Category Archives: Christianity

Unforeseen…Friday Fictioneers -15th June, 2022.

“Everything was meant to be okay. Not this.”

Despite her family history, Ebony had faith in early detection, and regular mammograms. Then, came the diagnosis .

“I’m going to beat this!” She wrote in her journal every day. However, grit and determination were no match for bad luck. The cancer had spread. She was only 28.

Arriving home, she found roses and a “Get Well” balloon from Mike on the doorstep. She’d told him it was long covid.

Ebony had no idea when the knife came from. However, the balloon was found later with forty stab wounds and was unresponsive.

…….

100 words PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Last year, two close friends of mine died of breast cancer, while my sister-in-law was fighting a rather gruelling battle with it and facing obscure complication after obscure complication and a run of very bad luck. One of those friends never told me she was sick and I found out after she’d died. The other was seemingly cancer free and after a gruelling eight year battle, the cancer came back with a vengeance and she was gone in a week. It was like one of these fierce Australian bush fires, and it consumed her. They both had teenage children, and the loss was obviously focused on them. However, grief rippled out. They were much loved, and it’s still so hard to believe they’re no here.

I hope you’ve had a great week!

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields at https://rochellewisoff.com/ We’d love you to join us!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Learning to “Dream Again” After “Standing Tall”.

Today, I am standing taller after watching Standing Tall, a powerfully inspiring event geared towards bringing out the best in our youth, helping them soar towards their dreams, and ultimately help them resist the notorious pitfalls lurking around. Acknowledging the “challenges” of the past two years, this year’s theme was “Dream Again”, which was very apt.

Okay, I can hear you saying that even in the wildest realms of my imagination, I am not a 16 year old schoolgirl like our inimitable Miss. “Who do you think you are? Go and take a look in the mirror and grow up!”

Well, in my defence, I want to make it clear that I wasn’t just watching Standing Tall for my own benefit. Yet, my motives were not purely altruistic either. I have a heartfelt passion and concern for our young people, especially after the last two years of covid and extended lockdowns. In that time, so many dreams and realities have sunk like stones, seemingly to the very depth of the abyss never to return. Moreover, two weeks ago, I attended a two day course given by Lifeline covering suicide intervention. As a parent of teens, I did this with particular thought to the young people who cross my path, hop in my car or occasionally sleep on our couch. Yet, there’s a space well before despair sets in where the seeds of self-confidence, hope, and hard work can grow and bear fruit. After all, we might never know what a difference a smile or a few words of encouragement can make to someone else’s life. This is where Standing Tall fits in.

Anyway, although covid is still around and has been joined by a nasty flu, the tide has turned and we have new beginnings. In recognition of these renewed hopes, the theme for Stand Tall 2022 is Dream Again, which is good for all of us.

So, I’m going to recommend straight up that after you finish this post, you go straight to the live stream replay. If you know some young people, especially living in Australia, see if you can get them to watch it too. It will be available free online for the next three months. By the way, if you can’t get them to watch it, watch it yourself and try to drop a few of these golden seeds of wisdom and encouragement into conversation.

“Every student has the capacity to make someone else’s experience of school better.”

Hon. Jason Clare, Minister for Education at Standing Tall 2022

Now turning to Standing Tall, each of the speakers encouraged me enormously. As I mentioned earlier, my interest in Standing Tall wasn’t purely altruistic. I’ve been in a state of extended limbo after having chemo to treat my muscle-wasting auto-immune disease. It took me quite a long time to get back on my feet, the family had been through a lot, and I also wasn’t the same person that I was before. I didn’t want to go back. I wasn’t well enough to move forward, and certainly I wasn’t too keen to fast-forward too far ahead either. I didn’t expect to be here. However, thankfully that hasn’t come to pass, and ironically I’ve actually been a lot better since covid came along. I haven’t caught so many chest infections and I haven’t caught covid.

So, to use Facebook parlance, my journey has been “complicated”.

I have also given a few motivational talks myself. I’ve also written numerous posts here on Beyond the Flow touching on things. However, I haven’t written the book, and considering I’m a writer, it becomes more of a sin of omission than for someone else. Yet, at the same time, as my writing lecturer at university, Michael Wilding, used to say: “writing is a thinking process”. So, when those thoughts are incredibly traumatic, it’s no wonder the writing process pauses or even stops.

“What you are going through doesn’t define you.”

Duku Foré

Now, getting back to Standing Tall, the first speaker, Duku Foré, really hit me right between the eyes. Duku was born in a refugee camp in Uganda and lived there with his family for ten years. His life changed abruptly when his family came to Australia as refugees. However, in many regards Australia wasn’t the promised land. It wasn’t easy starting out in a new country. For many years, he was the only black child in his class and also had a severe speech impediment. He was bullied at school, and also got into trouble himself. Despite all of this, he set out to inspire others through motivational speaking, and at 19 represented Australia at the United Nations. If you would like to hear more about his story, here’s another interview.

