Tag Archives: Muscular Dystrophy

Surfing the Dream

Have you ever had an experience where your feet somehow walk ahead of you? That you suddenly wake up and you don’t know how you’ve got there? That something which has slowly been percolating away at the back of your mind has suddenly jumped out in front of you like a kangaroo in the headlights and bam. You’ve suddenly hit your dream head-on and almost had a fatality. You’re in shock. You just can’t believe how all your ducks have suddenly lined up all at the same time. How is this so? It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any more sense that when bad things happen to good people. There are just mysteries in this life…questions which are never going to be answered.

Coincidence is one of these great mysteries.

For the last few weeks, I have been working pretty flat out on my poem The Surfer’s Dog. This poem was inspired by a dog I saw at Whale Beach in Sydney something like 20 years ago. I photographed this particular dog lying on the beach staring out to sea watching his master. He seemed to be waiting and waiting for hours just lying there in the sun. He didn’t go to sleep or move a muscle. He just lay there waiting patiently for his master to return. He had such loyalty, devotion. His master was his entire world. I remember ebullient excitement when his master eventually emerged from the surf and then they walked along the beach together back to the car. The dog was in heaven.

That dog has stayed with me. He was the epitome of loyalty, devotion and love and yet I wouldn’t advocate putting your life on hold like that or revolving your life around someone else either. Phrases like “get a life” come to mind. He was an adorable but quite a lone figure on the beach…almost like a ghost…as he waited for his master to come back.

The Surfer's Dog...hardly a glamorous breed but tough.

The Surfer’s Dog…hardly a glamorous breed but tough.

Surfer’s dogs have always seemed a breed of their own…rough and tough and certainly not at all fluffy. Perhaps, they might have a touch of kelpie or working dog but certainly nothing glamorous. I’ve certainly never seen a surfer with a fluffy, white dog like the one in the My Dog commercial.

Whale Beach, Sydney

Whale Beach, Sydney

Last October, I went back to Whale Beach for the first time in about ten years. It was a strange experience because in so many ways, time had stood still. Nothing much had changed. In particular, I noticed that the surfers were still out there in the surf bobbing up and down like seals and it just seemed like they have always been there. They’ve never left. They were caught up in some kind of time warp. It was like they weren’t real…more iconic.

That inspired my poem: Surfing Through the Hourglass, which is still a work in progress but I’ve posted it as part of this story.

In the original version of the poem, the surfer’s dog was more of an image…an icon rather than being a real dog. The dog has been there so long that he’s become part of the spirit of the place.

Then I came up with a stanza about who feeds the dog. How does it eat? I mentioned that to Geoff and he said that if there was a dog on the beach people would be feeding it. As a result, the surfer’s dog became more of a community dog. I thought about him being a bit like a barperson who listens to everyone’s problems…a friend to all and yet at the same time, the surfer’s dog only has one master.

At this point, I was pretty sure that I’d finished the poem but I took it in with me for a final proof when I was having my regular blood transfusion of Immunoglobulin. These transfusions take about 4 hours so it’s a great time for me to write and catch up on some reading. Well, The Surfer’s Dog took another U-Turn. Instead of just passively waiting for his master to return, he was now wanting to learn how to surf. However, because he’s never seen a dog surfing before, he chickens out. He’s afraid. Doesn’t want to make a fool of himself. He has his pride. He is the surfer’s dog.

By the time I’d reached this stage of the poem, I was living and breathing The Surfer’s Dog. I was editing and re-editing the poem for hours each day and the surfer’s dog was my constant companion.

Then about a week ago, I had another revelation about the poem. I was the surfer’s dog. I have desperately wanted to learn how to surf most of my life. To me, surfing has always been the epitome of freedom and that sort of merges with my dream of taking off in a kombi. I realise now that my mythical Kombi has always had a surfboard strapped onto the roof and we’re heading up to Byron Bay. I can already feel my hair blowing in the wind,the sand between my toes and the waves calling me.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf but I’ve only been surfing once about 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten just how amazing that felt. A friend of mine had come down to my parents’ beach house at Whale Beach and had brought his board along. I only went on it once. I didn’t stand up. I just lay on it and caught my first wave….my one and only wave. I still remember how good that felt…the exhilaration, the power of the wave. It was just amazing!! I could have surfed for the rest of my life. Yet, for some strange reason, I never went surfing again. The surfboard rider and I were supposedly “just good friends” and we all know what that means so there were no more surfing lessons from him. We lived just across the road from a legendary surfing beach and yet we had no surfboards. It all seems a bit insane now. After all, what is a beach house for????

So there I was a week ago having spent hours and hours and hours living and breathing as the surfer’s dog sitting on the beach inside his scruffy, sand-encrusted coat when I realised that I desperately wanted to surf. That I’d always desperately wanted to surf and here I was 43 years old and 20 plus years later and I’d done nothing whatsoever about it. The eyes of my heart had been opened. The scales had been lifted and I could finally see things clearly. I had to learn how to surf…especially as I only live 700 metres from the beach now. I’ve been living here for 11 years and I haven’t even tried out the kids’ boogie boards. It really does paint me as a bit of a sod.

It was time to get moving!

The morning after this great revelation, I left for an Adventure Camp at Nelson Bay with Muscular Dystrophy NSW. They support me with my auto-immune disease as it affects my muscles. We were just settling into camp when I looked at the program. What was the first thing on the program…learn to surf! I couldn’t believe it! It’s taken me more than 20 years to realise just how much I wanted to surf and then hey presto I’m going to surfing lessons the very next morning.

I was so stoked but I was also gobsmacked. My dream had been hand-delivered to me on a silver platter. I couldn’t believe it!! It was all a bit surreal and too much of a coincidence.

It was meant to be!

I was going surfing. Me… the middle-aged mother with the dodgy muscles was actually going surfing! It was so bizarre especially after working on that poem so intensely.

I was reminded of a quote by Oscar Wilde: Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.

Yet, before I experienced the exhilaration of actually surfing, I still needed to clear a few minor, major hurdles.

Firstly, I had to squeeze into my wet suit. These things might look fabulous on a very fit, young body but I had serious trouble getting into mine. They seem to be two sizes too small and it’s pretty tricky squeezing all this whale blubber into such a confined space. My balance isn’t the best so I also needed a bit of assistance to climb in and it really did feel like I was climbing inside some kind of very thick and inflexible second skin. This was when I found out why surfers strut. Wet suits are so stiff, you’re moving like a robot!

Sadly, even in my tight, constricting wet suit, I didn’t perfect the strut. I was still me.

The second thing they leave out of the surfing brochures is just how much a surfboard weighs and you can’t just stick them on a luggage trolley and pull them down the beach. No, to be a true blue ultra cool surfie dude, you need to have your surfboard casually tucked under your arm like a piece of cardboard. Ha! Surfboards are heavy. I guess that’s how surfers develop all those lovely, well-developed muscles. My muscles don’t work that well so I had to settle for assistance. One of the carers very kindly carried my board down to the beach. Once there, I lugged the thing awkwardly by the neck while the poor tail dragged along through the sand. I had no poise or grace whatsoever…and certainly no strut!

Surfie Chick...ha!

Surfie Chick…ha!

But so what if I didn’t look cool?!!  I didn’t care! I was too blissed out living my dream to care about the mechanics. I just wanted to surf! The surfer’s dog was finally going to catch a wave.

Wait! Before we actually hit the surf, we had a surfing lesson on the sand. This lesson just took us through the basics of surfing like the parts of the board and attaching the leg rope to your stronger leg. I took special note of the leg rope and was determined not to trip over it!!

Then, off we went.

Wow! I caught a few waves. It was awesome.

Then it was time to really get stuck into it. We were back out on the sand learning how to stand up. This was getting serious. Could I do it? Could I actually stand up? I wasn’t holding my breath although it would have been out of this world to pull it off and rather amusing. Mummy learning to surf at my age…ha!

Standing up was proving seriously difficult. As I mentioned before, I have muscle weakness. Moving from sitting to standing isn’t a quick, seamless manoeuvre on land. It takes time, thought, effort. The instructor was quite encouraging suggesting that the water might help to lubricate the board and make it easier but I wasn’t convinced. I had a go in the surf and nothing budged. But the instructor wasn’t to be deterred. I started off in a kneel and then tried to manoeuvre my feet to get me up but they wouldn’t move either. My movements were just too slow and awkward. I’d need a good hour to laboriously move all my body parts into the right positions and by then the wave would be history.

Standing up wasn’t going to happen at camp but I didn’t dismiss it as a never ever. I might just need a bit of practice. As much as you need to push yourself to reach a dream, you also need to know when to stop and defer things to another day.

Surfing was hard work and had what Beatrix Potter would describe as a soporific effect. I went back to our cabin for a snooze.

Instead of waking up feeling like an iron woman the next morning, I felt like quite the geriatric. Almost every muscle ached but it was worth it!!! Rowie had finally caught some waves.

Wahoo! I was finally surfing my dream.

Now, perhaps there’s even hope for the surfer’s dog!

Check out these very cool surfing dogs…

19th April, 2013

A Line in the Sand…

I apologise for taking the easy way out today. I usually go to great lengths to provide a striking photo or image to illuminate my posts. However, I had a big day yesterday so I’m just making do.

That’s a story in itself.

Living only 700 metres from the beach, you’d think that I could just hit the beach and draw a real line in the sand to get a great image for my blog. After all, the beach is so beautiful. It’s hardly an effort! Our beach has stunning views across to Palm Beach and Pittwater with the beautiful Lion Island majestically rising from the surf.

The Beach

The Beach

Surely, going to the beach isn’t a chore?!!

I even have a few ideas about how I could draw my line in the sand if only I could get down there.

I’m thinking driftwood. Driftwood sounds so poetic. I can’t help wondering how far that precious lump of wood has travelled or where it’s come from. Of course, I’m assuming that it has come from somewhere really exotic. It’s journeyed thousands of kilometres enduring sun, rain and storms to get here. I can see it now… that small piece of wood bobbing up and down being tossed by the waves as it traversed the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It’s travelled all the way to Australia from one of the Pacific islands like Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands. Or maybe, it’s from South America or even deepest, darkest Peru. That sounds even more exotic. However, given the direction of the ocean currents, it would have needed a good outboard motor to get here! It would be drifting against the flow.

In all likelihood, however, my precious piece of driftwood probably comes from Woy Woy and hasn’t travelled far at all. It’s just a scraggly piece of eucalypt and doesn’t have much of a story to tell. Gum trees might be exciting if you’re a koala bear or you’re not from around here but for me, they’re “common”.

