Category Archives: Chemotherapy

I wish I Had Dance Feet…

People often say to me, ‘I don’t know anything about dance.’ I say, ‘Stop. You got up this morning, and you’re walking. You are an expert.’

Twyla Tharp

As you may recall, I’ve been attending a weekly adult dance class for roughly the last year. This has been a huge step for me, because I live with a severe muscle-wasting auto-immune disease as well as hydrocephalus and let’s just say mobility and coordination are not my strengths.

However, as I’ve mentioned, my daughter dances quite seriously and after watching countless open days, concerts and at times having serious difficulties getting her to class, I started getting sick of being stuck in the driver’s seat. I wanted to dance myself.

My motto – sans limites.

Isadora Duncan

Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.

Martha Graham

At first, I started dancing in my head and was amazed by my grace, poise and ability to jeter across the room.

Well, to be honest, it wasn’t exactly me. Taking a leaf out of the bower bird’s book, I sub-consciously “borrowed” or perhaps you could even say, that I moved into Miss Larissa’s feet and became a legend inside my own head.

That’s when I first started feeling like a dancer, even though I was unable to dance and to be perfectly honest, often struggled to walk, especially on public footpaths, which are forever trying to trip me up. In what felt like a very bold leap at the time, I gingerly approached my daughter’s teacher and confessed. Naturally, this felt rather “weird” and I wondered if I’d finally tipped the scales of madness to the point of no return. Dancing was light years away from “me”…a writer, photographer and someone living with a chronic illness.

writing

So, it was from this very tentative and reticent corner of the room, that I arrived at my first adult ballet class fully expecting to spend most of the night sitting in a chair. From where I sat, this wasn’t so much a position of defeat. Rather, even being in the room as a class member was an achievement and it felt incredible just to be a part of the inner sanctum. As I didn’t know what to expect of myself,  I simply hoped to have beautiful, ballet hands at the end of the six week course.

While I clearly didn’t have much in the way of personal expectations, even turning up was brave and courageous. That being there in itself, represented a huge gear shift I could be proud of. After all, wasn’t most of the world parked in front of their TV, computer or mobile phone screens, while I was stepping out and being challenged by something completely out of my realm.

Sometimes, you deserve  a bit of praise and enthusiastic applause simply for getting out of bed. and if you make it out the front door that’s a bonus.

That’s where I was coming from. So, my expectations of being able to dance weren’t great.

So, you could just imagine my delight when I was somewhat keeping up with the class. That I didn’t spend the entire class in a chair and wasn’t as uncoordinated as I’d thought. After all, there’s nothing like a bit of brain surgery and tinkering away in your head to get the cogs moving.

Those early nights of adult ballet classes, almost feel like a dream a year down the track. I’ve since done two short contemporary/lyrical classes under Miss Karina Russell. She’s not only been teaching us about dance and choreography, she’s taken us on a journey through various choreographic styles and given me something to Google when I get home. I was as proud as punch of my research and the growing list of dance quotes I’d compiled, until she asked me if I’d actually watch them dance. Of course, not.  Yes, I was still very much the writer and researcher than a dancer…a woman of action. Yet, it was still early days.

Last night, we had our last contemporary class for the time being and next term, we’re switching to tap. So, last night was special and a bit like performing at the end of year concert. I wanted to put my best feet forward and perfect our routine. Or, at least, be facing the right direction at the right time.

However, after going on our long walk on Sunday and obviously overdoing it round the house yesterday, my systems were overstretched and I couldn’t get it together. For the very first time, I was struggling with left and right as we attempted pirouettes, and was facing all the wrong directions doing our warm ups and stretches. This was so bad and as much as I laughed it off, there was also that frustrated, annoyed dancer stuck inside me trying so hard to get out, yet battling the mortal realm.

Why couldn’t I have dance feet? A dance brain? I was feeling like someone had switched all the wires over and when I meant to go left, I went right. Or, I just ended up in a mental knot…a spin which was anything but a shanay turn.

Aside from the fatigue, there was another sound explanation for my brain-body confusion.

While watching Miss Karina so intently, I was absorbing her moves as my own and couldn’t understand why my body wouldn’t cooperate. Why didn’t my foot point like that. Why couldn’t I stand on one leg while rotating my hands and foot without wobbling and falling over like a house of cards? It was like I was having some kind of massive computational error…Miss Karina in, Rowena out. There was a definite bug in the program!

However, I’m not that hard on myself that I didn’t know I was tired. That I wasn’t dancing at my best. Or, that Miss Karina not only has natural talent, she’s also worked exceptionally hard for a very long time. As  she will testify, there’s no fairy Godmother and no magic wand either.

