Tag Archives: life lessons

Life Lessons for A Scallywag!

Yesterday, I shared a New Year’s letter I’d written to our Border Collie, Bilbo and today, I’d like to share the sequel: Lady’s New Year’s Resolutions.

Lady is a 3 year old Border Collie x King Charles Cavalier. We adopted her just over a year ago when Bilbo started slowing down. She’s a gorgeous medium-sized black dog with patches of white on her chest and paws, which disappear when the lights go out and you can only hear her exuberant tail whacking the floor in the darkness.

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, NSW.

Nobody’s perfect and while I haven’t quite sat down and had a good hard look at my own bad habits which should be eliminated poste haste, I have sorted out the dogs instead…a perfectly acceptable procrastination technique, don’t you agree?!!

So without further circuitous ramblings and preambles, here’s my letter to Lady…

xx Rowena

Letter to Lady

5th January, 2016.

Dear Lady,

Happy New Year!

Yesterday, Bilbo received his list of New Year’s Resolutions. So, today it’s your turn.

Before we get started, let me say how much we’ve loved having you here. That even though we haven’t had you since you were a pup, that we love you very much and adore those big brown puppy dog eyes and your enthusiastic whack of the tail. You’re absolutely fabulous!

However, as I explained to Bilbo, we humans have a bit of a tradition of reinventing ourselves in the New Year. After all, a new year is like a clean slate. You start all over from scratch and all your past crimes have been forgotten. Indeed, at 12.01 AM every January 1st, we humans receive brand new DNA with all the wrinkles ironed out.

Isn’t that incredible?!!!

However, the unfortunate truth is that the magic wears off very, very quickly. So, if you don’t grab hold of these changes with both hands and simply let them go, you end up right back where you started with your swag of bad habits.

I know this is complex thinking, especially for a “dog of little brain”. However, we’ve actually realised that you’re a hell of a lot smarter than we thought. That Indeed, you’ve been outsmarting us!

We now have it on good authority that blank stare of yours is all an elaborate charade. That all this supposed ignorance and void of grey matter has indeed been a gala performance. That we should actually be congratulating you for taking out the Academy Award for “Best New Talent”, instead of holding such low expectations of your abilities.

lady reading book

I knew it! Lady reading Geoff Le Pard’s: “My Father & Other Liars.”

So, we’re slowly coming to appreciate that there have been certain “benefits” for flying so low beneath the radar and we’re onto you. No more excuses!

Lady, you’ve been sprung!

That’s right. We’ve now seen through those huge, brown puppy dog eyes.

So…there will be no more “I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed up on the kitchen table” , “I didn’t know that was your pie” OR “I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to jump upon a chair, then onto a table and jump over the fence”.

Instead, you’ll be a good dog!

It’s all very well to be a free spirit but you’re a dog. You can have a certain amount of free spirit off the lead at the beach but the rest of the time, you’ll have to use your imagination. That’s the space in between your ears and as long as you don’t get any ideas about flying, it could also include the sky.

lady walking in clouds

Lady out walking in the clouds at Palm Beach.

Anyway, I digress.

Lady, as you’re unaccustomed to making New Year’s Resolutions and following things through, I thought I’d give you a little bit of encouragement.

So, without any further preambles, here’s your list of resolutions.

Well, it’s not exactly a list. More of a “chat”.

Lady’s New Year’s Resolutions

Working Dog

This might come as news to you but you’re actually a Working Dog. At least, that’s what it says on your registration papers.

A working dog “is a canine working animal, i.e., a type of dog that is not merely a pet but learns and performs tasks to assist and/or entertain its human companions, or a breed of such origin. In Australia and New Zealand, a working dog is one which has been trained to work livestock, irrespective of its breeding.”…Wikipaedia.

“Livestock” does NOT include fleas.

However, it could well include the kids.

DSC_8841

The kids.

So, we thought you could round up the kids, herding them away from their electronics and directing them towards the dishwasher, cleaning their rooms, making their beds, taking out the bin and even cooking dinner for the family.

I’ve been trying to pull this off for some years now but I don’t have your superior Working Dog genes. I’m not so sure about nipping the kids on the ankles but that would certainly get them moving!

Backyard Dog.

I know subtlety isn’t your strength and I should be more direct, instead of taking a philosophical approach. So:

Lady = Working Dog + Backyard Dog.

That means you don’t wander all over the suburb looking for stray rabbits and sheep. You stay home unless you’re INVITED to go out.

That’s right.

INVITED!!

I know you consider yourself a free-spirited hippy but you need to adjust your aspirations. I know we humans think we can become anything we like but your options are a little more restricted. Unfortunately, it’s not a dog’s world.

So, this means no more Houdini routines. You are NOT allowed out the front door UNLESS you’re on a lead or in the car.

That’s enough of that grumbling and complaining. There’s no point getting upset with me and making complaints to management. I don’t make the rules but I will pay the fines if you break them. Trust me, they’re pretty hefty and they’ll be coming straight out of your dog food allowance. So if you don’t want to starve to death, you’ll behave.