Getting back to photographing my line in the sand, I could also be very pragmatic and just draw a line in the sand with my finger or photograph a tidal mark where the ocean has etched its own line in the sand.

As I said, it wouldn’t take long and it wouldn’t take much effort for me to just jump in the car and take a few photos. I wouldn’t even need to walk.

However, today I’m recovering from a hectic trip to Sydney where I somehow managed to squeeze in Les Miserables before I had my transfusion at the hospital. It was a very long day and I’m feeling like a flaccid balloon lying flopped on the sand. I’m spent. It usually takes me a few days to bounce back from these treatments.

So you’ll just have to put up with my photo of a line of sand drawn onto a boring piece of computer paper instead. You’ll have to apply your own imagination today.

Have you ever thought about what it actually means to draw a line in the sand? Yes, I know it means making a permanent change in your life, a turning point. However, it now seems strangely ironic referring to a permanent change in your life as “a line in the sand”. I mean, poetically speaking, the beach usually represents fleeting transience where dreams, like sandcastles, are washed away even before they’ve even been made. We’ve all been there and experienced that heartbreak.

I quite like Kahlil Gibran’s Sand and Foam:

I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Forever.

Anyway, I have drawn a line in the sand only my line is permanent…etched in sandstone perhaps!

I am no longer going to worry about things that don’t need to be worried about. I’m not saying that I’m eliminating fear and worry from my life completely. It’s just a case of no more worrying about things that don’t need to be worried about.

You see, yesterday I worked myself up into such a worried frenzy over catching a bus to the local train station, that I realised I need to make some drastic changes.  I am tempted to humour you a little and say that I’ve decided to avoid catching the bus but I won’t. I’ll behave.

In many ways, yesterday’s stress was self-inflected. My transfusion was at 2.00PM and I had plenty of time to get down to Sydney. I didn’t need to stress. However, I’d decided to squeeze in seeing Les Miserables on the way and I would literally be squeezing it in too. The movie went for 2 hours 38 minutes and when I checked the train time table, that only left me ten minutes to walk from the station to the hospital.  I’m a slow walker and there’s a very steep hill right at the hospital which is just great for sick people…especially sick people who are running late!

There was also a much bigger problem with squeezing in Les Miserables. I had to leave home at 8.30AM to catch the bus which meant getting the kids to school half an hour early. School starts at 9.00 AM and we have been unofficially late all term. I’ve been sneaking the kids into assembly or even worse, catching up with the class when they go for their run. Although they’re technically late, they haven’t called the roll yet so they’re “on time” by the skin of their teeth. This means they don’t need a late note. The kids don’t seem to mind being late. They can stall and procrastinate as much as they like. I’m the one who is going to get busted by the powers that be somewhere high up in the Education Department if these late notes start mounting up. We don’t need a visit from the inspector at our house! No! No! No!

If I was more pragmatic, I would have waited for Les Miserables to come out on DVD. However, I’d decided that I really wanted to see it on the big screen. I don’t get to the movies very often and I very rarely buy a DVD. Moreover, I haven’t watched many of the DVDs I’ve bought. There have been movies which I’ve really wanted to see that have just passed me by because… There usually isn’t a good reason. So this made me really determined to get to Les Miserables…especially as Hugh Jackman used to be the local heartthrob when I was at school and I really wanted to hear him sing (ha!).

But like so many things in life, getting to Les Miserables and to my transfusion was going to take military planning and precision. Sadly, I’m no General.

Step 1…Getting out of the house.

Thank goodness we made it out of the house on time and despite a few last minute protests, I managed to get the kids through the gate with only minutes to spare.

Step 2…Catching the Bus.

Somehow, I managed to turn this simple step into a network drama.  I should have listened to Lao-tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…not with a flapping panic attack!

The drama began when I noticed that Bus 53 was already across the road at the bus stop when I pulled up. Yes, I knew it was the wrong bus at the wrong time but there was still this doubt. That “what if”? Instead of sticking to my guns, I started to doubt myself. Doubt the bus. These doubts only got worse when I realised that there were two bus stops across the road from the school and I didn’t know which bus stop was right. My confusion further intensified. Fortunately, there was a time table and yes, bus 70 did stop here. At that point, I should have heaved a sigh of relief but no. When it came to visiting panic stations, today I was travelling all stops. I started to wonder whether my watch was on time. That bus 53 was still bugging me as well. Had I made a mistake? Was I in the wrong spot? Was bus 70 ever going to turn up? Was I going to miss my train and miss the movie? Was this going to be the very end of my life?

In case you haven’t realised, I don’t catch buses very often. We’ve been living here for 12 years and I caught my first bus 3 weeks ago so I’m not used to them at all. I much prefer trains. Trains run on tracks. Rightly or probably wrongly, I feel a train has to turn up eventually whereas buses, being more free range, seem more unreliable. Not being on a track, they can do whatever they like and I don’t feel entirely 100% confident that a bus is going to turn up. I know that’s silly, especially when the trains are notoriously late and rails are nowhere near as reliable as they seem!

So there I am standing at the bus stop. I’m not jumping up and down on the spot or anything else that would betray my inner frenzy but by this stage all this worry was going round and round in my head like a Greek dance. You know how the music starts out soft and slow at first but speeds up getting faster and faster until it reaches fever pitch and the music is flying! Really flying! I was caught up in a frenzied vortex of pure fear…all about waiting for a stupid bus which wasn’t even late!

Of course, I forgot to breathe deeply.

I also forgot all my relaxation visualisations like picturing a smooth calm lake.

All I could see was a drowning woman. A woman drowning in waves of utter panic. That woman was me.

My goodness…all this stress over a stupid bus! A bus that isn’t even running late…yet!

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

Then, I spot a plover across the road. It steps off the curb and plants itself in the middle of the road and it’s strutting its stuff defending its turf….no doubt against any passing cars and of course, my bus! The plover looked absolutely ridiculous. It was taking on a battle it simply couldn’t win. I mean a plover versus a bus…it’s a bit of a no brainer!

Just in case you haven’t encountered a plover, these territorial birds are a bunch of thugs which have invaded our school playground. They’re vicious, mean and nasty and they have poisonous spurs in their wing tips. To be fair, however, the kids persistently chase the poor birds so it’s hardly surprising they’re hostile. It’s war!

Yet, there I was waging my own war which was equally ridiculous. Had I missed the bus? Was I waiting at the right stop? Would the bus pull up on time? Would the bus arrive at all? It was madness.

As I stared at the plover taking on its invisible foe, I saw myself in the mirror especially when the bus turned the corner right on time and pulled up at my stop. I climbed on board without incident. Nothing blew up or went terribly wrong. The bus also stopped at the other bus stop further down the street and it even arrived on time at the station with minutes to spare before my train pulled in.

I had been through all that self-induced stress for absolutely no reason…no reason at all!

At that point, I drew a metaphysical line in the sand and decided that in future my worries had to be real. That I wasn’t going to allow myself to worry about non-worries ever again!!

You might recall my story about the bird which became trapped in my house and how it reduced me to a quivering, shaking lump of jelly.

I thought I’d moved forward on the fear front since then and that I’ve been doing really, really well. I’ve driven to Morpeth. I’ve even driven over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I can’t help thinking it’s a bit crazy that this whole situation of waiting for a simple bus brought me down. I’d have no trouble playing my violin or even singing in public. It’s not like I’m afraid of my own shadow or even that I’m afraid of all the usual things that freak people out. I’m not even bothered by spiders. For some reason, it’s perfectly okay and socially acceptable to have a crippling phobia of spiders but it’s not so cool to be afraid of missing the bus.

This is going to be an interesting journey of discovery. How do I distinguish between a real worry and a fake worry? What steps am I going to take when I encounter a fake worry to ensure I don’t take it onboard and catastrophise over a total non-event?

I don’t know.

Actually, I do know a few things like practicing my deep breathing and doing my relaxation visualisations. I can also watch my self-talk and try to nip the anxiety spiral in the bud. I could also ask myself whether this is a life and death situation. What is the worst that would happen, for example, if I had missed my bus? Not much! I could have driven myself to the station and I might have even found a parking spot. I could also have asked just about anyone from the school for a lift. Most people would have been happy to help. I might have missed out on the movie but I would still have had plenty of time to get to the hospital. Missing out on Les Mis would have been a disappointment but it was hardly a matter of life and death.

Step 3: Les Miserables

Yes, I actually managed to see Les Miserables on the big screen. I loved the movie but it was very, very sad in parts. I particularly enjoyed Ann Hathaway’s performance as Fantine and Hugh Jackman was great. Russell Crowe’s character was so despicable that I can’t really look favourably on Crowe’s acting ability.

I managed to buy myself a pie en route to the station. This wasn’t just any ordinary pie but for all the wrong reasons.

Step 4. Catch the train from Hornsby to St Leonards.

This is where the real life and death stuff actually took place.

I was eating my meat pie on the train when I started to choke. I’m not just talking about a little choke either. I think I’d inhaled some of the pie into my lungs and due to my muscle weakness, I was having trouble clearing it out. I was barking and barking trying to clear my chest and nothing was working. I was coughing and coughing and coughing. I had a bottle of water in my bag…a standard inclusion for long trips. The water probably helped but I was in real trouble this time. The coughing just wouldn’t stop and we’d gone through several stations. I think we’re talking about something like 10 minutes of solid choking by this point.

Anyway, there I am on the train. It is early afternoon so the carriage is almost empty. I am sitting on my own so I couldn’t just reach out to someone easily to get some help. In many ways, I was trapped inside myself, which would have been quite awful if this sort of thing hadn’t happened to me before. I haven’t choked quite this badly in the past but I wasn’t really worried. I just wanted the coughing to stop.

I’m still coughing. I feel like I’m going to be sick, possibly the only way to dislodge this thing. At the same time, my nose is starting to run in sympathy and the situation is desperate.  You know how it is when your nose screams out. It demands immediate relief!

So there I am coughing my lungs out and trying to hold my nose in while the girl sitting in front of me is applying her mascara. I can see her peering at her eyelashes in a little hand mirror. She doesn’t seem perturbed by my coughing at all. She doesn’t flinch and certainly doesn’t turn around.

