remotely challenged…

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IMG_0836If you have ever been in over your head with technology…

Among other things, my husband has a degree in Information Technology. After many years, I have figured out they taught him never to intervene if there is someone else foolish enough to try and do the job. So. I am the ‘tech guru’ of our household. I have just finished setting up the latest addition to our family of technology, an Apple TV. Silly me, I believed everything Google said, ‘you just plug it in and follow the instructions on the screen to set it up’. Oh, yes, that ole’ fairy tale.

I’ve had Apple products almost since their inception, so I’m kind of used to them. I stay with them because they integrate so well with each other. I was a freelance artist and an early adopter of desk top publishing and eventually I used the computer for most of my design work as well, so I am not without skills.

IMG_0850Less accomplished are my skills of using a remote. Or three in this case. The Apple TV is a toy, a luxury. I enjoy watching YouTube videos, TED talks and the like, but I don’t like sitting at the computer to watch them. I can also view my 30,000+ digital photo collection on the bigger screen, as well as use other apps from my computer. Also I like movies, and for a modest fee, this will let me subscribe to Netflix. (Shhh, don’t tell the satellite provider) Our TV is seven years old. It is not a totally smart TV. It isn’t stupid but it is no longer the valedictorian of its class.

Our daughter had encouraged me to buy the Apple TV in the first place, assuring me it would augment the smartness factor, and convincing me that I had the tech skills to set it up. Ego being what it is, I believed her too.

First attempt: Early in the morning, fail. I send her a text message. 

Me: “No success so far, but I think it is operator error”

Second attempt: A couple of hours later…I sat sympathetically in front of the not so smart TV, three remotes lined up in front of me. I did not feel so smart either. The design of the Apple remote is such that you need to be able to access ‘settings’ on the TV to see if the remote is fully charged and connected. Therein lay the conundrum. I could not advance from the screen after selecting ‘English’ as my language of choice. Nothing would happen.  But it didn’t happen in English. At least I’d gotten that far, though how, I wasn’t sure. If I have learned anything over the years it is that going back to basics often fixes a tech problem. Perhaps it would help, I thought, if I tried charging the new remote, just in case it was flat and not working.  Apple usually sends things already fully charged, but it was worth a shot.

…charging for a little while.

Text reply to my earlier message, from our daughter, who has owned an Apple TV for 7 years and who lives 1000 miles away:

Daughter: “I would help if I wasn’t so far away”

Me: …contemplating why I let her leave home.

I retrieved the charged (presumably) remote and returned to the task at hand. Wot??? Suddenly appearing on the TV screen, the remote shared with me, it was ‘connected’! Well, thank God for small mercies. Upon a second third look, I realised I had not noticed the track pad on top of the teeny tiny remote. Oh for Pete’s sake, how did I miss that? Yeah, the same way I missed the most important item on my grocery shopping list, yesterday. (Will give myself a personal flogging later.) Finally, I could advance the screens and set things up. Setup finished, and connected to Wi-Fi, I suddenly had a new problem.

How do I return to the regularly scheduled programming on the satellite service? This was dicey. I had screwed this up in the past and it took ages to sort out. Stakes were high. 

Daughter: “Once it is connected you need to select the correct HDMI port”

My reply: “Yes, I know that, but I have no idea how to get that screen up on the TV”

Silence.

I’ve been in this space before. Being technically challenged is surprisingly stressful, probably up there with childbirth–without the Oxytocin or drugs. Stomach gnaws, angst grows. Which button do I push now? Truthfully, I have no idea what a quarter of the buttons do. And I’m the guru.

Sweaty palms.

(Does not even know which remote she should be using at this point…staring, sweating, considering her options, which bears mentioning, the actual ‘options’ button does nothing discernible. More contemplating… )

Incoming text message from my friend, the Bricklayer, who wants to know if he can come THIS very morning to patch something I spoke to him about two months ago. Really? You want to come in an hour? Trying to complete my task at hand before needing to be at the airport to pick up my husband, whose plane was to arrive early, after which a friend was coming for coffee, was closing in on me. Something in my response must have signalled ‘danger Will Robinson’*.  He later replied he would come another day.

Fine. Better. I will apologise later, in case I made him feel unloved. I don’t think I did. He is very intuitive and probably just picked up on a vibe.

Honestly, who needs extreme sports to get the heart rate up?

Basically I was just pressing the same button over and over, hoping for a different outcome. Insanity, I know. BUT, then I noticed on the TV screen, a teeny, tiny icon I had previously overlooked. (more flogging later) OMG, that looks like another icon, where did I see that….desperately scans all three remotes at once. Could it be…THIS other teeny, tiny little button that almost looks like that?

Deep breath.

