Category Archives: Dog-Our dog Bilbo

Weekend Coffee Share – 19th May, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, I guess I’d better ask all of you how you’re going first up and what’s happening around Covid 19 in your neck of the woods? You might need something stronger than a tea or coffee to get through that conversation. So, I’d better off you some chocolate. What do you prefer? We’ve acquired quite a stash in lock down. I’ve been doing the shopping online and snapping up chocolate on sale. It’s much tastier than toilet paper.

Quite frankly, I don’t know whether I’m Arthur or Martha at the moment. While I’m “creative” and not necessarily a great one for routine, I usually have the bare bones in place. Those activities which form a scaffolding and framework for the week and some sense of direction when you wake up in the morning. Indeed, you might actually wake up in the morning even the most chaotic and disorganized people and the freeist of free spirits have their anchor points. Indeed, I’m sure I had more structure when I was backpacking through Europe wandering like a cloud without a watch and no itinerary whatsoever, than living like this in Covid 19 lock down. What am I supposed to be doing? Where am I going?

Well, most of the time, the response to the latter is nowhere. Although I have been out for a few walks. This is what you term “exercise”, which sort of takes the buzz out of it to be honest, even if it does involve walking along our gorgeous beaches.

Oh, and before one of you remembers that I went down to Sydney to see my parents last weekend, I’ll stop being melodramatic, and express some gratitude for how well Australia’s getting through the coronacrisis and what a difference this has made to people like myself who are at high risk, and also to people with chronic or life-threatening conditions who depend on hospital beds. We’ve seen horrific scenes around the world but somehow we’ve been spared. It’s hard to understand, and I hope we have a handle on it now that restrictions are being lifted. It would be an absolute miracle.

Personally, I have to admit that the stress of having the coronavirus hanging round, particularly after having a few major asthma attacks during the Australian bush fire crisis and being locked away for a few months n the air-conditioned loungeroom, it’s a lot to deal with. The fact I’ve survived and got through without a scratch,  seems to minimize the battle and it’s like it never happened. My house didn’t burn down. I didn’t lose the lot. Nobody died. No trips to hospital. However, what our family has been through wasn’t nothing, and we’re not the only ones fighting these invisible battles beneath the radar either. It’s very hard, because it takes so much energy and thought to speak out that your emotions become quite intense and if the person you open up to doesn’t at least acknowledge your experience, you just give up. You don’t try again. Rather, you become silent, even though you might still be talking and the words are still coming out and your face, all except for your eyes, are smiling. In so many ways this is dangerous territory, because you’re rapidly disconnecting not only with those around you, but also to much of your self. That’s something those of us who know somebody who is going through a bit, especially an invisible battle, need to keep in mind.

Anyway,  restrictions are easing throughout Australia. Last Wednesday, our son returned to school for one day. That was quite interesting. When I asked him how it went, he mentioned the absolute silence. With so few students there, it was so quiet. He said that he could even hear the local trains going past, where usually he could only ever hear the horn. Our daughter hasn’t gone back to school yet. However, it looks like they’ll both be back to normal school hours next week. To be honest, that really freaks me out, and yet it’s perhaps a return to normal that we need, although I’m still concerned about them bringing home the virus and you just can’t presume that the kids will be okay themselves if they catch it. Meanwhile, having them home has felt like an extended holiday and it’s been great not having to drive them around. My son and I have been doing some cooking together and our daughter’s painted the back of her bedroom door cow pat, which looks really cool.

While some people have been Spring cleaning as their lock down activity, I’ve been writing but we’ve also been working on the house and yard and getting some renovations done. As you may recall, we bought a camper caravan for me to escape to if I need to quarantine from the family. It’s still parked out of the house, while Geoff sorted out the backyard, repair the garage roof and trimmed the bougainvillea before we could even start on restoring the camper. Then he won a few pallets of floorboards last weekend at an auction and  now I’m slowly moving the china out of the cabinet and relocating it wround the house. I don’t know if you’ve quite been on the hunt for real estate like this trying to squeeze your treasures into every nook and cranny. My friend works in a giftware shop and she does this all the time, and has a few casualties along the way. So, far so good. The piano is also going to be dismantled and put out for council cleanup. It’s really crappy, but I’m hoping I might be able to salvage some of the bits to stick them up somewhere around the house. I also want to make a sculpture of my grandmother the concert pianist where the pedals could become her feet. I’m not sure about how I’d build the rest of her, but I have some brass cuckoo clocks up in the roof, which I also thought about incorporating into a sculpture. By the way, what with storing up all these components, you might actually get the idea that I can actually sculpt, when I’ve never made a sculpture before in my life. That said, i did buy some wire and glue to make these papermache figures. Anyway, needless to say our house is bursting at the seams from all my inspirational ideas.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting back into blogging again. I did my first Friday Fictioneers post for quite while and I also wrote  couple of poems which were inspired by Henri-Frederic’s: Journal Intime. I haven’t posted these as that limits what I can do with them. However, I did write a three part series reflecting back on our precious dog, Bilbo, who we lost three years ago. This wan’t soemthing I’d planned and to be perfectly honest, I woudl’ve opted for something more uplifting and funny at this point in time. However, there is humour in these posts as I reflect on Bilbo’s antics and I share about how we worked through our grief in perhaps some unconventional ways, which might help someone else get through their situation and perhaps feel less alone. I also want to leave these memories and reflections for our kids. They don’t pay much attention to Mum’s scribblings at the moment and I often feel I’m writing to myself when I really am often writing for them. That’s just the way it is and at least i have you friends out there who appreciate and encourage me in the present.