Now, I could make a bit of a judgement call and say that she doesn’t have much of a social conscience and certainly doesn’t apply the Golden Rule (or even the Inverse Golden Rule). I could also make some comment about how you could die on a train in Sydney and no one would offer to help you. That might all be very true but I will be more charitable. If you weren’t medically trained or if you didn’t have any experience of choking yourself, would you know what to do or how to respond? It’s only now that I’m writing about this experience that I have remembered the Heimlich manoeuvre. This is an emergency technique for preventing suffocation when a person’s airway (windpipe) becomes blocked by a piece of food or other object. I haven’t thought about this since Mothers’ Group. When I Googled it both to remember what it was called and the procedure, I found out that you can actually perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on yourself. This was a great discovery which is very empowering for me and also helps to reduce a source of real, very legitimate fear. Knowledge is power and for me this knowledge could save my life. Remember, I have muscle weakness so this is good to know.

Anyway, even though I am sharing this story with you from the comfort of home and you already know that I’ve survived, myself the character is still choking on that train and is about to have a serious nasal explosion.

So we must return and please bring a tissue along with you.  I still need it.

Next, I did something truly disgusting. Something which I wouldn’t even confess to one of my closest friends, let alone broadcast to the entire World Wide Web. I blew my nose on the white paper bag which had housed my pie. I will emphasise that the paper bag was clean. It looked like a tissue and it was a much better option than my sleeve. I didn’t have time to get off the train and I just didn’t feel that I could ask anyone on the train for a tissue. I don’t know if that’s a reflection on them or on me. It was just how I felt at the time.

I’ve now made a mental note to put a packet of tissues in each of my handbags. This is not the first time I’ve been caught out and it’s time I learned.

Another line has been etched in the sand.

Step 5: The Hospital

Somehow, I arrived at my transfusion pretty much on time. All that stress had all been rather superfluous. Superfluous in terms of me getting anywhere on time but not in terms of having detrimental effect on my wellbeing. Stress in itself is a killer.

But I’ve now drawn a line in the sand, there is no turning back. I’ve raided my bookshelf and it’s time to finally read: Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and Dale Carnegie’s: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

The Secret to a Happy Dog!

The Secret to a Happy Dog!

I think the dog must have read these books already. He’s quite a happy dog and he’s had a great day. He went for a drive in the car and had some leftover pizza for dinner. He may not be getting any thinner but he’s happy!

He's a smart dog. He even managed to get it on sale.

He’s a smart dog. He even managed to get it on sale.

xx Rowena

PS I found this photo on file. Not a bad line in the sand after all.

A line in the sand quite different to what I'd envisaged.

A line in the sand quite different to what I’d envisaged but I like it.

Yes, Minister…Morning Tea at NSW Parliament House.

Jazz in the Vines

It already seems like a lifetime ago. The weekend before last, Geoff and I escaped for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley about two hours North-west of Sydney. The Hunter Valley is wine country and we were staying at Cypress Lakes with Muscular Dystrophy NSW to attend Jazz in the Vines. We had an absolutely awesome time and really enjoyed living the high life.

Geoff took Friday off work and we went on a detour to Morpeth “on the way” to pick up the tea cosies which I’d bought on my last visit. We also had to restock our supplies of coconut ice, peanut brittle and fudge from Campbell’s and we enjoyed a lovely lunch.

We settled into our hotel and I had a short, long bath if that makes any sense. It was so relaxing and I could have stayed there for the night but we were off to the group dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was magnificent even if I can’t quite remember what it was…a fish, a chicken dish perhaps. I don’t think I’ll ever get a job as a food critic.

Breakfast was included with our package and my excuse for eating so much was not having to buy lunch. I was good and started the day with yogurt, muesli and fruit but it soon went downhill and I was devouring the hash browns. There’s nothing like hash browns on a hotel buffet breakfast. They didn’t have pancakes on Saturday but they did on Sunday morning.  They were only fair…not the best I’ve had.

After breakfast, we all boarded the bus out to the Tyrell’s estate for Jazz in the Vines. Jazz in the Vines was celebrating its 20th Anniversary with an impressive line up of talent. We had special seating in the tent. I was just leaving the toilet when I heard Tom Burlinson (of Man From Snowy River – the movie fame) singing New York New York. I rushed down the front with my camera in tow like a woman possessed and captured a few new memories. I remember a band called Paris Dumper doing New York New York at the Nagg’s Head in Glebe too many lifetimes ago. We all used to do the Can Can back then when we could LOL!

Lisa Hunt was the final performer and she was fabulous. My favourite song was Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia. It was amazing. It was so good that I tried recording it on my mobile phone. I’ve never done that before but it was really, really good. Unfortunately, the recording sounds dreadful. Not worth keeping. I was down the front in what I guess you’d call the mosh pit and it was awesome being amongst it all. Looking at all the crazy and outlandish outfits and trying to dodge the many wine bottles which were rolling around in the grass. They did look rather deadly.

Jazz in the Vines wasn’t all just about wine. The Hunter Valley Cheese Company had a stand and we bought ourselves a cheese platter for lunch. Yum. Made plans to visit the factory on Sunday to continue my adventures of a cheesy.

As much as we loved Jazz in the Vines, perhaps the real entertainment was on the bus on the way home. There was a very interesting character…a bloke wearing a black afro wig. Geoff tells me an old lady on the bus asked if she could feel his wig. I missed that bit and all I saw was this bloke putting his wig on ton this old woman’s head. Then shoved it under her armpit and that wasn’t all. Then he was doing back flips in the aisle. I should be thankful. At least he kept his gear on although I’m surprised the bus driver didn’t throw him off. Kids have been busted on the school bus for much less.  This was all on a crowded bus. He kept saying that he came from Newport Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Geoff asked me how I’d feel if he was saying he was from our area. Hmm. Glad he wasn’t. We have dubbed him “the Ambassador for Newport”. He did a very impressive job…unforgettable at least!

I should also add that this bloke ended up sitting next to Geoff…what a contrast! I don’t think Geoff knew which way to look.

We had dinner back at the hotel. Again, it was fabulous and I do remember consuming a rather decadent chocolate pudding!

Sunday morning, I felt like a stuffed chook after yet another buffet breakfast. It was goodbye to all the Muscular Dystrophy crew and we were off to tour the vineyards after stopping off for a few photos along the way. I just had to photograph the roses and the vines together and I just might have photographed my teacup out there. Who would do something crazy like that??

We aren’t big wine drinkers and to be honest, I was more interested in the cheese. We went to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company for a tasting and a tour. This place is definitely worth a visit even if cheese is just a little naughty. http://www.huntervalleycheese.com.au/index.html

We bought some of the Hunter Gold Washed Rind Cheese and they had some kind of Irish cheddar which came in green wax. We didn’t buy some but I wish we had. It tasted great but also looked rather quirky with its green skin and I love quirky!! Might have to go back!

Our next stop was McGuigan’s next door where we entered the weird and wonderful world of wine.

As far as I’m concerned, wine comes in a bottle and most of it is undrinkable. I prefer very sweet, fruity wines and I’m usually offered Chardonnay which is very dry. I drink a wine and I either like it or I don’t and I almost burst out laughing when I hear people rave on about their wines:

“A kaleidoscope of flavours; ginger, apricots, honeycomb and toffee brittle. The palate is intensely rich however the acidity is a supreme counterfoil”

It sounds like something from a candy store!

You won’t get any of that fancy wine talk from me.

I didn’t even try to pretend that I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t need to show off although I was wishing I’d listened just a little more to all Dad’s wine talk. He is a wine connoisseur with a serious cellar. When we were kids, my brother used to do a very good send up of Dad sniffing his wine and pronouncing it a “jolly good year”. If it wasn’t, it was poured down the sink…no matter where it came from!

As for me, I don’t know a good year from a bad year. We bought a bottle of Merlot and a dessert wine…a Traminer. I have trouble writing about food and describing it. I have no chance of describing the wine other than to say that I could drink it. I am not much of a wine drinker and prefer sweet, fruity ones. I might as well stick to lemonade!

Next we drove round to Constables Vineyard http://www.constablevineyards.com.au/gardens/sculptures, mainly to see the sculpture garden, however, we did buy another dessert wine. This one sounds like it could transmit a deadly disease..a Botrytus Semillon. I wasn’t far wrong. With this Botrytus stuff,  the vine is exposed to the “noble rot” of Botrytis cinerea which is a necrotrophic fungus. In other words, it’s a parasite. It consumes the water content of the fruit, concentrating the sugar present in its pulp. When attacked by Botrytis cinerea, the grapes shrivel and the acid and sugar levels are intensified.

All day Sunday, I had this sense of living on borrowed time. You know how it is when you are having a great holiday and you know you’re about to come crashing back to reality.

All too soon, we were at the station meeting up with my mother and the kids and I also had violin practice. Not good having to rush of to rehearsal after not touching the thing for a few days and right before the concert. Should have been practicing all day and being prepared.

Thank you Muscular Dystrophy for a fabulous weekend away.

xx Ro

The Niceometer.

It’s time we bring back the niceometer and value niceness, instead of celebrating the very worst of human behaviour!

For some reason, being “nice” is now perceived as some kind of put down. Used to refer to someone who boring, bland or insipid, it’s used as a derogatory term – instead of something to be revered.

I say we need to bring back “nice”. Resurrect it from the dead and all nice people should sport their niceness with pride.

Nice needs to come out of the closet and strut its stuff.

I know being nice probably sounds very Brady Bunch but what’s so wrong with caring about your fellow human being and developing a bit of character? Shouldn’t we be encouraging giving instead of taking? Building community?

I was reminded again about the importance of supposedly old-fashioned niceness on Friday when we attended the finale of Fill the Boot, a fundraiser run by the Fire Brigade to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. We were there because my auto-immune disease is a neuro-muscular condition and I am a member of Muscular Dystrophy NSW. To read all about Fill the Boot, you can read my previous post and click here for the official web site: http://www.filltheboot.com.au/

We had such a fabulous day and experienced the very best of human nice and kindness that I had to share it. Here are a few vignettes from our Fill the Boot Day, which might just restore your faith in human kindness. I’ve listed them in chronological order as the day unfolded.

Some firies at the North Sydney Olympic Pool

Firstly, there was the fundraising by the firies. Firies are wonderful people who put their lives on the line everyday to save others. Yet, they found the time and energy to get out there and raise money for us and I really appreciate it! They managed to raise $100,000.00 for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. Yippee! That’s a lot of chocolate… oops! I mean research!

The kids with Luke.

