Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas Tug of War

Christmas is a tug of war for me.

I really do love it and I really used to get right into Christmas. However, it now seems like all these festivities have now become an extensive to do list and I’m running out of time, energy and cash.

I’m even wondering whether we could postpone Christmas to give me a chance to catch up!!

Or perhaps, I could be just like the dog and just sleep through the festive season.

I used make a traditional plum pudding in calico cloth and hang it up in excited anticipation. I love pudding dished up with brandy butter and hot, thick custard even though the temperatures can soar to over 40 degrees and it’s not uncommon to see a bit of bushfire smoke around here over Christmas either.

I also make my own Christmas Cake using my mother’s recipe, which she has been making all my known life. That recipe came from one of her longest standing friends Deidre who she went through the conservatorium  with many lifetimes ago.

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without all those smells connected with making your own Christmas cake not to mention licking the beaters.

Every year, we have a real Christmas tree. A tree with real pine needles which actually smells like Christmas tree. It is an authentic Christmas tree and thank goodness we now have James our new robotic vacuum cleaner to vacuum up all the pine needles this year.

Every year, I am getting closer and closer to buying a fake tree but buying the tree is all part of our Christmas tradition. Sure, we don’t head out into the woods and cut down our own tree but we do head down to our local fruit shop and there is that anticipation of driving passed, waiting for the trees to arrive. Now the kids have transformed all that anticipation into nagging: “when are we going to get out tree?” That has removed a bit of the lustre but they are only excited. They wanted Christmas yesterday!

A life time ago, I used to make my own Christmas decorations. Our Christmas tree has a hand-stitched patchwork Christmas stocking I made when I was 12. There are a few foam baubles studded with sequins and pins, which I made around the same era. I bought more Christmas fabric again this year in what could only be described as an act of extreme lunacy. I have been intending to make the kids their own patchwork Christmas stockings for a few years now and every year, I seem to buy more fabric because somehow the fabric I’d bought the year before had somehow been “filed”.

I’d still like to do my old Christmas craft but these days we have the end of year dance concert which eats into our pre-Christmas time and then there’s all the end of year stuff at school and buying presents for teachers, kids, family and wrapping them up. I mean,  have we been on a wrapping marathon or what????!!!!

So you can understand why I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about Christmas.

Anyway, I am starting to feel a bit more at peace with Christmas. The tree is up and after standing naked for a few days, now has flashing lights, tinsel and an eclectic range of mismatched Santas, doves, angels and stars dating back to my childhood. I won the Christmas raffle at the school and now have the ham,turkey and pudding sorted out. I have made my Christmas cake and the shortbread and the Raspberry Coconut Slice to take to my aunt’s place tomorrow. All the presents are wrapped and piled. I managed to get my haircut and even managed to get my eyebrows waxed. We’ve been to Church. Seen a few friends and been sociable. The house is scruffy but it will do. We’re only expecting the fellow in the big red suit and he’ll be too tired to notice after traveling from the North Pole. I have also been practicing Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful on my violin. They haven’t quite reached a state of perfection either but I just want to play Christmas carols with my Mum on Christmas Day and it doesn’t matter how it sounds. It will be special and besides, the kids can sing along and perhaps you won’t hear the violin after all!

Well, it’s time for the big red fellow to leap into action so I’d better get to bed.

Wishing you all a very Merry & Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

Love,

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Sticking Labels Where They Don’t Fit…

When it comes to sticking diagnostic labels on people, I’ve always been in favour of diagnosis and treatment but I’m starting to change my mind.

Instead, I’m thinking that we need to be more cautious about where we start sticking labels, especially when those labels might have consequences down the track.

The American Psychiatric Association will be releasing the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in May 2013.