Anyway, here’s a link to the first of these stories which talks about Bilbo’s diet: The Dog We’ll Never Forget

My apologies for scooting off. Time has just flown away and I need to get to bed before sunrise this morning.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share.

Best wishes and please stay safe and well.

Best wishes,

Rowena

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.

 

Whoops! More Pups.

Yesterday afternoon, I received an urgent text. “My pups” were on the move, and ready for collection. These pups are two 5 week old kelpie pups,  and did I mention something  about being bottle fed? I didn’t think so. You know me. Blunder in where angels fear to tread only to find out about the details by default, when it’s all too late. Yet, it’s not everyday you have the chance to even see such young pups, let alone take them home. I don’t know about legislation where you live, but I think pups need to be 8 weeks old to be sold here. So, despite what should have been a healthy scepticism about taking on such a challenge, I jumped at the chance…the opportunity of a lifetime.

DSC_6833

Welcome to the dog house.

The pups are absolutely gorgeous and about the size of an adult guinea pig and have rolypoly tummies on stumpy legs. I don’t think they’ve been outside before and they wondered about a little like they’d just landed on a new planet. I’ll call that planet: “Do your business”. Although our house has literally gone to the dogs, I am TRYING to get them to do their business outside.

BTW, I know absolutely nothing about how to care for bottle-fed pups. Indeed, I didn’t even bottle feed my own kids until they were old enough that I didn’t have to be pedantic about cleaning all the bottles. By then, whatever was growing in those bottles was good for their immune systems…

DSC_6838

Mr and Yoda.

 

 

Just to fill in a few dots, I have volunteered as a foster carer for a local animal rescue group, Paws & Claws. I’m not sure how long “we” will be doing this. I am loving it and the pups are gorgeous, but we have our own pups to settle in and there will come a point where I’ll get the carpet cleaners in and at least have a break.

Or, more likely, I’ll be exercising the two pups we’ve adopted…Isaac and Rosie. I’m expecting lengthy daily exercise runs down at the beach. Actually, I’m hoping the pups will exercise themselves down at the beach while I bumble along at adult speed, instead of doing the “Flight of the Bumble Bee”. Of course, there’s also the possibility the kids might actually walk the dogs…

DSC_6828

Me and Our Pups.

Meanwhile, our pups went off to be desexed last week. This was done via key hole surgery. Zac was bounding around pretty quickly but Rosie also needed her dew claws clipped and so she returned with her back legs bandaged and a cone around her head. She finally got the cone and bandages off last night…happy days!

So, our house is currently a five dog household, which means us humans are outnumbered. However, before you start thinking we’re facing defeat, beings on bottles don’t have voting rights. So, humans still rule even if it is a case of only just.

Anyway, I’d better keep moving. I think I’m supposed to be sleeping when the pups are sleeping. Isn’t that how it goes?

Have you ever fostered humans or animals? How did it go? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

xx Rowena

 

 

Welcome Back Desk.

After writing on my laptop in the loungeroom for goodness knows how long, yesterday I finally migrated back to my desk. It’s been such a good move, and I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Almost as soon as I pressed the power button, I could feel my thoughts sharpening and my entire being was ready for action in a way I haven’t experienced for such a long time. Could it be that this small step for Rowena, could be the impetus to finally get the book project done? Right now, I think it could, and I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. At the same time, we have reverse cycle air-conditioning in the loungeroom and the office is a freezer in Winter and a furnace in Summer.  So, I usually retreat there from the elements, as well as trying to be more social with the family. The desk is much quieter, but it’s also solitary and I am not an island.

The other reason that I wasn’t writing at my desk was also pretty straightforward. Like so many desks and flat surfaces, my desk had become a dumping ground for just about anything and a breeding ground for paperwork. Indeed, it was something like a farm barn overrun by cats with people constantly driving by and dumping more. I needed to erect a large sign:  KEEP OUT. TRESSPASSERS WILL BE EXTERMINATED. However, knowing the folk around here, it wouldn’t make a difference. Mummy’s Desk is not a sacred site. The dumping would continue regardless.