Secondly, we not only met Luke Jacobz, Host of the x Factor, he actually spent time with us – real time. I have to laugh because when I first met him, he was wearing an Olympic gold medal around his neck and I thought he was one the athletes. Go Ro! I have watched the x Factor but I don’t watch a lot of TV and I’m certainly no celebrity chaser. I honestly didn’t recognise him.

Luke was genuinely very, very nice and one of those rare people who are very attentive and really listen to you. Mister and Luke had some very long discussions about something although none of us can quite remember what they talked about. I do remember Miss talking to him about her tooth falling out and how she’d found fairy dust on her hands the next morning along with a $5.00 note from the tooth fairy. As I said, Luke was very attentive and asked her questions and took a real, genuine interest. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder for someone more interesting to chat with. The kids really appreciated this. Not because he is the host of the X Factor but because he helped them feel special, loved and treasured. They were glowing. It really touched me to see them so happy. We have had some very tough times and it meant the world for me to see them smile and have so many deep belly laughs.

Kags & Mister

Kags from MDNSW also did a pretty good job at making the kids laugh and feel special too. I’ve been asked when they’re going to see Kags again.

Kags & Miss at the lunch.

The kids with Kate, Luke and the gold medal.

Thirdly, Cate Campbell shared her precious Olympic Gold Medal (or “mettal” as Miss called it) with us. It was only when I arrived home and was talking to my husband, Geoff, that the enormity of that hit me. The kids were able to wear the medal round their necks. When I was a kid, I wasn’t even allowed to touch Dad’s good crystal wine glasses. They were very, very precious. Yet, Cate trusted my kids, complete strangers, with her very precious, irreplaceable Olympic gold medal. This wasn’t just some plastic replica you find at the $2.00 shop. It was the real thing. That was very, very nice!

Miss with the gold medal.

Cate also spent time with us and I must say I enjoyed watching her swim. She took freestyle to a whole new level and had something like the grace of a swan. Needless to say, it was quite a different experience to what I’m used to at swimming lessons!

Fourthly, a fireman drove my car across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and into the Sydney Fire Station. I always feel a bit silly about my nervous driving even though I am spatially challenged. However, I was able to voice my concerns to MDNSW who sent Kags along as navigator. But then a fireman offered his services so how could I resist?  I decided that driving home across the Harbour Bridge would be a better time to extend my driving prowess. As it was, because the fireman was driving, we ended up at the tail end of the street parade featuring the beautiful historic fire engine. It was quite exciting being part of the action.

The Kids with Blazer.

Fifthly, the firies gave the kids caps and toys. This might not sound like much but it meant the world to the kids. Mister was given a cap from the Sydney Fire Station, which is almost glued on his head. He loves it!! He even took it to bed with him. He was also given a patch from the Northern Territory. Miss was given a cap from the Tasmanian Fire Service, which was very special because Geoff comes from Tasmania. A firey from  Brisbane’s Roma Street Fire Station gave each of the kids a fire fighting koala bear called Blazer. They love him. We have also been invited into the Roma Street Fire Station when we’re in Brisbane next and hope to get there in January. There were other gifts, I’m sure. The kids were spoilt!

I always appreciate that whenever I go to functions organised by Muscular Dystrophy, that I feel so loved, valued and accepted. I always feel like I’m floating along in a wonderful love bubble. This isn’t because people feel sorry for me or pity me but they do acknowledge what we are going through. I have found everybody I meet there truly inspirational and so encouraging. Pretty much most of us are living life to the max…our max anyway. I often find that when people are challenged by adversity they can actually achieve the most amazing things. People find strength seemingly out of nowhere and it’s just amazing and seemingly quite illogical

It’s now Monday night and that fire brigade cap is still glued to Mister’s head..

This morning when I dropped the kids at school, one of them piped up in the car and said: “we are the luckiest kids in the whole wide world.” That’s what being nice does. It builds people up. Helps them feel good and makes the world a better place.

In a world where being known as a “hater” in some circles is cool, I’d much rather be “nice”.

Wouldn’t you?!!

If you enjoyed this post, I recommend reading my previous post The Love of A Stranger.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Fill the Boot- Fire Brigade Raises Funds for Muscular Dystrophy

If you asked me how things are going, I would reply “unbelievably good”. After such a fabulous day, my feet have barely touched the ground. It was so fantastic on so many fronts that I’m almost stuttering trying to get everything out.

On Friday, the kids and I went to the finale of Fill the Boot, a national fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy run by the fire brigade.  My auto-immune disease is a neuro-muscular condition and we receive support and much encouragement from Muscular Dystrophy NSW.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the big boot.

The kids and I headed off to North Sydney Olympic Pool. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. I was mainly interested in the next part of the day… having lunch and a tour of the Sydney Fire Station, Australia’s oldest fire station. I have loved fire engines ever since I was a kid when my brother and I wandered out of our grandparents’ home to visit the local fire station around the block.

However, the action at the pool exceeded my expectations. You see, the event was hosted by Luke Jacobz, Host of the x Factor. Now, I’m not one of these celebrity worshipping types so going somewhere just because someone famous is turning up, isn’t my scene. However, Luke turned out to be really lovely. We met Luke by the pool and it was all very casual and low key. He was wearing a gold Olympic medal round his neck and me being me, mistook him for an Olympic athlete. Good one Ro!

Miss wins gold!

The gold medal or “mettal” according to Miss, belonged to swimmer Cate Campbell who was a member of the team who won gold in the  4 x 4 100 Metre Women’s Freestyle Relay at the London Olympics. We had the opportunity to meet Cate and the kids were each allowed to wear the medal around their necks, which was such an amazing privilege. The enormity of that only sunk in once we met up with Geoff. Most of us don’t get the chance to even see a real Olympic gold medal let alone touch one. Moreover, when you’re a kid, you’re constantly being told not to touch just about everything, so it was very special they could touch something so precious!! Thank you Cate!

I of course was too busy photographing the medal to wear it myself but it was amazing.

The kids had a ball!  Kags from Muscular Dystrophy NSW was playing with them giving them piggybacks and spinning them around and they also spent quite a lot of time with Luke Jacobz who heard all about Miss’s tooth falling out and about how she’d even found fairy dust on her fingers. Luke was fabulous with the kids and so genuinely kind and very attentive. He is just one of those fabulous people you enjoy being around. I couldn’t resist getting my photo taken with him when he had his shirt off. This is what Mum does when she goes to Sydney!

I have the x Factor!

The relay was fun. The firies, Luke and Cate raced in the pool with the boot on a surfboard. You know, Luke almost kept up with Cate but something tells me that she might have been taking things a little slower than usual.

The boot.

Cate also did a demonstration swim. That was pretty amazing. I’m not into swimming but her stroke was quite beautiful!

The kids were pretty good but Miss literally had to test the waters. It was a really hot, sunny day and I shouldn’t have been surprised that she ended up in the pool but did she have to immerse herself fully dressed? One minute, she was as pretty as a picture wearing  the beautiful pink dress Grandma had bought her and the next she was literally dripping wet right when we were about to leave for the lunch. I was gobsmacked. I could just see the Fire Commissioner being thrilled about puddles on the floor of his historic Sydney Fire Station. Drip! Drip! Drip!

Fortunately, the dress somehow managed to dry off by the time we arrived.

Speaking of getting to the lunch, I did have grand plans of driving us over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Anyone who has been following my blog, will know that driving isn’t my thing and anyone who knows Sydney, knows that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the great divide. I’m not the only one who avoids driving over the Bridge.

As it turned out, one of the firemen drove my car in for me. I felt very relieved and the car even ended up at the tail end of the Fill the Boot street parade heading up Bathurst Street. That was awesome. There was the historic fire engine up the front with Luke and Cate on board  followed I think by a few fire engines, a Police car and then us in our blue Pulsar with the fire man at the wheel. It was a hoot!!

Mister wearing his cap.

The kids were given the royal treatment. They were each given fire caps. Mister’s came from the Sydney Fire Station crew and he was given a shoulder patch from the Northern Territory and Miss’s cap came from Tasmania. They were each given a soft toy fire fighting Koala called Blazer from the Roma Street Fire Station in Brisbane. They loved all their gifts! Mister has barely taken the cap off and even took it to bed. It’s almost become grafted to his head.

The kids driving the historic fire engine.

They also spent considerable time “driving” the historic fire engine which was parked out the front at the lunch. They had a ball. A fire engine is always hard to beat.

As the event drew to a close, we were given a personal tour of the fire station and we were even taken upstairs and shown the basketball courts and the gym. The kids wanted to see where the fire man slept but he said his room was a mess.

Lunch over, it was time for my next big driving challenge…taking on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Of course, it was easier driving home and it is a trip I’d done a lot many years ago when I lived in the city. Still, it has been more than ten years since I’ve driven over the Harbour Bridge so I was pretty chuffed.  The kids congratulated me as well!

It was a most perfect day!

Thank you from the very bottom of my heart!

xx Rowena

PS When I was dropping the kids at school today with their fire hats and photos for news, they said “we are the luckiest children in the whole world!” Isn’t that awesome!

A Million Dollar View…My Journey Through Ambulatory Care.

I am up in the clouds again. Being creative, that’s not unusual but right now, I’m literally up in the sky wrapped up in an enormous, sky-blue woolly blanket dotted with a scant scatter of clouds. There is no wind today and the clouds are just sitting still like lost sheep.

Given the view, I could be on a jumbo jet.  Yet, I can actually recline my chair and put my feet up without squashing the sardine in front or behind. There are no screaming babies or in-flight movies either.

The lunch trolley arrives with a much anticipated rumble. It’s four star service with rather humble offerings of cheese and tomato or mock chicken served up on very plain white bread. We are offered a choice of apple juice or Paradise Punch. I always take the Paradise Punch. I wouldn’t mind a touch of paradise as long as it’s not permanent.

My nurse would make a fantastic Hosty, even though she’s not wearing one of the glamorous purple gowns. They’re reserved for the chemo patients.

Inside 12A looking out

Welcome to 12A. It isn’t First Class but it’s certainly not economy either. I am being very well looked after. I haven’t been admitted.  I’m just visiting, having my regular three-weekly transfusion of Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG). Immunoglobulin (Ig) is another name for antibodies, molecules produced by the plasma cell. IVIg is very precious and is currently is worth more than twice the price of gold on a gram for gram basis. On a more comic note, the stuff looks a lot like lemonade… all clear and bubbly. For all I know, it could be sugary sweet as well. After all, I’ve never drunk the stuff!

