Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

That's All Folks

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a Merry and Blessed Christmas!

Love & God Bless,

Rowena & Family

PS We’re about to evacuate to my Aunty’s place. This is my solution to not being about the get the house, kids, dogs, self Christmas-ready.

Now, we’re off to jump in our sardine tin to  join the conveyor belt to Sydney.

Bilbo & Lady

Bilbo & Lady

That Christmas Black Rain Cloud.

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Shadows of Christmas.

Christmas OCD

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

CDOCD- Christmas Decoration OCD.

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

Ghosts of Christmas Past

No one likes an empty seat at Christmas.

SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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

Failure

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

Silent Night

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

Stickytape-Itis

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

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

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

……

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

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

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

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

Love & Blessings for Christmas and the New Year,

Rowena

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

 

The Meaning of Christmas Cake.

Last night, I was making my Christmas Cake.

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

Christmas cake 2014 zoom

Our Lego Santa Loves Christmas Cake.

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

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

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

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

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

The next day, we move onto the baking phase.

jonathon-jan-2007

Our son sampling the mixture, aged 3.

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

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

More mixture disappears.

And a bit more!

There’s still plenty left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funny that I could ever deride the sacred Christmas Cake!

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

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

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

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

rowena-santa

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

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

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

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

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

Love & Christmas Blessings,

Rowena

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

We would like to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. To those of you who celebrate the birth of Jesus, also wish you a Blessed Christmas and for those with Jewish beliefs, we wish a Happy Hannukah. Happy Holidays isn’t part of our Australian vernacular.

I have always loved seeing how Christmas is celebrated in different cultures not just in terms of food but also sun versus snow.

Vintage Ettalong Santa Truck 2008 Pearl Beach

An Australian Christmas, Santa on a fire track, Pearl Beach, New South Wales.

So, I’d like to share a guest post I wrote over at Solveig Werner’s Blog: A Stinking Hot Australian Christmas http://solveigwerner.com/2015/12/17/advent-calendar-day-17-a-stinking-hot-australian-christmas-by-rowena-newton/#comment-2801

After all my ranting and raving about celebrating a scorchingly hot 40°C Christmas, the weather has shown up my bluff and we’re looking at 26 °C with possible rain. Humph? Rain???? Who on Earth has been praying for rain right before Christmas? No! It’s supposed to be blue skies, sunshine…a perfect Christmas Day!

Bilbo & Lady

Merry Christmas from Bilbo & Lady

Anyway, wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Love,

Rowena, Geoff, Mister, Miss, Bilbo & Lady!

Punishment Versus Justice: Two Australians Executed in Indonesia.

“What I would like people to see in him is the person he had become – not the stupidest thing he ever did.”

Matthew Sleeth, Melbourne artistwho worked with Myuran Sukumaran.

For the last few months, I’ve been anxiously following the pending executions of convicted Australian Drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Although I’d considered their actions incredibly stupid at the time of their arrest, as I learned of their radical transformation inside prison, my attitude changed. I, like so many others, sought clemency and did what we could to get behind the campaign. For me, that was very little but I did write to my local Member of Parliament and I posted this on my blog:https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/brain-plasticity-two-australians-on-death-row/

Meanwhile, I watched as a pack of fiercely loyal and determined supporters fought for clemency like dogs pursuing that proverbial bone. Throughout this campaign, the men admitted and owned their crime and nobody denied that they’d done the wrong thing. Just that they had changed and didn’t deserve to die. It is my understanding that their lawyers were seeking a reduction in their sentence to life in prison.

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

After all, since being incarcerated, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were changed men. Not just on the outside, but in their hearts and in their souls. Both men became Christian and Andrew Chan became a Christian Pastor while in prison. While being Christian is no guarantee of perfection, the men had definitely changed: inside and out. Myuran Sukumaran became an accomplished artist under the mentorship of Ben Quilty and Matthew Sleeth and shared this gift with other prisoners. Both men have also helped their fellow inmates to reform and change their lives by teaching them life skills, so they too could be reformed and return to their communities better men.

On 29th April, 2015 those hard fought hopes were completely dashed when Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by a firing squad on the prison island of Nusakambangan at 3:35am AEST.

Although I’d been anticipating the worst, there was still that glimmer of hope. However, then news reports showed coffins bearing their names and date of death, forecasting the very worst. I could sense that rising tide of incredible despair and dashed hopes. Even though I hadn’t been following case closely until recently, I had become emotionally involved, getting those awful, sick in the depths of my stomach feelings. As far as I’m concerned, you didn’t need to know the men to have a heart for their situation and to hope that against the odds, things might just turn around.