This whole very simple experience at home, has cast a different light on that whole philosophy of: “life is not a journey. It’s a destination.”

As someone who frequently doesn’t make it to their destination, I love this point of view.  It’s also a great philosophy for a creative, because so often what you find along the way, could well transcend your original plans. I particularly love heading to Sydney’s Surry Hills, and wandering through the streets, staring through the lens and finding such treasure! However, these spontaneous discoveries are very different from being unable to use my much faster desktop computer and desk space, because it’s bogged down in stuff. That’s not a destination. More of a catastrophic mess…a disaster zone. Hazmat required.

However, there are times you need to reach your destination, and some of those times, you even need to get there as quickly as possible

So, my whole experience with my desk challenges that philosophy, showing how it can be used as a cop out, as a justification for one of a writer’s greatest sins…procrastination and its twin…distraction.

Indeed, even research, which is ostensibly a means of reaching the destination, can become an end in itself, preventing the completion of the original project. Moreover, much of my research just remains a pile of rubble in my head, aside from telling the odd story at the family Christmas party. It never comes out in any usable form.

This brings me back to my desk.

I don’t know about you, but working from my desk feels a lot more like WORK. I immediately felt more organized and “on the job”. Although I can and do write anywhere, I am starting to wonder whether I’m paying too big a price for not writing at my desk, and that it is the best place for me to rev up the writing several notches, and finally get these big writing projects knocked off. There’s quite a swag of them.

At the moment, I’m researching and writing the story of my 4th Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, who migrated from famine-torn Ireland, out to Australia under the Earl Grey Scheme. She was among a group of young women known collectively as “Irish famine orphans”, who were sent out here in part of relieve the financial burden back in Ireland, but also to redress the gender imbalance in the Australian colonies. I first found out about Bridget from her daughter’s birth certificate, which had been sitting in the safe at the family business for over a hundred years. I found the rest out, when a random Google search found Bridget on the  Irish Famine Orphans Database and the facts matched up.

For the past few years, I’ve pictured Bridget as a woman without a face, framed by a white bonnet. Yet, I’ve also wondered whether she looked like her daughter, Charlotte as I do have a handful of photos of her as a young woman. That’s something. More than something perhaps. Although I knew Bridget had married George Merrit and they’d had six kids, that’s about all I knew about Bridget Donovan. Despite my most dogged efforts to fill in even just a bit of her face, she didn’t want to be found.

However, recently I was contacted by a researcher who told me 2-3  of Bridget’s sons married Aboriginal women. This look me back into the online newspapers, and found an actual mention of George and Bridget running a store at Avisford on the Meroo Goldfields, near Mudgee. This was gold.  I’m now going to be chipping away at that, starting with a time line and a photo board. Hopefully, some sort of scaffold or framework will help give this project legs and the kind of solid foundations required for it to take off.

Meanwhile, I’m back on the laptop in the loungeroom. Microsoft Word needed updating and my trust Systems Administrator’s at work. I also just caught a puppy running out of my bedroom with my pink Ug boot. Seems no matter when or where I write, I’m fraught with interruptions, but I’d rather that than being an island.

Where do you do your best writing?

xx Rowena

 

 

Lady, You’re Our Mum!

If you’ve been popping by lately, you’ll already know we’re fostering two Border Collie x Kelpie pups…Zac and Rosie. We’re planning to keep Zac and hoping a friend will adopt Rosie. These two pups love each other so much. Just look at the bite marks in each others’ ears! I’m amazed they haven’t been pierced!

Lady kids coffee

Most of you will already know Lady, our 5 year old Border Collie x Cavalier. AND, that we lost our beloved Border Collie, Bilbo a few months ago. We’d had Bilbo since a pup, and going through so much as a family with him, we’re still grieving. He was definitely one of us.

Newton Family & bilbo

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

Grief affects people differently. Some people lose a pet, and never get another one. Meanwhile, others rush out and seemingly replace that pet straight away without so much as a grieving period. We have been trying to become a one dog family, but it hasn’t been working. It soon became clear that it was just a matter of time, before we adopted another pup. So, when my friend who does dog fostering heard that some border collie x kelpie pups needed a foster family, we jumped onboard. It was a good way for us to get to know our next dog before we committed.

Now that I’m a foster mum, I was kind of hoping that Lady might feel the same way. That she would adopt these pups as her own. After all, we love a series of books called Unlikely Loves, and have read stories of all sorts of random animals becoming friends, family, saving a life. However, the books never mentioned the flip side of the coin…rejection.

I don’t know whether the pups saw Lady as a surrogate Mum or a recalcitrant black sheep, which they couldn’t round up. Either way, she didn’t appreciate their attention and has been growling whenever they’re approached. I think this is dog lingo for: “Get lost! I am NOT your Mum!”

