Monthly Archives: September 2015

#Weekend Coffee Share

If we were having coffee, I’d have to offer you a huge woolly jumper and possibly even an overcoat.That is, even though it’s now Spring in Sydney and Summer is just around the corner.

After offering you warm Spring sunshine with your coffee a few weeks ago, I apologise for rain, freezing winds and a sudden drop in temperature. Even though it’s Spring and the weather is usually pretty temperate all year round, Winter has struck back with a vengeance refusing to let Summer move in.

Kirribilli Club

Views across Sydney Harbour from the Kirribilli Club

So far, the highlight this week has been going out for lunch with my husband, Geoff, at the Kirribilli Club overlooking Sydney Harbour. We popped down there after a very intense appointment with my lung specialist, where we really did have good news but that still didn’t ease the pain of delving into all that stuff all over again. Seems I’ve kicked off the lung infection and had some improvements so it was good news after all. https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/lungs-lunch-and-violin-just-an-ordinary-day-in-paradise/

My beloved violin.

My beloved violin.

After lunch, we headed up to my parents’ place to pick up the kids, who’ve been staying there for a couple of days. I’d specially taken my violin along and had decided to have a “jam” with my mother who is a pianist. This was all very good in theory but we were sharing the music between us and either one or both of us was sight-reading and my bi-focals were struggling to read the notes at times. All things considered, we didn’t sound too bad and I’ve extended my repertoire to include a few pieces from Les Miserables.

Through the week, I’ve continued my ongoing journey through the Proust Questionnaire on my blog. Having already tackles happiness and feat, this week I looked at the trait I deplore most in myself and the trait I deplore most in others.

In terms of the trait which I deplore most in myself, that was a fear of making mistakes which stops me from even getting started at times. https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/proust-questionnaire-making-mistakes/

Shark-Eaten Sponge Cake

Shark-Eaten Sponge Cake

When it came to the trait I deplore most in others, I chose bullying because it involved an unfair abuse of power. https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/09/24/proust-questionnaire-bullying-is-the-trait-i-most-deplore-in-others

Embracing my mistakes was good preparation when it came to road testing my mother’s famous Sponge Cake Recipe and although it was almost perfectly cooked, I must have taken it out of the oven only 1-2 minutes too soon and the top of the cake got stuck to the wire cake rack and ripped away like a gaping wound. Then, the kids starting hacking into the poor cake and it looked like it had been mauled by a school of sharks. https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/shark-eaten-sponge-cake/

The Dogs and I. They both decided to pile onto my lap at once.

The Dogs and I. They both decided to pile onto my lap at once.

By the way, I’m yet to introduce you to our two dogs: Bilbo and Lady, who both decided to get up on my lap tonight. Bilbo is a 9 year old Border Collie and we’ve had him since he was a pup. He is obsessed with chasing tennis balls and has even trained up other dog walkers at the beach to throw the ball for him. He’s very smart. Lady is a 3 year old Border Collie x Cavalier and we’ve had her for a year. She came from a farm in Tenterfield, a town made famous by Australian performer Peter Allen who wrote an incredible song: The Tenterfield Saddler. When Lady arrived, she brought along a bunch of indestructible fleas which I called “The Tenterfield Travellers”.

We have now finished our first week of school holidays. One down, one to go.

I hope you’ve had a great week!

Have a great week-end! And don’t forget to visit Diana’s blog. She hosts weekend coffee shares. You can even leave your own post in the relevant link.

Due to the school holidays, I’ll be keeping a low profile so it will take me a while to reply this week.

xx Rowena

Lungs, Lunch and Violin…Just An Ordinary Day in Paradise.

Yesterday, Geoff and I drove down to Sydney for what turned out to be: lungs, lunch and violin.

Well, that’s quite an over-simplication. Or, what you could call: “the bare bones”.

