2019: Looking Forward

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Another year has come and gone. I don’t know where 2018 went. It seems like I had just settled into 2018, remembering to write an 8 instead of a 7, and suddenly it’s the end of the year. How did that happen? The older we get, the faster the years seem to zoom past. It really doesn’t seem quite fair, somehow. But as they say, time waits for no one. As we watch 2018 disappear in the rear vision mirror,  2019 roars into view. What will this new year bring? Will some pleasant surprises come our way? Will unexpected challenges throw a curve ball into our plans? Perhaps you have already started to make some New Year resolutions.

  I am not really one for making New Year resolutions. Despite our best of intentions, very few of us actually manage to keep our New Year resolutions. It’s so easy to get carried away by the buzz of the New Year moment, gazing optimistically into the future through a merry alcohol infused haze and make rash resolutions with almost no forethought and maybe even less foresight.  Resolutions tend to be all or nothing. You either keep them, or you don’t. There’s often no middle ground. When we fail to keep our resolutions – and you can bet that we will, because after all, we’re human – our failure can be compounded with feelings of resignation, hopelessness or even depression. It’s a win or lose situation, and most of the time, we will lose. We get tired or busy or distracted, and before you know it, our good intentions have hit the dust. It’s all over, red rover.

I think goal setting is a much better way of initiating change in our lives, especially change that is important for our health and well being. When we set a goal, we are setting a target to aim for. It’s not something we can achieve overnight, but something that can be achieved slowly, over the course of time. Slow change is often easier to implement and maintain in the long run. Sometimes there will be setbacks. Sometimes it might feel like one step forward and three steps backwards or vice versa, but on the whole, as we look back, hopefully we will see how far we have come.

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Setting goals requires a bit of forethought.  Resolutions often fail because we haven’t thought about why these things are an issue, why we have failed to keep them in the past, what motivates us to change and what are the likely challenges we will face. When we set goals, these are the very questions we need to ask ourselves so that we can map out a plan to strive for our goal. This is where we get down to the nitty-gritty of how we will achieve our goal.

We might break our goal down into a series of steps. This is something I learnt when Dan was very young and we were trying to help him learn basic skills for school and life. If necessary, we can even break down each step into mini-steps – baby steps. Baby steps are so much easier to achieve than giant leaps. And if we get to the end of the year and we haven’t quite met the goal, you know what, it doesn’t matter. The goal is still there. We can see the progress we’ve made. We can just keep going. Besides, sometimes the journey towards the goal can end up being just as important as actually reaching the goal.

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During this last week my inbox has been flooded with posts reviewing the year, celebrating achievements and setting challenges for the next year. And it seems I’m not alone in preferring to think in terms of setting achievable goals rather than making rash resolutions. Beth at Life…Take 2 and Itinerary Planner at Travel Itineraries, just to mention two, also talk about goals rather than resolutions. Funny how we can be on the same page and thinking the same thing at the same time.

Our goals don’t just have to be about achieving things like weight loss or increased fitness or career promotions. While these are all worthy goals, as we head into the new year we might also like to think about more family and community focused goals, like having more family time, showing kindness to strangers and patience to shop assistants, respect to our colleagues and forgiveness to family. Life isn’t always about being faster, stronger, higher but also about being kinder, friendlier, happier….

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2018 has been a year of ups and downs. We lost a dear friend to cancer on Easter Sunday and a family member passed away suddenly barely two months ago. We have had to deal with the stress of moving house and transition to university life. But there has also been the joy of Dan’s life growing to include new opportunities and the satisfaction of achieving numerous small goals.

Standing on the eve of 2019, we continue to look forward to whatever joys and challenges the new year will bring. As we set our goals for the next 12 months, we hope that 2019 is kind to you and that you experience the love, joy and hope of life in abundance.

Happy New Year!

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Love, Joy and Peace

 

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It’s Christmas. The season of twinkling lights, festive food, Carols by Candlelight and happy families. We’ve cleaned the house, decorated the tree, wrapped gifts for a never-ending list of family and friends, and slaved in the kitchen. Christmas is that magical time of the year when families get together to celebrate love, joy and peace.

And then I see headlines about

  • dreading Christmas
  • how to survive Christmas Day
  • the lonely who have no place to go

Dread, survival and loneliness doesn’t sound much like the Christmas spirit. It fills me with sadness and makes me wonder what we have done to Christmas that it is no longer a time to look forward to with excitement, longing and hope. How has love, joy and peace become fear, stress and isolation?

Family life is messy. The people who are closest to us and love us the most, are also the people who remember our every indiscretion, carry a multiple of grudges and know how to push our buttons. Well intentioned concern often comes out as criticism and judgement. Much as we love our families, sometimes we can also dread spending extended time with them.

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Love is supposed to be at the heart of the family, but we all know that love and family life are hard work. My Macquarie Dictionary defines love as ” a strong or passionate affection for another person.” Affection? I don’t know about you, but the word affection seems a bit weak to me. I would describe love as one of the most powerful forces in the world. It is also one of the most demanding. Ask any parent.