Indeed, after three days of growling, I was starting to think Lady was one of those cranky old ladies you run into on the train when your kid’s are having a bad day. I’m sure you’ve run into these types yourself. They glare right through you with their hoity-toity glares, and you don’t even need to hear the words: “Bad Mum”. You been told. Thank goodness, they don’t have magical powers, because otherwise these stares alone would burn you to ash…Zap!

To be fair to Lady, she never asked to have puppies. Perhaps, she thought she’d had all of that fixed, and never wanted pups. Moreover, with Bilbo gone, perhaps she hasn’t been lonely. Indeed, it could well be that she’s been basking in world domination.

Well, that was until a pup grabbed hold of her tail.

Two pups moved into her bed.

Two pups sat on laps.

Clearly, Lady’s empire has crumbled. Her tiara’s dangling round her paws, usurped by their Royal Highnesses.

I guess when you reach rock bottom, the only way is up. Or, making friends with the enemy and letting them sleep with you in your bed.

Lady & pups sleeping

Lady and the pups…a beginning. 

So, things are looking up. It took a few weeks for Bilbo and Lady to accept each other, so I expect relations will all come good in time.

Have you ever introduced a pup to your older dog? How did it go? I’d love to hear from you!

xx Rowena

PS After the first night of howling and broken sleep, the pups are sleeping through the night. Just a brief cry when I close the laundry door. Just call me the “Puppy Whisperer”.

Puppies in a Carpark After Dark…

Last night, my daughter and I were recruited into a clandestine, underground movement, which rescues puppies and dogs from puppy farms and “bad homes”.

As you might have seen on the blog lately, my friend’s been fostering dogs and puppies. I never thought I’d be up for this, and thought I’d find it impossible to let them go. However, I was round at her place with the latest residents, and they were so cute and so much fun, that I thought we’d give puppy rescuing a go.

Then, like well-trained intelligence agent, my friend heard that a litter of Border Collie x Kelpie pups was in the pipeline. Me being me with my usual levels of resistance, I put my hat in the ring for two pups with a view of keeping one. This would be like a test drive where we could try before we buy.

You might recall, that it’s only been two months since our much loved Border Collie, Bilbo passed away. We’re still heartbroken and missing him in all sorts of ways. A few years ago, we adopted Lady thinking that he wasn’t well. Then, he perked up after she arrived and lived another 3 years. As much as we love Lady’s exuberant friendliness, we’re used to Bilbo’s Border Collie sheepdog ways, and she’s a very different dog.  That’s fine but when you’ve been living with the ball chasing champion of the universe and you get a dog who doesn’t fetch, it’s hard to compute…even if Bilbo’s ball chasing obsession drove us mad! I guess it’s a reminder, that you can’t simply replace the one you’ve lost and each of us, is an individual.

During the week, my friend forwarded photos and we selected one pup we particularly liked. Then, we received further intelligence, that the pups were arriving last night.

The pups had been rescued from out near Lismore, 10 hours’ drive away. This meant it was hard for them to give an exact pick up time. It was simply “late” and there were phone calls going back and forth updating their ETA. All I knew, was that we were meeting up in a carpark at a nearby pet shop some time after dark. It started to feel like I’d joined a clandestine smuggling ring, and the whole experience felt like a grand adventure. Yet, at the same time, I was also being drawn out of my comfort zone. I don’t like driving at night, and felt a bit uncomfortable hanging around in the industrial area late at night.

However, soon the other voluneers started to arrive. The scene reminded me of waiting for a country train and watching the cars pull in. We picked up puppy food, leads, collars and chatted to other volunteers and waited… and waited. It was so exciting. The puppies were coming!

Then, suddenly a car towing a dog caravan appeared. It wasn’t quite your movie star camper, but precious cargo was definitely onboard. I’m not entirely sure which other dogs were there, but there was a litter of black labrador pups as well as part of the litter of Border Collie x Kelpie pups. I also saw what looked like a family of semi-grown Maltese Terriors.

Zac & Rosie

At this point, it was about 10.00PM. A floodlight breaks through only a fraction of the darkness, backlighting the puppies. So, we can hardly distinguish which pup is which, and they’re just a squirming, wriggling mass of black and white fur and paws. There was one boy in the litter, who just happened to be the one I’d picked out from the FB photo and my daughter picked out one with a white stripe on her head and “ears like Bilbo”. They had their shots, were wormed, paperwork was completed and they were in the car and on their way home.

Home meant introducing them to Lady. I was hoping Lady might feel somewhat maternal and welcome the new arrivals. On the other hand, not everyone’s excited when a strange, spaceship-like contraption lands in your territory. As for calling you “Mum” and YOUR dogbed “home”, Lady muttered something about having no say in it, and no idea what was coming! Lady wasn’t thrilled and had a few growls. The puppies were disturbing her peace, quiet, and new found stardome as the only dog. However, she did give them a good sniff, and I’m sure she’ll come round.