“Do something today that your future self would be proud of…”

Michael Crossland

I’m not going to go into every speaker or I’d be writing for a year. However, I also wanted to mention humanitarian and cancer survivor Michael Crossland. His journey is particularly relevant to me as he has overcome numerous life-threatening health issues, and is still here to tell the tale. Although he’s told this story many times before, he spoke with an emotional rawness as though he was telling his story for the very first time. However, his story wasn’t just about recounting his traumas. Rather, he has made what would be considered extraordinary achievements for the average Joe, and yet he has ongoing, diabolical health issues. How is it so? I don’t know but his mother also has this extraordinary fighting spirit. Grit. Tenacity. Supernatural strength and optimism. Michael is also a humanitarian and has given back, which includes buying a house for his mum. My words feel dreadfully inadequate. So, here’s a direct link to another motivational talk which overlaps with his talk at Standing Tall.

Another speaker I found particularly interesting was model and blogger Harmony Butcher. She spoke the dangers for young people about self-image on social media. Indeed, she wrote this enlightening post about self-image on her blog. As she spoke, she mentioned a statistic that 25% of people feel they need to change some aspect of their appearance to be feel acceptable on social media. Being a bit more mature in years, I found this statistic staggering. Yet, I just realized that I’m guilty of this myself. It’s exceptionally rare for me to have any photos taken of me wearing my glasses, although I wear them all the time. Indeed, although I’ve been posting here at Beyond the Flow for ten years and fairly open, how many of you have seen me in my glasses? Sure, it’s only a small alteration, but so is airbrushing out pimples, freckles or wrinkles. To be fair, this what we do with makeup anyway, and who really puts their real, undoctored physical self out there anyway? Well, let me assure you that aside from the glasses, what you see of me here is what you get. I rarely wear makeup in real or online life, but I’m also currently living the quiet life.

“Some people would do anything to have your bad day.”

Michael Crossland

I also wanted to share the story of Danny and Leyla Abdullah. On the 1st February, 2020 their lives were shattered and changed forever when a drunk driver mounted the footpath and killed three of their six children: Antony 13, Angelina 12, and Sienna 8, along with their cousin Veronique Sakr 11. The randomness of the accident and that one family would experience such a catastrophic loss, especially due to a drunk driver, was devastating. How could they go on? Understandably, there was strong community outrage towards the driver. Yet, a few days after the accident, Leyla Abdullah publicly forgave him. How could this be? Indeed, in her talk, she emphasized that she forgave the driver before he apologised. Extraordinary. She also said that “forgiveness is a choice. It’s like a muscle. The more you practice it, the better you get.”

Danny and Leila Abdullah didn’t stop there. They have created a national day of forgiveness, i4give Day, to remember the loss of their children and niece, and for everyone to think about someone they can forgive or ask for forgiveness. Forgiving others is critical, releasing our hearts from the toxic poison of hate, resentment and revenge.

The Abdullahs also had a special surprise at Standing Tall. It was their little bundle of joy and hope…their 10 week old baby girl, Selina. Of course, she doesn’t take the place of her lost siblings, but seeing a new life created out of the ashes was so encouraging. Indeed, I was jumping for joy in my chair.

“You can’t silence fear, but you can turn up the volume of hope and faith and drown it out”.”

Eloise Wellings

Next up, was Olympian and long-distance runner, Eloise Wellings, who is also the co-founder of the Love Mercy Foundation. Eloise had some really good things to say, which focused on overcoming setbacks and disappointment, believing in your potential and to keep going. She also mentioned something I’ve observed, and that some young people had developed a culture where it is better not to try than to fail. That they use the term “to be a sweat” to knock down people who apply themselves. When I was at school, the term was “swot”. Eloise was really encouraging and said: “you won’t regret trying.” She also advised focusing on the process rather than the big goal. “Get the next step done.” Talk about good advice, and certainly applies to me and the book project.

Bella Taylor Smith deserves an extra-special mention as she not only spoke but also performed. For those of you who may not know Bella, she won The Voice Australia 2021. Bella has her own story of overcoming adversity and is now touring with Guy Sebastian.

Think about whose footprints you’re following.

“It’s not what happens to you. It’s who you choose to become”.

Alex Noble.

Last, but not least, there was 19 year old Alex Noble On Sunday the 21st of October 2018 16 year old Alex Noble was doing what he loved best – playing rugby. As a rising sports star he was training with the Under-17 NSW Rugby Sevens youth selection squad. Tragically he was badly injured on the field, breaking his neck and severely damaging his spinal cord. Since then, Alex has poured all the tenacity and resilience he’d applied to his rugby training into his recovery and has made incredible progress. He has also started the Alex Noble Foundation whose motto is “I fight you fight”. (I’m looking back at my notes now and I see the phrase “We are unbreakable” circled. I know from personal experience what it’s like to experience a gruelling physical setback and barely be able to move myself. However, thanks to a reasonable diagnosis with treatment among other things, I am now doing remarkably well!)

So, what were the take homes from this extraordinary day?

I think the bottom line was that even the most extraordinary dreams are possible if we work hard, persevere, and develop the resilience to be able to bounce back from setbacks. At the same time, we might also have to find a new pathway when our dream sinks, regroup and find another. Secondly, we are not alone in our triumphs or tribulations. When we triumph, think about others around you and pitch in. If you’re at rock bottom, you are not alone. Help is at hand. It is also possible that while you’re at rock bottom, you will meet others who aren’t being reached. So, even in the depths of your own despair, you can offer hope to others. Well, I added that bit, but I know it to be true. This is another of my own observations… we need to keep ourselves in good physical, mental and spiritual shape because we don’t know when adversity is going to hit and the bumps will be less intense if we’re in good shape. As the Scout motto says: “Be prepared!”