Love is hard work at the best of times. It is even harder when we are tired and stressed. I wonder sometimes, if we make Christmas harder for ourselves than we need to. In our pursuit of the perfect gift, the perfect tree, the perfect roast turkey, the perfect Christmas, are we burdening ourselves with unnecessary expectations that end up making us tired and stressed long before the family even arrives. Are we forgetting the whole reason we get together in the first place – to celebrate the joy, love and peace of Christmas.

For some of my friends and family, Christmas will be hard this year. It will be their first Christmas without a loved one. It will be sad, but together they will laugh and cry, love and grieve. For them, Christmas will be about being – being together, being happy, being sad, being present in their love and grief.

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For us, Christmas this year will just be the four of us. The rest of my family will not be getting together – at least, not physically. It is always a challenge for my family to be together in the same place, at the same time. We are scattered across Australia, from Perth in the West, Adelaide in the South, the Central Coast in the East, to Toowoomba in QLD. Even though we might exchange gifts via the postal service and celebrate our joy over the phone,  we will still be together in heart and mind, for not even space and time can separate us from the love of our family.

Every family is different. Some families will be grieving. Some families will be far apart. Some families have special needs. There is no one way to celebrate Christmas. Every family needs to be free to find the way that works for them, to find the way that restores love, joy and peace to the Christmas celebration. If you are a family with special needs, or even if you are not, Kirsty from Positive Special Needs Parenting has some excellent suggestions about how to make the Christmas celebration right for your family. You can read it here.

In the busyness and stress of the coming celebration, I hope you find some time to be present and to experience the love, joy and peace of the Christmas Season.

Wishing you a Joyful Christmas

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Book Review: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

 

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Last year as part of my studies, I completed a creative writing unit called Writing About Place. We conducted roving workshops in the natural and urban environment, explored personal essays and short stories about the importance of place and were required to select two texts to review, as well as write our own fiction and non-fiction pieces. When choosing a nature book to review, Inga Simpson’s book, Where the Trees Were (2016), immediately came to mind. Inga Simpson is an Australian writer known for her love of nature.

 

First of all, the blurb…

Finding a grove of carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

 and now the review…

In the summer holidays of 1987, Jay and her friends spend their days on the river, swimming, climbing trees and catching yabbies. When they discover a grove of carved trees, they immediately sense the need for secrecy and swear an oath to protect the trees. Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were follows Jay and her friends as they negotiate adolescence, relationships and high school, while trying to keep their promise to each other and the trees. However, two incidents occur that will test their friendship and change their lives forever.

Moving back and forth in time, from Jay’s childhood home in the Lachlan Valley to Canberra 2004, where she works as a conservator at the National Museum, the story pulls together the themes of identity, Indigenous Land Rights, conservation and the consequences of secrets. Simpson deftly negotiates the shifts in time and place by alternating the narration between first and third person, while still maintaining Jay’s point of view.

Where the Trees Were is Simpson’s third book and was shortlisted for an Indie Book Award, as well as being longlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Australian Book Industry Awards, and the Green Carnation Prize. Simpson has also been a winner of the Eric Rolls Nature Essay Prize. She describes Where the Trees Were as “a deeply personal story” and her passion for nature is evident throughout the book. Nature is everywhere. It is not just in Jay’s observations of the stringy barks and red gums that line the river, or the dragonflies, cockatoos and platypus, but the way the river and the trees speak to her. Even in Canberra, Jay is constantly aware of the plane trees and currawongs, the crimson rosellas and the fresh snow on the Brindabellas. Simpson brings an attention to the detail of nature that enlivens the senses. 

However, Where the Trees Were does more than just draw the reader’s attention to the nature that surrounds them. While Jay carts grain before heading off to university, she notes, “That harvest was theirs; they were part of it, almost part of the land itself.” Food, and the harvesting of food from nature, is everywhere, from the simple roast pork and vegetables, to the fancy dishes of the Canberra cafés, from gathering blackberries and apples along the river, to drinking a nice red from the local winery. Simpson gently underscores the relationship we have with nature, no matter how urbane our lives might be, and our responsibility for its protection.    

Where the Trees Were is a beautifully told story that evokes memories of a more carefree time, when children could wander and explore from dawn to dusk, discover the secrets of the natural world, climb trees and camp out under the stars. It calls us away from our screens, to see and hear and reconnect with nature and each other. 

Reconnecting with Nature

As I read Where the Trees Were, I was inspired by Inga to recapture some of that connection we have with nature. Living in a regional city, it is easy to forget that the food from the supermarket, packaged and labelled in plastic, once started life as a living, growing plant. I wanted to reconnect with nature by growing and harvesting food from our garden, to feel it’s freshness as we prepare it in our own kitchen, and taste the textures and flavours straight from our plate.