Push button.

Presto. I have just graduated summa cum laude in ‘remote education’. I am wildly happy. Ridiculously happy. But at 8.30 am, I’m also wondering if it is too early to open the bottle of vodka.

I message our daughter about the victory and the vodka, who replies:

“Call it a Mimosa”**

I text back to her: “How did you get so smart?”

Her reply: “Good genes”

I may be technologically challenged, but I raised a smart and funny young woman.

Things always look easier in hindsight, but keep a bottle of vodka just in case. –ardysez

 

*”Danger Will Robinson” is an often quoted line from a 1960’s TV series called “Lost in Space”. Will Robinson was the son of a family who was supposedly lost in space on an alien planet. His ‘minder’ was a protective, humourless robot. If Will, who was a bit cheeky, would test the limits of their alien situation, the robot would sound the danger warning. Here is a five second clip 🙂

**A ‘Mimosa’ is a drink often served at fancy brunches, that is half champagne or other fizzy wine, plus orange juice

sixties and you’re done…

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fullsizeoutput_3eb0Reviewing life events is not unusual for anyone who has had a serious illness, or life event. Mine just happened to be breast cancer, but it could have been any number of things. Most of you probably have your own version of this. There is a periodic reconnoiter, that my husband and I have done many times over the 34 years of our marriage. Without reviewing where you’ve been, it’s hard to see if you need to alter your course.

When I did a major rethink, about six years ago, for the most part I was very happy with life. Trepidatiously, I had wondered if I would find some things seriously out of whack. I discovered, blissfully, that much was ‘in whack’. There was some tweaking to be done, but that is always the case, isn’t it?

In subsequent years I closed a few chapters of my life and focussed in on some others. After four years or so the theme of these adjustments became apparent. I had reached the limit of my shit tolerance. And by that I mean I’d had enough of badly behaved people. And by that I mean, people who should know better, treating our relationship with a distinct lack of care. There were only a few of those people, but they were part of my inner circle and they didn’t deserve to be there. They occupied space in my psyche that could have been much better fulfilled by others. None of them will be reading this, or would even recognise themselves if they did.

Did I have a big confrontation? Did I tell them how I saw them? Eventually, I just didn’t feel the need. Any anger I’d had was dissolved. Poof. Ethers. I realised that none of those people meant me, personally, any harm, they just didn’t know better, and didn’t see any reason to change. Me, I’m all about change. It’s how I could move my entire life halfway around the world and start over. It’s one of my superpowers.

I realised I would gain nothing from having a big blow up with those people. Nor would they. Perhaps this was even why they were in my life, to teach me this valuable lesson.

So what did I do?IMG_0792

Just as the observation goes, when we ask God for something, and don’t get it, the answer is ‘no’….

Just as I have realised that having less stuff in my life means saying ‘no’ so that I can enjoy more of what is left…

I have learned that there are some people with whom I can have a satisfying relationship, and some people who were not built for it.

Many years ago I heard advice (via Oprah, from her mentor and very good friend Maya Angelou)

When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. —Maya Angelou

This wisdom bore a shaft of light straight to the centre of my understanding and has guided me many times since. Another of my superpowers is the ability to almost immediately assimilate wisdom that rings true to me. When someone shows you openness or compassion, believe them. When they show you ego and intolerance, believe that too.

I don’t expect more than is possible from those who have shown me who they are. I’ve learned to identify those people within minutes of meeting them. They are the people who want to tell me what is wrong with everyone else in the world. They are self absorbed. They tell me how I should behave and what I should do, and they never ask me about myself with genuine curiosity. There is ego and judgement…or worse, passive aggression. When I meet people like that, my inner voice says, I will not engage with you on a level that allows you a conduit to give me your shit.

And I say it with love.  And respect. For myself.IMG_0787

A couple of years ago I began saying out loud, in the company of others who know me well, ‘I’m done with badly behaved people’. It might seem unnecessary, or even dramatic to say, but it is my personal emancipation from the quiet tyranny of those who portend a kind and loving relationship and can’t deliver.

Recently in an interview with Oprah, she confirmed it. I knew I liked that woman. She and I are the same age for about five months of the year, currently both 64.

When asked to tell about life in her 60’s, here is what she said…

You take no shit. None. Not a bit. In your 40s you want to say you take no shit, but you still do. In your 60s you take none. There’s both a quickening and a calming—there’s a sense that you don’t have as much time on earth as you once did. For me, there’s also a sense of calming about that. —Oprah

You go girl.

of lizards and life…

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For a few moments I melded with the sunlit rocky outcrop reflected in the glass. It was peaceful there without my mind unraveling its usual tale of woe.

Sips coffee.