Besides, staying out of trouble is what we humans call “enlightened self-interest”!

If you go wondering off, you could easily get run over by a car. Of course, we don’t want you to get hurt or end up taking an express trip up to the pearly gates. That’s why we have a fences and a gate. It’s not to stop you from dreaming and expressing your inner dog. They’re to keep you safe.

Moreover, I don’t think we’ve ever told you about the evil Dog Catcher. The Dog Catcher rounds up stray, naughty dogs and takes them up to the doggy jail up on the hill. It’s not very nice up there. You’ll soon feel very lonely without your family and Bilbo to snuggle up to and you wouldn’t like the cold, concrete floor without your blanket either. Moreover, there wouldn’t be any of those cakes, biscuits and pies you keep stealing. No runs along the beach either!

So, you could say, Lady, that a life of crime doesn’t pay!

No More Food Theft!

Speaking of crime, Lady, you and I both know you can be quite the scallywag stealing food. Granted, you have improved out of sight since you came. You’ve even stopped jumping up onto the kitchen table.

However, somehow along the way, you’ve taught Bilbo your dreaded food thievery and turned him into something of a Fagan and partner in crime. He never used to steal food and used to be such a good dog! So, I would appreciate it if you could please undo this mischief so we can have the old Bilbo back.

I appreciate that you dogs can’t always distinguish between humans and dogs. That somehow through association, you believe you are human. However, as much as we love you and make you one of the family, we can not change your DNA. You are still dogs and as much as we can’t suddenly grow a fur coat, four legs and a tail and start barking, you can’t walk on two legs wearing clothes and reading the newspaper.

Humph! I know what you mean. I can also forget that you’re not human and I feel a bit sad as well… especially as dog years aren’t the same as human years…

However, we won’t go into that!

What this does mean, however, is that you can’t help yourself to our food. That there’s human food and dog food and never the twain shall mean. Unless, of course, I’m surreptitiously feeding you scraps under the table while Dad’s not looking.

By the way, Lady, being on a more restrictive diet could be a good thing. I know I could lose some weight myself and I know how much I also hate the F word that ends in T and might just happen to have an A in the middle. That said, you have filled out quite significantly since you moved in. It’s not that I’m one to throw stones but there are some things only a mother can say!

I know this letter has already turned into something of a manifesto. Sorry! Should have kept it short and sweet, especially as you even have trouble grasping simple concepts like what to do with a tennis ball.

Amelia & Lady

Lady & Miss NYE 2015

However, having gone through some of the areas where you could use a bit of refinement, I wanted to thank you for being such a lovable, cuddly, enthusiastic dog whose mad whacking of the tail whenever you ever hear us, makes us feel so loved and appreciated. You are such a beautiful, happy dog!

Lady on kayak

Our intrepid seafarer: Lady out on a kayak adventure.

So, here’s a list of the things you do really well:

  1. Play with the kids and keep them feeling loved and entertained.
  2. Affectionate, loving and heart-warming.
  3. Cheer us up!
  4. Good on the lead and gave Bilbo a few lessons!
  5. Showed Bilbo that it won’t kill him if he gets his paws wet and that it’s fun to go for a bit of a swim at the beach.
  6. Good furry lap and foot warmer.
  7. You’re a great watch dog without being over-zealous like someone else we know around here.(By the way, perhaps you could have a little word in his ear about toning it down a bit. He must be giving himself dreadful headaches with all that barking!)
  8. I’ve never seen anybody skin and eat a rabbit like you did but I should remind you that you’re not on the farm anymore and we city folk aren’t used to eating such critters unless there’s a knife and fork.

 

Lady Keyboard B & W

Lap dog

So, Lady we wish you a very Happy New Year and every success in reaching your goals.

Lots and lots of love,

Mummy on behalf of our family.

PS In case you are wondering what happened to the kids, Mister is away at Scout camp and Miss is at her grandparents’. This is your opportunity for quality time.

PPS: I haven’t mentioned your reaction to the fire works on New Year’s Eve. I hope by now you’ve realised that it wasn’t the end of the world and they were just nasty noises. Nothing to worry about.

DSC_9044

A Magical New Year!

Being the New Year, I’ll need to reintroduce myself now that I’ve lost weight, finally become chocolate and sugar-free and have been exercising with such focused determination that I can now do the four minute mile straight up a vertical hill.

Of course, I’m doing all this while juggling husband, kids, dogs, home renovations and simply pressing the almighty “Write” button on my laptop and hey presto, the long awaited Book Project is not only finished, it’s been published. I’m now touring the globe on my book tour.

Darlings, this isn’t just your average ordinary book tour. Not free appearances at suburban libraries where you’ve got to be thankful that they’ve stocked your book so your audience can borrow it for free.

No, we’re talking Prime Time TV, the glossies,  newspapers and of course, there’s a movie in the pipeline.

All this magically happened when the clock struck midnight and a little bird poked it’s head out through the door and said: “cuckoo!”

Reality check!