Starting with the lungs…

Lungs

Every three months, I have routine lung function tests followed by an appointment with my lung specialist to monitor the spread of fibrosis in my lungs and to manage infection and any other lung nasties. While my lungs aren’t great and I have about 60% lung volume at the best of times, the fibrosis has been pretty stable for the last two years and I even get the odd improvement. So, these appointments aren’t all doom and gloom and we usually have a few laughs with my specialist.

However, there is no denying the reality of these appointments. My lungs are my weakest link and so we’re pretty much staring straight into the face of fear, eye-to-eye, without so much as a blink. We are probing the depths, trouble-shooting and coming up with a detailed defense strategy. This is very sensible and naturally the more you know about your enemy and yourself, the greater your chance of victory. However, at times, these conversations hit a nerve and it’s like plunging a knife in a very raw wound and it’s not surprising that I completely freak out and leap out of my skin. Who wouldn’t?!!

Although I’m tougher than I used to be and am somewhat resilient, I’m not made of stone. I crumble and fall apart just like anyone else and wish I could cry. Cry buckets of tears but the well has run dry.

The key outcome of this appointment is that I need to start dropping my prednisone further. This is supposedly good news. I keep telling myself this is good news. That means that I’m doing well. The disease is being managed and the risks posed by the medication outweigh the likelihood of the disease flaring up. This is what I want.

I can say that more than 24 hours later when the dust has settled. However, yesterday I was beyond terrified and wanted to boot some poor innocent hermit crab out of it’s shell and move in. Lock myself away and shut the door. Never come out. I really had to remind myself of all those things you need to do when your journey hits a snag and the wind goes out of your sails ie walk, get some sun, play my violin. EAT CHOCOLATE!!

We are now getting pretty close to that invisible line where the disease starts to reclaim lost ground and if it isn’t managed like the precarious house of cards that it is, I could literally come falling down. Have a flare. Of course, this possibility terrifies me and for good reason and I feel like I’m about to drive a car over the edge of a very steep cliff and the waves down below are just waiting to wrap around me. Pull me under.

I don’t know how likely it is to go pear-shaped but my doctors seem reasonably confident. This would suggest that all my flapping around is mere “catastrophising”, even though I still see it as healthy self-preservation. I should be right dropping 1-2mg gradually over a few months but then the real test is on. They’re trying to get me down to 5mg. At this point, I’m very inclined to quote Darryl Kerrigan from the classic Australian movie: The Castle:

But sometimes, you need other people to have a bit of faith in what you can do and what is possible. Sometimes, you need that outside reminder and jolt that your dreams really can come true.

So, it seems, I have to swallow my own medicine and take a deep breath and swing from the chandelier!

However, our day was not all doom and gloom!

Lunch!

After dealing with the lung monster, Geoff and I headed down to Sydney Harbour for lunch at The Kirribilli Club in Lavender Bay. This was the perfect antidote. I chose this place due to its sweeping views over Lavender Bay, Luna Park and the back of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We could see the planes coming in to land in the distance and the ferries chugging their way through the harbour to places like Manly, Balmain and Kirribilli. It was so incredibly relaxing and the perfect antidote for a stressful morning. I still felt agitated inside, way too much like a churning washing machine but I could also feel that calming salve mounting a counter-offensive and could almost relax. Watching the water is so good for that and so incredibly therapeutic!

By the way, I should mention that it was unseasonably cold and the wind was whirling around, slapping us in the face. Yes, it hurt!

I was mighty glad I hadn’t got around to packing up my Winter clothes because woollens are back on. Indeed, where are my thermals?

After lunch, we went up to my parents’ place to pick up the kids and have dinner.

My beloved violin.

My beloved violin.

Violin

I’d packed my violin and decided to have a bit of a jam with my Mum who is an accomplished pianist. She’s taught the piano for many years and now that she’s retired, plays in The Lyric Trio with a singer, clarinet and her on piano. They play at Nursing Homes and retirement Villages, pretty much out o the kindness of their hearts.

