Category Archives: Chronic Illness

Happy Anniversary – 19 Years On…

It was our 19th Wedding Anniversary on Wednesday a figure which automatically takes me through to next year which will be our 20th and worthy of all the pomp, circumstance and luxurious travel it deserves. At this juncture, I don’t know whether I’m looking forward to the same time next year, or whether we should be carpe diem seizing the day while the going is good. After all, everything is relative and 2020 hasn’t been our worst year by a country mile.

Rather, while there have certainly been some struggles, we’ve also had some surprising good luck and overall I think we’re coming out ahead. Not that this stops us from being very conscious of the horrors, disappointments and draining inconveniences which are still being endured globally. However, I don’t want to appeal to the sympathy vote ourselves when compassion, understanding, financial support and love really need to be channeled towards those who need it most and that isn’t us.

However, I did want to celebrate and acknowledge that Geoff and I have made it this far. Share that we actually did manage to get out for an indulgent, romantic lunch at our favourite special venue…the Impact Plans Cafe at nearby Empire Bay. Although we’ve had quite a few luxurious sunny days, this wasn’t one of them. Indeed, it was cold and wet and we even wondered whether the cafe would still be open for a late lunch after Geoff had attended a zoom meeting for work. However, it was like they were just waiting for us and only a couple of tables were taken, which was wonderful in terms of staying covid safe. I’m naturally cautious about going to cafes even though there’s virtually no known covid around here.

As I considered this post, I wondered whether to to put the wedding photo first as the featured image, or whether to start off with our older, more decrepit selves and then flash back to Cinderella and Prince Charming on their big day when, to use the Australian vernacular “we scrubbed up awlright”.

Knowing what lies ahead, I feel tired just looking at those two naive “babes in the woods”. This is actually how my father refers to himself and my mother when my birth started going horribly wrong like an express train accelerating straight over cliff, except I was stuck and not moving anywhere. I can relate to that ourselves looking back. No matter how prepared or cocky you might be, you simply have no idea what’s going to hit you right between the eyes. That’s what we should have been prepared for, instead of thinking about a five year plan. 

Nineteen years down the track, it only natural to ask whether we’d go back and do it all again?

“Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we?
Could we?” 

-The Way We Were. 

Or, would we run, possibly even in two opposite directions?

I don’t know. There’s a big part of me now that thinks Geoff and I should’ve boarded a yacht and just kept sailing continuously out towards the sunset. Don’t go chasing rainbows. Stand tall like a sunflower and stare deep into those rays and not turn round.

However, I suspect this life of simplicity, without the love and responsibilities of becoming parents, wouldn’t be as rich. That a life well-lived is a textured tapestry filled with ups and downs and no one’s trajectory usually keeps just going up and up.

That’s not to say I’ve given up. As a writer, I still believe in stories and one day I’ll get there after all these years of scribbling and tapping away. I’ll have that published book clutched firm in the palm of my hand.

I don’t know what that has to do with our wedding anniversary, except I do. Our marriage is a partnership and due to my disability and severe health conditions, I haven’t been able to work in the way I expected and to maintain my career in marketing. Indeed, after going through chemo and almost giving up the ghost a few times, it no longer seemed quite so relevant either. I didn’t care how many widgets were sold. I wanted people to be content. I wanted our world to be a better place. All the extra layers of fluff really didn’t matter most of the time. That good loving, caring relationships were more important and I also felt I had a lot to relay through my writing and research. Not just my own observations and opinions, but also those gathered up along the road. Wisdom, after all, is a collective “being”. It’s not just the product of one mind.

Meanwhile, I want to go and dig up our wedding photos etc and show the kids. We also have our wedding video which we’ve never edited and have certainly never shown the kids or any of our current friends. I wonder what they’ll think of the two glamorous love birds? I wonder if they even see a glimpse of us?

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…4th August, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, this week I celebrated another birthday. I don’t know whether I’ve become any wiser, or even if I feel any older. However, I can’t kid myself that staying away from the hairdresser is doing me any favours. Stick my head in her door, and I’ll be transformed. I’d love to take Geoff with me as well. He’s in DESPERATE need of a haircut and beard trim and is looking like Moses after being in lock down and isolation at home for a few months. The trouble is he seems to like his new look. I’ve been giving him not too subtle hints, and then a work colleague of his who does photography on the side, asked him if he could take his portrait. Well, that was something having my husband approached to be a photo model, especially when you think the kids would be much more likely targets. Well, the downside of all of this, is that he’s been told not to change anything. Yikes! They had their first go at it today and I swear the beard was transmitting some weird kind of pulsating signal which interfers with technology, because all of his equipment miraculously failed and the connections between his camera and computer failed. Now, this is usually what happens when technology and I cross paths, and Geoff being an IT guru usually has the reverse effect. The computers know he’s in the office and behave themselves  when he’s around but muck up and go on strike when he’s on leave. Indeed, one of his former managers, was thinking about sticking a photo of him near the server to keep it happy. There was one particular Summer, where the air-conditioning failed and the server fried over the Christmas break while we were driving in between Hay and Adelaide in some of the most remote country in the world. I’ll never forget that call. Technology!!

Birthday Cake

Meanwhile, there’s covid, which seems to be like that annoying English backpacker who says they’re only going to stay for a week and is still glued to your couch six months later and showing no signs of moving on.

I don’t know whether you’ve been hearing about what’s been going on with Covid here in Australia? Well, just when I was starting to think we could even become covid free like New Zealand, things went pear-shaped in Victoria and I was back in isolation and second-guessing everyone I meet. There are a few outbreaks in Sydney, which are a concern, although not of immediate threat to us here. However, our situation has been challenged by my husband’s manager who has insisted that all IT staff return to the university to work on campus, despite NSW Health putting out a directive that anyone who can work from home should be working from home. The trains are virtually empty and he has no trouble parking at the station. So, it’s clear that many people are either working from home or have lost their jobs. So, I don’t understand why his manager has to be a trail blazer leading the way from common sense, but I guess we might just attribute that to “management”.

 

In addition to our frustrations with what’s happening at work, if what we see on TV is any indication, Covid seems to be bringing out the idiot in droves.  Here in Australia, we have “Bunning’s Karen” who refused to wear a face mask into the hardware store as requested and went troppo. However, that’s nothing compared to three Queensland girls who went down to Melbourne on a high-end handbag shoplifting spree in Melbourne and were fined in Melbourne for being at a party and flouting covid restrictions. Then, when they returned to Queensland, they lied about being in Melbourne and two of the three are currently in hospital with Covid. Meanwhile, with a bit of a humorous take on increased cases in Victoria, a map of Australia with Victoria missing, is doing the rounds.  This is a bit of blessed relief for the Tasmanians who are traditionally left off the map, mostly by accident. This, however, is much more intentional.

Map of Australia Without Victoria

Meanwhile, my research into Australian soldiers who served in WWI is continuing. You’d think I’d be ready to put pen to paper and start writing this massive epic. However, while my research is uncovering some brilliant stories and insights into the soldiers experiences, as well as efforts from the home front to support their efforts, it also uncovers my ignorance and I still don’t feel I’m in a position of knowing or understanding yet. Of course, that takes years and I’ve only been focused on this for one year so far, which really makes me a beginner. That said, I do have an honours degree in history under my belt and I’ve maintained an interest in history, especially Australian and Irish cultural history through my family history research. So, I’m not a rank beginner and I’m not completely untrained either. I just need to work out where I’m going to position myself on that continuum between storyteller and historian. I really do enjoy a good story, but I’m also a stickler for the truth and I’m not one to bend the facts to tell the tale unless I’m wearing my marketing/publicity hats. At the moment, I’m just going to keep “head down, bum up” and expect that I’ll find my voice when the timing’s right, and that will determine which way I go and this way, I’ll sort of grow into my spot instead of a fixed point determining who I am (if that makes any sense). This process might not be so structured, but is more organic.

The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Pocket Editions for the Trenches ...

