Saturday, 31 August 2013

Spring cleaning...and the benefits of nose hair!

So this morning mum popped in for a cuppa and while we were chatting I moved over to the bookshelf where the tv is and noticed that a lovely piece of pottery sitting there appeared to have a rather flecked and speckled appearance I hadn't really appreciated before. I picked it up and ran my finger across it and oh dear! The speckled appearance was all the soot, dust, dirt! It came off on my finger and let me know - it's time for a 'Spring Clean'. So I have 'sprung' to action. Curtains are down and swishing about in eucalyptus fragranced bubbly bliss out in the washing machine...I hope they will survive; it's on 'Delicates'. Fingers crossed. Mum kindly pointed out a cobweb and I have since discovered lots more around the curtain rods. And I'm sitting here writing. Well a girl has to do what a girl has to do! Call it procrastination if you like. I don't mind. 

As I glance around the room, I realise that winter months...arriving home late from work, focused on feeding myself and unwinding at the computer or tv screen...mean that I've neglected housework apart from the bits that I've had to do. I don't like living in a dirty place. I thought it was clean...ish. But my eyesight is going and I have so much else to do all the time, that it does get relegated to the end of the list quite often. It's only dust. Not hurting anyone. However, today I have made a start and I'll tackle it in bits n pieces. Having a wood fire does rather increase the amount of dirt that finds its way into a home. Carting wood in is one thing and the smoke from the fire is making a lot of sooty fallout. I was  a bit surprised to see how much of it there was. I guess I haven't dusted for a while, but what bothers me most is that it must be in the air all the time and I'm busy breathing it in. Thank goodness for nose hairs. You know, those annoying little numbers that start to peek out beyond the end of your nose as you get older. Have you ever tweaked one of those? I have. It's one thing I know that brings tears to my eye; I just can't believe how much it hurts! I don't have to do it often...a good thing...just now and then. Well, right now I'm feeling really grateful for my nose hair because it might be stopping most of that sooty gunk from getting into my lungs, and frankly, I'd rather have it on the furniture than in my lungs. 

I'm an ex-smoker. You know what we're like. Extreme-ist haters of smoke and anything smoke or soot like in or on our person. I was a died in the wool Serious Smoker in my youth. My beautiful but misguided grandmother was a committed smoker of Park Drive cigarettes, and somehow she managed to get me to start smoking them too at the tender age of eleven. I know. Shocking! We all have skeletons in our cupboards you know...I'm just letting you meet a few of mine! So I became a smoker. I used to pinch money from my dad's 50 cent piece collection which was (rather oddly) housed in a fancy old plastic talcum power dish was a lid. I think it was probably an off cast from one of mum's birthday or Christmas gifts. In fact I think it may have been Avon...Anyway, in an effort to increase my popularity with my school mates, I'd buy Woodbines which back then were about 22 cents a packet of ten. I think the smaller packs were easier to hide and easier to afford on stolen 50 cent pieces. I only ever took fifty cents at a time and I only stopped when the collection got down to one lonely piece staring at me from the bottom of the bowl. I was afraid that if I took that one, he'd notice. Just quietly, I reckon he had noticed already and was stashing them somewhere else, otherwise that little goldmine would never have dried up! 

I could tell you more about smoking; about biddies and Viscount and Alpine...St Moritz and Cocktail Sobranies... but for now I won't. I'll get back to stopping which happened several times during my late teens and early twenties but happened properly when I was in my early thirties and planning my first baby. I'd never been able to stand seeing anyone smoking around babies and I knew that smoking could affect a baby even before it was born. So I stopped. I had good motivation. I've never had another smoke and I'm proud of that. Sometimes the hardest things are just about finding the right motivation and then's all over. Then I read somewhere that it takes fifteen years for a smoker's lungs to get back to the point where you have equal chances of getting lung cancer as a non smoker. After stopping that is. So I celebrated all year on that fifteenth year because I felt like it was a hell of an achievement to have stayed stopped for all that time. I'm still proud of myself for that. I'm really very lucky. I am not tempted to smoke any more and haven't been for years. I had a hair analysis done long years ago and one of the things I proved intolerant to was cigarette smoke. Yep. It's really not nice when you are an ex-smoker. I think we tend to have a super sensitivity. So apologies to those of you that might think we just carry on. Sorry. We can't help it. Perhaps one day you will know.

So back again to the Spring Cleaning. I'm about to go and get the curtains out of the machine. Wish me luck. It's a beautiful day here. I might just find time to get some cobwebs down and the dusting and vacuuming done in time to get ready to hit the town tonight. I'm off to see Phantom of the Opera!! Can't wait. See you tomorrow or the next day. Let me know your Spring Cleaning tips. I think I might be needing them over the next few weeks. Oh, by the way...the grout is still looking mighty fine!!

Enlightenment...I really was taken aback by the amount of dust in my lounge, but then I had a little revelation. I had recently been given a load of wood by some friends who said it made too much ash. I of course, thought it was ash in the bottom of the fire, but now realise that it is very fine ash that has spread around the place every time I've opened the door of the fire. It was blackwood (a Tasmanian wattle) and it burns very well and very hot so I've had some really beaut fires but, a friend told me, it does make a lot of ash! All the same I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I'm grateful for the wood and wonderful heat it provides. I'll have to dust a bit more often and keep my nose hairs in good trim until the fire is back on a hardwood diet!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Forgive me for this one...If I Was Miss Universe

Just thinking about the state of the world and how I wish so many things could be mended and remembering that I've heard that love is the answer. To every problem. Love. I wonder what I'd say in my speech if I was Miss Universe 2013. I've never had the chance to write such a speech or to win such a contest, but what if I did...what would I say? It's a tough call. Would I say 'love is the answer'?

Love will set us free. Love will put us back on track. Love will mend the broken hearted and cause the wounded earth to heal. Is love enough? I can understand the philosophy of love being enough...I really can. If everything we do is through the lens of love then we will be constantly thinking about the consequences of our actions on others and on our home planet Earth. How many people would listen to a message like that one? It might need to be a bit more hard-hitting, although that one is probably making the toughest call of all. To do everything through the lens of love would simply be the greatest challenge possible for most of us. We are selfish beings for the most part. We want. We want. We want. We think we need. People say I need a new Iphone. I need some new boots. I need. Most of the time these people have various and ample modes of communication but they are just not satisfied unless they have the latest and the greatest. Even when they have that, satisfaction is fleeting because the very clever marketers are soon busy selling the next model, and suddenly the 'marvel that was' has lost its sheen and become the has-been of whatever it rise to further imagined need.

Boots. I need boots. How many of us that say that really need boots. Need. I have to say right now that I'd like a pair of dress boots. It would be nice to have them. If I wasn't sponsoring a little girl in East Timor then maybe I could have bought some by now. But I will not give up helping that little person for boots. Who could imagine what happened to me recently. Someone bought me a pair of walking boots. Took me to the camping store and bought me the best pair of boots on the rack. Two hundred and fifty dollars worth. Far out! Who could have guessed that someone would choose to do that? I didn't ask but there they were. The most beautiful walking boots I've ever seen. Mine. I didn't really need walking boots. But now that I have them I can tackle some of the great walks I've thought about greater comfort and style. I have to say that they are probably not the sort of thing Miss Universe would wear, but they suit me fine. As for dress boots - I have in mind a nice pair of flat soled stylish smart black boots; perhaps long ones that I could wear with a skirt if I ever got one. I saw a very attractive pair recently - black with a brown cuff on the top. Haha I'm a jeans and sweater kind of girl really, but now and then it's nice to dress up and sometimes it's necessary to dress up for professional interviews and meetings. In the meantime I have shoes that will do.

I see pictures of people online and on tv that have need. Real need. They need food. They need shelter. They need comfort. They need support. They need family. They need friends. They need help.They need people to stop warring around them and dropping germ bombs. They need to have a way to remove land mines from their country so that children and adults don't have their limbs blown off.  That is need. The rest is want. If we got rid of wanting then perhaps we could also get rid of need. Perhaps if we weren't quite so concerned about having the latest and greatest, but just about being reasonably warm, dry, comfortable and clothed, perhaps we could help more of the people who really need it. What do you think? What would you be willing to go without to help someone else? Someone you didn't know? Someone who was different to you? Someone who spoke a different language, had different beliefs to yours or who had different coloured skin. Is there anything in your life that you'd be willing to give up or cut back on in order to ease someone else's suffering. Sometimes I think the thing that stops us is fear. Love is the opposite of fear. But fear is the thing that makes us say things like...I don't give to charity because it doesn't get to the people who need it. I could say that about the bit I give each month for the little girl in East Timor. I could. But I don't. I choose to believe that it helps her to have a better life. It might not be a lot better but if it's helping her to get some sort of education then it has to be a good thing. I will keep giving as long as I'm able. Sometimes when bills come in I have to suspend the payments for a couple of months. The charity is very good about it and they keep me in touch with the same little girl regardless. 

