Tag Archives: recovery

The Morning After…a Walk Along the Beach.

“You see but your shadow when you turn your back to the sun.

Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

Last night, as we watched the full moon rise over a sprawling landscape of twinkling lights, I felt such a mixture of hope and dread, like you do when, for whatever reason, you become intensely conscious transience. As much as you desperately try to hold onto the known, the familiar, the beloved; you know your efforts are futile. Change is in the wind and you’re losing your grip. Like that mysterious world at the top of Enid Blyton’s: The Magic Faraway Tree, you don’t know what’s coming next. Whether it’s better or worse, or just different. All you know is that you can’t turn back. That door is shut. Indeed, it’s so firmly shut it’s like that world never even existed and has escaped to the realms of dreams, legend…fantasy even.

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.

Kahlil Gibran, Sand & Foam

Even though I’ve conquered many hurdles, especially in relation to my health, I’m definitely no Captain Courageous. Oh no! I can withdraw inside my cocoon just as much as the next person but I’m also starting to figure out what works for me and that if I don’t want to wallow in the mud, there are things I can do to lift myself out.

When you lose something precious, it is all too easy to forget what you still have. What is left. It’s understandable that I’m upset about losing our escape hatch at Palm Beach but we actually live 700 metres away from the beach, an absolutely smashing beach. Umina Beach fronts onto Broken Bay, just North of Sydney and has a postcard view of Lion Island, Pittwater and across to Palm Beach. Indeed, I can even wave to the Palm Beach Lighthouse and I swear that sometimes it even waves back.

Walking, I find, is also very good for clearing out the soul and after several weeks of rain, the sun returned yesterday and gave another encore performance today. Knowing that Winter is just around the corner, I’m grabbing these sunny days with both feet and getting out to the beach…carpe diem: seize the day!

Wally the Wandering Wombat and Ernie at the beach. But where's Bert?

Wally the Wandering Wombat and Ernie at the beach. But where’s Bert?

So after school drop off this morning, I went down to Umina Beach not only for a walk but to do a photo shoot.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a project to promote awareness of my auto-immune disease which involves photographing Wally the Wombat whose wanderings from the UK and around Australia are being well-documented. Dermatomyositis can affect children as well so I headed off to the beach to photograph Wally with Ernie from Sesame Street.

Memorial to the lives lost in the Christchurch Earthquake. On the 3rd anniversary of the earthquake, a single red carnation on each chair in remembrance of all those who died. Photo: Joyce Majendie

Memorial to the lives lost in the Christchurch Earthquake. On the 3rd anniversary of the earthquake, a single red carnation on each chair in remembrance of all those who died. Photo: Joyce Majendie

I also took along a cane chair.

I am currently putting together a farewell to Palm Beach series based on the image of the empty chair. The empty chair has been used to symbolise loss and grief in various works and Geoff Le Pard reminded me of that when he told me about a memorial to the victims of the Christchurch earthquakes called 185 Empty White Chairs with a chair to represent each person who died in the quake. I Googled it and was quite moved by the memorial and loved how they’ve used such an eclectic array of chairs, including a wheelchair, which have all been painted white. It was very evocative.

Vincent Van Gogh:

Vincent Van Gogh: “Van Gogh’s Chair 1888”

So here’s to new beginnings…I think! That and being thankful for all that we do have, even at timesof loss and transition when it’s so easy to forget.

xx Rowena

Umina Beach looking across to Lion Island and Palm Beach.

Umina Beach looking across to Lion Island and Palm Beach.

Chair and foam

Chair and foam

The tide shows no respect for what's been left upon the shore.

The tide shows no respect for what’s been left upon the shore.

ZZZZZ…The End of the A-Z Challenge.

Never Wake A Sleeping Dog!

Ha! I have bad news for you, Bilbo! Dogs are open for therapy 24/7. You’re on call day and night…and thank goodness for that!!

Yesterday, marked the end of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge and as the song puts it, the party’s over..at least until next year! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8BGHt18JTI

Taking a leaf out of the dogs’ book, I was planning to fall into a very deep sleep now that the challenge is over. I was really looking forward to cruising along easy street. Indeed, I wasn’t even planning to get out of bed!!

However, my  hibernation was rudely interupted before it even began, to be perfectly honest. That all transpired after reading Geoff Le Pard’s Z post: Z Is the End? http://geofflepard.com/2015/04/30/z-is-the-end/

Now, I, or I should say “we” have a lot of work to do!!

Damn! However, I had a funny feeling that this overactive brain of mine wasn’t going to switch off, anyway!

Thanks to all who have been following me throughout the challenge, commenting and even sharing my posts. I have also grown expendentially by reading some fantastic blogs during the challenge, which have incredibly enhanced my awareness of the world beyond my own front door.

Being unable to travel much at the moment, I’ve truly appreciated these vicarious journeys and I can’t wait to follow in your footsteps!

Meanwhile, I’m going to make a greater effort to explore the world around me, which, after all, people travel from the other side of the world to see.

I’ll be back with a summary of my A-Z posts and I’m also going to do a word count. See how far these clicketty clacketty fingers have travelled in the last 30 days.

How many words did you clock up? I think we’re all about to be seriously impressed! However, if only building up words could somehow fire up the pedometer and get the body fit as well as the mind, we’d all be competing at the Olympics!

Anyway, although the challenge has been well and truly challenging, I have loved every minute and will be missing it just a tad…

xx Rowena

N is for Neuroplasticity: Changing Your Life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1+1 = 2

It’s not rocket science.

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

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

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

What is Neuroplasticity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neuroplasticity and Acceptance.

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

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

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr

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

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

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

Yes, neuroplasticity couldn’t fix everything.

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

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

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

Xx Rowena

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

Sources

http://www.normandoidge.com/

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

A Lifesaving Journey with Anne Frank!

In the opening lines of The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne shared the excitement of unwrapping her diary: “Dear Kitty” …a gift for her 13th birthday. Likewise, on my 13th birthday, I had a similar rush of excitement when I unwrapped Anne’s diary, which was a gift from my mother, along with an empty journal to get me started.

Anne Frank writing in 1941.

Anne Frank writing in April, 1941.

Mum was forever trying to get me interested in reading but she also encouraged and nurtured my writing. When I was around 11 years old, she’d taught me how to spell “enthusiastic” and I was as proud as punch with my new word and liberally started adding it to my compositions at school to receive that all-important red tick and VG in the margin. That same year, Mum also gave me a thesaurus. Although it took me a few years to really master it, that precious book opened my mind to the real possibility of words and engendered a real love of words themselves. Words…not just as part of a sentence, or telling a story but words as individuals. All of a sudden, I could appreciate their unique sound and imagery in the same way you can appreciate the beauty in a single, musical note.

Anyway, having connected so strongly with Anne Frank, not unsurprisingly, I wrote my journal entries to: “Dear Anne”…the perfect friend and confidant. That said, to be honest, writing to her was a bit like staring in a pond at my own reflection. She knew, understood and accepted me in a way I didn’t even accept myself.