“Destiny, quite often, is a determined parent. Mozart was hardly some naive prodigy who sat down at the keyboard and, with God whispering in his ears, let music flow from his fingertips. It’s a nice image for selling tickets to movies, but whether or not God has kissed your brow, you still have to work. Without learning and preparation, you won’t know how to harness the power of that kiss.”
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Yet, I am simply grateful to be a part of it, find acceptance even on an off night, and to be able to see Miss Karina dance up close and appreciate all the detail that goes into being a brilliant dancer. Not only for my own benefit, but also for my daughter. Since I’ve been doing these adult dance classes, we’ve been able to share a common language and last weekend when I saw her draw a semi-circle in the sand with a pointed foot, I knew exactly what she was doing.

“Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”

Martha Graham

 

dance feet

Secret dance business. We only reveal our feet.

“My feet are dogs”.

Rudolf Nureyev

So, last night at the end of our class, I lined everyone up for a few photos. I’ve really been hanging out to photograph all our feet. While this might seem strange, for me our diverse range of footwear reflects who we are. There were socks, joggers, toe shoes, jazz shoes… as well as me wearing my pink satin ballet slippers with the satin ribbons to a contemporary class. We are a motley crew who take our dance seriously and work hard. Yet, there’s also this constant laughter, good humour, fun personalities as well as the joy of belonging and being part of the dance, which is an incredible feeling all by itself.

I don’t know why more creatives don’t cross-train and do some painting, dance, try some artistic photography with an SLR instead of their “camera phone”. While cross-training has become standard for athletes, I get that sense that creatives are still very much absorbed by their thing and it’s a rare soul who ventures beyond the usual streams which go together. In the performing arts, you hear about being the “triple threat”. That means you can dance, sing and act. Yet, I’m not aware of an equivalent term for someone who can write, do photography and say graphic design.

There’s so much to be gained from stepping beyond our comfort zones and what we’re naturally good at and enjoy. Instead of every writer writing about what it means to be a writer, you can write about the exhilaration of dance from an inside perspective instead. You’re not just a voyeur watching life pass by through the keyhole. You’re living it too.

That is, even if you’ve only got duck feet.

Do you dance?

xx Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share 26th March, 2027.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

You’ve struck it lucky this week. After weeks and weeks of torrential rain, today I can finally offer you a cup of sunshine, which, when you’d been deprived of sun for so long, is pure gold and way better than a measly tea or coffee.

The sun is shining. So, why on earth am I sitting inside on my laptop when I should be outside seizing the rays?

It’s okay. I’m working on it. I’m still waking up and trying to psyche myself up for my “twenty minute walk”. Now that the rain’s stopped, I’ve run out of excuses for the physio. So, I’ve gotta: “Move it! Move it! Move it!” I almost feel like praying for rain. And for all of you motivation types, I know I’ll enjoy it once I get started and that it’s about time I went and checked out the beach before Winter sets in, but the power of the couch is very alluring.

I am finally starting to get a bit of direction and focus at last.

About a month ago, I received a rather generous assistance package through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This included a physio, Occupational Therapy and psychology combo as well as a personal mentor, 9 hours of cleaning and a budget to really Spring clean the house and get it back in order. Ten years of chronic illness have truly swamped the place!! So, at the moment we’re getting started. Friday, I began the dreaded process of sorting through about 5 in trays, hoping that by now, all that paperwork was well and truly redundant and headed straight for the WPB (waste paper bin AKA recycling).

Woy Woy March 20

Taken on one of my recent “ten minute walks”.

The other advantage of getting rid of this excess paperwork, is that it distracts the mentor from culling my collections. After all, if anything is well into that endangered category of “not being used for the last 6 months and collecting dust”, it’s my collection of antique and vintage tea cups. Moreover, even I have to admit there’s considerable “excess”. However, before I do the hard yards sorting through my beloved “old ladies”, I’d much rather throw out the old school notes.

1936 Eunice in London

Meanwhile, I’ve been head down tail up transposing newspaper articles about my grandmother’s career as an international concert pianist. These started going online the week of her funeral, which was rather freaky at the time when articles from 1935 suddenly started rising to the surface. I am viewing her career through a much broader social context, which is much more time consuming but has created a much more interesting story line. For example, there was a review of a London performance which she’d kept as a clipping in her scrapbook. However, when I found it online this week, I read the full article which mentioned the arrival of Sudeten Jews in London in 1938 and how Jewish children were being adopted by English families. It’s fascinating reading history forward instead of reverse, which, of course, is how it was experienced.

One thing which has been quite interesting about researching my grandmother’s journey, is that I am reading all these facts, stories etc as her grand-daughter, a writer-storyteller and researcher and NOT primarily as a musician. I read the list of her performance pieces like a shopping list, yet without the  recognition. I’ve been ploughing through the articles and trying to get through them all and so stopping to listen to the music itself hasn’t been a priority. However, I finally Googled Beethoven’s Waldstein and a few others, and they were as familiar to me as breathing. They were such a part of my childhood and I remember falling to sleep to them on my parents’ laps. It’s so precious to relive these moments, even if it is through the exceptionally humble speakers on my laptop. So, I am inspired to listen to these more and to get the stereo operational. That is, if that thing is still called a stereo!

