New Year Fireworks and Goals

The new year has begun. 2019. It started with the explosion of fireworks, live and on the TV, the abrupt bangs and crackles heard over the low roar and whoosh of the sea, cheering voices and music. The windows were wide open, letting the heat out and the cool breeze in, and the sounds were indistinguishable, the reality from recorded.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet one for me and I couldn’t have been more content. Sharing Australian prawns, Sydney rock oysters and French champagne with an old friend. Cooking up a Thai chicken curry and eating alfresco, glad that the humidity had been washed away by the rain shower. Walking a breezy kilometre along the cliff to the park that overlooks Coogee Beach and the headland.

The fireworks at 9pm attracted families, locals and holiday-makers. The crowd was cheerful and festive. Kids had glow-sticks, parents had picnic blankets, cheeky people had sneaky drinks. Brave dogs paced next to their families, as excited as their humans. The fireworks were varied, colourful and constant for twenty minutes. Everyone seemed happy. (Presumably, those who don’t like fireworks or crowds and those whose animals are frightened, stay at home.) Fireworks were followed by a walk along the promenade and giant serves of salted caramel and double chocolate ice creams in a cone.

The simplicity and ease of the evening, along with friendship, community vibe and foodie indulgence, were what brought on the feeling of contentment. I was in a happy place. And it was the close of a big year. 2018 had its challenges: ongoing divorce proceedings, the death of my beloved chocolate Labrador, and breast cancer. But there were also many wonderful things: the road trip up the north coast to Lennox Head, the writing workshop with author, Fiona McIntosh, in SA, another road trip in Donegal, Ireland, doing research for my novel, and the completion of the first draft. All the while I had the support of caring, loving family and friends. All that deserved fireworks, and my gratitude!

So, to my goals for 2019: take better care of my body, feeding it champagne and ice cream in fewer doses; finish a polished manuscript, one good enough to present to a publisher; write every day and continue this weekly blog; maintain and enhance my relationships and give back to those who love me; have fun travelling; move house; find another dog to love; be kind, to myself as well as to others.

Considering I have a good chance of achieving my goals, I figure I have a lot to be content with. I wish you all good health, good fortune, and good goals to go after. Have a happy 2019.

 

Thanks to Randwick City Council https://www.randwick.nsw.gov.au/community/whats-on/coogee-sparkles and my own many blessings.

 

Perfect Aussie Christmas

Another Christmas has passed. In one day, all the weeks of advertisements, gift shopping, Christmas carols, angst, menu-preparing, tree decorating, colourful lights, Santas, parties and feasting, have climaxed and left us sated, in our stomachs and our desire to get together with family at one table.

I realise I’m talking about my experience and everyone’s is different. Some aren’t so lucky. Some are much more so. And some just do it differently. But most of us like to get family and friends together over food.

My Christmas isn’t about religion. It is about all the above. Overall, it’s about thoughtfulness, togetherness and feasting.

This Christmas, mine was close to Aussie perfection. A swim in the ocean with the kids (my life-guards), followed by an excess of simple food – prawns, bugs, oysters, pork, ham, chicken, salad and pudding with custard, shared with good people. The sun shone. The pine tree sparkled and perfumed the air. Later, some of us had other places to go. Some of us lazed around like overfed seals.

The modern family may be more complicated than it was once, with mum and dad living in different places, or children choosing to break traditions or family members living in different countries, but if we remain flexible and thoughtful, we can all still enjoy the idea and practice of Christmas Day.

If we’re not religious, Christmas Day can be any day. The delight is more important than the date. If it makes our lives easier, our families can celebrate their togetherness on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. Or any day. If it will be more conducive to joy and calm, then let it be.

I got lucky this year. My family were together on the official day, for lunch. I also got The Bonus, being included in a friend’s family Christmas gathering in the evening. I got my fill of thoughtfulness, togetherness and food. In excess! I felt well and truly blessed.

A Final Act as Master

It’s nine months since I made and enacted my last decision as master. Those of us that love dogs say our dogs are our fur-babies or our dog’s human, as if they’re our equal, but they’re not. If you’re like me, you treat your dog as your companion, a cherished member of the family or your favourite living creature on earth, but your dog is still not your equal. They’re nearer to being a dependent child or reliant best friend. As its owner, you are fully responsible for your dog’s happiness: its comfort, its health, its exercise, its mental well-being and its love. You are responsible for its life – and its death.

I took Chopper, my last dog, the handsome, seal-eyed, chocolate Labrador, to the vet on the afternoon of 20th March this year. I say my dog because that’s the way I felt, although I know that he had a family, my family. His two fur-brothers accompanied us. It had been a hard decision to make; harder than I knew. You see, I understood that he was suffering, and I gave him lots of drugs to ease his pain. I modified our walks and hugged him as I lay next to him on the floor. But I still thought he was happy. He always seemed eager to go out, lifting his head attentively and wagging his tail when I asked, ‘Do you want to go out?’ His eyes followed me around a room. He sat on my feet when I was still. But some days he could barely go out to wee. He could barely get up. Or he’d throw up.