Of course, I wasn’t conscious of any of this at the time. I just wrote and wrote, pouring out my very troubled heart to Anne Frank in a way that I couldn’t with anyone “real” at the time. After all, who can? As we traversed the years, Anne became drawn into and even a very part of my heart of hearts.On reflecton, I suspect these outpourings to “Dear Anne” were like writing to a much older, wiser part of myself. An inner dialogue with and to that essential, spiritual part of my being, which The Bible describes as having God living within us.That God was somehow speaking to me through her words…or was that my words or even His words??? Ouch! I’m so confused!!

There were so many, many times when writing in my diary saved me from that swirling vortex of pubescence, which really can engulf a teenager and certainly wasn’t unique or peculiar to me…just part of growing up.

After all, being a teenager can be a very perplexing and challenging time. As if simply growing up wasn’t hard enough, when you add all those surging hormones and mind, body and spirit all get thrown into the mix, you have one very explosive pressure cooker. As parents often lament, it doesn’t take much for the lot to explode! Writing to Anne Frank via my diary, was a kind of pressure valve, letting out the steam before the pressure cooker exploded leaving splat all over the ceiling.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

Although I related intimately to Anne Frank, well you might question that connection. After all, we were two complete strangers living in such different worlds at different  times. What could we possibly have in common?

An snapshot of Anne's original diary.

An snapshot of Anne’s original diary.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression and was actually the same age as my Great Aunt. Indeed, they were born only months apart, which has come to intrigue me. With the rising tide of anti-Semitism, the Franks fled to Amsterdam and ultimately went into hiding in the Secret Annexe where she was not only in hiding from the Nazis but was also living under the microscope in impossibly close quarters with her parents, sister and other residents. Indeed, she had to share her bedroom with an old, cranky male dentist, which seems highly inappropriate through modern eyes!! That would be a living hell for any teenager!!! Anyone!!!

Frank Family Photo May 1941

Frank Family Photo May 1941

What did I, a girl born in the late 1960s in sunny, suburban Sydney on the other side of the world during a time of peace and economic prosperity, have in common with Anne Frank?  The casual observer would say that a bad day was having to walk to school or fighting with my brother for control of the TV… such trivial concerns in the overall scheme of things!!

However, underneath the surface, my situation wasn’t quite that straight-forward, which was no doubt an another reason I connected with Anne Frank. We didn’t know it at the time but I was living in a weird sort of prison all of my own.

Anyway, beyond her circumstances, Anne Frank also expressed so much of the frustration, angst and confusion of being a teenager and she did so in such a way that millions have found solace in her words. Just like me writing away at my desk in suburban Sydney, millions of young women have also addressed their journals: “Dear Anne”.

Anne wrote about her strained relationship with her mother and living in the shadow of her perfect sister, Margot. She also felt that she was being constantly criticized by the other adults in the annexe who simply didn’t get her. These are experiences most of us can relate to and so through her words, we found a mirror of our own struggle as well as a much loved and needed friend and confidante.

I also related to Anne Frank as a person as well. We are both extroverts, wanted to be journalists and have inquiring minds. Both of us were obsessed with asking “why?”. We were both fascinated and intrigued by people and what makes them tick. We also struggled with our relationships with our mothers. These commonalities bridged the many, many gaps which lay between us. She was my friend, my confidante and at times, it seemed like the only person on this planet, who had ever walked in my shoes because we both felt a sense of being different, misunderstood and outcast.

“People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn’t stop you from having your own opinion.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank also became the perfect soul mate for any teen, or anyone at all for that matter, who grapples with being different for whatever reason. Anne Frank’s sense of difference not only involved being a young Jewish girl being persecuted by the Nazis. Once living with her family in the annexe, her sense of difference stemmed more from everyone else in the annexe and it certainly wasn’t easy for her being the youngest and feeling like she was being treated as a child, even though she had become a young woman. At times, Anne feels persecuted by everybody in the annexe and feels she can’t do anything right. Haven’t we all been there?

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite independent of anyone.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

However, as my journey continued beyond the turbulent teens, I outgrew calling my journal Anne, although I’ve never outgrown my love for her. Once I’d left school and started university, I discovered that people come in all sorts of packages and that diversity is a blessing, not a curse.When I was backpacking through Europe back in 1992, I visited Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, which was certainly an incredibly special, deeply,deeply personal experience. I have never forgotten what she meant to me and how writing to her saved a drowning soul so many times all those years ago.

It was only as my journey continued that I came to realise just how much Anne Frank had helped me. All my life, I’d felt different but didn’t know why. I had this deep sense and knowledge that something was wrong but couldn’t work out what or put a name to it. There was something deep and unfathomable going on and I searched, really ploughing the depths it all but it still remained a mystery. Once I reached university, I found out I wasn’t so alone and there were indeed thousands like me but still that nagging doubt persisted. Something was wrong.I developed an intense interest in psychology, philosophy, literature, prayed and wrote angst-ridden poems in an almighty quest to try and unravel my own inner mystery and somehow understand myself.

Meanwhile, I was diagnosed with serious anxiety.

It was only when I was around 27 when these seemingly vague symptoms stepped out of the closet and spiraled out of control, that the mystery was revealed. After feeling like the room was spinning round, I went to the GP who asked me to put my finger on my nose, a classic neurological test and I missed. He referred me to the neurologist and I was diagnosed with Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a variation of hydrocephalus. Suddenly, a myriad of weird symptoms fell into place and the unexplained started to make sense. Apparently, I’d had this all my life and it was probably caused my my very difficult birth. Although the symptoms had always been bubbling quietly under the surface, six months after diagnosis, I descended into a neurological hell, which was right out of Oliver Sack’s: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.  I went on to have brain surgery and was given a shunt, which managed the pressure in my head. It was a long road back to anything approaching “normal” and I went through six months of intensive rehab where I learned to walk again (this time without staggering around with the broad gait of a sailor on a shaky skiff) and well as overcoming serious short-term memory issues and having virtually no ability to organise myself.

Unwittingly, Anne Frank helped me survive those torturous teenage years where the symptoms of the hydrocephalus were there but written off simply as “Rowena”. Since re-adjusting the settings, it’s been quite a journey…incredibly frustrating and slow moving at first but intriguing in retrospect. While I am still me, there are definitely traits that weren’t “me” at all and were symptoms which have since faded, if not gone altogether. Even now, almost 20 years after surgery, I am still noticing improvements but still have some lingering struggles.  I can now play the violin, ski but more importantly, I met and married my husband and have largely been able to look after our two children and the dogs. I also returned to work as a Marketing Manager, although chemo two years ago has put work on hold for the time being.

I am still an extrovert and full of all the contradictions I shared with Anne Frank and I hope, have a deeper sense of compassion for people who don’t fit the norm and maybe don’t have a “Dear Anne” they can call their own.

These days, I am also a parent and next year, our son will dip his toe into that swirling vortex of pubescence when he starts high school. Somehow, I can’t see him writing to “Dear Anne” but he does Scouts and plays the guitar and I hope these outlets will bridge the gaps for him.

Meanwhile, our 9 year old daughter dabbles with writing in her diary and also loves drawing in there as well. I’m looking forward to giving her a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank when she turns 13 so she can also perhaps experience that same connection I found so many, many years ago.

