finding beauty…

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Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
                                          -Thomas Merton

Some things are happening. Inside. As of yet, the outcome is not evident, but I know when things are afoot. I find great comfort making images of things outside of me, which reflect the inside of me as well.

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Standing alone and crooked, this tree surrenders to itself.

As you would have seen many times, the subtitle to my blog is ‘surrender to yourself’. I explained how this came to be and what it means in another post a couple of years ago. It’s a nice post, go ahead and read it if you haven’t. Surrender makes way for new things to come.

Echoing in my mind has been something a friend said to me a few weeks ago ‘go out there and find that beauty’. Thank you F. We just never know the effect, a few words we share might have on someone.

Surrendering sounds easy. It kind of is, and isn’t. Remaining open and letting things go, so that they might be replaced with new challenges and discoveries is scary, exciting, hope-filled, and for me, necessary.

What are you willing to give up, in order to have what you want? -Elizabeth Gilbert

I thought I would post some recent photos so that you will know I have not lost interest or forgotten you. I’m surrendering to my inner voice at the moment. Forgive me if I’m slow to read or respond to your comments. I’m not far away, just a little ray of light, really.

xx A

it’s not over til it’s over…

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Recently I read a blog that retold an old Zen story. The story goes that an old farmer had a series of incidents in his life, each one seeming either very bad, or very good. After each one, his friends either commiserated with him or congratulated him, and each time his response was the same… ‘maybe’. In other words, he wasn’t buying into the outcome, one way or the other, because after each seemingly good outcome, some catastrophe would develop and after each disappointing outcome, something good would come. The story wasn’t over until Life said it was.

When I was 17 and in my last year of high school, we were required to take entrance exams for certain Universities that we wished to attend. I had not realised results could be withheld until it was known the score. My results were sent directly to the one and only University I had chosen to attend. They had a rather high standard for admittance, and I had a lower than expected score on the entrance exam. I was sick the day I took it. Even though my grades were well above average, this exam was crucial. I missed out.

For a while I convinced myself I didn’t care and that I didn’t even want to attend University. And then came a letter. The University had a ‘quota program’ for students who were in the exact position as myself. I would need to bring a portfolio of my work and be interviewed by a staff member of the Fine Art Department, to which I had applied. The drive was several hours away and my dear, supportive Mother delivered me at the appointed time. To say I was nervous might be the understatement of my life to that point. Petrified might be closer to the mark. The interview seemed to go fine but the Professor who interviewed me showed me some of the other portfolios and I could see the competition was of a high standard. Many students had had four years of art in high school and their skills were far beyond mine. Our little school had not even had an art teacher until my final year. To try and get a portfolio together, I had taken two classes at once most of the year, using a free period as extra art time.

After weeks of waiting, the news was good. I was accepted. Years later the professor with whom I had interviewed, told me, often the students who are admitted under the quota program achieved better results than those admitted under normal circumstances. He felt it was because the quota students ‘wanted it more’. Maybe.

On our return trip from a short break in Sydney, Don and I were seated in our respective window and aisle seats in economy, with a seat between us. Because we are very frequent flyers, Qantas will often leave a seat vacant between us, for more comfort. Just after the door had closed and I had fastened my seat belt, I heard the head attendant saying to an elderly woman, you can have either seat 20B or seat 5B. Don and I were in row 5, and yes, you guess correctly, she chose 5B. She was a large woman, not so much overweight, as just tall and wide. She was also not nimble, and the seats are narrow. Seemingly inexperienced with flying, she attempted to climb over me as I was trying to get out of my seat and give her easier access. She didn’t grasp what was happening. Awkward. The attendant, gently took the woman by the arm and pulled her aside to allow me to get out and then for her to get into the middle seat. It was crowded. I adjusted myself, leaning toward the aisle side of my seat, and continued reading. After we took off, an attendant came to assist the woman to the toilet. While she was away, another attendant quickly whisked us out of our seats and into Business Class seats for the duration. Life, as well as the attendant, had seen a different vision for us.

Countless experiences of this nature fill my life. Life knows what it is doing, even if we sometimes don’t. It’s never over, til it’s over.

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the photo I nearly missed, after the sunset…not over until it’s over

where does the sea of modern media take you?