Meanwhile, real life realities always beckon me back from the joys of research and discovery. I’m finalising my daughter’s application for the local high school, while we wait on the results of the selective schools’ test. This involves an academic test for selective class and three auditions for the CAPA or performing arts stream. These auditions are filling me with dread. STRESS x 3 is not something to look forward to and I am becoming quite an adept motivational coach as she does various auditions. It’s just lucky that I’m a natural performer. It’s just an ironic twist that I don’t have an act, unless you include stand-up comedy after my latest trip.

dancer box

Just as well I have my own creative and stress outlet. Tomorrow night, I have my last contemporary/jazz dance class for this term. I am truly going to miss these classes. We have so much fun. Not only with the dancing, but with the hilarious commentary, my pink satin ballet shoes with ribbons attached and the way so many of us seemingly “breathe out” during these classes. I know this sounds like a paradox, because learning dance as an adult sounds very intense and it’s such a perfectionist thing, but we’re not trying be prima donnas. We’re wanting to stretch ourselves physically, psychologically and philosophically and laugh from head to toe. It’s magic…even if my dancing has a way to go!

I have cut back on writing on my blog this year. However, I am still enjoying writing my weekly flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers. You can read this week’s effort here.

So, how has your week been? I hope it’s been great and that the week ahead goes well for you too!

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Nerd In the Brain. You can join in the  Linky.

Xx Rowena

Return of the Dancing Queen.

“I like attractive people who aren’t so terribly aware that they are attractive… people who aren’t afraid to roll on the floor and make fools out of themselves.”

Bob Fosse

Watch out world! The Dancing Queen is back.

Tonight, my dance class kicked off again for the New Year, and I was there with bells on. Well, I was actually still wearing my pink satin ballet slippers, pink ballet tights and a new addition…the black “tutu” I picked up from Vinnies (charity shop) last weekend.

While this might all sound pretty “normal”, it was a contemporary/jazz/lyrical class. For the uninitiated that means you DO NOT WEAR BALLET ATTIRE!!! However, I’ve created my own space with my pink satin slippers and they’ve sort of become “me”. Besides, they really are too pretty to hide away in my cupboard, now that we’ve changed codes. By the way, I’m not the only one who’s turned up to class with a certain je ne sais quoi either. Our adult dance class has a few subversive elements.

IMG_0839

While you might find someone with limited mobility is an unlikely dancer, perhaps that’s why dancing has suddenly become so important to me. That when something gets snatched away, you realize how precious it is and you want to grasp it with both hands and swing from the chandelier. Moreover, I’ve also found a safe and accepting place to dance and we’re a great bunch of people!! That has certainly made a world of difference! I can simply have a go. Do my best and hold onto that sense of sheer exhilaration for as long as I can.

I’ve also realized, now that I’m nearing 50, that I’m finally stepped out of my metaphorical cage. Indeed,  I’ve finally found my wings.It’s such a shame, in a way because I’ve lost a lot of time and they were always there waiting for me. However, I guess that’s why you have to earn your wings. They need to be appreciated, valued, treasured and used. They’re not just pretty ornaments.

Like so many, my reluctance to dance and my paralyzing self-consciousness,  wasn’t self-imposed. The cage came from outside. That constricting peer pressure, which decreed that only the cool girls could dance. That anyone as “unco” as me, shouldn’t be seen dead on the dance floor. Rather, you had to hide yourself away.

Yet, dancing is for everyone and by denying people the opportunity to dance and set themselves free in the physical realm, you’re cutting them off from their soul.

That’s not just rhetoric either.

While the context is a bit different, I still remember that dreadful scene in Dead Poet’s Society where Neil’s Dad wouldn’t let him perform in the play and pursue a career in the theatre, and he took his life. He couldn’t live being so estranged from himself.

That’s an important scene to keep in mind as a parent for a multitude of reasons.

Anyway, I digress. Getting back to tonight’s class…

Tonight’s class was inspired by the choreography of Bob Fosse. Fosse was born in 1927 to a performing family and hit the vaudeville stage at a young age. In addition to his more traditional dance education, Fosse had first-hand experience with the burlesque style of dance, and this informed much of his choreography. One of his earliest dance creations, choreographed at the age of 15, was a suggestive nightclub number featuring girls wearing ostrich feathers. This early moment hints at the larger thread of sensuality that would run through all of his work. However, his work isn’t purely burlesque. It is its own unique amalgamation that results in cool jazz movements.