Last year, I stumbled across this interview with Anne Frank’s father, Otto, who spoke dare I say frankly about reading her diary. This is an absolute must!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWRBinP7ans

Did you ever write a journal growing up and any suggestions on helping boys get through the teenage years would be appreciated!!

xx Rowena

PS: I think you’ll all agree that Anne frank achieved this goal:

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”
― Anne Frank

Laugh or Cry: Overcoming Birthday Caketastrophes!

Tomorrow, is our son’s 11th Birthday and of course, it’s going to be bigger than Ben Hur.

Surprise! Surprise! I decided to bake a Chocolate Cake and I’m jazzing it up with a caramel and whipped cream filling and smothering the lot with lashings of Milk Chocolate Ganache and a sprinkling of M & Ms. I know that sounds really indulgent,even decadent, but you only have a birthday once a year!

Chocolate cake…You can’t go wrong with chocolate cake.

The meaning of life can be found in Mummy's bowl.

The meaning of life can be found in Mummy’s bowl.

However, you obviously haven’t heard about my luck with making birthday cakes. It’s so bad that I’ve dubbed it: “The Great Birthday Cake Curse”!! For some strange reason, every single birthday cake I’ve ever made has been cursed, doomed, even double-doomed, as all sorts of dreadful complications set in.

Yet, with the precision of a surgeon, I painstakingly restore the cake and save the day.

Hey, who am I kidding?

There’s nothing precise about me in the kitchen. Rather, I’m very “slap dash”, whacking on the icing to camouflage near-fatal, structural craters, which are so deep that you could hide a semi-trailer inside…even an entire road train!!

Yet, despite these devastating catastrophes, I overcame the hurdles and had that cake out on the plate, candles alight with everybody singing “Happy Birthday”.

My husband’s uncle, who was a builder, always used to say that the difference between an amateur and a professional is being able to cover up their mistakes. Looking at how I’ve patched up my cakes, I can’t help wondering how many houses down in NE Tasmania are being held together by lumps of icing? It’s one of the world’s greatest gap fillers!!

Despite my birthday caketastrophes, I’m renowned for my scrumptious pavlovas and choc-chip cookies. Indeed,  when I took my choc chip cookies to scouts recently, I was quite the pied piper attracting throngs of little admirers. Indeed, after seeing the cookies in action, I decided to throw out my copy of How To Win Friends & Influence People and simply hand out cookies instead.

This only compounds my confusion. What’s the deal with the birthday cakes? Why do I have so much trouble? Who knows? It remains one of life’s great mysteries!

No doubt being more practical than yours truly, I can hear you wondering why I don’t just buy a cake instead? Why do I keep torturing myself birthday cake after agonising birthday cake? Talk about a masochist!

Well, if you have ever made a birthday cake for someone you love, you’ll know precisely why I have to make these @#$% birthday cakes myself. That’s right. I add that magic ingredient…my love. You can’t buy, manufacture or even fake that and it’s not something you can buy off the supermarket shelf!

So here I am the night before Mister’s big 11th birthday expecting a tribe of friends at his party. The cakes have been baked without incident.  Everything is proceeding exceptionally well.

That was until it came to whipping the cream . A relatively simple task but that’s what turned the tide. Actually, make that whipping the low-fat lactose-free cream. Mister and other family members are lactose intolerant. I was concerned that being low-fat might be a problem but I’m ever the optimist.

I’d been beating the absolute crap out of the cream and it was still sploshing around like milk in the bowl when it should have been resembling butter, if not cheese. It had also splattered  absolutely all over the bench, anything parked on it and all down my shirt. That was when I dug out my magnifying glass and had a closer look at the label. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be.  Oh my goodness! There it was. “Not suitable for whipping”. The cake was doomed. The party was doomed.Disaster!!!

It was 11.00PM. The shops were shut and I had two cakes which desperately needed to be sandwiched together. In my desperation, I thought the caramel might just be enough. Being my usual Einstein self, I thought that if I scooped the thicker layer of cream off the “milk” and mixed it with the caramel, to put it good old colloquial Australian lingo: “she’ll be right, mate”.

However…

Instead of bulking up the caramel, the cream almost turned it liquid.  My only hope was that it would fill up the bubbles in the cake before it ran off the edge and onto the plate. Taking a chance, I hoisted up the second layer of cake and prayed it would stay put, despite slipping and sliding around on roller skates. My only hope now was that the chocolate ganache would hold the cake together against all odds.

Not to be deterred by my humble prayers, catastrophe followed catastrophe and if I hadn’t developed resilience from all my previous birthday cake disasters, there would have been tears, loud wailing and unceasing sobs  as I cried and cried and cried….the world’s biggest loser of a Mum!

It might not be my party, but I’ll cry if I want to!! You would cry too if this had happened to you!

I'm not the only one who gets stressed out by birthday parties!

I’m not the only one who gets stressed out by birthday parties!

It’s My Party: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCPqaG8sVDE

 

Then and I guess you can see it coming, the @#$% cream stuffed up the ganache, which was sploshing like a chocolate milkshake. Desperate, I added cup after cup of icing sugar, trying to thicken it up. I’d poured in half the bag and it was still looking sloppy but at least, it was holding some shape. I poured the “ganache” over the cake and I looking like a human pretzel, I crossed everything I had to boost my luck.

But no! The ganache flowed over the top of the cake and kept going creating a moat around the poor, drowning cake. The river was so deep, you could literally kayak through it. Definitely not the look I was looking for so I started bailing the ganache out with a ladle and not unsurprisingly, it sploshed all over the bench and that’s when I found the dog not unsurprisingly underfoot.

This is where the birthday cake curse worked in my favour. Not being my first salvage operation, I had a few  tricks up my sleeve. In this instance, the answer had to be M & Ms. They cover up a multitude of sin. Although thanks to that wretched low fat lactose free “cream”, even they mucked up and were sliding down the cake. @#$%!!!

However, just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s salvation.

All's well that ends well.

All’s well that ends well.

I could have hugged one of my son’s friends. As he takes his first mouthful, he speaks up like a true Masterchef:

“I know what this is. It’s chocolate mouse!”

I’ve never been so thrilled. The chocolate ganache monster had a name and it was good.

Guess, it goes to show that you can’t go wrong with a chocolate cake after all!

By the way, here’s a past post about Birthday Cakes: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=5947&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2

Do you have any funny birthday stories to share? I’d love to hear them!!

xx Rowena

Accepting the Very Inspiring Bloggers Award

I would like to thank Phoebe from Musings of  Puppydoc http://phoebemd.com/2015/01/05/blog-awards/ for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Bloggers Award.

I was so stoked to receive this award because after all my trials and tribulations, I would like to be able to inspire others to claw their way forward when they go through periods of adversity. If you are ever going through a phase of darkness, know that the sun never sets. That it’s always shining. It’s just they we don’t see it.

Three favourite quotes which have inspired me through times of hardship are:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Calvin Coolidge

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

― Kahlil Gibran

The last quote came from our son’s pre-school teacher. Early childhood had some difficult moments, particularly due due my debilitating health which saw me hospitalised for 7 weeks when Mister was 3 and Miss was 18 months old. Initially, I would cynically snigger to myself that tomorrow would just bring more of the same but the reality was actually quite different. One day actually could be quite different to another.