Well, I think about does me for this week. Have you been watching any good movies lately? Or reading any books? I read C.J. Dennis’s: The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke during the week. This is a great Australian tale of romance and family life set just before the outbreak of WWI. The entire thing is written in verse, and uses the Australian vernacular of the day, which is harder to understand than Shakespeare. However, there’s a dictionary at the back if you need it. The book was very popular with the troops at the trench, and he’s been called Australia’s answer to Robbie  Burns. If you’re interested in checking it our, it’s available for free online  Here

Anyway, it’s getting late here so I’d better head off. I hope you’ve had a great week and I hope you and yours are well and staying Covid safe.

This is another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Bathing In A Glorious Sunset at Hardy’s Bay on Australia’s East Coast.

“Clouds come floating into my life,

no longer to carry rain or usher storm,

but to add color to my sunset sky.”

― Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

Watching the setting sun perform its stunning grand finale, has become an irresistible  addiction. I can’t help myself, and why not? Sunsets have an ethereal, transcendental beauty, which lifts us out of ourselves, the weight of our earthly beings, and into the ether.

Needless to say, the photographer in me just can’t leave all that colour up there hanging in the sky. Rather, I have to preserve it for eternity in  6 x 4. Take it home.

Boats sunset

These boats are just bathing in golden light. 

Of course, if you’re a sunset chaser like myself, you’d already appreciate that the sunset is a process, an unfolding drama. That’s especially true when you’re watching the sun set over the ocean or a body of water like we were last night. If you were an actor, you could compare it to a four act play. If you were a lepidopterist (collector of butterflies), you’d say it was like the most exquisite Ulysses butterfly emerging from it’s chrysalis and fluttering through the sunshine in all it’s dazzling splendour before its brief hours pass. Or, perhaps if you’re a gardener or admirer of St Expery’s Little Prince, you could compare it to an unfurling rose bud opening up into a magnificent flower. Again, it’s hour too is all too brief and over all too soon. It’s petals brown and fall to the ground, just like day becomes night.

 

A good sunset is all these gems in one.

Last night, Geoff and I drove over to Hardy’s Bay on the New South Wales Central Coast  to check out the sunset there. Hardy’s Bay is about a 20 minute drive away, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t really tell you where it is in relation to anywhere else. I can only tell you how to get there from here, which probably isn’t going to help you at all, and you’ll end up like me when I first went to Hardy’s Bay a month ago…lost.  So, I’ve been kind and here’s a link to a map. That way, you can get lost or found on your own merits.

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The Jetty at Hardy’s Bay just before sun set. 

Anyway, Hardy’s Bay has a really lovely feel to it. There are some fancy food shops across the road from a long, wooden jetty which I’m sure was put right there in front of the sunset for the benefit of sunset chasers, photographers and meditators alike. Oh, and perhaps a few folk who might actually make it out on the water. Indeed, a large yacht came in and offloaded some passengers. We were sitting with our legs dangling off the jetty at the time, and while I was a bit cheesed off about having my serenity disturbed by having to move, I wasn’t about to sacrifice my legs to make a point.

Yacht Hardys Bay

Yacht pulled into Hardy’s Bay at sunset and dropped off some merry makers. 

Naturally, it was just amazing to be there watching the sunset and feeling myself merging in and almost becoming one with it. However, we were also there to take photos, and after photographing so many sunsets, and we’ve become just a tad fussy. We’re now looking for points of difference… the spectacular, the unusual and quirky. That said, although we’ve seen those more mediocre, sunburnt-orange skies and their corresponding clouds of pink marshmallow before, we’re still left awestruck. Still take the photos, but just might not print them up or post them on Facebook.

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Pointing your lens right into the sun is a no-no, and it is intense but I love the fullness of sunshine in this one. It effervescence. A massive glowing orange shining in the sky right in the middle of Winter and in the midst of Covid’s doom, gloom and despair. It’s pure magic. 

What I particularly noticed about this sunset was the range of colours both in the sky and also in the photos, and that these didn’t necessarily correspond with each other. Although I have a Nikon D3500 and it’s a lot more sensitive than a phone camera, there were instances where it had a mind of its own and the colours were much more intense.

Awesome sunset Hardys Bay

What sensational colour! This was what the camera saw – quite different to the naked eye.

I’ve fiddled with the post-processing, but I didn’t make significant changes to how the lens perceived and captured what was there. As I took the photos, I fiddled a bit with the ratio of clouds to water to see how that panned out, and managed to get some beautiful colouring in the water which wasn’t visible to the naked eye. Of course, there are no complaints. The effect was quite beautiful.

Rainbow Lorrikeet

A precious Rainbow Lorrikeet nibbling away in barren Illawarra Flame Tree. 

In addition to the incredible cloud coverage which became a feature in itself, and the obvious structure of the jetty, there was also a row of Illawarra Flame Trees along the shore line. It’s Winter here, and the trees are void of leaves and nothing but a mass of tangled branches. Yet, I took a second glance at the bright patches of bright rainbow colours dotted here and there, and pick out a smattering of Rainbow Lorrikeets. How special is that, AND I managed to get a few half-decent shots. They’re so pretty and so Australian!

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Don’t those striking branches of the Illawarra Flame Tree look extraordinary!!

However, as I said at the outset, while it’s so easy to be caught up and fall under a sunset’s magical spell, part of its intrinsic nature is its transience…its passing. Indeed, perhaps something so beautiful, so moving, so awe-inspiring could only be fleeting. That it it would somehow blow a fuse if it went on forever.

I don’t know.

Besides, nothing that is seen, lasts forever.

Only spirit.

Night light Hardy's Bay

Goodnight to the Sun

Anyway, I was just pleased to get outside after being cooped up. I’ve had a cold which rended me infectious and out of circulation. That’s cleared up now, just as cases of coronavirus spiral in Melbourne. Not to the levels experienced overseas, but I’m quite annoyed because we had the chance to get rid of this virus and it’s looking like we blew it. Well, in the case of Melbourne, they’ve tracked that outbreak to security guards “mingling” with guests in quarantine. How stupid is that? Some times, I wonder whether dumber & dumber are going to rule the world. Or, perhaps they already do. I’m still social distancing and just keeping out of circulation, but even I slipped up the other day and hugged a friend when she popped in the other day. I’ve been rigidly strict, and then I did that. Well, the one good thing about that is that I’m still human. My self, a very huggy, extroverted people-person, is still alive and well underneath this hermit’s skin.

Anyway, my apologies. I digress.

Do you have any great sunset shots you’d like to share? I’d love to see them. Just leave your links in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Seeing these photos inspired a message for during this time of the coronavirus where we can’t travel…Make the most of where you are. I know it might look easy for me when I live on the coast and our Winter’s are pretty mild, but you can find a bit of magic everywhere you go and everywhere you are. You just need to open your eyes, your ears, your senses to the exquisite possibilities.

Home On A Saturday Morning…2020.

This morning, I became strangely captivated by the absurdity of our kitchen table. Or, more to the point, by the macabre and unlikely pairing of random objects which had simply been placed one on top of the other just waiting for someone to come along and put them in their rightful homes.

That might have been a job for Friday night so we could start the weekend off with a clean slate, open space and an outlook uncluttered by the detritus of four people and three dogs living under the one roof under the somewhat trying circumstances of informal isolation. Well, at least, that’s largely the go for my husband and I while we’ve loosened the noose for the kids who are on school holidays. Even still, they’re told to wash their hands as soon as they come home, and are interrogated about who they’re catching up with before they leave, and where their friends have been, as well as where the people they’ve been hanging out with have been. Any mention of Melbourne, and it’s out to the dog house. Fortunately, we live just North of Sydney and are still well away from experiencing what’s going on in America and other virus nightmare zones. However, we’ve not letting our guard down, and security is tighter at our place than the Queensland border.

Spoons 2020

2020 will go down in history as a year we don’t want to repeat.

Anyway, I’m sure our kitchen table was clear last night. Or, at least, it was some time yesterday. Then, Mr 16 returned home from a day out with his mates and pulled a gazillion plastic spoons out of his pockets and dumped them on the table. He thought they were a great joke, and I reminded me of a friend of mine who used to do that, and earned himself the inevitable nickname of “Spoon”. Spoon was tragically killed in a car accident in his early twenties when he swerved to avoid a koala. One of my best friends had gone out with Spoon for a few years, and my connection with him was more second-hand, although when someone in your circle dies young in a tragic accident like that, you can feel a misplaced closeness. That somehow you knew them better than you did. Or, perhaps you just remember every single little detail and they’ve become frozen in a poignant time capsule in your heart for eternity.

