Tag Archives: learning

Life — A “choose your own” adventure?

So many of us have experienced the difference between “education” and “schooling”. However, I have never seen that difference expressed so succinctly than in this post by educator Norah Colvin. It is a MUST READ!! xx Rowena

Norah Colvin

This morning Hub mentioned a book he had read about and asked if I had heard of the author Wayne Dyer. “Of course,” I replied and proceeded to explain that I had read many of Dyer’s books, had gone to a seminar to hear him speak and had been swept off my feet by accompanying speaker Deepak Chopra. I mentioned that a favourite book of his was marked now by a gap on my shelves, a phenomena recently mentioned by both Caroline Lodge, who blogs at book word and talked about missing books, and Anne Goodwin, who blogs at annethology and talked about the dilemma of lending books.

Wayne Dyer I think there may be more than one missing from my self!

Deepak Chopra I think. looking at these titles, its time for some re-reading!

This favourite book, read and lent many times, What Do You…

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N is for Neuroplasticity: Changing Your Life.

Welcome to N for neuroplasticity on the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme for the challenge is: A Few of My Favourite Things and while neuroplasticity might seem left-field, I really want you to follow me on this journey because the power of neuroplasticity has radically changed my life and understanding how it works, can help you as well. You can read an overview of my journey in my About page here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/about/.

While I can appreciate that neurplasticity might sound intimidating and be a trigger to flick to another blog, it is not as complex or mentally challenging as you might think. Nor is it some wafty, unproven fad. It’s a proven, scientific process, which has been championed by Canadian psychiatrist, Dr Norman Doidge through his two books: The Brain which Changes Itself and The Brain’s way of Healing.

In other words, it’s not a fairy story.

Neuroplasticity is really quite a simple concept when you explain it properly and when you harness its strength, you like me, will experience absolutely miraculous change. Unfortunately, you will still experience those “stubborn mules” which prove stubbornly resistant. However, at least, you know you’ve done your best to try and move them!

From what I’ve learned about neuroplasticity, we shouldn’t just be teaching kids the 3Rs but also how we learn. Some basics on how the brain works such as “use it or lose it” and how “practice perfects”. That our success or failure is based less on innate talent than hard work and that it takes a lot of hours…at least 10,000 to be precise, to even have a chance of making it to the top of our field. That success just doesn’t arrive on a silver platter.

Of course, some people have been blessed with bigger, faster engines but if they leave them in the shed, they’ll soon be overtaken by apparent snail power and left behind.

If you and your kids can get a grasp on how this works, you’ll never look back. You’ll still have ups and downs but you will be more empowered and skilled-up to tackle them more effectively. There’s little doubt you’ll be working harder but I guarantee you that whatever you apply yourself to, will see results. It’s as simple as:

1+1 = 2

It’s not rocket science.

Perhaps, the simplicity of it all is what stops people from having a go. We’d much rather put our faith in a much more complicated, mystical route than sticking to potentially tedious, repetitious practice and hard work…going over and over and over our mistakes until we have overcome them and “got it”.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

As a musician, I’ve experienced this first hand. Instead of playing my favourite sections of a piece over and over again, my teacher gets me reworking the rough bits and playing them over and over again. She doesn’t say: “Play it again, Sam”. Being somewhat of a slavedriver, albeit a very nice one, she says: “I want you to play that section 10-20 times a day to get it right”. This sort of detailed practice is quite foreign to me as I just want to get up there and play, especially to an audience but you can’t do that straight away. It might be a year’s worth of practice on that one piece of music to bring it to the level of perfection where it can be performed. That’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. However, once I have reached that long-awaited moment of victory, it’s like nothing else. A real eureka moment and I’m running down the street naked like Archemedes carrying my violin. Well, not quite but you get my drift!

What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. He writes “that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!” Indeed, our brain is constantly remoulding and fine-tuning itself.

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

Neuroplasticity and Acceptance.

At the start of 2012 after a serious health scare, I set a personal challenge. I applied neuroplasticity to the serenity prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr

You see, since forever, people have been telling me to accept things and quoted that prayer. Yet,  the trouble was that I simply didn’t know what I could change and what I had to accept and that’s what I decided to put to the test. I didn’t really set out with any clear cut goals but I was needing to lose some weight, which is a tough call when you’re taking prednisone AKA the “fat drug”.