Rather…

cinderella 2

Cinderella woke up with a nasty bang on the head. Still had all her age-old bad habits intact. No weight loss. No new found fitness. Indeed, the evidence was telling. There was even a half-eaten box of chocolates by her side, which she promptly scoffed with a burp.

AND…there definitely was no a magic wand!

Just her self.

Billy Field – Bad Habits

When I get the urge
I just got to splurge
I’m a slave to all my desires
Well I’m in a mess
Because I can’t repress all of these
Bad habits

 

These bad habits are the downside of persistence!

After all, Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So, in 2016 I’m committed to change.

Yet, while identifying where you are and where you’d like to be is a good start, more importantly you need to work out HOW you’re going to get from A to B. What is it going to take? I’m talking about the nitty gritty.

No more thinking, writing, talking, philosophising about it.

Just do it!

Problem – Solution.

So, “running on time” starts looking something like:

  1. Buy a new watch.
  2. Use an alarm.
  3. Use a diary/calendar.
  4. Make lunch the night before

Unfortunately, if your bad habits are anything like mine, you’ll have quite a lot of work to do. Feeling overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to give up before you even get started.

So, instead of trying to build Rome in a day, choose one thing and get moving. Even if you only move a a few degrees away from where you started, things have changed. You’re heading in a different direction.

Our New Year’s project involves renovating our son’s bedroom. He’s about to start high school, which is a time where you particularly want them to feel comfortable to home and for their room to become some kind of oasis. He’ll be studying out in the office or kitchen most likely but he’ll still need to make space for his books etc. We also want to his room to be his happy place where he can unwind and process stuff.

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Our Boy Scout Leaving home in FULL uniform at 4.30 this morning.

This morning, he left for the Scout Jamboree and will be gone for 12 days. We ran the colour scheme by him beforehand and have cleared his room out, sugar-soaped the walls and plastered a few nasty spots and will be undercoating tomorrow. He’ll have light blue walls, white trim and door a couple of red shelves. It will be a vast improvement.

I am hoping that being better organised and having a space which he’ll love and take pride in, will be good for his self-esteem. Help him feel loved. We are certainly working hard enough. It’s a lot of hard work and we don’t have a TV crew helping us out. Of course, we could ask for some help but you can’t fit a lot of people in the room either. We’d easily end up painting each other and tripping over the dogs all at once.

Meanwhile, the dogs are looking rather put out. We’ve moved most of Mister’s things into the lounge room and their space has shrunk dramatically. I think Bilbo is seriously thinking of taking over Mister’s room. Thinks it’s a wonderful kennel with its garden views…a great vantage point for keeping an eye out for the postman, garbage truck, anyone on a bike and anyone who dares walk their dog past our house. As you could appreciate, he has a long list of things which he considers “intruders”.

I am still putting together my goals and strategies for 2016. With both kids starting at different new schools, once they get settled, I’ll have a better idea of where I’m placed. It’s an important year for them and I’m more than happy to work around them. That said, they’re expected to work. They have been having quite an easy run but you’ve got to start growing up, taking responsibility and being part of the team some time.

Although getting the kids more organised isn’t directly working on my own goals, it will make a phenomenal difference if I’m not chasing their missing tails!

Shock horror! I might even manage to get from A to B.

Oh what a feeling!

How is the New Year going in your household?

Well, I hope. It doesn’t all have to be about making plans either. Lounging beside the pool drinking cocktails should never be scoffed at!

Love & Best Wishes!

xx Rowena

PS: If you’d like to see the Sydney Fireworks, click here:

Sydney Fireworks: A Prelude to Midnight: How we spent NYE:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/sydney-fireworks-a-prelude-to-midnight/

Sydney’s Magnificent Midnight Fireworks:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/happy-new-year-sydney/

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re also generally trying to downsize a bit and create some space for future growth. Otherwise, we’re all just going to end up stunted. It’s like trying to grow and expand inside a sardine tin. It’s just not going to happen.

 

 

Scrooge’s New Year!

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

No point adding any commentary to the mighty words of Dickens.They stand alone.

dickensSC918_pref

As we move into a new year, which doesn’t really have such a  clean slate after all, I pray for peace in our time for 2016 and that love may fill our world and every and every breath.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I remain a believer.

How about you?

Thanks to Merrill Smith from Yesterday and today: Merril’s historical musings for putting me onto this brilliant quote!

dickens

Wishing you an “Almost Happy New Year” with two days to go. Our peace and quiet will be turned up several decibels this afternoon when the kids arrive back from their grandparents’. Then, the sounds of kids, dogs and “Ollie” the robot will replace the sounds of silence.

We love our rich and busy lives but a little pause every now and then is also appreciated!

xx Rowena

Watch Your Step: Coffee in Sydney’s Surry Hills.

If ever there was a sign written for me, this was it!

Somehow, as I was walking along Devonshire Street in Sydney’s Surry Hills, these words leaped out at me. Hit me straight between the eyes.

Bang! Rowena, this message is for you!

Watch your step! Tread carefully. Don’t rush and definitely don’t trip…an excellent life lesson really.