However, my son knew nothing about that when he brought all these spoons home and spread them all over the kitchen table. Not only that, he left them there almost like a piece of ephemeral street art. Just to compound matters, he dumped them on top of my latest attempt to maintain some kind of diary and routine during 2020 when I have nowhere to go and virtually nothing to remember. I have no reason to routinely open a diary and be concerned with where I’m going, which is making it very hard to keep track of that rare random place I’m supposed to be (Is anyone else struggling with that? I know it surely couldn’t just be me?)

Anyway, after deciding that the image of my 2020 diary buried in plastic spoons somehow encapsulated the weirdness of 2020, I noticed a few other “curious points of interest” on the table. While we would usually hide all this unsightly kitchen and family clutter to produce a Insta-perfect shot, I was suddenly struck by all the personality and character which had been thrown together here, and how it possessed a strange kind of beauty which ought to be shared before it was swept away like detritus on the beach.

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First up, there’s this combo of a chocolate biscuit with a touch of lime resting on my tablet box. For the last 13 years, this tablet box has been part of my day more regularly than clockwork. Every day, I take a good handful of tablets to stave off my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. While photographing the spoons and my diary, I must’ve been in between thoughts and hadn’t quite managed to get my biscuit onto a plate. The biscuit was made by a friend of mine are chocolate with a hint of lime and rather special. They were left over the other night, and being kind and thoughtful, she divided the leftovers up into Chinese containers for us all to take home. Although I was also taking home the remains of a chocolate macadamia cake I’d made, I was looking forward to having her biscuits with a cup of tea. They were a real treat.

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Personally, I don’t feel the chewed up rubber innards of a tennis ball warrant an explanation. However, there might be those of you who don’t have scraps of tennis ball deposited all over the house like we do. Indeed, tapping away at my desk, I’ve spotted a streak of fluoro-orange felt with a few bits of cracked rubber still attached. Indeed, on the other side, I’ve just spotted one of my son’s disposable plastic spoons. How did it migrate out here? Surely, it wasn’t me?!! I don’t know. However, I’ve clearly been persecuted by crappy paraphernalia at every turn, and I can assure you most emphatically that”it wasn’t me”. Moreover, I’m sure sure that everyone around me, both human and canine, would agree. Of course, no one ever owns up to their crap, and the miscellaneous layers just keep building up until you pop out one morning, and a strange sedimentary rock is sitting there. Or, perhaps it’s more of a sandwich. I don’t know. All I do know, is that I don’t see this on anyone else’s Facebook pages, and I clearly don’t live an Instagram-able life!

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The quest for meaning continues…

Of course, the chaotic state of our kitchen table could well be a cause for prayer. Indeed, our house probably needs more prayer than most. Feeling that the state of the house was heading irretrievably down a precipitous cliff, I finally brought back the cleaner yesterday. By the way, I should point out that my cleaner isn’t some uppercrust indulgence. Rather, she’s a disability support worker and more of a vital necessity, except that the risk of catching the coronavirus far exceeded the need for a squeaky-clean house and we’ve been “doing alright” on our own. Anyway, when the cleaner found a stray rubber band, she hung it over the praying hands which I’d bought from Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, and I thought it was a good laugh.You can’t take life too seriously, especially at the moment.

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Along with humour, nature has also been getting me through this year which just keeps doing my head in on so many fronts. I picked this shell up on one of my photography beach walks, either at Patonga or MacMasters. I’m not sure. I have a scattering of shells on our kitchen table from these walks. They’re ostensibly nothing spectacular, but they hold memories for me of those beautiful walks in the bright sunshine now that it’s Winter here, and I’ve had a cold for a few weeks and have switched into hibernation mode. I know it’s not good psych, but outside can wait.

Meanwhile, the outside is peering in through my window…the vast expansive branches of the Jacaranda tree just outside the door, a white camellia from our next door neighbour’s garden’s been keeping me company for awhile now, along with the chatter of the birds. There usually a dog (or all three) at my feet or even sleeping under my desk, although they’ve abandoned me today. The kids are home and no doubt they’re far more exciting. Moving humans are far more interesting than stationary ones tapping away on keyboards, and they have no concern for my ideas.

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Proof a mother’s work is never done.

Last, but by no means least, are my daughter’s pointe shoes and the accompanying post-it note. She bought a new pair of pointe shoes during the week and while they might dazzle you with their starstruck beauty, they not only torture your feet, but also your fingertips as you sew on elastics and ribbons which keep them attached to your ballerina’s feet. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried sewing into these beastly instruments of torture. However, jabbing a needle through leather is impossible for mere mortals. I snapped one needle and drew blood on separate stitch, and yet there was no respite for this ballerina’s mum. I just had to keep going and find a way. I ended up with a very strong, sword-like needle and pushing it through with the back of the dog’s brush. The dog had chewed it and there was a little tooth mark in the tough plastic where I could position the needle and push it through. Indeed, it almost appeared purpose-built, as long as I didn’t think to hard about it. Indeed, it didn’t even cross my mind at the time about how weird and absolutely bonkers it was. By 3 am, I only had one shoe done and decided my duty was done. That I was never going to have it finished in time for this morning’s class, and left an apologetic note… all on the kitchen table.

Meanwhile, I’m finding that our kitchen table’s being used less and less for its intended purpose. That it’s either too hot or too cold to sit out there in the kitchen, and i’s much more comfortable to sit out in the lounge with the reverse cycle going and the TV on. Just to compound the disintegration of family connection, our daughter usually eats in her room and our son often eats at his desk in the lounge while either playing games or watching videos. I really didn’t want us to go down this path. A path I know will lead to wrack and ruin. However, there are times I feel like Atlas carrying the weight of the family on my shoulders and I have to put the load down for a bit and recuperate a bit.  Stretch out. Extend my wings and do something without resistance. I don’t know if people realize they put themselves in the too hard basket and what that means, but sometimes, I run out of words to keep explaining and hope maybe a thought might pop into their heads without me putting it there myself. That, at the very least, they might actually stop to ask…Are Mum and Dad okay? Now, there’s a novel thought. One I didn’t consider myself when I was their age but surely something they could learn…

Anyway, it’s now Saturday afternoon and with my back turned on the tide, I have no idea what the table’s like now, However, it’s time for another cup of tea and I did just happen to see a faint ray of sunlight through the clouds.

So, now I wanted to ask you about your kitchen table. What does it say about you and what’s going on at your place? Although showing off your unkept table going against the grain, I’d love you to join me in this and have a bit of fun and please share your efforts in the comments. It could be really interesting to see a range of kitchen tables around the world and how different people live.

Meanwhile, I hope you and your loved ones and communities are safe and if they’re not, I’m thinking of you!

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…15th June, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, I have a very special treat to share with you…a magical chocolate cupcake. After watching Masterchef, I went the extra mile on these and pulled out the piping bag, giving them a knockout chocolate fettuccine hairstyle. However, you have to fight for them. Before I’d iced them, the dogs stole seven of them. Can you believe it?!! What’s more they didn’t left any evidence. Not even a crumb on the bench. It’s like the simply vanished. That’s why they’re magical cupcakes. Anyway, I took them along to Church for morning tea and they were shown off under the glass just like in a real cafe and they looked a million dollars. So, I hope you enjoy them.

chocolate cupcake

As we meet up for another Weekend Coffee Share, I wonder what’s going on in your neck of the woods and how you’re going.

Our world is so churned up at the moment, it’s hard to know quite where to start and considering I’ve been living in my cave, I’m not even going to try to comment on what’s going on out there. I keep seeing flashes of things on the TV and no longer know what to make of anything. I just can’t understand why people can’t all just be people, see others as people and just show some respect. For me, the Golden Rule offers a simple guideline on how to treat people. It’s not rocket science…treat others as you would like to be treated. You can even take it a step further and apply the inverse Golden Rule, which aims to treat people as they would like to be treated. Of course, this has nothing to do with racist violence.