My sons helped as much as they could and one day, as I broached the subject of the imminent end, they said things that indicated they already knew and they were waiting for me to accept it. I suggested we wait another week, until after the Easter break, so that Chopper and I could have quality time together in our holiday house down the south coast, a place he loved. ‘He’s still happy,’ I said, ‘so it makes it that much harder.’

Then one son said, ‘He’s not happy, he’s only happy when you’re with him.’ I was shocked. I asked the other son what he thought, and he said, ‘It’s not a dog’s life!’ I suddenly felt so sad. And selfish. My desire to keep him by my side had affected my judgement and my reality.

My sons carried him outside for his pre-bed wee, a time, not long before, we cherished as an end of day ritual: fifteen minutes walking, out in the darkness and quiet, Chopper sniffing all the night-time scents and me looking up to the moon and stars. He sat there. He couldn’t even get up to wee. I hugged him and cried. I buried my face in his furry neck and said I was sorry. I was so afraid to lose him, to no longer have the comfort of him, to be on my own.

I’d been his master for over eleven and a half years. He’d been my companion, pal and confidante. I rarely walked him on a lead. I rarely roused on him. He’d joined in the fun of the family, guarded us and looked after the emotional needs of each of us. He’d chased remote-control monster trucks, swum in the sea, supervised barbecues, romanced other dogs (putting it politely), played chasings and tug-of-war.

 

 

He’d travelled with me in a motorhome, never tiring of exploring, resting by a lake or meeting other nomads. He’d consoled me when I was sad, willed me off the lounge at night, and wagged his tail every time we made eye contact. He lay on my feet when I was writing. He didn’t feel like my equal; he felt like a soul-mate.

And for my soul-mate, I had to put his needs before my own. I had to do what I could do as his human and ultimately, his master. I could give him peace.

And nine months later, I can tell you about it.

Dec 15 (53) - Copy

 

Face Work

Would we love our friends more if their faces were less wrinkled, less spotted and less saggy? Would we love them more if they were ‘prettier’ or their eyebrows were higher? Would we love them more if their lips permanently pouted?

Of course not!

Loving our friends has nothing to do with how well their face defies age. It has everything to do with who they are, how they think and what their values are. We like someone when we share interests or they excite us with new ones. We like them because of how they behave, what they do and what they say. Their attention, conversation and empathy are what’s going to make us think, what a great friend, I love this friend!

Not how they look!

It’s the same the other way around. Our friends aren’t going to love us more if we have a firm, plump face. And they aren’t going to love us less for gathering grooves and sagging.

Grooming is different. Grooming is about personality. Grooming is superficial, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. I mean it’s an outer layer that we can don or discard, according to how we want to present ourselves. We tend to hang around people who groom a similar way. We judge people by how they look, and that’s okay if it’s just the grooming we’re judging. It’s human nature to assess if someone is like us or not.

Some people don’t care what they look like. Some care a lot. (Some people have no choice in the matter, but they’re not who I’m talking about.) But what we wear, how we do our hair or how we decorate our faces, is just a temporary effect. It is a choice made for effect.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the desire to stay looking younger and ‘prettier.’ In my forties, I had Botox because I was worried about my frown and drooping eyes. I didn’t like the signs of aging. But then I realised that most of my friends weren’t having Botox. They were aging naturally, and I loved them just as much. My son used to make faces at me when I laughed because he knew my face well enough to observe the distortion in my face. He loved me well enough to let me know he preferred the natural look.

I’ve noticed that it’s hard for people to stop doing ‘work’ on their faces once they start. I know that Botox leads to collagen. All that paralysing, lifting and plumping needs to continue to keep up with the aging process. And it doesn’t keep up! It twists and pulls out of shape. It leads to a false, weird look. If our friends were doing this, we’d want them to stop. We’d want our friends to stop us!

Changing our skin through use of a needle or knife reveals an insecurity. And a belief that people will love us more if we look ‘better’. My argument is that that can’t be so, that they don’t love us in the first place if they are so affected by how young or attractive we look.

We love our friends because of what’s on the inside. So lets pay more attention to that. Let’s keep our minds, our hearts and our bodies healthy. Keep learning, be curious and be interested. Be kind, compassionate and thoughtful. Eat well and be active to keep fit.

Be a good friend. Love your friend for who they are. And remember that your true friends will love you no matter how your face ages. They will love you more for the light and energy that shines through your eyes.

Christmas Cheer or Cheerless

‘I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas,’ one friend says at the wise-old-birds meeting we hold once a month. While we feast on sponge cake with cream, strawberries dipped in chocolate, rocky road and fruit mince pies, we discuss such important matters of the world – our world. Looking at this indulgent spread, I couldn’t agree more!