Standing Taller after watching the live stream and going for a walk along the beach.

I hope this encourages you to check out the live stream so you can absorb and apply their wisdom and zest for an abundant life, and I would personally like to thank everyone who contributed towards the day for having such a big impact on me and my family.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you, especially if you attended Standing Tall or like me tuned into the live stream.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

Wandering Over to Windhoek, Namibia.

Welcome to Windhoek, Namibia- the latest stopover on my travels via Google Earth…

However, before I launch into my travels, I thought I’d better explain what am I doing in Africa, as it might seem rather random, and disconnected from my usual haunts.

My First Impressions of Windhoek, Namibia.

To be perfectly honest with you, I hadn’t heard of Namibia until a few months ago when I was introduced to a missionary family supported by my church. They were back in Sydney for a few months on furlough, and briefly spoke about their mission work one Sunday night. Unfortunately, as Sydney was under covid lockdown at the time, this was all via zoom. So, I never actually met them. However, as I listened to their stories, I naturally wondered what life would be like for them there. I spent six months living in Germany as a backpacker in 1992. The language and cultural differences weren’t always easy there, even though I was living with a very loving and accommodating German family, and was also part of both German and American Church communities. I was still left pining for a gum tree, any sign of home, even though I loved exploring and absorbing the unfamiliar. However, living in Namibia as Australians seemed like a very big step, and that’s quite aside from all entailed with being a missionary. So, I was rather curious.

No guesses where the river is located.

Then, as it turned out, our home groups were encouraged to reach out to one these missionaries. I’ve never done this before, although friends of mine have had cards on their fridge featuring rather formal looking missionary family portraits. These people had gone to various incarnations of Timbuctoo, and sometimes it was a bit of a relief to be sitting in our comfortable seats at home to be perfectly honest.

Anyway, our online zoom group was asked to support this family in Namibia and I was keen to get behind them as I’d at least I knew a little about who they were. Next thing I knew, I was offering to send them an email to make contact, and then I became our official missionary representative. I signed up for their newsletter via CMS ministries as well. So, now I had to make a decent go of it. No more good intentions. No “Gunna do but never get around to it”. Then, there’s also the trouble of consistency. I’m not too sure I’m cut out for this, but then I had an idea.

The Independence Memorial Museum focuses on the anti-colonial resistance and the national liberation struggle of Namibia.

I decided to check out Windhoek, Namibia via Google Earth. For those of you who haven’t been on any of my previous travels, I’ve revisited some of my past haunts from my 1992 European backpacking trip, a few places in Ireland my family came from, and threw Venice in for good measure. It’s so much fun and almost feels like I’m there, and it was such a relief during months and months of lockdown and isolation. After all, with our national border shut, it was the only was the only way an Australian could travel, especially this Australian.

So, there I was heading through cyberspace madly pressing the + bar and watching Namibia crystalise in front of me. Hello. I’m coming and even though it was only a virtual adventure, I was excited. Curious. Thrilled to be honest. I’d never given going to Africa a second thought. I don’t have that kind of money, or the chance to get away.

Now, here I am in Windhoek, Namibia.

If you’d like to join me, you can head to Google Earth. I found it difficult to wander far, and have been more reliant on Youtube videos to get a sense of the place. I recommend starting out with Travelzilla, which also incorporates what sounds like authentic local African music. You could almost be there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irH6kFce3f4 The second clip is more raw, and I’ve had some trouble with the sound, but it’s more authentic and gave me a real sense of walking around: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7at7ZioItCM

So, what did I find in Windhoek?

The first place I wanted to mention is the Christuskirz, which really stands out. It’s a German-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church. I’m not going to rehash a whole load of facts from Wikipaedia, but needless to say it wasn’t what I expected to find in Africa. It was designed by architect Gottlieb Redecker. The church was built following the wars between the Germans and the Khoikhoi, Herero, and Owambo. The foundation stone was laid on 11 August 1907, while on 16 October 1910 the church was officially dedicated. It was originally known as the Church of Peace. Christ Church was constructed from quartz sandstone mined from the vicinity of Avis Dam. It has a mixture of neo-Romanesque, Art Nouveau and Gothic revival influences. Its spire is 24 metres high, and seemingly towers over the city. . The portico was made from Carrara marble imported from Italy. The clock and part of the roof was shipped from Germany, as were the three bronze bells cast by Franz Schilling. They bear the inscriptions “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe”, “Friede auf Erden”, and “Den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen”. Kaiser Wilhelm I even paid for three of the stained glass windows.Wikipedia

Isn’t that extraordinary?

The only other place I really explored, and this was more via a series of websites, and that was Craft Centre on Tal Street in the Old Breweries Complex. It houses “40 women-owned or community driven craft enterprises that hail from rural communities, various ethnic groups and projects, it provides a platform for Namibian handicraft ranging from jewellery to carved tree roots” http://www.namibiacraftcentre.com/

Immediately, I was captivated hopping from stall to stall online. A smattering of stalls also had their own online stores and the opportunity to buy a few treasures all the way from here in Australia. You’ve got to love how the Internet has the capacity to extend our wings and broaden our outlooks and allow us to become more culturally diverse, and to not be limited to our own backyards.

