Mountain Devils

Who’s read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed? It starts with a young woman hiking in the wilds of California – the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s young, inexperienced and she’s sitting on a high rock rubbing her feet, looking into the vast forest below. And then one of her boots rolls off!

I just spent the weekend with my mother in the Blue Mountains. Nothing catastrophic or even challenging happened. But the rim of the Megalong Valley and Grose Valley offer similar views to those Cheryl experienced: the tall, sheer sandstone cliffs, the carved, immense space and thick woodland as far as the eye can see. To stand and look is to be in awe. The imagination wanders far back in time, long before aboriginals were the only tourists here. I could imagine dinosaurs rustling through the trees below, as if it was grass. I could see them flying through the air, much closer than aeroplanes that now dot the high sky.

Getting away from the main lookouts is essential to feel the enormity of what is. Govetts Leap and Evans Lookout are great but there are quieter ones, like off the Fairfax Heritage Walking Track. Mum and I walked several tracks, carefully reading the track descriptions first, and found ourselves admiring Spring wattles, grass trees and scribbly gums, enormous termite mounds and tranquil pools. We were wearing our hiking boots and we got a lot of exercise, but we didn’t try anything as strenuous as what that madly wild Cheryl did.

Which brings me to the other sensory pleasures of our weekend: eating and sleeping. Leura is full of great restaurants and cafes that provide modern, fresh cuisine that looks pretty and tastes good. However, the highlight of our weekend getaway was staying at the Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath. This grand old, white building is full of history – and it’s all fun! Built, mostly, back in 1903, it’s been renovated with a new take on it’s first owner’s dream.

But for mum and me, it’s nostalgic because we stayed there when I was about seven and eight. I remember running up Cat’s Alley, the long sloping corridor with arched views over the Megalong Valley. I remember the relief work on the huge oil heaters that lined the walls, the stage on which guests and professionals got to perform, and the little dolls made out of pipe-cleaners, tulle and mountain devil pods. Of course, they were called Mountain Devils and I loved them dearly.

Our weekend away in the Blue Mountains ticked all the boxes: fresh air, nature, scenery, comfort and a little bit of sentimentality. It’s suitable for tame bush-walkers and wild, adventurous types as well. I’d highly recommend it. Have any of you been there?

https://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/blue-mountains/katoomba-area/accommodation/hydro-majestic-hotel-blue-mountains

https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/fairfax-heritage-walking-track

 

The Waiting Game

Is there anyone who likes waiting? It’s my least favourite activity. It’s not even an activity. It’s passive. Although sometimes I put so much effort into it, it might be active!

Waiting in queues, waiting for tradesmen, waiting for human phone assistance – they’re all irritating! Unfortunately, if we’re waiting, it’s likely there’s not much we can do about it! It means that something is out of our control. No-one waits by choice. Were you told as a child, Wait your turn, Wait to be asked, Wait ‘til I’m ready and Wait ‘til you’re older….? We couldn’t wait to grow up so that we could stop waiting do things!

Waiting is a part of life that never goes away, even when we grow up! When we’re young adults we’re busy cramming in life. When we’re parents of young children we’re busy juggling several lives. Waiting in these years is painful. I remember receiving traffic violations, yelling at children, and cutting short the wash cycle, all because there wasn’t enough time in the day to wait!

As an older woman, I have more time to wait. Gone is the road rage, yanking on the dog’s lead to walk faster and use of elbows to wiggle ahead in a queue. If I need wait, I try to do something else, or just be mindful of what’s around me. I step back if someone looks like they’re in a hurry and let them go first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely calm! I still don’t like waiting but I try to breathe and smile through it.

In fact, in the last year, I think I’ve become a waiting expert. I’ve had to learn the art of patience on a major scale. In my personal and financial life, I’ve had big issues that I have very little power over. In the last month, I’ve had issues with my health that have disrupted my plans and had me sitting in doctors’ surgeries multiple times. There is no other waiting as bad as waiting for a doctor, but worse is when you see them they refer you to another doctor and more waiting! Oh, the frustration!

I’m thinking this year is a bit like hibernation. The world around me is doing its own thing. I’ve had to slow down, breathe deeply, let go, be patient. The waiting game is like winter and I’ve been zen!

‘It’s always darkest before the dawn.’ I’ve been waiting. And I now see that dawn is near.