“Tomorrow is another day.”

The Sun Set Byron Bay

Sun Set Byron Bay

Three things which have inspired me this week or in recent times are:

1) I heard TV interviews with the hostages who survived the terrorist siege in Sydney’s Lindt Cafe in Martin Place and I was incredibly touched and moved by their courage, survival skills and endurance. There were so many inspirational stories but I was particular moved by the thoughfulness of Marcia Mikhael who calm down two of the younger hostages when they had panic attacks and talked through through some relaxation and meditation techniques to calm them down. She also swapped places with them and moved from a very good vantage point where she could have escaped to being next to the gunman.

2) The outpouring of grief and compassion after the terrorist attacks in Martin Place, Sydney and in Paris. It was inspirational to see how good triumphed over evil.

3) I have signed up to be a part of a global blogging movement called #One Thousand Voices Speak for Compassion. where we will write a post about compassion on 20th February, 2015 …the International UN Day of Social Justice. Read more herehttps://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/bloggers-unite-for-a-better-world-1000-voices-speak-for-compassion/

You will find that many of the bloggers I have nominated live with chronic and serious medical conditions and refer to these on their blogs. I am inspired by their courage though great adversity and the love and encouragement they share.

There are also a few dog blogs on the list. These largely involve stories of dogs who have been rescued and lovingly given a new life yet still carry the emotional scars. There is also a blog about a therapy dog.

Here are the rules for accepting this award (purely voluntary):

1.  Thank the person who nominated you by including a link to his/her blog in your response, and display the award logo on your site.

2.  Nominate 15 other blogs (more or less). Include links to their blogs on your post, and inform them about the nomination.

3.  Mention three things that inspired you the most this week (you can talk about last week’s inspiration too or before that).

My nominations for the VIB award are as follows:

Miniscule Moments of Inspiration: http://www.kathunsworth.com

Bruises You can Touch: http://bruisesyoucantouch.com/

Journeyintopoetry: https://journeyintopoetry.wordpress.com

Yvonne Spence – http://yvonnespence.com/

Lizzi Rogers – http://summat2thinkon.wordpress.com/

Poetry Photos and Musings Oh my!    https://poetryphotosandmusingsohmy.wordpress.com/

Butterfly Mumma: http://butterflymumma.com/

Monika and Sam the therapy dog: Tails Around the Ranch: https://tailsaroundtheranch.wordpress.com/

Psychologistmimi: http://psychologistmimi.com/

Behind the White Coat : https://doctorly.wordpress.com/

#1000 Voices for Compassion: http://1000speak.wordpress.com/

Rachel Mankowitz: https://rachelmankowitz.wordpress.com/

Such Small Hands: https://lilyellyn.wordpress.com/about/

Ali Isaac Storyteller: http://aliisaacstoryteller.com/

Sirena Tales: https://sirenatales.wordpress.com/

Jackie at Lethargic Smiles: https://lethargicsmiles.wordpress.com/

I am Not A Sick Boy: http://iamnotsickboy.com/

Max the Dog: https://withinthekstreets.wordpress.com/  ….Max has inspired me with his very cute doggy looks and I now want to visit Hawaii.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

The Struggle to Heal: the broken foot and the Sydney Siege.

Have you ever considered the different way we respond to physical injuries versus psychological trauma? There’s absolutely no stigma going to a physiotherapist to treat your physical injuries, whereas admitting to seeing a psychologist could well open a whole can of worms.

Quite a double-standard, isn’t it?

It’s now almost been two months since the horrific terrorist siege gripped Sydney as a gunman held 18 people hostage in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place at the heart of Sydney’s CBD. While the hostages each have their own story, I am addressing the ripple effect which spread beyond the Lindt Cafe and held Sydney in its grip and is still rippling in the shadows. As evidenced by the thousands of floral tributes which overflowed through Martin Place and a Facebook request to send Christmas cards to Katrina Dawson’s kids spread; many, many people were deeply moved and grief-stricken over what happened. We truly and genuinely cared. This concern is naturally mixed with grief, fear and compassionate empathy and there’s naturally a need for psychological healing here too. There has been such grief for the Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson…two courageous heroes…strangers we’d never met before.

Flowers Martin Place

Flowers Martin Place

The night before the siege, I broke my foot and I felt this coincidence provided an opportunity to explore the differences between physical and psychological healing. The hostages were interviewed at length on TV last night and they each have their story. Naturally, I am very mindful of their trauma and send them my love and prayers. However, I’m looking further afield at how Sydney is responding to its psychological wounds. Are we undergoing treatment?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I returned to Martin Place for the first time since the siege last week on my way home from a series of medical appointments. I usually go off on a bit of a detour on the way home and quite intentionally don’t declare my whereabouts. This is Mummy’s secret escape…an absolute indulgence. I usually end up in a gorgeously quirky vegan cafe in Sydney’s Surry Hills. There’s a portrait of “The Vegan Mary” at the entrance and they make the most scrumptiously divine Coconut Chai Lattes. They’re like drinking a coconut cloud.

However, this time I decided to go to Martin Place and pay my respects to the siege victims and survivors. I didn’t know what to expect. I naturally thought I’d get emotional when I reached the Lindt Cafe but what surprised me was the creepy uneasiness I felt even walking through Martin Place. Quite out of character, I wondered whether I should report in and call home. Let my husband know where I was just in case. After all, nobody knew I was anywhere near the city. I was meant to be on the train heading home, in the absolute opposite direction. If something happened, no one would know I was there. Not that anything was going to happen. After all, lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice. That said, we didn’t expect it to strike the first time either. Now, we’ve woken up. Sydney is on alert. Not red alert but we’re certainly no longer asleep.

You see, despite the superficial rhetoric that Sydney is back to normal, things have changed. Something has shattered and the pieces don’t quite fit back together like they used to. Everything is just ever so slightly disjointed, out of kilter. Although we’re getting on with it, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel or haven’t been changed. It’s only early days and it really does take time for any kind of healing…physical or psychological.

As I mentioned, I broke my foot the night before the terrorist siege. Therefore, the progress on the foot front provides a good platform to discuss how Sydney is psychologically recovering from the siege versus the physical healing of the foot. I should also mention that I live with a severe life threatening auto-immune disease and been through a bit of trauma myself…especially where my kids are concerned.

While I did play my violin in the Christmas concert straight after breaking my foot and I also staggered into school the next day despite excruciating pain to watch the kids perform in the end of year talent show, that all stopped after the x-ray. Once I knew it was broken, it was sentenced to 6 weeks in the protective boot and I was also prescribed Panadeine Forte and had to rest it. The kids were incredibly caring giving me a massage and doing everything for me…at least for a few days!! I’ve been severely ill before and the kids have never given me the red carpet treatment rolled out for the broken foot. That really intrigued me.