I don’t know if you believe in serendipity, signs, fortune tellers and all of that but if you’d met me in the flesh, you’d know this sign was put there for me. Me of “broke my foot walking on grass” fame: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/oh-christmas-boot/

I also had a spectacular stack in Surry Hills last year where I thoroughly grated my knee, despite using my walking stick at the time. Not to be deterred, I didn’t jump straight back on the train but marched up a rather steep Albion Street up to Crown Street and enjoyed a wonderful lunch after buying an industrial strength stick-on dressing. That scrape was so bad, I needed antibiotics.

Nasty! Nasty! Nasty!

Devonshire Street, Surry Hills outside the Sly Cafe.

Devonshire Street, Surry Hills outside the Sly Cafe.

Moreover, I have to admit that when I stumbled across the sign, I was actually rather lost and completely off-course. Yet again, I couldn’t quite work out how this jumble of streets somehow interconnected. I had actually been heading for Albion Street and although Devonshire Street is still in Surry Hills, it’s almost in a separate universe.

So you can understand why this sign spoke to me in such a personal way…especially as I wasn’t meant to be there.

But who am I to argue with destiny and what was “meant to be”?

Or, in the words of John Lennon:

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

I know I really should be writing about the cappuccino and toastie I had there. They were great and very well priced.

However, I wasn’t in Surry Hills as a food critic…more of an explorer.

I had a medical appointment at 2.30 PM at Royal North Shore Hospital (which I must confess is nowhere near Surry Hills but at least, it is in Sydney) Applying my carpe diem seize the day approach, I like to drop the kids off at school and go off on a few detours before these appointments. Take what you could describe as “sanity breaks”. These days, that means sneaking off to Surry Hills, where my ancestors lived after arriving from Ireland back in the 1850s. I started out exploring their old nooks and crannies and now just find myself wondering around discovering quirky odds and sods and almost feeling at home.

This brings me to another discovery at the Sly Cafe, they had the most amazing light fittings cut out of old crystal glassware. This has given me a few ideas for our place. We’ve had to ditch our light covers after installing the you-beaut electricity-saving light bulbs Geoff bought. With all my vintage tea cups and “stuff”, I thought something like this would fit in extremely well at home.

Light Fittings, Sly Cafe.

Light Fittings, Sly Cafe.

What I like about Surry Hills, and this certainly applies to the Sly Cafe, is that you have an experience. While my food and drink were great, what I really loved was the ambiance. That there were so many little things to check out from the light fittings through to the recycled timber etc. It wasn’t some pre-fabricated, mass-produced excuse for somewhere to go.

There’s still more to uncover there because I understand that a sly grog shop used to operate on the premises (hence the name) and that sounds like quite a story. I love intrigue.

Anyway, here’s a link through to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SLYSurryHills

Plus, I’m very pleased to report that the sign must’ve brought me good luck. While all my diversions made me run a little late for my medical appointment, there were no accidents. I remained upright.

This would suggest that it wasn’t just me watching my steps. It was a case of divine intervention!

xx Rowena

The Journey of A Thousand Books Sets Sail.

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Do you remember that incredible, mind-blowing feeling when you finally found THAT BOOK when you were young which suddenly opened up the world of reading? That sense of discovering your very own Disneyland, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of treasures…all through the pages of a book! It’s something you never forget!

For me, that book was The Diary of Anne Frank, which my mother gave me for my 13th birthday. It was a very conscious move on her part as she really wanted me to share her love of reading and experience that wonder for myself. After a few misses along the way, it worked. Anne Frank the same age as me, a writer and someone I could relate to in so many ways. Moreover, her diary was also non-fiction and I’m still not really much of a novel reader.

However, reading the The Diary of Anne Franknot only sparked my love of reading, it also encouraged my love of writing and inspired me to write my own journal which I called, apparently not so originally, “Anne”.

Of course, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

Now, as a parent, I’ve found myself in my mother’s shoes, trying to engender a love of reading for our son. To take him beyond all the many books which we have read together snuggled on my lap, to the point where he’ll want to grab a book and read it for himself. That like the rest of the family, his books will also become his friends. However, this transition is not necessarily a given, even if you come from a family of avid readers and even writers. It is a path we each have to work out for ourselves. That said, as parents we can increase the odds by providing good maps, compasses, encouragement and, of course, a strong torch (It could even be the same torch you used to use to read in bed when it was supposedly “lights out”!)

Trying to find this game-changing book for our son has been a bit hit and miss and certainly hasn’t been helped by his love of the dreaded computer game, Minecraft.

Perhaps I’m getting old but I’m convinced electronic games are a much greater evil than the box ever was in our day. The TV also used to go to sleep in those days and wasn’t awake all night. I’ve lost track of the friends who’ve woken up in the middle of the night and found their kid playing Minecraft or similar. It’s there 24/7,. That is, unless you lock it up in the garage like we do during the week. Well, at least that’s the iPads.