Heart is wrenched at the thought of the old man who looked like my father, shuffling along in front of me a few days ago. As time goes I somehow miss him more. I thought it would all fade as the years passed.

Begins another day.

There are lizards in my life. As a personal animal totem–not necessarily mine, but maybe… a lizard can symbolise repetition of cycles. It can also mean a person is extremely good at facing their own fears and moving between realities and alternate existences. How does one know what is reality and what is otherworldly? Both can seem so real and yet so preposterous.

Our bearded dragon sits patiently in the tree near the patio, waiting for his lunch to crawl or fly past. Take away, fast food. Or sometimes he sits in the top of the rosemary bush, doing much the same, but the scenery is different. Now and then he trots out onto the golf course, a hundred feet or so in front of the house, and he sits. Frozen in the heat. Occasionally he raises a leg and holds it in the air, as if uncertain of his next move. Or he bobs his head up and down–now what is that about? Makes me smile.

The pygmy goannas rent a holiday space in the rafters above the insulation in our house. They come and go and, except for years of mice in plague proportions, keep the house fairly rodent-free. Hearing the occasional scuffle in the ceiling is more reassuring than worrying. They sometimes peer at me through stored pots in the corner of the courtyard beside the clothesline. Is she friend or foe? I turn to hang a pillowcase, hear a soft sliding sound and look back in time to see a long dark tail disappearing into the roof space. Very occasionally I see them out and about, crawling through the courtyard, stopping frequently in case a snack is nearby. Once, in winter, I discovered them sunning on the side of the studio. Am guessing the rammed earth walls are very user friendly for their claws. They have been around this property since we moved here 20 years ago, and probably before that.

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pygmy goanna sunbather

Geckos are ubiquitous. They party at night when we are asleep, feasting on a banquet of mosquitoes, moths and insects, if the copious droppings are anything to go by. Our geckos almost never die in the house, thank goodness, but they love to shed their skins here. Every few months I find a gecko skin, nearly perfectly formed and left behind in the ledge of our bedroom window. The skins are translucent, soft and pliable. The window is always in dappled light, with leaf litter below and native bushes a few feet in front. It must seem a friendly space. I wonder what it feels like to not just metaphorically shed one’s skin?

The art of my life is when I see things that evoke feelings which I am able to access and turn into words or drawings. I wish for you, lizards and alternate realities and a muse who will help you spin them into gold.

When we bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen. ~ Henry David Thoreau

a summary of summer things…

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The year is spinning by so fast I can hardly believe it. Despite recent years of minimising and editing my environment as well as downsizing interaction with social media, days are full and my energy wanes. Sometimes I think the summer here is like winter in the northern hemisphere, a time for stasis, or at least slowing down. But the one thing I make time to do nearly every single day is walk. I love to walk in the early morning.

Light. Quiet. Relative cool. Promise. Beauty. So many reasons to walk early. And this…IMG_0738

I have no profound topics to share with you this time, but decided that you might find a little gem in amongst some of the things that have interested me in recent weeks.

Podcasts:

Your Creative Push – interviews with various artists and people who share helpful insights for creative practices. This episode is an artist whose work I recently purchased and if you listen until the very end she shares a good tip from Martha Beck for tackling big projects. (Aimée Hoover, artist, website here)

IMG_0724Chat10 Looks3 – This podcast is by two of Australia’s leading journalists, Annabelle Crabb and Leigh Sales. They are brilliant women whose banter is hilarious but they also impart a lot of information regarding Australian culture, books and other media. It makes me laugh so much, if I listen to it when I’m walking I’m sure I’m in danger of being taken away to the psych ward. If you are not Australian it may not make as much sense.

Tim Ferris Show – interviews with people who inspire and illuminate. This episode with Brené Brown.

BBC Food Programme  – A factual, in-depth examination of all things food. Fascinating. This episode is for my Northern Hemisphere friends as it is all about the humble dish of porridge (oatmeal).

Conversations with Richard Fidler – MY FAVOURITE! Yes you can read that in shouty tones because that is how much I loved this episode. And now I want a horse. Or at least to be near one. A radio interview can actually have that effect on a person.

(*note – Not all of these interviewers are the best, but these are still my favourite interviews of recent weeks, usually because of the person being interviewed or some bit of wisdom they present)

Books:

IMG_0770Outline by Rachel Cusk – did not hit my sweet spot but it might hit yours (fiction) I noticed that reviews were varied, though mostly positive.