Six weeks later, I’m starting to ease out of the boot and started physio. Of course, she’s not sending me straight back out there cold turkey running along cracked and broken footpaths wearing my high heels. No, she’s given me a couple of very simple, basic exercises, which require many, many repetitions. These are aimed at retraining the nerve endings in my ankle to stop it from flipping over. This retraining process sounds very similar to the neuroplasticity in the brain. Hmm…I guess that means I have a brain in my foot.

While nobody’s been pressuring me to get over my broken foot, I do feel that Sydney is being pushed and expected to recover from the siege quickly. While it is important to reclaim our city and not let terrorism cramp our style, this can also be a gradual process. We are allowed to inch our way back and not just jump in the deep end when we’re not ready. It’s also perfectly okay to get professional psychological advice and support just like I’ve had physio to help my foot recover…even if you weren’t one of the hostages and perhaps don’t even work near Martin Place.

Boys Don't Cry.

Boys Don’t Cry.

I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
‘Cause boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry

The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry

 

 

 

This psychological pressure to simply get over it is exemplified by these no doubt well-intentioned words from our esteemed Prime Minister Tony Abbott: “The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that,’’ Mr Abbott said.

“I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual”….

“Our thoughts and prayers must go out to the individuals caught up in this. I can think of nothing more distressing or terrifying.”[1]

Does anybody else see the contradiction? How could we simply go about our business as usual when 18 people were being hostage by a seeming terrorist? While people have been sympathetic and understanding about how long it takes a broken foot to heal, there is quite a double-standard when it comes to psychological trauma and scars. There’s this expectation that psychological wounds should heal quickly…almost like clicking your fingers…especially when you were indirectly affected. However, it seems quite logical to me that if you go through a dreadful, traumatic ordeal that you would have some kind of lasting reaction. Moreover, this reaction deserves (at the very least) the same kind of treatment, respect and TLC that my broken foot has received. This can include learning techniques and skills from a trained psychologist just like I’m getting exercises for my foot from the physio. After all, if you have a significant injury of any sort, it requires treatment.

Whether your wounds are psychological or physical, professional advice can boost the healing process. It makes good sense.

To make sense of the psychological kickback from the siege, we need to return to 15-16th December without injecting hindsight. While it is easy in retrospect to minimise the threat this lone wolf gunman posed, he had staged his campaign with maximum impact. Firstly, he chose the prominent Lindt Cafe opposite the Channel 7 TV Studios in Martin Place for maximum coverage. Then, he bluffed his way through the siege claiming his backpack was a bomb and that other “brothers” had bombs in other strategic locations in Sydney’s CBD. This threat had to be taken seriously and brought Sydney’s CBD to a grinding halt. The pre-Christmas rush vanished leaving an eerie ghost town behind. The Opera House and Cahill Expressway had been evacuated and Martin Place Train Station was closed. This was perceived as a potentially serious terrorist attack on Sydney and was dealt with accordingly. Thank goodness, it wasn’t but we still went through “the motions”.

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Since then, events in Paris have also dwarfed what happened here. However, Sydney could have been a different story. We can not minimise what people have been through because something even worse happened somewhere else. Once again, that is the power of hindsight… something anybody who lived through the siege, didn’t have at the time.

As I mentioned earlier, the impact of the siege has rippled far beyond the hostages and their families. TV and other forms of media bring events right into our lounge rooms in vivid technicolour, drawing us in. We are human beings, not robots, so of course we have emotions, feelings…a response!!! Moreover, although Sydney is a big city, it still has an intimacy about it. Somebody always seems to know someone involved. As it turns out, I used to work closely with one of the Sydney hostages many years ago. I must admit I felt quite shattered hearing her talk about the intense trauma she endured on TV last night…especially when we were so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed all those years ago. That was my first full-time job.

There are also those people who work in or near Martin Place and those who frequent the Lindt Cafe but through some almost freakish twist of fate, they weren’t there that morning. They slept in. Missed the bus or were sick. Started a diet and swore off chocolate. Just like the siege survivors are asking, “why me?”, they could well be thinking: “It could have, or even should have, been me.” That intense sense of identification, another form of survivor’s guilt, deserves compassion just as much as my foot and yet these walking wounded have no walking sticks or boots to communicate their angst. Their own grief and anxiety seems hard to understand and perhaps even self-indulgent, attention seeking. They could well have a whole Pandora’s Box of questions, emotions and fears even though they were nowhere near the place. They also deserve hugs, understanding and compassion.

The whole question of the future of the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place confronts these psychological scars head on. Personally, I can’t understand how they could ever re-open it at that location but others have called for it to re-open and there will be a touching memorial inside. I know the chances of a repeat of the siege must be statistically unlikely but with all of Sydney open for coffee, I’d rather be gentle with my soul and go somewhere else. I don’t need to go through that emotional stress…especially when I’ve never been to the Lindt Cafe before.

I’d much rather head back for that heavenly Coconut Chai latte in Surry Hills and think about something else…like a buying a box of Lindt chocolates at the supermarket.

Any thoughts?

xx Rowena

PS I should mention that just as people may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivors can also experience post-traumatic growth. I have experienced both. It would be an intriguing process if only it didn’t hurt so much!!

[1]The Australian Financial Review: http://www.afr.com/p/national/islamic_state_linked_terror_grips_Ck62N1NvnYuygeXu1rfXbI

 

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

 

 

Walking Through Martin Place: 6 Weeks After the Sydney Siege.

Yesterday, I walked through Sydney’s Martin Place for the very first time since the terrorist siege in December. It’s been 6 weeks. Experiencing something of a swirling vortex of emotion within, I felt unnerved, strange and just sad. Yet, with all the historic buildings still pretty much the same and the usual contingent of penguins in business attire, Martin Place was strangely business as usual.

Well…not quite!

“I am forever walking upon these shores,

Betwixt the sand and the foam,

The high tide will erase my food prints,

And the wind will blow away the foam,

But the sea and the shore will remain forever.”

― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

I wasn’t there as a voyeur but as someone trying to make sense of a horror which could never make sense. I had wanted to get in there earlier to pay my respects and leave some flowers. However, with my broken foot, I couldn’t get into the city. Now, leaving flowers no longer seemed appropriate and there was no means to express a grief which runs inexplicably deep, almost as deep as the historic Tank Stream, which lies buried beneath Martin Place’s  landmark GPO where most don’t even know it still exists.

Tank Stream. Photo: courtesy Sydney Water.

Tank Stream. Photo: courtesy Sydney Water.

A lot of tears have flowed into that stream lately and it’s been bursting its subterranean banks…or should I say through the pipes. Yet, now as time  passes, those tears are ever so slowly leaking through the cracks.

Above ground, everything appears almost, almost “normal” even though it isn’t. Not yet, anyway. We’re human…not machines. You can’t just press a stopwatch and your grief instantly goes away… along with your fear or at least a little reticence. After all, it could just as easily have been you, me, someone else we know and love and we know it. We’re no longer naive. It’s no longer “over there”. As I’ve said before, Australia has lost its innocence.

After a personally draining but positive day of medical tests topped off with a filling at the dentist, why did I feel the need to go to Martin Place? I really should have been unwinding and Luna Park or even a ferry trip would have been better options.

