wings and things


For the last several weeks I have been making pot after pot of pea and ham soup, freezing it in little batches, or serving it to friends and family, but mainly eating it myself. I just can’t seem to get enough of it!

I take it into the nursing home and share it with Anthony often. He is a ruthless great food critic. Some of my experimental additions weren’t very successful; for example, the addition of chilli, mint, capsicums and curry powder didn’t work. I mean it was edible, but it just wasn’t pea and ham soup the way it’s supposed to be, you know?

Having run out of my last batch, I over-enthusiastically over-filled the slow cooker and had to transfer half of the ingredients to another big saucepan before the kitchen floor became a lake of pea and ham soup. So now I have two simmering pots filling the empty house with aroma.

The usual ingredients are split peas, chopped vegetables (onions, garlic, celery, but not capsicums) and, of course, a ham hock. But I do have one extra secret ingredient and I think this makes MY pea and ham soup superior, ha!

Tomorrow, the answer to this conundrum will be posted, as well as a photo shoot of the finished soup. I am hoping that, universally, kitchens, restaurants, food journalists, and people with nothing else to do, will clamour at my blog-door.

But that probably won’t happen because I’ll take a small batch of this big new batch of pea and ham soup into the nursing home and Anthony will taste it and just say, “Not bad” and then we will have the following argument:

Me: What do you mean ‘Not bad’? Why can’t you ever say it’s fantastic or wonderful?

Anthony: Because it’s, well ….

Me: What?

Anthony: Ordinary.

Almost every day, I go in and sit next to Ants, watch television, chill out, answer emails, wrestle with my iPad, for several hours – and he and I have these strange, fragmented, haphazard, conversations. Sometimes it seems really lazy to just sit there with him, always with my hand on his arm, watching Dr Phil then going back to our current series, West Wing.

He is sleepier and sleepier every day this week. I wonder what next week will be like apart from a surplus of pea and ham soup.

Next week will be ordinary, and ordinary is a joy.



The weather here is warming up rapidly and the five peacocks are madly competing for the attention of the three peahens. (I definitely need to replenish my stock of hens but don’t tell Ming!)

Every Spring the guys do their display thing, flirting with everything from the old dairy shed, to the car, to the windows of the enclosed back veranda. They also flirt with the peahens of course whose indifference is hilarious.

For most of the year, King Ken and Prince are the best of friends but during Spring they become bitter rivals:

King Ken: Don’t come any closer, kid.
Prince: Sorry, Uncle.

King Ken: And stop copying my moves!
Prince: I don’t mean to, Uncle, it’s just sort of automatic.

Prince: I bow to your majesty. You have to believe me, Uncle!


Then, all of a sudden, they flew up and at each other with claws and wings arrowed. I wasn’t quick enough, with my phone camera, to capture this brief struggle; also I had to break it up! King Ken skedaddled with the other Kings so I comforted Prince with a bit of bread.



Sometimes I wonder why I write these little stories, put fake words into the mouths of these beautiful, wordless birds via captions. I think it’s something to do with the way I first began to cope with Anthony’s Parkinson’s – the birds we accumulated – guinnea fowl, peafowl, various poultry…. In the beginning it was such a joy.

Then, as Anthony’s health deteriorated, and Ming needed spinal surgery, and I had to resign from my job at the university, the birds became symbolically, and realistically, a source of incredible comfort.



Swings and roundabouts 3

We had a couple of family gatherings on the weekend. On Saturday it was my first great niece’s birthday party. Neve, my oldest brother’s first grandchild, is already, at 2, very stylish, so I bought her a multi-coloured tutu which her mother says she loves. The finding of this tutu was somewhat serendipitous because on the day before the party, my friend (E. from the nursing home, who I wrote about a few posts back), had set up a stall of her crafts, including tutus! And, just before she packed up I found the perfect one for Neve. I am kicking myself for forgetting to take a photo of that tutu – oh well.

Then, on Sunday, we had another family gathering at the home of another crafty person – my mother. One of the purposes of this pizza + cheesecake lunch was for family members from down south, and in-laws from Scotland, to get their first glimpse of my first great nephew, Spencer. And it was a great glimpse as you can see in this photo of my youngest brother with his first great nephew.


Like E. (oh to hell with anonymity – her real name is Ellen) my mother, Meg, is talented in the art of craft, her own speciality being hairpin lace. Here is a picture of Spencer in his Meg-made baby shawl.



And the above scanned picture is a newspaper article from a few years ago that featured my mother’s hairpin lace baby shawls! I thought she was going to get famous (I was going to be her rich agent!) but I guess baby shawls are not in the category of investment, especially if they are burped upon.