Pups

Meanwhile, the pups who’d been cooped up in transit all day, did what all kids do after they’re released. They went beserk!!! Indeed, our boy pup, Zac, went psycho jumping and leaping all over the lounge room like he’d just arrived at a theme park. Rosie, his canine companion, wasn’t far behind him. At one point,  they’d converted Lady’s bed into a wrestling ring and were growling like a pair of Tasmanian Devils and gnawing at each other, having so much fun.

We were besotted.

Rosie & feather duster.JPG

As a parent myself, I was rather concerned by their wild behavior so late at night, wondering how they’d ever get to sleep. It’s been awhile, but I haven’t forgotten the difficulties of getting human babies to sleep. I even attended a week long sleep clinic with my son out at Karitane, after trying everything from singing Twinkle Twinkle, walking the streets with the pram, prayer and phoning my in-laws. In other words, we’re talking about reaching the end of the road and then some.

Clearly, it was starting to look like a sleepless night.

However, looking at the puppies bouncing off the walls exploring their new environment, I started developing grave concerns about how we were ever going to get them to sleep. Memories of frazzled sleepless nights trying to get our son to sleep, came back like a back case of reflux.

Amelia with crazy pups

A pair of rambunctious pups.

What have I got myself into?

By this stage, it was well after midnight and Miss was also still awake. We took the pups into the laundry, and tried closing the door. That’s when the howling began…and continued. These pups had no intention of going to sleep. Couldn’t slow themselves down to anything remotely resembling “tired”, and didn’t like being away from us either.

Although I remembered that you stick a ticking clock in with puppies to help them sleep, who has ticking clocks these days? Obviously, its digital descendants wouldn’t do the trick. Apparently, the radio’s the go these days. Oops! That reminds me, that I forgot to set up the music player for tonight.

Needless to say, just like a new Mum, I didn’t get a great night’s sleep.

The big difference was, however, that no one drops round with a meal when you have a new dog! The grandparents haven’t turned up either. Indeed, I haven’t quite mentioned the puppies to my parents…even though I’m obviously a grown up now and they’re in no position to say “no”. It’s just that given my health issues and a very busy family, adding a new pup to the mix and fosteringit’s sister, isn’t a logical decision. It doesn’t make sense, but the heart has its own way of thinking, which might not add up but usually makes sense.

Well, at least it makes sense to me.

Do you have a special dog and dog story to share? I’d love to hear it.

xx Rowena

DSC_6386

Let sleeping pups lie.

Puppies!

As you may recall, a close friend of mine volunteers for a pet rescue organization. Well, she messaged me during the week and mentioned they had PUPPIES!!! Of course, I invited us round for a playdate. Indeed, we were there in a flash and my husband even came along to supervise procedings. He had grave concerns about us arriving home with a pup! I wonder why????

DSC_6319.JPG

My daughter with one of the pups.

Coco and her sister, Daisy, are apparently black, curley-haired retrievers and are six weeks old. They are pure black, except Coco has a small splash of white on her chest. Both of them looked like miniature versions of our Border Collie x Cavalier, Lady, only they have shorter ears.

DSC_6320.JPG

The puppies up on the trampoline with the girls.

Not surprisingly, these pups were irresistable, and it’s amazing how I can find them trying to chew up my shoes and even my good jumper endearing. Of course, there was that typical Australian; “she’ll be right, mate” nonchalence, but they were so cute that I almost couldn’t care. I even let them chew on my finger.

We will be getting a second dog in the not to distant future. Indeed, my friend has told me there are some border collie puppies coming up and I’m thinking about joining up as a volunteer and hosting these. See if one of them clicks. So far, I haven’t been seriously tempted by any of my friend’s lodgers. They’ve been wonderful dogs but I still feel lie we’re hanging out for another Border Collie pup.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the pics.

xx Rowena

Heaven or Earth? Reflections from the Dark Side of the Moon.

Before I get started, I thought I’d play Alleluia sung by Ed Sheeran. Get you in the mood. The last week has been deep, dark and philosophical punctuated by blasts of Spring sunlight and tail wags from the dog.

Actually, the last couple of months have been “challenging” after the death of our Border Collie, Bilbo. We’ve had him since our daughter was crawling and he’s seen us through so very much.  Moreover, I’ve also had another brush with severe asthmatic coughs and chest infections, which get me every August.

Not unsurprisingly, the kids have been distressed and shaken up. They’ve had questions, and I’ve had to come up with the answers. This included a particularly curly question, which I decided to share. It’s big and it’s important:

Why should we stay alive when life is painful, when we could be in heaven where there’s no pain, no troubles?

I hadn’t quite thought of heaven as the ultimate “grass is greener” before. However, I suppose it is. Otherwise, why would it be called “HEAVEN”? Furthermore, why wouldn’t you, I, want to get there on an express trip? Why do we fight so hard to stay alive, when we could be living up there in the clouds? Even Cloud 9?