Yet, there was something stirring and resonating in my heart…a very strong, deep sense of grief..even a sense of anguish for all those who had been taken hostage and their families but mostly for Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, who lost their lives. I needed to let that out.

I naturally feel a strong identification with Katrina Dawson, not only because she is also a Mum but because our family has been living with my tenuous health for almost 9 years and we have had some very, very anguished close calls. I have felt my children being torn away from me like having my heart ripped out of my chest and it is agonisingly painful. To know that her family is actually living that hell, that grief, makes my heart ache and there’s also anger because it didn’t have to be. Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson did not have to die that day.  This is probably some kind of survivor’s guilt. After all, it is hard to understand how I’m still here when my body has been ravaged by so much disease: my muscles, lungs, skin, bones. I doubt there’s a part of this body which isn’t being held together by safety pins. Yet, somehow I’m still breathing and even walking. Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson were fit, healthy good people who had done nothing wrong. They just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and through some absolute miracle, my kids still have their Mum.

Mister and I reading during my 7 week hospital stint in 2007 when I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis.

Mister and I reading during my 7 week hospital stint in 2007 when I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis.

The kids and I taken during my 7 week stint in hospital 2007. Mister was 3.5 and Miss was 18 months old.

The kids and I. Mister was 3.5 and Miss was 18 months old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t make any sense but I’m incredibly grateful and also incredibly conscious of other families who are living this grief.

I have walked through Martin Place countless times before. The clock tower still looms over the top of the historic GPO almost like the moon, even in daylight. I pass by the Cenotaph honoring those who gave their lives during a different type of war where we seemed to know the rules. None of that has changed, although some extensive renovations are underway.

Then, as I’m making my way through Martin Place, I starting thinking. Nobody knows where I am. That I’m here. I started wondering whether I should just possibly call my husband and let him know that I’m in Martin Place. If something happens, not that it’s going to happen because it can’t, nobody knows that I’m here. Lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice although all the reasons why Martin Place was hit last time, are still there. That hasn’t changed. I feel like I’m walking through a minefield and I need to report in. That something could happen and nobody would even know that I’m here. That a confession is in order. Yes, instead of catching the train straight home from the dentist at Milson’s Point, I’ve caught the train into the city, traversing the imposing span of the Sydney Harbour Bridge alighting at Wynyard  Station. Despite my broken foot, I have managed to hobble up George Street to Martin Place and even up the hill. I can already hear them saying: “What was she thinking?!!!”

I’d already had a very emotionally charged, exhausting day what with medical tests and having a tooth filled at the dentist and I still had violin ensemble ahead. Yet, I felt drawn to Martin Place, needing to pay my respects and also to try to fathom the unfathomable.

I am walking up through Martin Place, which has a bit of a hill. Up, up, up. I’m not entirely sure where the Lindt Cafe is located but my foot is now starting to tire and I’m wondering if it’s all too much. I’m slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

This iconic photo known as "Dancing Man" was taken in Elizabeth Street,  Martin Place celebrating the end of WWII on 15 August, 1945.

This iconic photo known as “Dancing Man” was taken in Elizabeth Street, Martin Place celebrating the end of WWII on 15 August, 1945.

A famous photo called: “The Dancing Man” was taken in Martin Place at the end of WWII of a man jubilantly dancing in Martin Place near the corner of Elizabeth Street. This photo has come to represent joy and celebration and yet it was almost taken right at the location of the Lindt Cafe…a scene where chocolate indulgence has turned into horror and tragedy. This paradox intrigues me. No one else seems to have made this connection.

Amidst all these questions, I wonder if place has a sense of memory? Does the soil buried beneath metres of concrete also wonder why all this has happened? Why it happened here? Who knows?

Slowly but surely I am nearing the Channel 7 TV Studios, which I know from the news broadcasts, are directly opposite the Lindt Cafe. This, it turns out, was no coincidence.

St James Church, Sydney. 1836, lithograph. Robert Russell, printed by John Gardiner Austin.

St James Church, Sydney. 1836, lithograph. Robert Russell, printed by John Gardiner Austin.

This is the Lindt Cafe.  It’s located on the corner of Phillip Street, metres away from the NSW Supreme Court and the Reserve Bank. At least in Australian terms, this area is steeped in history. It is also metres away from St James Church. St James, with its simple almost austere Georgian lines, was designed by former convict Francis Greenway, consecrated in February 1824 and became a parish church in 1835.

Breakfast At Tiffany's

A Very Different Breakfast…

A block away, there’s Tiffany’s jewelery store and I can’t help but think of the movie and see Audrey Hepburn in all her elegance. Moon River  flows through my heart like a stream https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7SI7N22k_A but then there’s this dreadful discordance…a Monday morning and a hot chocolate at the Lindt Cafe…

That certainly wasn’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The Lindt Cafe is empty. Indeed, it hasn’t reopened since the siege. The entrance has been boarded up and there’s a slide bolt stuck on the front. It’s sort of bolt you usually see on a side gate in your backyard, not on the front of a cafe. It looks very weird and out of place like the can opener my grandfather used to shut his garage door in later life.

Lindt Cafe, Martin Place: a close-up of the slide bolt on the front door.

Lindt Cafe, Martin Place: a close-up of the slide bolt on the front door.

The future of the Lindt Cafe is seemingly coming out of limbo. Apparently, it’s being renovated and a memorial will be set up in the new cafe. As much as I’d always wanted to go there in the past, I don’t know if I could go there. Although I’m a serious chocoholic, there are so many other places to go where there are no memories…just coffee and cake. That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t need to be a hero. I don’t need to take such chances. I don’t even need to be brave. With more than enough adventure on my own journey, I don’t need to take on fresh, unnecessary challenges.

Phillip Street, looking towards the Lindt Cafe, which is on the corner on the left hand side.

Phillip Street, looking towards the Lindt Cafe, which is on the corner on the left hand side.

That said, I can’t just stay at home either. There’s that yin and yang…the tension where carpe diem seize the day becomes rather blurry. We know the world has changed…especially after events in Paris only served the reinforce the warning yet while need to be vigilant but not afraid.

There is a difference but the challenge is to find it and to stick with it.

XX Rowena

This is the fourth post I’ve written about the siege at the Lindt Cafe, Martin Place, Sydney. Here are some links to previous posts:

During the Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/terror-in-australis-the-siege-in-sydneys-martin-place/

At the end of the Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/only-9-sleeps-before-christmas/

This is Our Sydney: Originally posted on kazblah: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/this-is-still-our-sydney/  

Recovering From Trauma: Petrea King https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/recovering-from-trauma-petrea-king-a-must-read/

Send Christmas Cards to Katrina Dawson’s Kids: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/lindt-cafe-siege-sydney-please-send-christmas-cards-to-katrina-dawsons-kids/

Should We Have A Happy Christmas? https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/should-we-have-a-happy-christmas/

A New Year’s Wish: Ask What You Can Do for Your World: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/a-new-years-wish-ask-what-you-can-do-for-your-world/

NYE Sydney: The Night I Met My Husband.

New Year’s Eve has a very special place in my heart.