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Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.

I’m not a water person. I’ve tried wading into the sea many times— just in case I’d changed my mind since the last time. I’m a mountain person. Mountains wait for you to come to them, but you can enjoy them from afar too. If you wade into the sea, sooner or later you will find a wave that is larger than you think it is going to be. It may swamp you—knock you off your feet, even, and take you where you don’t want to go. This is not always a bad thing, I know. But this post isn’t about swimming in the sea, it’s about how I avoid being swamped by the deluge of modern media, and use it to inspire.

A few days ago I happened across an article written by James Clear. I’d never heard of him before. Had I not signed up for a curated series of articles through a site called Medium, I would still not have heard of him. The article was titled ‘Forget about setting goals; Focus on this instead’. He talked about goals being the things we want to achieve, but the systems we put in place being the manner by which we achieve them. I liked the clear (pardon pun) way he set out the article and at the end he offered a subscription to a free newsletter he writes; which led me to a free article he had written called ‘Mastering Creativity: A Brief Guide on How to Overcome Creative Blocks’(you have to sign up for his newsletter to get access to this article or I would give you the link). I have been trying to start a new creative practice of drawing for some months now. I’m  getting nowhere. Ok it’s probably because I’m just not drawing much. Ahem. Other areas of creative endeavour are flowing along, some better and some less so, but not the drawing. I thought perhaps reading someone else’s view on the pursuit of creativity might be called for. I liked his simple and direct way of making practical suggestions, most of which were things I have read before, but it never hurts to be reminded again.

James’s article and subsequent information is an example of how I am often led through a logical progression to break up the cobwebs and introduce new thought patterns. You probably have your own ways to use things like Instagram, Twitter and blogs as inspiration. In some cases I deliberately follow accounts I know nothing about. I don’t necessarily want to learn how to do whatever the subject of the feed, but it helps expand my thinking toward what is possible. I follow an Instagram account about sourdough bread baking by a fellow who is an artisan baker in Italy (Insta: ca_mia_breadlab); also an account about extreme knitting by a young woman who uses custom made knitting needles the size of drain pipes (I know!); an Instagram account about a young woman who executes incredible street art; also an artist who draws unusual little characters that are tremendously empathic beings (I’m so infatuated with her work). I also follow a few photographers (this link is for Australian based photographer Leanne Cole, whose work I love and who remains very accessible) that publish images I can relate to and learn from, as well as people who live in other parts of Australia and other countries. It’s a big world out there. What is the point surrounding myself with that which I’m already familiar?

• Twitter – I often see articles of writing that interest me, most recently a book titled ‘We’re All Going to Die’ by Leah Kaminsky—not a grim reaper sort of book, but a book about culture and our experiences and conversations around death.

• Blogs – seem to evolve as friendship as well as inspiration because often the authors write from a very personal viewpoint about things in their lives. I’m more partial to blogs that are well written than I am likely to follow just because they are different. Blog writing is an art of its own. (here is a recent, and very short article with very useful writing tips)

I realised a couple of years ago I needed to curate my social media encounters the way a museum curates works of art, and the way I choose my friends—carefully, meaningfully. If it becomes too much, before long, nothing is special. But that is just me. I am easily stimulated, and equally, easily over-stimulated. I need to follow authors and artists that don’t overwhelm me. Sometimes that means I ‘unfollow’. You may be able to ignore what you don’t want to read, but I have to look at it and digest it before I can accept or reject it and move on. All that functioning and sensory input overwhelms my brain easily.

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this serene image wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t learned to shoot and edit iPhone photos from iPhone Photography School, all online

It seems to me in today’s world, there are two ways to go (probably more). You can purposefully seek media encounters that inspire you, or you can allow the flooding deluge of it all to carry you hither and yon. I may visit hither and yon one day, but when I do it will be a purposeful journey, taken because the inspiration has led me there and not because I was knocked off my feet and washed upon its shores unexpectedly.

How do you use modern media to inspire you?

(note: the link to the Artisan Baker in Italy is for his airbnb residence where he teaches bread baking; Instagram is where I found, and follow him, if you are so inclined)

a pause for thought…

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There are many things in the world, which I do not understand. And the older I get, the more I realise there are more things that I don’t understand, than that I do understand. And yet, I know I am wiser than ever before in my life.