The views here are first class.  Today, I am facing west and the Blue Mountains form a smeary smudge just above the window sill. Up above there’s only sky. If I stood up, which is a little challenging juggling a laptop, a cannula and a cup of tea, I could see across the historic Gore Hill Cemetery and the Lane Cove River, which flows into Sydney Harbour. The views are much better in the other treatment room where the Sydney Harbour Bridge stands centre stage. It is not the conventional perspective you see on postcards. It’s the back-end view but it’s still magic.  I have always loved The Bridge but since coming here, we’ve become something like close friends, even soul mates. The Bridge has been my strong and silent partner, helping me get through all of this. There have been some pretty dark times in here, especially as an inmate when the “Coathanger” literally held me up.

I’m no longer afraid of needles but it can take a few jabs to find a vein and it certainly isn’t “pleasant”. My veins are pretty obstreperous.  I know there’s blood in there somewhere because my heart’s still beating but my veins have somehow managed to dry up. It’s like trying to get blood out of a proverbial stone. The nurses are extremely patient and accommodating and bring out the warm towels and squeeze toys. They’ll try anything to pump up the volume and believe me especially in winter, there have been some desperate times. My hands routinely turn deep purple and feel so incredibly cold, they’re like lethal weapons. Geoff and the kids flinch when I touch them. I have to warm my hands up first.

Yet, the nurses persevere. They take my hand and inspect the back of my palm surveying an arid, desert landscape. I hope and pray that they’ll get the cannula into my left arm so I can write and even though we both know it’s usually mission impossible, they’ll always have a go. They know how much it means to me and perhaps they’re also doing their bit to help a struggling writer.  They also tell me to drink loads and loads of water before each treatment and I certainly try to do my best but with a long car drive, I have to be careful. I can’t pull up every five minutes for a toilet stop. At the same time, I desperately want them to get that cannula in my left arm so I can write and that’s what it takes…a gallon or more of water. But I want to write. I need to write. For me, writing is breathing.

12A has become my home away from home… some kind of strange oasis, the calm at the eye of the storm. My transfusion takes about 3-4 hours and during this time, I write, read or chat with my “colleagues”. Before the kids started school, these treatment sessions provided me with much needed time out….a time of relaxation and repose. It was my “cave” and my retreat. Life was very hectic back then.

My trips to 12A are full of routine, ritual and rewards. That’s what gets me through.

The kids usually go to my parents’ place while I’m here and I set myself up with a cup of tea, a muesli biscuit and all my writing and reading material. I naturally always sit in one of the chairs facing the view and I very rarely miss out. The view is my salvation!

The Twins

When the cannula goes in, I usually focus on the two tiny little flags perched on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Apparently, fixating on a point is a relaxation technique but I’d been coming here for several years before I’d found out about that. The Bridge was just there like it’s always been with its broad arms proudly spanning the Harbour. She is still stunningly beautiful after all these years so strong, majestic and omnipresent.

Usually, my husband and I have afternoon tea at Kirribilli afterwards. Nestled under the Harbour Bridge, Kirribilli has a quaint almost village feel with rambling old terrace houses, narrow, winding streets and stunning harbour views. It even has a community garden. We used to hang out at the local bookshop with its community knitting projects and tea served in real cups and saucers. It was another home away from home…an oasis after a day at the hospital. Sadly, the bookshop closed a couple of years ago but we’re also known at the Freckle Face, which is just downstairs from my dentist. The Freckle Face sells tea towels saying something along the lines of a face without freckles is like a sky without stars. My daughter has had a smattering of freckles over her nose ever since she was 3 despite smothering her face in sunscreen and staying out of the sun. Freckles are our friends. They have to be. They’re not going anywhere.

I have met an amazing cast of characters in here and it’s never been morbid or depressing. People are often amazingly upbeat, philosophical and they are going to beat whatever’s trying to beat them and they are very positive and determined. If anything, I’d say the people in here are turbo charged and very pro-active. I’ve come out of here with all sorts of good ideas and suggestions. I’ve even managed to meet a few writers. One put me onto a fabulous TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about the source of creativity.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA

But the seasons are changing.  This is my second last visit to 12A.

What the kids call “the brown hospital”, the ambos call “the chocolate block” and what was named the “Royal” North Shore Hospital when it really was the 8th wonder of the ancient world, is closing down and going to be demolished. Detonated. Kaboom! The much-anticipated new, almost space-aged hospital is almost ready for sickness.

It’s terminal….the Chocolate Block as viewed from neighbouring Gore Hill Cemetery.

Many would argue that the Chocolate Block is well and truly passed her use-by-date. An imposing brown-brick box stuck on top of Gore Hill, she’s not exactly beautiful. To be honest, she’s on the ugly side of “eyesore”. I’ve also heard on the hospital grapevine that she’s riddled with concrete cancer and might even fall down before D-day. I don’t know about that but the lifts certainly have “issues”. They take so long to turn up that I can’t help wondering whether they’re daydreaming, stuck between floors, or having some kind of midlife crisis.

Being stuck in hospital isn’t that much fun either and there have certainly been times as an “inmate”, where I could have blown the hospital up myself! I wouldn’t have needed dynamite either. I was pure explosive!

That was five long years ago now but I haven’t forgotten. I can still hear my then 3 ½ year old son stammering: “Mummy better? Mummy better?” He was all innocence. He didn’t know what he was asking.  I don’t even think I gave him an answer. We didn’t have a lot of answers back then. With his big, brown eyes and golden curls, he was way too young to deal with all of that but it’s not as though we had a choice. It was just the way it was but fortunately, we survived!

After going through all of that, it’s hard to understand how I’ve developed this strange sense of attachment now that the Chocolate Block is about to expire. I wouldn’t call it “love” but there’s a very definite fondness. Fate has seemingly forced us into something approximating friendship and I don’t really want to let it go. I want to hold on. There are so many, many memories and even though most of them are pretty bad, they are still part of our story… who we are and where we’ve been. That means something to me even though the place is slowly falling down, rumbling and decaying.

You see, a hospital isn’t just a place of disease and despair. It’s a place of healing…a place of hope where relative strangers reach out and care for your most personal, most desperate needs and love and care for you. They take you into their hands and sometimes into their hearts. After coming here for so long, I am no longer among strangers. This is my extended family… my friends. We care. We reach out of our little cubicles and touch one another. At least, we try!

I know it sounds strange “enjoying” having medical treatment… having a needle stuck in my arm for a couple of hours when I could be outside somewhere in the real world and doing real world things. I could be at the beach but I was there yesterday. I walked through the sand and felt the waves freeze my toes. The kids, who always seem to be so immune to the cold, were jumping over and under the waves and splashing each other with water and building canals through the sand. The sun was glorious just as spring sunshine always is after a cold winter. It’s a wake-up call. Time to shed your winter skin and squeeze and shove all your whale blubber into some sort of swimming attire and dive into the waves.

I could be at the beach but I’m here and I have no regrets or disappointment. We all need time to stop. Pause. Contemplate. You can’t just go, go, go, go, go. You need to be still for a bit just let all the busyness of life recede like a wave and just be. This is enforced stopping coming in here although I don’t really stop because I always write but this writing is usually more reflective. I often think about what’s transpired since my last visit. What’s coming up. I also have a few regulars I meet up with too. I’ve lost track of my favourite at the moment an older lady who would shoot me for calling her elderly because she is a young woman displaced in an older body. That’s all. Just like I still consider myself 25 despite appearances to the contrary.

The bloke across from me doesn’t quite see it like this right now. He tells me being sick is a full-time job. I know what he means.  I’m down here three days in a row this week myself but that is exceptional. I have appointments with the rheumatologist, my transfusion, breathing tests, the lung specialist and the gastro registrar. That’s three different specialties in three days. I can get rather miserable too but I have to guard myself from that. Protect myself from the undertow. Before you know it, it can snatch hold of you and drag you under and it’s very hard to find your way back up to the surface! You could very easily drown!

The Chocolate Block may not be a perfect world but it’s been there for me through thick and thin. I’ve had my team of doctors, nurses, chaplains, physios, OTs, social workers, food service, cleaners and the beautiful Pink Ladies and everyone behind the scenes who somehow manage to keep this hospital operational. Collectively, they’ve not only saved my life but have also given me quality of life. They have given my husband a wife, my kids their mum and my parents still have their daughter. That is priceless!

I know the new hospital is going to be brand new, bigger, better but I’m losing my room with a view and it feels like I’ll be having my treatments in some kind of cupboard. After four years of staring at those little Australian flags perched on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’ll be staring at a blank wall and it won’t be the same. It won’t be the same at all. The chemo patients and their nurses will all be moving to the Cancer Centre and I’m off somewhere else. I don’t even know where I’m going but I’m pretty sure that most of the nurses who have been treating me for the last four years, won’t be there. They’ll be gone. They know my veins like the backs of their own hands and as I said, they’ve always tried to get the cannula into my left arm so I can write. It is such a small detail in the overall scheme of things but it’s meant the world to me. The nurses have been my rock throughout this tremendous storm and I have been the limpet. I have clung to them as the waves and the wind smashed into me on every side.  But now the rock has gone and I’m slipping into free fall drifting, drifting. I have never seen a limpet drift. They’re clingy…always glued to the rock and nothing will pry them off. All I’ve ever found is the empty shell.

It’s not just the nurses I’ll miss. We are a community. We might be a motley crew battling a myriad of things like cancer, auto-immune disease, blood disorders but we’re a community. It’s a place where we all come to find healing, understanding and we’ve also found that great Australian tradition… mateship. A mate is someone we fight for. We don’t just throw them overboard. Not that I’ve been thrown overboard. I still have one more treatment to go and I can’t complain too much. After all, they have built me an entirely new hospital!

Some people are never satisfied!

I know I’m being a capital letter Drama Queen…the dying swan. But I don’t care. Right now, I don’t feel like moving forward.  I feel like going backwards, wrapping myself up in my dooner and sleeping through. It makes a fabulous cocoon.  I’m only human. I’ve had enough of stormy seas! I just want to sleep!

But…But…But…

The way forward or the way back? Scenes at the Chocolate Block.

Even this control freak of control freaks has to concede that things are moving on. There is nothing, nothing at all I can do to stop or change any of it. The hospital juggernaut is just too big and clinging to the past will only make me sick. It’s certainly not worth dying for! Given the volatile nature of this auto-immune disease, I really have to pick my battles very, very carefully!