While I’ve had my dark moments, and even extended interminable stretches of raw anguish, I haven’t really thought of heaven as my greener pasture. At least, not in the here and now.

I’ve known too many people who’ve lost someone to suicide and am very conscious of the anguish suicide leaves in its wake… an anguish which has no end for the multitude of people who get touched by even one death.

So, I guess for me, particularly when I’m in a  level-headed state of mind, knowing that I’d be going to my ulimate happy place when everyone who means anything to me gets to suffer, doesn’t add up.

At the very least, it’s not a very nice thing to do.

However, that’s not something I would share with someone who wasn’t in a particularly level-headed state of mind. That’s something I might now start putting out there on one of my routine drives with my kids, now they’re my son’s 13 and my daughter isn’t far behind him.

As a parent, I’ve been wondering how to talk about sex, dating, periods, condoms, relationships, drugs, but amongst all of that, I’d forgotten all about the other fairly “normal” aspect of puberty…the E-word. EMOTIONS. Thinking back to being a teenager myself, I don’t believe there was any such thing as “an even keel”, being “level-headed”, “grounded” as as for balanced? HA!!

Moon bike

At least speaking for myself, my emotions were extreme, even turbo-charged. Well-intentioned comments like “there’s more fish in the sea” fell flat. My parents meant well, and believe me, I’m getting a better understanding of what it’s like to be a parent scraping the bottom of your psychological and philosophical barrell. When your child is combusting and you’re trying to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Trust me. That whole “bird and the bees stuff” is a veritable piece of cake compared to discussing emotional equilibrium.

Edward-Munch-The-Scream--black---white--15892

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

How do any of us venture and and carpe diem seize the day and all that entails, without getting hurt? We can’t live our lives in bubble wrap and while you can have safe sex, there is no condom you can quickly wrap around your heart and it’s way too easy to get burned.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m no statistician either. I don’t know what it is which causes one person to take their life, while others persevere. What I do know, is that it’s not straight-forward. I also know that we can’t control someone else. We can’t stop someone else from taking their life. And yet, we sometimes can. Here, I’m speaking about the more collective we, but sometimes, it does come down to the individual. At times, we do become that person staring despair in the face, and it is up to us to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Or, I guess if I was some kind of professional at this, you’d be trying to get the person to find their own reasons for living. Or, at the very least, find a shift in gears.

A friend of my parents used to call the teenage years: “the swirling vortex of pubescence”. He was a very charasmatic gentleman and he’d roll this phrase out like a showman on stage. I always pictured these wild churning seas with the damsel in distress thrashing around in the waves. Never sinking, but not getting out either. I always found that phrase rather entertaining, although on reflection that note of humour, has it’s sting. Tony also put me onto a poet who knew those waves. Knew that intensity of emotion. That was Nan Whitcomb in her “Thoughts of Nanushka” and I’ve since found another kindred spirit in Australian  poet and cartoonist, Michael Leunig. Of course, there was also Keats and I’ve always questioned the merits of studying his Ode to Melancholy while studying for our HSC (final school exams = HUGE stress!!)

“That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 20
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, 25
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”
John Keats, Ode to A Nightingale.
Ay, in the very temple of Delight 
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine, 
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue 
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine; 
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might, 
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
John Keats, Ode to Melancholy

I also remember listening to Queen’s  Bohemian Rhapsody. That song needs no introduction.

Hot chocolate & book

How will the story play out?

The trouble is, that when you’re caught up in the more turbulent passages of that “swirling vortex of pubesence”, you have no idea how the story is going to play out. Speaking of myself, I was so caught up in the immediate present, the current devastating disaster, that I lost all sense of perspective. That it morphed into some kind of hellish bubble, my world. I couldn’t see it was a storm in a tea cup. I couldn’t see, that perhaps being dumped by “the bastard” was the best thing for me. That it really was a case of there being millions of fish in the sea, and I only needed to find one. That I wasn’t trying to catch the one, last surviving fish in an empty sea.

I never saw my life as a novel back then. Indeed, it’s only been this past week, that I’ve appreciated the close parallels between real life and the structure a novel or play where the main character (protagonist) has their difficult person, adversary (antagonist) but after a few rounds, they come through. There’s usually a twist at the end, and more than likely, real life doesn’t turn out quite like you expected either, but you can still live happilly ever after. Well, at least until the next challenge fires up. Bearing this in mind, you have to make the most of those high notes. Carpe diem seize the day. Gobble them up with a cherry on top. Yet, you also have to be prepared for troubles. Expect storms and rainbows, as well as sunny, blue skies.

If I was going to talk to my 13 year old self. Or, in my case, it was more my 16 year old self which was really doing it tough, what would I say?