We only have a small courtyard, but we have started growing a few vegetables and herbs in pots. We’ve planted spring onions, leeks, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, lettuce and a wide range of herbs. It is quite surprising how much you can grow in a small courtyard when you put your mind to it. We’ve even got some climbing snow peas.

There were a few stops and starts, like remembering that plants need water too, but finally we achieved our goal – a garden salad where everything came from our garden. It was actually pretty exciting. I’m having to wait now for the next handful of cherry tomatoes to ripen, but it feels good to add a little something from the garden, even if it’s only some fresh herbs. 

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I love the way a book can have a direct impact on your life. It is one of the things that I think is so important about literature. It can take us physical places like the Lachlan Valley or Canberra, but it can also take us to places in our mind, where we can reflect on the one question that sits at the heart of our being: what does it mean to be human? As we read, we discover a little more about ourselves, our relationship with the world and with each other. Where the Trees Were invites us to leave the office once in a while and reconnect with nature. It may even rekindle some childhood memories of your own.

Happy Reading

Inga Simpson (2016), Where the Trees Were, Hachette.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas by Candlelight

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The stores are packed with tinsel, glitter encrusted decorations and a vast array of delicious sweet foodstuffs. Carols reverberate around the shopping centre, while hoards of shoppers hustle and bustle, laden with bags of gift-wrapped surprises. If you venture out at night, the city streets are illuminated with never-ending strings of blinking lights. And if you dare to switch on the television, you will be bombarded with all the things you need to have the perfect family celebration. It’s that time of year again.

Of course, we are filled with the seasonal spirit too.  We like to keep things simple. Bec has erected and elegantly decorated our tree with a collection of ornaments and strands of silver and gold garlands. We have a few crafted home decor items that announce the message of love, joy and peace and count down the days. Bec enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and whizzing up beautiful sweet things and Dan starts singing his favourite Christmas Carols. We especially enjoy planning the table decoration and candles are always a main feature.

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Candles play an important part in many family celebrations. It is hard to imagine a birthday party without a candle for every year atop the cake. Candles often feature as table decorations at wedding receptions and what would Valentines Day be without a romantic candle-lit dinner for two. And sometimes we use them to remember those we love who are no longer with us. As we watch the flame flicker, the warm glow quietens our spirit and creates a feeling of peace and love.

This year we have used candles to create an Advent wreath. It works just like an Advent calendar, counting down the weeks to Christmas Day. Starting four weeks before Christmas, we light one candle in the first week, two candles in the second week and so on, until finally there will be four red candles lit and one white candle for Christmas Day. Last year we experimented with some floating candles. I bought some special little glass floating tea light holders and set them in a large glass bowl filled with water. For this Christmas Bec has come up with a similar idea using glass jars, artificial flowers, and floating tea lights. It looks very effective and quite appropriate for an Australian Christmas.

 

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Our summer climate influences the way we celebrate Christmas here in Australia.  Families are increasingly more likely to gather in the outdoors, around a BBQ or even on the beach. And it is no doubt that our pleasant summer evenings played a significant part in creating what is now an established Christmas tradition – Carols by Candlelight. For as long as I can remember, people have gathered on Christmas Eve, in parks and gardens, on picnic rugs and folding chairs, to join in singing carols under a starry sky.  However I didn’t know, until I went digging, that Carols by Candlelight actually began in Australia. The first major event was held in Melbourne in 1938 and attracted a crowd of around 10,000 people. Today,  people all over Australia and even across the world, attend Carols by Candlelight events in many major cities and small country towns.

I wonder if our affection for candles is a response to our modern and technological world.  In our modern homes, with sharp clean lines and harsh electric light at the flick of a switch, sweetly scented candles help to soften the edges and create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Although candles are no longer a necessity for us, except in black-outs, their popularity has led to little cottage industries and whole shops completely devoted to candles and their associated accessories.

Over the years I have managed to collect quite an assortment of candles. Unlike the candles of ancient times, these are all shapes, sizes and colours with a variety of different aromas, but I don’t really use them as much as I could. Lighting the Advent Wreath each night for dinner has inspired us to make candles a regular part of our life. Dan and Bec are getting a bit past the time for birthday candles on their cakes, but we could create a special candle table decoration just for birthdays. There is no reason why we couldn’t light candles every night for dinner. In these days of short attentions and screen addictions, it could help to create a more family atmosphere for our evening meals.

I have already started to make candles part of my morning routine. I like to have some quiet time before Dan gets up. Once Dan is up and out of bed, nobody gets any quiet time.  I make myself a cup of coffee, light a candle and spend some time reading or meditating. Some times I might listen to some of my favourite music – something quiet, or I might do a bit of writing – whatever comes to mind. At present I am working my way through a number of half-burned candles, but I have a few special ones waiting, especially two that Bec gave me once for a birthday, labelled “Winter is Coming” and “Bag End.” Candles even come in literary aromas these days.

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Hmm, any guesses to the literary inspirations?