Anyway, it now looks like he has finally found THE BOOK. For 11 year old Mister who is pretty interested in maths, this book is The Big Book of Numbers by self-confessed Maths Geek, Adam Spencer. If you haven’t heard of Adam Spencer, you can check him out here: https://adamspencer.com.au/ I can assure you that he comes highly recommended and by none less than Monty Python’s John Cleese: “If you find this book boring, you should be in a clinic.”

Mister asking Adam some questions from the book. Yes, he had read it...I was so proud!

Mister asking Adam some questions from the book. Yes, he had read it…I was so proud!

Well, as it turns out Mister wasn’t the only one reading The Big Book of Numbers this week. I am almost ashamed to admit it but I also crossed to the dark side. That’s right. I was reading it too. I even enjoyed it and could even understand some of it. For someone who sticks with 10 digit arithmetic, that’s a glowing endorsement!

I mean I live, breathe and even eat the thesaurus.

After all, as we all know, the world is divided into two very distinct camps. There’s alphabet soup on one side and number soup on the other and never the twain shall meet. That is, unless you’re talking about someone who is off the charts smart. What my son calls a “brainiac”. Just to clarify that, this word is used to the best of my knowledge, as a compliment, not as an insult.

Once wasn't enough. Reading the book in class on Open Day.

Once wasn’t enough. Reading the book in class on Open Day.

The reason I crossed to the dark side was simple. Adam Spencer was visiting the kids’ school this week as one of the Dymock’s Children’s Charity’s Book Bank Ambassadors and I was do the publicity for the P & C. That had me behind the camera, grabbing a friend to take notes and then writing what wouldn’t be a churned out press release afterwards. With this job ahead, naturally I felt I had to read the book, especially as Adam Spencer’s face has been calling out to me from the cover for the last six months. Indeed, we’ve almost been having a dialogue. You know how it is when all those books you have piled up beside the bed and all around your desk and almost up to the ceiling, all look up at you with those adorable, irresistible puppy dog eyes saying:”Read me! Read ME!”

You do end up with quite a guilt complex, don’t you?!

Adam Spencer at school this week. Quite a change of pace to Sydney University's Manning Bar!

Adam Spencer at school this week. Quite a change of pace to Sydney University’s Manning Bar!

Yet, just to add further fuel to my guilt, Adam Spencer and I went to Sydney University together where not all roads but a great many, led to Manning Bar before, during and after lectures. Just to set the record straight, I wasn’t much of a drinker but I was a talker. Anyway, Adam and I weren’t what you’d call friends but were possibly “mates”. That’s a sort of generic term we use in Australia to describe just about anyone you’re a bit friendly with over those few degrees of separation. Close friends of mine were friends with him.

Adam Spencer gave the kids an entertaining and mathematically mind-boggling presentation which culminated with his enthusiastic message to “Read! Read! Read!. However, for me personally, the greatest moments were those few unplanned minutes afterwards where the “maths geeks” popped out of the woodwork not only wanting copies of their Big Book of Numbers signed. They really wanted to talk with Adam and share his world, even if only for a few brief minutes because they’d found someone like them. Maybe, they weren’t quite “the best mathematicians in the world”, which is how my son referred to Adam, but they spoke the same language. Who knows? Perhaps, there was a young mathematician in that hall whose whole life path suddenly opened up to them. That after hearing and meeting Adam Spencer that they now know who they are and possibly even where they belong. That is a struggle for anyone I think and a possibility, which was opened up by this great opportunity. By having the opportunity to step outside their usual sphere and experience something else.

I certainly know Adam Spencer’s visit and his book have opened up my son’s mind and have very definitely lit a spark. Who knows where that will go. He is only 11 and his journey is only beginning. As Lao Tzu wrote so well:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

The only trouble is that as an 11 year old, Mum and Dad somehow need to keep up!

So how about you? What was the book which launched your love of reading? How about kids? I love to hear your stories!

xx Rowena

About Dymock’s Book Bank

To find out more about the Dymock’s Children’s Charity’s Book Bank Project, click here: https://dcc.gofundraise.com.au/cms/bookbank

Sydney Opera House: New Perspectives.

Go anywhere near Sydney Harbour and there are those omnipresent, white sails better known as the Sydney Opera House…such an iconic beauty!!

Yet, being Sydney born and bred, she can become a little ordinary. Indeed, as the train rattles over the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the umpteenth time, she becomes little more than a white “blotch” beside the Harbour.

After all, like so many special friends, it’s so easy to take her for granted and look overseas for those incredible cultural icons: The Taj Mahal, The Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and sentimental favourites the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. Being local, it’s not often that we actually stop. Stand still. Simply gaze into her wondrous face. Let alone take in a performance.

Wally Opera House Steps

Wally on the Opera House Steps

However, yesterday I saw the Sydney Opera House through fresh eyes when I was introducing it to a British tourist, Wally the Wandering Wombat. Don’t ask me how an Australian wombat became an English tourist. I am just the paparazzi, following Wally for an upcoming book.