Memo to a Younger Self

Toastmasters has been a fun activity for me for the past few years. I tried it out because I’d heard great things about it from friends and I thought it might help my writing – you have to write your own speeches. Speeches are essentially stories about how you feel (an opinion like wildlife conservation), an experience you’ve had (like travelling solo), or something you know (like floristry). Quite often you end up researching something you’re curious about and becoming even more interested.
There are lots of other opportunities too. This week I’m presenting the Salute to the Theme. For two minutes I’ll talk about the theme, What advice would you give your younger self? There are plenty of ways to tackle this and I could talk about studying more, listening to your father or backpacking through Europe. Maybe don’t get a perm. But I’m going to talk about doing things that build self-confidence and self-reliance and being part of a group or team.
Learning new skills gives you a sense of achievement which makes you feel good about yourself. Mixing those skills with other people makes you feel integrated, useful and joyful. Toastmasters includes all these things.
The group encourages you in every task, whether it be a speech or preparing morning tea. Everyone has a role on the day. There’s plenty of praise and evaluations involve the sandwich technique: point of praise, point for improvement, point of praise. So, you get better all the time.
I’ve read that one of the key indicators of longevity is sociability. People who talk to their neighbours, volunteer in community activity and join clubs, live longer.
My advice to my younger self would be Join in! Have a go! Learn something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes or worry what people will think. If you’re mixing with like-minded people, they’ll want you to succeed as well. Not being reliant on others, emotionally or physically, but being happy to give, share and accept help, as in a team, means you’ll be a stronger happier person; one who’s achieving what they want in life and who others are attracted to.
When it comes down to one line, I’d say join Girl Guides.

Conversation and Music

Once a month, a bunch of wise old birds, girlfriends of mine, gather to talk philosophy! Sort of! There’s a lot of eating of cake, as well. And the philosophy is on a minor level – our own! We talk about things that interest 50+ women: issues that need a bit of thought over the month before the next meeting.

It’s intriguing to find out about our earlier lives, what we believe affected our values, paths and decisions. Once, we brought in a photo of our young-self and asked, What was your dream and how did that go? Another time, What did your parents try to teach you that you ignored? There’s often a lot of laughter.

We might talk about something more current like, How does Procrastination affect your life? We’ve also handled big issues as a group. One month, we discussed and filled in an Advanced Care Directive, helping each other think through our answers.

I’d highly recommend this kind of gathering to anybody with a group of friends. To me, it’s like a more personal kind of book club.

Sometimes we just have fun with it.

This month’s topic was, What music did you listen to and love in your youth that makes you feel young again now? It was the most animated meeting we’ve had. Everyone had a list of music and it gathered volume as we took turns around the room. In the end, we were throwing names into the space and they were bouncing off the walls. We had playlists and vinyl records to show. Ladies were telling stories of father’s taking them to rock concerts, dancing with first loves, crying over special opera moments and driving through Europe with three cassettes.

Commonalities had us breaking into song with music from the sixties to eighties winning in our hearts. However, it was the seventies that reigned supreme. Was it our age or was it the music?

I’ll share my list and then throw in some of the others. See what you think.

Mine: Carole King, Janis Ian, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, The Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Leo Sayer, Bread, America, Melanie Safka, Roger Daltrey, Neil Young, Meatloaf

Others: Dire Straits, Split Enz, Maryanne Faithful, The Supremes, The Beatles

And so many more.

What was your most loved music from your youth?

My phone was Japanese

Have you ever been conned?

I wrote a little story on this blog, titled Trials and Tribulations, on 10 July this year. In it, I mentioned the drowning of my phone in a Galway toilet and being ripped off purchasing a new phone in Donegal Town a day later. I have more to tell and it’s so ridiculous that, instead of being furious, I’m nearly insane with merriment. Is that hysteria?

So, to remind you, I bought what I thought was a new 128GB iPhone and got a 32GB used iPhone. As impossible as this might seem to a tech-savvy young person, to a panicked solo-senior (well, nearly), it’s understandable. It was like watching a magic show where a coin turns into a rabbit! The magician (mobile phone repairer-salesman con-artist) was so kind and helpfully offered me the phone at a good price, cared about what colour I had, threw in a protective cover and set up the basics for me. Relief and gratitude flooded over me as I clapped wholeheartedly.

And then the truth was unveiled. The rabbit was a mirage and the coin had devalued!

I had to learn to use the iCloud for storage, the only up-side of this story. But my phone storage was still showing FULL, so it was with some frustration that I went along to my local Apple store in Sydney and asked why. They were very helpful. Apparently, I have an excess of music and it was suggested I get rid of some if I want to free up some space. No way! I then proceeded to tell the twenty-year old girl the tale of the Great iPhone Rip-off. And she offered to look up the phone’s history. In just a minute, she had it.

The phone was was full of Japanese writing and she asked, does the camera make a shutter noise even if on silent? Yes, I said. That’s so annoying when you’re trying to take a sneaky photo! These two things told her it was made for the Japanese market. (It’s illegal to have the camera silenced in Japan.) Ok, interesting, right? But wait, there’s more! The phone has been exchanged in Japan twice before turning up in Ireland to be bought by a gullible Australian in June. The last time was in April 2017.