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner – a revelation (to me) in writing style. This is a series of essays, some I liked very much, others not as much but overall a very worthwhile book. (non-fiction)

The Summary of Small Things by Carol Adams – a surprising and gentle little book filled with details from six months of a life lived in Central Australia, with awareness and engagement. I was delighted by this book. (non-fiction) This is the second in a series of locally published books (Ptilotus Press) about Central Australia. Carol is a long time resident, artist and author from Alice Springs. Book is only $15 (plus postage) and is available from Red Kangaroo books, 79 Todd Mall, Alice Springs Ph: 08 89532137 and email: redkanga@bigpond.com

Small House Living Australia by Catherine Foster. Over the years I’ve become very interested in the ‘small but perfectly formed’ abode. This book has photos and floor plans of smartly designed homes of 90 square metres (~315 sq. feet) or less. (non-fiction) (there is also a New Zealand version here)

Food:

New favourite salad – http://www.theglowingfridge.com/crunchy-thai-noodle-salad/ 

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This is not my photo, but from the website with the recipe. I ate mine so fast I forgot to photograph it!

(I can’t eat the rice noodles so left them out and still found it delicious. This is a vegan salad as it is, but you could easily add prawns/shrimp, salmon or boiled egg if you want more protein.)

YouTube:

Mel Robbins – is probably classified as a motivational speaker. What fascinated me is this particular ‘5 second rule’ idea. This link is for the short version, lasts only 5 minutes.

This link is for a 25 minute interview with Mel — her story of how she discovered this ‘5 second rule’ which she admits she wishes had a different name 🙂

 

As I look back at what I’ve been consuming…no wonder the days are flying by.  xx

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the dingo chronicles…

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IMG_0694On the second day of new year, January’s Wolf moon had nearly dipped behind the ranges as I stepped out for my early morning walk. I had descendants of the wolf on my mind as I skirted the area I normally walk through, in favour of a, hopefully, safer one. The previous morning my husband and his mates saw five–five dingoes rolling and frolicking in the grass on the 6th Fairway, about 12 minutes’ walk from our house and about a third of the way along my normal route. In the past we have seen two or three at a time, but never five. So, while I was walking I stopped the dog walkers alerting them to the situation. There have been two incidents that I know of a couple of years ago; one with a lady I know who was stalked by three dingoes while she was walking her tiny little mouthful of a dog, and another where the dingoes actually got into a neighbour’s yard and helped themselves to a tiny little canine entrée.

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Wild Dingoes on the fairway in front of our house

Dingoes are gorgeous creatures but they are a nuisance in an urban setting. The area where we live is between the golf course and the bush so it is a difficult place for the Rangers to patrol—very easy for the dogs to slip through to the scrub and go undetected. The dingoes are protected so would only be caught and relocated, which is good, but first they must be caught.

Last year during my time away from blogging, a friend sent me a notice about a writing competition in a nice magazine here in Australia. Just to exercise my writing muscle, I entered. It is intimidating to know where to start when one has such a wide scope for subject matter. I finally settled on a reworked post from this blog since the article was to be something that exhibited Australian life. It was about previous encounters I’ve had with the dingoes –you might like to read the entry here– the dingo and the light chaser. It was not selected for the magazine, but I’m sure they received many pieces and who ever knows what judges are looking for in these things? And it might just be crap, I don’t know. It’s important to keep one’s perspective about why we write so that our fragile egos are not too damaged. As you can see, I’m undaunted.

Just after sending the entry, I was laying on the sofa in the dark one morning, waiting for it to be light enough to walk. (I sometimes wake up at ridiculous hours) Out of the pre-dawn came a chorus I will never forget. The family of dingoes must have been within metres of our house as they began their serenade. It was obvious there were younger, higher pitched voices mixed with the more experienced, deeper ones, practicing their howling skills. It lasted maybe ten or fifteen seconds. I peered into the darkness. Couldn’t see a thing. But they were there.

Again, the day after I began writing this piece, an adult dingo was within metres of our house, sniffing through the fence at the little white yapping morsel next door. If I was cruel I would wish the dingo bon appétit. The entire neighbourhood bristled to life with workmen jumping down from their scaffolds to watch and neighbourhood dogs announcing the dingo’s journey as it moved, unhurried, along its way, into the rocky outcrops and relative safety.

breathe in life

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IMG_8283Why do we need someone to remind us that our view of the world is unique? Why is it so difficult to understand that each and every life on this planet has had a different trajectory? Siblings can grow up in the same household and have extraordinarily different lives. We can stand side by side seeing the same view and appreciate very different aspects.

Maybe it is scary to think that others are different to us, even though we know that for the most part we are the same. We have the same motivations, though they modify with the individual. We have the same emotions, again, greater or lesser, from person to person. But it’s that teeny tiny little fraction of difference that we either focus on, and fear, or forget to celebrate…or find it necessary to express creatively.