“Live like you’ll die tomorrow, work like you don’t need the money, and dance like nobody’s watching.”

Bob Fosse

However, Bob Fosse was another world away tonight, and my eyes were glued to my teacher, Miss Karina Russell, who translates professional dance into something I can almost follow. By that, I mean something I can almost write about. The actual doing needs a lot more work. My  arms and legs were all over the place, which is to be somewhat expected with a new routine but I’m still trying to take in what I see  and am a long way of translating that into my own movements. Yet, not to be too hard on myself, I am on the way and it was only the first take.

Moreover, despite my struggles, I received nothing but encouragement. We had fun, laughed and I stretched myself beyond my comfort zone and also extended my body and mind beyond the width of my laptop. That’s important in itself. I spend hours writing, researching and not stretching my body beyond my chair.

Have you ever attended an adult dance class? Why or why not? How did you feel about it? I’d love to hear from you!

xx Rowena

 

Christmas Post.

We hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas.

Ours was a wonderful Christmas. Indeed, what I think was my best Christmas in quite a few years. My health is really good. I’ve been in remission for almost 3 years now without having the blood transfusions of IVIG I’d been having every 3 weeks for the preceding 5 years. Finally, I was actually able to raise my head off the tarmac and enjoy take off…yippee!

I obviously don’t know what Christmas was like at your place, but it was chaos at ours. Yet, amidst the multifarious layers of ripped Christmas rap rolling around like tumbleweed underneath the Christmas Tree, there was some structure, tradition and a respect for the true meaning of Christmas.dsc_5189

I won’t go into all of the presents but my husband bought us a double hammock each in a frame for Christmas. This will be great for getting through all the books I gave the rest of the family, some I must confess with a vested interest. After loving The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, I gave my husband The Best of Adam Sharp. Of course, he was cynically wondering whether this book was going to live up to his first two novels. I bought my daughter an intriguing book with some text but largely drawings which had been recommended by my friend’s teenage daughter. My Dad thought the book was a crock and that her “gums were flapping”. However, when it comes to picking a book for my daughter, a girl a couple of years older is a better judge in my mind.

Gee, isn’t Christmas fun?!

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself because we haven’t left the house yet and I’ve accelerated right through Christmas lunch, afternoon tea, the pool, the royal splinter. I’d better watch out. I’m accelerating so fast, that I’m about to get a speeding fine and double demerits are in force. Just as well Santa’s already been, or I’d be at Number 2 on his Naughty List. That is after Lady, who is still sitting at Number 1 after devouring our home-made Christmas Cake last week.

Somehow, we managed to force the front door shut without the rising tide of pre and post Christmas whatsymecallits falling out the door. Actually, make that a tsunami, not that I’m being melodramatic and pushing the limits of exaggeration beyond all credibility. I’d never ever do anything like that!

Our approach to cleaning up for Christmas? Abandon house!

The dogs didn’t even get a bath and did I hear the roar of lawn mowers somewhere in the distance? Well, they mysteriously by-passed our place as well. Then again, you need to have a lawn to mow. I haven’t had time to give our lawn much of an inspection lately, but I think it’s been burned to a crisp. Incinerated by the hot Australian sun… a bit like a snag on a BBQ. They’re supposed to be charcoal, aren’t they?

Next, we all piled in the car to drive down to Sydney via the M1 Freeway.

Every year, we regret leaving late and think about the dream run we would’ve had if only we’d left an hour earlier. However, it turned out that leaving our neck of the woods, was pretty much as bad as it got apart from a small stretch of bumper to bumper traffic right near my aunt’s place. By this stage, the turn off was in sight and we could cope with that. By the way, I’d packed two books by Dodinsky for the trip, and they were done and dusted by the end. Have you ever read Dodinsky? I highly recommend it!

My Dad is one of seven and we celebrate Christmas with his family at my aunt’s place. While you’d be excused for thinking there was no structure or order amongst the throng, our day runs like clockwork. My aunt sets the arrival time and the rest of us operate on our own clock. Yet, we somehow conform to the same routine every year. There are the lunchers, the afternoon tea crowd, the early departures, and the lingerers. Among the cousins, there’s also the turn taking now they’ve got married. My husband’s parents have passed away, so we spend Christmas with my extended family every year. A small Christmas isn’t Christmas to me.

I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow account of Christmas Day, but there were a few stories worth a special mention.

Firstly, beyond the dinner table, my aunt’s swimmhumouring pool becomes the epicentre of our Christmas. Funny that, because it’s been at least a decade since I last made it into the pool. I did take my swimmers yesterday, which was a step forward. However, for some reason, I couldn’t get in.   Didn’t even try. Although it was a hot day, I seriously didn’t want to get wet. Moreover, I wasn’t too sure about revealing so much of my royal whiteness either. Some things are meant to be left covered up.