I have to be honest and say that even this virtual experience of Windhoek in Namibia opened my eyes to quite a few things. Firstly, that we have preconceived ideas about how other people live. I had actually assumed Windhoek was a rural village, which in fact its an urban city with a magnificent cathedral, shopping malls, cars, traffic jams and no doubt similar parking issues to us. Secondly, I was reminded of how little we really know people under the skin, beneath all our superficial assumptions, and their public roles. We need to look a little further. Most importantly we need to open up our eyes and ears and hear their stories. I have a favourite quote, which isn’t from the Bible, but in many ways distils it’s essence:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—” “Sir?” “—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird

While this is obviously impossible to achieve, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we are to love our neighbours as ourselves, we at least ought to get to know them. Take the extra step, even if we might not be able to walk the extra mile. Besides, in so many ways, stepping out of ourselves becomes enlightened self-interest. We grow.

So, have you been to or perhaps live in Windhoek or Namibia? Perhaps, you’ve been to or currently live in South Africa. If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes and blessings,

Rowena

PS I haven’t actually named the family to respect their privacy, but I will be forwarding it on. I also want to note that this is a blogging post, not an advertisement. These are my explorations and this has been tailored around my regular readers, and to be included over at Thursday Doors.

What’s On Your Bookshelf?

The simple answer to this question, is too many books. Our 18 year old son would tell you there are far too many books in our house. Indeed, he of messy room and dumping his stuff our in the spare room for the last two years, even took me to task about it last night and had the audacity to ask me how many of them I’d actually read. While I must admit the same question frequently crosses my mind, the point is that the books on the shelf are either waiting to be read or they’re too good to part with, in which case getting rid of them would be akin to murdering a close friend. As avid readers, I’m sure you will understand, even if you have converted over to one of those dreadful, electronic Kindle-type devices.

So, what have I been reading?

Well, I’ve actually been reading quite a lot of books (at least for me) lately.

The dog highly approves of a night in reading.

The first cab off the ranks was Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife. I’m not going to go into much detail here but I highly recommend it, and point you to my non-spoiler review: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/04/23/midnight-with-the-secret-wife/

This month took me back into Ethel Turner territory. There was an Open Day at Woodlands, where she was living when she wrote her iconic classic: Seven Little Australians. I am currently reading her WWI trilogy, and in the last month I’ve finished The Cub and Captain Cub and the last one Brigid and The Cub arrived in the mail today and I can’t wait to get stuck into it. It addresses some really interesting issues, and one that intrigues me is the whole business of mothers giving their consent for underage sons to fight. Ethel Turner didn’t give her consent for her own son, Adrian, to go but pushes the barrow in the book. I am also analysing these books in detail for my blog dedication to Ethel Turner: Tea With Ethel Turner: https://wordpress.com/view/teawithethelturner.com

Meanwhile, I am still reading Kerri Maher’s The Paris Bookseller, which says it is “inspired” by the life of Sylvia Beach who founded Shakespeare and Company, the famous English-language bookshop in Paris, and was the only one with the courage and vision to publish James Joyce’s controversial novel: Ulysses. This book was a natural choice for me, because I did a solo reading at Shakespeare and Company when I was staying in Paris in 1992, which was rather extraordinary in itself, but particularly considering I was only 23 at the time. I had to pass an intimidating interview with the inimitable proprietor, George Whitman and even had to draw up my own promotional poster to go in the window. These days, it feels like I made the whole thing up, but I have photographic proof. It really did happen.

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Anyway, if you have ever considered reading Ulysses but have been too intimidated or just couldn’t understand a word of it, I have come across a wonderful annotated version online at the James Joyce Project: https://www.joyceproject.com/ i dare you! Give it a try!!

Or, if you’ve read it, please let me know how you found it, but no spoilers please!

Lastly, I’ve ordered Tony Birch’s book of short stories: Dark As Last Night, which has won the Christina Stead prize for fiction (NSW Premier’s, judged by Beth Yahp, Bernard Cohen and Nicole Abadee). You can read another of his stories here: https://www.theguardian.com/…/tony-birch-my-dads-ashes… It views a tough subject with a touch of humour, and is a great read.

What have you been reading lately? Why not join us at What’s On Your Bookshelf and share it with us? You can link up your post below.

What’s On Your Bookshelf is a monthly link-up co-hosted by Debbie (Deb’s World), Jo (And Anyways), Sue (Women Living Well After 50) and Donna (Retirement Reflections). #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge

Best wishes,

Rowena

Midnight With “The Secret Wife”.

If you go digging through my archives, you’ll notice that despite being a self-confessed book addict, I rarely write book reviews. That’s because I’m unfortunately more of a book collector than a voracious book reader. Of course, I have good intentions, and get carried away on the wings of fancy, but all too often the rubber doesn’t hit the road.