It is not normal for me to be able to photograph things I don’t understand, so when it happened twice in one week, it gave me pause for thought, and that is why I share it with you.

One morning as I walked I came to the road that I cross. There in the exact middle of the road was a piece of litter. Rubbish. Refuse. Sunlight fell across it, as if to highlight the faux pas. Since I am a light chaser, and there was not a car in sight, it was a shot I could not resist. I actually believe we can highlight inequities more effectively by using beauty than by raging.

the beauty of ungliness

the beauty of ugliness

Litter is possibly number one on my list of things I don’t understand. I know the excuses for it, but none of them are valid reasons, in my experience. The very least we can do to help the earth and to be thoughtful of our environment is take our rubbish with us or deposit it carefully.

The second event happened only a few days after the first one, but in a completely different place, Adelaide in South Australia. We were visiting our daughter and while she was at work and my husband was at the reference library, I was doing shopping errands in the city. As I walked down the Mall I saw a woman bend to give a man, who was begging, an apple. He accepted it and seemed to put it in his pocket.

A short while later I was walking passed the spot again, and saw this…

misunderstood apple

misunderstood apple

The apple. At the time, when I saw the man, something about him had struck me as slightly ‘not quite right’. His beard was a little too well trimmed, his clothes a little bit too clean and tidy. And yet, he was clearly begging. And clearly he was not begging for food. I suppose it is possible he can’t eat apples. I can’t eat raw apples, so I can allow that may be possible. Perhaps my assessment of his appearance was judgemental, thinking that homeless people are all a bit scruffy looking. Perhaps he was being thoughtful and leaving the apple for someone who needed it worse.

Later that same morning I was approached by an elderly man asking for money. Not food. Money. The experience with the first man made me wary of the second one. Not that I usually contribute to street beggars, but it made me wonder. If I gave him money, would he use it for alcohol or drugs or food? Was I being compassionate by refusing—or by donating? How does one know what to do? Soon after, as I passed a mobile coffee and cafe vendor who I believe to be reputable in helping to feed the homeless, I made my contribution to him. Perhaps that was the right thing, perhaps not. How does one know? I have come to believe that it is the intention with which we do these things that matters. Is there compassion and love behind the act?

These are two very different events, most of us have seen many times in our lives. We are confronted with decisions and therefor, actions, or not. After 63 years on this earth, I wish I had gotten beyond my misunderstanding of such commonplace things. But I have not. Share your thoughts with me. Illuminate me.

Boggy Hole…

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In Australian vernacular, this is called a ‘bog roll’. 

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bog roll

The photo below is Boggy Hole. No relationship, except that one must occasionally use a bog roll when visiting Boggy Hole, because it is about 2.5 hours out of town, in the middle of everywhere, or nowhere, depending on your perspective.

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Boggy Hole

One can get ‘bogged’, which means ‘stuck’, usually in mud, sand or bull dust.

One can get a ‘boggy bog roll’ if you leave your bog roll somewhere to get wet.

And one can do all of the above at Boggy Hole if you aren’t careful.

Happily, we only did one of these things. Can you guess which one?

Boggy Hole is in the Finke Gorge National Park and it is not easy to get to. It is rated medium to high difficulty for 4 wheel drive vehicles and it is every bit of that. Three vehicles of us, nine persons altogether, decided to have a day out and enjoy our gorgeous landscape before the heat of summer sets in. These photos are not indicative of how rough much of the terrain was, but you can’t take photos inside a vehicle that is bouncing from wheel to wheel and back again.

On the way I was mentally snapping photo after photo, because, of course, when you are traveling with a group you cannot stop everyone so that you can take a photo. More’s the pity. Fortunately for me, we did have a couple of ‘pit stops’ and a flat tyre, as well as a challenging bit of landscape, that slowed us down and gave me a chance to take a few extra photos. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful to me.