There are two more babies-on-the-way in my family now so my mother will be busy with hairpin lace once again. In the last 12 months around eight of the nursing staff have had babies and we gave them all a shawl; I paid for the wool and my mother did the craft.

Okay, I need to bring this to a coherent conclusion but I can’t be bothered with coherent. Prince is still trying to impress the indifferent chooks to no avail….



The last time Anthony came to a family occasion was about two years ago and it was a horrible experience – the wheelchair taxi, my family’s empathy, my tears on his departure. When I look back, I am in awe of how we tried always to include Ants in every family gathering … until it just became impossible.


Martha: She’s forgotten to get the laying pellets again.
Mary: What? I’m starving!
Prince: Will you two just shut up!


Happy birthday, Neve!
Happy arrival, Spencer!


Swings and roundabouts 2

The two photos I put up in yesterday’s post had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote and I only added them because, having been on the phone for nearly two hours, trying to get the internet back from its little holiday, I could! So here is my attempt to interpret what those two photos (and a few others) actually mean.


Prince – white peacock
Martha and Mary – the two white chooks
Whoopie – the new chook with the fancy hairdo

Prince: What the hell?
Mary to Martha: Quick! Hide! There’s a huge creature on the other side of the fence!

Martha to Mary: I think it’s okay. He just did this little purry thing in his throat. Anyway, we’re safe in this yard.
Mary: A purry thing! Martha, do you not realise that he is probably flirting with us?
Martha: Yeah, but you have to admit he is kind of cute.
Mary: Cut your beak off, Martha!

Prince: I’m not sure whether these strange, short, ugly things are my cup of tea after all.
Mary: See, Martha, not only does he talk to himself, he’s insulting. Ignore him!

Prince: Okay, so I’m not that good at introductions, but to be rejected so soon by these two whatever-they-ares is very disturbing.


Prince: Indifference hurts.


Whoopie: Is the coast clear yet?

Note 1: Whoopie was given to me by a friend who breeds beautiful poultry – thanks so much, Jane!

Note 2: When I first began writing this blog, Anthony was still at home, but ailing. We started to accumulate guinnea fowl and chooks because Ants remembered having these as a young boy/teenager and I wanted to cheer us all up. But then I got a teensy bit carried away with the whole bird thing (as past blog posts reveal ha!) It’s good, now, to begin again with just a few chooks…. even though this bewilders the peacocks!


Swings and roundabouts


Yesterday I said, rather blithely, “I refuse to be sad” (about Anthony’s Parkinson’s disease etc.). This morning I realised why it’s possible for me to say this.

Anthony isn’t sad!

It’s as simple as that. Okay, so saddish moments come and go, and the first year of him being in the nursing home was a hell of mutual sorrow. But, in retrospect, it was me shedding most of the tears, not Anthony. In fact often, when I left to come home, he would comfort me.

But it’s now that matters and in-the-now neither of us is sad, which is a bit of a miracle really. The weird irony is that I would not be able to cope with Anthony’s illnesses if it weren’t for his own emotional resilience. I’m not very good at emotional resilience, but Ants is.

People often think that the person in the nursing home is the vulnerable one and that he or she is the one in need of comfort. But sometimes it’s the other way around; it’s the visiting spouse or daughter, or grandson, or friend, who is in need of comfort.

Anthony comforts me!



The ‘climate change’ of Parkinson’s disease

I sometimes joke with various staff that Anthony’s ‘thermostat’ is faulty. I’m not sure why I do this jokey thing because it’s not funny and it’s one of the things that I worry about most.

Mostly, Anthony is freezing cold during the day – regardless of what the temperature is outside – and boiling hot during the night (again, regardless of the temperature).

So, as we enter Spring, it might be humid outside, and cool inside the nursing home. But, regardless of whatever temperature it is in reality, Anthony’s body temperature is almost always uncooperative/opposite/unpredictable.

When Ants was still at home, we lit the fireplace fire, the Aga, turned multiple heaters on, and even got air conditioning in the living room. But I could never get him warm enough!

During the days, all of this heating would be on and I would cover Ants’ knees with a blanket, light the fire etc., but he would still be cold.

Conversely, during the nights, Ants would be so hot and sweaty that I would have to take his blankets off and put the fan on.

A couple of the staff have told me about how hot and clammy he is when they put him to bed, so I bought a bunch of singlets in the hope they they will ‘magic away’ these temperature fluctuations.

It really bothers me though. Apart from me worrying about whether Anthony is too hot or too cold, I also worry that he has now reached the stage of not being able to tell anybody that he is too hot or too cold.