Anyway, today I’m breaking with tradition because I’ve just finished reading Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife, and I’m too excited to keep it to myself. I absolutely loved it, and thought you might love it too. I rarely read non-fiction, and despite my best intentions, have often failed to finish even novels I love. So, the fact I was sticking matchsticks in my eyes to stay awake and finish this book, is a very strong endorsement. Indeed, to quote Australian music legend Molly Meldrum: “Do yourself a favour”, and read this book.

So, what was so good about it?

For me personally, I’m Australian and I enjoy stories from my own backyard, as well as reading foreign literature. Indeed, I suspect each of us likes to see our own world reflected back to us through the arts, as much as we also appreciate a more cosmopolitan diet. Yet, at the same time, it wasn’t consciously Australian and would easily translate elsewhere.

Secondly, I really appreciated the highly developed characterisation with his profound understanding of human nature. The storyline hinges on the friendship of two very different women, Edith and Frankie, their husbands and children and is mostly set in the 1960’s. Naturally, as characters in a novel, they go through many ups and downs, dramas, catastrophes and successes. Lacking in self-confidence myself too often, I related very strongly to Edith even though I’m a born extrovert and would’ve loved to be Frankie in my dreams.

I also really appreciated how Lamprell handled the interaction of this wily cast with the finely-tuned precision of a symphony conductor, yet with casual realism. There were times the characters became people I know, but I also felt Mark knew me like the back of his hand. I’m sure I got goose bumps more than once.

Another point I greatly appreciated about the book was Mark’s dynamic and complex vocabulary. Not all writers appreciate words, but I love words with a passion and am quick to take my hat off to those who make the effort (or even flourish). My kids have told me off for writing in books, but I always read books with a pen in hand, and my pen was very busy throughout (which is a great sign, btw.) I even jotted a few words in the back.

It is also worth noting that The Secret Wife is a historical novel. I was touched and impressed by Lamprell’s eye for detail and accuracy. It’s so easy to Google these things now, that there’s no excuse for getting them wrong. There is just enough detail to add flavour and authenticity, but not too much to bog you down.

All of that makes me sound intensely critical and punctilious (to steal a word from Mark). However, what we’re all looking for is a gripping story. A tale which draws us in and keeps throwing us bait until we’re caught hook, line and sinker. Where we can’t put the book down, yet we don’t want the book to end either. That is certainly true of The Secret Wife. The plot is also refreshingly unpredictable. He leads us up one path, and then we are taken somewhere else entirely, although not left alone lost in the dark either.

I know I’m saying a lot without saying much at all about this book. That’s because I know how much I hate spoilers. I just want a “yay” or a “nay”, and something to back it up. Yet, I’m busting to talk to someone about it.

However, I’m also into biography. So, once I like a book, or fancy an author, I want to delve into their head, their heart, their past, present…the works. (Indeed, I’ve been doing just that with author Ethel Turner over at my other blog Tea With Ethel Turner.) So this leaves me asking: “Who is Mark Lamprell?” and I suppose you might be wondering the same thing, and why I read: The Secret Wife, especially when I could’ve been reading your blog posts and works of fiction instead…

Mark Lamprell – Photo Ian Erick

Well, the official answer is: “Mark Lamprell is an (Australian) writer of novels and children’s books published in sixteen countries and twelve languages, including the novels The Full Ridiculous and A Lover’s Guide to Rome. He also works internationally as a writer and director in film, with movie credits including Babe Pig in the City, My Mother Frank, Goddess, A Few Less Men and Never Too Late.

There’s a more complex answer here, where Booktopia asked him Ten Terrifying Questions: https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2022/04/21/ten-terrifying-questions-with-mark-lamprell/?fbclid=IwAR10IScuXeqzO3eEluwWUtZb9ICn93sRAXkHBCS8JUqbAwLBQxZpsZ6Kwwk

However, for me, Mark Lamprell was also my uncle’s school friend. My dad was one of seven, and being the eldest grandchild, I was only ten and eleven years younger than my youngest uncles. So, it wasn’t unusual for me to be down at the house when their friends were around. Moreover, their house was a sprawling Californian bungalow. None of the doors were ever locked, and people simply came and went. Oftentimes, we’d be gathered around the kitchen table philosophising. One would be having breakfast, another lunch and someone else having a snack. It was definitely laissez-faire, although there were still non-negotiables like my grandfather wanting my uncle to get his hair cut.

My grandmother in a professional capacity. This was for the BBC around 1938.

Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother was Eunice Gardiner, an international concert pianist, music critic and later professor piano at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. In the loungeroom, there was her Bechstein grand piano, and after my grandfather passed away, it was joined by a large concert-sized Steinway grand, which she’d brought out from England. Having two large grand pianos in your lounge room, certainly makes a statement.

My Great Grandmother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara) was in some ways Edith to my grandmother’s Frankie. Both of them stood their ground at times, and were still their own people. I look at this photo now with Ruby looking across and even deferring to her daughter as though she’s not expecting to be in the shot. Hadn’t picked up on that before.

So, the house had this sort of dichotomy, and that fits in very well with Frankie’s world in The Secret Wife. Moreover, like Frankie, there was so much we didn’t know about my grandmother’s career, and who she was. Indeed, I venture to suggest that everyone probably has their secrets. Things even our nearest and dearest know nothing about.