It was during this time that I heard about brain plasticity and also the 10,000 hour rule and so what I was starting to appreciate was that I wasn’t set in stone. That all these words I used to describe myself, both the good and the bad, weren’t indeed words tattoed on my forehead which couldn’t be changed. They were more like stepping stones or train stops on a journey. I didn’t have to stay there. I could apply a bit of elbow grease and I could move on. Indeed, I was now in the driver’s seat and with the accelerator pushed to the floor, I was flying.

That was until I drove straight into pneumonia followed by a flare up of my auto-immune disease, which really was attacking my lungs this time and threatening my very existence.

Yes, neuroplasticity couldn’t fix everything.

However, my lungs have also responded to the same kind of repetitive practice and hard work which I’d applied to practicing my violin, except in this case I focused on building up my healthy lung cells instead of focusing on the damage and limitations. My lung volumes have since increased from a recorded low of 43% to 62% and are currently stable. In a sense it was a miracle and also the result of medical intervention but it also takes ongoing hard work.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to start walking before that all important tide comes in and puts me out of business.

Living in a tidal zone really reinforces the need to carpe diem seize the day because “the tide waits for no (hu)man.”

Xx Rowena

PS When school goes back next week, I’ll be having to reacquaint myself with my violin. It has been rather neglected of late and I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made!!

Sources

http://www.normandoidge.com/

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.

Anne Frank 70 Years On: Our Vigil.

Last night, as part of a global tribute to mark the 70th anniversary of Anne Frank’s death, we lit candles and read passages from her diary out loud and recorded them to post on the official Facebook page.

My husband and son take part in our vigil to honour the life of Anne Frank.

My husband and son take part in our vigil to honour the life of Anne Frank.

I don’t know if anyone else in the family really appreciated its significance or what it meant to me personally but they went along with, no doubt what they thought was another one of Mum’s crazy ideas, somehow sensing that there was some import somewhere.

This is one of the passages we read out. I chose this one because although Anne Frank suffered, she also saw the good and had a real joie de vivre, even while being imprisoned and in hiding in the Secret Annexe.

‘As long as this exists’, I thought, ‘this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?’
The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside; somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity.
As long as this exists, and that should be for ever, I know that there will be solace for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances. I firmly believe that nature can bring comfort to all who suffer.
Oh, who knows, perhaps it won’t be long before I can share this overwhelming feeling of happiness with someone who feels the same as I do.”

– Anne Frank: ‘Diary of A Young Girl, 23rd February, 1944.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve spoken to the kids about Anne Frank and or the horrors that she endured due to Nazi anti-Semitism and no doubt it’s going to take a few more attempts for the penny to finally drop and that one or both of them might also see the value in journalling as well, which I would love.

Our tribgute to Anne Frank at Sydney's Palm Beach. We lit a glowing circle of tea lights.

Our tribgute to Anne Frank at Sydney’s Palm Beach. We lit a glowing circle of tea lights.

The way I see it, the kids are like piggy banks. One coin might not seem like much and rattles around feeling lonely inside piggy’s empty belly. However, one by one, those gold coins start adding up and pretty soon that piggy is getting heavy and seriously worth breaking into. You have loot! You can go and blow all those savings on that much desired “something”!! (Sorry, I’m a spender not a saver. If you want investment advice, you came to the wrong blog…make that the very wrong blog!!)

When I was growing up, girls weren't supposed to even surf. There are so, so many things my daughter rightfully takes for granted!

When I was growing up, girls weren’t supposed to even surf. There are so, so many things my daughter rightfully takes for granted!

So, hopefully after last night, a few more gold coins have gone into their precious heads and they will appreciate and not take for granted the freedoms they have. The ability to say what they think without being put in gaol, although it may land them in time out! To appreciate that being able to walk along the beach, is a blessing and not something to take for granted because for us it is always there. I hope they will also appreciate that although alot of kids and teens feel their parents may not understand them and that some level of conflict with your parents is almost a right of passage through the teenage years, that they are very much loved and all any of us really can do is try and do our best. We are all mortal with feet of clay.