However, my kids had a ball in the pool. Two of my cousins do a great job entertaining them every year and there’s loads of rough play, horsing around and they really appreciate their exuberance. Naturally, Geoff and I are always most grateful for this…my parents as well. We are well and truly past all of this and much in need of deck chairs instead.

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My cousin approved the use of this photo.

After all my discussions lately about Christmas traditions, Christmas tree decorations and even Christmas Decoration OCD (CDOCD), I thought I’d share my cousin’s addition to the family Christmas Tree. We’re a creative family and a few years ago, my cousin did a course in making theatrical props. By the way, we’re not talking about making sets out of MDF and slapping on a coat of paint either. I don’ t even know what you call it but he make a few hands  and painted them up and over the years, they’ve found their way into the Christmas decorations. So, I wasn’t surprised to spot the hand at the top of the Christmas Tree this year. Apparently, it’s become tradition. I like that because Christmas can become so stiff and stifled by perfectionists getting it uber-right that it’s tied Christmas up in a straight jacket and has no sense of fun. No place for anybody even slightly lateral-minded. This tree was like a celebration of the individual, being yourself and accepted no matter who or what that might be, and almost giving the judgement crew “the bird”.

I’m proud to be a part of this family with all its flotsam and jetsam where we’re all accepted for whoever we are in all our creative or otherwise glory.

So far, we’ve covered the pool and the Christmas tree and next we’re moving onto the royal splinter.

A splinter? How does a splinter become newsworthy?

Well, when my son is involved, even breathing can easily be turned into a drama of epic proportions. Since he was not the recipient of the royal splinter, there was bound to be some form of “interesting” live entertainment. As he’s now almost thirteen years old, it takes more than a small splinter to get the waterworks going. Yet, oh ye of little faith, there was still plenty of scope for drama. Well, he was actually rather restrained, especially for him but there was still the matter of getting the splinter out and not being at home, this was naturally more complicated. We needed implements…needle, tweezers and we were in luck. After my aunt offered to remove the splinter, we announced “we have two doctors in the house, why am I doing this?” So, the royal splinter, which was a couple of millimetres in length and lodged at the very end of his finger behind the fingernail, was to be removed by my uncle the plastic surgeon borrowing my aunt’s reading glasses. My son was in good hands. This uncle is a plastic surgeon who’s known for reattaching and no doubt detaching all sorts of bits and pieces in very extensive operations. Yet, although the royal splinter was obviously well beneath his capabilities, he approached it with the very same thought and concern. We were given a thorough report and advised to apply antiseptic when we arrived home. It was touching to see my uncle at work and appreciate his bedside manner and compassion. That we’re never too big or too great to help out with life’s splinters with love, compassion and respect.

By the time we went back to my parents’ place for “dinner” and presents we were more stuffed than the Christmas turkey itself. So, all I managed to squeeze and I mean SQUEEZE in was a small slice of pudding, with Mum’s homemade hard brandy sauce and equally homemade custard.

amelia-gingerbread-house

Aside from the long drive home, Christmas 2016 was done and dusted. Well, we still had a Gingerbread House to demolish but that could wait.

How was your Christmas? Hope you had a great one but if yours was reflective and touched by sadness, I send my love and hugs. Take care.

Love & Christmas Blessings,

Rowena

 

That Christmas Black Rain Cloud.

“There is a little black rain cloud,
Hovering over my Christmas tree.
There is a little black rain cloud
paying too much attention to little me.”

Words adapted by Rowena Curtin  and sung to Winnie The Pooh – Little Black Rain Cloud.

Is it just me? Or, are you also feeling that despite all the joy, Christmas cheer, tinsel and flashing lights, there’s something not quite right with your “Ho! Ho! Ho!” That you’re struggling to squeeze into the spirit of Christmas and it doesn’t quite fit.

Not that I’m all dark, gloomy or in anyway Scrooge or Grinch-like. It’s just that sometimes, I can get really annoyed with Christmas. I don’t know whether there’s a term like “Christmas Rage”, or the “Christmas Depths”, and that’s before I even get to absent friends. Of course, no one likes an empty seat or any form of change at Christmas, even if it is only the discontinuation of Molly O’Rourke’s famous Irish Whisky Cakes 1945-2014 RIP.

Anyway, today I thought I’d just  run through a few of the dark shadows, which can jump out and bite us  at Christmas:

A Few Shadows of Christmas.

Christmas OCD

This describes that desperate pursuit of the perfect Christmas. It’s characterised by that uber-achieving Christmas newsletter, mowed lawns, dogs washed, groomed and teeth brushed; tree with matching decorations, colour-coordinated Christmas clothes. You get the drift.

CDOCD- Christmas Decoration OCD.