As long as there was life, there was hope…even if it was fading fast.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

Against these increasingly bad signs, we still clung to hope by our very fingernails. Surely, the Indonesian President would finally see reason? He would have the courage and capacity to change his mind and to acknowledge that these men had reformed. That they were no longer the two young criminals who had conspired to smuggle heroin into Australia.

It wasn’t looking good.

I guess for so many of us who could see and understand how much these men had changed and how they were now contributing to the world for good instead of bad, this was hard to understand. That, although they shared the same name and the same skin as the men who had committed this very serious crime, they were, indeed, different. They were new creations. These men no longer deserved to die.

That is, if they ever did.

Yet, despite trying to move incredible mountains and the Indonesian President, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed. They are dead and their bodies returned to Australia for burial on Saturday, ten years after their arrest.

What does this mean now? How are we to understand and process their deaths? Were they martyrs? Heroes? Modern Ned Kellies? (Ned kelly was an Irish-Australian bushranger who was hanged for his crimes but has become somewhat deified)

Or, indeed, were they vile criminals whose intent to import heroin into Australia could have ruined so many Australian lives?

I don’t know but many have done far worse and never paid for their crimes…just received a slap on the wrist!!

One of  Sukumaran's last paintings depicting the bullet hole through his heart.

One of Sukumaran’s last paintings depicting the bullet hole through his heart.

This case has certainly publicised the death penalty, which is probably something your average Australian has given much thought. That is, since competing in their high school debating team. We don’t have the death penalty here so it’s not an issue that crops up all that much. Prior to this case, I certainly hadn’t given it much thought.

However, given my unwaivering faith in humanity’s capacity to change, I can not support it.

That is because I truly believe that everybody has the capacity to change and even radically change their lives if they want to. This isn’t change being enforced from the outside in but rather coming from the inside out…from the heart. The science of neuroplasticity has also proven that even changing our thoughts, can change the very physical structures of our brains.People can and do change. The trouble is that we then need to forgive and give people a second chance, which is not so easy or so straightforward.

We all know someone we have loved and cared about who has been troubled either by mental health issues, drugs, addiction and yet we’ve been absolutely powerless to save them from that relentless downward spiral. At this point, it is so often said, that they have to hit rock bottom before they get back up. That the only way they’re ever going to wake up to themselves and all that they’ve become, is for them to face the music…whatever that might be. Sometimes, people can somehow exit the spiral before they land in jail, commit suicide or indeed, attempt to smuggle drugs out of a country with the death penalty. However, sometimes they keep going and going to a point of no return. They reach a point where it’s very difficult, if not impossible,to return. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people or they come from bad families. Perhaps, they’re just sheep who have wandered too far away and get captured by the wolf (in whatever guise) before making it home.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we each have a dark side. All have sinned. While there is a huge difference to holding a party when your  parents are away versus smuggling heroin out of Indonesia, it’s still breaking the rules.

So in the wake of what is a tragedy on so many levels, I hold my own children close to my heart and in my prayers. They need to understand that there are consequences for their actions and know that no matter how much you try to undo the past, sometimes what’s done is done. Prevention is so much more effective than depending on a cure…an undoing. Sometimes, no amount of undoing can rewind the clock and you do end up paying the ultimate price.

This was also the message which Andrew Chan left for his baby nephew Kai:
“I love you Kai, keep looking to Jesus, trust in his ways and learn from my mistakes. ”

There is much debate in Australia about how these men should be perceived. While I don’t want to put them up on a pedestal, these changed men truly became an inspiration. Despite living under the omnipresent shadow of the death penalty, they turned their lives around showing that no matter how bad it gets, even as a convicted drug smuggler facing the death penalty, you can still change your heart and live for good and even preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. You truly can be a new creation!!

Michael Chan, Andrew’s older brother, described his last moments:
“He said there were three things he was going to do — he is going to sing all the way there and he done that and he said he is going to wear his Penrith jersey and he is not going to wear the blindfold, he is going to look them in the eye. He did all of them.”
Michael said knowing how his brother acted in the final hours and minutes made the horror of what happened more bearable.
Michael said hearing about his brother’s bravery, courage and dignity in the face of such a dreadful end had brought a rare smile to mother Helen’s face in what has been a nightmare ride.
“That put a smile on her face to know those hours leading up to it that that’s what he did and how he held himself,” he said .