Over a year ago I started listening to podcasts. I imagine most of you have been doing that for a while and I’m a lagger in this pursuit, but timing is everything in life. We discover when it is our time to discover. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, as the wisdom goes. In podcasts I have found a great resource for inspiration at a time when I wanted to make some changes in my creative practices. One of the best quotes, among many excellent ones I’ve heard is…

IMG_8026breathe in experience, breathe out poetry –Muriel Rukeyser

A friend of mine says to me that the art I make is as a result of ‘having a life’. The first time she said it I knew it was true, the way you recognise truth by feeling it in your heart, rather than thinking it in your head. But this recent quotation was a beautiful reminder. And so if we breathe in our experiences, and we wish to be creative with them, we can breathe out whatever art we want to make. And it will be unique. No one else can replicate it. We can strive to be the very best version of ourselves because no one else can do that.

As a result of my creative quest and podcast listening, I began a new drawing practice. I can only say to you that the previous way I had of drawing seemed to impede my self expression. Perhaps I had not practiced enough, but I was bored with trying it that way. And so I thought I would begin again, as much as that is possible.

I want to draw more childlike, I have decided–from my imagination, playful, and relaxed.

 Picasso said…

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but the rest of my life to paint like a child.

Having actually seen a painting by a teenage Picasso, I can vouch for the fact that he was a classical painter at a very young age. Most people don’t think of his work in that way at all.

So for the year 2018, I wish you the ability to breathe in life and its experiences, and breathe out whatever creative expression you choose. It may not be easy, but it will be your unique legacy. I leave you with wisdom from poet ee cummings, who fought all his life to be recognised as himself…

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

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the perfect gift

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fullsizeoutput_3e83They were a new family in our neighbourhood. Partying and a high threshold for noise and disruption seemed to be their goals in life. We knew their daughter, our travel agent for a couple of years—lovely and good at her job. We also knew of the husband, reputed as a good builder. In fact the house they bought was in need of a renovation and was eventually turned into a stunning home.

The disruption to our quiet cul-de-sac-life was noticeable. Apparently they did not quite appreciate the subtle characteristic of the quiet neighbourhood. We wondered when it would calm down. A year or so after they moved in we heard on the grapevine that the son had had an accident which sounded very much like one from partying too hard. For a while there was doubt he would be able to follow on in his dad’s footsteps as a builder. As he recovered, we noticed that their large life seemed to get quieter and smaller.

Processed with VSCO with oak1 presetA year or so later, we had returned from traveling only a week or so earlier. We were still at the settling in phase. I had let our dog out into our unfenced yard, which was our normal routine. I walked him mornings and either my husband or I walked him evenings as well. But for a little midday pee, he would wet the tree out the front on the golf course side of the house, and then settle himself in the sun on our grass until ready to come in again.

Over the recent year or so, I noticed he had gotten hard of hearing. He was 18 years old, after all, though he still looked fit as a two year old. A result of his growing deafness was that when I would call him, he would often go in the opposite direction, disoriented, no doubt. And I had not realised that occasionally he had started wandering a little further afield to the neighbours on either side of us, even climbing the steps to one house for a daily treat!! The secret life of pets!

IMG_0312It was afternoon and I was home alone with Storm. I let him out and only a few minutes later there came a knock at the door. It was our close neighbour who had been feeding him the treats. Visibly shaken. ‘It’s Storm’. I sensed what was coming. He had been hit by a car on the road side of our house, the side where I thought he never ventured. Later everyone said that they had never seen him there before, which was some small comfort. Our neighbour assured me he died instantly but told me not to come up the driveway that he would bring him if I had something in which to wrap him. I handed Storm’s clean bedding fresh from the clothes line to our neighbour.

It was a horrible day, as you can imagine. I felt so responsible because I was the one who had opened the door for him. Later I realised it was far better that it was me than our daughter. I was surprised to see flowers at our door soon after, from the woman who had hit him. She was from the house of the noisy neighbours. I learned that she felt horrible and even though our neighbours said she was driving too fast around the bend, I had not witnessed it.

It seemed to me I could carry the burden of resentment and anger about it forever, or I could forgive and move on. I knew that no one would do such a thing purposely. I walked across to the house and the young son answered the door. I asked if I could see his Mum. As I entered I could see her and her husband, in the shadows of the room. ‘Let me have it’ she said. That was not why I went. Through my tears and choked words I told her Storm had been a rescue. He had lived 17 good years with us and that it was I who opened the door to let him out that day and that she mustn’t blame herself.

It took me longer to forgive myself.