This relates to the meticulous selection and placement of Christmas decorations, particularly in the Christmas tree. Generally characterised by having a colour theme and having one decorator in charge, while the rest of the household spectates or evacuates to watch TV.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

No one likes an empty seat at Christmas.

SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder.

This is where your mood is affected by the seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s due to the shortened hours of day length. In Australia, it’s caused by excessive sun baking, insufficient sunscreen leaving your skin redder than a Santa suit.

Failure

Christmas is a really difficult time of year to be unemployed, sick, homeless, dumped or even just being your little old self. Having to face family and friends when you’re feeling like @#$% can be the last straw. Been there. Done that. Sort of stuck in this gear and have now acclimatized, but would still love to be a Big Shot or at least get a book published. At this point, even A Little Golden Book would do.

Silent Night

Unfortunately, this relates to so much more than the Christmas carol. There’s the silence of not being able to find your CD of Christmas carols. Then there’s the silence of spending Christmas alone. Worse still, there are those broken relationships where the walls have become so high, that even the Spirit of Christmas can’t get through.

Stickytape-Itis

On a much lighter note, after finishing off my wrapping today, I’m adding Stickytape-Itis to the list.

Does stickytape-itis need any introductions or explanations? Of course not. We’ve all battled to find the stickytape, cellotape or whatever you might call that stuff which sticks to your fingers and just about everything else except the wrapping tape. Meanwhile, the end of the sticky tape goes missing and you’re going round and round in circles like a dog chasing its tail.

It’s enough to drive you crazy and could very well be that tipping point, which pushes a normally sane and sensible person over the edge of madness.

……

So having brought up all these issues, I guess you’re wanting me to come up with some preventative measures or kind of treatment. However, I’m sorry. I’m just the messenger and I have no psychological credentials whatsoever.

However, what I can suggest is letting all the expectations go…just like a helium balloon floating way across the sky until it’s out of sight. This might take a bit of practice, but you’ll soon find out that you won’t die if someone adds a green decoration to your purple and silver themed tree. That it’s not the end of the world when the dog eats your handmade Christmas Cake leaving you nothing but crumbs. That is doesn’t matter if you neither give nor receive Christmas Cards, presents, pudding whatever. I am thankful that God sent us Jesus at Christmas time and I am also mindful that we can’t take the ones we love for granted. That while it might be hard to focus on each other every single day, that we can at least be more conscious of family and friends at Christmas and truly savour the people who mean the world to us.

Life is too short to let anything get in the way of that.

We but not only carpe diem seize the day but also make the most of each other.

Love & Blessings for Christmas and the New Year,

Rowena

PS When it comes to dealing with little black rain clouds, especially ones hanging over our special moments like Christmas, perhaps we should simply borrow cupid’s bow and arrow and shoot the darned thing down. One pop…and it’s gone!

 

The Meaning of Christmas Cake.

Last night, I was making my Christmas Cake.

In case you’re not familiar with what we Australians know as “Christmas Cake”, it’s a boiled fruit cake crammed with sultanas, currants, raisins and prunes soaked and boiled in sherry. The next day, glace cherries and almonds are added to the mix, along with the usual cakey ingredients. It’s very much a British tradition, which has immigrated along with the settlers to the Antipodes.

Christmas cake 2014 zoom

Our Lego Santa Loves Christmas Cake.

There are so many steps to making a Christmas cake, each almost being an essential pre-Christmas ritual. So, let’s get started.

The first step is to boil up the dried fruit with the sherry, lemon and orange juice on the stove. If you have never experienced this smell, you are really missing out. As I hunch over the hot stove stirring the fruits with my wooden spoon, all those smells tantalize my senses, heralding Christmas. Indeed, I’d swear my nose was even twitching. Wow! It smells amazingly good!

Then, you leave those fruits in the fridge overnight to stew.

In this era of instant everything, it almost feels unnatural to wait for anything. Yet, this waiting process seems quite appropriate for a Christmas cake. After all, so much about Christmas involves waiting…How many sleeps? Where’s Santa? What am I getting for Christmas?

So, the Christmas Cake is simply being in synch with the rest of Christmas with all its waiting and delays.

The next day, we move onto the baking phase.

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Our son sampling the mixture, aged 3.

This starts out with the ceremonial beating of the butter and brown sugar, watching them spin round and round in my Sunbeam mix master. They’re like two people falling in love and becoming one flesh, as they dance round and round the beaters creaming together. That’s when fingers and spoons invade the bowl for mandatory testing. You’d be surprised how things can go wrong in the beating process, and how multiple tastings are required… just to be sure!

Then, you add the eggs. Even if you deplore Christmas Cake, I guarantee you’ll be licking the spoon once you taste brown sugar, butter and eggs creamed together. Not only do they taste delicious, but they have such a smooth, creamy texture which truly dazzles your taste buds. Yum!