However, here in Australia, we had a magnificent example of how we can get it right when rescuers developed a personalised rescue plan to find a missing non-verbal youth, Will Callaghan, who is on the Autism Spectrum. The outpouring of love for Will and his family was really phenomenal and truly warmed my heart. So much so, that I had to write about it myself: Finding Hope On Mt Disappointment.

After that, much else fell into flat relief.

However, I had a bit of a turning point for myself.

I went to the shops.

I didn’t immerse myself in the shops. Just popped in to pick up a lay-buy and was twinkle-toeing like a burglar trying to get in and out without coming into contact with anyone, and most importantly maintain social distancing so I didn’t inhale the same air. However, the shop is still closed until further notice, which was rather disappointing after working myself up so much just to be able to walk in, pull out my credit card and pay for my grey tutu skirt.

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Even sitting at a humble picnic table has been mission impossible during the coronacrisis. 

OMG! Living during this coronacrisis has taken the simple, and turned it into the ridiculous. However, I still can’t be too careful. The virus is out there, although in the case of the Australian context, that’s becoming doubtful. However, there’s still the odd isolated, unexplained case and I don’t want those to include me. Moreover, now it’s cold outside, it’s becoming more comfortable at home.

After navigating my way around the shopping centre successfully, I decided to attend our Church life group on Friday night. It was being held at our friend’s place which is perched up on poles in the gum trees. I love his place, as it’s filled with all sort of eclectic vintage and antique treasures and looks like a cosy museum. Everyone was really upbeat to be back together again, but it took me a bit of time to get my bearings, find a seat which social-distanced effectively and I was really grateful that my friends understood and didn’t treat me like a fruitcake, because I’m not naturally a germophobe. This has been thrust on me by my damaged lungs and the virulence and sneaky habits of Covid 19.

On Sunday morning, I went to physical Church for the first time in about 3.5 months. Our Church used to meet at the local community centre. However, the local Anglican Church went on the market and we decided to throw our hat in at the auction. Then, there was an anonymous million dollar donation and a phone call to the bank to find out about those mysterious zeros in the balance. Anyway, Sunday was our first service in the new building and what with us all coming out of lock down like something off the set of Sleeping Beauty, we were all so happy and bouncing all over the place. We had a BBQ afterwards of bacon and egg rolls and I was too embroiled to eat it and after having two friends pass me wipes to remove dripping egg from my personage, I decided to take it home where I could concentrate. I’m one of those people who spills their coffee while their talking on an ordinary day, let alone when I’ve been let out of isolation after 3.5 months, we’re in our new church home and surrounded by dear friends. Indeed, this is the sort of thing which can light all your matches at once and you can combust like in that book/movie by Laura Esquivel: Like Water For Chocolate.

By the way, my weekly walk continued. I went for a walk along Pearl Beach with my friend Roland on Thursday. We’ve walked along Pearl Beach before, although last time we took on the Western headland and walked around the rocks. This week we stuck to the sand and walked along the beach. There was a massive white cloud hovering above the horizon which looked like a massive white cauliflower with dense, tight curls. It was quite mesmerising and it had that feel that it could “beam me up, Scotty”, like a spaceship.

Ferry and big clouds2

The Spectacular Cauliflower Cloud. 

Then, we a pod of dolphins a few metres out. They seemed to be forming a circle around a school of fish. They were so much fun to watch, but unfortunately eluded my efforts to capture them with the camera. I wasn’t surprised as they’re difficult if not impossible to photograph but it would’ve been nice.

I turned back and noticed our footprints stretching back behind us in a perfect trail. There was perhaps one other person on the beach and we were just out of reach of the waves. I quickly took a few photos, as I sensed a poignancy there. Walking with my friend. It’s not something I do very often. It’s usually more of a case of “coffee”, which lately has been more likely to be a cup of tea. Thinking about it, that’s something I’d like to change as I like being in the outdoors and I need to do more walking.

By the way, I’d lost track of how long we’ve been hibernating at home. We checked out the usage on Geoff’s train Opal card, which he uses to get to work. That was last used on the 17th March, and I was probably in isolation a week or two before that. That means I’ve been in iso now for roughly 3.5 months with only going out for exercise until last week. So, i’m feeling a bit like Sleeping Beauty heading back out there again. Or, perhaps I’m just Sleepyhead.

The strange thing I found stepping back out there again, is that some people haven’t been out of action at all and have been out and about. They almost don’t comprehend that people like me have been out of circulation for 3-4 months and for some of us, we were also in a different form of lock down escaping the bush fire smoke last Summer. I’ve been very grateful to have my writing and research and indeed this time being locked away has really made a difference on that front. Doing my writing and research at home is my usual modus operandi but there isn’t that menacing threat out there and I can have a more balanced lifestyle and not be shut away from my friends both the ones I see on a more intentional basis but also the ones I see regularly when I’m out and about, especially at the dance school. I want you all back. Is that too much to ask? That said, I’ve been mighty grateful for all my friends on the blog. You’ve got me through, not only the coronacrisis, but life and I appreciate you so much.

Anyway, I asked you at the start how things are going in your neck of the woods, so that’s where I’ll finish up. how are you?

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Meeting of Minds….Walks With My Friend.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

C.S. Lewis

When you think about what remains of our life stories after we’re gone, it’s all about family connections…DNA. However, most of us can’t live with family as our only source of human interaction. We also need friends.

Every friendship is unique, just like our fingerprints. No two friendships are the same, which means we need to cherish each and every friend like gold, and they’re certainly not simply a stepping stone to get us where we’re wanting to go. Rather, I’d prefer to think about how I could ease my friend’s journey in some way, although I’ve had some truly wonderful friends who’ve been literal lifesavers when I’ve been seriously ill, barely able to look after my kids and they’ve driven them to and from daycare, school, fed them, cooked us meals or simply, and very importantly, listened. Finding understanding and acceptance, especially given my rare health and disability issues, has been a struggle and such a God-send when I’ve found it.  There are those two parallel footprints in the sand. We’re each independent and carrying our own load, but we’re also there with and for each other through life’s ups and downs, cups of coffee, walks along the beach and no doubt through the storms.

Footprints Pearl BeachThese photographs of footprints in the sand could tell a story of their own. However, they were actually taken while I was out walking along Pearl Beach with my friend who I’ll call “Henry’. I turned around and saw our footprints side-by-side in the sand stretching uninterrupted almost along the full length of the beach and they told a story of friendship, and what it means to be a friend. Well at least that’s what these two sets of parallel footprints said to me.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
– Muhammad Ali 

In many ways my friendship with Henry breaks a few taboos. As you know, I’m married to Geoff and well you might ask what’s the story of my friendship with Henry? To put you at ease, Roland is the same age as my Mum and Dad and while some people might go for that kind of age difference, it definitely puts up a roadblock for both of us. Besides, I am clearly and most definitely married and if I was going to have an affair, I wouldn’t be hanging out once a week at a local cafe next door to the bookshop where Henry and I met. Rather, I’d be heading off to Sydney well and truly away from this goldfish bowl where everyone knows yours and everyone else’s business.

“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod, my shadow does that much better.

-Plutarch.

By the way, I first met Henry a few years ago in our local bookshop.  He was looking for books about WWII German history to write about his father’s war service as a Polish fighter pilot in the RAF. I knew of a good book through my own German/European heritage on my mum’s side and so we had that cultural connection, as well as our shared writing interest. Henry and I also made time for each other. Time to meet for coffee once a week, and at much the same time every week… very much like clockwork. Many of my friends don’t operate like clockwork, or don’t feel the need for that weekly coffee/ tea fix. However, I need it just like I need food and water and the car needs to be topped up with petrol. Geoff has joined us a few times, and the kids have met him. Moreover,  they know that my meetings with Henry are set in stone unless it’s mission critical. Aside from my violin lessons, there haven’t been many restrictions placed on my time since I stopped work a few years ago and I think it’s good for them to know I’m not available on tap. Another thing I really appreciate about my friendship with Henry, is that he takes me seriously. He sees something more in me than this incomplete, imperfect scrambling character I see inside myself, and he gives me hope. Reads my writing and takes it seriously and even edits it and provides suggestions. He is kind, considerate and in the mould of his chivalrous Polish father, a gentleman and someone I trust and can truly rely on.