I struggle when I see so much need. I think that I can't make a difference. That's fear too. Fear that stops us from doing something. I can't fix everything but I can fix something. I can help someone in some small way and so I will. I have friends who are doing amazing and wonderful things...setting up orphanages or schools and raising awareness on all sorts of issues. Sometimes I think they are so great and I am so small...there is nothing I can do. But that is wrong thinking. All of us can do something to make the world a better place for someone else. Sometimes our efforts might be rejected or put down but don't let that stop you from doing what you can. Some folks just like to discourage others. Perhaps they feel guilty when they see you trying to make a difference. Don't wear it. Do what you believe is right. Life is not a popularity contest. 

If I was Miss Universe I'd say:
Love more. Want less. Give more. Help more. Smile more. Hug more. Be encouraged. You can make a difference. Right where you are. When you can't do something yourself, support others who can. Love yourself. Love your friends. Love your family. Love your job. Love your work colleagues. Love the planet. Love. Thank you. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Crowd control and a nice cup of tea

At the end of what was a pretty rough day (relief teaching can be like that sometimes), fraught with feelings of inadequacy and wondering what I could have done differently, I stopped in at one of my favourite coffee shops to sit a while, have a cuppa and reflect. I ordered a cup of English Breakfast tea. This was no time to be trying something new, but rather a time to call on the security of a beverage I was sure of. My confidence had been shaken and I needed to find my feet again. English Breakfast tea with soy milk. It arrived promptly guided by my number 17 flag which I'd put on the visible end of the table whilst I secreted myself away behind a strategically placed bookshelf in order to give myself a little quiet time. It had been a noisy day in a classroom heavily loaded with immature testosterone vessels who spent much of the day playing one-up-man-ship with ways to undermine the relief teacher (me)!

I'd picked up a magazine whilst I was waiting - Vanity Fair - I've never looked at one of those before, and yes, I was feeling brave enough for a new mag, even if a familiar beverage was needed. I'd tentatively picked up a House and Garden but replaced it wanting something more 'readable'. I started to read an article in the Vanity Fair about a comedienne. I can't remember the name. I didn't get far into the article before I realised that I really just wanted to look at the pictures. I really didn't want to have to think or process any more words. I had listened to words and spoken words all day long and I needed to rest my mind. I couldn't just sit. I needed a distraction. My eyes were stinging from the tears I'd shed. Yes teachers cry sometimes. Probably more often than you might think. We are people. We are human. We feel.

I remember seeing a picture in the magazine. It was some sort of ridiculous necklace made from fabulous metals and jewels and tassels of silk or similar, yet fashioned to resemble a zip. I remember reading a few words; able to convert to a bracelet. I can remember thinking something like...are you kidding? ridiculous. How ridiculous that somewhere someone is busy designing and making necklaces modelled on zippers and  bedecked with clutter that looks like it fell out of Grandma's sewing box. How ridiculous that someone brought that to a studio and that someone else took a photograph of it (perhaps several before they got the lighting right) and then someone else took the photo of the hideous and stupid necklace thing and printed it on  hundreds of thousands of pieces of glossy paper (what is the circulation of Vanity Fair I wonder now?) and someone else takes the stacks of paper which are tucked inside magazines with other bits of glossy papered images and loads them into trucks, vans, planes, trains or ships perhaps and transports them all around the world. Other people take the magazines and put them on shelves and we wander in looking for a little entertainment or a little something to distract us from what's really happening in the world around us and we pay good money for stupid pictures of stupid necklaces that people somewhere designed. When we get tired of them cluttering up the coffee table, we take them to op shops or coffee shops and people like me who don't want to buy them pick them up there for a browse. It's completely mad really. 

True confession - I had a Banana Choc Chip Muffin With Coffee Icing with the English Breakfast Tea. It was not new. I have had one before. A long time ago. Well, perhaps it was new. It was disappointing. Too sweet. The icing too thick and too hard. I'm sure last time it was soft and creamy and delicious. The Muffin was dry and crumbly. Not moist and delicious like last time. It was like being ripped off. I didn't get what I went in for.  A bit like the day at school had been. I didn't go in to be so challenged. I didn't go in to be reminded yet again how little a teacher has to work with these days. I didn't go in to find out that so many kids have little or no respect for others. When you are in every day, or at least fairly often, most kids might try you out a bit, but you find a bit of middle ground where there is some give and take both ways and you manage to organise things so that there is learning happening. You get to the end of the day with some joy about what has taken place. There is usually some satisfaction, even on a rough day, that overall you are making a difference for those kids. You know them. When you go in as a relief teacher, the kids are not thinking that they will see you again tomorrow so you can give them a detention or have some sort of follow up if they are out of line. They know you're only there for today. They know that you know you're only there for the day. Maybe they think that because of that you don't care about them. I do.

The Muffin was disappointing but I absent-mindedly broke it into small pieces and ate most of it while I looked at the pictures in the magazine. I ate about half of the icing. Importantly, the English Breakfast tea was very good. It soothed my jangled nerves somewhat and gave me time to consider that for the most part the kids will have gone home and completely forgotten about the day. I needed to try and do the same. It is a professional obligation that I reflect on the day and think about what went well and what didn't. It is an obligation to think about how I could do things differently next time. It is an obligation to try and find ways to do my work more effectively and to do my very best to engage all of my students in tasks that will interest and challenge them. It's difficult to do that when you are only there for one day, but I do the best I can. It's challenging when you're there every day too but at least you can build on the kids interests as you get to know them. You get to have a pretty good idea about what will work in your own classroom. It is not my professional obligation to be perfect. I am human and I work with a bunch of young humans I have never met their space; their classroom...not mine. I am an invader; an interloper. I am not to be trusted I am to be tried. And today that is what happened. I was tried. 

I was so glad I could take a little time out with a muffin and a cuppa before driving home. My eyes are still sore from tears. I was lucky to have someone here to talk to about it all when I got home. It helps to be reminded that when you work with people there is so much uncertainty and so much you have no control over. It is good to be reminded that I head out to work in the morning to do good. I go to make some kind of difference in kids' lives. I go to help them find the things they are passionate about and to help them find the best way for them to learn. Sometimes things don't look all that pretty at the end of the day, but I went meaning to do good things for kids. I just need to remember that next time. I can forgive myself for not being able to control every little thing that happens in the day. I can forgive the kids for trying me out. I can imagine some of the homes and circumstances they come from when I see their aggression and care-less attitude. 

Relief teaching is not for the faint-hearted that's for sure. Some days it feels more like crowd control than teaching. I am brave. I am ok. I am probably way too soft-hearted and way too ready to give kids the benefit of the doubt. That's what allows me to keep going back for more. But give them an inch and they'll take a mile. Every time. The hardest thing to take  is seeing children who have been raised to be kind, courteous, respectful and considerate people being subject to the behaviours of the ones who have not had such things instilled in them as a way of being. I feel so much for the kids - all of them.

PS There is a lot to be said for a mature testosterone vessel who can listen appreciatively and gently reassure me that I do what I do for all the right reasons. I'm grateful.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Stepping outside the box!

It was such a great day at school today! It was rich and busy and fun. I came home feeling so fulfilled. I am stepping out of the box where the teacher owns the classroom and parents are invaders who come to judge and criticise (that is probably a bit harsh, but it can be quite daunting when they come early to collect the children and stand watching over you all for the last ten minutes of the day) into a space where I recognise and accept parents in their role as co-educators of their children. In fact, they are the primary educators of their children. That has to be respected. In a sense I am beginning to put that expectation out there. It's not all up to me in the classroom. I don't 'own' it. It's up to me to provide a space where learning happens...where learning is promoted and initiated by the careful and caring placement of words, materials and people. 