More mixture disappears.

And a bit more!

There’s still plenty left.

Then, even a bit more mixture disappears onto a passing spoon.

Time to add the flour and spices before there’s no mixture left!

Next, I throw in the halved glace cherries and slivered almonds and it’s into the tin. More slivered almonds are sprinkled on top, and the Christmas Cake has finally made it into the oven.

Strange how there’s still so much mixture left behind!

Of course, some of that has been put aside for the mini Christmas cakes I make for my Dad. Dad has a pathological aversion to cinnamon so I always make him his own. My Dad looks very much like John Cleese playing Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. So, it’s a wise move to keep him happy, as we don’t have Manuel on hand to keep him in check.

However, it also seems like such a waste to cook all of that scrummy mixture, especially when it’s only going to become Christmas Cake.

Funny that I could ever deride the sacred Christmas Cake!

How soon I forget! Three years ago, I had a round of chemo to treat my auto-immune disease starting the week before Christmas. Indeed, I literally was singing: “all I wanted for Christmas is chemo” in my head that year. After all, without the chemo, I wouldn’t be here now. So, despite its hardships, it was more of a celebration than an ordeal.

This is where the Christmas Cake enters the story. I had three days’ notice before chemo began and do you know what I did in that time? I made my Christmas Cake and I posted my Christmas cards. That’s what was important…along with my family.

I had to remind myself of that this year. Now that the pressure’s off and my health has vastly improved, making the Christmas Cake wasn’t quite happening. Indeed, I only made it last night with 6 sleeps to go. I was really struggling to get myself moving!

That’s also because I’m not a huge lover of fruit cake. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Christmas, I’d never make any kind of fruit cake. I much prefer chocolate cake and have been known to mix the boiled fruits in with a chocolate cake mix before. That was yum! The boiled fruits also mix in well with ice cream. Indeed, the boiled fruits can be very versatile, if you’re willing to let go of tradition heading into the great unknown.

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Photographed with Santa aged 6. Unfortunately, the photo needs a spruce up.

I’m not quite there yet. I still need a slice of Christmas Cake with my cup of tea and my parents particularly love this Christmas Cake. After all, I make my mother’s recipe, which she adopted from her university friend Deirdre. They go back a long way and so does this Christmas Cake. I’ve been eating it for something like 47 years now. It’s a keeper and I hope my kids continue to  make it wherever they are and whatever their world is like when they grow up. Who knows where they’ll be in 47 years? Yet, like any parent, I just want them to be happy (which is often the most elusive “achievement” of all!)

You can find the recipe and a previous post about the Christmas Cake here.

You might also enjoy reading about Christmas Cakes: here. I found it a very interesting read.

Do you have any Christmas baking traditions? If so, I’d love to hear all about them and feel free to share your recipes.

Love & Christmas Blessings,

Rowena

Accessing Schools Spectacular.

Last Saturday night, our family attended the NSW Schools Spectacular held at Qudos Bank Arena, at Sydney’s Olympic Park. Schools Spectacular is the largest variety show in the world and features students from NSW Public Schools and guest artists. Our daughter was performing in the 3,500 strong mass choir and I was really looking forward to a fantastic night out.

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However, as a someone living with disability and chronic illness, I naturally had some reservations. Large crowds throw up all sorts of unpredictablities  for me. It doesn’t take much for a simple fall to have major consequences…a broken foot a few years ago being case in point.

However, despite these hazards, I carpe diem and seize the day. I get out and about and I would move heaven and earth to see our daughter perform.

There were simply concerns about THE HOW and that meant reducing all the unpredictabilities. It’s not rocket science. It’s just like making sure you pack a water bottle on a hot day. However, I usually have a lot more variables to consider and most of them are unpredictable. We have to think on our feet.

That’s also because I’m on my feet using a walking stick, not in a wheelchair. I thought I’d better point that out because it makes quite a difference to the types of accessibility problems I face.

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The Finale.You can feel he electricity, can’t you!!

As much as we all loved and enjoyed the performance and can’t wait to see it all over again on TV next weekend, we did experience some difficulties accessing and leaving the venue.  After trying unsuccessfully to have my needs accommodated at the time, I’m sharing my experiences with a view to implementing change through greater community awareness. After all, people living with disability and chronic illness are entitled to a fun night out, without needing to advocate for disability access rights!

To give you an idea of what it is like for a disabled person with a walking stick to attend a big concert, I thought I’d hobble you through the highs and lows of our evening.

Starting out with the positive, I have a companion card. This entitles me to a free carer to accompany me to a huge range of venues. This meant that as my companion, my husband’s ticket for School Spectacular was in a sense free. However, it also meant that he was also his wife’s keeper and he was on duty  (Confirmation that there’s no such thing as a free lunch!).