It has taken me the best part of a life time to appreciate that in my own parents. Even now, I’m now ashamed to admit that I’m their harshest critic. Mum and Dad, I am incredibly sorry for that and commit to change. It’s all very well to champion the Golden Rule but it’s also something I need to implement myself. As I somehow commit to change, I’ll just add that I’m not alone in this. Aren’t we all guilty of judging harshly and being so incredibly demanding of those who brought us into the world? They were no doubt young and naive like the rest of us and didn’t quite realise what they’d taken onboard. That parenting is a lifelong journey. That birth was only the beginning.

Although I’ve posted this link to an interview with Otto Frank, Anne’s father, before it’s worth repeating. He speaks such wisdom and like the rest of the world, we wish he could have had his family back. I could imagine the horrors he has endured!!

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWRBinP7ans

Like so many I cherish the memory of Anne Frank and send her our love and this quote I love from The Little Prince by St Exupery:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Love & blessings to you all and may we all know and appreciate what it means to live  in the free world and the joy of being able to step outside the four walls we call home!

Rowena

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row

Frankly my dear, I do give a damn!!

When it comes to fighting for justice, I will personally stand up and be counted, even when the case is rather controversial. After all. it’s easy to have compassion for someone you love. It’s much more challenging when someone has a few prickles…or a past. Yet, sometimes our journey takes us down that road and we are forced to argue the points backwards and forwards inside our heads until we can make sense of it all and hopefully judgement turns to love.

I don’t know if the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia has made International news. However, as citizens of the world, this case affects each and every one of us who believe in the sanctity and importance of justice and the capacity for humanity to change and redeem itself.

We are all called to stand up and fight.

The case I am referring to is the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia: Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were part of the notorious Bali Nine. Since their conviction, these men have completely turned their lives around and deserve a second chance. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be punished. Just that they don’t deserve to die.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

 

My justification for clemency lies in the science of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. If you know anything at all about brain plasticity, you will know and understand that these men have changed the very physical structures of their brains through rehabilitation and are no longer who they were. That they are, indeed, very different men. After all, if you have a different brain, how can you possibly be the same?

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry , summed  this up well when he addressed the Melbourne vigil held on 18th February, 2014. Lasry had been involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005. Lasry said that he has visited Chan and Sukumaran in jail in Bali several times and was in no doubt the pair had redeemed themselves.

“The reality is that if Indonesia go ahead and execute these two men, they’ll be killing an artist and a church pastor,” he said.

“The drug traffickers have gone. The drug traffickers left in 2005. “4.

About Brain Plasticity

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. “He writes that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!”

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

My argument is that through rehabilitation, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have demonstrated that through such brain plasticity, they are no longer the men they were.

Therefore, as an exceptional case and while not dismissing the severity of their crime, these new men deserve a compassionate response…jail not execution!

This quote from US President John F. Kennedy sums it up well:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

Background to the Bali Nine

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were the ring leaders of a group of Australian drug traffickers known as “The Bali Nine”. On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested for planning to smuggle 8.3 kg (18 lb) of heroin valued at about A$4 million from Indonesia to Australia. These men were no angels and heroin, as we know, is a hard core drug which destroys lives. Authorities must do whatever it takes to get heroin off the streets. While people do dispute the death penalty, they are not advocating a more relaxed after to stopping the trade of heroin.

Going back to the time of their arrest, I didn’t have any sympathy for the Bali 9. Due to the very publicised case of alleged drug trafficker, Australian Shapelle Corby, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws had been front page news for some time. I might not agree with the death penalty but Indonesia’s tough anti-drug laws most definitely weren’t a secret.

Australian Shapelle Corby had been arrested in Indonesia on 8 October 2004 when she was found to have 4.2 kg (9.3 lb) of cannabis in a double plastic vacuum-sealed bag in her unlocked bodyboard bag. Corby was convicted on 27 May 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Denpasar District Court and imprisoned in Kerobokan Prison. To this day, Shapelle maintains her innocence and there have been numerous theories about how the cannabis got into her body board bag. Her case became a “cause celeb” and during that media frenzy, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws was made very, very clear.

From where I was sitting in front of the TV, you’d have to be a complete idiot or have a serious death wish to even consider smuggling drugs in or out of Indonesia. I know people talked about making their luggage more secure after Shapelle’s arrest. Indeed, I’d even be checking the paperwork on my prescriptions before heading to Indonesia…especially given the amount of pills I take in a week. They could easily be perceived as trafficking quantities!