Today, as our knitting and craft afternoon came to a close the few parents were packing up to 'leave' or to wait by the door until the bell went at the end of the day, I invited one of the mums to read to the children. I had quite a lot of materials to pack away and had things to get to after school and was feeling a bit squeezed for time. I asked her if she would mind reading a story to the children while I packed up. I hope she felt comfortable with that. She has been in the classroom on most Monday afternoons for the last term and a half so knows the children quite well. She did a great job with the children and the reading. The kids loved the novelty of it all and I had time to get things organised by the time the bell went. It felt great. It felt great to hand it over to someone else to be 'centre-stage' for a little while. It felt great to see the children enjoying seeing one of their mums in this role. It felt great to be challenging the 'status quo'. 

One of the things I love about teaching young children is that I get to know their families too. They are all great people from such different backgrounds and circumstances. They all love their kids and they are all teachers in their own right. These kids have learned to walk and talk and do all manner of things before they get to school. Parents and families teach morals, manners, habits and rituals to the children in their care. I want to honour the massive job parents do and become a helper in their child's education and a guide perhaps, or a problem solver. I'd like to be a collaborator in the education of their children and not so much a dictator. I think if families can work more closely with teachers, and teachers be open to working more with families and bringing school, home and community closer together, then our young people must benefit from it. If we can create some 'green corridors' between home and school so that children flow more seamlessly between the two; if parents are able and encouraged to spend more time in the classroom learning alongside their children, imagine what could be achieved.  

I know it probably seems a bit idealistic and I know it's the teachers's job to teach, but imagine if we had more support from home. Imagine if parents were welcomed into class to see what we were doing and to participate and begin to understand what we are all working towards in schoolrooms these days. It's not like the 'old days' that many parents remember. Times have changed. We can keep them changing too. We can do what is good for kids, and that is to build a cohesive network of people around them to support their learning and growth into the community. 

One of the mums asked today if we'd be continuing with the crafty afternoons each Monday. I am saying 'yes!' to that. It has been a rich and wonderful time watching the children flourish under so much attention. They have taken on tasks they could never have achieved with just me in the room with them. With support kids can do amazing things. They have incredible courage and ideas. We have the knowledge and experience to help them explore their ideas and create new realities for themselves. We can help them build from their designs. I am lucky to work with a bunch of talented and dedicated teachers who bless me so often with their vast knowledge and experience of teaching and learning. I am lucky to work with a bunch of great kids, full of enthusiasm and fun and curiosity and courage. I am lucky to work with fantastic teacher aides who care so much for the kids and always know just what needs to be fetched or fixed or done in a crisis! I am lucky to work with a bunch of dedicated parents who are willing to step out of the box with me and come into the classroom and go with the flow. We're doing our best together and working it out as we go along. I see lots of smiles on everyone so it's got to be good. 

Wouldn't it be great to hear everyone say "WE LOVE SCHOOL!!" That's where I'm heading!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Doing too much?

Women under stress. I see them all the time. I hear them speak of their weariness and their inability to say "No". I see them with tired eyes and the spring missing from their step. I see them struggling to juggle all the responsibilities they've taken on and yet still taking on more. I see them forgetting things they should remember. I see them getting migraines and influenza and cancer and still they keep going. 
I see them gazing straight ahead and putting one foot in front of the other so that they just keep going and don't let anyone down

They see other women, other people, not show up for meetings. They see other women taking time to go to the hairdresser or to have a massage or manicure. They see other women taking a holiday; a night in town or a trip to Europe. They hold the fort while the other women take time out to nurture themselves. Ladies! Please stop! Stop martyring yourself in the name of being perfect. Please. Stop. Breathe. Give yourself a little time to live your life at a slower pace. 

Why do we do it? Why do we take on doing more than we're really comfortable doing? Could it be that we think we need to do more and more and more to be seen as productive or useful or even, heaven forbid, acceptable human beings? I think of a classic cartoon I once saw with a woman on one side pushing a shopping trolley of groceries around the supermarket captioned 'Woman with Cancer' and on the other side a man bundled up in bed looking miserable with thermometer in his mouth and glass of hot lemon the bedside table along with myriad bottles of tablets captioned 'Man with Flu'. Seems to me we expect ourselves to keep going no matter what!  

Have you noticed how the women who take time for living...for life itself...seem to have more...of everything? They smile more. They are more relaxed. They have made time for coffee with friends or time to just sit and do nothing. Other people do more for them. We know life is short. Could it be that we are so worried that we will run out of time before we get everything done. It will. The list will never get shorter; the demands never less unless you do something about it. 

Let me tell you something...make a suggestion. If you can slow down you will get more out of life. You will make time to notice and enjoy the moments in the day that scoot past unnoticed when you are chasing from one commitment to another. Those moments are the ones that add richness and joy to life.

What is the answer do you think, to all this over-committing we do? The only one I can think of is to ask yourself two simple questions. First ask yourself...What do I want my life to feel like or how do I want to feel? Write it down. I want my life to feel...or I want to feel...

Here are some words that might be helpful in writing a workable description:

Calm Creative Relaxed Full Interesting Fulfilling Satisfying Rich Comfortable Happy Friendly Worthwhile Wise Fit Wonderful Exciting Free Curious Lazy Busy Frantic Frazzled Regimented Ordered Predictable Unpredictable Contributing Accepting Positive Controlled Innovative...or others of your choice!

The second question to ask yourself is "Will this new thing be heading me towards the kind of life I want to live?" Keep in mind that you only get one crack at life and as we recognised earlier, it is short, so you may as well choose to do things with an end result in live the kind of life you want to live. We are lucky to have the luxury of choice in so much of what we do. Try really hard not to take on things you really don't want to do because you think you  will feel guilty if you say "No". Feeling guilty affects you and no one else. No one else cares if you feel guilty. It won't get you any Brownie Points, so you may as well not bother with it. This might seem a bit harsh, but I've been one of those women that takes on things she doesn't really want to. A little while ago I decided to stop and to think more about what I allow into my life. I currently have some responsibilities that I'm not thrilled about but they are short-term and I will not be replacing them with other responsibilities when they are finished. Just by the way I did choose to take them on!

I have an excellent reason for not taking on anything I don't think will add richness and pleasure to my life (or a little challenge if that is what I wish to have). The reason is that I have a massive list of things I DO want to do with my life. If I take on things that others want me to do, then I won't have time to do the things I want to do! Well how crazy would that be?? I have a number of creative pursuits on the go including a quilt I am keen to get finished for one very beautiful daughter. I have relationships with friends and family to nurture and my physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual self to care for. I have writing to do! 

All these things take time and if I'm busy doing stuff that I don't want to do I'm going to feel resentment building in my gut and that will eventually and inevitably make me ill in one way or another. So there it is. I know what I want my life to look like and feel like. It won't be the same as yours or anyone else's probably. Life is a very individual thing but we have to take the reins of our lives back and decide what we want to do with our time on Earth. You can be busy from 'go to whoa' if you want to be, or you can be chilled and relaxed and taking it easy every day. We all have some things we have to do. We might not have the luxury to choose all of what happens in our lives, but for our own sake we really must identify what we can have a say in and begin to make choices that feel right. 

Wishing you love and time to live a life that is both a gift to you and a gift to the world. Choose wisely, choose well, choose for you. 

PS I read a book a long time ago that got me thinking about this. It was Women Of Silence by Gayle Gawler. It is an excellent read and explores the patterns and stories in women with breast cancer. Take care of yourselves beautiful women out there.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

100 Things I Like - a challenge

It's the weekend and such a happy one after a full and busy week! This morning I'm enjoying a second leisurely cup of coffee and whilst I was pondering what to chat about, I remembered a time when I was newly 'separated' and desperately reading everything I could get my hands on to try and make sense of the emotional state in which I found myself. One of those readings, and unfortunately I can't remember which or what it was now, suggested that I should write down 100 things I liked. It was an exercise to try and get back in touch with myself as a whole person. Somehow by the time I mustered the courage to leave and found a way to do it without causing anyone too much pain (or so I thought), I really had no clue who I was. I tended by then to operate on auto-pilot, going through the motions of the day and doing all I could to please everyone. I got it wrong a lot and was in a constant state of not being able to please and not feeling good enough and hating myself really. I loved my kids and I loved my husband but I was desperately unhappy. It's a difficult thing to go back and think about. I have read tens if not hundreds of books and articles and listened to dozens of video talks and so on trying to find what I needed to know to put myself back together...or to create myself in the first place, because now I'm not sure I ever really existed until now.