Playing with my Mum was a huge step for me. While it sounds simple and natural enough, I’ve only been playing for 3 years and for the last 12 months, I’ve been struggling to keep up with my practice, especially given the ups and down with my health. The violin is a very demanding instrument and it’s not easy for anyone to develop good bowing techniques and get those awkward, uncooperative fingers to behave and find exactly the right spot every time. When you mix these difficulties with someone else playing the  piano, my mistakes become horribly magnified…especially to a trained ear!! These mistakes aren’t anywhere near as fatal when I’m playing alone. Sure, I know it doesn’t quite sound right but there isn’t that discordant clang, which is almost as painful as fingernails scraped down a chalkboard.

Just to exacerbate my violin battles even further, my bifocals were struggling to read the notes and I was making more and more mistakes. This infuriates me, of course, these mistakes aren’t “me”. Or, at least, not a true reflection on my playing.

I’m sure I can hear you pondering about me and the bifocals and wondering  how they fit in since I don’t wear glasses but is a sin of omission ie taking my glasses off for photos really such an unforgivable sin?

I think I’ve just stumbled into another post.

xx Rowena

A Letter to the Sun.

Dear Sun,

Where the @#$$% are you?

Just in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately, it’s now the end of September.You’re supposed to be here by now and no more of these fleeting drop-in, guest appearances either! It’s well and truly Spring. Summer is just around the corner…not a few blocks away, despite what you might think.You’re supposed to be here by now!

Indeed, it’s now almost October and for some strange reason, you’ve gone Missing In Action.

It is currently 14.8°C and I know I can’t blame you for the wind but it’s a roaring 14 knots and even the dogs are complaining that their fur is being blown all the way to New Zealand.

After preliminary inquiries, I’ve established that you were last seen on the Australian East Coast on Monday 21st September at 5.50PM, although there have been a few unconfirmed sightings since then.

Meanwhile, I’ve received confirmed reports that you’ve escaped back to the Northern Hemisphere and I’m starting to wonder if you’ve been snatched, although I’m yet to receive any ransom demands.

I repeat where the @#$$% are you?

If you don’t report back in by 07.00 hours, you will be considered AWOL and can expect an instant court martial upon your return.

Yours sincerely,

Australia.

Interesting Facts about Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’

I absolutely adore The Prophet and the ideas of Kahlil Gibran and thought you might appreciate this post xx Rowena

Interesting Literature

A short summary of the origins and significance of The Prophet, the 1923 book by Kahlil Gibran

Here’s a question for you. Can you name the three biggest-selling poets in the world? Shakespeare has to be in there (and he is – at number one in most accounts), but what about the other two? Wordsworth? Homer? Tennyson? John Betjeman, maybe? His poetry sold a lot of copies in the twentieth century. No, the other two names to make the trio of bestseller-poets are ancient Chinese poet-philosopher Lao-Tzu, and Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), author of the 1923 book The Prophet. (Gibran is usually placed third on the list; Lao-Tzu is at number two.)

The Prophet is Gibran’s most popular work and is largely the reason he is one of the three biggest-sellers in world poetry. Accurate worldwide sales figures for the book are not known, but it has…

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Proust Questionnaire: Bullying is the trait I most deplore in others.

Today, I’m finally moving on to Question 4 of the Proust Questionnaire: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Humph!

Working through this Proust Questionnaire is really challenging my brain.

Think! Think! Think! Think! Think!

“For I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.”― A.A. Milne, The World of Winnie-the-Pooh

I can almost hear it ticking and there’s this jarring movement between the question which is ticking very fast and my brain, which is very slow..ly plod..ding a…lo..ng…

Back leaning over my keyboard late at night, I’m wondering whether this is all too much. Have I done it again and set myself yet another overly ambitious target and perhaps I should slow things down a bit? Perhaps, it’s also yet another procrastinating, delaying tactic distracting me from simply writing the book instead of doing more “research”?

I’m also wondering whether this Proust Questionnaire is relevant to the 21st century and if is it asking the questions I want to ask my character?