Those were the sorts of precautions your average Australian traveler was taking when the Bali 9 were arrested. Nobody wanted to be another Shapelle Corby and we were leaving absolutely nothing to chance. The consequences were just too great.

Given the historical context, the Bali 9 did come across as a bunch of idiots who had earned themselves what’s known as the Darwin Award: http://www.darwinawards.com/ After all, they didn’t need to be Einstein or have some kind of mystical crystal ball to know what they were getting themselves into. They just needed to turn on their TV. Shapelle Corby’s face was everywhere. Remember: Shapelle Corby was arrested on the 8th October 2004 and on the 27 May 2005 she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Bali Nine was arrested On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested right in the middle of Shapelle’s trial. You do have to wonder what they were thinking and if they were even thinking at all and certainly you would never expect these men to amount to anything much at all!!

That was then. This is now.

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Fast-forwarding nine years, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are changed men and are inspiring other prisoners and leading exemplary lives. These are not the same men who were convicted back in 2006. Their names might be the same and they are older versions of themselves but in terms of their soul, spirit, character and no doubt even the neurofibres in their brains, they are not who they were. Therefore, executing these men would be a great travesty of justice.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry has long campaigned against the death penalty and was involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005.

 

Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs  outlined how much the men had changed when she addressed Federal Parliament on 12th February, 2014:

“Both men are deeply, sincerely remorseful for their actions. Both men have made extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate.

Andrew and Myuran are the model of what penal systems the world over long to achieve.

Successive Governors of Kerobokan Prison in Bali – whose prison has given Andrew and Myuran the opportunity to reflect and change – have testified to their remarkable transformation.

A decade on from their crimes, Andrew and Myuran are changed men. They are deeply committed to a new path.

Both men are paying their debt to society. With dedication and unwavering commitment, they are improving and enriching the lives of their fellow prisoners.

Andrew has completed a theology degree in prison. As a pastor, he now provides religious counselling and guidance to fellow inmates. On the day he received the President’s rejection of his clemency application, Andrew’s Australian lawyer Julian McMahon said he was nowhere to be found, for even at this moment of undeniable personal anguish, Andrew had taken time out to comfort a fellow inmate who was seriously ill.

Myuran – referred to by many as the ‘gentle giant’ – has nearly completed a fine arts degree in jail. He has had the opportunity to become an accomplished artist; his raw talent recognised and fostered by his friend and mentor, renowned artist Ben Quilty.

In prison, Andrew and Myuran sought permission from prison authorities and began an array of courses to benefit fellow inmates, and to prepare them for their return to society.

They have led extensive and varied arts, cultural and vocational courses. Some of their courses are aimed directly at drug addicts, equipping them with the skills to beat their addiction, saving their lives and giving them real prospects in the future.

Andrew and Myuran have raised money for fellow inmates’ medical procedures; for victims of Typhoon Haiyan; for Indonesia National Day festivities.

Indeed, such is the profound effect of Andrew and Myuran’s inspiring humility and service, their fellow prisoners have come forward to lend support, even offering to take their place in execution to President Widodo…

Their remarkable rehabilitation, and the circumstances of their arrest, has prompted five successive Australian Prime Ministers to make representations in their name. [2]

What Brain Plasticity Means For Chan & Sukumaran. Why Spare These Men?

If somebody completely turns their life around and becomes an entirely new and different person on the inside, should they still be judged and sentenced to death because of crimes they committed in the past? Although they have the same name and DNA, they are a different person and things become very problematic.

Would justice truly be served and can we as a global community just stand back in good conscience and do nothing to spare these men? Or, do we both as a society and as individuals need to do whatever it takes to prevent such a tragic and unjust loss of life?

The answer is a resounding “yes”!! After all, two wrongs have never made a right!!

Although I have never met these men and I certainly don’t support the use or sale of such drugs, there is such resounding evidence that these men have significantly and are now dramatically improving the lives of those around them as well, rehabilitating and educating other prisoners much more effectively than other methods.

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, whose husband was charged and convicted of a similar crime to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, spoke out in Parliament saying: “criminals can be redeemed – my husband is proof.”

