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.

 

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.

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)

The Life and Death of A Hiking Boot

Last week I wrote about packing for a night away. More specifically, I wrote about going on a two day walk along the Kiama Coast. The most important things to take were my hiking boots. Only hiking boots can keep you comfortable, upright and dry. Well worn, travelled and loved hiking boots are the best. And such are mine.

My hiking boots joined me in 2009 when my fifteen-year old son was boarding in Kangaroo Valley NSW. This is a school campus that teaches outdoor survival skills and at one point, a parent is required to join their son on a two-day hike. The point is – to survive! Hence the boots. They worked hard and I survived! They loved their first adventure, despite the rain, and a close bond was formed between boot and wearer.

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They carried me with empathy and support across many Australian landscapes: beaches and bush in the Bay of Fires, craggy rocks and seal colonies on Kangaroo Island, tracks across Orpheus Island, snow and mud tracks along the Thredbo River, farmland in Goulburn, cliffs and bush trails from Shellharbour to Eden on the NSW South Coast, and most memorably, up and down rocky ridges, through desert grasses and along dry, sandy  river beds on the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia.

Day 13 Glaciar Perito Moreno (42)

Overseas, they trekked over frozen ground in Patagonia, keeping my feet warm on windswept farms and glacial waterways. They helped me breathe at high altitude by keeping me stable and comfortable in the dry, arid Atacama Desert in Chile.

Day 37 Atacama desert (27)

And then on a simple walk through the hills and along the cliff, halfway between Kiama and Gerringong, one boot started flapping like a thong beneath my heel. We’d covered some uneven, muddy and grassy ground, leapt over a rivulet, then there it was. Flap, flap. I looked to see what was stuck to my heel, but alas, it was an unstuck sole. A bandage from the First Aid Kit could only slow its leaking lifeblood, and by Werri Beach, my soul had become unstuck!

Kiama Coast Walk Oct18 (34)

I was ceremoniously carried across the last rivulet so as to keep the boot dry. But we had reached the end of the journey. We had travelled so far. The boots had been in shoe-hospital once already. It was time to let them go. I undid the bandage and the sturdy laces, peeled them off my feet and kissed them both goodbye. Then I unceremoniously dropped them in the bin! Despite this callousness, I will always remember them with love and gratitude. RIP boots.

The Power of Now

I need to learn to meditate! My mind races around like static. One thought bounces into another and pushes it out of the way. Is that why I’m getting forgetful? Often, there’s a load of rubbish or dirty washing going around – on the repeat cycle.

I believe this is a common problem; it’s just about universal. But some people achieve the stillness and peace that comes with successful meditating. It sounds appealing!

According to the book The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle, you start by learning to be more present, by paying attention to this moment and that’s all. Not the past. Not the future. But Now. He advises that you can start with paying attention to your breath or the nature around you, not broadly, but very specifically, like one flower. He talks about noticing and feeling the space between things and the silence between the noises.

As I’ve revealed in this blog, I’m a nature lover. I like to walk or kayak on my own, admiring the bush and waterways. I also like to walk at night and look at the stars. The following passage from the book resonated with me:

“Presence is needed to become aware of the beauty, the majesty, the sacredness of nature. Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night, awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it? Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest? Or to the song of a blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening? To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still…

Beyond the beauty of the external forms, there is more here: something that cannot be named, something ineffable, some deep, inner, holy essence. Whenever and wherever there is beauty, this inner essence shines through somehow. It only reveals itself to you when you are present. Could it be that this nameless essence and your presence are one and the same?”

In other words, put down your personal baggage of problems, of past and future, put aside your judgement and running commentary, and just feel the Now. SO EASILY SAID, SO DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE! Except for Zen masters!

As a writer, this skill would be very useful to me. I’d notice more. And I think I’d be more productive if I made space in my mind by removing the clutter. Also, according to Mr Tolle, “Only if you are able to be conscious without thought can you use your mind creatively, and the easiest way to enter that state is through your body.”

If you want to understand that, you’ll have to read the book. I’m still working on it!

 

I’d highly recommend the App Insight Timer for guided meditations and meditative, relaxing music pieces. My favourites include chimes and nature sounds.

For further study – http://www.EckhartTolle.com

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.