Firstly, what I would say, wouldn’t be something eloquent, well-written, or an outstanding piece of philosophical writing with all the answers. It would be more of a stuttered, muttered and garbled story about how if I’d pulled the pin then, I wouldn’t have gone on to experience the highs of my life. For me, like so many others, the school days weren’t the best days of my life. However, they were the necessary precursor to getting into university which I loved on so many levels. I went through many relationship ups and downs and had way too many friends run off with the guy that I liked. I also spent all the years from my birth until I was 27, living with undiagnosed hydrocephalus or fluid on my brain, which really did make me “different” in a myriad of ways I am still trying to get my head around. Yes, I wasn’t “unco” and more than likely, the intensity of my emotions weren’t just puberty either. The inside of my brain had been flooded, and I was under an entirely different kind of “pressure”.

So, if I’d pulled the pin at 16, I wouldn’t have known that I had this underlying condition which was greatly relieved through surgery. Yet, even if I hadn’t had that or if there had been no “magic fix” to my problems, I still believe that it’s worth persevering through the very darkest of challenges and fighting hard to find any glimmer of light which will lead us out of the tunnel. Why? Because there just might be something better ahead. That you could well resolve your current troubles through whatever means. a change of curcumstances, meeting someone else. Another door opens.

Indeed, I still remember the night I met my husband. A friend of mine was holding a New Year’s Eve Party in another friend’s apartment in Wollstonecraft, which had a view over the back end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was supposed to going to that party with the boyfriend I’d had throughout the whole brain surgery saga and as you could imagine, things were rocky on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. Anyway, he dumped me just before the party and I really didn’t feel like going. However, it was only more of a soiree with only a few of us going and so I went. My husband opened the door. Now, I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight. However, we talked a lot that night and he gave me some really good advise  and I thought he was wise. Obviously, it was that old thing of crying on someone’s shoulder. I also remember standing out on the balcony together and I would’ve been photographing the fireworks, and he told me that he was also into photography. I clearly remember making a mental tick in my head. He also drove an Austen Healy Sprite, which he described as “English and tempremental”. I remembered that when we were driving through the Tenterfield Ranges in pouring rain to avoid the Grafton floods, and the exhaust pipe fell off on a pot hole. BTW, we’d been wearing raincoats in the car on that trip and had been soaked by the time we’d reached Newcastle. (We had been driving from Wahroonga in Sydney to visit his Mum and sisters family in the Byron Bay hinterland. It’s about a 10 hour drive.)

The ironic thing is that it can be these very worst moments, our greatest disasters, that we turn into our funniest stories. It’s often these moments which we’ll share around a barbeque laughing our heads of and entertaining the crowd, rather than the good times. I am now thinking that part of that is that we later find out these disasters weren’t so bad after all. Indeed, sometimes they proved to be a blessing in disguise. Or, they were a necessary step to get us to a better place, or to our ultimate destination.

So, now I would say that instead of pulling the pin, who have to keep breathing so you can keep living the book. Find out how you’re own story unfolds. Just one point here, too, and that is that you are not a passive player in your story. You are helping to write the script, as well as all the other characters. This is a team effort. You are empowered. However, you are empowered to do the best for yourself, AND the worst. Too often, it’s not the bully or our nemesis we need to watch out for, it’s our own selves. We shoot ourselves in the foot way more often AND we need to own that. Take responsibility. Not necessarily in a guilt way, but in an empowered driver’s seat way. JUst like if you were driving and made a wrong turn, you’d do a U turn and try again. You hopefully wouldn’t just sit in your car hoping it would magically take you where you want to go.

The ironic thing for me these days about people taking their lives, is that I am fighting with all I’ve got to save my own. This July marked 20 years since I had the brain surgery which saved and changed my life. This coming Tuesday, marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with a systemic auto-immune disease, dermatomymyositis which has left me with 60% lung capacity on a good day. I am getting through flu season again this year but again it’s been a battle. Three years ago, I had chemo to knock the disease on its head and fortunately that worked. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve been staring death in the face, and trust me. Not once was I thinking: “Heaven, bring it on!” No, despite being a Christian, all I was thinking about was my kids, my husband, my Mum, Dad, Brother and my friends. Giving them that kind of bad news, is devastating. The fact that I’ve survived, doesn’t negate that. We have lived through it and we continue to live with it.

So, this brings me to the very real need to talk to those we love about those times when the swirling vortex has taken hold, and give them concrete proof that they can get through it. That it’ s not only worth persevering through the hard times, that it’s possible to get there. Achievable. Moreover, they are not alone. Not only in the sense that we are with them now. Not just us as an individual either, but us as a community. The many layers of the onions…family, friends, teachers, pastors, the person you need down the street while walking your dog. But, we also need to make that time available. Leave enough space inbetween the words, the lines, the busyness that someone can sit along side us and be without being rushed, sped up, or brushed off.