Once we arrived at Boggy Hole, we all broke out our various contributions of food and drink and settled in for a few hours of chin wagging…and photo snapping. In the distance we could see some large birds on the water, among them Pelicans, Jabiru (large cranes), a couple of Darters, and some Black Swans. We all wondered how these water birds found their way to this remote place. But that is Nature for you–full of mysteries. Unfortunately they were too far away for me to get meaningful photos, and they scattered as soon as we got within any kind of decent range. There were quite a few dark cygnets swimming along with the larger Black Swan, very cute, of course. Did you know that Black Swans are indigenous to Australia? They are only seen worldwide because they have been sent, as novelties, and then bred afterward.

The walking was taxing, lots of deep sand and many rocks and deep weeds to navigate through. Between that and the tumbling action of the vehicle on the rough terrain, my body feels like the day after a first session of new exercise. But I can assure you, it was well worth the effort. It was one of those perfect weather/companion/scenery days that we will look back on in 20 years and smile…perhaps, while using some bog roll.

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On the way to/from Boggy Hole, a ‘necessary pause’ allowed this photo

the gold and the ring…

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I have just successfully completed the final hurdle in the track and field event that was the transferring of our internet account to the new National Broadband Network.

I think.

To be perfectly honest, it has been a tedious week at times, but at the moment I am standing on the dais accepting my gold medal for installing our NBN modem and net phone and having everything operational. Advance Australia Fair!

About a week ago I got the news that the replacement skylights for the ones smashed during the hail storm had arrived.

Smashed.

We are still waiting for the second lot to arrive. Immediately following that news I managed to lose my reading glasses out of a pocket on my morning walk. I found what was left of them.

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what was left of my glasses

Also smashed.

Apprehensive that there was an unfortunate pattern developing, I was greatly relieved when I was able to get into the optometrist the next day and order new glasses. I’m waiting for those to arrive–hopefully not smashed.

The day after the glasses incident we had an appointment with our tax agent. We have never resented paying taxes because we know if we hadn’t made the money in the first place there would be no tax to pay. Yes, occasionally we’d like to see it better spent, but that’s a separate issue. It took both of us about two hours each to get all the details and receipts together for this appointment and so far we have not heard from the agent that we have forgotten anything. Could there be another gold medal in the offing?

And just when we were feeling like the week was a bit of a slog, here came a FaceTime chat from our daughter and boyfriend in Greece.

💕’We are engaged to be married’💕

Boyfriend surprised her with a ring in the bottom of a wine glass while overlooking the sea, from a cliff top wine bar on Santorini. Could it be any more romantic? We are very happy for them, and for all of us. Daughter and Boyfriend have been together for 4.5 years, having met two weeks after she moved to Adelaide and having moved in together only a few weeks later. When love happens, it seems it is obvious, at least in our family. Hubby and I spent only 6 weeks together before becoming engaged so we kind of know how it can happen. We enjoy the future in-laws and of course our son-in-law-to-be and look forward to the future together.

The next day we celebrated with a beautiful walk at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, something we have been meaning to do for years. And then we were back to seeming like we weren’t quite clearing the hurdles again. There was the morning I sat on the toilet and ‘mid-stream’ noticed a very large spider next to me. There was a worrying message from family, flaring of arthritis, and things seemed back to normal.

At times Life feels like preparation for the Olympics. We train and practice and drag ourselves back from defeat and frustration, time after time. And then we have a win. We have a win that makes the rest of it seem worthwhile, or at least tolerable. I’ll accept the gold for the technical win, but the real win, of course, is seeing someone I love accepting the ring.

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our little girl

the euphoria of bread and butter pudding…

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I don’t make many cakes or desserts or slices because we would just eat them. But once or twice in the winter I make bread and butter pudding. In recent years I made it just for Him because I didn’t like the gluten free version and I couldn’t eat the wheat version. But now that I am able to eat my own sourdough spelt bread, I thought it was high time to revisit this favourite of ours.