Anyway, I came across this idea of writing down 100 things I liked and it was to be a step in the right direction. How hard can that be? I thought to myself. This is an easy thing to do. So I found a nice piece of textured green paper. This was therapy so I wasn't going to do it on the back of an old envelope like a shopping list! This was healing. This was self-discovery. This was important stuff. I sat and looked at the paper. What do I like? I didn't know. I couldn't put a single word on the paper to start with. I just looked at it. I knew what my kids liked. I knew what my husband liked. I knew what my friends liked. I knew what my parents liked. Well, I thought I did anyway. I didn't know what I liked. 

I tried folding it into eight and creating some mental categories. Books, films, places, clothes, cars, foods, something else and miscellaneous. I can't remember now but something like that. That made it a bit easier. I started to write in one or two words here and there. It was incredibly scary doing this and I can't really explain why. It was like I was stripping myself naked to the world. That doesn't make any sense because this list was just for me. No one else was ever going to see it. But what if someone else found it and read it? I was terrified of writing these things down. You might think they were bad things, but no, it was not that. It was just that writing them down meant that I was also in a way claiming a right to like things. To like these things. I'm not sure I thought I deserved that right when it came down to it. 

I can remember a few of the items that went on the list early. Red cars. Silk scarves. Cushions. Candles. Seeing the moon rise. Really simple stuff but it was really hard. Was I afraid of being ridiculed for liking things? Perhaps. I don't know. Now it is hard to understand but I know it was really, really difficult. I didn't make it to anywhere near 100 on my first try. When I had done as much as I could, I folded up the piece of paper and tucked it into a tiny plastic pouch I had, much like the ones the old bank books used to tuck into, but smaller. I put it away in a place where it wouldn't be found and cogitated on it. What else did I like? I didn't know. 

Over the months and years I've come across that little piece of green paper amongst my bits n pieces. I have boxes of writing things and it finds its way around in there somewhere. It's only A5 so not very big and the writing is small. I've been able to add something new each time I found it, and over time it has become full; I've even added some new catgories on the other side! I have discovered that I like LOADS of things...probably thousands; not tens, not hundreds, but thousands. Maybe even tens of thousands. I don't need to write them down now. I am happy to say that I like or I don't like this or that. I really don't care what people think of me or what I like or don't like. I like me. That is the difference. I know me and I like me. Back then I didn't know me. I had lost me. Or I had never had me. I am not sure. But now I have me and I like it.

I still have that little folded green reminder of where I was. I love it so much now. I am not afraid of it. I can fill it up over and over with things that I like. With words that represent all the wonders of the world that fascinate me, entertain me or give me comfort and pleasure. I don't know if there is a piece of paper in the world big enough to hold all the words I have now! I don't need to put them on paper. They are happy in my head. 

Try this little challenge for yourself today. Find a nice piece of paper and start to write. You might surprise yourself as I did. I hadn't realised that I liked boots that clack on the pavement and making wishes. I'm not going to share any more because I want you to write your own list. I want you to think of your own things. If it's hard for you to do, then I'm glad I wrote this for you today. I hope you will do what you can and keep it close and add to it as you can. I hope it will surprise you what you discover about yourself as you do this simple thing. It costs nothing but the benefits are least to me. 

Love to you all and have a beautiful weekend.

PS I keep a packet or two of Sparklers in a drawer in my house. Now and then you'll find me in the garden at night with those and a box of matches... because I like to see those pretty lights traced in the darkness when I twirl them. I don't need to wait for New Year's Eve or Guy Fawkes Night to enjoy the things I like. I can do it anytime...especially now that I know what those things are!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Talking to myself...

...I do it all the time...don't you? Although, now that it's been drawn to my attention, it's not so much myself to whom I'm speaking, but rather something in my surrounds. But sometimes, I grant, it is to myself. 

"Let's just pop that over there for, it's not going to fit there so what about...over there...Yes! Good. That works!"
"Now, what was I going to do next? Ah, yes that's right...get dressed. I've got that there, and that...and hmmm those socks. Or these? No. The first ones...and...where did I leave my scarf? In my bag? No. In the pocket of my jacket? No. On the back of the chair. No. Ah, there it is, on the arm of the couch. That's right...I took it off when I was reading last night. Have I got time for another coffee...?"

And on I go chatting to myself in an apparently eccentric way...all day long. The thing is that before I had someone staying here with me, it was just a habit. A kind of comforting background natter. A commentary really, of my day. For me, it's a bit like breathing. It just happens without me really thinking about it. It's not ever muttering or mumbling (well, almost not ever...maybe just a wee bit occasionally) but just keeping myself company I suppose. Do you do it too? I just feel, now that this has been pointed out to me and I've actually been taking notice of how often it happens, that I need to check and see if other humans are busy all day doing the same thing. And of course, in a sense, wondering why on Earth we do it? 

In my job as a teacher I talk a lot. It goes with the territory. I also listen a lot. When I get home at the end of the day I feel like I don't really want to talk for a while, but as soon as I sit down and there is someone to listen, off I go with my stories about the day. I like the debrief and the celebration of all the little things that make up the day when you work with kids and parents and other teachers. There is always a lot happening. Maybe my brain, even though it's tired by the end of the day and feels like stopping, is so wound up with the energy of it all that it just can't stop...not just yet. In reality, although there is a lot of talking and listening at school, most of it is quite focused and directed by the job at hand. Although there is a lot of talk, there is little time to chat without interruption. There is little time to let thoughts and ideas meander in the form of a real conversation. Perhaps that is what I hunger for too. Time just to yak about things that are on my mind. 

I really love quiet. I love music but most of the time I just like quiet when I'm at home. Sometimes I like a bit of music when I'm driving, but even then I like quiet. Sometimes I like to pop the telly on at home for a bit of background noise, but not all the time. I like the quiet times too. I like to be able to hear the birds outside and the wind as it whistles past the chimney. I like to hear the chair creak or the keyboard tap. I like to hear the noises I make as I go about my day, stirring a cuppa or turning the pages of a book. 

I don't like the sound of cupboards closing. Not at all. How weird is that. I can't stand hearing kitchen cupboards close. I for the little men in their little white coats. Because I can't stand hearing cupboards bang shut and because I talk to myself all the time...and to things. It's all a bit mad really. Talking to things. What do I mean? Examples please? 
"That's it, you just push down into the water there...yes! I knew you'd fit in there with the rest of the towels. Good, I won't need to do another load...OK you go! That's enough. Right. Turn you onto regular wash and click. Thank you!"
"Now, what next. Wood? Yes. I'll just stack you there, and you there and you there."
"Wood into the fire? Will you fit? If I just move you over there and you to that side a bit then, yes, I knew you would."
Sad really. 

So now that I've been made aware of this habit of mine, I am hearing myself much more than I used to. Funny that. I have said before that it's the only time I get any sense out of anyone, when I talk to myself, haha. But that's not really true. I think it's just that when you spend a lot of time alone, you kind of do keep yourself company. Some people chat with their dog or their cat or their budgie or their car. Don't they? Sure they do. 

Now I know you're going to be taking more notice of your own self-talk after reading this, so do let me know if you talk to yourself more than you realised, as I do. It will make me feel better to know about that. And if you do, then don't feel bad because I think it's really a way to keep sane. We process thoughts out loud and it stops our brains from becoming over full and exploding, making an ugly mess all over the place in the process. Go on friends, talk to yourself...just remember to always be kind with your words and not to go driving yourself up the wall with the negative stuff. Love n hugs all round. Now where was I....cup of tea time I think...where did I leave that  favourite cup of mine??? 

 Usually I add a picture of my own but this one I've borrowed from online at Wikimedia Commons. Hope you won't mind. I might make it a mission to take lots of pics this weekend so I have some to choose from next week!!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Connection to 'home'

The internet is a brilliant tool that has changed my life in so many amazing ways. For most of my life I didn't feel connected to others. I struggled to feel 'loved'. I knew I must be loved but I couldn't 'feel' it. I never understood why but I just felt disconnected. 