You see, Wally is touring the world promoting Mysotis, which is the umbrella term for a group of neuro-muscular auto-immune diseases, including dermatomyositis. This is a pretty tough job for anyone. Myositis is an exceptionally rare disease and can be quite debilitating. So, if you have it, you’re often not well enough to organise sporting events, races, marathons and other physical challenges to get the word out. Indeed, if the disease is in an active phase, you could well be glued to your bed. That is, unless you have a mobility scooter or some other form of technologically-enabled transport to get you around. Moreover, publicising anything which is rare, unknown and impossible to spell and pronounce might not be completely and utterly impossible but…@#$%!! As you can probably gather, I haven’t had hoards of journalists desperately camped outside my front door just waiting to catch a glimpse of Wally. Not at all! Wally, sadly, has flown right under the radar on his travels and remains quite the nobody…just like myositis!!

Crowds cheering for Prince Harry. There were no such crowds waiting for Wally!

 

He’s also had some very stiff competition lately what with Prince Harry being in town. Wally might be cute and furry but he certainly isn’t a Prince and Prince Harry isn’t your garden-variety prince either. Not only has spunk but he’s also single!

While Wally might be cute with a huge heart, the reality is that he’s small, blue and…wallyish.

Wally at Circular Quay Station.

Wally at Circular Quay Station.

Anyway, yesterday I took Wally down to Sydney to get some publicity shots in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We caught the train down to Wynyard and changed trains for Circular Quay. As soon as we pulled into Circular Quay Station, Wally was immediately struck by the panoramic view across Sydney Harbour.There was the Sydney Harbour Bridge on your left, the ferries straight in front and the Sydney Opera House just around the corner. That was almost too much for my humble camera lens to process. These days, it’s much more accustomed to capturing sunsets, kids and dogs. Later on, it was almost in shock when it captured two icons in one image!!

Incredible! Incredible! Incredible!!

Wally & I with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Taken beside the Sydney Opera House.

Wally & I with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Taken beside the Sydney Opera House.

Although I’d planned to photograph Wally in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’d quite literally forgotten all about the Sydney Opera House. I don’t know why. My best guess is that I’m so used to it, that she’d simply become part of the furniture. For this reason, I am so glad I took Wally over to Circular Quay. So often I gain such a richer appreciation and insight through observing and capturing it through my camera lens. It’s almost like a re-birth and so it was that I saw the Sydney Opera House through fresh eyes, gaining a whole new appreciation of this incredible architectural marvel.

Wally climbing the Opera House.

Wally climbing the Opera House.

I really needed that reminder as well. As Australians, we so often think that anything of cultural note is overseas. This dissatisfaction even has a name: ‘cultural cringe”. Last weekend, my sense of wanderlust was stirred up yet again when I heard how a friend of mine had just returned from Gallipoli via Paris where he proposed at the Eiffel Tower. Wow! That brought back memories. Certainly NOT of when Geoff proposed (the pouring rain wasn’t great for romance but it was Valentine’s Day!!) but of spending 6 weeks in Paris back in 1992. Back in the day, I sat in view of the Tour Eiffel which was all lit up for Bastille Day and enjoyed the fireworks. I also photographed the Eiffel Tower in some detail, even though I didn’t pay to go up. Just listening to my friend’s bit of romance, I found myself yearning to go back and revisit the “grand dame” but as a parent, responsibilities come before expensive travel these days.

Wally posing between two incredible Aussie icons: the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Wally posing between two incredible Aussie icons: the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Designed by Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, Sydney Opera House (1957 – 1973) was inscribed in the World Heritage List in June 2007: “Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century. It represents multiple strands of creativity, both in architectural form and structural design, a great urban sculpture carefully set in a remarkable waterscape and a world famous iconic building.” UNESCO

Shadow Selfie on the Opera House Front Steps.

Shadow Selfie on the Opera House Front Steps.

The expert evaluation report to the World Heritage Committee stated: “…it stands by itself as one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity, not only in the 20th century but in the history of humankind.”1.

Wally on the Opera House Steps

Wally on the Opera House Steps

Anyway, with what started as a quick photo shoot in front of the Bridge, turned into a photographic walking tour around the outside of the Sydney Opera House. As luck would have it, and I can assure you that this was one of the few strokes of luck I had yesterday, it was a gloriously sunny day with a deep azure blue sky, which made the perfect background for those striking white sails. As the day went by, the wind whipped up and I can assure you that it was just as well those sails were made of heavy concrete because otherwise the Opera House would have sailed away!!

Opera House Behind Bars (the fence at the Botanical Gardens)

Opera House Behind Bars (the fence at the Botanical Gardens)

So I hope you enjoyed Wally’s Tour of the Sydney Opera House.

xx Rowena

Heading home...walking beside Circular Quay.

Heading home…walking beside Circular Quay.

 

Sources

1. http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/about/house_history_landing.aspx

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.

Feeding Life Lessons to My Kids.

This being the second week of the school holidays, I’d personally like to turn all the life lessons I have ever read into some kind of breakfast cereal and shovel it into my kids quick smart whether they’re hungry or not. This is what parents did back in the Victorian era and it seems like a much better idea than being glued to electronics, especially when the outdoors is so incredibly beautiful, serene and finally sunny!!