It is a comfort food that goes waaaay back to the days when people could ill afford the many sweet treats we now lavish upon ourselves, often to detriment. Historians have traced it back to the 11th and 12th centuries in England, then called ‘poor man’s pudding’. My husband would disagree with the idea that good bread and butter pudding is anything but the highest culinary accomplishment, be it for rich or poor man. He goes to his ‘happy place’ when I make this bread and butter pudding. Such is his euphoria, he seems to struggle to find enough ways to express his joy, each complement greater than the last. This time he declared “You could feed this to anyone and they would love it”. Well, of course that’s not true, there are plenty of people who won’t or can’t eat something like this. But if you can, and will, I recommend it.

fresh from the oven in the early evening light

fresh from the oven in the early evening light

Ardys’s Bread and Butter Pudding

8 thick, or 10 thin slices good, but stale, bread (I use my homemade spelt sourdough here)

Approx. 1/2 C unsalted butter, softened to room temp., or spreadable consistency

weight or push the slices down into the liquid

weight or push the slices down into the liquid

Approx. 1/3 C sultanas (raisins)

Approx. 1/2 C apricot jam

2 C whole milk

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla essence (extract)

1/2 C sugar

Butter all slices of bread on both sides. Then spread the apricot jam on one side only of each slice. Butter sides and bottom of a deep casserole (about 2 quart).  Place one layer of bread into bottom, sprinkle with 1/2 the sultanas.  Place another layer of buttered bread on top and repeat the layering.  Add a third layer of buttered/jam bread for the final layer. 

Mix together the milk, eggs, vanilla and sugar, stirring well to combine, then pour over the bread layers.  Let this sit for 45 minutes or longer, during which time you can weight the bread down into the liquid, or press it down with the back of a spoon a few times. Make sure all edges are soaked so they don’t burn when baking.  Meanwhile preheat the oven to 185 C, (375 F).  Bake for about 50 minutes, or until golden on top and knife comes out clean when inserted into centre of pudding.  Serve warm topped with more milk, cream or ice cream, or enjoy on its own.

Serves: 6-8

(The recipe can also be found under the heading of Breads/Baked Goods)

the proof of the pudding...

the proof of the pudding…

reflections on tree day…

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IMG_9869Today is Planetark National Tree Day in Australia. As most of you know I love trees and photograph them often. It might even be genetic; my father grew Christmas Trees for a living! Here’s a little reflecting of some passed tree portraits:

Go out and enjoy a tree or two today. xx

pearls of synchronicity…

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You have probably heard the expression ‘pearls of wisdom’, and to some degree that befits this story. However it is even more than that. It is a story about paying attention to our commitments, the feelings of others, and being in the moment.

We had a visit with Mum in March, tho we have just returned a few days ago from our most recent visit. During the March trip we arrived one morning to her apartment and she presented me with a small plastic bag and the remnants of what was once her favourite pearl necklace. Knowing I used to make jewellery and still had the tools, she said to me “I know it isn’t worth much but it means something to me, will you fix this for me?” To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to repair it because my jewellery making days are done. I’m kind of like that when I’m done with something. I don’t usually go back to it, though things can wax and wane over the years before I reach that point. But I would do just about anything for my lovely Mother ( just as she has done for me over the years) so I said I would do my best and return it to her.

Mum’s memory is not what it used to be (not sure mine is either, for that matter!). There are days when she remembers things and days when it is a struggle. She told me she had forgotten to remove the necklace before going to bed that night and it had broken in her sleep. She had searched the sheets and carpet for what pearls she could salvage but I could tell from looking at the remains in the bag, some were missing. The cleaner had already come that morning and vacuumed and changed sheets, so any unfound pearls were well and truly gone by now. That would make the task more challenging.

As one does with things about which we are unenthusiastic, I delayed repairing the necklace until a couple of weeks before our return visit. I estimated there were about 20 small pearls missing. Perhaps you will call it luck; I call it synchronicity, that the only pearls I had, other than a few freshwater pearls, were small glass ones. They were the perfect size and near perfect colour to complete the necklace. How did that happen?

When I returned the pearls to Mum, she was visibly happy, and immediately started to tell the story of how she came to have them. It was the first thing she bought herself, with her first pay check as a registered nurse, back in the late 1940’s. I had never heard that before and was so glad I had persevered to repair them.

A couple of days later, my niece was visiting us and the conversation led to my recollection as a small child, probably in about 1959 or 1960. I was watching Mum getting ready to go out for the evening; most children are fascinated to watch their parents do ‘grown up things’. I recalled her putting on makeup, which she seldom wore, and then opening a velvet covered, shell-shaped box to retrieve the jewellery inside it. Mum sparked up as I was recounting the memory, and said

“That was the box the pearls came in, and I still have it!”