She adds that the laws which underpin the executing these men is the basic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law that has influenced the Old Testament and earlier legal codes in countries around the world. But that’s 3,700 years ago. We’ve moved on a great deal from an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-12/plibersek-these-men-deserve-restorative-justice-not-execution/6088334.

I also thought it was interesting that at last night’s vigil, emotional statements were read from the pair, which acknowledged their original stupidity,  saying that  the “compassion and kindness from people forgiving our stupidity” has made them feel “truly blessed” 4″

Their Last Words

Andrew Chan: “Thoughts from the Edge

“Thank you Jesus that you give me the strength and courage that I need to stand strong and to trust in you when the waters arise.”

“I thank you Jesus that you never give up on me and that your faithfulness is what helps me striving forward. I thank you for all the family and friends you surround me with in life and how your love pours out from them.”

“The Lord is revealing to me through this scripture is about how he’ll fight the battles for us and that we won’t be defeated if he goes ahead of us… The truth is God is remind us that when all seems helpless and you feel as though the enemies army surrounds you, God is telling us to stand still, take up our battle stance but do not move.[3]

Myuran Sukumaran – Thoughts from the edge

“When you are young you think money is the only way to get happiness … after being here for eight years you realize it is not.”

“After being in prison for eight years I only realized when it comes when it comes to drugs nobody gets rich – there are a few people – most get caught and end up in places like this and that’s the lesson.”

“I want to become a better person and I want to help everybody else become a better person as well. It is like a vehicle for everybody to travel in to better themselves.”

Last Words or a New Beginning…

Time is running out and I don’t know what any of us can do at this late hour. I understand that over 30,000 Australians have written to the Indonesian Attorney General pleading for mercy and many many people have spoken publically. Last night, a vigil was being held in Sydney to pray for the men and their families and this was just one of many. I can sense a collective heartache if these efforts fail and these two young men are put to death.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are in my heartfelt prayers.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.

*Please reblog this post and spread the word. It now looks like the lives of these men rest on divine intervention and people power.

As the saying goes: “Never give up”!!!

Love & Blessings,

Rowena

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.

[2] Parliamentary motion: Chan and Sukumaran, Address to House of Representatives Speech, E&OE, Parliament House, Canberra,12 February 2015.

[3] http://www.news.com.au/national/six-living-former-prime-ministers-make-united-final-plea-for-doomed-bali-nine-duo/story-fncynjr2-1227222259664

4) www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-18/vigils-held-for-bali-nine-pair-facing-execution/6143978

Paintings: http://www.news.com.au/world/asia/bali-nine-member-myuran-sukumaran-paintings-in-melbourne/story-fnh81fz8-1227049488225

I apologise  for any breaches of copyright regarding the images used in this post. I am merely trying to support their cause.

Writing Class: as bald as a Blobfish!

As a compulsively addicted, forever-at-it,  passionate writer, I’ve been trying to find sneaky, subtle ways of encouraging my kids’ with their writing without getting sprung.

As any parent will agree, as soon as you show more than observational interest in any of your child’s activities, it puts on the kibosh on them. You are the kiss of death and the worst thing any outsider could possibly ever say to your child, no matter how well intentioned their motivational efforts might be,  is: “You’re just like your Mum/Dad” or even worse still “Ah! A chip off the old block!!” When I was a kid, those sort of comments were “stick-your-finger-down-your-throat-type” revolting and a instant death knoll to any kind of interest. RIP!

At the same time, I still want to do some writing with them and somehow pass on something of my box of magic tricks…even if it’s only enough to enable them to be competent writers and express themselves enough to cover school requirements. That in itself is a challenge anyway.

That said, if they were to show any interest at all in writing well…Yes, I’d still probably have to keep myself in check because, as I said, a bit too much parental encouragement can be a very damaging thing. We all need to wait for the butterfly to make it’s own way out of the chrysalis or it will never be able to fly.

Reading their eclectic writing efforts, I definitely felt I could help them but the real trick was HOW. I didn’t want to go on the rampage with the notorious red pen and turn them off writing for life but at the same time, I appreciated that I know a few tips or short cuts. I mean as much as I agree with Lennon’s quote, sometimes you you just want to cut to the chase and get to your destination without any hassles or impediments. There’s a lot to be said for taking the easy way out or what’s known as “The K.I.S.S. Principle”: Keep It Simple, Stupid!