However, this is what happens when you embark on any new, intensive project. You have second thoughts, doubts and if you’re anything like me, you also like to put your own stamp on things and have trouble rigidly sticking to the rules.

Well, in this case, I set myself this challenge and the schedule so I could stop of change this at any time but part of this is also starting something and getting it finished. I also see merit in answering someone else’s questions to add depth to my character in ways I wouldn’t have considered. There is merit in not always beating to your own drum.

Meanwhile, it’s late and the dog’s have left the back door open and a cold wind is wrapping around my legs instead of their warm furry coats. I’m still awake because it’s school holidays and the kids are staying at my parents’ place for a few days and I ended up sleeping much of today. I’m pretty much back on deck after recent bronchitis but get fatigued easily. Besides, it was a cold, windy day and it felt so good sleeping with my electric blanket switched on and the world outside switched completely off!!

I’m not going to mention yesterday’s train trip with the kids to Sydney either but suffice to say that I was relieved to drop them off and meet up with Geoff and have a quiet dinner out.

This brings me to question 4: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Humph. This is quite a hard one.

After throwing a few ideas around, I’ve found it…bullying.

Bullying doesn’t need any introductions or definitions  because it’s all over the web.

The reason I’ve nominated bullying as the trait I most deplore in others is that involves the misuse of power to intimidate others or to get what you want no matter who or what stands in your way. While this might be perceived as determination, it can also be a form of bullying and should be treated as such.

I was brutally bullied when I was at school. I wasn’t punched, kicked, scratched or even stabbed with a knife but for 6 years I was brutally bullied with words, ostracism and just plain cruelty, largely for being different.Being different, as most of us appreciate, is a serious crime at school and even though the world might open up like a flower once we leave, it’s like being stuck in a lift for six years and for some it becomes too much.

What none of us knew at the time was that I had a serious medical condition, which accounted for these weird and wonderful symptoms. Mum had a very difficult birth with me and that was probably how I ended up with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain, which wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-20s.

The shadow of bullying can haunt people for years.

The shadow of bullying can haunt people for years.

Despite the troubles, I had at school, I attended my 10 year school reunion only weeks after brain surgery and half my hair had been shaved off but no one could tell because they’d left a layer a “curtain” of hair over the top. The reunion went really well and I even made new friends and connections. We’d all grown up a lot, which was really reassuring and there was none of that trademark bitchiness we’d had at school.

Most of the time, I don’t think about my experiences of being bullied at all these days. I found my peace and moved on…right on. However, my daughter recently talked to me about being bullied and said: “You don’t know what it’s like”.

Well, that was time to share a bit of my personal history only I can’t remember very much. No doubt I shut the door on all of that and don’t want to go back. The only reason I’d go back there at all would be to help my kids. Show them that you can go through being bullied and come out the other end being strong, a survivor. I ultimately found my niche at university where I had plenty of friends and was even ran for election for the student newspaper.

The other thing, too, about when I was being bullied was that while it was obviously going on, as I mentioned before, there wasn’t a lot that stood out that you could actually mention. No physical scars or proof and just words. We didn’t use the term bullying at our school. I guess a bully was stereotyped as some kind of thug of a boy and I was at an all-girls’ school. If you were picked on or bullied at our school, you were just a “loser”, “reject” or “Nigel No Friends”. There was no way of pointing the mirror back at the bully, so they could see their own ugly reflection. There was no “portrait of Dorien Gray” either. I don’t think there was any kind of of punishment or action taken by staff. You were just crushed…and your parents paid a fortune for the privilege.

These days I still see bullying and I’m not talking about kids. Parents slaughtering a teacher’s reputation without any evidence or a second thought. Parents judging children, judging other parents and just speaking their mind without any kind of filter whatsoever. I’ve heard these parents described as “gaters”. Not just because they hang out at the school gate but because they’re as brutal as a pack of alligators and show no mercy.

It seems to me that bullies grow up.