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We found these in a candle shop in the historic town of Hahndorf, South Australia.

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This one looks far too beautiful to even use!

I think it is extraordinary, that in our time of rapid technological progress, something so simple, so ancient, as an old-fashioned candle, can be a thing of beauty that adds meaning to our celebrations and joy to our every day life.

Will you be lighting a candle this Christmas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Reading Challenge

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2018 was the year for my first ever Reading Challenge. Now you might think that as an avid reader surely I would have completed a reading challenge before, but actually – no. In the past I have been happy just to read whatever I felt like reading, plodding through some books while voraciously devouring others. And I’ve never really kept a record of the books that I have read, until the last few years, and only then somewhat haphazardly. There are always books that stick out in your memory, but there are countless others that have faded into oblivion.

This year I stepped up to participate in my first Goodreads Reading Challenge. I am a fairly recent convert to Goodreads and have discovered the delights of logging my literary journey, creating and stocking bookshelves and deliberating over how many stars a book should receive. Since it was my first challenge and life does have a habit of interfering with my reading, I set a target that I thought would be pretty achievable – 50 books. That’s only one book a week. Easy.

As November closed, and with still one month to go – the target was reached. 50 books – done! It’s always exciting to nail a goal and to feel that sense of achievement. I enjoyed watching the little progress bar gradually work its way to the end, seeing when I was right on target, had slipped behind a little or taken a huge leap ahead.

What did I read? There were a few favourites like Kate Forsyth, Kate Morton, PD James and JRR Tolkien; some classics and a few promising debuts; some that I loved, some that stayed with me for a long time, and some that just weren’t for me. I have whittled the list down to the ten books that I most enjoyed or that made a deep impression, but before we get to that let’s crunch a few numbers. Reading data can be quite fascinating in of itself.

The Numbers

  • 50 books – well it turned out to be actually 51, because I discovered I had forgotten to log a date for one book.
  • 31 books rated at least 4 stars – I can be hard to please sometimes, I have to really love a book to give it 4 stars.
  • 20 female authors – hmm, interesting what the data shows. I admit this is a bit of a surprise as I would have expected this number to be higher. However I did include the books I read for English Lit, which does seem to be more skewed towards male authors. Definitely something to address next year.
  • 12 books by Australian authors – now these were mostly female authors and two of them were debuts.
  • 11 fantasy/mythology – since I rank The Lord of the Rings as my favourite book of all time, this is hardly surprising.
  • 9 historical fiction – it’s amazing all the interesting bits of history you can discover just through reading.
  • 8 Science Fiction  – helps when you study Science Fiction in English Lit!

My Top Ten Reads for 2018

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – definitely one of my favourite reads for this year. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many stories you have read about World War Two, there is always something new you can learn, such as the role of radio or the suffering of women and children on both sides of the conflict.
  • The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan – when the guns are silenced and the treaties are signed, the war is over. But the horror and trauma live on in the lives and memories of those who left the ruins of Europe for a new life on the other side of the world. A confronting but highly recommended read.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – the seminal monster text. But who is really the monster here? A book that I think gets better with every read.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant: Midnight by Derek Landy – I just love Skulduggery, he makes me laugh so much. This is the eleventh book of a series I only discovered last year. I actually started with number 10, Resurrection, loved it instantly and tracked down the rest straight away.
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – this was the surprise of the year. Initially I thought a book about an old man, the sea and a big fish might be somewhat tedious. It was actually quite engaging and my heart really broke for the old man, after such a long battle…
  • Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu – I had always thought that vampires started with Dracula, but not so. There is nothing quite so threatening as a young woman who defies established conventions.
  • Percy Jackson & the Olympians:The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan – OK, I know this is really four books but it’s a series so I’m counting it as one and I’ve just got one more book to go. Bec is a Percy Jackson fan, so I’ve been pretty keen to see what tickles her fancy so much. Is it Children’s or is it YA – you be the judge, but it’s been a rollercoaster of laughs.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – this is the classic vampire text to which modern incarnations pay homage, but there’s more going on here than just blood, fangs and traditional vampire lore. Poor Madam Mina … mother or monster?
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison – sometimes it is just so hard to fathom the inhumanity of the human race. There are some things that should never be forgotten – and the misery, violence and horror of the human slave trade is one of those things.
  • The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – I have loved Kate’s books ever since I first picked up The Shifting Fog at the library some years ago. Shifting between the past and the present she weaves a beautiful and haunting story of tragedy and heartbreak, and just when I think I’ve got it worked out, she throws in a twist.

… and my reading goals for 2019?

  • to achieve a better balance between male and female authors
  • to read for wider representation
  • to read more non-fiction

What will you be reading next?

A Sticker for the Ow

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One of the challenges of Dan’s autism is his high pain threshold. We often don’t know that something is wrong until it is very wrong. Recently Dan went to bed one evening  perfectly fine, but the next morning he could barely hobble to the kitchen table to have breakfast.

What’s wrong? Why are you limping?