For 7 years we have inched slowly toward each other. Forgiving is not forgetting. Very early on this hot Christmas morning as I returned from my walk, I saw their family gathering on the veranda. We waved and greeted each other warmly and I wished them all an unreserved Merry Christmas. I realised one of the best gifts I have ever given myself or anyone else, was the gift of forgiveness. One size fits all, and the returns are gratefully received.IMG_0659xx blessings to you all.

early risings…

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As I understand it, we tend to be either morning risers or night people. I can’t say with certainty if I was born with the early riser’s tendency, but it was certainly nurtured into me. I’ve been getting up before sunrise since I was very young. Those early summer mornings as a teen went mostly unappreciated, I must admit. Rising at 4.30 was to help Mom make umpteen sandwiches for my Dad and brothers to eat during their day of work at the Christmas tree farm. (Corsi Tree Farm is now operated by my brother, visit here) Fried bologna (fritz) sandwiches, unadorned, save a little mustard, is forever in my memory. None of us ever tired of eating them, only of making them! Lunches made, boys and father packed off to the farm, Mom and I would have breakfast and begin our daily chores at home. It was always a good feeling to know most of the day’s hard yakka was done by lunch time.

School started for us at 7.30am, so even when summer was over we had to wake early for five to use one bathroom and get to school and work. At 2.15 in the afternoon the bell would ring and we catapulted from our seats into after school activities or jobs. Growing up in this kind of environment created some very productive people!

These days I wake early, mostly because I can’t sleep any longer. It’s one of life’s ironies that when you reach a stage in life where you have time to sleep, you can’t. However I think I am, at heart, a morning person, so there are worse afflictions that could, and have, happened. 

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Probably my all time favourite photo, capturing my favourite phase of the moon, a bird, a tree and the sky at early dawn, all things I love.

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Pink virga and rainbow adorned sky

When the light is still tenuous is my very favourite time; moon still visible, a couple of stars perhaps, delicate symphony of morning chorus. If only it could last a little longer. Clear days produce stunning, ombré shaded skies…and flies. Cloudy skies hold the element of surprise…and even more flies. Hard to say which skies I love more. The flies I love not at all. Just this week, pink infused virga, defied gravity, evaporating before reaching the thirsty ground. Cloud and sun played hide and seek, sending shafts of light to illuminate mountain tips, tree tops and grasses before suddenly being swallowed by grey. As a light chaser, I am utterly compelled to photograph all of it, though my efforts are not always successful.

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Morning sky this week

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Galahs in gum tree

The first part of my walk is the quiet, contemplative stretch that takes me to the back of the golf course along rocky outcrops and where I seldom see any humans, but occasionally a dingo or kangaroo. Galahs tumble from their perches, wheeling through the sky and calling to each other. Occasionally some lunatic crested pigeons try to impress each other with mating manoeuvres while balancing on high wires. To each their own.

The second phase of the walk takes me toward civilisation where I encounter a few early risers like myself. Easing into the day, we nameless regulars make our rounds, loners like me as well as enthusiastic dogs accompanying their more sedate human companions. The last quarter of the walk is up my street where I can see who is moving in and out, who has put in a new garden, who has their garbage bin in place for weekly collection—who hasn’t bothered to bring it in from last week’s collection. Occasionally I have a brief conversation with a neighbour but mostly at that early hour, it is just a wave of recognition.IMG_6464

Sun reaches higher and burns away the long blue shadows of early morning. Soft golden highlights transform into harsh daylight, edging objects with brittle, little black seepages. Gone the promise. Enter reality, where earlier images are but shimmers in my mind.

Good morning from Central Australia.

Are you OK?

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fullsizeoutput_3e75I’ve hit a speed bump; a creative block, perhaps–but not a snag that hangs me up completely. I have a slowing down of creative flow. Consistently crowding out the writing and drawing, is the growing presence of other obligations. No matter that I have reduced Christmas to a minuscule event, no cards, only gift is for our daughter, no baking except the normal once every couple of weeks event, I don’t seem to be able to have the time, or perhaps it’s the mental energy, for creative pursuits at the moment. Last week I wrote and wrote, in excess of 10 hours, with no satisfying result. You may have noticed you didn’t hear from me. I have a deal with myself. If I’m not able to produce a piece worthy of your time, I won’t publish. I know you won’t begrudge me the indulgence of not putting that pressure on myself.

The unending stream of Christmas hype on TV, online and in the shops is overwhelming. It is no wonder this is a difficult time of year for many people. If you are a person who loves Christmas and all of the busy-ness of it, lucky you. I was once obliging, working myself to a frazzle with shopping, decorating and baking. I am no longer in that place. It is no wonder incidents of depression, domestic violence and self harm are higher this time of year. In my case it is just the ‘overwhelm button’ that prevents life from resuming its normal service.