While the rest of the world might be celebrating the demise of the old year and relishing the chance to wake up with a clean slate on Jan 1st, New Year’s Eve, Geoff and I met on New Year’s Eve sixteen years ago. It’s our anniversary. That means  I can honestly say that when we met, there really were literally fireworks!

Much younger versions of our current selves met at a mutual friend’s New Year’s Eve Party held in Wollstonecraft on Sydney’s North Shore. The apartment was perched on the edge of one of the hills overlooking the Harbour and of course, we were all there to watch the spectacular fireworks from our privileged bird’s-eye view. This was special.After all, Sydney’s NYE fireworks are up there on the world stage: Sydney, London, Paris, Time Square…only we beat them all to it!!

However,I do have a small confession about the view. We might have had front-row seats but we had what you’d describe as a “back-end view” of the Bridge and we were actually looking at the main fireworks display from behind. There was also a block of units somewhat in the way as well, which the inconsiderate sods didn’t relocate for the night. That said, we did have a very expansive view of the Sydney right out towards Parramatta and we could see all sorts of other locations “going off”. It wasn’t quite as good as being in the chopper but we had it exceptionally good

That said, we wouldn’t have knocked back tickets to the Lord Mayor’s VIP bash  right there on the Harbour and actually facing the Bridge. Who would?!!

Being a young 20 something, there was definitely no way we’d ever stay home and watch the fireworks on TV. That was the sort of social suicide reserved for the likes of “Nigel No-Friends” and we weren’t going to be one of them. No way!

However, another option for viewing the fireworks was joining the  mosh pit of bodies under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. At this point, I’ll remind you that it’s now summer in Sydney. It can get very, very hot in Sydney on NYE. No snow. Definitely no snow but lot’s of sweat.

Personally, I’ve never been game to go under the Bridge.

At the close of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, a group of us ended up in the city looking for a vantage point to see those fireworks. There were hordes of people choking up the streets all desperate for some kind, any kind of vantage point. I still remember our sense of desperation. Where could we go? What was left? Of course, the well-planned amongst us had been camping out for days and we were last minute optimists, cuckoos out to land in someone’s nest. Fortunately, I’d photographed the Wharf Theatre and had a lateral moment and we found a largely unpopulated vantage point down there only metres away from where fireworks were being let off. In our usual style, we were seeing the back-end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge but otherwise had a great, uncluttered spot. That was our moment photographing the fireworks with our legs dangling off the wharf indulging in cheese and champagne. It was incredible! A moment we’ll never forget.

Geoff and I walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge during  the Sydney 2000 Olympics

Geoff and I walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Sydney 2000 Olympics

Life has taken many twists and turns since then.

Anyway, those hordes haven’t encouraged me to try our luck under the Bridge.

Perhaps, everybody is just charmingly friendly as they crush each others’ feet in the general stompage but we all know what it’s like when some stranger  dares stand on someone else’s rug. That’s right. Their precious square of turf which they’ve been viciously defending like a magpie for days, camping out under a very harsh, unforgiving sun knowing they’ll be straight off to the skin cancer clinic straight afterwards.  Somehow, in the cruel aftermath, it’s all considered worth it but you’ve got to wonder!

Shame about the broken bones and it wasn’t good news for the altitudinally-challenged either,  spending NYE with their nose shoved in some stinky stranger’s armpit. Humph…Happy New Year!

I’m sure those moshers under the Bridge would’ve done anything to have our back-end view.

Yes! We knew we had it good!

Of course, I had no idea I was about to meet my future husband when I knocked on the same door I’d knocked on many times before. That couldn’t have been further from my mind, which I must admit was rather exceptional. You see, up until that freakish moment in time, I’d had a “proactive” approach towards looking out for Mr Right. I actually had a huge, fine-tuned antenna stuck on the top of my head. Moreover, I was also known as a notorious (but quite successful) matchmaker. Indeed, I could have stuck a plaque outside my place and I would have done a roaring trade…especially if I’d known a few more girls. I had a lot of male friends who kept turning up to parties doused in optimistic aftershave only to be let down once again by a severe gender imbalance.

Anyway, as I said, I wasn’t looking to meet anybody that night. As incredulous as that might sound, I’d just been unceremoniously dumped and I was in rough shape. Guttered and yet, at the same time…a survivor. I went off to this party with one New Year’s resolution and one resolution only: “No Nick 1999!”.

That’s probably the only NY resolution I’ve ever pulled off.

Well, chatting away with Geoff watching the fireworks that night, he gave me some excellent advice: “Just be friends. Take time to get to know someone.” That was the general gist of it all but it all sounded rather profound at the time and I really took it to heart. I went off to another party later that announced that great advice. Well, you know how it is. Love and romance can creep up on even the most unsuspecting of characters. We met up at a few social things with our mutual friend and somehow that led to email which then resulted in some comment about: “You know you can pop over” and an invitation to join him and his niece to visit Taronga Zoo. All I can really remember about that is feeding carrots to the giraffes and by this stage that finely tuned antenna of mine was working overtime. I must admit that I was now concerned about his so-called “good advice”. How on earth we were ever going to shift gears out of friendship into something else  but  I guess that’s where Cupid steps in.

Geoff and I not long after we'd met photographed in his Austin Healy Sprite...not as romantic as it looks!

Geoff and I not long after we’d met photographed in his Austin Healey Sprite…not so romantic when it rains!

In retrospect, meeting Geoff was one of life’s serendipitous, “meant to be” moments where God and fate intervened and a whole heap of incidentals all lined up and for just once in a lifetime, didn’t conspire against us. I almost didn’t end up going to that party after being dumped that afternoon. However, my friend had only invited a select few to watch the fireworks and I didn’t want to let her down. Besides, she knows how to throw a party and was renowned for her vodka jellies and chocolate mouse. We are turning back the clock to another, very different lifetime but I do have photos of a friend dancing with a bunch of flowers after partaking of these legendary vodka jellies.

However, this party seemed relatively quiet and I do remember standing out on the balcony photographing the fireworks, albeit from our quirky backend perspective and talking about photography with Geoff. He was interested in photography…tick. He also drove a green sportscar and that sounded very romantic even though he warned me straight away that she was 30 something English and temperamental. There was something about water and leaks in the conversation that I only really came to appreciate drive up to Byron Bay during particularly heavy rain while we were both wearing raincoats. That is, inside the car!! Yes, we were still wet.

Watching NYE on TV with my broken foot. Not quite what it used to be but at least I've found love.

Watching NYE on TV with my broken foot. Not quite what it used to be but at least I’ve found love.

Fast forwarding right along to 2014, New Year’s Eve doesn’t quite have the same air of possibility or wild excitement that it used to. No Vodka jellies or chocolate mouse although we managed to organise going over to a friend’s place with all the kids to watch the fireworks on TV and I’d made pavlova. That is what an exciting New Year’s Eve entails these days. To be honest, that’s even been an improvement on having to babysit two anxious dogs freaking out from the loud nasty banging fireworks or having babies to attend to.

Sadly, we’re quite used to watching the fireworks on TV these days although there is still that spark. That memory of… once upon a time.

The family together on New Year's Eve.

The family together on New Year’s Eve.