Roland & Rowena

Our shadows captured walking down the beach…Henry with his cap on and me lugging my camera bag along.

 

“It’s your road, and yours alone, others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”

– Rumi

Henry’s friendship has also been a very important for me during the coronacrisis. For a few months there, he was all but my only physical social contact outside the family. He is fastidious about maintaining social distancing, is very protective of my health and also has a small social circle and takes precautions when he’s out. Our cafe’s been closed and I’m not quite ready to head back yet So, we’ve been going for walks along the beach instead. We did actually try to get a coffee at Pearl Beach last week but that all stops at 2.30pm over there so we didn’t have the opportunity to support local business. Gotta say, I was pretty disappointed, but we’re still coming out of covid and it is Winter here and there aren’t a lot of people around. However, they can also become a viscous circle.

DSC_0158

A few years ago, I used to have my dog-walking friends who were important to me. However, mornings and I haven’t been well acquainted of late and that’s fallen by the wayside. Moreover, I’ve seriously missed all the incidental friendships, which are structured around our activities and haven’t happened during lock down. Unfortunately, although dance has returned to the studio, parents are excluded and I’m still being cautious. The coronavirus is down, but not out.

Ferry and big clouds2

This massive cauliflower-shaped cloud decided to join us as well as a pod of dolphins which I didn’t quite manage to capture on film.

Anyway, might I encourage us all to unapologetically pursue and maintain our friendships. Indeed, I’ve made some really strong friendships through blogging, which have added a very interesting and largely international dimension.

Friendship matters!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Acknowledgement & Gratitude…2020 Revised.

Last night, I was going through my list. I don’t know if everyone has a list. However, I’m pretty sure most of us have that list we go back to when something else goes wrong, and for some of us this list of our misfortunes goes round and round in our heads and conversations like a broken record. Indeed, this list can be a millstone round your neck, and it’s no doubt taken many over the edge.

Bilbo watchin the sun set Palm Beach

This photo of Bilbo seemed to sum up the reflective pre-acknowledgement stage of the process.

While some advocate an almost aggressive, constant state of positivity no matter what, I prefer a different course. Indeed, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about acknowledging the bad stuff which is the equivalent of popping over to visit a friend, without moving in. Indeed, you ACKNOWLEDGE what has happened, and then you you can sit with it for a bit, grieve, process and try to understand what’s happened and why, learn your lessons and even make some constructive fixes if required. However, at the end of that time, you pack your bags and you’re out of there, although you’ll probably pop back for a visit now and then, but as I said, this is very different to moving in. After all, there also comes a time where you need to leave the past behind. I can groan a bit when I hear people talking about moving forward while there’s still a splinter in the wound and it’s all starting to fester. However, not moving forward at all, even without the smallest and almost invisible baby steps, isn’t good either.

Bilbo and paw prints

However, while acknowledging the crap, we also need to be grateful for what’s gone well, or the good things which have come out of the bad. Take on board the yin and yang.

Thinking more about it, gratitude is also a form of acknowledgement, and that when you put these two processes together, it resembles a process which is very familiar. Stacking up your wins and losses. However, if you’re going through a particularly hard time (and let’s face it 2020 hasn’t been great), you might need to work particularly hard to find anything at all to be grateful for. Or, you might feel that the weight of all you’ve lost weighs down that side of the scales so much, that the wins feel pretty light weight and very much out of balance. Indeed, that the hand you’ve been dealt is mighty unfair.

Jonathon Heart Hands 2011

Holding love in his hands…our son painting when he was about 7 years old. What a beautiful young man. 

That’s why I’ve put these two words together as bookends to give them added strength and weight, and to encourage us to see how these two seemingly opposing forces can actually come together and ultimately get us out the other side.

Today, I spent a few hours writing down my Acknowledgements & Gratitudes. Rather than sharing the extended version right now, I thought I’d quickly list them down so people wanting more of a quick snapshot could take that in, rather than getting bogged down. However, as it turns out, even this is not a snapshot.

Quite frankly, in many ways, I’d like to return to New Year’s Eve 2019 when 2020 was all set to be a year of perfect vision.

Meanwhile, this is the bad stuff I’d like to acknowledge so far:

Rowena bogged Western Australia

Getting bogged in a remote sand dune in WA near the Pinnacles around 1990. I’m smiling on the outside but freaking out and seriously concerned about our well-being. 

Acknowledging the Bad Stuff

1) The catastrophic Australian bush fires. During the 2019–2020 Australian bushfire season, 34 people were killed directly while 417 died from smoke inhalation. The impact on our wildlife was absolutely devastating killing around one billion animals, and destroying over 18 million hectares of bush. 5,900 buildings including over 2,800 homes were also destroyed. Despite living well away from these bushfire areas, the dense choking smoke which went on to travel several times round the globe, forced me inside dependent on the air-conditioner to breathe. In hindsight, there were a few times I should’ve gone to hospital, but I didn’t want to be a pest. For awhile there, I was literally hovering in the balance.

2) The Coronavirus. When I think back to New Year’s Eve 2019, it looks like we were like the passengers and crew on board The Titanic feeling utter invincible as it sailed at breakneck speeds through waters dotted with deadly icebergs. When I first heard about the outbreak in Wuhan, China I thought it was going to be like SARS and that it would largely stay over there and leave Australia alone. Our geographical isolation is a blessing and a curse, and means we often miss out. While, our experience has been exceptionally good to date, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t had an impact. As the number of cases initially started to increase, they matched the same trajectory as Italy, and we were expecting things to be a lot worse.

Here’s how the toll of Covid 19 stacks up today on the 20th May, 2020:

Worldwide                                                              Australia

Cases:                         4.89 million confirmed                                        7 069 confirmed

Recovered:                1.69 million                                                            6 411

Deaths:                       1.69 million                                                            100

3) Lock Down due to the Coronavirus/Covid 19. People isolated, businesses closed. Massive job losses. Everything completely out of synch and out of order.

DSC_9231

Even the poor old park bench was in lock down and wrapped up in red tape.

4) I developed a chest infection in March which developed into a repetitive barking cough, asthma and gasping for air well after the infection itself had  cleared. The timing couldn’t have been much worse, just as cases of coronavirus is NSW were rapidly increasing and starting to match Italy’s trajectory. It was not a time where anyone wanted to be heading to hospital, especially someone with dodgy lungs. There was also the concern that I’d end up competing for one of those rare as hen’s teeth ventilators. Or, given my poor health and disability status, I might just be left to die in the corridor (Thank goodness I gave my lung specialist a Christmas card last year!! Next year, I’d better give him a packet of Tim Tams as well).

5) Our son’s school history through Europe was cancelled on the 2nd March, when the NSW Education department banned all out of state excursions. At the time, there were minimal infection rates in Australia and it was just on the cusp of the spread to Italy. So it was very early in the peace and were were feeling a bit cheated. Was this really necessary? They were due to fly out on Wednesday 8th April bound for Berlin. From there, they were heading to Munich, Rome, Sorrento, Pompei, Naples, the French Battlefields of WWI and Paris. What a trip of a lifetime, just gone up in smoke. At the time, we were also unsure of refunds and they’ve only just started coming in. All up, it was a huge hit.

6) In late February, I had a really nasty fall dropping our daughter off at a dance audition when I tripped over a significant crack in the footpath. While I didn’t break any bones, I was in rough shape for a few weeks. I also suspect that the stress of the fall exacerbated the chest infection as it was just managing to behave itself til then.

7) Work. Although my husband’s kept his job during lock down and is working successfully from home, both of our teenaged kids had been looking at picking up part-time jobs this year and that’s gone on hold thanks to Coronavirus. I’d also wanted to pick up some work, and those hopes have also been dashed.

ballet shoes

Dance Classes via Zoom have involved both acknowledgment & Gratitude. 

8) Our house has gone from being a home, and is now an office, school, Church, dance studio, Venturer hall, cafe. That’s been a lot to process.

9) Rather than social isolation, we’ve had the whole family at home under one roof almost 24/7. There have been times where that has grated, although nowhere near as much as expected.