Perhaps it had something to do with leaving the UK as a 6 year old child. What happened later in life seems to point to that in some strange way. When I started university in my late 40s, I had my two teenagers living with me, and of course, we got a computer. That might not seem such a big deal now, but it was quite a thing at the time. We had been living a simple life for many years including some years on a sailing boat, and had for the most part eschewed modern technology. As part of my studies I had to learn how to use a computer so it was all rather exciting and new. My kids took to the computer like ducks to water, and my daughter soon set up a Myspace page. I was fascinated and just a tiny bit curious to know what she was up to on there, so I got her to help me set up a page of my own.   

It felt very cool being a mum with a Myspace page! I used to trawl through the search pages looking for members with similar interests, especially teaching as that was what I was studying and I was beginning to understand the value of networking. One day I came across the profile of a woman who was a teacher in another state of Australia.  She also had something on her profile about a family member having cancer. My husband, whom I had recently left, had cancer and we had been following an alternative approach to cancer management for six and a half years so I decided to write and offer some encouragement and the possibility of information sharing if she was interested. We chatted online and messaged a few times then the woman, my new friend, decided that Myspace was not her thing, so we exchanged email addresses and kept in touch that way. Some time later, after lots of emails to and fro, she sent me an email that was like a quiz, including all sorts of 'favourite' things, where you were born and so on. She had already put in her responses and I was to replace hers with mine and return it and send it on to other friends. Kind of a grown up chain letter. 

As I was filling in my answers, I noticed that she was born in the same town as me in the UK. I didn't even know she was from the UK before that! I was excited of course. I asked her where in the town she had lived and it turned out that she had lived on the same street as me too! A few hurried phone calls to our parents and it was established that our fathers had played darts together as young men! We were both so excited by this news and as my parent were heading off to be grey nomads for a while,  they were able to travel and meet up with her parents and share some reminiscing. Better than that though, I later travelled interstate and met my beautiful Myspace friend. I can't really explain why but it was then that my sense of disconnection began to fade. It was like I had met a family member - someone to whom I belonged. It has helped me to understand the importance of shared history. Our friendship is so special to us both. 

Unbelievable (almost) is the fact that a few years later, when I was living in Queensland, I attended a Baptist Church for a while. There at a social event I was talking to a woman who said she came from the UK to Australia in the same year that I did...then the same month and on the same day. We were gobsmacked as we shared the story of our flights - and overnight stay in Singapore due to engine troubles - the sights seen from the bus driving at night through the slums. Yes, we had been on the same plane! Any doubt was removed when I said that I had a big doll that my grandparents had given me at the airport when we left England. She remembered the little girl with the big doll because she had not been allowed to bring a big doll her uncle had given her - and she had been heartbroken.  

By some magic means I have met these two beautiful women who have connected me to my roots at home in England. After meeting them I have felt more grounded and more connected than ever before, even though I had my Mum and Dad and my brother and even my Grandparents had come to Australia to live. Somehow I needed to meet these women who are about the same age as me, to feel like I belonged. Life is very wonderful, the surprises it brings! Now I keep in touch with both of these precious ladies through Facebook! I'm a modern woman, and Myspace is 'old hat' these days!!

Mum and Dad went back to England for several visits over the years and on their last trip they brought back photos of the town where I had been born and lived as a young child. When I saw the photos I burst into tears and felt so emotional. It was really unexpected. We all have connection to place in some way that is hard to explain. I am so thankful for that knowledge and for the fact that I can now 'feel' love and connection in a whole new way. I also hope that one day I will be able to visit my 'home' town in the would be amazing to actually be there again. I don't have any memories of the place, but I wonder if being there would bring some back that have been buried too deep for me to access them. It would be great to go and find out!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Homage to the Sabco Tile and Grout Brush

Cleaning the bathroom...everyone's favourite pass-time right? Living in a rental home means that every three months a representative of the real estate office pops in for a visit to make sure you're keeping up with all the little jobs one should do. I suspect they really pop in to make sure you're not kicking holes in the walls or tearing down the door jambs to fuel the wood fire in winter. Even if you're not doing those things, part of their job is to find something that you're not doing quite well enough and then to report back to the owner that they're onto it! 

I had one of those visits a couple of months ago, and the note left for me said that perhaps I could use an old toothbrush to clean the grouting in the bathroom. I need to point out that the entire floor and half the walls of the bathroom are tiled with gorgeous Italian rough surfaced tiles the colour of the Great Barrier Reef...just the watery part. It is a massive expanse of tiled area and it houses the shower, the loo and a sink with an open vanity. It is a gorgeous bathroom and I love it. Just for the record the grouting laid end to end would probably stretch halfway across Tasmania, but that's what you have to put up with if you want what is essentially a shower room. The shower head is massive and standing under it must be close to standing in an afternoon monsoonal downpour in a rainforest, all surrounded by speckled green tiles and...grout. It's a sublime experience.

Now the problem really started I think, when a friend gave me a gorgeous tub of exfoliant which was based on a delicious oil mixed with rough sea salt. I really enjoyed standing in my rain forest downpour and rubbing my gnarly old bod with this luxurious brew. It felt fabulous. I let the water rinse it off, dried myself on fluffy towels and got on with life. What I didn't notice was that the oil was not running down the generous drain hole with the water, but was clinging silently to the grouting. Probably to the tiles too...but the grouting was the place I noticed it first because oil deposited in that way collects all sorts of everyday dirt and dust and in its own quiet way, slowly and almost unnoticed, the lovely pale grey grouting took on a dirty orange tinge. There could have been some mysterious oil loving mould species there too, I don't know. 

My eyesight is not that great these days, and I haven't looked that closely. Just by the way, I tend to have my glasses off in the bathroom as I'm about to shower or if I've just had a shower, then the room is all steamy and so are my glasses if I put them on so I can't see anyway. Otherwise I've just popped in for a quick visit on the throne or a quick hand wash. I'm not checking the grouting in those moments. If I'm there for a longer visit sans steam, then I usually find myself with my nose in the Reader's Digest which has been a 'little room library feature' since childhood. It's a habit I'm happy enough to maintain. I learn lots of interesting bits n pieces while having a little it's a worthwhile and beneficial habit really. It takes away the sense of urgency...I can relax and take my time. Pardon me for that little aside...back to the grout.

So, when I knew the agent was coming I commandeered an old dish-brush and took to that grouting with vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and considerable vim and vigour. Not Vim. Not the cleanser (do they still make it?) but the old fashioned vim and vigour...which might have come from a Vim commercial in the first place. Not sure about that. Anyway, I put a lot of muscle into trying to get that grout clean ready for the real estate agent but it really didn't work all that well. In fact it was only marginally cleaner than when I had begun, but at that stage I thought it was the best I could do. And maybe it had been a little bit brownish to begin with...we tell ourselves these things don't we?! Well, to cut a long story short the agent left that note about the toothbrush and I knew I had to do better. I felt so ashamed! My grouting needed attention!! And someone other than me knew about it, horror of horrors. Well I have to tell you, I laughed when I saw the bit about the toothbrush. Seriously, I'd already hit it with a dish-brush which is the superhero of toothbrushes...or so I thought. 

I Googled grouting and found all sorts of ideas there including some Very Special Tile and Grouting Cleaner (VSTGC) Available Only From Bunnings. I put it on the shopping list. I carried the list the hour and half to the airport to collect visitors (because Bunnings is not far from the airport) but then had to rush home and didn't get time to go and scour the shelves of the hardware giant. I checked out the shelves of local supermarkets and found nothing but a spray which just looked a bit insufficient. This was not a job for a spray. I knew that. For weeks my less than fabulous grouting mocked me each time I went into the bathroom. It was humiliating.

Then last week I bumbled into Big W with the grouting on my mind and went looking to see if they had some VSTGC...a Big W version. No they didn't. While I was there I noticed a very snappy looking little brush made by Sabco. It was lime green and wore a trendy little label reading 'Tile and Grout Brush'. Well, that got my interest! It was a sporty model, quite slim and quick looking...just right for speeding along those grouty corridors in my bathroom and peeling away the grime. But what would be the best thing to use with it. I hadn't been too impressed with the vinegar and bicarb and wanted something that held more promise. Browsing the cleaning items, I came across a large pot of Gumption. Do you remember Gumption? They still make it. It's probably a close cousin of Vim but a lot thicker. Paste really. I felt smug. I was pretty sure I had that grotty grouting beaten as I stood in the queue to pay. 