While I’m not always good at minding my tongue either, my grandmother, who was a very wise woman, used to tell me: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all”! That is very sound advice, which would prevent a lot of heartache and worse.

Would any of you like to share the trait you most deplore in others?

Just to get you thinking, a few of the other traits I considered were: anger, superficiality and arrogance. I obviously couldn’t mention running late, staying up too late or eating too much chocolate without pointing fingers back at me.

xx Rowena

Proust Questionnaire: Making Mistakes.

As you might be aware, I’m working my way through the Proust Character Questionnaire as background research for the Book Project.The journey started here:

Continuing right along with the Proust Questionnaire, we’re now up to question 3:

What is the Trait you deplore most in yourself?

Addressing this question in 2015 well beyond the Victorian era when it was posed, I’m a little taken aback.

Aren’t you supposed to be asking me about my strengths before we get stuck into the weaknesses? Isn’t that how this thing works? Don’t I get an opportunity to shine before I hang out all my dirty laundry?

Smile!

Smile!

Well, I guess you could say things were a little different back in 1890 when Proust responded to the questionnaire as a teenager. This was long before phrases like: “Greed is good” and “looking after Number 1” came into vogue.

Indeed, dare I mention the Seven Deadly Sins:

  1. Wrath
  2. Greed
  3. Sloth
  4. Pride
  5. Lust
  6. Envy
  7. Gluttony

I might be wrong but it seems like the Victorians were more concerned about what they were doing wrong than doing right. After all, this seems the era where you constantly renovated yourself, rather than your house.

However, when it comes to the trait I most deplore in myself it has to be making mistakes. I really don’t like making mistakes and often feel like a bumbling idiot.

Sponge Cake

Sponge Cake

Take yesterday’s sponge cake for instance. I probably took it out of the oven a minute or two too soon, which meant that the top was still a bit too moist. There I was staring at perfection one minute and then the top stuck to the wire cooling rack and just like a skinned knee on bitumen, it was savagely ripped off. While it might have looked funny for the blog photo and made me look endearingly human, I didn’t want to be human. I wanted perfection. I wanted to swan around at home as if I’d just won Best Cake in Show at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Violin Concert 2013.

Violin Concert 2013.

The same goes with playing my violin. I cringe every time that jolly instrument squeaks, even though violins are legendary for being difficult, temperamental and just plain nasty. If you think a two year old child can throw the world’s greatest tantrum, you haven’t met a violin and yet, they can sing like an angel too!

There I was two years ago practicing for my preliminary exam with my accompanist and it was so hot that my fingers were sliding down the strings. After all those months of practice, to have my performance compromised by the heat was almost the last straw. I could’ve hurled that violin straight of Sydney’s most famous suicide spot The Gap without a second thought.

Indeed, my aversion to making mistakes on my beloved violin was so intense that I arrived at the examination rooms an hour early to warm up (despite the heat). When there was nowhere to practice, I went downstairs onto Sydney’s busy York Street and set myself up in an empty bus shelter practicing away as bicycle couriers, buses and cars whizzed past. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I was going to get my A…and I did!

So, as much as I hate myself for making mistakes, I do admire myself for those times where I keep pushing through, persevere and finally reach victory!

A family photo Mother's Day 2007.

A family photo Mother’s Day 2007.

When it comes to making mistakes as a parent, of course, the list is endless but at least I never left the baby at the bus stop or failed to pick the kids up from school. Most of what I term mistakes are actually more funny incidents in retrospect. Such as the time, our newborn son was still crying at 2.00AM and my husband put him in the pram and took him for a walk through the local shops and his screams were apparently quite deafening as they echoed through the empty streets. There was also the time we completely freaked out because he’d turned orange. We’d thought he was dying but he’d simply eaten too many orange vegetables. There were also his explorations which took him on top of the back shed at 2 years and looking like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he marvelled at the “mountains” and how different things looked from up there. Another time, he fell off the back shed and Mummy caught him. He also got stuck exploring under the house and did I mention anything about climbing trees? Our daughter cut her finger when she was 3 and needed surgery after that.There have also been many hours where my children have had to occupy themselves as the ravages of living with my auto-immune disease took over.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

I’m sure this list of parenting mistakes is only going to extend now that our son’s about to start high school and we’ll soon be embarking on the teenage years.

