Tag Archives: Kahlil Gibran

Life Lessons from the Cupcake Catastrophe.

A few days ago, I survived the Orange Cake Catastrophe (see previous post). As you may recall, the mixture spiraled out of the bowl and splattered all over the kitchen. The poor dog, who usually hovers around while I’m cooking, even ended up with a Rorschach-like splat painting on the back of her head. A seeming miracle, I somehow patched it all up and the results were perfect. The cake even had an even texture which any show cook would be proud of and the squeeze of orange juice in the chocolate icing was inspired. I was very proud of my Choc-Orange Cupcakes and my ability to recover from yet another catastrophe in the kitchen.

What a waste of good mixture...Attack of the Killer Orange Cake Mix.

What a waste of good mixture…Attack of the Killer Orange Cake Mix.

It was confirmation that “all’s well that ends well” and not to get too upset about the bumps along the road even though they might feel like the end of the world at the time.

Since becoming a parent and slipping out of the full-time workforce, I have become more and more aware of the intelligence, the life lessons that we pick up on the road. That life can’t simply be learned through a book. As a well-educated and avid reader who has devoured a smorgasbord of philosophy and instructional books,this change has been a cosmic shift. After all, Kahlil Gibran’s: The Prophet is my favourite book and Malcolm Gladwell’s: Outliers has been a serious life changer as well. The thing is that no matter how inspiring and life-changing these books might be, we still need to experience the practical and everyday so we don’t trip over both feet and not know how to get up.

There is also a risk that by worshiping the big name intellectuals and speakers, we can miss those small but equally essential life lessons which are learned in the school of hard knocks.”A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road” (Alexander Smith) and the image of the astronomer walking at night stumbling into an open well while looking at the stars, goes back to the ancient Greeks.
Yet, do we adjust our focus as we walk along the road with all of its obstacles and bumps while gazing at the sky at our visions and dreams? Do we manage to observe and process all aspects of the picture…both the big and small? Or, are we too focused on the bright lights to look where we’re actually walking..at our feet?

I must admit that I’ve had more than my share of scraped knees and sprained ankles caused by too many cracks in the footpaths…or perhaps the problem has really been chasing too many clouds in the sky!

Eight years ago, I read a wonderful book called: Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb. Gottlieb, a psychologist, became a quadriplegic through a car accident. Due to his health, Gottlieb doesn’t know if he will be around to see his grandson grow up and decides to write him a book of life lessons. He naturally wants to share the benefits of his experience. As the book unfolds, Sam is diagnosed with a form of autism and Gottlieb addresses what it means to live with a disability. What I also like, is Gottlieb’s Jewish cultural references which add a lot of depth and character to the story.

Inspired by Letters to Sam, I started writing my own book of life lessons for my kids and wrote about 50,000 words which I’ve never revisited (must get back to that. I can be my own worst critic.)

Anyway, when I found out I was having chemo to treat my auto-immune disease just before Christmas last year, all my memoir activities notched up several levels. I only had three days before chemo began and what if instead of saving my life the chemo took me out instead? In that case, I potentially didn’t have time to record anything…just tie up a few loose ends and it would simply be: “Game Over”.

Sometimes, we run out of coins before we know it.

Sometimes, we run out of coins before we know it.

What was something really, really important that my kids needed to know which I could teach them quickly in less than ideal circumstances? My kids were spending weekdays with my parents at the time so I wasn’t even going to be seeing a lot of them either.

In this is pressure cooker environment, I decided to teach my kids how to cook. This wasn’t intended to be some lofty, philosophical project. It was practical. My family needed to eat and I might not be there to do it. Their Dad can cook and reminds me that he wasn’t starving during the 10 plus years he lived out of home before we got married but I figured the kids could be useful. That they could extend themselves beyond cyber-reality on Minecraft and do some real chores.Nothing more annoying than seeing them feeding the dog on Minecraft and forgetting to feed the dog in real life.

The Abominable Doughman

The Abominable Doughman

What I didn’t consider when I launched into this project. was that you actually learn a lot of valuable life skills through cooking. Moreover, after surviving the ravages of chemo and chemo brain, these were important skills for me to develop as well. After all, while the chemo had “fixed” my auto-immune disease, it had destroyed all sense of time and I really struggled to multi-task. Even just by cooking your basic roast, you are learning to juggle tasks and manage your time. After all, you want the meat and veggies to be ready at the same time and this is not as easy as it looks.