Besides, is a hospital really something I want to cling onto? Wouldn’t this little limpet be so much better off perched on a rock somewhere down at Kirribilli instead? The hospital doesn’t have a monopoly on harbour views. The Sydney Harbour Bridge isn’t going anywhere. It will always be there smiling, strong and resilient… just like me. After all, I’m a survivor!

xx Rowena

PS:  It’s taken me almost a week to work on this post and I’ve been going through some difficult emotions. While being sick can feel like a full-time job and I’ve spent 3 days at the Chocolate Block this week, it’s not my world and it really is just a very small part of it. It’s just that sometimes hospital looms larger than it should both in positive and negative ways and perhaps it’s time to shrink it down a bit.

I’ve actually done quite a range of things this week. I stayed at a friend’s place in Sydney on Monday night. Tuesday, I met up with Mum and the kids after my appointments and we saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Marion Street Theatre. I also had my first violin rehearsal this week and met a whole new group of people. We made music together and laughed as we made mistakes and laughed as we improved. Today, I took my kids to see their dance teacher star in Peter and the Wolf and we arrived home to see the Sydney Swans, our Aussie Rules Football team, win the Grand Final by a nail biting 10 points. The game was so close I could barely stand to watch those last few minutes.

We live in such a diverse and eclectic world and somehow we need to cross the bridge and embrace change, instead of being afraid or turning back. I find that particularly difficult but as the inspirational Helen Keller once encouraged:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.

Another challenge awaits!

Wedding Anniversary by the Sea.

I was listening. I swear I was listening. I just wasn’t 100% focused. That’s all.

I know that as a loving, attentive wife, I should have been staring deeply into my beloved husband’s eyes at all times and not even remotely distracted, especially considering we were celebrating our wedding anniversary. Yet despite my very best efforts to be the perfect wife, my poor husband had some stiff competition.

No! I wasn’t checking out the scenery. Well, not THAT kind of scenery and especially not on our wedding anniversary. That would have been particularly poor form and I do have some standards. I was trying hard to listen. Be attentive. I know how precious these moments are because it’s not often that the two of us get away without the kids. I get that! I didn’t need to be reminded.

Yet, as much as I was trying to focus and connect with my husband, I still couldn’t take my eyes off the sea which stretched out all around us like a marvellous palette. The waves were frolicking in the warm spring sunshine gently rolling in towards the beach. As I watched the waves, I could feel my heart rate actually starting to slow as I lapsed into some kind of semi-dream state. I have painted the ocean a bit lately in an abstract kind of way and I could almost dip my finger in the foam and smear it across the canvas. It was absolutely gorgeous and only a thin pane of glass away.

How could I not be distracted, even just a little by such serene, almost heavenly beauty?

But we were not there to eat the view. We were there for the food although the view was a huge contributing factor. You see, we wanted to Immerse ourselves in some kind of divine culinary symphony where the food was so good that your eyes almost pop out of your head. We wanted the whole Masterchef type experience with our view of the ocean and the sandy beach right at our feet and we got it.

Who else would photograph a reflection of the view on the furniture?

This is why I was more than just a little distracted. The food was stimulating. The view was stimulating and we had a glass of sparkling wine each and you know what, my husband even told me a story I hadn’t heard before. You know after being married for 11 years how incredible that was! He was talking all about flying in a light aircraft in the Solomon Islands. I was pretty sure I’d heard all his old stories. I know he hasn’t heard all of my old stories but he’s heard all the stories he’s going to hear…at least from me!

Backtracking just a little, Geoff and I went out for lunch at a local restaurant to celebrate our 11th Wedding Anniversary. I’m pretty sure this is the first year that we haven’t gone away but in what looked like some kind of conspiracy, our weekend was even more cluttered than our house.  I don’t know why the world didn’t stop for us. After all, isn’t anything sacred? Apparently not!

With no hope of getting away, we decided to have lunch at a favourite local restaurant. Although this restaurant is only down the road, we haven’t been there for over 5 years. It’s been completely redecorated and changed hands in that time. If we liked it so much, why haven’t we been back? Have we been half-asleep or somehow trapped in Sleeping Beauty waiting for some kind of jolt to wake us up? As I said, it’s only down the road and last year we managed to get all the way to Silks at Leura in the Blue Mountains for our anniversary dinner. That was over 2 hours drive and an overnight stay away.

Why is it that “we” (and here I’m referring to the collective “we” because I know it isn’t just us) overlook so many great local gems and yet somehow manage to explore foreign fields? We miss out on so much! A few weeks ago, I drove all the way to Morpeth and back, which was close to a 4 hour round trip but I haven’t been on the ferry to Palm Beach for probably almost 5 years and that’s only a just short drive away. What is wrong with me? I talk all about carpe diem and all of that but I don’t put it into practice. I don’t live it.

But things are changing. I recently made a decision to explore somewhere local once a week and I’m pretty much pulling it off. The school holidays are coming up and I’m determined to explore our local beaches with the kids instead of just being lured like a moth into the bright lights of Sydney. I am determined to do it and will commit it to paper. Write a plan before my best intentions disappear into the ether again. That somehow happens to me a lot.

Anyway, back to our meal.

Cannoli filled with chocolate mouse. I apologise for the crumbs. It’s not quite the done thing to lick the plate when you’re out fine dining.

This meal also had a special resonance for me. Tomorrow, I am going back to the Brown Hospital (as the kids call it) for a repeat endoscopy. That means I’ll be fasting from 6.00AM. So I am conscious that this meal is very much like the last supper and the taste is therefore almost surreal. As much as I would like to just focus on the two of us, enjoy the meal and soak up the beautiful blue skies and the waves outside, I can’t help painting a few dark clouds on the horizon. No matter how much I try to “think positive”, “carpe diem…seize the day” and all that, life is what it is. It takes sun and rain to make a rainbow…light and dark. I love rainbows and paint them in my waking dreams. I guess that’s what it takes to make a rainbow but I would still love clear blue skies all the same!

But in the end as much as the company, the food and the view were all out of this world, like anyone who is caught up in the daily family cook fest, I was also grateful that the meal was:

a)      Cooked by someone else

b)      Didn’t come with a toy included.

c)      Child free

d)      Didn’t have to clean up afterwards

e)      Wasn’t served in a clear plastic container.

PS: Got through yesterday’s hospital visit much better than last time. Didn’t get quite so freaked out by the white hospital gown and woke up feeling very refreshed after a blissful sleep.

Must confess though that I did indulge in some chocolate cake on the way home. As I said, you always need to balance the light and the dark… beautiful dark chocolate flourless cake with a white chocolate button on top!

But… we did have a gorgeous healthy salad with the dinner tonight. I really am trying to eat healthy to be healthy. I’m about to take this to a whole new level so stay tuned. This is up there with the Tai Chi (I have been once) and takes a bit of educating, planning and commitment. I have to keep reminding myself that chocolate is not my friend but it can sound so convincing: “Don’t lie, Rowena! I know exactly how much you really love me!!!”

Wish me luck and an iron will to resist the temptation. I’m completely surrounded but I just need to practice the two-letter word….NO!

I’m sure I can do it!

xx Rowena

The Love of a Stranger

You can make fun of Cupid with his bow and arrows but sometimes love does just strike out of the blue and Cupid makes as much sense as anything else.

In this instance, I’m not referring to romantic love. Rather, I’m talking about the love of a stranger…someone you have never met before. Someone you don’t know from a bar of soap. Yet, for some strange reason they have loved you or you have loved them and really, genuinely cared.

I am not going to quote those who have gone before me and come up with all sorts of elaborate definitions of love. As much as I usually love classifying and defining things with Darwinian precision, right now I’m feeling that love needs to be free and unfettered. Let out of its cage and not put back into any kind of “box”.

That’s because the love of a stranger doesn’t make sense. We expect even demand love and its implicit attention and understanding from our close family and friends and conversely expect the reverse of a stranger. However, sometimes a stranger “gets us” in a way that our nearest and dearest do not and we make a connection that is very much “outside the square” or outside our inner circle and we are almost bamboozled when it happens.

Why is it so?

I am a very extroverted person and it is quite usual for me to chat to strangers. As much as I need to be alone to write, paint and create, I’m usually chatting to somebody in my head while I’m doing these things so I’m not really so alone after all. People are the centre of my universe. I don’t always love them but they intrigue and fascinate me. I try to nut them out. I know there are no definitive answers but life is also about the journey.

So it’s not surprising that I am quite familiar with the love of a stranger. I’ve had quite a few of these experiences and can no longer just write them off as “chance”.  They were meant to be. There had to be a reason!

Every now and then, someone comes into my heart. Sometimes, I know them. Sometimes, I don’t. That person comes into my heart and I care about them in a way that really defies explanation. While this might seem like a fabulous thing, it can actually be quite awkward as well and I can find myself trying to pull back my emotions like reigning in a wild horse. I care so much but how can I possibly convey that love to a stranger without intruding or looking like some kind of fruitcake?

I end up doing what a lot of people probably do with this very, very special love. I keep it to myself. Hide my love away. I might write poems, which never get read and some of them have been quite beautiful. I’m not talking about my writing style here but the vision that I’ve had of that person and I really would like to somehow step across that divide….that gap that exists between strangers…and connect. Surely, this is why this person has been put in my heart in the first place? There has to be some point to it all!

So while there is so much beauty in the love of a stranger, there can also be this sense of overwhelming distance, inhibition and frustration and it can all just get too difficult in the end…another mission impossible!

I recently experienced the love of a stranger myself in a very powerful and life changing way.

Last October, I found out I had mild Institial Lung Disease, a known complication from my auto-immune disease. This news was absolutely devastating. This disease can be quite dormant or it can go out of control like wild fire and basically take you out very quickly. My kids were only 7 and 5 at the time and my daughter still pretty much clung to my leg. The thought of them losing their mum was extremely intense. You can just imagine the kind of very dark place I was in at the time. I should, of course, mention the upside is that this lung disease can be quite dormant and there is treatment available but that treatment can get very toxic. I’ve known all of this for five years so it wasn’t a surprise but once my nemesis had finally arrived, I still felt shattered (so far I am in the dormant category which has been fabulous news!)

After getting this news, I wandered into the hospital volunteer shop. Our volunteers are called the Pink Ladies and they have a stall selling second hand books, toys and all those hand-knitted items you find in hospital shops.

I can’t even remember what I was buying but as I was paying, I burst into tears. I am not the bursting into tears in public kind of person. Most of us do like to think of ourselves as somewhat stoic, even when we’ve just been given dreadful news.