Moses wasn't too happy with his peoples either.

Moses wasn’t too happy with his peoples either.

I know ramming the Ten Commandments down their throats might seem a bit “old school”, “traditional” and potentially a form of social control. However, perhaps deferring to a higher authority is what I need. After all, as soon as their father arrives home, the little mischief makers do exactly what they’ve been told and fall into line. Don’t you think calling on God’s almighty divine intervention snap them to attention even faster than: “Do you want me to go and call your father?”

While I absolutely adore: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran whose poetic language just flows like heavenly music, The Ten Commandments cut straight to the chase and pretty much cover all the bases. I also like the sense of hell fire and brimstone, which is infused in the “thou shalts” of the King James version as well.

Perhaps, I should start using a few “thou shalts” of my own around the house:

  1. Thou shalt listen to your mother.
  2. Thou shalt do your chores.
  3. Thou shalt wipe your own backside.
  4. Thou shalt not fight with each other or with your parents.
  5. Thou shalt not whinge, whine.
  6. Thou shalt accept: no means no!

You know I actually felt quite empowered by the “thou shalt”. I think I shalt add it to my arsenal.

Our kids do scouts and as everybody knows, the scouting motto is: “Be prepared” and a big part of it involves being able to pack for camp. This is, as it turns out, an incredible life lesson. Scout’s does a fabulous job preparing kids for this by providing a packing list for each and every camp, which even has a visual diagram. It is hammered into the Scouts that although they can have assistance, they must pack their bags themselves. Moreover, as I still have lingering chemo brain myself and have never been good at packing light anyway, I find the whole thing too stressful . Yes, I know. Even though it might be a very good life lesson for me as well, I’m avoiding these packing nightmares like the plague. I am now getting to the point of tough love too! You don’t pack it, you deal with it!!

As you might have gathered, I’m over it. Maxims like “flogging a dead horse” and “pushing shit uphill” definitely come to mind.

"Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day. I have a wonderful feeling, Everything's going my way"-"Oklahoma".

“Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day. I have a wonderful feeling, Everything’s going my way”-“Oklahoma”.

Anyway, while I’m waxing lyrically about life lessons for the kids, I need to consider a few for myself. It’s a sunny day in paradise and what with all the rain we’ve had, these are precious…particularly as we head towards Winter.

So without further ado, the kids and I are off to walk the dogs along the waterfront before the tide comes in. After all,

The tide waits for no (hu)man!

Edmund Burke

Stay tuned for part 2. How could I write just a few paragraphs on such an inspirational topic?

L is for Life Lessons in the A-Z Challenge. The letter L official marks our halfway point. Hurrah! Not that I’m wishing it was over but it is called a challenge for a reason. It’s challenging!

XX Rowena

The Unspoken Language of Love.

On Sunday, when we celebrated our son’s 11th Birthday, it was about so much more than cake, presents and even the much anticipated party. It was a golden opportunity to show our son how much we love and cherish him and for him to sparkle like a diamond in the candlelight. There’s nothing like your birthday!

If you read my last post, you’ll understand that celebrations have become quite a production and I wouldn’t be surprised if it soon finds its way to Broadway or London’s West End.

I’ve already dealt with the cake.

Now, we’re onto the presents…or THE present, in particular. You see, I gave Mister a second-hand Australian Army uniform, which I chanced upon at a local opportunity or thrift shop.

Choosing gifts is something I take pretty seriously. I really do try to slip inside someone else’s skin, walk around in their shoes, see the world through their eyes and their soul to find that “Wow thing”. That thing which makes their heart sing. Not only because they love it but also because they know I understand. I get them. This gift, therefore, somehow reflects that very special, often concealed inner self or perhaps the seeds of that very precious dream, which are just waiting to germinate, flourish and grow yet are still so tender, tentative and so very embryonic.

To put it simply, gift giving is a great way to show empathy, which is such an important component of love. It is the life-giving force which enables us to grow and reach for the stars.

After all, don’t we all know it when someone gives us something which misses the mark entirely or when our significant other gives us something so impersonal that it could’ve come from a stranger? These gifts affect us in a different way, so often stabbing a knife through the heart. Quite bluntly, they clearly don’t understand you at all!!

A happy birthday boy!

A happy birthday boy!

Although I don’t always find that perfect present which fulfills all these hopes and expectations, I did find the perfect gift for Mister and I couldn’t wait to see his response. As I mentioned, I bought Mister an Australian Army uniform I chanced upon at the op shop. Mister wants to join the army when he grows up and although I’m not keen, I pushed my own feelings aside and supported my son. Of course, the uniform is  way too big but dreams are like that at the start. We have to grow into them.

Having children is my greatest achievement. It was my saviour. It switched my focus from the outside to the inside. My children are gifts, they remind me of what’s important.