So there we all were watching the fireworks on TV and I couldn’t resist. I had to take some photos. That’s right I was being incredibly daggy and photographing the fireworks on TV. Old habits die hard. Of course, they weren’t award winners and there was that sense of crazed desperation, which could also be called determination. An all conquering spirit which says never says die. I am who I am.

There is still a photographer and a party animal buried somewhere deep within my soul,  which has somehow overcome the descent into middle-age, mortgage, kids, muscle-disease and lives on.

I will not be beaten.

Hence, I’m already making plans for next NYE. Somehow, I’d like our family to get down to Sydney. This is more of a wish than a resolution…along with getting to the Easter Show. Not always easy but we’ll at least try to find a way.

Perhaps, I should give the Sydney Lord Mayor a call…or maybe just friend her on Facebook. I wonder if that would be enough?!!

Happy New Year to you all!

Love and Blessings,

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

PS Bilbo and Lady report they were not impressed at being left home alone  to fend for themselves against all those nasty loud banging noises. Lady ended up burying herself in the garage and once the humans were home bounced on mum’s lap. Many dogs end up “doing the Harold Holt” and get lost on NYE. Like a good Martini, though, we were shaken but not stirred.

Sydney Pakistan Cairns: the Bumpy Road Ahead.

A few days ago I read a post about the siege in Martin Place which I’ve reblogged called: Still Our Sydney.

Among the comments, I found a detailed message from Petrea King, author and speaker who is the CEO of the Quest For Life program which runs courses to help people living with cancer and chronic illness. She has written a number of intelligently written and compassionate books dealing with when the going gets tough including: Your Life Matters (which I’m in the process of reading) and Sometimes Your Heart Has to Break.

Petrea’s words really touched me. Not just in the aftermath of what I’ll simply call: “Sydney Pakistan Cairns” but also as a means of getting through and emerging from our own traumas. This is golden advice. The sort of stuff we all need to have up our sleeve not only for when our own lives are shattered and challenged but also to know how to be there for a friend or even a complete stranger. This is something to print out and keep on file.

I hope Petrea doesn’t mind me posting her words on my blog but right now, I’d like to fly them from the roof top. These are very important life skills and we need to know how to respond to the bad and even the traumatic instead of just even moving forward pursuing happiness without so much as a backwards glance.

Thank you Petrea:

“Kaz, you’ve captured beautifully the mood of many. Thank you.

If I could share a few thoughts from having worked with many thousands of traumatised people…and because I’ve had more than a few myself…

We have all been deeply shocked by what has happened. We are confronted with the precariousness of life and how randomly and quickly it can change – change profoundly, irrevocably, instantly, tragically. We are confronted by our mortality and what the death of our, or our loved one’s life means to us.

Such shocking events don’t have intrinsic meaning. If we are to find a peaceful pathway forward, one that allows us to collectively heal from the trauma we have experienced, then we need to acknowledge and embrace the pain and anguish – as has been demonstrated by so many publicly and all of us privately. Through the laying of flowers, we honour Katrina’s and Tori’s sacrifice and the awful tragedy and trauma of it all and, at the same time, we affirm our commitment to a peaceful, compassionate society that refuses to be enslaved by fear, prejudice and judgment – all of which lead to disunity. We demonstrate collectively our commitment to tolerance, compassion, connection and love.

We can then further honour Katrina’s and Tori’s lives and the trauma everyone has suffered by how we choose to live ours. We can choose to respond with courage, creativity and with a commitment to establishing peace within ourselves so that we can have peace wiithin our communities. Imagine if we all responded to this atrocity by consciously choosing to create some act of peace within ourselves, our family, our community, our nation?

Right now we are meant to feel numb, dumfounded, bewildered, distressed, angry, fearful or whatever it is that we feel moment to moment. Sometimes it will be a mish mash of feelings. Confusion, spacinesss, dislocated, despairing – all these feelings are normal and it’s fine to feel anything. It’s what we DO with our feelings that is important. Do your best to witness these feelings without judging or resisting them. Recognise that feelings come and go. You are more than your feelings because you’re able to witness them.

Avoid reacting from challenging feelings as you may say or do things you later regret. If you’re feeling really distressed then reach out for help. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are not entitled to the feelings you may be experiencing because you weren’t directly involved. Your were directly involved whether you work in Martin Place or you watched the nightmare unfolding on television, through tweets, FB or other media. You may feel traumatised. That’s because you have a good and compassionate heart and you have been deeply disturbed by what has happened. You may have felt great fear and a sense of helplessness. Why wouldn’t we be feeling distresssed? If these feelings are overwhelming you may find it helpful to find someone to talk with that you trust. Your GP? A relative, friend, counsellor?

Be with people you can be ‘real’ with; people who will listen to you and allow you to ‘have’ the feelings you’re experiencing without judging you or trying to ‘fix you up’. Perhaps, if you feel retraumatised by talking about what happened then put some clear boundaries in place by telling people that you would prefer not to discuss it. Others may find it useful to limit how long they are going to talk it. Do what you need to do to stay emotionally healthy.

The Storm

The Storm. Painting: Rowena Newton.

People who are feeling overly anxious or already dealing with grief, depression or other trauma may find their experiences heightened at present so it is important that we are all as gentle and respectful of one another as possible. It would be good to cut each other a bit of slack at present and recognise that everyone is feeling upset or traumatised and that some may be having a hard time managing their feelings or are finding them overwhelming. Some may benefit from attending a retreat to regain their inner equilibrium, make meaning of their experience and find a pathway forward. Our retreat, Healing Your Life is designed for people who have experienced trauma and are having difficulty integrating their experience and who want to move forward, feeling more empowered to live their life. The program is supported by NSW Health and the Quest for Life Foundation and we endeavour to turn no one away on financial grounds. Info can be found at questforlife.com.au.

Take extra care to do the things that nourish and replenish you in these days and weeks ahead. Perhaps it’s exercise or solitude, time with a hobby or sport, doing the things you love, being with people you love, sleep, making or listening to music, being in nature, ritual, prayer, yoga, meditation, playfulness, soaking baths…whatever brings you to the moment where you will reconnect with a more stable and grounded part of yourself. Exercise is particularly good as it shifts the chemicals of stress out of the body. Eating fresh, whole foods is helpful. Go gently with alcohol and don’t use it to suppress your feelings. Find someone to talk to instead. Avoid isolating yourself but make sure you have time for solitude if that is your resting place.

There is no one way forward. If we are ever to find peace beyond this then we need to do as we are doing. We are taking on the enormity of what has happened. We have gathered to overcome violence and difference, with a show of unity and love. We have affirmed that collectively, we are the beating heart of Sydney. From this foundation we can grow.

In time, it might be useful for us all to create an act of peace within ourself, our family or our community as a way of consciously honouring the suffering while making a commitment to creating more peace in our lives, individually and collectively.”

Petrea King

December 18, 2014 at 12:19 am

http://www.questforlife.com.au/

I hope you have found this as helpful as I have.

xx Rowena

Ever during the most violent of storms, never lose sight of hope. It takes sun and rain to make a rainbow.

Even during the most violent of storms, never lose sight of hope. It takes sun and rain to make a rainbow. Painting: Rowena Newton.