10) My violin lessons have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus.

11) Much of my daughter’s dance activities have been cancelled this year.

Sunrise

Sunrise, Bathurst pre-Covid.

Gratitude For The Good

  1. My husband & kids who live and breath everything with me. As I’m coughing my lungs out and gasping for breath, they’re running for water, reaching for my ventolin, asking if I need an ambulance and wondering whether this is going to be it. Even our three dogs get called into the battle. We also have a lot of good times together in between.
  2. My parents who have been my rocks forever.
  3. Like all Australians, I’m incredibly grateful to our bushfire volunteers and their support networks. They signed up to help, but found themselves fighting inside the very heart of an apocalypse, and they kept going at incredible personal cost. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
  4. Very thankful for the very generous donations from around the world to help save our precious Australian wildlife, and for carers trying to save them.
  5. For the doctors, nurses, hospital staff, chaplains and scientists who are treating people with Covid 19. Or, who are working towards a deeper scientific understanding of the virus and hopefully towards a vaccine or treatment.
  6. That I haven’t contracted Civid and am still here. Also that I recovered from my chest infection and didn’t need to go to hospital during the Coronacrisis.
  7. For our Australian leaders and medicos who responded quickly and efficiently to flatten the curve and provided us with the information and support we needed to get through. Indeed, we’ve far exceeded our grim expectations and I am so grateful for that!!
  8. For the Australian people (and those around the world) who have stayed home, and continue to practice social distancing. This has saved our bacon. (Well, at least, so far.)
  9. Friends and family who have helped me grapple with life, the universe and everything inside my head, and tried to help me accept the mysteries of God and his role in all of this.
  10. A special thanks to the strangers who stopped and helped when I had the fall mentioned in acknowledgements. A teacher from the school went back and found some ice and she dropped me down at McDonald’s down the road where I was meeting my friend, while a man fetched big band aids, saline and antiseptic from the medical kit in his car.
  11. Grateful that my Church has maximized the use of technology during this time to hold Church online and using zoom so effectively to allow us to keep in touch. It’s meant so much for me to keep in touch.
  12. For making significant progress towards researching and writing my books about WWI soldiers serving in France during WWI.
  13. Humour, empathy and understanding  from family, friends, strangers. It’s helped us all get through this.
  14. My Blog and all the friends I’ve developed over the years and the new ones. I typically experience periods of time each year where it’s difficult, impossible or inadvisable for me to go out and beyond my family, you are my social contacts and community. I really and truly appreciate each and everyone of you, all the more so too, because we’ve never met in person.
  15. For the kids’ school for advice, empathy and consideration while the kids were doing school from home, and for putting in strict social distancing practices for the first two weeks where students were back one day a week.
  16. That my daughter’s dance studio has been providing lessons online and she’s been able to dance and keep her dreams and goals of being a professional dancer alive.
  17. Thankful for our son’s venturer leader who thought of ways of keeping the group connected and engaged during lock down.
  18. That we’ve been able to save some money, and clear my credit card.

    Zac & Rosie dogs grass

    Even our grass is greener in lock down.

  19. That we now have a back lawn that’s green and not looking like a tragic lunar landscape after Geoff wrought the backyard back from the dogs.
  20. I don’t want to thank the NDIS because it’s often my bete noir. However, it continues to make a difference and has funded the supports which have also helped me get through this year, and more more personally challenging times.
  21. Surprisingly, we’ve actually been able to save money during lock down and I actually paid off my credit card. Meanwhile, I have also been grateful for a few online purchases. Thinking I’d be in lock down for months, I bought some new Peter Alexander pyjamas on sale…yippee!!
  22. The beauty of nature and being able to go on extended photography walks and experience that beauty more intimately through the lens and back home, through the pen.
  23. Having family time at home without having to rush around. On this point, I’ve also been grateful our kids were teens and I didn’t have little ones at home with the parks and playgroups closed and needing to teach kids myself at home.
  24. Cooking with my kids.
  25. All the people who have helped and offered to help throughout the years.

……

Well, I’m actually rather surprised that my list of gratitude has more than doubled my acknowledgements. So much is really going well for us.That is, despite my health issues, the coronavirus, being in lock down, grappling with the bushfire smoke. It seems we’ve strangely come out of the first six months of 2020 strangely ahead.

However, I am acutely conscious that isn’t the case for everyone. So, I would like to acknowledge those who are grieving, distraught, experiencing PTSD, trauma, and I send you our love. It’s up to those of us further away from the front line, to support those in the thick of it in anyway we can. What you are experiencing is real. You’re not the only one. You’re not going crazy. Well, you’re not going crazy without due cause. May I encourage you to find local sources of support and encouragement and to try to get out for a walk in the sunshine when you can. It’s certainly helped lighten my load, which you can see, hasn’t exactly been lightweight or just been a recent development either. I also have a few key friends I can share with beyond my family, and I do that myself. That’s the value of community…many hands lighten the load.

I would encourage you to do this exercise for yourselves either on or offline. I found it very constructive, especially this was just another one of those blogging ideas I came up with on the fly. That’s right. It all started out with those two simple words: Acknowledgement & Gratitude…another way of looking at our wins and losses.

I would love to hear from you on this and I hope that you’re okay.

Best wishes and much love,

Rowena

Rowena Victory

This photo was taken during chemo to treat my auto-immune disease, where I was at least looking victorious in the midst of some pretty tough times. I hope and pray that we will ultimately conquer Covid 19 with a vaccine and treatment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Road to Recovery.

A few days ago, I had no intention of revisiting the death of our beloved dog, Bilbo.He passed away three years ago, and my ongoing grief was nicely contained and locked away inside its protective coating (aside getting emotional on occasional Border Collie sightings). However, after reading a few dog posts and starting to write about Bilbo again, it soon became clear that my grief was still there and almost just as raw.

Newton Family & bilbo

A family photo with Bilbo as a pup Mother’s Day, 2007.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Bilbo had been our family dog since our youngest was a baby until she was on the cusp of becoming a teenager. Yet, in that time, Bilbo aged with his paw stuck firmly on the accelerator and he whooshed through life like a speeding bullet. All too soon, he was old and passed away.

As you might recall, Bilbo appeared in quite a few posts at Beyond the Flow, and he’d even jumped on a few times himself and put in his own two-bob’s worth. All that writing forged an incredibly intimate connection between us, where I’d all but crawled inside his fur and walked on four legs (even if I wasn’t quite sure how to operate his tail).

However, all that writing’s remained untouched sitting on my blog in the same way someone leaves a loved one’s room completely untouched after they pass away. It’s not that I was in denial. It’s been more of an avoidance thing. When it comes to going through all of that and reliving all these stories, I know it’s going to hurt, and I won’t be able to rip the band aid off quickly. Sorting these stories out is going to take quite a lot of time and meticulous attention to detail seen through an emotional lens. So,we’re talking about diving straight into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench without a snorkel and crawling into a cave until it’s done. You don’t need to be Einstein to understand why that hasn’t happened.

Or, why my mother, hasn’t finished sorting out her parents’ belongings after they passed away either. Who wants to pack someone you love away? Or, worse still, throw them out?

It hurts.

It’s also such a travesty.

However, I didn’t come here to condone, or even encourage avoidance. Rather, I wanted to share what helped us cope a little better.

Amelia & Lady

Lady & Miss NYE 2015

The first thing we did was turn to Lady, our surviving dog. However, the poor thing was grieving for Bilbo herself, and there we were desperately passing her round from lap to lap like pass the parcel expecting intensive therapy. The worst of it was, that while Lady was a very happy little dog and I’ve never seen another dog wave their tail with such gusto, she doesn’t fetch. With Bilbo being ball obsessed and having two active kids, that became a major short coming. She did come across a bit faulty, especially being part Border Collie.

Lady kids coffee

Kids and dogs are often perfect partners in crime.

Meanwhile, I started looking for toy Border Collies online. I thought this might help. However, I actually managed to stumble across a fully weighted almost life-sized Border Collie and needless to say, he found his way home. He simply became: “Fake Bilbo”. He helped for a little while, although he was clearly less interactive than Lady. (You can read about how that went HERE)

Fake Bilbo & Lady

Spot the real dog.

