the proprietor of the tapshoe shop: Appalachian clogdancing, which involves tapshoes (cloggers wear jingle taps which have a hinged section in the middle for more noise!) but is fairly flatfooted. I went along and had a look at a class before I decided to change over, but it has worked out very well.

The graduation ceremony was also a Halloween celebration, hence the bats in my hair With Caroline and teacher Louise and my graduation certificate Clogging is a bit like linedancing, and all the steps are cued. The Silver Soles group is very friendly and social, and there's a wide range of ages and stages. Since July, I've been going down the road to Phillip every Tuesday morning for my beginner's class (yes, there was only one beginner!) and most Saturday afternoons for extra practice. In between, I practise several times a week, because the connection between my brain and my feet needs a lot of work! I was horrified when I realised that, as well as learning steps, I had to learn to change direction while executing them, but I'm getting there. I made my first (and possibly last) public clogging appearance at Goodwin Homes in November and have yet to get through a single dance without mistakes, but I'm enjoying it and slowly improving.

The loungeroom/kitchen wall came down in June. While it was happening and I was cowering in the computer room trying to keep warm, I managed to wreck my (already severely disturbed) right knee, which hasn't helped with my various physical pursuits. I'm hoping that an arthroscopy (rescheduled from just before Christmas till February 2005) will help.

I was very pleased with the large, light, airy room that resulted from the demolition of the wall and chimney and took my time thinking about how the new kitchen was going to work, and whether I'd have the other loungeroom wall demolished as well. The problem with the kitchen plans was that I need everything high up, and (as Jo finally pointed out) there simply wasn't enough wall space to mount things on unless I had quite a long wall put back. So much for plans of a shoulder-high wall going halfway across the room.

Eventually I had recourse to a kitchen designer, because I just couldn't make everything fit. She wanted to put the kitchen all along the back wall, open to the loungeroom, but I couldn't face that idea, so we went back and forth for ages trying different ideas. I think it was August when I finally felt I had some idea how things should go, and I settled on a kitchen firm in Mitchell (about as far away from where I live as you can get in the ACT, unfortunately) with some more helpful ideas, and made a date for September.

All this renovation is pretty disruptive. The kitchen was particularly stressful. As soon as I'd signed the contract, the firm stopped listening to me, as a result of which they made several serious mistakes. The worst was the position of the sink (too far down the benchtop, and the wrong way round) but they were obdurate - and covered by the terms of their contract, which more or less said "You can't rely on our drawings". Fortunately I was able to exchange the sink I'd bought and I'm trying to get used to it and work around it. What's hard to forget is that the new kitchen was the second-most-expensive thing I've ever done, after buying a house, and I'd taken so much time and trouble over the plans: I would have thought the firm could have got it right!

Then there was the painting of the kitchen and loungeroom, and the recarpeting of the loungeroom. The finishing touch was the kitchen/dining room floating floor, which was expertly installed by my friends Carl and Julie in December. The new rooms look beautiful, and mostly they work well. I'm ecstatic about various bits of the kitchen - dishdrawers, water filter, storage space - and eventually I'll stop flying into a rage every time I see the sink. I think. Of course we're still putting stuff away!

The next stage of the home improvements is going to have to wait a while. I have the old loungeroom carpet in the garage, awaiting the day when we feel strong enough to move everything out of the computer room and replace the shredded, holey carpet in here. And of course, before that's done, while everything's out of here, it would only make sense to get the painter back. And it would only make sense to get him to do all the rest of the house, now that he's done the kitchen and loungeroom... And so it goes on.

I had some very welcome visits from my sister and her family in the later part of the year, and from dear friends Geoff and Marie in July, Phil in August, and Kim Heitman in September. I also flew up to Queensland for Dad's birthday on 1 September. My last trip of the year was a sad one: in December I flew to Sydney and drove up to Newcastle with my sister for the funeral of our dear Aunty Joan.

Vale Bryan Dowling, Nanette Dooley, Pip Warrell, Jim Dooley, Joan Cattanach

I'm thankful I had the comfort of a visit from Helen to look forward to. She was due back for a month, arriving on Boxing Day, so we postponed our Christmas celebrations till then.

As this Christmas letter was written too late to "send", I'll postpone my Season's Greetings till the next one!


Page created 27 June 2004; last updated 26 December 2007