It is still too soon to appreciate their long term legacy. In the short term, the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia has been recalled. Moreover, a strong campaign to fight the death penalty, particularly in Indonesia, has been mounted…the Mercy Campaign http://mercycampaign.org/
As Andrew Chan said:
“This campaign is more than just about myself or Myu. It represents a second chance and forgiveness, it represents kindness and help for those in a helpless situation. Mercy represents all of us here.
I would like you to take a moment and reflect just on the word mercy. Please don’t let this just be about myself and Myu, but about others all over the world who need your help.”
— Andrew Chan

This quest has  been taken up my artist Ben Quilty. He wrote this message on his Facebook page:

“Joko Widodo tonight you will kill two good men, my friends. I want you to know that you may take their freedom and their lives, you may rob their fellow inmates of the support and love that both men have offered and provided for so long, you can turn off Myu’s imagination but you will never kill the memory of them. I have promised Myu and Andrew, their parents and their siblings, that I will fight against the death penalty for the rest of my life…”

So after considering their crimes, their radical transformation, and their horrific deaths, I am reminded of the words of Moriah Carey’s “Hero”. Not because I see them as heroes but because as reformed men facing their crimes and their deaths, they were heroic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IA3ZvCkRkQ

“Hero”
There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

[Chorus:]
And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It is my heartfelt prayer than anyone considering trafficking drugs will learn from their example and do whatever it takes to pull back and walk away. Live for good. Know to look after your body, mind and spirit and think about how you are attacking yourself through drugs and then also putting your family and friends through hell as well. Also, offer others that same respect and don’t see selling drugs as a way to make fast money. All too often, it ends a one-way mission.

Meanwhile, my heartfelt condolences go out to the Chan and Sukumaran families, their legal and spiritual teams and those close and dear to them who fought so tenaciously for clemency. You never gave up. I also think about the many, many people around the world who have been touched by their lives and their deaths. Just because we do not know them or their families, it doesn’t mean we do not care!I send you my love.

Love & God’s richest blessings,
Rowena

Sources:

http://www.smh.com.au/world/bali-9-executions-andrew-chans-letter-to-the-nephew-he-adored-20150501-1mxxdl.html
http://www.news.com.au/national/michael-chan-tells-of-andrew-chans-pledge-before-execution/story-fncynjr2-1227329311248
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3063852/They-best-agonizing-days-Myuran-Sukumaran-realized-dream-artist-longed-says-former-teacher.html

Compassion Fatigue: A Light Bulb Moment!

For so many with a passion for compassion, there can come a point where we need to reassess our vision. Admit that we have over-extended our scope or perceived list of responsibilities beyond our sphere and have actually gone too far. Moreover, although we not be thinking about compassion fatigue or burnout, we need to pull our heads in before we implode. Otherwise, instead of being able to help and support others, we risk needing help ourselves!

I would suggest that if you are watching ants lugging heavy loads with more than just a casual eye and indeed considering learning ant language so you can help them more effectively: “Hey, can I give you a lift?” Then, perhaps you have taken compassion just that little bit too far.

IMG_0061

There comes a time when especially the most compassionate souls need to re-visit their priorities before it’s too late.

 

I have been putting a lot of thought into compassion since I signed up for the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion Movement where on this day Friday 20th February over 1000 bloggers worldwide have signed up to write a post about compassion on their blogs.

Here is a link to the project: http://new.inlinkz.com/luwpview.php?id=497564&fb_ref=Default

Today, is the United Nations Day of Social Justice. Thanks to my husband and has his particular way of challenging “stuff”, I would just like to stress that “social justice” has nothing to do with society taking justice into its own hands, mob rule or the formation of such abhorrent organisations as the Klu Klux Klan. Rather, it’s about giving everyone, as we Australians put it: “a fair go” and fighting against all forms of discrimination…even the insidious, invisible ones!!

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Writing one post about compassion for me is impossibly difficult. It’s like taking me to the most sumpuous smorgasbord restaurant (all you can eat)  and being told: “You can only eat one thing!”

WHAT THE???!!

My husband would tell you that’s impossible. That I could never, ever go into a smorgasbord restaurant with all those tempting tables of every kind of Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican etc etc food each piled up as high as Mt Everest and all those tantilising aromas ticklooing my senses coaxing me to completely pig out: “Eat me! Eat me! I know you want to eat me.” THat’s before we even get to dessert and I can’t even think about chocolate without salivating, even in extreme heat when most mortals find the concept of molten chocolate abhorrent.  They want something cool.

THerefore, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I’ve never left a smorgasbord restaurant without feeling incredibly ill and being reminded of that infamous restaurant scene where Mr Creosote explodes in Monty Python’s: The Meaning of Life:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczPDGC3f8U

Unfortunately, my poor brain just can’t cope with sooo much choice and its default mode is:

“I’ll take the lot, thanks!!”

So with that graphic image of over-eating firmly etched in your brains, you’ll understand just how hard it is for me to write about just one aspect of compassion. There are literally limitless possibilities out there and a bit like Mr Creote, I could spew all those fabulous anecdotes and reflections out in the post, which would just be counter-productive….not to mention messy and very, very smelly, stinky and downright repulsive!!