While The Secret Wife and I were obviously a very good fit, I ended up reading it because the publisher sent me a copy to review. I was attending a novel writing workshop with Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project who I’ve reviewed before). I mentioned that I’d attended a similar workshop with Mark Lamprell at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and the publicist said she’d send me a copy of his new book. I was delighted, and mentioned he was a family friend. The book duly arrived, and I thought I’d better read it tout de suite to honour the deal. No forgetting to read this book. By this time, I picked up an extra 38 “friends” at the Pearl Beach Book Sale. So, it wasn’t that The Secret Wife was without competition. I clearly needed to get reading.

Family Press Photo 1960 around the time of the TV interview.

However, reading The Secret Wife now was mind-blowing timing. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by historian, Ann Curthoys, who let me know that back in 1960 my grandmother had appeared on an ABC TV panel interviewing Paul Robeson, an African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist and soon of a former slave when he toured Australia in November 1960. The interview covered racism, equality and freedom and was recorded on the 5th November, 1960. Three days later, JF Kennedy defeated Nixon in the US presidential election, and it was broadcast on the 13th November, 1960. It was just under three years before Dr Martin Luther King’s famous  “I Have a Dream” speech, which followed a march by over 200,000 people on Washington on the 28th August, 1963. I was able to order a copy of the interview, and have been working on a transcript. I am gobsmacked.

A media shot – my grandmother with the eldest boys at the piano around 1942.

So, reading: The Secret Wife which is set in this similar social context, was an incredible fusion. However, my grandmother was leading a different life to anyone really what with her prodigious talent and being married with seven children and still pursuing her career. But I think she just had this trajectory in her mind and it just kept going. She probably knew nothing else.

As for my grandfather, there was a miniature grand piano on their wedding cake. So, I doubt he had any illusions. My grandmother, her piano and her career were a package deal. There was never any suggestion she was going to stop.

Wow! There’s been so much to think about, and more to come. For now, I’m going to let the book settle. I really want to talk it over, and share it with someone (something I obviously can’t do in a review.) Maybe, I’ll start talking to myself.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

PS One thing I didn’t mention was that my grandfather was the consummate book collector and my grandparents’ house was overflowing out the back and under the house with boxes, and boxes of books. Indeed, when my grandparents first got married, my grandfather’s mother sent over his books to their new home, and they apparently arrived even before the furniture.

Don’t you just love family stories?!!

Featured image: Geoff Newton. Thank you Zac the dog for posing for the camera. Since he spends much of his life sleeping underneath my keyboard and while I was reading the book, it seemed appropriate for him to appear in the photo.

The Sacrifice- Friday Fictioneers: 21st April, 2022.

Breastfeeding their first-born son in a derelict squat, Maria thought of Our Lady giving birth to baby Jesus in a stable. Things were grim, but not without hope. If love was enough, baby Thomas could soar to the moon and back. Be invincible.

Then, the crucifying doubts set in.

“Who am I kiddin’? If I can’t save meself, what hope does me baby have?”

She wrapped him up in her only blanket, and kissed him goodbye.

“There’s no greater love, than heart-wrenching sacrifice,” they said.

Now, twenty years later, she’d received a letter.

Her precious baby had become a man.

….

100 words PHOTO PROMPT © Carole Erdman-Grant

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields: https://rochellewisoff.com/

My contributions of late have all been rather serious, so I’m thinking I might have to find a bit of humour next week.

By the way, in case you’re wondering about the photo I used for this week’s link-up, I went to a local book sale on the weekend and these are my new friend…all 38 of them. I am in heaven.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Rowena

Happy Easter Weekend Coffee Share- 18th April, 2022.

Wishing you a Happy and Blessed Easter and Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share! Easter was very low key and virtually non-existent at our place this year, because I fell at my daughter’s dance competition last Wednesday and for some reason haven’t been feeling right ever since in ways that go well beyond the sore foot.

Photo: Emily Stoddart Photography.

The dance competition was intense on steroids both in terms of how incredibly talented, moving and beautiful each and every ones of these dances was, but also in terms of the huge amount of physical and emotional energy it demanded from each of the dancers, their teachers and parents. Miss competed in seven dances I think, which really was a phenomenal effort especially when you factor all the costume changes and steps involved. It’s mind-blowing and I really don’t know how she does it, except she’s been doing it since she was three, and it is her absolute passion and calling. I doubt this is something you can even consider going into half-mast.

The life of a dancer is thwart. There are days where all your ducks line up andeverything goes your way. However, there are also times when it can completely fall apart, which we haven’t really experienced. While I’m a Christian, I still suspect there’s a Lord of the Dance out there too, who is either for or against you on the day. It’s almost like you need to leave a burnt offering on the altar outside when you go in. Well, of course, I didn’t do that, but I did pray that she would come first before she did her classical ballet solo with her new tutu and routine. I wrote a note to myself: Is it wrong to pray for your daughter to come first with her ballet solo? The other dance mums I conferred with thought it was fine, and were equally enthusiastic to see her perform, which was absolutely delightful and made my day. There’s inexpressible joy, but it can get a bit foreboding, and I can’t even begin to describe what goes through your mind while you’re sitting there. However, her dance went beautifully and she won. She has won other sections before, but this meant so much more. She was competing in the open section which is the highest level, but what it meant was that she’s on track for reaching her dream of becoming a ballerina. It was a resounding: “YES!!!” (although she still has such a long way to go!!)