What I hate most about this fear of making mistakes, however, is not the mistakes I’ve actually made. Rather, it’s all the things I’ve never tried because I anticipated failure and gave up before I’d even started. This list is so long and very humbling but I have started working on it. I am moving forward with the book project and while attempting complex recipes I’d put off might seem a relatively trivial thing to overcome, I disagree. Baking can be a very non-forgiving science. When making sweets, you usually need to be very precise and precise isn’t my strength. I’m much more slap dash and intuitive. Moreover, due to my medical conditions, strictly following procedures and getting things in the right order isn’t always easy for me. So baking can actually  be quite challenging. Of course, these challenges multiply expediently when I’m cooking with the kids. Of course, they add a whole extra layer of distracting confusion, as much as I love cooking with them. It can be quite hard when I’m making something new and I don’t know what I’m doing and they can step in and add all the wrong things at all the wrong time, all with good intentions of course. Unfortunately, this is when my aversion to making mistakes rears its ugly head and I might snap at the kids, morphing into something of a Gordon Ramsay disgusting myself completely and it’s tears all roun.

Thank goodness for “Sorry”!

Fortunately, most mistakes aren’t fatal.

We can have another go and seriously who expects to get things right the first time? Yes, I know we all do.It would be great but it’s not realistic. It takes practice. trial and error. More error than success but giving up is a guaranteed fail.

When it comes to stuffing up our relationships, “sorry” is a good start but change is always possible and alongside sorry comes forgiveness. Not always possible but I’m talking more about garden-variety crimes than the big ones. We all hurt each other unintentionally possibly more so than through intent.

How could she do anything wrong?

How could she do anything wrong?

Although as a parent these days, I’m more focused on my parenting crimes, I still tend to gloss over those crimes I committed as a child. That same sense of entitlement I don’t like seeing in my own kids…a lack of appreciation to outright rebellion.

There was a certain party I had when my parents went away for the weekend but hey at least hordes of gatecrashers didn’t turn up along with a Police helicopter. As great a crime as it might have been, having a handful of trusted friends over could have been a hell of a lot worse. Moreover, the effort that went into devising a story to tell my Dad was worthy of an epic novel and gave us all quite a lesson in creative writing. Being a writer himself, he should have appreciated that but he had his “Dad” hat on at the time.

So, above all else, I owe my parents a huge bunch of sorries. Most of all for being critical of their parenting efforts and not understanding that everybody makes mistakes. That we’re all human and simply can not walk on water. That’s a hard lesson for us all!

I know we can't just rub out all our mistakes but it's worth a try!

I know we can’t just rub out all our mistakes but it’s worth a try!

The next question on the Proust Questionnaire is: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Dare I say being perfect? Getting it right the first time?

Ouch! That’s tempting but as I said, I’m only human!

xx Rowena

Tuesday Trivia

For all you dog lovers out there, some dog trivia xx Rowena

Tails Around the Ranch

Psst, Sam here. I’m gonna be whispering because Mom is in the other room trying to catch up on blog reading so I thought I’d help her out by doing the latest edition of Tuesday Trivia. Don’t laugh too loud, we don’t want to disturb her, ok? She’s been dying to read what everyone has been up to lately.

IMG_1219

  • Did you know that the Kublai Kahn owned 5,000 Mastiffs at one time and holds the record for most dogs ever owned b a single person? Yikes, how’d you like to clean up THAT dog run?
  • That crazy rock star Ozzy Osborne once rescued his wife’s Pomeranian from a coyote by wrestling it until it dropped the dog. That guy is just too weird. After seeing Sharon in action, I think she could handle a mere coyote without having to get Ozzy in the mix but what do I know, I’m just…

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