Anthony never complains about his illness, about being in a nursing home, about staff, about anything; he is the most resilient person I know.

I wish I could show the world what Anthony used to be like – LOUD, gregarious, kind, generous … and a zillion other adjectives!

PD doesn’t have to be sad. Okay I am struggling with Anthony’s PD and trying to figure a lot of things out, like this thermostat conundrum, but I refuse to be sad ….

…. because I have met some friends now who help me to cope and their kindness is extraordinary – the staff at the nursing home!


‘Who’s that silly old fool?’

I showed Anthony these photos just after I took them with my phone the other day. They’re a bit blurry and way too close-uppish but I wanted to show him what he looks like sometimes.

The first photo shows his usual facial expression. This is often termed the ‘Parkinson’s mask’ and is due to the fact that the facial muscles aren’t working very well.


Anthony: Who’s that silly old fool?
Me: It’s you!
Anthony: Ghastly.

So then I tried to make Anthony look me in the eyes by shouting “Look me in the eyes or I’ll bop you!” Ants and I have discovered that this rather dramatic method works well.


Anthony’s smile, trapped for so long inside that Parkinsonism mask, has, as I’ve said before, begun to occur more and more.

Ming disagrees with me because he says that whenever he enters Anthony’s room, he is greeted with that smile. What he doesn’t realise is that his visits are excitingly unexpectedly haphazard, whereas mine are (perhaps) boringly regular.


When I showed Ants that last photo of his smile, he took my hand in his and kissed it exactly ten times before saying…

Anthony: Who’s that silly old fool?

Me: My hero.


An auspicious occasion

Here is a photo of my dearest old friend and me at his wedding brunch the other day.


My dearest old friend, who I have known for over 40 years, got married last week and on Saturday morning a group of us celebrated at a beautiful apple orchard up in the Perth hills.

My dearest old friend, and his partner of 17 years, exchanged rings, and spoke of their love for each other eloquently; a priest, who has known my friend for longer than I have, gave a heart-felt blessing; and then two other friends toasted the happy couple. I had the honour of sitting on my friend’s right hand side during a delicious brunch.

My dearest old friend makes me laugh like nobody else can, cooks the best shepherd’s pie ever; performed Anthony’s and my own wedding ceremony; and was the first person (other than Anthony) to see baby Ming.

My dearest old friend is the only person in the world who can convince me to wear ‘a frock’ (well, I compromised by wearing a skirt).

I am so happy for my dearest old friend and his partner!



Last week I received the following email:

Dear Julie,
I am writing with regard to your book titled We’ll be Married in Fremantle. Given increasing warehouse costs, we have had to review the amount of stock that we are holding for a number of titles where sale numbers each year are low. Unfortunately this book is among those selected to be removed from stock. We would, however, like to offer you the opportunity to purchase as many of these copies as you choose at a price which will cover our costs of shipping and handling….
CEO of … Press

Initially I felt humiliated, then I realised that it is now a rather ‘old’ book, having been published in 2001. I also comforted myself by realising that most of the 5,000 books had sold and I could rescue the 300 or so remainders from being pulped at very little cost. I am still deciding what to do.

It’s not that I have any intention of on-selling the books; I certainly don’t want to have 300 or so copies of my own book on my bookcase to remind me that it wasn’t a bestseller; and this dilemma has nothing to do with ego.

During the time of writing my PhD, then re-writing it into a book (several years altogether), I remember being absolutely driven. I wanted passionately to write something that would change attitudes to people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. And my thesis/argument was so simple: listen, and respond to, the stories, even when they don’t make sense.

So I have a few creative ideas of what to do with those 300 or so copies IF I decide to rescue them from obsolescence.

Prince and Princess don’t have to worry about these kinds of things – oh to be a bird!



Leaps and bounds!

Gardening: I have planted vegetables in one of the beds that Jake (my lawn and gardener friend) has created for me. I have no idea whether these lettuce, cucumber, corn, parsley and tomato seedlings will grow up but here’s hoping. I’m a bit too nervous to ring Jake and ask if I have planted these things in the right places – i.e. should they be in the grave-like mounds or in the gullies? Just in case, I did both.


Chooks: Six quite different chickens are gradually getting used to each other with minimal violence. They have a lovely yard so hopefully peace will soon reign.


Lunch: I seem to be going out to lunch a lot lately which is something I only ever did very occasionally before Anthony went into the nursing home. This feeling of freedom is relatively new to me. It was always there of course and Anthony was never one of those dominating, bossy husbands who insisted on the adding cream and more butter and salt to the mashed potatoes. Wait a sec. – yes he did!





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