I am not someone who has ever professed to have the answers, but I’ve always had the questions and I guess this is where they lead me now. But before I head off, another word just popped in my head. That is gratitude. While it’s not often possible to feel grateful for our let downs at the time, that can change through hindsight…especially with many of those heart breaks, which were the end of the world at the time. I wouldn’t be where I am now and while some of those guys were great people and simply not right for me (or me for them), I’ve been married to Geoff for 16 years now. We’ve survived some extremely hard times and miraculously stayed together. We hae two beauti ful children who can stretch us beyond the very brink at times, but who we love more than life itself. Sometimes, when things have been so hard, it’s hard to comprehend how the sun still rises in the morning and how life goes on. Yet, I’ve often found that very annoying and harsh reality, provides the momentum to keep me moving, which is ultimately a good thing.

I didn’t intend to write about this when I woke up this morning. I haven’t edited more than a couple of words and this is how my thoughts have landed on the page, or to be precise, my laptop screen. All of a sudden, in bright neon signs, I’ve realized that we as a society don’t talk about hard times. The cultural rhetoric is all about making it happen. Being whoever you want to be. It’s almost like you’re expected to find happiness in a fizzy drink…or a pill. Rather, what happens WHEN your journey through life hits the big snake just when you’re about to reach your goal and your sent straight back down to the beginning again? What happens when you’re a marketing executive and you’re diagnosed with hydrocephalus and you end up having brain surgery, getting a blocked shunt and requiring more brain surgery, the person you thought you were going to marry, dumps you because all of that’s too much and you’ve moved back home living with mum and Dad and going to rehab with the elderly at 28? BTW, that was also when I went to my 10 year school reunion. That was two weeks after the second brain surgery and I had no hair under one half of that bob. Indeed, there was a scar. I made it through that reunion and I was triumphant. Despite brain surgery being a much more sensitive embarrassing thing that the bad haircut.  I also had friends whose lives were picture perfect either. Some had divorced and one of my class mates had tragically died from cancer, which shook me to the core.

The fact that I’m still here, isn’t because I have some uber-amazing coping mechanism and I’m “Tonka tough”. I’ve had breakdowns. I’ve fallen face down in the mud and refused to get up. I’ve had days where I’ve stayed in bed and wrapped myself up in my doona and refused to get up. I’ve thought about how. I did jab myself with a pair of kindy scissors once when I was struggling to learn how to drive and fighting my brother for access to the car. That’s the closest I’ve come in a physically crossing the line sense, but these lines resonate: “hello darkness my old friend”.

Somehow, the collective “we” needs to have more of these conversations. The “where I was, how I found my way out and some of the joys of life we’ve experienced since” type. Talk about how life is ups AND downs. That we have to keep  walking, dancing, flying, dragging out feet, sleeping, talking, dreaming.They’re all part of it. Share and model that there is no magic pill, which will give you perfect, lasting happiness. However, there could well be multiple pills of darkness, which we need to approach with caution. Walk away from jealousy, envy, wanting to be someone we’re not, putting our value on stuff instead of relationships, replacing people with work. The list goes on.

Now, I’m turning it over to you. What has your experience been? I would like to invite you to share as much as you like in the comments below. What would you say to your teenage self about the dark times you’ve experienced? I could even see these becoming a series of posts. It would be truly beneficial to get a swag of letters together on this very important subject.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

PS I just had to drop my daughter off at meditation of all things (our dance school is running a session for kids followed by a session for parents so I’ll be heading off next). Funny how walking and driving gets you thinking. Pops something so obvious into your head, which you’d missed entirely while tapping away into the screen.

My other advice to my teenage self, is not to put all my eggs in one basket, and to remain diverse. I had very good friends out of school and I’ve encouraged this with my own kids since dot. However, as someone with a fairly obsessive, driven personality, I’d like to share that focusing all your energies on one thing, isn’t a good idea. If something happens to that one thing, whatever it is, then you’re devastated. You’re left with nothing. There is no “Plan B”. You have no identity left. Naturally, I was devastated when I couldn’t work after the brain surgery. I had grief counselling where I was told “We’re human beings, not human doings”. It’s taken me a long time to get that. In the aftermath of the brain surgery, I turned to photography and although it wasn’t making me any money, I found it was a great topic of conversation. Far more interesting than work. These days, writing  is my main thing followed by photography. What you might not know, is that I started learning the violin four years ago, and last year I started dance classes and have made my way through short adult courses in ballet, contemporary, lyrical and tap. I’m not even keeping up in the dance classes, but dance is now part of my psyche. Who I am. It’s added another string to my bow, and exercised more than a few neurofibres as well. It’s very important not to get stuck in what I’ll call “bubble worlds”…becoming “a dancer”, “a lawyer”, “a mother”, a “father”. Rather, ideally, we’d be more of a spangled web or texture, colour, sound, taste and smell stretching somewhere over the rainbow and back again. We must wear many hats, to be fulfilled, and really just to survive.

The End.

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