“What?” I was truly shocked.

“It is in the bedroom in a little compartment on the bed head.”

Sure enough, when I went to look, it was there. It was an epic, full circle moment, an insight to my Mother’s life that may never have happened–if her necklace hadn’t broken, if I had not kept the tools to repair it, if I had not honoured my word to repair it, if she had not kept the box, if my niece had not visited, if Mum hadn’t had that moment of clarity…if, if, if…

Life is much more miraculous and surprising at times, than anything I could ever imagine.

every trip has a story…

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We have been in the USA visiting and, hopefully, helping my Mother and immediate family for the last two and a half weeks. Our intentions were good, but our execution of the plan left a little to be desired. We had booked the trip 10 months ago when Qantas was having a good sale on Business class seats to the USA (two for 1!!). And at that time we had just returned from a trip there and it seemed like two weeks would be long enough. Erroneous thinking on many levels. We are left wondering what led us to this decision, so that we don’t repeat it.

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Our Qantas 737 plane to Sydney, named Retro Roo, painted with old style livery

Mum was good when we got there, but two of the last three days of our visit she was in hospital with an unexpected urinary tract infection. Did you know that this is a very common ailment in the elderly? The doctor who spoke to us was very nice and further informed us how this effects elderly people, and to some extent why. I thought I would share it since you may have someone in your family that is in a similar situation.

The doctor said that elderly patients, in general, have ‘less reserves’ in their system, so when this infection establishes itself it often appears that the affected person is confused and dizzy. He went on to explain why this happens. When a person has a UTI, they feel as if they need to relieve themselves more often than normal, thus dehydrating them slightly. This dehydration effects the blood pressure, so that when they stand, they are dizzy, and often fall. The dehydration also effects the brain function, and people can seem slightly more confused or less sharp than normal. If this is someone who already has some dementia, it can seem somewhat normal, since people have good days and bad days with that as well.

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Members of Mum’s gardening group at the assisted living home.

In Mum’s case she had not really noticed the burning with the urination that is often the telltale symptom, and so she fell twice in three days while getting up in the night. We had spent all day with her both days, and she had not commented on symptoms, or seemed much out of the ordinary. In fact, we did not know about the first fall, until the second one happened. How this can happen in an assisted living place is a very long and involved story that has to do with patient consent and how the issue is reported etc. Regardless, it is just plain frustrating.

The second time Mum fell she was wearing her medical alert necklace, which has a motion detector on it. When it detects a fall, they try to contact the person. If the person is unresponsive, they send paramedics, which they did. Mum was unconscious so they took her to the hospital. They ran many tests and immediately established that she had the UTI and started antibiotics intravenously.

Through what can only be viewed as a snafu of ridiculous proportions (internet not working properly, phone not working, hotel not having us listed as registered guests, despite the fact we had been there for 10 nights already), no one was able to get word to us until we appeared at her apartment the following morning, to find her gone, but the dog there alone. The assisted living place was able to update us and that is when I learned of her fall three nights previously. None of the rest of the family even knew about that one, since she was not wearing the medical alert necklace that night (they are uncomfortable for sleeping and Mum had removed it)

Mum was very confused that day and the following day. It wasn’t helped by the fact that hospitals are lousy places to get any rest! We took her home on the second day, and after a night of sleep, and two days of antibiotics in her system, she was like a new person on the last day we saw her. We spent most of the day with her and then left for the airport to fly home to Australia.

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Sometimes trips are good just to break you out of your normal routine

On the long haul flight coming home, heavy fog was predicted for Sydney, so our flight was diverted to Fiji for refuelling in case we had to fly around a bit before landing, or fly to a farther airport. So, 17 hours in the same seat on an airplane was a new record for us, and not one I care to challenge. The fog did not eventuate in Sydney, but farther up the coast.

Yesterday after we arrived home and went to the grocery, unpacked bags and made some dinner, I remarked “I’m sure I have some idea how Mum must feel when she is confused. My brain has the acuity of chocolate pudding.”

Mum is good and we are exchanging emails already. I am deliriously happy, having awakened in my own bed and now enjoying a really good cup of coffee. The brain is less pudding-y and more protoplasm-y this morning.