‘RUOK’ is both a suicide prevention charity and a national day here in Australia. The national day was in September, but it seems to me a reminder now wouldn’t hurt. We are encouraged to engage people with this single question, ‘Are you okay (RUOK)? in hopes we can make a difference, somehow, some way. There have been plenty of times when I should have probably asked this question and didn’t. I’m always wary of people feeling like I’m prying or invading their privacy. But I’m also pretty sensitive to body language and verbal cues so I do often ask people how they are going? I wait for an answer, and sometimes ask again if it seems warranted.

IMG_0439The weather here had been unusually wet and so I had been using the alternate walking route, turning left out of the driveway. I’m a bit foggy some mornings and I don’t think so clearly at 5.30am, just put one foot in front of the other to get myself going. Somewhere along the 40 minute walk I usually wake up and by the time I’ve had coffee shortly thereafter, I’m hitting on all cylinders.

On this particular morning I turned left and walked about 3 minutes. I had passed an unusual feather laying in the road, and decided to go back and pick it up. As I tucked it safely in my pocket I realised the road and surrounds were quite dry again, and that my favourite route–in the opposite direction, would probably be dry enough for me to not get ‘bogged’*. I continued walking back toward my house, passing the driveway from which I would have turned right, had I been taking this route originally.

Once passed the driveway I noticed some movement up ahead. Eventually I realised it was a neighbour, bent over and working in her ‘landcare for wildlife’ patch of ground. It is actually a second, and vacant, lot next door to the house she and her husband built from homemade mud bricks. She has toiled for years, removing buffel grass, and other introduced species, so that the native flora would thrive. This, in turn, made it a haven for native animals and she had regular visits from wallabies, lizards and many different birds.

She and her husband had invited us for a little barbecue when we first moved to our house across the road 17 years ago. But it wasn’t like we’d moved from another town and knew no one, we had a circle of friends established. We became friendly neighbours, but nothing more. To be perfectly honest, I found them exhausting. He was very self absorbed and she talked a million miles an hour and had no ‘off switch’, so when we had our little neighbourly visits I always had to plan an exit strategy. I hasten to add, this is as much about my own limitations as is about any behaviours they might have. Being an introvert, I often feel very overwhelmed by people and so I need to feel that I can cope with the situation.

I wore my earphones and was listening to a podcast, but cheerily waved and called out ‘Good morning, Karen’(not her real name) as I approached. She jumped to attention and the verbal shower began. First she had me smell a native plant that is good for colds, then she jumped into a sad fact about her son who had been very ill all year with back surgery and recovery, then she was back talking about the landcare for wildlife, then about a small wallaby that sheltered from the storm on her veranda, then things took a deeper turn. I mentioned it had been a long time since I’d seen her around and she said her son was in Melbourne and she had been going back and forth seeing him.IMG_0504

I recalled our last substantial conversation over a year ago, almost two years now. Her husband had left and moved interstate with a young woman he’d been having an affair with for several years, so Karen had told me. She had been shell shocked on that occasion and recalled it briefly in light of the fact that her son had not seen anything of his father during his year of treatment. I was suddenly aware she was wiping tears from her face. Unprompted, she said, ‘I’m not crying, it’s just the weather’. I gave her a hug. Her body was tight and stiff and she scarcely stopped talking as she related the story of losing many family members early in her life, not speaking to certain other family members due to their extreme judgement of her life choices, and finally drawing breath, she said ‘it’s hard when you are different to everyone else’. There it hung, in the humid, warm, silent air of the early morning. More tears. It was not the weather.

I listened for about 15 minutes and finally she said with a slight smile ‘I needed this, I was feeling a bit down this morning’. And I felt it was okay to move on. At least she would know that someone nearby knew her plight. Sometimes just knowing that someone will listen is enough. And sometimes we take the wrong turn out of the driveway, only to find it was the other way we were supposed to go.

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I hope you are all OK. xx

* ‘bogged’ is an Australian term meaning ‘stuck’, usually in mud.

be brave…

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IMG_9593This year has not been all beer and skittles. Okay, there were a few pints of Guinness while we were in Ireland, but definitely no skittles. Of course, travel is only life being lived in a place other than home, so we can expect some challenges along the way.

My story begins five years ago. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year previously and it was my first year check up. The surgeon, with whom I had developed an immediate bond and trust, advised me to have a breast MRI as well as the high resolution mammogram. She told me at the time she only recommended this when she felt it was warranted due to the unpleasant nature of the test. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t detail it too much, but suffice it to say, she was right about the unpleasantness of the test. During the first MRI I had a panic attack. That was a first in my life. A panic attack feels like your body and brain have become disconnected from each other and are in a desperate struggle to gain back control; you can’t breathe deeply enough and you need to come out of your skin, all the while your brain struggles to make sense of it.