Part of the changes to the new diagnostic criterion is the reclassification of Aspergers into the broader umbrella term “autism spectrum disorder,” which will now apply for all children and adults with some form of autism. This means that people with a sprinkling of traits (ie the equivalent to a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands on a serving of ice cream) will be in the same camp as those with severe autism. This involves a huge shift in how people currently defined as “Asbergers” will be placed or “categorised”. I also suggest that people who might have accepted or even celebrated being “aspy”, might prefer things just the way they are. They are and always have been , their own people.

This new classification fails to address society’s understanding of what it means to be “autistic” and how individuals or parents might feel when someone who is “a bit different” is labelled “autistic”, when quite clearly they are not. It is also a huge leap, especially in terms of social stigma, for someone who might be somewhat asbergersish and something of a  Sheldon from Big Bang Theory or perhaps an IT geek or scientist. With any diagnosis there is grief and there is no need to compound that grief by sticking on highly emotive labels which simply don’t fit.

It seems to me that this new umbrella terms is really going to make an already confusing mess, only more confusing and will turn people away from a diagnosis and in the process, away from possible help and understanding.

Labels are good when it enables people to get the help they need but I don’t believe that can happen with a one-size fits all diagnosis. It ends up becoming meaningless. It either waters down the serious difficulties some individuals experience or paints a fairly sociable kid as a loner.

It doesn’t work.

After being misdiagnosed myself with osteo-arthritis myself which has a totally different line of treatment to my auto-immune disease, I know that you have to be very careful when you apply labels and try to make them stick.

Just ask my dog!

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What do you think?

Best wishes,

Rowena

Once They Were Six

When I decided to blog, I never set out to comment on world events or interpret such things. I am simply somebody who is trying to change and improve her own life and I’m documenting this process on my blog.

Then, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut and killed innocent children, teachers and other members of the school community.

How am I supposed to respond to that?

Yesterday, I was working away on a post about my ongoing frustration with my violin practice but there was this nagging thought at the back of my head: “Can I just keep blogging on about my own life in the aftermath of the horrific Newtown Massacre?”

I don’t think so.

That said, I’m not quite sure how to respond.

What are any of us supposed to say or do when something of this magnitude happens?

I don’t know. Given my own health situation, we are already very conscious that life is short…so very fleeting. I already appreciate my husband, my kids even if we are busy trying to fit a couple of lifetimes into one day.

I’m not a psychologist or a forensic anthropologist so I can’t begin to explain why this has happened, although I would like to suggest that it’s complex and perhaps we will never know. I do hope we will get some serious insights into how to prevent such shootings in future. For me, that includes serious gun control measures but also goes well beyond that. A gun doesn’t pull its own trigger.

I live in Australia. This event is well and truly beyond the scope of my backyard. I’ve never been to America and I don’t know what it means to be American. Yet, whether we like it or not, we do live in a small world and whatever happens “over there”, also appears in our homes at least on our TV. We are part of a global village.

I care. I care very much.

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There is one element of this tragedy that really hits home. My daughter is also 6 years old like many of the children caught up in this dreadful massacre… both those who lost their young lives and also those who have somehow survived.

I haven’t even thought about what if it had been my daughter. It hasn’t even crossed my mind that something that awful could ever happen at our school. Not because our school is any better than any other school but because our school is like an extension of our family home. I help out with the reading and do the publicity for the school, a role which includes photographing the kids. I am on a pretty friendly basis with a number of teachers at the school and they have been very supportive regarding my health issues and just loving and caring for my kids and all the kids at the school. It’s not a perfect place but it’s certainly special!

I gather this is how most families perceive their school and that contributes to our overall outrage.

Having a six year old daughter, I wanted to honour those children who lost their young lives and those who survived by sharing some insights into the world of a six year old. I can’t really say I always know what makes them tick but here are some observations.

Six year olds have such a precious view of the world. They really feel so grown up but are still pretty small and still need a chair or stool to reach the taps or get things down. They still believe in pretend and are only just stepping out into the world. Their explanations for how and why things happen can really be quite amusing.

Our daughter's letter to the tooth fairy.