Ow.

Show me Ow.

Dan rubbed his left thigh and sure enough, there seemed to be a red mark, although he is unable to tell us how it happened. Without witnessing an accident or injury, we often never know how the bruises come about. But we do know that when Dan says “Ow”, it means it really hurts.

Autism and a high pain threshold often go hand in hand. In his book, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood notes that people on the spectrum often do not “show distress in response to levels of pain that others would consider unbearable” and this can often result “in frequent trips to the local casualty department.”

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Yes, hospital emergency departments are something we have had experience with over the years, for both detected and undetected injuries and illnesses. Dan has a tendency for hitting his head and has the scars to prove it. It’s amazing how much blood can pour out of a body part that appears quite bony, but at least this kind of injury doesn’t go unnoticed.

Dan received his first scar at the age of two, just prior to the birth of his sister, Bec. We were shopping for a new single bed for Dan and as we wandered around the furniture store, he tripped over a rug, flew through the air and collided with a bed. Needless to say, we didn’t buy that one. A few years later, Dan was kneeling on a chair at the kitchen table, when…bang! His chin hit the table. Blood streamed down his chest. Off to the hospital again and another scar.

The most recent emergency trip was just a few years ago. Dan was riding his bike around our property and ran smack into the loader. Dan had his hat on, so the brim hid the bottom edge of the loader bucket and, as Dan prefers to look at his shadow while he is riding, he probably wasn’t looking where he was going either. At least this time he let the nurse put in a few stitches. That was a first.

Infections though, are a different story. Tony Attwood highlights how ear infections and tooth aches can often go undetected until they’ve reached a very serious level. Dan had a lot of ear infections when he was young, but he never complained and rarely cried, so it wasn’t until we noticed him pulling on his ear that we knew something was wrong. It was often quite difficult trying to make medical staff understand the reality of life with a non-verbal child who has a high pain threshold.

 

Our most recent injury started with the limp, but then it got worse. Apart from the limp, Dan seemed okay. Then we noticed he looked a little pale. And before we knew it, up came his breakfast. Great – a tummy wog. At least this time I managed to get him to direct it into a bucket – that is a first and a really big step forward for Dan. Usually he just gets so distressed, well, it just goes everywhere. But we weren’t done yet.

While he was taking it easy, a small pile of books fell onto Dan’s foot. Ow! And it was the same foot that was already limping. It was only later that I discovered he had a sore toe as well.

What’s this? When did this happen?

Ow.

Yes, I can see it is ow.

This is where the sticker comes in. Sticker is Dan’s word for bandaid. Bandaids are wonderful inventions. They can miraculously heal any sore spot. So, while I’m putting the sticker on….what’s this under your foot? Tinea? What next? After a visit to the doctor and the podiatrist, I spent the next week playing tug of war with a sore foot as I vainly attempted to inspect sore spots and apply cream and stickers. Thankfully, the tummy is now settled, the limp has disappeared and we are down to just one sticker on the foot.

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Vigilance is really important if you have a non-verbal autistic child with a high pain threshold. It is so easy to miss something because your child is happy, active and continuously singing. But then again, perhaps vigilance is important for people without a high pain threshold too. We all need someone who can look beyond the “everything is okay” facade and ask the question: are you okay? And sometimes we need to be truthful and say “Ow”. Being vigilant and looking out for each other means we can all live happier and healthier lives.

 

Attwood, Tony 2008 The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Jessica Kinglsey Publishers:London, pp 288-289.

 

 

 

 

Bowling for Cancer

 

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Sporting achievement is not something that I am known for. When the sporting genes were being dished out, I was at the back of the line and by the time I finally got to the front, well… there was nothing left. I don’t mind watching it, but years of compulsory PE lessons taught me that it was best to keep my lack of coordination and general all-round lack of anything even approaching sporting ability…to myself. So when I was invited to be part of a lawn bowls team for a social fundraising day, I was a bit dubious to begin with.  I had never played lawn bowls in my life and I didn’t know a whole lot about it, except that my grandfather used to play and it involved rolling some balls down a green.  But it was a social event and a fundraiser for cancer research, so hey, why not give it a go!

My husband Paul was our team captain and the only player in our team with any real bowls experience. He even has his own set. A couple of friends, who had played an occasional game before, made up the rest of the team.  So essentially, we were a team of hacks, which didn’t really matter as the first team we played against were also mostly a team of hacks. One of the girls was a complete novice – like me, and the two guys reckoned they had a practice session about five years ago. So it was a very entertaining and sociable round. 

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Throughout the afternoon the club was running a competition for touches. A touch occurs when your ball hits the little white ball, called the kitty. I was using Paul’s set of bowls, which were quite biased so I had to aim for the kitty on the green next to us so that the ball would swing in and actually stay on our green, rather than wandering off somewhere else. As it was my first time, I was just concentrating on keeping my ball on the green without going outside the lines or falling into the gutter, and then … I got a touch! And the prize for getting a touch?  