I knew from a friend of mine who had experienced panic attacks after having a detached retina, that they could come back at seemingly random moments in the future. I didn’t dwell on this idea, thinking that the main challenge would be for me to just return for subsequent, yearly MRI tests. That was a challenge, and thank goodness for Valium! A low dose taken only half an hour before the test, reduced the anxiety enough to establish steady breathing and relative calm. The rest I could overcome.

It never occurred to me that I would be on a tour through the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina when the next panic attack would happen three years later! It was a large-ish tour group, which, despite the cool autumn weather, made me warm. We had finished viewing the top floors and headed to the basement…through a tiny, curved and enclosed stone staircase, with no visible end. Three steps down the narrow staircase and instantly I knew, it was not a good idea. Not wanting to go into full panic mode I looked behind me. Fortunately there was no one, so I tapped my husband on the shoulder and told him I would be waiting for him outside when he finished.

When he emerged, half an hour later, I was sitting at a table with a drink and only the memory of the horrible feeling remained. He said he was sure he could take me down to the basement to see the servants’ quarters by entering the exit, since there was no one else coming out at the time. In we went. Sure enough, it was interesting and I was fine.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. –Eleanor Roosevelt

The next time the panic welled up in me was almost exactly a year later, also in a large-ish group, standing in a queue waiting to ascend the Space Needle tower in Seattle, Washington. We were there with another couple and we had already been up the tower the previous evening, but the tickets we held allowed a second visit. The consensus among the other three was a desire to see the view in the daylight, and so we would go again.  (I am not a fan of high vantage points, usually preferring earthier details and experiences. I am also not a fan of crowds. At. All. That said, most of the time I do these things because I don’t want to retreat into a life of fear.)fullsizeoutput_3e6c

IMG_0490About half an hour into waiting I felt my old nemesis welling up inside me. It is not simply a feeling of  discomfort, it is an irrational terror that threatens to overwhelm. Knowing we still had a long ride up in a lift/elevator ahead of us, and also having already seen the view in gorgeous evening light, I said quietly to the group, ‘I will be waiting at a table over in the adjacent park area when you are finished.’ I’m not sure they understood but they kindly did not try to convince me to stay, nor did they make me feel badly after the fact.

During our self-drive holiday along the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland this October, we came upon the Doolin Caves. We had the time to visit and it was a highly recommended stop, so we did. The only caves I’d previously visited were  in locations you could access from a more or less horizontal plane, and a wide opening, but just below ground level. They were not via a single door entry point, 210 steps in descent, (about 90 metres) down into the earth, through some very narrow passages…facts which I did not learn until we had paid for our tickets. I know.

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Part of the Wild Atlantic Way coast near Doolin Caves

Did I say I prefer earthier details and experiences? Yes, I think I did…

I firmly believe that the Universe conspires its energies to create the lessons that will help us move forward in life. I was on the cusp of my next lesson. Gathering courage, while trying to remain calm, I awaited the start of the tour. There were only eight members in the group, thankfully. I convinced myself, if necessary I could come back to the top. Under instruction we all donned bright yellow or white hard hats. I tried to distract my anxious brain by listening to the entertaining banter of the guide. He explained to us how the men who discovered the cavern crawled through narrow passages about 500 metres to get into it the first time. Somehow that didn’t have the reassuring effect I was hoping for. Still, as we slowly descended, I tried to focus as he built our anticipation for what we were to see at the end.

About halfway down the descent, despite the cool temperature, my palms began to sweat. I found myself taking deep breaths while continually repeating in my head ‘you can do this, you can do this.’ At about this point I pushed hard through the urge to turn and rush up the stairs. In my mind I knew I was not really in any immediate danger. Finally, we arrived at the main cave. It opened out before us, revealing the largest stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere. It was 28 feet long and it was a jewel. It was a difficult lighting situation and so briefly I forgot my fear as I tried to recall skills to get decent photos with my iPhone (my only camera).

We carefully picked our way through a couple of other smaller caves. And then, what goes down, must come up! Only 210 steps to freedom. Legs, don’t fail me now!

Once in the open air again, I felt the enormity of my achievement. It wasn’t, of course, seeing the biggest stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere. The big accomplishment was facing my fear. I don’t know if this is the last experience when I will have to face this particular fear, but knowing I got through this one will empower me in future.

In the words of Elmer Fudd:

Be bwave widdoe wabbit.

(I’ll have another Guinness please!)

 

(If you or someone you know has panic attacks, I feel my experience of testing the waters in modified and less threatening circumstances has been key to dealing with this challenge. Also, try to surround yourself with loving people who will not judge or embarrass you if you experience an episode in their presence. xx)