MY instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Giving me a helping hand: my ski instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Just a few of the anecdotes I’ve considered revisiting today include address the love of a stranger and the compassionate support I received from my ski instructors who skied back down the mountain lugging my skis, boots and poles so I could take the chair lift back and conserve my small reserves of energy. Their compassion and using their physical strength for good, enabled me to ski down the best slope for my ability and give me the experience of a life time. It would not have happened otherwise and I would never have left the “magic carpet” or beginner’s area. Moreover, my testimony of skiing down the mountain for a second time after overcoming a flare up of my auto-immune disease, pneumonia and chemotherapy would not have happened.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

I also wanted to write about some of the ways people actually treat people with disabilities with anything but compassion. Things like parking in disabled car spaces without a permit, crashing into people using a walking stick and how there is the completely inadequate social support to allow people with disabilities to live with dignity. For example, despite have a muscle-wasting life-threatening disease, it took me five years to get any domestic assistance and that is completely inadequate. There are also no long term supports for parents of young children who might be dying or living with severe, disabling illness and who require ongoing child care but lack the second income to pay for it.

Just to compound this sense of paralysis through analysis and compassion overload, I started looking up inspirational quotes about compassion.

Some were beautifully poetic:

“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”

Rumi

“The dew of compassion is a tear”.

Lord Byron

However, reading through compassion quotes became quite challenging and rather than concentrating my compassion into some kind of manageable, bite-sized portion, it expanded the scope exponentially:

“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”

Albert Schweitzer

“Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

“If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.”

Ellen DeGeneres

Okay. So after reading all of these quotes, I’m starting to think i should go back to the ant I saw this morning lugging that mighty big crumb and offer it a lift. After all, an ant is one of these living creatures we’re been calling on to assist!!

Ouch! Double ouch!! My brain hurts. Really hurts. This compassion fatigue seems terminal!!

But to add further salt to the wound:

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Haile Selassie

That’s why I decided to write about compassion fatigue. Not the clinical version but just the garden variety which anybody with even just the smallest social conscience can experience. After all, each of us only has so many gold coins we can put in the collection tin and some of us, especially those living with any form of severe chronic illness, can feel like we could warrant some charitable donations ourselves. That’s particularly after paying for prescriptions, a medical specialist or about ten or when all our household appliances decide to breakdown at the same time. Moreover, if you have kids, you are the charitable institution. I remember my Dad telling us that: “Money doesn’t grow on trees”. “Kids, I don’t have a money tree, you know.” I don’t know whether we ever believed him. However, I still kind of believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy and given their generosity to kids worldwide, there has to be a money tree or at least a magic wishing tree out there somewhere!!

However, all this takes me back to what has almost become a cliche:

Think global: Act Local.

We can not help or save everyone but the chances are that we can help our neighbours in small, little ways that don’t really cost much such as giving people a lift, mowing their lawn and you know what I value the most: a smile and a hug. They are absolutely free and we could keep on passing them on. Well, we would be able to send and smiles and hugs right around the world if Australia, as our national anthem so ridiculously put it, wasn’t “girt by sea”. Gee, that ocean can get in the way at times!!

That’s been my modus operandi for awhile and while blogging and recent world events have extended my scope, I will still focus on the home front. After all, “charity begins at home”.

” I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Mother Theresa

I almost forgot to mention this but unlike Atlas,  we  don’t have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The state of the world, the environment and all the people and animals in it are not our responsibiity alone. While as individuals we might be ineffective on our own, when we collaborate we can move mountains. Moreover, through the power of prayer, we can also call on divine intervention. Never under-estimate the power of prayer!! Miracles can and do happen although I must also admit that sometimes for whatever reason God seems to be deaf…just like our kids.

Here are some of the other posts I have written about compassion and tomorrow I will post a selection of posts which were part of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/brain-plasticity-two-australians-on-death-row/

The Aftermath of the MH17 Tragedy: Compassion in Action!! Sowing those precious sunflower seeds: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=sunflower

Emotional versus Physical healing: The Struggle To Heal The Broken Foot & the Sydney Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/the-struggle-to-heal-the-broken-foot-and-the-sydney-siege/

Love of a Stranger: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=love+of+a+stranger

Skiing: Back to the Mountain Almost: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/back-to-the-mountain-almost/

Have a wonderful International Day of Social Justice and I’ll start the ball rolling by sending a smile and a hug to you!

If you have participated in 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please leave a link and even a brief intro to your post in the comments here for inclusion in a follow-up post.

Love & blessings,

Rowena