Each one of us takes turns in re-living our best and worst memories of Christmas. When we get half-way through the group, someone declares, ‘No one really likes Christmas. It’s always a debacle.’

This is countered enthusiastically by another who says, ‘That’s not true. There are people that like Christmas and have normal Christmas gatherings. We’re just from dysfunctional backgrounds.’

I look sideways at my friend, you know the way you do when you don’t turn your head? We’re all getting a bit red-faced. Someone else pipes up, ‘What’s normal?’ Maybe the meeting is getting out of hand. It must be all that sugar. Or pink champagne.

The question remains; what’s normal? I don’t know many people like that. Or Christmases. (Even that word looks abnormal.)

Maybe, it’s just Christmas in Australia isn’t normal. We’re all too hot and we’d rather be swimming. The flies, swarming in through open windows, litter the prawns and potato salad, looking like tasty currants until swatted away, to be swatted away again every three seconds. We’re too irritable to be joyful.

The conversation of the group settles when one woman declares her Christmases have always been nice. Okay, there is hope! But I don’t remember what she said next. I only remember the bad stuff. Which was sometimes quite funny. But usually a bit sad.

Best and worst Christmas presents was a safer subject.

There was much laughter over the worst, but sadly, the worst was tainted by malice, lack of thought or ineptitude. (Ineptitude: haplessly incompetent – don’t you love that?) For example, a plain pair of socks to each child, every year, from an aunty. A bolt of cloth, also to a child, the colour of baby poo. Toe separators and Russian Matryoshka Nesting Dolls.

The best presents were delightful: a holiday organised by a husband including a babysitter to stay at home with the children, a doll’s dress made by mother but ordered by Santa, a bathing suit of aqua and pink, a home-made letterbox designed like a ladybird, and mine – a giant fur koala.

For me, there’s one definite highlight to Christmas. And that’s the pudding: fruity and rich with a dob of brandy butter and lashings of vanilla pouring custard.

The conversation left us with full heads of memories and hearts full of emotions. We decided that trees, decorations, pre-Christmas gatherings, families and friends getting together (despite the drawbacks) and Christmas food, made it all worthwhile.

Having eaten more than my share of special afternoon tea, my belly felt like it was getting a practise run in for the day when we don’t stop eating. That’s Christmas. It should be called Indulgence Day.

Health Diligence

In August this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t usually get explicitly personal in my blog posts, but I believe there is value in sharing my experience. Cancers are extremely common and for good reason people are afraid of it. I was lucky. Mine was detected early. The health care system in Australia encourages us to get regular testing that will alert us to disease. My message is, USE IT!

I went for a routine mammogram. I was called back for a second one. I wasn’t alarmed. I was irritated. I would get a second boob-squashing and waste a lot of time. When I booked the appointment, I was asked to allow four hours even though I might be out in one. Exasperated, I delayed my hairdressing appointment.

I turned up at St George Public Hospital Breast Screen Clinic and donned the white cotton gown. Sitting in the waiting room, pulling the gown across my bare breasts, I felt vulnerable and patient-like. Opening my Lonely Planet, I distracted myself, researching my trip to India. I tried to ignore the banal Morning TV show. When it was my turn, the radiographer was admirably friendly and empathetic, despite the hordes of complaining women she would deal with every day. She recommended I breathe out through the pain. It helped.

Back in the waiting room I observed an older Mediterranean woman talking on the phone in a panicked voice. I was then called for an ultrasound. The radiographer chatted pleasantly with me as she looked at the screen and ran the wand-thing over my gel-covered breast. Then she  called in the radiologist – the specialist doctor. I felt indulged. One of my closest friends is a radiologist at St George and I wondered if I was getting VIP treatment. At no point did I think the worst. The radiologist told me she was going to take a biopsy. She took four. She told me she was going to mark the concerning spot by inserting tiny metal pellets into my breast. The nice radiographer held my hand.

Back in the waiting room I asked the kneeling Mediterranean woman if she’d lost something. She glanced at me with a look that silenced me. She was praying. I found a brown paper carry-bag next to my chair. It contained a sandwich, apple and water. When the woman got up, she apologised. She’d been crying. I talked to her about her husband and where she lived.

A woman in uniform came to me and introduced herself as a counsellor. I followed her to a room where she explained I had to wait for a doctor and I can’t remember what else. How tedious, I thought. I dressed and went for coffee, the doctor being an hour away.

When the doctor, a breast surgeon, met with me, he explained there was some calcification in my breast. Until they got the biopsy results, they couldn’t say what that meant. Calcification was quite common in women of my age. He felt my breast but there was no palpable lump. I told him I didn’t want to come back the following week – I was going away – and requested I be told the results over the phone. He raised his eyebrows, smiled indulgently, and said, maybe.