Of course, this all started pointing towards getting a second dog. However, our finances weren’t great, and we thought we’d wait a year. Give ourselves a chance to grieve.

However, fate soon intervened. There’s nothing like “the hair of the dog”.

Lady & pups sleeping

Lady with Zac and Rosie while the going was good. Zac is down the front.

You see, a close friend was part of a dog fostering group and she’d heard that a litter of Border Collie x Kelpie pups had come into care and they were looking for foster families. She thought fostering would allow us to see how we liked the dogs and whether we wanted to keep one, or foster them both out. We headed off to a local pet shop car park on a cold Winter’s night about 10.00 pm until a car with dog trailer pulled up and there he was… our beautiful puppy, Zac. I’d already chosen him from a photo online and my heart fluttered as soon as I saw him. Our daughter picked out the second pup, Rosie, due to the white stripe on her head “like Bilbo” and her black spots. They were micro-chipped, vaccinated and loaded into the car – never to return.

Amelia & Dobby

Our daughter with Dobby in her hoody..

That’s how we ended up with three dogs. The two pups bonded so closely together that they’re like a single dog split in two. That meant we couldn’t separate them and we couldn’t make up our minds either and had a 50-50 split.

However, wait! There’s more.

Now, that we’d become part of this animal rescue network,  we got wind that they needed carers for a litter of kelpie pups and we put our hands up to take two. They were supposedly “4 weeks old and had been weaned”. However, they were closer to three weeks old and were still being bottle fed. They could barely walk, and it looked like they hadn’t been outside on the grass before. They were absolutely adorable… our two little rolly pollies. I still remember when Zac, who was still a pup himself, helped one of the micro-pups up the back steps. He was so good with them.

Zac & Dobbie

Zac with little Dobby.

Unfortunately, Lady didn’t share his enthusiasm, and must’ve been really confused about where all these puppies were coming from! She’d gone from living with and losing Bilbo, to having our two pups turn up out of nowhere. As if that wasn’t enough to get used to,  two more pups turned up. Lady went from being an only dog, to being an instant mother of four. Where was it going to end? She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all! There was a lot of deep throated growling telling those wretched pups who was boss. Needless to say, Lady wasn’t about to win any awards for being: “Mother of the Year”.

 

Rosie Zac & Dobby

Rosie on the left while little Dobby gives no thought to size and plays tug of war with Zac fighting over the stuffed sheep.

That left us with five dogs for a few months, which was a bit full-on, but we loved them all. All these puppies sure made us laugh, and rekindled our appreciation of the little things, as they bumbled along in their puppyish ways exploring the world through fresh eyes.

Moreover, it reminds me of what happens at the office when that completely over-worked person finally leaves. It takes two new people to do their job. For awhile there, it took five dogs to fill Bilbo’s paws. Yet, by immersing ourselves in dogs during that time of grief, it certainly helped us get through. Indeed, it reminds me of an old saying: “If you can’t have the one you love, love the one you’re with. If you can’t love the one you’re with, switch off the light.”

D9obby & Jonathon

That’s a piece of wisdom which must be applied with caution. However, there is no one way of dealing with grief, and not everyone wants to move on. They don’t want to fill that empty chair, and that’s fine too. It’s just about ultimately reaching a point, where we’re okay.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Having added the photographs of the puppies to the text, it really brought home to me how uplifting it was to have the puppies in the house. I don’t like to harp on about my health issues and the impact they have on our family and the omnipresent cloud hanging overhead. It’s been no accident that we’ve had dogs in the house. They’ve been there for emotional and comic relief, and I remember how close I was to my dog growing up and that there may come a time when they really need to call on the dog for some pretty hard core support. Fortunately, so far so good.

Maybe, one day our kids will read this and come to realise how much thought and action’s gone on behind the scenes…mother duck gliding along looking like she’s doing nothing, but paddling like a maniac under the surface and particularly late at night.

 

The Saint & His Shadow…Bilbo Continued.

Writing about Bilbo yesterday has brought back so many precious memories. While it’s easy to canonize the dead and turn them into a saint, they’re still human. Or, in Bilbo’s case, canine but believing he’s human, and he was always treated as such.

Newton Feet Jan 26 20147

One for all and all for one…our feet at the beach taken January, 2014.

For much of the day, Bilbo could pass for a glorious designer floor rug sunning himself in the backyard or sleeping under my desk. However, he had his triggers like the rest of us and the posty was the most predictable one, along with anyone riding a bicycle or walking past with a dog. As a younger dog, he was also a real villain on the lead and he must’ve thought our local footpath was a racetrack to the beach. I’m most surprised we didn’t become air born. He was also particularly protective of the kids. At least, that’s what I blame for his metamorphosis into a lunging, barking, snarling menace when the school bus pulled up. Indeed, it got to the point where we couldn’t take him. He was vicious. He also wasn’t happy when my friend Clare used to pick up the kids and take them to school, while I was recovering from chemo. She did that for at least a couple of months, and yet his manner never changed. He stuck to his guns.

Bilbo feel the fear

Bilbo wasn’t overly inspired to fight his fears.

It’s hard to understand how such a placid, loving dog could change so much. However, like the rest of us he’d also been traumatised by my severe health battles, and we couldn’t explain things to him. Like us, he also knew he was fighting against an invisible force, and he rounded up his own list of suspects however misguided. He’d spent many nights comforting me, and knew something awful was out there somewhere. However,  I couldn’t tell him that with an auto-immune disease, the enemy was within.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Anyway, looking at the photo of me with Bilbo and Lady in the kayak last night, reminded me of another one of Bilbo’s epic stories. A few years ago, my parents had this idyllic place on the waterfront at Palm Beach. It was on the Pittwater side where it was flat water and very tidal. The bay would fill up and empty like a bath with methodical clockwork which we couldn’t ignore. Indeed, we were very much controlled and directed by the tides, and at their mercy. That was fine because we adapted to the rhythms. At low tide, you could go for a walk and at high tide, you could head out on the kayak or the Laser, the little sailboat the previous owners had left behind.

The very first time we headed out on the kayaks was unforgettable. Not just because we were out on the water. We were some distance from home, when we spotted a Border Collie standing on the shore. At first, we were merely excited to see another Border Collie, as you are when you see another dog that looks like yours. However, as we got closer, it soon became obvious this Border Collie was also watching us. Indeed, he was following us along the bank.

Oh no! Our precious, docile floor rug had decided once again, that the sky was falling. It was the end of the world, and he had to save the day. The only trouble was that being totally averse to getting his paws wet, he couldn’t leap in to save us. He was painfully stuck and doing all he could…barking!

Amelia & Bilbo

By the way, I should also point out that Bilbo had gone to great lengths to get out. He’d shewed through the side gate and gnawed through a paling and he’d also run through quite a few backyards to reach his lookout post.

Oh dear! Geoff was off to the local hardware store to buy tools and carry out repairs. Mum and Dad had only just bought the place and we didn’t want to be known as “The Wreckers”.

Of course, this wasn’t Bilbo’s only tale of mass destruction. I might’ve mentioned this before. However, I was in hospital for about 8 weeks when I was first diagnosed with my auto-immune disease The kids were staying with my parents and Geoff kept working while I was in hospital so he could take time off when I got home. Again, not being able to explain things to the dog caused issues. Indeed, it’s hard enough to explain things to the dog at the best of times, let alone when you don’t know what’s happening yourself!!

Well, like so many of us, Bilbo took matters into his own hands. Or, in this scenario, it was more of a case of chewing and digging his way towards enlightenment. He started digging and chewing through the computer network cabling under the house, which was clearly getting in his way as he dug wombat holes perilously close to the foundations. It appeared that he only stopped when he started on a power cable and might’ve had experienced more than a slight tingle.