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  XXXX – an Aussie icon! You can’t get better than that! Considering I am not a beer drinker, this is actually quite funny. Paul later accused me of getting rather possessive about my bottle of beer, but considering it was the first time I had ever won anything for a sporting activity, I thought I was quite entitled to be a little possessive about it.

Our second round was against a team who had a little more bowling experience, however we managed to come out on top. And again, it was another enjoyable and sociable round. I was really impressed by the friendliness of everyone. Experienced bowlers were only too happy to give a few pointers and encouragement to those of us who had no idea what we were doing. This is one of the great things about a social day. Anybody can come along, learn a little bit about lawn bowls, have some fun and be part of a community project that is focused on supporting others in need.

After the two rounds we gathered in the club house for the prizes. Being a hack team we didn’t really expect to win anything, but, surprise, surprise  – we won second prize! I’m not quite sure how that happened. It looked like they were just drawing names out of a hat. I certainly don’t think it was on merit, but the fruit platters looked delicious and were very gratefully received.

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The social bowls day turned out to be so popular, they actually had to turn people away, which is a little sad in one way, but quite encouraging in another. Sometimes we can feel quite overwhelmed by all the bad news that flashes across our tv screens, but it is good to have our faith in humanity restored when we see ordinary people leading by example, coming together to have fun, to make connections and to show their support for others.

And as for lawn bowls? Who knows. Perhaps one day I’ll follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and take it up for real. I might even be lucky enough to win another bottle of beer. Cheers!

 

Big Red Bash #7: Signs for the Times

I know. It’s been a long time between drinks. I had intended for this post to be out some time ago. Then life happened. A bunch of assignments, a sudden death in the family, a sick kid…

But here we are finally at the end of our outback adventure and as I promised last time, this final instalment is about a special project I had going during our trip. Travelling through the Australian outback necessitates long stretches of driving. Sometimes the scenery doesn’t change all that much. Occasionally we spot some livestock or pass another vehicle. We also have to keep a look out for kangaroos who decide the grass is greener on the other side of the highway. But there is one thing that often catches our attention – town signs.

Not so long ago, the town signs around Australia were pretty standard – a simple white sign with black lettering. But this is not the case any more. I have noticed a  change in recent years to utilise a wide variety of designs which reflect something about the town’s location, industry or history. I think it’s a good idea. Not only are there some really interesting and beautiful designs, but the signs give little clues to the history that might be discovered and inspire travellers to stop a while to explore.

As we set off on our trip, I thought it would be interesting to get a photo of every town sign on our route, after all it might be quite a while before we were back that way. I managed to do this for almost all of the towns we passed through, stopped for a cuppa or stayed for a while. Here are some of the interesting things we noticed on route or have discovered since coming home.

 

Australian towns have some very interesting names and sometimes you wonder where they came from. Towns like Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and Wallumbilla are believed to originate from the indigenous names for the area. Others, like Condamine, Mitchell and Roma are named after Colonial figures and explorers.

 

It became quite apparent that towns within the same shire often shared similar designs, shapes and backgrounds, yet included a feature specific to their own area. I really liked the signs for Bollon and St George, which I thought were not only beautifully designed but also quite original.

 

I also liked some of the signs in the Maranoa shire which had a very pretty purple, pink and red sunset background with a striking black silhouette.

 

Four of the towns on our route – Condamine, Cunnamulla, Birdsville and Wallumbilla – are all featured in the Australian version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Even Toowoomba gets a mention too.

 

As rural towns decline and the population migrates to the big cities or the coast, tourism becomes an essential industry throughout the interior. Much as we always say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a town by its sign – the truth is that we do. So anything that might encourage people to stop for a while in towns they would usually drive straight through, is a really great tourism initiative. The signs remind us that every town is unique, and despite the dwindling population, that these little places have been home to many people over the years and have their own place in our history.

Brisbane Writers Festival 2018

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A few weeks ago Bec and I travelled down to Brisbane for the 2018 Writers Festival. It was the first time I had attended the Festival but luckily Bec had had the opportunity to go when she was in grade seven. It’s always been a highlight of her last year at Primary School because she was able to meet Emily Rodda and have her copy of The Golden Door signed. It was the first time she had ever met an author. I had once been to the Adelaide Writers Festival, many moons ago, but this was my first experience of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) has a long history, starting life in 1962 as the Warana Writers Convention. More than fifty years later, it has grown into a three day event, with over 150 sessions and drawing a crowd of over 20,000 literary lovers. The events are housed mainly at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), both located very conveniently at South Bank in the CBD. 

The key drawcard of the BWF for us, was Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. We have both loved the Divergent series, although I am still to read the last book – you know, so many books, so little time – and Bec has really enjoyed the Carve the Mark duology.  As soon as we discovered that Veronica Roth was coming, that was it, we were so there! 

