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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the end. of nablopomo at least.

So that's it. Thirty days of blogging. I was rather relieved last night when I remembered November has 30 days not 31! Such a relief to be done.

I still haven't caught up on all the blog posts in my head (I actually can't remember what all of them were any more), and there's a few too many verbal diarrhoea type posts where I just blurt out whatever happened one hour earlier. Then there's the duds, and occasionally there's a deep, meaningful, reflective piece. It's been a moderate effort.

I was in two minds about NaBloPoMo-ing this year. I've hardly blogged since last November and I didn't know if I even wanted to keep blogging. It has been good to get back into it, but it isn't all been positive.

A few weeks before NaBloPoMo I decided to try an internet sabbath or fast on Sundays. I was having moderate success, but even with the occasional sneak peek at facebook, I found my head clearing. I began to look forward to my Sunday 'withdrawing', and I became much more productive in many other ways.

Since I started blogging again I've noticed my head feels a lot more clogged - what to write about today? How to say it? What was it I thought of earlier but can't remember now? My brain became busy and I haven't really enjoyed that. I would go so far as to say my stress levels increased - although that's probably putting too high a value on NaBloPoMo. (We are getting closer to Christmas, and I'm crazy busy with rehearsals and performances... that probably has more to do with the stress levels than anything else!) I'm less productive, I stay up later writing and so I've been more tired than normal this month. It might have been good to get back into blogging, but there have been plenty of cons.

So, the big question. Will I keep blogging now? Maybe, maybe not. (Of course it depends how many comments I get on this post. Ha. Not. But feel free to leave a comment if you've lurked this month... I know you're there, sitemeter told me so!)

We'll see. I guess I'll blog soon - I still have to tell you about getting my ears pierced.

(But if you don't mind, I'm going to be taking tomorrow and Friday off - the rest of my life will be clicking into action again now!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

permission to be average

On Sunday, my choir held their annual charity fundraising concert. Two and a half hours of joyful, amateur music from a couple of choirs, and some carefully selected young soloists, followed by champagne and Christmas cake. There were high notes of beauty and pathos... and low notes, mistakes, fumbles and mistiming. But in spite of all that, it was a lot of fun!

You wouldn't know it to look at Launceston, but there's a lively underground subculture of musicians lurking just below the surface here. This music scene is a whole new world to me. I'm used to the church scene, where everyone knows everyone, but here is this parallel universe of singers and players who all know everybody and are just as busy practising and performing and socialising as we ever were at church.

I love it. Society puts a lot of pressure on all of us to be perfect. Perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect teeth, perfect house, perfect car, perfect... everything. It's all crazy. None of us are perfect, we never can be, and all those celebrities and magazine scenes are fake and not worth aspiring to.

So when I rock up to an amateur musical or choir performance, sure there are mistakes and imperfections, but more than that... it's a whole bunch of people who know they aren't stars, and can sing and dance perhaps moderately well, but they get in there and have a go. They cut each other slack when mistakes are made, because (whoops) they just made one too. And the audience clap and cheer because they know one or two or more in the cast and love them, and are delighted to see them giving their best and producing something good. It's like we have permission to be average. Not that we don't aspire to do our best, just that if our best isn't perfect - that's OK.

I'm still learning the culture of Launnie's music scene, edging my way in slowly and trying not to over commit. It was a little scary to begin with, but more and more I feel part of the 'family', that I can be myself, relax and have a go, whatever the result.

This could be the antidote to that perfectionist streak that keeps on rearing its ugly head. What a sweet relief.

Monday, November 28, 2011

i heart shopping local

It was a day for the firsts of the season. First raspberries (from the shop that is - we've already picked two from our long neglected, too late planted canes and the birds have eaten two) and first grapes.

I grasped greedily at the grapes, selecting an enormous bunch, but just as I was about to drop them into the bag, one of the shop assistants said (agape) 'You did see how much they are didn't you?'

Ah. No. One of the pleasures of my life is not worrying too much about the price of things. I had not checked the price, but I had noticed they were Australian. Big cash cost, lower environmental cost. Those are the kind of calculations I make.

So I checked the price, and... they were $19.95 a kilo. I put the big bunch back and reached for a smaller bunch or two, although in the end I think I selected so many of them they were probably the same weight as the first enormous bunch. Oh dear! However it did satisfy the horrified shop assistant.

Oh dear, oh shmeer... I like good food. And I have found a really good way of justifying paying any price for it. (And yes, I babbled on to all the shop assistants about my clever little calculation)

A packet of rubbish crisp chips, full of trans fat and empty kilojoules, completely lacking in nutritional value, costs $1.50 for 50 grams. That works out to be $3 per 100 grams, $30 per kilo... a whole lot more than today's grapes or the coming cherry's $16 per kilo.

So, when you boil it down, good food costs my wallet less, costs the earth less (don't tell me the production and packaging and transport of all that crap food doesn't rack up quite the carbon footprint), and fills my body with a whole lot of nutritional goodness.

So I bought the grapes and I don't feel even a little bit sorry. In fact, I feel quite replete. Nom nom.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

i fell down an internet recipe hole

It started with Nigella Lawson's chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, passed through soured cream and moved onto wholemeal soda bread.

Not that big a hole really, but gives me something to write about.

No more for today. I am very tired.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

of clothes and cupboards

I've been swapping the wardrobe from winter to summer supplies today - which seems a little un-prescient of me, since it has rained absolutely. all. day. and barely reached 17 degrees. (On the bright side, we hit 25 yesterday, basking in the all day sun. Warmest day so far)

What a lot of clothes. I was forced to sort and turf after a) pulling all the summer clothes out of their box last night and dumping them on the floor in search of the perfect item to wear to a wine tasting; and b) going op shopping this morning for black clothes for choir performances, but coming home with black clothes and more. That, and not enough space in the cupboards and drawers.