I was right!! This morning I had my shower then spent an hour skidding that sporty little brush up and down every crack and crevice watching with glee as the brown vanished down the drain to be replaced by shiny, soft grey lines. Happiness is beautiful, pristine grouting. That's the truth. I  may have to do a few little touch ups in some spots I missed but I wanted to share with you this winning combination - Sabco Tile and Grout Brush and Good Old Gumption! Go to it fellow's almost Spring!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Chance encounters and lost dreams coming true?

I used to think that I had blown my chance to go to university when I mucked up at high school and failed a subject in my final year. I used to think that university was only for brilliant people...what I learned is that university is for anyone who is willing to work hard and not give up.

It's amazing how chance encounters can ultimately be life-changing events. Some years ago when I had been a home-schooling mum and wife for quite a long time, I noticed an advert in a local paper for a course at the local Lifeline branch to become a volunteer phone counselor. I was interested right away and contacted the office to find out more. There was a stumbling block. The course cost more than I could afford at the time. I was so excited by the idea of doing the course that I managed to borrow enough to do it. It was way more challenging and demanding than I had naively imagined and I had to consider my personal history and learn many new skills in order to be deemed suitable for the onerous task of listening to and guiding people in a range of distressing situations. 

The best thing about doing the course was the beautiful people I met - both the participants and the trainers. One of the trainers was an older woman who talked about her studies at university. She was doing a degree in counselling. Meeting her proved to be the catalyst in a series of events that changed my life. I along with others was invited to attend her graduation ceremony, and I was thrilled to see a number of 'mature aged' graduates among the young ones. Suddenly a world of possibilities opened to me although I didn't act on it straight away. A couple of years later when I left my marriage, the thought of going to uni returned and I made inquiries after seeing an advert for a bridging course (university skills) at the Bundaberg campus of CQUniversity. After meeting, again by chance, with an old friend from sailing days, and learning that she had recently done a degree and then a master's degree, I thought about applying and jumping straight into studying for a Bachelor Degree. I spoke with the coordinator of the university skills program and she advised that doing the bridging program would equip me with skills such as academic writing and an understanding of university culture which would make the degree much easier to manage. In retrospect I would say she was right and I'm grateful for that advice.

I filled in the application form and wrote an essay describing where I saw myself in five years' time. It was the first time in my life that I'd thought that far ahead. Soon the good news arrived - I had been accepted into the course. I was so excited and I felt like I was coming home when I walked into the university for the first time as a student. I loved so much about it all but I was to be stretched in ways I could never have imagined. It was not 'smooth sailing' as I was often distracted by things going on in my personal life. I battled with low self-esteem and couldn't accept the good grades I was getting. I crazily thought the lecturers were just being nice to me. It took me five years at uni to complete my Bachelor of Learning Management. I was pushed out of my comfort zone over and over again. I baulked and dug my heels in and thought about walking away because it was all too hard. I started doing a Bachelor of Learning Management Primary then pulled out and studied Literary and Cultural studies for one semester before continuing. I did six more courses than most people because I couldn't make up my mind what I really wanted to do!

I certainly didn't get to the end all under my own steam; I had support  and encouragement from peers and from the wonderful lecturers and other staff at the university  I was also encouraged and helped by my children and my parents who all wanted me to see this through to the end as long as it would make me happy to do so. They knew I would be disappointed in myself if I'd walked away.  I was so fortunate to have people who cared enough to push me to grow when I wanted to give up. One of the most difficult things was learning to work in groups. It was something that most of us struggled with as our prior education had taught us to be independent and we didn't really know how to share information or negotiate workloads or responsibilities. It was new ground for many of us and there were many times where people were at loggerheads. Sometimes it was because there were too many strong leaders in a group and sometimes it was that someone was not doing their part and others felt let down. It's tough to learn to be a professional. I humbly give thanks to my peers who put up with my struggles!

How grateful I am to have met the fabulous women who opened my mind and showed me what is possible, even if you don't get started until later in life. I'm grateful also to my  fellow students were a constant source of inspiration as they dealt with a wide range of life challenges outside of study. I graduated at 52 and have never felt prouder or more relieved.  I continue to grow and learn every day.

As a teacher I have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of small children and their families by encouraging play-based learning and healthy life choices. I love what I do and it was so worth that long hard journey. To friends out there who are thinking or dreaming about embarking on study (at any age) I can only say "Do it!!" and "Good luck!!" I really don't think you'll ever regret it. If someone like me (a chronic procrastinator and one who is distracted by the slightest interruption AND who had an 'eat dessert first' philosophy on life) can do, then so can you!

Dreams can come true if you work hard and never give up (and can accept a little help from your friends)! 

PS I did work for Lifeline as a volunteer phone counselor for two years and also helped with training new people later on. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it even if you don't end up going on the phones, as it's a great opportunity for personal growth.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Joy of Working with Children

Some days it's easy to forget about the joy it is to work with children. The weight of learning to still be done; the weight of paperwork and preparation can overwhelm sometimes the sheer joy of being with fresh, insightful, creative, intelligent, energetic young people who inspire and amaze if you have the time to notice. One of the things I love best about teaching is bragging about what 'my kids' have done or said during the day. I tell other teachers, the office ladies, friends and family (always being respectful of confidentiality of course - a professional must). I just can't help but be excited about the great thoughts and works these kids are capable of. My joy as a teacher is to give kids space to exercise their greatness. It means we have lots of talking in my classes. There are lots of discussions. If someone has a new idea; a new game, a new activity, a new approach, I do my best to allow that to be explored. Plans are made for the day but most often we travel a windy path in and out of the set plan. Flexibility allows us to follow and work with what the children are interested in now!

The hard thing to have to deal with is time. There are constant deadlines and bells and interruptions of one kind or another. I imagine as a child that it would be fantastic to be allowed to learn at one's own pace and as one's interest flowed. I imagine how wonderful it would be to come to school in the morning and know that I could work all day on one thing if I wanted to. I imagine that it would be so fantastic to have a teaching system where my teacher could have all the resources in the classroom for it to be my learning workshop. I imagine what it would be like to have teachers who would be a support in my learning journey; who would show an interest in the learning I wanted to do and support me in that. I imagine that I could discuss with my teacher what project I'd like to work on and that my teacher would help me to find the things I needed to do that. As a teacher I think about how much kids would learn if we could teach that way. I think about how much more excited kids would be about learning if they had more control over it. I think this is happening more as kids have access to technology and researching is at their fingertips. I want to be able to say 'yes' to kids about their ideas about learning projects so that they don't end up retreating into technologies for all their learning. I want to be free to say 'yes' to hands on experiential learning so that they can build their knowledge and deep understanding of concepts. 

On Monday mornings we do cooking at school. It is wonderful to see the enthusiasm as we weigh and measure and stir and heat. And eat! The children love to test the results. This week we made scrambled eggs on toast and fresh squeezed orange juice. We got to talk about where the food comes from, what is good about bread with oats and barley added, how fresh squeezed juice is different from bottled juice. We laid the table and talked about how many. How many knives, forks, plates. They are six and seven years old so these are the kinds of discussions we have. They cooked toast and buttered it and cut it in half. They piled it up on plates to share. They cut oranges in half (with help) and looked at how much juice they could get out of each piece. Their enthusiasm for this process translated into two large jugs of juice. I was impressed! They just kept going. They didn't give up even though it was hard work. They chopped fresh parsley to add to the scrambled eggs.  

I was able to share the story of my old green glass juicer. It is one of my treasures. I bought it from the old church next to the school when it used to be an 'op shop' back in the 1980s. It has travelled with me on my adventures sailing and living interstate. It was fun to share a bit of local history with the kids as part of the day.

When everything was ready we all sat down together and shared a wonderful breakfast. I couldn't manage it on my own, but with a wonderful teacher aide and a mum who comes in to help, it's a breeze. Whilst chatting over the meal, one little girl piped up, "It's just like the whole class has come to my house to visit,". I knew in that moment how important these experiences are for children. She felt like the host. Because they all did their part they probably all felt like hosts on the day. After the meal we all chipped in to wash, dry and put away dishes, wipe down tables and the plastic table cloths, sweep up crumbs from under the tables and chairs. 

At the end of the morning we had nothing to show for our work. The children had full tummies and happy smiles. The kitchen was clean as a whistle, like no one had been in there. If someone had come in to see what we'd been doing all morning there was nothing to show for it. Teaching is like that sometimes. We can have stacks of worksheets all over the sitting at desks all day wishing they were somewhere being quiet and listening to the teacher all day...or we can have busy, hands-on, fun filled real life learning experiences that don't necessarily end up with something to show for it but where lots of learning goes on. 