Our BWF schedule began on Thursday evening with Dystopian Futures: An Evening with Veronica Roth and Friends. Veronica was interviewed by Kim Wilkins, who is an Australian writer based in Brisbane. Kim writes fantasy, as well as general fiction under the name Kimberley Freeman. It was quite exciting to see Veronica Roth up close and hear her talk about her books and her recent experiences with Australian wildlife. The highlight, of course, was when Bec was able to have her copy of The Fates Divide signed by Veronica.

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On Friday, Bec was having a study day while I caught the train into the city to attend two sessions and just soak up the literary atmosphere. My first session for the day was A Hundred Small Lessons with Ashley Hay and Kristina Olsson. I was unfamiliar with Ashley Hay but she has had a very accomplished career in journalism and fiction. Ashley was interviewed by Kristina Olsson, who is another award-winning author new to me, but that’s the beauty of writers festivals. We not only get to meet our favourite authors but also discover some new ones too. Ashley’s work is apparently known for its ”incandescent intelligence and a rare sensibility.” Her most recent novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, is about “the many small decisions – the invisible moments – that come to make a life.” It explores what it means to be human and the way that place changes who we are. It is a story of love and of life.

I really enjoyed the conversation between Ashley and Kristina. One of the things that really stood out to me, was Ashley’s encouragement to pay attention to the little things of life because these little moments or lessons are the real stuff of life. Straight after the session I headed directly to the Festival bookshop and bought two of her books, The Railwayman’s Wife, which explores grief, and A Hundred Small Lessons. Of course, I was also tempted by two other titles, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (winner of the Stella Prize in 2017) and Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. And I just couldn’t resist a Hermione Granger library bag…. You might notice the little yellow tag in the top right hand corner. Remember the days when we used to fill out those little yellow cards when we borrowed a library book? Well, that’s exactly what it looks like. The bags were produced by Out of Print and proceeds of their products go towards funding literacy programs and donating books to needy communities. A very worthy cause.

After lunch I attended Writing as Women’s Work with Anne-Marie Priest and Melissa Ashley. Anne-Marie’s most recent book, A Free Flame  is a group portrait of four leading 20th century writers, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Ruth Park and Christina Stead. It explores their lives and the challenges they faced as women writers when women’s writing didn’t receive the respect it deserved. Melissa’s novel, The Birdman’s Wife, also focuses on another overlooked woman, Elizabeth Gould, who was responsible for the beautiful illustrations in the Gould collections. Elizabeth was often just known as her husband’s assistant, but as Melissa notes, John Gould’s books wouldn’t have been possible without her artistry and attention to detail.

Saturday was our last day at the BWF but unfortunately our first session The Lace Weaver with Lauren Chater had to be cancelled. Sydney had been experiencing some very wild storms and Lauren was unable to fly out. It was a bit disappointing but I did enjoy reading her debut novel which is set in Estonia during the second world war. I didn’t know much about Estonia’s history, but Lauren’s book brings to life the difficulties faced by the Estonians caught between the Soviets and the Nazis, as well as the Estonian tradition of knitting lace shawls. I thought it was a very fine debut.

We wrapped up our BWF experience with Love YA: Crafting Futures. Part of the BWF program included a Love YA festival held across the river at the Brisbane Square Library. These sessions were free and focused especially on YA. The Crafting Futures session featured Veronica Roth (again!) and Cally Black, whose debut novel, In the Dark Spaces  was published in 2017. The focus of the discussion was “Reflecting on the present through the lens of dark speculative fiction.” A few of the highlights included Veronica’s explanation of how she developed the language for Carve the Mark and the important place that series like Harry Potter have played in the evolution and success of YA. Veronica made us all laugh at how excited she would be to meet J. K. Rowling. We sometimes forget that writers are human too – just like us. They get excited too about meeting the authors who have played an important part in their life, especially during those teenage years. 

Well, that was our BWF experience for this year. Now we have to wait to see the program for next year. 

Happy Reading!

Big Red Bash #6: Finally – the BRB

View from Big Red

Finally, after travelling the Adventure Way, reflecting on the Burke and Wills Saga, and hanging out in Birdsville, it was time to head out to the Big Bash campsite. To ease congestion and prevent long delays, Roll In to the campsite had been extended over three days. We didn’t take up the offer of early entry but there were still plenty of  vehicles heading out with us on Tuesday morning.  At times it did seem a bit like a free for all on the road, as at one point there seemed to be almost four lanes of vehicles, all travelling in the same direction, all jostling to get further ahead in the pack. We just took it easy – after all, we’re all going to the same place.

Arrival at the Big Bash was well organised with plenty of guides to point us in the right direction and help us find a spot. It was quite a unique experience camping among a crowd numbering in the thousands and there was plenty of dust floating in the air as campers walked back and forth from their campsites to the stage and Big Bash Plaza. Definitely not a place for wearing white.