Our daughter’s letter to the tooth fairy.

Having your teeth fall out has to be one of the most important things for a six year old. My daughter is currently missing her two front teeth and she has another wobbly tooth. Last week she announced: “I’ve lost 5 teeth in one year. That must be a world record!!” When I meet up with her friends, they also show me their wobbly teeth and tell me how many teeth they have lost. There’s lots of wiggling, wobbling and lots of gappy smiles and giggles. You don’t want to be the last kid to lose your first tooth.

Having your teeth fall out, goes hand in hand with the tooth fairy. There are many discussions about how much money the tooth fairy has left behind. There is still faith in the tooth fairy although perhaps if there’s an older sibling, there can be a bit of doubt. My friend tells her kids: “you have to believe to receive” and I will borrow that one when the time comes. My daughter refused to put her first two teeth out for the tooth fairy because she wanted to keep them. By the time tooth number 3 fell out, she was ready to part with it and wanted the money. She also wanted to catch the tooth fairy so she could learn how to fly. She also told stories about how she woke up with special fairy dust on her hands.

Isn’t the world of a six year old amazing?!!

The other thing that stands out about six year olds is just how much they adore their teachers. My daughter has been home from school sick and literally cried for her teacher. Last weekend, it turned out that her teacher was coincidentally attending her end of year dance concert and she was over the moon. The teacher was just as excited too and was looking forward to seeing her dance. If we ever see one of the teachers down at our local shops after school, it’s like seeing Elvis or Justin Bieber. The kids are so excited!!

My daughter is still scared of the dark and asks me about monsters living under the bed. I tell her that there’s no room for monsters under her bed with all her Barbies stashed under there but she is not convinced.

This year's Santa Photo

This year’s Santa Photo

She still believes in Santa and asked me yesterday whether Santa lives in an igloo because he lives at the North Pole. We agreed that he lived inside a gingerbread house like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. She had no trouble accepting that and she’s a fairly discerning character.

She also believes Santa can get her anything she wants pretty much because his elves will make it. She is currently desperate for a DS (an electronic game). I have told her that they are expensive but she says that’s fine because Santa can get it. I don’t have to pay for it. We have tried to tell her that Santa is very old and not good with technology but then she thought of the elves. She has an answer for everything.

Being six is also a fickle world where friends can be a bit fragile. You can be BFFs one day and then there’s the chant of “you’re not my friend”. Six year olds can become very emotional.

It also seems to be a year of transition from being a pre-schooler into a school kid. Once loved Dora, is now considered babyish but t-shirts with pictures on them are still preferred fashion. Gaudy glitter and sparkle fashions are also cool and pink and purple are still the favourite colours with the girls.

Six year olds, at least the six year old girls I know, all seem to love drawing rainbows. I have some beautiful rainbow drawings both my children  have done on my fridge to remind me of the beauty of the world when I’m having a hard day.

There is also a naivety there. A few weeks ago when we were baking together, my daughter ate some Self-Raising flour and then asked me if she was getting taller. She had interpreted the name on the flour quite literally. Like most kids, she is wanting to grow up way too fast.

Needing to fit in and conform also seem to be important (at least, for our daughter). When we had our dog clipped recently, she didn’t want me bringing the dog to school because she’d be teased for having such a weird dog. He is a Border Collie and he did look rather weird after his haircut (he went from black and white and fluffy to light grey was all but skinned) but I had to remind her that he is still the same dog, whom she loves.

As cute as six year olds might be, they also have plenty of attitude. We sometimes call our daughter “Princess” and it’s not a compliment. She can expect to have everything done for her, waited on hand and foot. She likes to get me to carry her school bag and her brother to run errands for her and she usually forgets to feed the dog. When I asked madam to put her leotard in the washing basket, she said to me: “I am not your slave!” I was not impressed.

Fighting with her brother also seems to be a favourite pastime, although they also play very well together too.