Of course, I was proud. However, my overriding emotion was relief and pure joy!

BY the way, I drew on my years of supporting my daughter’s dance efforts, to write my 100 word weekly contribution to Friday Fictioneers: Last Flight of the Swans: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/04/13/last-flight-of-the-swans-friday-fictioneers-13th-april-2022/

However, somehow this ridiculously compulsive book addict managed to make it to the the local Pearl Beach Book Sale on Saturday. Trust me. For a book addict like yours truly, it’s up there on a temptation level right alongside a chocolate shop. Moreover, since all the Easter eggs had virtually sold out by Thursday according to my husband, feasting on books it is.

The other drawcard about this Pearl Beach Book Sale is that the books are top notch. Pearl Beach is a rather exclusive retreat, and attracts a lot of creative people, who seem to have great taste in reading material. I arrived mid-afternoon, and I don’t know how much the books were at the outset, but I was paying $2.00 each. Of course, this was an absolute steal. So, it didn’t make too much sense to be too selective. It was more a case of fill a box, another box, and while you’re thinking about it, why don’t you fill this one too. The irony of all this was that I’m actually in the process of seriously downsizing our book collection, and the boot of the very same car I drove to the book sale, was full of books I’m planning to drop off for the next book sale at the local PCYC.

Another issue is that I am not a voracious book reader. I read a lot doing my history research. However, that’s mainly involved old newspapers online. I also read blog posts. I also do a few Bible studies and try to read my Bible daily. So, it’s not like I’m not reading at all. I’m just not one of those people who polish off a couple of novels a week. Geoff was doing that without any dramas when he was commuting to work on the train. However, he’s been working from home for the last two years. So, he’s reading has dropped off a lot. He’s just finished reading a Harlan Coben novel: Hold Tight. Have you read it? We’ve been making our way through a few TV series based on his novels. I mostly love them, although there was one that I felt had too much violence, and was just too seedy. I managed to pick up another Harben Coben at the book sale: Just One Look.

Meanwhile, we didn’t really celebrate Easter. I haven’t been well since my fall last week, and my dad had surgery last week and we thought we’d leave it a week or two. Yesterday, was also my brother’s 50th birthday and he didn’t mind when we got together. However, I did spend last night going through my photos and fishing him out. I might actually manage to get this photo attempt printed up.

Anyway, I hope you and yours had a Happy and blessed Easter.

Love and blessings,

Rowena

All dance photos were taken by Emily Stoddart Photography.

Digging to Heaven- Friday Fictioneers: 23rd March, 2022.

In the dead of night, the archaeology team arrived at the excavation site.

“Leave no stone unturned. Legend says that if the Garden of Eden can be accessed from Israel, the gate is buried here at Beth Shan. Once we find the gate, use every trick in the book to get through.  Go nuclear, if you have to. We need to know who commands the universe: Jesus, Allah, Buddha, the Wizard of Oz, or the Big Bang? Screw faith. We need proof.”

“But what happens if we can’t get back?”

Six archaeology students were reported missing.

They’ve never been found.

…..

100 words PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Sometimes when I respond to these photo prompts, an idea immediately leaps out at me, and I’m on my way. However, there have also been many times where I’m a bit stuck, and inspiration takes it’s time. I didn’t recognise the subject of this week’s photo prompt, but the photo had been saved as Bet-Shan. Thanks to my best friend Google, I came across the following quotes:

“The fertility of the land and the abundance of water led the Jewish sages to say, “If the Garden of Eden is in the land of Israel, then its gate is Beth Shean.”1.

“If paradise in situated in the land of Israel, its entrance is Beth Shan.2” – – Rabbi Simeon Ben Lachish, c. A.D. 350.

It’s quite interesting to think that I as an Australian who has been in and out of lockdown over the last two years, could be writing about a scene in distant Israel and basing a story there.

Although I was fully aware that I was mixing with writers from around the globe at Friday Fictioneers, I wasn’t so conscious that the photo prompts themselves also came from around the world, and that quite a few of my responses had picked up on that and my writing had developed a strangely international influence without me even leaving my chair.

By the way, this all came to my attention because I finally decided to collate my flash fiction pieces and see what I had. It’s been very insightful and I’m still going. I’ve re-written quite a few, and realised quite a few more could use “a reno” but overall I was quite pleased with what I had. However, I also realized I need to write quite a few more.

Anyway, I need to get to sleep.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields: https://rochellewisoff.com/2022/03/16/18-march-2022/

Many thanks and best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

  1. https://www.bibleplaces.com/bethshean/

2. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/beth-shan/

The Sins of the Mother…Friday Fictioneers 17th March, 2022.

Taking the red-eye from Perth, Bridget had no illusions about why she was returning to Sydney. It wasn’t love. She’d never forgiven her mother for forcing her to give up her own precious daughter at birth.  However, the neighbour had called. Forgetting was one thing, but the tanned, English toy boy surfer was quite another. Although Bridget hadn’t been to Mass in years, she could never condemn Mother to hell. St Margaret’s Home for Unwed Mothers was now an Aged Care Facility, and they had a bed. It was pure practicality, never revenge. Bridget had become her mother’s daughter.