I don’t know if you remember back to your primary school compositions or creative writing exercises but my Mum taught me how to spell enthusiastic when I was 11 and I soon found that when enthusiastic ended up in my compositions, there was that illustrious red tick and a VG (very good) in the margin and I was smiling like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. While too many big words wasn’t the way to go, judicious use definitely paid off. By the way, my Mum also gave me a Roget’s Thesaurus at the time and I soaked that up like a sponge. As you can see, I was a bit of a writing nerd even then. To make matters worse, I was also accused of reading the dictionary in high school but I still deny it.

As I said, I’ve been fumbling around trying to find some simple things I could do with the kids to nurture their writing and help them get ahead. Then, last week, I attended a meet and greet at the school and walked away with a very simple sheet about how to build a super sentence, which was fabulous. This also included working on similies, which can be a little tricky at first.

We started off with a simple sentence:

Yesterday, Bilbo had a haircut.

By asking who, when, what, how why, where and including a simile, our simple sentence expanded into:

“While most people receive scrumptious chocolates and stunning red roses for Valentine’s Day, Bilbo, our woolly Border Collie, received a free haircut and is now almost as bald as badger”.

I wrote most of this as an example.

So my ever-inquisitive daughter asks what a badger looks like and we jump straight to Google Images and she promptly tells me that a badger isn’t bald and is actually rather furry. Of course, this launches a new line of inquiry which has absolutely nothing to do with writing super sentences and I’m starting to suspect that my daughter’s taking me on another one of her circuitous goat’s trails. Yet, who ever said you had to stick to the narrow path to gain an education?

It turned out that the expression “as bald as a badger” comes from Victorian times when the original expression was:  “as bald as a badger’s backside”. Badger’s hair was used to make men’s shaving brushes. Brush makers would trap badgers and take the hair from their derrieres and then set them free. Eventually the hair grew back however it wasn’t uncommon in England’s Victorian past to see badgers with bald backsides.

Quite an interesting bit of trivia really!

Well, as interesting as this explanation might have been, it didn’t have much application to a modern kid whose Dad uses an electric shaver or in the case of my husband…an electric beard trimmer. Although my husband has a very full head of hair, for many kids whose fathers shave off their receding locks rather than going for the finesse of the comb-over, a more appropriate simile would be:

“as bald as my Dad.”

So my daughter who is the master of asking tricky questions and really putting me on the spot suggests her own take on this simile. A simile which the rest of the world has left alone for at least 100 years. Her version of the simile was:

“as bald as a blobfish”.

At that point, my ire was raised and I was getting really stroppy…especially after trying to build a super sentence out of: “I am awesome”.

BLOBFISH????? WHAT THE???

Just when steam was starting stream out of both ears and I was definitely losing my cool, she looks up Blobfish on Google Images. My goodness!! It actually exists and it is as bald as a badger. While you can research the Blobfish yourself if you’re interested, it’s main claim to fame is being awarded the title: World’s Ugliest Animal in 2013. While it certainly looks odd, I wouldn’t call it ugly. It’s a bald, blobby, gelatinous thing which actually looks kind of cute in an alternative, dare I say “different” kind of way. It could even look a bit contemplative or spiritual.  That said, it also reminds me of a lot of blokes you see walking around with bald heads.

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”.

John Lennon

Yes, while the rest of the world might despise the Blobfish and think it’s ugly, we love it. Cherish it. Indeed, I am in the process of ordering a toy version for my daughter’s birthday. After that priceless conversation, we had to had to immortalise the moment! I just haven’t quite worked out where to store the moment because it is on the large side and her room is already bursting at the seams.

Blobfish looking plush.

Blobfish looking plush.

After processing all of that, “bald as a blobfish” is starting to appeal and dare I say that it even exceeds all my wildest creative dreams for my child. Why should she settle for a comparison which no longer makes sense when our dog could be as “bald as a blobfish” instead?

It seems that my wish has been granted after all and I’ll take the blobfish over a badger any day!!

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”.
Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

 

Have you ever been caught by a blobfish? I’d love to hear your tales!!

xx Rowena

Further reading:

http://dykn.com/the-truth-about-why-the-worlds-ugliest-animal-isnt-that-ugly/

 

 

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!