……………………………………………………………

This is the world Adam Lanza destroyed when he took the lives of those innocent children, their teachers and other members of their school community.

It is important that we, as citizens of our global village, acknowledge and respect that. That we don’t just ignore what has happened because it’s too hard. We must continue to fight for a world that is free of violence and hate and make our world a safe and loving place for all people. That fight begins with each and every one of us as individuals and is acted out each and every day in how we react to people and situations. If we each followed the golden rule and treated others as we would like to be treated maybe kindness would someday rule the world.

I will leave you with the words of AA Milne:

Now We Are Six

When I was one I had just begun
When I was two I was nearly new

When I was three I was hardly me
When I was four I was not much more

When I was five I was just alive
But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever;

So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

Love & God Bless,

Rowena

Summer Loving…A Dog’s Perspective

Only I could turn getting the dog clipped into a philosophical debate otherwise known as a “drama”.

For the average, normal person, getting our dog clipped would be a no-brainer.

Bilbo is a woolly, Border Collie designed for the Scottish highlands but living in beachside Australia where we experience truly scorching summers. Some days, it gets so hot that you could easily roast a chook or fry an egg on your bonnet if you could actually be bothered.

It’s December and it’s almost Christmas. Bilbo needed a clip. He desperately needed a clip. He has been huffing and puffing, looking like he’s about to expire but…

When you have a long-haired dog, you want a long-haired dog… even if you do live in a stinking hot country. As weird as this might sound, I find patting the dog with his long, woolly coat very therapeutic. I just love touching his fur and giving him cuddles. He is so snuggly. I know that sounds a bit selfish letting him suffer just so I could play with his fur but I did relent. I booked him in. He had his haircut. It’s just that I found the whole process difficult.

I also wondered how the dog would feel about losing his coat. He’d never been clipped before and his fur coat doesn’t exactly have a zipper. Once it’s off, it stays off. He’s only known himself with fur.  I was pretty convinced poor Bilbo was going to feel naked, exposed and wonder where his real self had gone. He doesn’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror but I’m sure that if he did catch a glimpse of his reflection, he would wonder who was staring back at him. Who is this new dog? I’m sure even a dog has some kind of inbuilt sense of identity and for most of us, how we look is definitely a part of who we are. I’m not talking about vanity here. I’m just talking about having a sense of what we look like that makes us unique…ourselves.

Now, of course I don’t know if dogs actually do have a sense of identity. Moreover, even though I love my dog, I have to admit he already had issues. Bilbo believes he’s a person, not a dog. He also believes he’s our third child.

So you see, the poor dog was already mixed up enough without having a hair, or should I say fur, crisis as well.

Anyway, after weeks of procrastination and hard core avoidance, Bilbo has finally had his run in with the lawn mower on Saturday and his beautiful fur coat has gone. He was naked, all except his face and the very tip of his tail. They don’t usually clip a Border Collie’s tail but his tail was quite matted and it needed a fresh start. I can accept that. It all makes perfect logical sense and it was certainly more humane (if that’s what you call looking after your dog). That said, his precious tail looks quite odd-especially as the groomer left a white tuft at the end as some kind of compensation for losing the rest. It’s all quite neat and I’m sure it will look better in a couple of weeks but at the moment, the poor dog looks like a cheerleader wagging a pom pom and it does look… um…”different”!

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Bilbo wasn’t only missing his coat. He had also changed colour. He went into the dog wash booth black and came out light grey. I could say it was like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis but even though the dog groomer had done a fabulous job, he’d gone in the butterfly and emerged the caterpillar. Apparently, border collies have two fur layers and the top coat with longer hairs is black and the undercoat is light grey and they actually appear grey when all the hairs are the same length.

I must stress that we were very happy with the dog groomer. Bilbo wasn’t the easiest client and kept trying to bite the clippers when they went near his front paws and tried to jump out when she turned on the hairdryer. He was a little freaked out. He’s been well-trained by the rest of the family.