We do our share of writing and paper based work, but I try to keep the kids moving around and having fun for as much of the time as I can. I don't mind the chaos. I don't mind the noise. I don't mind the 'not being in control'. In fact, it's a joy. I love my job and I love 'my kids'. I hope they learn the things they need to learn while they are with me. I hope they learn to be cooperative, valuable members of communities. I hope they learn that they have something worthwhile to contribute. Most of all I hope they learn not to need me any more. That's what I'm there for.

PS The joy of being asked to watch a boy tie his own shoelaces...I am so blessed.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Banish guilt and create healthy boundaries!

This blog is in part a challenge to myself to write as often as I can...daily if possible. It's 9:52 pm and there are good reasons for me to hit the hay and not to bother but I will try to honour this challenge before I succumb to the gentle beckoning of my sleeping place.

Go me for commitment! I had to let it slide for a few days last week, but without going into details, it was just one of those weeks and I'm getting pretty good at forgiving myself these days for being human and sometimes needing to cut myself a bit of slack. I've always been good at cutting the slack, but not so good at forgiving myself for I'd just feel guilty. Oh, what an unholy waste of time is guilt unless you intend to change your ways! So I don't feel guilty about the idea of not writing today, but I actually really want to do it, and I would miss the opportunity and maybe, just maybe, I can write something tonight that might not come together at some other time. And maybe what I can write tonight will mean something to someone and help them in some way. There's the motivation. I don't imagine myself to be some kind of guru or great teacher, but I've made a helluva lot of mistakes in life and I've learned a helluva lot from making just maybe sharing some stories or ideas can either help someone else to feel better about being human and stuffing things up now and then, or stop them from making the same mistakes I have. And maybe save them some pain. Therein lies the supposition that all pain is bad, and I'm not sure that is true. 

We talk about pain a lot really don't we. He's a pain, she's a pain, it's a pain. The speech was painful. Maybe just because you had to sit in one place too long and listen. Would it be less painful if you could have moved about a bit and listened as you paced? Most speeches must be taken sitting down. So when we talk about pain in these ways, aren't we really meaning an inconvenience, an annoyance, an interruption to our flow perhaps? Does this kind of pain lead us to do things differently or change our ways? If someone is a pain, do we think to ourselves, "I really should take the time to get to know that person more. They could have good reason for being difficult (or painful), " or do we start to avoid the person because they are an inconvenience to us? I challenge myself here I give people the benefit of the doubt every time? No. Sometimes I'm impatient or too busy or too self absorbed to give my time to others. 

I read a great book some years ago called Change Your Questions Change Your Life: 10 powerful tools for life and work by Marilee Adams. So let's think about the questions we ask ourselves when someone is being a pain. These are just suggestions so please feel welcome to substitute you own.
Why is he/she being so annoying?
Why is he/she being such a pain?
Why doesn't he/she just leave me alone?
Why does he/she always ring me?
Why does he/she always go on about him/herself?
How much longer do I have to stand here and listen?
Does he/she have to ring every day?
When we ask these questions we give away our power. We give the other person all the power because we are blaming them for making us feel a certain way; probably trapped!

So what questions could we ask instead that might change the dynamic, buy us back some power and change how we deal with people? You might have some suggestions too but here are a couple to get the ball rolling.
How does this situation look through his/her eyes?
What might it feel like to be him/her?
How can I show that I'm really hearing him/her (paraphrasing, summarising, clarifying...rather than just mmm-hmmm-ing)? 
How much time can I afford to give him/her and still feel relaxed?
Can I really listen for five minutes without trying to escape?
Sometimes to have someone really listen and really hear what is being said is all that he/she really needs. Of course at the same time you have to know what your own needs are. 

Personal boundaries are our own responsibility. We can't expect others to respect our boundaries if we don't know what or where they are for ourselves. Do you know what you will tolerate from others and what you will not? Do you set aside time for yourself that is sacred and for which you sometimes have to say "No." to others? Sit down sometime and think about your life. If you have someone that phones you and wants to talk at length when you have other priorities, it's perfectly fair to tell the person that you can give them five minutes or ten minutes and at the end of that time to say that's all the time you have to give them for now and you have to go and goodbye. And hang up. If someone calls in for coffee every other day and you would rather they only came on Thursday afternoons between 2 and 3 then let them know. Let them know that you won't be stopping to chat any other time. Then stick to it. Obviously there are times when rules can be bent, but if you have someone in your life who takes advantage of your kind heart then it's OK to make some rules to keep your sanity. Most of us have very busy lives and have a lot to fit in one way or another. 

Be kind to others but please also  be kind to yourself. Know that you need space and time to rest, to think, to reflect, to sleep, to exercise, to be with your significant others, to nurture yourself and your close relationships. Sometimes leaving others to work out their own stuff gives them the opportunity to grow. If you keep on helping and organising and supporting and propping then you can effectively be stifling them. Scary isn't it. The very thing you wish they would do...such as stand on their own two feet or take responsibility for their own stop them from doing that by being there for them all the time. Just a thought.

If you don't take care of yourself then your might find you start to get some of the other pain. Physical pain. Dis-ease. Cancer. Heart problems. Anxiety. Stress. These pains are bad but also good. How can they be good? They are like our dashboard letting us know that something is not right. The lights are flashing to try and get our attention. Usually it's a sign that we need to change the way we're living. It might be eating habits or exercise or relaxation or education or just finding time to make some goals or dream a little. There is so much information out there once you start looking. All the help in the world to guide you to a better life. Better to be kind to yourself. Be gentle with others but firm too. Protect your boundaries. Don't be a 'yes' man or woman...unless you are saying 'yes' to time out as well. 

PS Those bad pains...if you choose to do nothing about them...they just go on getting worse. Eventually they kill you. I've included a link to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Leading Causes of Death. I believe that if you really looked into it, most of them are stress-related. 10:52 Sleep tight.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

When Storm Clouds Gather

It's been a difficult week but we all have them. I just haven't felt much like writing. Here I am now making myself do just that because I know it's the only way to get going again. Life is a mess of ups and downs; sometimes they flow gently as a languid swell at sea, and other times they hit in sharp jagged peaks and deep holes from where you cannot see the shore, even if it is not so very far away. How we choose to ride those crests and low spots, how we prepare ourselves when things are jogging along nicely...they are the indicators in a sense for how well we can enjoy life, whatever it brings.

I feel fortunate in many ways; I don't take good times or good things for granted. I nurture awareness of those things and those times as they keep me strong and anchored in the not so easy times. I've learned to trust myself so that I don't feel so thrown about when things aren't going well. In a sense I can even feel excited because those times of roughness and turmoil bring change and excitement and challenge into life in a way that smooth seas don't. Using the ocean as a metaphor comes easily as I've been a sailor, so I know the joy of sailing on a smooth turquoise sea, zephyrs gently filling the sails just enough to be drifting along towards a known and reachable destination. I know when it feels so good and so easy that nothing can go wrong. Mostly that feeling is right and everything goes according to plan. Good times! I've also seen the sea change from that benign and gentle being to a raging giant tormenting and flinging foam and water about creating a maelstrom...almost in a matter of minutes. 

Have you ever seen that happen in life? Everything is going smoothly and you have a confidence in how things are and how things will be, and suddenly a small grey cloud appears. It is quickly joined by others that appear out of nowhere and they band together to form a great threatening black mass. Water spouts appear off in the distance to distract from the cloud but its oppressive presence just grows closer until the moment the winds hit knocking you off balance and looking desperately for cover. Then comes the rain. And all the while you've been distracted by this and that and hoped it wasn't happening and thought that it surely would dissipate and all would be well again...but instead you are caught with your sails up and your boat is pressed down by the power of the wind and the tossing waves. The screaming demons carried by the darkness threaten everything you held dear just moments earlier. Your ears are filled with the sound of their mocking banshee wails and you cannot even hear the sound reasoning of your own calm centre that sits peacefully beneath the boat of your mortal presence as it is tossed and buffeted. It observes with passive interest what your mind is going through as it tries to make sense of the sudden madness; as it struggles against wind and water to reduce sail, to secure the lines, to reduce the potential for damage whilst reeling in shock; acting woodenly in ways that have been learned through a lifetime of storms and sudden dangers. Holding on, tears hidden in the pouring torrents from the skies and the drenching of waves hurtling and slapped against the hull, sending saline waterfalls powered by horizontal force, knocking you off your feet and flinging you hard against the rails...