So, the phone wasn’t remotely new, spoke a language I didn’t and had been intimate with two others before me! I was shocked, hurt and flabbergasted. Ultimately, I was utterly entertained.

What a story! What a show! I’ll never believe in magic ever again!

Life sucks…..I don’t think so!

My writing journey has involved many sweet indulgences: writing courses on Sydney Harbour, workshops in Tasmania and retreats in Ubud. I love meeting other writerley people, talking writing and doing the work set. It’s challenging, rewarding and fun.

My current experience is an online course run by the Writers Studio at Bronte. Called Unlocking Creativity, it’s designed to help loosen me up, shove off the perfectionist-nag on my shoulder, get the flow of thoughts going, and get me writing every day. There’s daily homework and feedback to give and receive. It’s hard work.

One of last week’s writing prompts was Life sucks! I had successfully written on Standing in the rain, Coughing fit and Love hurts, but when it came to putting pen to paper on Life Sucks, I was stumped. That doesn’t say much for my imagination, does it? I thought about various hardships like the farmers struggling with drought or living in war-torn Syria, but they didn’t fit with the flippancy of the term. So I struggled with various catastrophes like losing your pack while hiking in torrential rain. That was the best I could come up with. Wow, what did that mean?

Fiction may be made-up but it comes from truths, and obviously my truth isn’t Life sucks, it’s life doesn’t suck!

I’m a very lucky girl. I was born in Australia, so I have an advantage. It’s pretty hard to say life sucks when you live in a country with this climate, beauty and level of safety. The culture is generally to look after your mates and be kind to animals. We love the great outdoors and barbeques. Every day, I feel blessed to call Australia home.

I have health, the love of friends and family, shelter and sustenance. These are the foundations for a happy life.

Of course, there’ll be shitty days, months, or even years. Things will go wrong. Life is chaos and we can only try to control it. Have you noticed that when you have bad luck, it happens in threes? I’m not sure about that but I can say, once something goes wrong, there seems to be a clump. Maybe that’s purely attitude. If you get the shits, you often notice the negative.

I have bad things happen to me like everyone else. My car breaks down, I’m going through divorce and my dogs got old. But that’s not life – that’s stuff! If you have the necessary foundations, the key to never having to say life sucks is attitude.

We alone are responsible for our responses.

‘Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.’                               Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning.

Next time you spill coffee down your white shirt, miss a plane connection, have a washed-out holiday or get a pimple in the middle of your forehead, don’t think life sucks, think that sucks. But if you have tales to tell that can prove me wrong, please do, because my imagination sucks and I could use them to do better writing.

‘Things always seem to turn out best for those who seem to make the most of how things turn out.’ Rod Junkins The Art of Creative Thinking

 

 

Facing Life’sChallenges

Springtime isn’t always easy. It’s a time of chaos, struggle, change and growth. There is violence in this. It’s hard. Renewal, any change, can be uncomfortable, disorienting, even tumultuous. But it’s worth it. It’s likely that the flowers will bloom and summer will be fine.

A butterfly’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to the fluttering, delicate, flying creature of beauty that it is, involves various stages of hard work, evolving and risk to life. When it first emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are soft and wet. It’s at its most vulnerable and can’t fly. But to be a butterfly is to be a marvel of nature.

Improving ourselves is a similar process. We must work hard, accept being bad and persevere, to improve on a new skill. Golf and Writing, my little shoulder companions (angel and devil) sing out in unison.

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down…” as the song goes. This is how I like to approach life. And I’ve been lucky. I haven’t had many knock-downs.

But it’s a truth that altering our life’s trajectory can be hard. It’s a journey of obstacles and challenges. If we’re at all spiritual, we’ll believe that they’re there for a reason. Each obstacle corrects our path. Each challenge makes us stronger. If we let them!

Maybe if the path is too easy, we forget to notice; we take our surroundings and interactions for granted and stop appreciating them. If we stop caring, trying and feeling, we’re barely living. Striving to improve allows us a bigger capacity to enjoy. It takes courage to face the challenges of change. We need to be brave to get around or over the obstacles that life might throw in our faces. But without bravery, life will remain small. An obstacle, a knock-down, might just be the catalyst needed to correct our path. So, accept it. Embrace it.

I’m glad to be driving a 4WD on my journey at the moment. The road is gravelly and there are pot holes. I can’t see the end yet but I know there’s a smooth bitumen highway after this.

I’ve lived the life of the caterpillar and the butterfly. I’ve lived through a Spring, a Summer, an Autumn and a Winter. Spring is in the air again. It’s a bit rough but it’s promising.

Bring it on!