The kids weren’t too sure about Bilbo’s new look, especially our daughter who can be quite “particular”.

Initially, our daughter pretty much rejected the dog. She asked me not to take him anywhere near school because her friends would tease her for having a weird dog. I guess it was good that she was open with me so we could talk about “difference” and being more accepting. I reminded her that she loved Bilbo and he was still the same dog and would also be much better off in summer without his coat. I felt this was an important lesson to help her be more accepting of people. After all, we comes in all shapes, colours and sizes….themes and variations and I’d like both my kids to accept people for who they are, not based on appearances!

I do wonder what Bilbo thinks about losing his coat and raised the subject with the family in the car:

Ro:  “naked”.

Geoff: “liberated”.

Mr: “weird”.

Miss: “cold”.

Seeing Bilbo without all his camouflage, has renewed my commitment to his diet. He looks like he’s been squeezed into a tight lycra body suit, which is a size too small and reveals every single bump and indulgence.

He needs to lose weight and get fit and I need to join him!

There has, however, been an unexpected upside to getting the dog clipped.

He stayed out of the rain this morning.

I will explain…

For some strange reason, Bilbo who is usually a very smart dog, stands out in the rain getting sopping wet and then expects to be let in the house and given a pat. He looks terribly forlorn and hurt when he has to stay outside to dry off but as much as I love our dog, that wet dog smell and the mud and too much.

Yesterday, when we were discussing how Bilbo might feel about his haircut, the kids both mentioned the rain and how Bilbo would now be able to feel the rain. Mr said “Bilbo would find it weird to feel the rain”.

Well, this morning the theory was put to the test and we had an almost dry dog. His head, which pretty much has its original fur, was a bit wet as it had been sticking out of his kennel.

We are all adjusting to the new dog. Bilbo hasn’t had a nervous breakdown about losing his coat and Amelia didn’t say anything when Bilbo came in the car with us to school this morning. Patting the shorn fur doesn’t feel the same as the long fur but I’ll live. And now that we have the dog all ready for the summer heat, we’ve had another cold snap and the dog is probably cold.

Perhaps, he could have kept his coat just a little bit longer…

xx Rowena

PS Putting this post together showing me how difficult it is to photography the dog. I was chasing him around the house and every time I’d call him to try to get him to look at the camera, he’d come over to me. In the end, Geoff took the photo of him with me. I also realised that we don’t have many photos of the dog. We usually take photos when we go out and he’s not with us. Considering how many photos I take, I will have to work on that.

PPS Of course, since having the dog clipped, the weather has been unseasonably cold. Last night, I was looking for my overcoat to head out to a Christmas party. It’s already been packed away but I fished my winter PJs back out of the storage crate. I also let Bilbo sleep inside. Geoff heard a mad scramble of claws when he got up during the night. He suspects the dog was “illegally parked” on the couch.

The Greatest Discipline Challenge

Is it fair to punish your children for committing the very same crimes you committed as a child? Wouldn’t that make you the very worst of sinners…a hypocrite? Or, as a parent and the ultimate role model, guide and police person for your child, do you simply keep your secrets secret and apply the strong arm of the law regardless? Hard liners would also argue that if your child shares your weakness, then you really need to be firm and stamp out that undesirable behavior to help them overcome their genetic heritage.

I confess that I’m a bit stumped and am not really sure how to proceed.

You see, my child is guilty of stealing. Not from the local shop or anything sinister like that. My son has been sneaking chocolate biscuits out of the pantry. Actually, his sister has too. That means both my children are thieves and if I followed the letter of the law, they would both be condemned… sentenced to time out for the term of their natural lives. Convicts were sent to Australia for far lesser crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread. My kids are eating my Tim Tams and that should be a capital offense… if only I wasn’t going to be heading to the gallows with them!!