Well, one of the pink ladies takes my hand and smiles at me and I’m pretty sure she even told me I would be alright. Usually, when someone tells me I’m going to be all right in the middle of a crisis, I’m rather rebellious and my inner cynic growls and snaps away like a rabid dog. “What would you know?” Growl! Growl! Growl! But this time it was very, very different. As she held my hand, I felt the most amazingly intense sense of love almost like a white light. I felt such warmth, comfort and strangely in the midst of all this heartache, I felt a sense of peace.

I had been touched by a stranger.

As much as I am loved by my husband, my kids, my family and friends, this was different.  I really believed I’d been touched by God. That God reached out to me through the love of a stranger. Perhaps for some people, that might make perfect logical sense but for me, it was still a very steep learning curve. You see, I’ve had a few chats with God about why I have this disease and not all of them have been particularly pretty.

As I’ve thought about this recently, I have also wondered how or even if this experience affected the pink lady at all. Was she conscious of feeling this great love for me at the time or was she just some kind of vessel…that God just moved through her without her even being aware of it at all? I would like to find out. I am always curious.

Yet, despite all my frequent hospital visits, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen this pink lady again. Funny that!

As wonderful and life changing as it was for me to experience being loved by a stranger, it can be quite a different thing to love a stranger yourself. How are you supposed to express that love and very deep sense of concern about this person you don’t even know or might know a little bit but not enough “to intrude”?

Recently, I found myself in quite an awkward situation. One of my doctors became quite ill and the whole thing was kept very quiet. That’s understandable. Every patient is entitled to their privacy and as a doctor, your privacy is probably something you have to fight pretty hard to preserve. I get that. At the same time, my doctor had saved my life and so it was only natural that I would, at the very least, care about him. But there is a real line in the sand between doctors and patients.  Even though he knew all about me, I knew almost nothing about him at all. He was as good as a stranger. I saw him in shared rooms in the hospital clinic where there was nothing even remotely personal so I hadn’t even seen a family photo…nothing. But as my doctor became a patient himself, I was subconsciously barracking for him like all of Australia calling out: “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi! at the Olympics. I really, really wanted him to win. Not for me but for his family. Sadly, I couldn’t tell him any of this although I did send him a couple of cards. As much as you care, you also need to respect other people’s space, their privacy and their need to deal with their issues in their own way. Not everyone blogs their innermost thoughts onto the Internet hoping to attract as many readers as possible. Most of my closest friends and family are ironically extremely private people.

Unfortunately, my doctor passed away. Again, I was deeply saddened but not for myself. I felt a very strong connection to his wife for some reason. A woman I didn’t know existed before the notice appeared in the paper. She was really on my mind. I don’t know why. Certainly, some of my mother’s friends are starting to lose their husbands and Mum has shared some of their struggles with me…what it is like to lose your soul mate, your partner. Perhaps, that was it.

Anyway, I wrote his wife a card and delivered that while I was still working on my letter. I wanted to give his family a few anecdotes about him from a patient’s perspective. When my grandmother passed away, we received some extraordinary letters and insights and they were such treasures…diamonds! I have this sense that when you lose someone you love, you want to hold onto as much of them as possible and every little story and anecdote is precious.

But I guess this writing process intensified my sense of connection and soon I was doing my usual thing of walking round in someone else’s shoes and experiencing grief that wasn’t mine. Fortunately, I went away for a week and that helped break that connection, which was a good thing. Feeling so intensely for a stranger who I wouldn’t see and couldn’t connect with, wasn’t helping anyone. Moreover, there are so many people closer to home, especially my husband and kids, who really needed me back.

Thinking things through, love in action is probably the best way of conveying your love for a stranger. When someone is going through hard times, you can cook them a meal, pick up their kids or make a donatation. These are socially acceptable avenues, safe ways of expressing your love, respect and concern for a stranger. People are understandably wary when strangers turn up on their doorstep unannounced.

One of the greatest stories about the love of a stranger in action, involves rescuing the survivors of the Titanic. I came across this story around the time that my doctor passed away and it showed me that loving and caring for a stranger, particular someone who is hurting, isn’t such a strange thing after all. It is part of being human and being more than just a cold and calculating machine!

When Carpathia received the distress signal from the sinking Titanic, she was 51 miles and close to 4 hours away. Instead of thinking “it’s not my problem” and ignoring the situation, Captain Rostrum, the crew and the passengers all rallied together and pushed themselves and that ship well beyond its limits to come to the aid of total strangers. Of course, Carpathia was travelling through the very same icy waters which had sunk Titanic and was also at high risk of a collision with an iceberg herself. She wasn’t exactly the latest and greatest ship either and as Captain Rostrum exceeded her maximum speeds, there was every possibility that her boilers could blow. The heaters were turned off to conserve power and everything went into getting that boat there as fast as possible. The cooks were ordered to make soup and passengers gave up their cabins for the survivors and even gave them some of their clothes. You didn’t hear anybody cry: “Oh the Titanic sank and ruined my holiday!”

That was the love of a stranger.

More recently, in January 2011, we had the Brisbane Floods.   I was staying near Byron Bay in Northern NSW at the time and we experienced similar weather conditions. It felt like the entire Pacific Ocean was somehow falling from the sky and it rained and rained and rained for days on end. All of this rain didn’t go down well in Brisbane, which I found out has been built on a glorified flood plain. I have been on picnics beside the Brisbane River where she looked so calm and still but she was really just a sleeping giant. With all this rain, the Brisbane River burst its banks spewing mud and guts everywhere. There was mass devastation.

Almost immediately, huge bands of volunteers mobilised, bringing along their own mops, buckets, gum boots and even cleaning products. They went into strangers’ homes and cleaned up the mess. You could just imagine the mess too. What it was like to clean up all that filthy, stinky river mud. It’s the sort of thing nobody wants to deal with and certainly not a job any sensible person would go chasing and yet they did. I even heard of a stranger clearing a dead cow out of a complete stranger’s  home in Ipswich. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

I’ve written a lot here about the love of a stranger in difficult or tragic circumstances but I also wanted to share another situation which means a lot to me.

Last year, when I went down to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, I attempted to buy some new clothes. That might sound simple enough but I couldn’t find anything which fit and had such a dreadfully demoralising shopping experience. I had been alternating between two identical pairs of jeans just to keep myself covered up and was really desperate for some new clothes.  Since I’ve been on prednisone, I have put on weight and it’s been very hard to find anything which fit let alone reflected my personality or character at all. I came back from Sydney feeling so defeated. I’d given up on clothes shopping for life!!

A few days later, however, I was going to my local fruit shop with the kids when I noticed the most extraordinary scarf in a shop window nearby. This scarf literally pulled me in off the street and I was mesmerised. I had to have it. Now, this is the great thing about scarves because they really are one size fits all. they can reflect your personal style and also camouflage a few sins.

The next day, I went back into the shop and instead of the usual neglect, I was suddenly treated like a movie star and my new found “friend” took me through such a range of clothes and looks that I’d never ever considered before and really pampered me. She spent time with me introducing me to a weird contraption called the shrug, a cape and I think I bought a black top and a knitted jacket.  More than just buying clothes, she helped me feel validated, worthwhile and special. She was so positive and as we chatted, we found out we had a lot in common. Slowly but surely, my “muse” as I’ll call her has encouraged me, listened and become such a lifesaving friend. I go into the shop which I’ll call “The Sanctuary” and I now have “my chair” and I sit out the back and we chat about so many personal and precious things. I am not the only person who visits the muse either. There is a little following, which is what happens when you love people. People gravitate towards you. They want to be with you…a part of you even.

(Just a small digression here…I have subsequently lost 10 kilos!!)

Even though I still feel somewhat awkward about loving and caring for strangers, I am realising that it’s not so weird after all. Loving a stranger is actually quite beautiful and often very altruistic involving much more give than take. But it can take a bit of courage and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone to take that risk. While it can be difficult to know quite how to share our love with a stranger, somehow we need to persevere instead of doing what I’ve been doing and hiding my love away, keeping it secret. Love isn’t something you want to keep trapped in a bottle or some kind of bug catcher. Love needs to free… as free as a butterfly in flight!

When you rotate “Understanding” 45 degrees, you get a butterfly. Just an interesting thought. It’s amazing what you discover when you doodle.

Butterfly in a Love Bubble…Two hearts that beat as one.

Butterfly in a Love Bubble…two hearts that beat as one.

So on that note, it’s time for me to leave my inner labyrinth and go with the flow…love’s flow instead of being so ridiculously inhibited. I have sent off one of my poems this week and I’m going to finish off that letter to my doctor’s wife. My doctor’s obituary recently appeared in the paper and it was very warm and intimate, providing me I guess with a bridge of some sort…some way of reaching across the great divide.

I just had this thought…

If we could only paint the world with love, perhaps the Earth could even glow like the sun…and not through global warming either!

What are we waiting for?

I’ll race you…

On your marks! Get set! Go!

Last one there’s a rotten egg!

Morpeth Revisited

If you are trying to resist an over-active sweet tooth, Morpeth is fatal.

Same goes for bread.

If you are trying not to be tempted by fashion, art, vintage books, baby dolls, teddy bears and luscious designs, Morpeth is also fatal.

If you long to return to yesteryear with gorgeous cobbled footpaths, streets wide enough for a bullock train to turn around and stunningly rustic historic buildings…Morpeth is impossible to resist.

To top it all off, I know the brochures all talk about the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the main street but all I could smell when I first stepped out of the car was cow. I won’t be specific but there was that gorgeous country cow smell which for me, is almost more fragrant than a rose.

Morpeth is my kind of place. In fact, I even saw a few signs around town which had my name on them…For Sale…For Lease…For Rent…

I’m sure it’s a sign.

I’m sure it was a sign!

I could so easily move to Morpeth even though I do love our stunning beach with breathtaking views across Pittwater to Palm Beach Lighthouse and beyond.

It’s interesting because of all the things I did see, there was one notable thing I didn’t see in Morpeth… technology shops. They might have been there but I didn’t see any computer shops or shops selling fancy TV remotes you need engineering degrees to operate. Yes, Morpeth definitely seems like my kind of place.

I’m not going to pretend to know Morpeth well or have any inside knowledge of the place. I’ve only been there twice but my grandfather’s grandmother, Charlotte Merritt, was born there back in 1864. While in some circles that could almost make me a local, they didn’t stay very long and never became part of the social framework. I believe her father was some kind of itinerant labourer who moved around a lot.

My Great Great Grandmother, Charlotte Merritt, who was born in Morpeth in 1864.