I also enrolled the kids in Sea Scouts for some outdoor activities but that’s another story.

Coming back to my cupcake fiasco, I’ve learned that baking a cake while making dinner may not be the best idea, especially when I’m using a new and unfamiliar recipe.

Do one thing at a time. Seriously, who really can multitask well anyway?!!

I’ve also learned that as much as we would like to get it right the first time, that there are often mistakes along the road and we need to learn how to address and overcome these hurdles to achieve success…not just fall in a screaming heap when the going gets tough. I turned the beaters back on, finished the cake and kept going.Oh yes, I also cleaned up the mess!

The epitomy of  perfection: my Choc Orange Cupcake.

The epitomy of perfection: my Choc Orange Cupcake.

Also, that when we look at the achievements of others, we often put them up on a pedestal thinking they’re perfect, their lives are perfect and being only too aware of our own faults, feel like we’ve failed. We’re losers, inept. But we don’t know what they’ve been through to get where they are now. You would bite into my sweet little orange cupcake with the scrumptious chocolate icing with that expert squeeze of orange juice and tell me they’re perfect. You’d be overflowing with praise. “Have you considered selling these? You could certainly sell them to a cafe!” Nobody eating the cupcake would have any idea of the catastrophe along the way. That these cupcakes really were what you’d classify as a disaster.

Never look at other people and think their lives are perfect and they get everything right the first time. Once you scratch the surface, you usually find they also have feet of clay. Everybody makes mistakes!!

I was also encouraged by my fellow bloggers to believe in myself. While I hadn’t made something fancy like Duck a L’orange I’d intended with my stash of oranges and had almost botched up a simple quick mix cake, they still praised my efforts. I could have just cut the oranges up or even left them in the fridge until they were bin fodder. We all know that we can be our own worst critics but the challenge comes in how to be more accepting of ourselves.

Even when we do some crazy, weird and zany stuff and cake mixture splats in our face, we are still valued, precious human beings and these so called catastrophes really are insignificant in the overall scheme of things. Or, they live on as funny stories. That’s what I like to do with my disasters.

I would love to hear any stories you’ve had about overcoming similar “disasters”.

Have a Great Day!

xx Rowena

Cooking: creativity in action!

Cooking: creativity in action!

My Son and the Rose

This morning, I had an incredible Eureka moment.

No! I didn’t go running naked through the streets like Archimedes but I was running naked on the inside. The drought had broken and I wanted to run outside and feel all those life giving raindrops wet against my skin. Stick out my dry, parched tongue and quench an insatiable thirst.

Our son did the most amazing thing and I was the proudest mother on earth! This came after a difficult time for our family and I really needed a bit of affirmation. Being a parent is a wonderful thing but it can also be quite a challenge. Like the rose, love also has its thorns.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire,that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

For the last four weeks, I’ve been ill. I’ve had serious stomach pains and I’ve barely been eating. I have also been sleeping a lot and feeling extremely vague. I wasn’t sure whether I had a virus or if it was stress. I had another appointment with my lung specialist (which went well) and more tests and was feeling pretty stressed. Anyway, I was finding it very difficult to get the kids to school and organised some outside support to help get them ready in the mornings. I also lined up some friends to drive them to and from school. I needed to stop and recover somehow.

Despite my usual health issues, I don’t usually stop and my whole modus operandi is to keep going no matter what. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when it feels like I’m wearing concrete shoes and it’s quite difficult to for me to walk or even lift my feet. At times, it can get very, very hard but I’ve always been convicted that it’s easier to keep going than try to restarting the engine. I guess I’m scared that if I stop and actually let everything go that I’ll lose the lot…poof!