The next week, I phoned in. As happens in many large organisations, there was a Protocol slip-up and I was told, without obscurity, I had a cancer and had to see the surgeon. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t possible. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to me. I went for a walk with some friends and shared my shock and disbelief. They were more horrified than me.

The next week, my radiologist-friend accompanied me to the meeting with the surgeon. She insisted. Apparently, I wouldn’t remember or understand everything the surgeon said. She was right. She explained it all again to me later. I had a 9mm invasive ductal cancer. Small. It didn’t sound small to me. With the margin required to make sure it was all gone, the surgeon would be taking out a golf ball chunk out of my small breasts. That sounded huge. They would also take out a lymph node to see if there was cancer in there. I remembered the surgeon’s drawings: the golf ball with 9mm centre and lymph node, a bit bigger, with lines drawn through to demonstrate the slices that they would biopsy. I was horrified by its enormousness before my friend explained it wasn’t to scale. A lymph node is only the size of a baked bean. I’m glad I took a friend to listen and remember.

Two weeks later I was back at St George, this time at the Private, getting prepped for surgery. Once again, I shunned company because I’d be fine, and why should someone else have to suffer the boredom of the day. It was like two people suffering the grocery shopping when only one needed to. I started to cry as the check-in nurse asked me questions. I wiped away my tears, feeling foolish. Up in the Radiology Department, I had an ultrasound. The radiographer didn’t chat. She did her job and then went to get the nuclear physician. A kind looking man appeared at my side and apologised in advance because he was going to hurt me. He gave a few anaesthetic injections and fed a wire in to meet the tiny metal pellets.

I cried but the pain wasn’t too bad. I cried because for the first time in my life I didn’t have my husband with me, reassuring and overseeing. And I’d chosen not to have a friend by my side.

Over in the Nuclear Medicine Department, radioactive dye was injected to mark the cancer and node for the surgeon. All this takes time and I felt very alone. While waiting for the surgery, I picked up my phone and checked my messages. There were plenty. Messages of strength and kindness and concern. Family and friends were with me in spirit and I knew I was far from alone.

The surgery was over before I knew it but I was groggy for some time. The news was good. No cancer had shown up in the biopsy of the removed lymph node so the other fifteen were left alone. In a week they would be able to tell me if they had found any cancer cells in further slices.

I was lucky. Mine was all clear. I recovered well from the surgery and went skiing six days later. My scar healed well and was a very neat 6cm long straight line. I did have radiotherapy two months later but I’ll leave that story for another day.

I encourage you to have routine tests and look after your health. We have very good hospitals and doctors in Australia and many diseases can be treated. There is no point in being too afraid or busy to have a test. If problems are discovered early you could save yourself a lot of trouble, heartache and suffering. Better a little pain now than a big regret later. Have the test. Talk to your loved ones. If you need it, lean on them for support. Take the professional advice and keep well.

Funeral Rights

Should anyone be stopped from attending the funeral of a loved one? A child, an estranged relative, a divorced partner?

If they loved the deceased and the deceased loved them, even if there had been acrimony, perceived wrong or disloyalty, should those in control, the funeral-throwers or directly bereaved, have the authority to stop that person?

You would hope in those circumstances that the person or people in the controlling position would have empathy, largeness of heart and good will – no matter how much they dislike the contentious person. After all it’s an emotional time and they’re supposed to be thinking of their loved-one’s wishes.

If the bereaved is the wife, husband, life-partner, son, daughter, mother or father, their position obviously has weight. But even if they hate someone, and I’m not talking murderer or rapist here, I’m talking about Joe-average, do they have the right to say, ‘Stop. Do not pass. You are not welcome here, go home.’

Here is why I think not.

Funerals are about paying respects to the deceased and to those who are most affected by the loss. They’re an acknowledgement of a life, hopefully, well-lived. They’re about spending time in deep reflection, remembering who that loved-one truly was: appreciating their strengths, forgiving their weaknesses and feeling them in your heart. They’re a time to absorb the enormity of that person’s passing/leaving/dying, or whatever your word is. Funerals are about accepting the love and loss, revelling in funny stories, crying over sad ones, sharing with others that feel the same way, joining together in a celebration and mourning.

Loved one’s stories are told, embellished and renewed. They become cemented in your mind and heart and in that way, the deceased stays with you forever. A funeral is a fitting closure to a life and should be shared by all that loved, respected or was just touched by, the deceased.

No one should be stopped from attending a funeral of a loved one.

 

With great respect, I wish my father-in-law farewell. You’ve been another father to me since I was seventeen. You gave love, guidance and support for over 35 years. You enjoyed being sociable, having fun and playing the clown with all the grandchildren. You were a good man.

RIP Barry Simmons 9/11/18 (A man who saw images in clouds)