Secondly, we were able to get subsidised disabled parking a short walk from the venue. I can’t overstate how having a Disabled Parking Permit opens places up for me. Of course, it’s great to be close to the venue. However, that proximity also reduces unpredictabilties, producing something of a protective bubble. There’s still that element of risk, but it’s much reduced. This allows me to lead something close to a “normal” life.

However, on the down side, despite having the Companion Card and disabled parking permit, I was deemed capable of queuing up with the crowded throngs to get through the security check. Given that the show had 5,000 performers, the crowds were phenomenal. So, we’re not talking about a trickle. Such crowds pose a genuine risk to my physical safety and my concerns have nothing to do with being “anxious”!.

I politely asked the ticket office about disabled access and was told that everyone had to go through the security checks. But I wasn’t asking to by-pass the security checks. Nor would I want anyone to by-pass them. Obviously, they’re critical. However, there should have been a way for people with disabilities to by-pass the queue and go straight through the checks. I was using a walking stick, had a Companion Card and a Disabled Parking Permit.  So, these people at the ticket office knew I wasn’t well. They could’ve walked me to the front of the queue and helped, but instead they stuck to their officialese.

That’s when I donned my political hat. Not because I couldn’t wait for the queue to die down or take my chances in the crowd. I did it because there should have been decent disability access. Somebody needed to speak up for those who can’t or struggle to speak up. I clearly expressed my right to disabled access and was bluntly told the queue was the only way. I spoke to the supervisor and received the same rule-driven response.

Of course, I was the problem!

We were naturally unimpressed (read understatement!!)

However, very soon our experience dramatically improved.

Having made it through the security check, I confronted a metal turnstile and wasn’t feeling comfortable. This time the staff member asked me if I could get through and guided me around the turnstile. My husband and I almost hugged him, thanking him profusely for his attitude. It was such a welcome contrast to the people at the ticket office who had their rules, which clearly made no allowance for disabled people.

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So far so good. We made it to our seats and really enjoyed the performance. It was superlatively sensational and we want to thank and acknowledge all those beautiful performers, the teachers, and everybody who put so much into this incredible event. In no way do I want my concerns about disability access to lessen what was a truly unforgettable experience.

Naturally, after the performance was over, we had to get home.

As I said, we had a very convenient Disabled Parking spot. However, we hadn’t anticipated that being on level 1 would make it incredibly difficult to exit the car park with all the cars pushing down from upper levels. While there is a sign warning that it takes an hour for a full car park to empty, for many people living with disability or chronic illness, that’s a very long time…especially if you’re stuck in the queue for an extended period.  There are seriously disabled and chronically ill people who can’t wait around in a car park for an hour to exit. These families live on a very short piece of string and need to get home like a bat out of hell.

As we were parked right next to the toilets, my husband decided we were better off waiting and staying put rather than getting stuck in the stationary traffic stampede. This gave me a chance to watch the panicked pandemonium. It was like someone had yelled “FIRE” and everyone had to get out immediately, right now and the thinking part of their brains was definitely switched off. At one point, we saw people converge on one exit point from five different directions, which clearly wasn’t “legal”. Drivers behaved like crazed maniacs in a case of:  “Just get me out of here. I don’t care about anyone else.”

While I was watching all of this, I came up with an idea.

What about if the people with Disabled Parking Permits were allowed to leave first and other motorists had to give way?  It would probably cause an outrage, but it wouldn’t hurt most people to wait an extra 15 minutes or even half an hour. However, knowing we could exit a venue quickly would provide seriously disabled and chronically ill people with much greater community participation.

What do you think?

For our family these recommendations also have further application. My Mum had bought a ticket to the lunchtime matinee concert but seriously put her back out and couldn’t attend. I’d actually encouraged her to have a go, because I thought the venue would help us find a way. However, I’m glad she stayed home because it would’ve been too much. She would’ve needed a lot of extra support and as much as catering for one little girl’s Grandma isn’t much to ask, that crowd was brutal and to be fair, she’s nowhere near well enough.

My intentions here are not to criticise or throw stones but to raise awareness. Let you travel in our shoes for a night and open your eyes to our struggles. Before I became aware of my own disabilities, I never thought about such difficulties either. I was young and only thought about number one too. However, all I ask is that you open your eyes and respond from your heart, instead of your rule book. Have compassion.

I am not talking about making huge changes, but together we can move mountains. Not just these mountains, but all sorts of mountains which make it harder for anyone to fully participate in the seemingly simple things of life.

Okay. So where’s your shovel? Let’s start digging!

xx Rowena

Further Reading
Here are some other posts about living with disability:

Beyond the Flow: A Wheely Good Night at the Opera House

Beyond the Flow: Forgiving the Unforgivable (your chronic illness).

Living in a limited world: NHS Cruelty