West of Big Red – Version 2

The View from Big Red

One of the top things to do at the Bash is climb Big Red. The sand dune is quite deceiving. You don’t realise how tall or steep it is until you start climbing. Luckily, I had Dan to tow me up the side, although I do think he picked the steepest route possible. It is only from the top of Big Red that you really get a sense of the size of the crowd.  It was also the only place where you could get a signal, so everybody had their phones out, taking selfies and sending messages. If you wanted to make a call, you had to climb Big Red.

Beach Volley Ball on Big Red – Version 2

Big Red was a fantastic playground for the kids who spent all day and some of the night climbing up and sliding down, over and over again. There was also a beach volley ball court on top. You probably couldn’t get a court that was further from the ocean than the one on top of Big Red.

One of the most interesting features of the Big Bash Campsite were the self-composting toilets. I thought they were really cool. Port-a-loos are standard fare at any festival these days, but these worked more like long-drops, except that the drop was into a wheelie bin parked underneath, rather than a pit in the ground. The loos were located all around the campsite, mostly in sets of about eight, and a sprinkle of sawdust was used to facilitate the  composting process. By the time we got out to the Bash we were quite used to lining up, but the line up first thing in the morning was always especially long. The thing I liked the most, though, was the unique artwork on the doors. No two doors were alike.

Big Red Bash Toilets – Version 2

The Big Red Bash provides a lot of opportunities for campers from across Australia to get to know each other. People socialise with the campers next-door and give a hand with a flat tyre or leaking water tank. On Wednesday morning the crowd came together to cheer on the participants in the Bashville Drags Race. Competitors, dressed in drag, climbed to the top of Big Red and then raced down the dune and into the campsite. I was impressed with the array of glitter, feathers, sparkling tiaras, flowing wigs and gorgeous gowns on the mostly male field. It was hugely entertaining and raised money for a very good cause – The Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Then on Thursday morning, there was the Guinness World Record attempt for the Biggest Nutbush Dance. Aiming to beat 522, practice sessions were held so participants could perfect their technique and then they nervously lined up in place, hoping they wouldn’t be the one tapped on the shoulder for being out of time. With about 2000 participants, I think the record was well and truly achieved.

The crowd

Of course, the real reason we had all gathered at the base of Big Red in the dust was for three days of classic Australian music entertainment which kicked off on Tuesday afternoon. Campers trekked down to the stage area loaded with rugs, folding chairs and eskies packed with refreshments. Hats and sunscreen were a must for the afternoon and coats and scarves for the evening, because as soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, the chill of the desert could be felt.

It was so good to see big name artists willing to endure a little discomfit, the dust and the desert to put on a show at an iconic landmark like Big Red. Not only does it raise essential funds for the Flying Doctor Service but it brings tourists into small rural towns feeling the bite of the drought. We enjoyed all the acts. Adam Brand got the crowd on its feet for a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died for their country. Dan really enjoyed The Angels and Hoodoo Gurus rocking out the desert. And on Thursday night we sang our hearts out with John Farnham and his classic “You’re the Voice”.

Camel Rides – Version 2

Camel Rides Were A Popular Activity

And then it was time to pack up and go home. There were about 7,000 people and over 2,000 vehicles camping out at the Big Bash and most of them wanted to leave first thing Friday morning. Getting 2,000 vehicles out of the gate in an orderly fashion was going to be no mean feat. We had already heard stories about the long delays of previous years, so we got up early, before 6am, when it was still only -3.5 degrees, packed up and joined the line. We were in the line up by 6.45am and that’s where we sat for the next hour until they opened the gates at about 8am. Tempers were getting little testy when some campers, who thought they could just sleep into 8am, tried to push into the line. We didn’t have a radio in our car but apparently there were some choice words being said over the airwaves!

Considering the large number of campers lined up, the Roll Out did proceed pretty smoothly and we were out the gate by about 8.30am and heading back towards Birdsville. Again, it felt like travelling in a long convoy, although by this time, we weren’t strangers so much anymore, but fellow bashers. As we all headed down the highway, I don’t think we expected to be pulled up in a drive-thru random breath test, west of Windorah, in the middle of nowhere.  I guess the police thought they might catch some campers who had had a heavy night, but it did slow the traffic down a little coming into Windorah, where, of course, everybody wanted to fuel up.

Incoming!

Fortunately, the Windorah locals were ready for the onslaught. No doubt they probably saw the cloud of dust drifting in from the West and yelled “Incoming!” They had a detour all set up to divert the campers away from the main street and through the fuel stations in a steady but orderly fashion. From Windorah we went on to Quilpie for the night, where, in the middle of town, we hit our only kangaroo for the entire trip. Fortunately, it was only just a little stunned.

We were now approaching the end of our outback adventure, and needing to be back home for Monday, we took the most direct route along the Warrego Highway through Roma, Miles and Chinchilla. We had a really great trip and enjoyed our time at the Bash. We’d like to go again some time in the future, but perhaps next time we’ll bring some friends too. Throughout the trip I had a little project going on, which will all be revealed in the next and final post about our Big Red Bash adventure.