There is nothing like the eye of a storm. A brightness, a whiteness approaches...what is it?? It is more terrifying than the dark, the wind stops. The quiet. The muddled sloshing of waves no longer driven but confused. You bob about, your boat lunging this way and that while you try to understand what is happening. It that it? Is it all over now? So tired from all the struggle and just holding on and hoping to get through. Then the wind returns; and the darkness; and the noise. You feel overwhelmed but from somewhere deep within you find the courage to go on. Not because you want to but because you must. There is no choice. You just might make it through because you've made it this far. You fear hidden dangers like submerged containers thrown from ships; slack bindings allowing them to fall and sink and wallow, just below the surface, ready to tear a boat open from stem to stern, like a puny sardine can. You fear that a whale or some other denizen of the deep might throw itself in rapture at the storm and burst free of the briny to soar and land on top of you, taking you with it to a miserable and watery end. We know that all the things we fear have happened to someone at sometime...and they could happen to us too. 

Our calm centre, whether we have met it yet or not, observes all this without fear or worry. All it has is knowing. Knowing that in spite of what happens, what we go through, how we behave, react, respond...however we feel or think or don't...that none of it really matters in the end. Does it hope we might draw something from the experience or grow somehow or change? I don't know. It doesn't change. It is just there with us always. Watching. 

So now that I know about the calm place, I can choose to sit in it and have a sense of watching myself too. It somehow allows things to be as they are without me becoming quite so emotionally entangled in happenings; good or bad. I've known about it for a long time. It is somewhere that people go when they meditate. Now that I've found it I can go there most times. I don't know if it would be approved of in circles where meditation is something ritual or mystical. I guess I've listened to a lot of people and read a lot of theories and ideas and in the midst of all that I've found something that works for me. 

In the midst of the storm that quiet place is there. You can spend a moment there to catch your breath. It helps. The you that has engaged in the struggles and felt the wind and the storm in all its strength and fury...that you will know the peace when the storm has passed. It's a great thing to be able to see yourself as a survivor. You got through the storm. Your boat is still afloat. Sails torn. A little water sloshing about in the bilges, a greasy soup flavoured with assorted flotsam, once treasures now wastage to be thrown overboard. You make a cuppa. Take stock. Start the clean-up. Do some fixing. Take a break. Make another cuppa and look at how far you've come. 

Life is good. The storms will come and go. Get to know your quiet place so that you can take a little rest when you need to. Know that the storm will end. Know that you will be stronger and wiser, if a little worn and scarred. You will know that you are strong and resilient and capable of life. Go live it!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Remembering Bill

It's hard to know how to commemorate a life that ended twelve months ago today, especially the life of a man who had such a great influence on me and my life as he was part of my life for over thirty years. We had so many adventures together over those years, including the completion of a yacht he was building when I met him and then sailing her locally and on one momentous trip to New Caledonia which included experiencing a significant storm so wild that we managed to eat only Sao Crackers and drink only cold water for four days! Sharing adventures like that - there were several close calls over the years - grows a special kind of friendship.

Last year I wrote and submitted an obituary to the local 'Bush Telegraph' as we had lived a number of years here in southern Tasmania. Some of you may have read it before, but I am sharing it here again today in his memory. Tonight, if you remember Bill, have a drink to his memory, even if it's just a cup of tea. At the same time remember other friends and family who have passed, all too many of them it seems in the short time I have been back here. Cheers to them all, for the memories.

From the Bush Telegraph November 2012

"Many of you will have known Bill or known about him as the crazy man who put his boat up on Jimmy Mitchell's slipway and cut the bottom off it. He wanted to be able to get in and out over the Southport bar into Hastings Bay where he found safe and secure anchorage for the Minerva III after bought a little cottage in Ida Bay back in the late 1980s. 

Bill passed away at his home just north of Bundaberg in Queensland on August 6th this year (2012). In accordance with his wishes, there was no funeral. We held a wake for him at the Railway Hotel in North Bundaberg. Joanna, Mark and I were joined by a couple of close family members and a few old friends. A wreath arrived from an old schoolmate who now lived in WA. 

It was a bitter-sweet occasion as we celebrated the life of our friend, father, brother, brother-in-law and partner in crime! Bill and I separated seven years ago but through ups and downs remained friends until the end of his life. I wanted to write this as it feels a bit like there is unfinished business as we lived here in southern Tasmania for nine years and became a family here with the birth  of our two children Joanna and Mark. Friends here have not had the chance to meet together to hear Bills story so I thought I could share it with you all this way.

Diagnosed with cancer in 1999, Bill often said it was the best thing that ever happened to him as it made him see what was really important in life. He devoted many years to following a natural heading regime which included fresh fruit and vegetable juices, meditation, exercise and keeping a positive healthy outlook. He outlived the doctors' predication by more than ten years by his dedication to that path. During those thirteen years and three months total, he had an impact on many peoples' lives, and that is what I'd really like to share with you.

We left Tasmania in 1997 full of plans to sail extensively under Minerva III's new junk rig, but the cancer diagnosis 18 months later put an end to our plans. We rented a place in Maryborough in Qld and whilst were there Bill volunteered his time to drive the bus for a disability group and enjoying picking up the clients and taking them to and from work and social functions. He kept fit and strong by riding his pushbike up to 40km a day. We eventually sold the boat and bought a property in Little Tinana near Maryborough. Bill planted fruit trees and created an extensive veggie garden and when we needed some big gum trees taken down he didn't fall them with a chainsaw but dug them out by hand. Although the soil was sandy, it was a mammoth task and one that drew stares of wonder from neighbours and friends!

After a few years there horses became a part of our lives and we needed to find a bigger property. It was then that we bought the 25 acres where Bill saw out his days. Sadly our relationship faltered around that time and I moved with the children to a small rented house in a nearby town. Over the next few years Bill sailed to the Solomon Islands crewing for an old friend Mike Taylor, and enjoyed  sitting chatting with the older islanders while he was there. He took a couple of trips to Thailand and a favourite photo was one of him with a massive tiger. 

He was involved with the local vegetarian group in Bundaberg and gave talks there about cancer and diet. Bill was always busy reading and learning more about cancer and was always willing to share his knowledge with others. He joined the WOOFAs group as a host and had many visitors who stayed and enjoyed the serenity of the property. The notes they wrote on the wall of the visitors' room show their appreciation for learning so much from him and for his ever-popular home brew!

Bill took on the task of caring for his aging mother, sharing the job with his sister Frances. They travelled from their homes in Queensland and NSW respectively and lived with her in Victoria on 2 months shifts for about 2 years. He applied the same principles of healthy lifestyle choices to caring for his mum, and her health improved significantly during that time but eventually she was moved into a nursing home. During those stays in the Yarra Valley Bill volunteered at the Gawler Institute, working in the gardens there, and was involved in a community project to help feed homeless and needy people. 

In March this year (2012) we gathered together to help Bill celebrate his 60th birthday. Joanna painted him an enormous and beautiful picture of the Minerva III based on a photograph taken back in 1998 as we sailed into Pearl Bay with the four of us on board. It was hung proudly on the wall of his home. Joanna completed the painting with Bill's input which ensured accuracy of the finer details. It was a special time for them both. 

Bill's sister and brother-in-law and our son, Mark cared for him for the last fifteen months of this life. He was forced to undergo emergency surgery in May 2011 and needed care from that time on. Whilst it was a difficult time, he tried to remain positive and kept planning a trip around Australia with horse and cart. His sister and brother-in-law are preparing to do the trip and take him with them in spirit. 

Bill, you were a 'trooper'. You were tough and determined and an amazing man in so many ways. 
As Brian said at the wake, you were just a humble boiler maker, but you did so much. Before I knew you, you had worked and travelled around the world and regaled us all with tales of those times.
You are missed and loved and you won't be forgotten. Rest in Peace."

Brian and Frances are currently travelling around the outback west of NSW and it's amazing to hear the tales of their journey. I think it's brilliant when ordinary people do extraordinary things; when people dare to do things differently or to march to the beat of a drum that the majority of us refuse to hear. They are the people that allow us all to dream. Today is a day of remembrance for me and for many others. It's also a day to look forward, to dream and to live a life that allows others to dream too.