Elle Macpherson

More than just being an army uniform, this was a very special birthday present from me to him. It said I can put my values and desires aside to respect and nurture his dreams and encourage him to grow up and be himself, rather than trying to shape and mold him into who or what I think he should be and, in effect, turn him into a bonsai…a pruned and shrunk down version of who he was meant to be.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

You see, in my youth I was pretty opposed to armies, war and battles. I even took part in protests against Australia’s involvement in the Gulf War and marched through the streets. I wouldn’t describe myself as a pacifist but I’d definitely be of the view: “Make love not war”.

Miss is dwarfed by the army pants.

Miss is dwarfed by the army pants.

I’m also a person who, at least I hope, has principles and have built up something called “character”. This means having values and standing up for what I believe in. Before the kids were born, for example, there were going to be no Barbies, no guns and definitely no signing up and joining the army. But as much as you bring up your children, they also modify you and seeing pure happiness and joy glowing on your child’s precious face does tinker with these values a bit. Or, at least, it does for me.

Hate to admit it but a persistent campaign of incessant nagging by your kids can also make an impact on all you held dear as well!

Mister was thrilled when he opened up his present. He was so happy with such an enormous smile that he was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. I was happy too.  Both kids held  the uniform up against themselves and it looked ridiculously big, reminding me of a comedy sketch from Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW6gj2n51sU

Watching the kids with the army pants reminded me of Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers.

Watching the kids with the army pants reminded me of Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers.

I’m sure Mister didn’t appreciate what giving him that army uniform represented. Of course, he doesn’t know just what a seismic shift it is for me to embrace his love of the army. While I love any form of history and honour our ex-service people and collect memorabilia and books from WWI and WWII, that’s very different from having your one and only beloved son go and sign up. That possibility, though still a long way off, does trouble me a bit because I was also his age once and that was when I decided to become a writer and I’ve never veered off course. Writing is like breathing and I even write in myself. Actually, truth be told, I’m often writing when I should be asleep!! I knew that’s who I was when I was 10 and it was set in stone.

However, as much as I have marched and protested going to war, I also felt it was important that I support my son in how he sees himself and in pursuing his dreams. Recognising who he is as a person and empowering him to walk in his own shoes instead of trying to impose me or my values on him like an iron on transfer. Just because someone is young, it doesn’t mean their dreams and values aren’t precious and worthy of recognition and respect, even if we would rather they pursued a different path. Our children need to know they can trust us with their dreams and aspirations. After all, they come from the very heart of the soul and are so very, very precious and need to be handled with kid gloves … certainly not ridiculed or rejected. That, would be like stomping on the precious wings of a beautiful butterfly which, having just emerged from its chrysalis and waited for its tender wings to dry, is about to take its first tenuous flight…and this is your child who is so much more worthy than that.

So I gave him the army uniform and made him happy.

So happy that he took the army uniform to school on Monday, particularly to show his teacher whose son is in the army. He was as proud of punch and he truly respects all that the uniform stands for and what it means to fight for your country. Well, as much as you can when you’re an 11 year old kid and war is on the other side of the world and it’s not in your own backyard.

So I managed to get it right.

Or did I?

After all, was it just coincidence that I strayed across that army uniform in the op shop or was it meant to be? Serendipity? God? Destiny fate?

This isn’t just an erroneous question. I am an op shop addict and I have never seen an army uniform for sale in an op shop before and yet there it was just a couple of weeks before Mister’s birthday. As much as I might have decided to stretch myself well beyond my comfort zone to encourage his dreams, I also suspect I was nudged.

Interesting!

Our mothers give us so many gifts. They give us the precious gift of life, of course, but they also leave treasured lessons that can guide us along our journeys even when they are no longer with us.

Maria Shriver

By the way, I should point out that while I was protesting, Geoff’s brother was actually in the Australian army and Mister has grown up with Uncle Terry’s slouch hat in the house. Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French died in France during WWI and we have been down to the Australian War Memorial as a family to honour him and we even participated in a special memorial service they hold each day and we laid down a wreath. Another Great Uncle served in Gallipolli and went on to serve in Beersheba in the Australian Light Horse. So it would seem that joining the Armed Forces are in my son’s blood.

xx Rowena

PS A week after Mister’s birthday while I’m sitting at Palm Beach, I stumbled across this song Forever Young by Rod Stewart, which I wanted to send as a post birthday present to my son: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgiLWNgpXiQ

How to Find A Lost dog: Homer Simpson

When you’re seeking wisdom or sound advice, Homer Simpson would be one Howevr, when it comes to finding a lost dog, excuse the pun, but he pretty much has it down pat. After all, we know how much dogs love their tucker.

When their dog Santa’s Little Helper went missing, this was his advice to find him:

“Well, crying isn’t gonna bring him back, unless your tears smell like dog food. So you can either sit there crying and eating can after can of dog food until your tears smell enough like dog food to make your dog come back, or you can go out there and find your dog”

-Homer Simpson

Looks like Bart found Santa's Little Helper. I wonder if he followed Homer's advice?

Looks like Bart found Santa’s Little Helper. I wonder if he followed Homer’s advice?

I found these quote while researching drama monologues for my son’s high school audition but that a whole different story entirely!

xx Rowena