Although it is my house and I paid for the Tim Tams, I shouldn’t be eating them either. The Tim Tams with all their layers of chocolate temptation might be masquerading as my very best friends understanding my deepest and most crushing emotional needs, but I know better. They are not friends at all. They are the serpent in the Garden of Eden looking ever so good but are trying to lead me astray.

That said, I’m not saying that I can’t eat Tim Tams all. Moderation is fine.  They are a sometimes food and if I can only be strong and keep that sometimes sometimes, I can have my Tim Tam and eat it too. That’s one Tim Tam…not two, three or even the entire packet. Tim Tams are very, very hard to resist especially when they get a little warm in summer and the chocolate gets  a bit melty and they just squish in your mouth. Hmm!

For the initiated, there is also the Tim Tam explosion where you dip your Tim Tam in your coffee and use it as a straw and the whole thing becomes so gooey, chocolatey and irresistible just before it drops into your mug.

Anyway, I’ve deviated again. I was supposed to be talking about my antics as a child although I guess you can see that maturity hasn’t cured my chocolate tooth.

When I was growing up and particularly when I was in high school at an age when I really did know better, I used to “find” my mother’s chocolate stash and eat whatever I’d found. These weren’t just a few squares of Cadbury Dairy Milk either. Mum used to buy these special hazelnut clusters from the cafe made from special, dark chocolate. There were also Ferrero Rochers. I also remember sneaking Nutella by the spoonful out of the fridge. I was a bad, bad girl and as you can see, I’m still not sorry!

As a teenager, I never considered my mother’s feelings at all!! I’d found the chocolates, they were mine. All mine! I didn’t consider that maybe she’d felt like a chocolate with her cup of tea before she went to bed. It never crossed my mind that she might need an emotional pick-me-up at the end of her day? Oh no! Mum and I were waging a war. She wanted me to lose weight and I only had eyes for chocolate. This was more than a game of cat and mouse. It was a battle. In her efforts to outmaneuver me, Mum found new places or hidey holes to hide her stash. However, she often forgot where she’d put it and I found it first. You see, I had great perseverance!

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I must tell you that all this writing about chocolate hasn’t been good for my resolve. I’ve just indulged in a Ferrero Rocher. They are just magic!

So if I am a chocolate thief from way back, am I in a position to punish my children for the very same crime? I don’t want my kids to believe they can get away with stealing but I find it difficult to punish them.

I have considered not having any chocolate or lollies in the house. This is one approach to the problem but that isn’t teaching them restraint or manners. I would let them have the occasional Tim Tam but not every day and not before school. I also believe that it’s important for the kids to understand boundaries and that other members of the family, even their mother, have needs too that need to be respected. Letting them get away with stealing the chocolate isn’t teaching them that.

That said, what is getting away with it? I’ve told them off but I couldn’t think about what to put in time out and I doubt the kids would have gone into time out. They usually don’t do what I say. I have also been really tired lately. My prednisone dosage dropped down to 15mg this week, which is great news but my artificial energy source has gone and after being so pumped up, I am feeling particularly flat. It is hard to follow through with the kids when I just feel like going to sleep.

The Giving Tree

I have a very good book called The Giving Tree by Shel Silberstein and I read that to them the other night and at least our daughter got it. The little boy keeps taking from the tree until there is nothing left. This is a story with no happy ending. The tree dies.  I explained to the kids that they can’t take and take and take until Mummy and Daddy have nothing left. It applies to Tim Tams but it also applies to love. As parents, we need to feel loved and a bit spoilt by our kids just like they need to be loved and feel loved by us. When we are giving them so much, it is so easy to feel drained and our love tanks need to be topped up too. We can’t run on empty.

It is up to us as parents to put some boundaries in place so that we actually have something left for ourselves but as our kids get older, they also need to put other members of the family first at times and be considerate, decent human beings who will be valued, considerate members of our community.

For better or worse, that begins at home  although I’m still not really sure how to tackle the chocolate. Any ideas?

xx Rowena