Geoff arrived home after work, after driving round to see me in hospital and visiting the kids at Mum and Dad’s (which had become his nightly routine) to find out he had no connectivity. Fortunately, the reason we had such an elaborate home network going back about 12 years ago, is that Geoff is a senior network engineer and back in the day when Novel mattered, he was a Certified Novel Network engineer. However, that didn’t mean he wanted or needed to rebuild our home network even though he could, and Bilbo’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Moreover, Bilbo’s complaints to management had clearly gone much further than the usual puppy antics of chewing shoes and disemboweling the stuffing out of his bed. Let’s just say Geoff wasn’t happy and while he was re-installing the network, he also blocked the said pup out from under the house.

Bilbo Jonathon & Amelia Rabbit Ears

However, to be fair to the dog, he’d gone from having me and the kids at home much of the time where he was with us constantly. He was one of us more than the rest of us could ever be, and was the glue at the heart of our family. To go from that, to suddenly  being alone without rhyme or reason must’ve been a huge shock. So, I don’t blame him for staging a four-legged protest. I wasn’t too happy with the situation either.

Bilbo Rabbit Ears

The strange thing about all of Bilbo’s antics and so many of our own, is that once we’ve worked through the initial response and allowed the dust to settle, we actually find these catastrophes funny. They make us laugh. Indeed, life would be so uneventful without the things which give us nightmares. I’m not sure how he psychology or mechanics of all of this works, but perhaps someone out there can enlighten me.

Wet Bilbo

It didn’t happen overnight, but Bilbo eventually conquered a degree of his fear of the water. I look at it now and think how hard it would have been to swim weighed down by his heavy coat.

Meanwhile,  if you’d like to read about laughter’s capacity to get us through the toughest of times, I encourage you to read this very uplifting though very difficult post from Aimee Foster who lost her baby girl when she was a day old: Why It’s Essential to Find Humor At Your Darkest Hour. 

Bilbo watchin the sun set Palm Beach

Do you have any funny dog stories you would like to share? Or, perhaps you’re more of a cat person. Or, perhaps reading this has reminded you of a cherished person you have lost? I would love to hear from you in the comments. 

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

The Dog We’ll Never Forget!

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love

deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

It’s been almost three years since our gorgeous Border Collie, Bilbo, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. However, today I read a few posts which reminded of him and all these raw emotions and memories came flooding back in a way which caught my defences off guard.

Bilbo was every bit a part of our family as the rest of us, and there’s a dreadful sense of loss when you lose someone in your family. Human or dog, you just can’t replace them straight away and they leave behind a hole like a cookie cutter in their very own shape, which can not be filled. However, although it can be painful to remember, it’s ultimately worse to forget, which is why I wanted to share this moving story.

Just to put you in the picture, it was mid-January 2012…eight years ago. It wasn’t New Year’s Day when every other human and their dog automatically go on diets to welcome in the New year. Rather, it was two weeks later. I was the first cab off the rank, Geoff was second and Bilbo was lucky last.

Bilbo + Amelia

Bilbo with the kids when he first arrived.

Starting with yours truly, just before Christmas, I’d found out that my auto-immune disease was affecting my lungs and I was showing early signs of Institial Lung Disease(ILD) and fibrosis. I couldn’t get an appointment with the lung specialist until mid-January, the day before we were due to leave on a family holiday to Byron Bay. I was absolutely distraught over Christmas and New Year and vowed I’d do anything to keep myself alive to be there for the kids. They were still only seven and five and still so young and naturally I vowed to do everything I could to get more time with them. Fight right to the very and if I had to. Indeed, I would do anything for love and the song became my song and mantra through this truly excruciating time:

Jonathon Amelia Bilbo

Taken on our son’s first day of school in 2009.

However, there’s a key line of the song undermines all that devotion….”but I won’t do that”.

What was it I wouldn’t do? Where was my breaking point? Where would I draw the line when it came to self-sacrifice to be there for my kids?

It was funny because I remember looking into the pantry and seeing a packet of Tim Tams sitting in there, and it was calling out to me. It was like they’d come to life and were asking me if I could give them up. Could I give up my beloved Tim Tams to buy extra time with my kids? Or, was the packet of Tim Tams going to be my Achilles Heel? My “but I can’t do that”?

Of course not. I was made of stronger stuff than that. Well, at least I hoped so.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Only a lunatic would go kayaking with two dogs on board, especially Bilbo who is sitting right on top of me. He never really found his sea legs and tried to keep his precious paws well out of the water.

Well, I was lucky. The lung specialist felt that the Institial Lung Disease was mild and dormant. I was not in any imminent danger of dying, although he told me exercise and losing weight could help my breathing and quality of life. The next day, we left for my in-law’s place just outside Byron Bay, Australia’s alternate health capital and found myself sugar-free on the Caveman Diet and drinking gurgling spirolina smoothies. Over the next few months, I lost ten kilos.

Meanwhile, my husband, Geoff, was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and the doctor wanted to see whether diet could avoid medication. So, while I went sugar free, he went low fat and with all of us eating the same food, we were both losing weight.

That is, all except Bilbo.

bilbo BW dog food

The dog really must be sick…he is sleeping in the trail of dog food Miss left for him.

However, that didn’t last very long. Soon, Bilbo went off for his annual trip to the vet’s, and boy did I get a talking to. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken an overweight pet to the vet. If you have, you might’ve found yourselves in a similar spot where you’re much loved pet is unceremoniously called: “FAT.” If they’re being nice, they might tell you: “You’re killing your pet with kindness”. However, they could also be brutally direct, and speak to you in a way that no paediatrician would ever use to a parent of an overweight child. Indeed, they can hit you where it hurts just like a well aimed ruler across the knuckles. Actually, make that the heartstrings. There’s not much worse than being told you’re a bad parent of child or dog.

Bilbo & Lady

Bilbo & Lady

To be fair though, Bilbo did hit the scales at 42 kilos, and although he’s tall for a Border Collie, he wasn’t that tall. Of course, I should’ve known and done something about it myself, without needing the vet to point it out. A friend had referred affectionately to his “love handles” as she was feeding him her left over gravy. Moreover, while he could somewhat conceal all that excess over-indulgence beneath his woolly coat, we weren’t stupid.

Bilbo Lady Ro kayak

Reality really hit home, however, when the vet asked how many meals a day he’d been having. That was the very first time I’d really become conscious of the mind-blowing volume of leftovers I’d been feeding him. Both of our kids were non-eaters and it wasn’t unusual for him to get both of their leftovers breakfast, lunch and dinner. After all, I hate waste, and we even have a worm farm to consume what the dogs don’t eat.

Bilbo was put on an instant diet. No more snacks, treats, leftovers.

Zip.

Fetching Bilbos Ball

Finally some assistance. Miss puts Bilbo out of his misery!

The trouble is, how do you tell a dog that he’s on a diet? How do you explain that you’re just not being mean, when you no longer give him that tasty morsel of fat off your steak? He was so used to getting all of our left overs that he had expectations – a sense of entitlement. So, naturally he looked at me through those huge, soppy puppy dog eyes as though I’d ripped his heart out. I was being so mean, and he knew nothing about the virtues of tough love. Was it too much to ask for Mum to have her cake, and for him to have some too? He certainly thought nothing of it. However he was a slow learner. A few weeks later when the kids went back to school, Bilbo spotted the lunchboxes and knew there would be leftovers for him inside. You could just imagine the look on his face when they bypassed his bowl and went straight in the bin.

Bilbo staring out to sea

I’m surprised Bilbo didn’t record his own sob song and post it on Youtube. His nose was very out of joint. After all, he knew food and love went hand in hand, and straight into his mouth.

“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

Banksy

The only other time I’ve even seen Bilbo look at food in quite the same way was when he was put on prednisone for an infection. He was absolutely ravenous (prednisone is like a hunger drug and it makes you eat and eat and eat).

It really was hard putting him through this diet, but he lost weight, even if he was never going to make Slimmer-Of -The-Year.

Losing his appetite was the first sign Bilbo wasn’t well at the end and not being able to chase his ball was the second. Even still, we hoped for a miracle.

It wasn’t meant to be.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for

those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as

separation.”

Rumi

However, as the song The Way We Were reminds us:

Bilbo shadow Palm Beach

Our Philosophical Dog walking along beside the tide. He doesn’t like getting wet paws.

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were

Best wishes,

Rowena

Bilbo with ball

Bilbo appropriating another dog’s ball.