……

99 words PHOTO PROMPT – unknown submission.

As often happens, this story deviated quite a way from where I started out. I was actually born at St Margaret’s Private Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney which was actually at the centre of a social/cultural drive for unmarried women to give up their babies for adoption. Some of these adoptions were more forced than others, but there was a lot of shame. There was also a lack of understanding about the bond between mother and child, and these women were supposed to just go home and forget. Get on with their lives. I also found out they didn’t give caesareans because they didn’t want to leave any scars. No proof.

Meanwhile, the mother has advanced dementia/Alzheimers. I remember hearing a joke about being nice to your kids because they choose your nursing home. There’s a lot of truth in that, which played out in this story.

I am considering turning this into a longer story. Along the way, I had the daughter paying for a cleaner and gardener to look after her mother’s physical needs, but not having a personal relationship, and thinking about the reasons for this, led me onto this path, which seemed to come together well.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

BTW if you’re a bird enthusiast or you just need a bit of a lift, you might enjoy my last post sharing my encounter with a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets which is living in our backyard: https://wordpress.com/post/beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/66664

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields: https://rochellewisoff.com/2022/03/16/18-march-2022/

Many thanks and best wishes,

Rowena

Rainbows On An Overcast Day…

Often, it’s all too easy to miss the rainbows on an overcast day. All we see is grey clouds. Complain about the rain. Swear the sun will never come out again. Indeed, we might even forget that the sun exists at all, and has only been covered up by the clouds. It hasn’t been smothered to death.

Well, it’s still raining and overcast here after more days and nights than Noah ever spent in the ark, and this terrible dreariness is seemingly never-ending. Yet, about an hour ago, Geoff called out and asked if I’d seen the Rainbow Lorikeets perched just outside our kitchen window. Of course, I hadn’t. I was sitting at the table reading, and hadn’t even glanced outside. Why would I? The weather’s bad. None of the trees are flowering, and to be honest, it all just looks wet and dreary. What I was reading was much more interesting.

However, I did get up to have a look, and went to fetch my camera. Not so much for myself though. While Rainbow Lorikeets are commonplace here, I know many of you haven’t seen them, and I took these photos for you. Indeed, I was simply trying to be a vessel, so you could see through me.

Inevitably, I was also drawn under their spell. I have always adored these birds. When I was a child and we didn’t know any better, we’d put out bread and honey soaking in water to attract them. They love it. However, they don’t recommend that for their health anymore. Besides, we’re lucky they’re often living in our backyard, and have taken up residence.

Meanwhile, on sunset seemingly thousands of Rainbow Lorrikeets return to their roosting trees by the beach for the night. The entire tree is literally exploding with rainbow feathers and noise. I can’t quite call it “music”, although it’s far more melodious than the raucous screeching of the cockatoos as they fly overhead heading off wherever it is they call “bed”.

“Look at me!”

Anyway, once I’d ventured outside with my camera, I was absolutely captivated myself, and almost as enthusiastic as when I first saw them over 40 years ago. Moreover, with their cheeky little faces, the little show offs were sitting with their perfect supermodel poses just waiting for me to take their portrait from their best angle.

Straight off an artist’s palette, I ask how can all that feathered colour not bring you joy even on the darkest of days, even if only for the briefest of moments?

Well, that is easy for me to say. I am safe and comfortable. I have a roof over my head, and even the air-conditioner is running. I’m not destitute or struggling to survive after the devastating flood waters which had decimated Lismore on the NSW North Coast. I’m definitely not in the Ukraine.

However, I watch the news and think of the people of Ukraine. I imagine that for them personally enduring what we only see on TV, that it must be hard to remember beauty, goodness and kindness still exist. Immersed in such brutal destruction at the hands of Putin’s forces, it must also be hard to believe in a good, loving and gracious God. or that he is reflected in the world and in our humanity. Yet, I also know that such brutal times can also bring out the best in people too and we can ironically feel closer to God than ever.

Gosh! How I wish I could do more and offer all these struggling souls a cup of tea, a warmed blanket, a hug, a smile, anything to remind them of the goodness of humanity. Yet, here I am tapping away on my keyboard snuggled up inside with my dog, the whole family is home today with one sick but it’s not covid so it’s all good. However, life here isn’t always this good, and there have been many times where I too have felt cursed, and particularly singled out by the adversities of life. I, too, have fallen on the ground and asked why? Why me?

So, even I still need to keep looking out for the good in this world, like these stunning Rainbow Lorikeets. I need to resist being swallowed up by what’s going on in my world, and by all the things which seem to be so precariously balanced and could so easily be destroyed by a puff of wind or that great enemy of joy – covid. “Rowena, do not let yourself go under.” I hear the words loud and clear. It has been a battle at times lately, and it’s funny how doing something as simple as getting out my camera and really focusing on the minute details of those feathers and their bright colours, has helped turn things around. Indeed, perhaps the same might work for you!

That is my hope, and my prayer for you wherever you are, and what ever your personal or community circumstances might be. As George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child but take courage: it can be delightful.“

We need to hold onto this!

Love and blessings,

Rowena