I ended up in Morpeth for the first time almost by accident about a month ago when we were visiting nearby Maitland. I was a bit curious to see where Charlotte Merritt had come from and friends of mine live in Morpeth and told me all about fudge and ginger beer tastings, Miss Liley’s Lolly Shop, a teddy bear shop and all the cafes. It sounded like a veritable of kaleidoscope of tempting possibilities. We were off.

Morpeth is a historic village located in the Hunter Valley North of Newcastle, Australia. It was founded in 1821 and is a historic river port. It’s 168 KM North of Sydney and roughly two hours drive depending on who’s driving and the traffic conditions.

This is my second visit to Morpeth and this time, I am here all by myself and the world, or should I say Morpeth, is my oyster.

Display upstairs at Campbell’s Store.

If I had to use one word to describe Morpeth, it would have to be “enchanting”. It has that real feel of being in a magical childhood setting like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I almost expected the oompa loompas to turn up any minute. Or perhaps, I was Alice in Wonderful and the white rabbit was about to turn up.

As much as I could wax lyrically about all the stunning, gorgeous wonderful things I saw in Morpeth, I was a woman on a mission. Both Mum and Geoff had requested more coconut ice from Campbell’s. My son had requested “souvenirs” and I was there with the explicit purpose of visiting the annual Morpeth Weird & Wonderful Novelty Teapot Exhibition and the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge. The local newsletter, The Morpeth Whisper had also featured a Leaning Tower of Pisa Tea Set, which I wanted to check out and I was also keen to have more of a lingering look at the very enticing clothing boutiques in Swan Street.

Something told me I should have robbed a bank before I went to Morpeth. There was just so much temptation on so many, many fronts. I had to take a deep, deep breath and muster all the self-restraint I could find and I still have more than just a few confessions!

Me with the tea cosys

I started out at the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge. This display was simply inspirational, magical with over 400 entries were on display. Most of the designs were knitted and there were amazingly intricate, detailed and imaginative worlds made out of wool. We’re talking flowers, birds, dainty little tea parties with teeny cups and saucers and even a red back spider. Personally, when I was at school, I struggled to knit the compulsory 20 cm x 20cm woollen squares we had to make for the annual clothing drive. I couldn’t imagine how anybody could produce these amazing creations without a magic wand or a pair of magic knitting needles!

Aren’t they just amazing!

Most of the tea cosies were either for sale or sold. There were so many exquisitely pretty designs to choose from but I opted for something quirky instead. I bought two tea coseys. One was the Queen of Hearts and the other one was Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. I’d had a rough time with our son last week and as I headed North along the freeway to Morpeth, I really did feel glad to get away and have a break…even if it was only for one day. So the Queen of Hearts sort of resonated with me…as did Tweedledum and Tweedle Dee. I couldn’t quite recall what the Queen of Hearts actually did in Alice in Wonderland at the time but she certainly had a very stern look on her face and she had a stick with a heart on the end in one hand. She really looked like a force to be reckoned with. I could use a bit of assistance. Both of kids can join forces against me and make life quite difficult at times so Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee seemed quite appropriate for them. I’m hoping the Queen of Hearts will sort them out!

The Queen of Hearts with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

Once I arrived home, I actually remembered what the Queen of Hearts actually said. That was “off with their heads!”

Oh well!

The New Baby.

I wandered out of the Tea Cosy Exhibition and into the baby Doll shop. Cathy Brady meticulously transforms doll parts into incredibly life like works of art or is it real life? This is a highly skilled and painstaking process taking 180 hours of work over a three week period…almost like a long labour. I personally thought these baby dolls were a vast improvement on the real thing. They’re low maintenance. They don’t cry. There are no dirty nappies. You can put them down and they’ll still be there when you come back. These dolls are also so lifelike that they do indeed have personality. But they can’t love you. Hug you. They’re not quite the same as the real thing but a very, very close impersonation. You can visit the dolls at http://www.cathybradyartist.com/realistic-baby-dolls-for-sale

Cathy Brady- the Artist at Work.

Next, I wondered downstairs to the teapot exhibition. Now, I have a funny feeling I missed out on some of these. I did see a lot of teapots but most weren’t handmade. I am wondering how I managed this considering that was the main reason I went to Morpeth but there was just so much to see, perhaps I was a little overwhelmed. I ended up buying Geoff and I the leaning Tower of Pisa for our upcoming 11th Wedding Anniversary. I thought it summed our relationship up pretty well. We’ve had some tough times. We’re leaning a bit to one side but we haven’t toppled over. We’re still standing almost tall.

The teapot Exhibition

I wondered across the road into Miss Lily’s Lolly Shop. Even an adult feels quite childlike going into a candy store. I found some beautiful looking lollies that looked like polished stones. Unfortunately, I’d run out of cash and went on so many deviations along the main street that they had shut by the time I got back so that leaves something to look forward to for next time.

My New Suicide Shoes

Further up Swan Street, I saw the most deadly pair of heels in my size. I don’t know what was going through my head because given my muscle disease, I only ever buy sensible shoes. But I was in holiday mode. I was feeling frivolous and for once, I wanted to buy a pair of sexy shoes. So what if I couldn’t walk in them? I could always use my walking stick although that would look a bit silly. I’m sure it’s not written in the rule books but you can’t wear a pair of staggering high heels and use a walking stick! They’re diametrically opposed opposites. But they were only $30.00 and they have a solid block heel and surprisingly, I could actually walk in them after all. When I told Mum about them, she told me they could be my “under the table shoes”…uncomfortable shoes which you wear to a venue and discreetly take them off under the table. Sounds good to me although I suspect we’ll have to park right next to the table.

Writer At Work.

With so many nooks and crannies to explore, I wasn’t that interested in eating even though, yet again, there was so much temptation. I stopped for lunch at Cups N Crepes and had a banana smoothie, a cappuccino and a sumptuous Mars Bar and Caramel Cheese cake, which was delightfully mousey and melted in the mouth. It took me awhile to get through the smoothie and so I ended up writing for about an hour. I love writing in cafes and just letting my pen run wild. Shame I didn’t have the laptop though. I wouldn’t have to type it all up now.

Orange Trumpet Vine

While I was writing, I was almost mesmerised by a carpet of bright orange flowers (the Orange Trumpet Creeper) trailing down a boutique across the road. Growing on a rusty tin roof and back dropped against the deep blue sky, the composition was perfect. I zoomed in. I zoomed out. Just fabulous!

I also watched to get some shots of the bridge. The white wooden bridge over the Hunter River is a prominent feature in Morpeth. I was actually hoping to walk across but there was no footpath. I had to make do with photos from the bank.

The wind was incredibly strong and the river was so choppy that you could almost go for a surf. Okay, you know I’m exaggerating but you get my drift. I wanted to capture the raw energy of the wind in my photos. There is a very tall gum tree near the riverbank and its leaves and branches were exploding in a cacophony of sound as they thrashed away in the wind. There was such brute force and spirit but photos just didn’t do it justice.

Time was starting to get away from me by now.

Next stop, was Arnott’s Bakehouse, home of the famous Morpeth Sour Dough. I am a bread lover from way back and I was like a kid in a candy store staring at all that beautiful bread. At the time, I didn’t really have much of an idea about sour dough and was a bit wary to be honest. I chose a wholemeal loaf, which looked scrumptious and relatively “safe”. I really do recommend checking out their website at www.morpethsourdough.com.au. There are too many stories for me to encapsulate them here but this story was so funny, I’ll provide a direct link: http://www.morpethsourdough.com.au/media/14444/wish~july%202009%20v1.pdf

I don’t know if this is sacrilege but I brought my sour dough home and covered it in butter and Vegemite. The remaining loaf was converted into French toast for Sunday lunch and it was definitely scrumptious…a far superior product to my previous efforts. I’ve got a feeling I can buy this bread locally and if it wasn’t close to midnight, I’d be in the car and on my way!

I knew I only had a day or actually it was only three-quarters of a day in Morpeth and the Cinderella hour was rapidly approaching. Perhaps, I should have just felt grateful for the time I’d had but it was very hard to leave when I was having so much fun!

I had to be back by 6.30PM at the very latest to pick the kids up from after-school care. You don’t want to be the bad mother who arrives late and keeps everybody waiting even though the staff are well aware that “things happen”. I want to be responsible but at the same time, I feel like being wicked. I definitely have a bit of bad attitude what with buying the Queen of Hearts “off with their head” tea cosy, the suicidal high heel shoes and not caring about how late I arrive home… not to mention how much money I’ve spent. I know I’m over-compensating for something! Do you think I could blame the prednisone again?

Last stop Campbell’s where I stock up on Coconut Ice, Peanut brittle musk sticks and some boiled lollies for the kids. It sounds like I’ve bought a lifetime supply but I’m sure they’ll all be gone by the end of the week!

The clock has now struck four o’clock and contrary to my expectations, the car hasn’t turned into a pumpkin and my clothes haven’t turned into rags. There is no mad panic around me. It is all a matter of self-discipline. I can be strong and go now or I can push the envelope a little and hope the accelerator will do the trick. After all, it’s not every day you get to go to Morpeth and Geoff could possibly pick them up if I’m “stuck”.

Photographing the shadows on the cobbled footpath.

I walk out of Campbell’s and notice the shadows on the cobbled footpath. My camera is in the car. I was going to going to head off but just one last photo, then I’ll hit the road. Make it ten.

I somehow managed to get lost leaving Morpeth and was heading North towards Raymond Terrace. I also got stuck in heavy traffic but I still managed to pull up at after-school care at 6.00pm with half an hour to spare. I walked in to catch the kids in the middle of a fight. Another child had taken my son’s bag by mistake and later on that night my daughter had a bit of a tummy bug. I always expect payback. I can’t expect to have pure unadulterated fun without repercussions.

I’m hoping to get back to Morpeth again soon to do their walking tour. It looks fabulous. Stay tuned.

One final note…this morning when the musk sticks ran out, the kids I should go back to get some more. It was then that my son remembered the huge rainbow lollipops he’d seen at Campbell’s.

“The size of those rainbow lollipops!” he gasped. “I don’t care if I die. I just want one of those rainbow lollipops!!

“Make that two,” gasped my daughter.

“They have rainbow lorikeets in them,” my son exclaimed. “That’s why they’re not healthy. They have feathers in them.”

I don’t know where he got that idea from but it’s definitely “creative”.

I am already planning another trip. I still haven’t done the walking tour and I would mind a long lunch with some friends either.

Do you have any tales about Morpeth?

xx Ro