Anyway, we’ve really enjoyed having our helper here and she finished up this morning. As a bit of a parting gesture, our son gave her a beautiful, red rose from our garden. We were both deeply moved not just because he gave her the flower but his timing was quite incredible. You see, she had been having a bit of a rough day and she really needed a bit of encouragement and then Mister just turned up offering that great timeless symbol of love…a beautiful, home-grown  red rose with all its thorns. It was exactly what the doctor ordered…exactly! I could have cried and our helper was naturally deeply moved. It’s not the sort of thing you expect from a knock-about nine year old boy who plays football and runs everywhere with dirty, skinned knees but our boy is often full of surprises. No matter how hard we might try to classify him and squeeze him into some kind of box, he resists. He is full of so many contradictions and always keeps me on my toes. I never know quite what to expect next.

I was so proud of him. I could have shouted it from a mountain top: “I have the very best son in the whole entire world!!”

I was so proud of him and yet there have been so many times as a parent when I’ve wondered whether anything is getting through. Some things are private but suffice to say that my son has struggled a lot with my illness. There are times when I’m well and fully present and there are times when I can be like a ghost. I’m there but not there. When he was 3.5 years old, I was admitted to hospital and rehab for 7 weeks. That was a very long time for such a little boy.

Reading with Mister while I was on weekend leave from the rehab hospital

Reading with Mister while I was on weekend leave from the rehab hospital

For awhile there, I was either in bed or in a wheelchair and was really crook. I had two professors looking after me along with an entourage of medical students. That gives you some idea of just how serious things were. My prognosis was really quite unknown. Mister came in to see me. He looked up at me with his huge brown eyes and blond curls and asked: “Mummy better? Mummy better?” I remember that moment so very, very clearly. Bang!  It was like being shot between the eyes. Being shot in the heart. I said absolutely nothing and simply didn’t reply because we didn’t know. We didn’t have an answer. It was an incredibly hard moment!

We look like the epitome of happiness yet this photo was taking while I was at rehab hospital.

We look like the epitome of happiness yet this photo was taking while I was at rehab hospital.

My illness hit Mister pretty hard. He knew what it was like to have his whole mum and to be the centre of my universe. We used to do so many things together.  Then, along came his little sister and shortly afterwards, I became ill and everything changed. I was so exhausted and we juggled his care between my parents, day care and time at home. We did our best and it wasn’t anybody’s fault but that didn’t mean he was happy with the situation. I knew he was angry. I knew that anger was somehow locked deep inside him and it wasn’t coming out. His development froze for some time and he stopped writing, cutting and drawing. My health is a constantly shifting carpet with marked good and bad days so we can’t really come to terms with anything. But these good days are also a blessing because we can largely live an almost “normal” life. We squeeze as much as we can out of life because we know life is short and we have to …carpe diem seize the day.

I view my illness as an external force, an outsider, some kind of malevolent stalker. I don’t blame myself and I certainly don’t see the illness as part of myself, who I am or part of my “identity”. This perspective has been quite critical to how I’ve managed. I live with dermatomyositis. I am not my disease.

Unfortunately, the kids don’t make that distinction. For them, the illness and I are one and the same. When I’m well and able to do things, they are happy and I am the best. When I’m sick, they usually muck up and I’m “the worst mother in the world”. That’s a bit simplistic but you get the gist.

It can be very difficult, discouraging and downright depressing when I’m fighting my disease and a pair of cranky kids at the same time. So when my son gave our helper the rose, it was so much more than just an act of kindness. It was a sign of healing and of hope. I saw such love and kindness in his heart.  It was extraordinary and I was immensely proud. The drought had broken.

The rose is usually used to symbolise the duality of romantic love…the beauty of the flower and the pain caused by its thorns…a double-edged sword. However, the rose also represents the love for your child. There is joy and pain as a parent which all starts off in childbirth I guess.

Somehow, when our relationships with our kids are going through a period of drought, we need to hang in there. Keep the lines of communication open so that when the drought breaks, the seed is still there ready to grow.

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong,
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose.

As beautiful as this moment was, I am still a realist. Every rose has its thorns but it’s still a rose.

xx Rowena 

PS It was interesting looking through the old photos to find some shots of Mister while I was in hospital. I have thought of him as a fairly lone, solitary figure and very sad. However, when I looked through the photos, I found much happiness, cuddles and togetherness. I actually remember kicking the ball briefly with  him while I was in rehab and we read together. We had fun despite our circumstances…an important thing to remember.