Three piles later - {keep- maybe - turf} with the odd item rescued - and I have two garbage bags of clothes to pass on to others. That's one bag to the op shop and one for the next clothing swap... I've kind of graded the clothing. Those that I like but don't wear because they don't fit well or don't suit me no matter how much they are in fashion (but my friends might be able to get some great wearing pleasure from them), and those that I don't wear because they are so dated I don't want to be seen in them (and I doubt any friends would want to be either). There's a lot more space in the cupboard now.

It was interesting, the sorting of my clothes compared to what was on offer in the op shop today. I tend to wear and wear and wear things (if I like them)... some aren't even worth giving away. Most of the clothes in the op shop seemed barely worn. I could buy them and wear them lots.

I'm writing this while watching TV and can't draw it to a conclusion because I can't think for laughing at the stupidness on screen... except perhaps that I wear clothes more than I buy them? And maybe that's a good thing?

Friday, November 25, 2011

just in time

You will note this blog is posted at 11.44pm. In the nick of time.

There has been some wine consumed (it was a wine tasting evening after all!) and good conversation and bed seems a higher priority than writing great tomes of wisdom. Which of course is what I have done every other day! Ha.

So I'm off to sleep. Thank you Mr Frank for driving me home and coming despite being dog tired.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

crime spree

I encountered police twice this afternoon, and I'm trying to decide if it was reassuring or disconcerting. The first time they cycled past me I was jay walking. The second time they drove past while I was crossing the street, but not at an intersection. They ignored my misdemeanours and kept on their way. Given what's been happening in Launceston lately, I'm pretty sure they weren't much interested in a minor pedestrian offence.

We seem to be caught up in a rash of crimes around here, most of them involving knives. Robbery at a pub and the publicans face was slashed; hold up at a corner store with knives (she told them she'd pour boiling oil on them, so they ran away. Fourteen and fifteen years olds, now caught); home invasion and stabbing of grandfather (Eighteen and twenty year olds, one of whom who created quite a kerfuffle in court, swearing at police etc); beating of an eighteen year old in broad daylight yesterday by three older boys with knives two weeks after another bashing of a seventeen year old in the afternoon. Quite the eventful little place!

A few of us were discussing it at lunch and wondering how concerned we should be. We're still all walking to the corner store, jogging, enjoying the parks and generally getting into summer... but should we be more careful? As I walked home with my purse in my bag today, I thought perhaps I should be a bit more careful with it. Compared to other parts of the world, this is a little piece of quiet paradise. I've let down my guard.

And then the police first rode past, then drove by. Ah, they'll keep us all safe just by being more visible! How reassuring. Or perhaps they're working hard to stop more crimes happening. Their increased visibility is an indicator that all is not well. Disconcerting!

I think I'll just keep doing what I do. Walking around, enjoying the city. With my wits about me!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

thank you for the music

Frank and I came lately to Spicks and Specks, but isn't it a great show? Or more accurately, 'wasn't' it a great show? Last night tonight. Grand finale. Zip. Finished.

On another musical note, I'll be singing on the radio on Friday evening. 5.45pm on the local ABC. I'll get you the details so you can all listen to it. (You know you really want to) (Oh, should I say it's with my choir?)

And then on Sunday I'll be singing in our choir's end of year concert. Come along if you can!

Fun times.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

should

First rule of counselling: no more 'should's. Help the client become free of the weight of 'I should have, I should be, I should do...'

OK, it might not be the first rule, but it is a good one. And it's one I should learn better myself!

I bumped into a friend I haven't seen for a long time today and was all babbling apology for not being in touch, blah, blah, blah. She pointed out that she has not been in touch with me either. Life is busy and time races away. C'est la vie.

It got me thinking about how much time I spend thinking 'should this, should that'... that would be most of the time. Whether it's wanting the house tidier, or more vegetables in the garden, or thinking I should start cooking earlier, or any of the other 101 things I let bother me, there's always something niggling away at the back of my mind. A constant pressure on myself to perform, be, do.

I need to take the spiritual director's advice and just. stop. thinking. Incessant thinking. Like a dog with a bone, as one friend said. It's who I am to notice everything that's going on everywhere nearly all the time, with an accompanying running commentary in my head. Without turning my brain off, I'm not sure how to stop that. I need to though! The whole thing wearies me.

{small voice in the night: letting perfectionism slip would be a help!}

And so I have another 'should' to add to the list. I should ditch should. Sigh.

Monday, November 21, 2011

i call them 'original highlights'

A couple of months ago I had my hair all chopped off. Ah, the freedom! I love it. So do a lot of other people. I keep getting asked where I got it done, and I gladly tell all and sundry. I'm helpful like that.

Anyway, today I was in my LYS (knitting speak for 'local yarn store') when the proprietor commented again on how much she likes my hair cut. I had it trimmed even shorter than normal the other day, and personally I'm still getting used to how spiky it is. Anyway, Cathy liked it and said so and asked again where I got it done.

Charmaine, 'Salon Hystyle' between the Cheesecake Shop and the chainsaw store.

'Have you had a colour put in?' asked another customer listening in on our conversation.

'Ah. No. That would be my original highlights,' I replied.

'No offence,' she said, ' just that my hair is very thick and I have a clump of grey right here and none of the hairdressers I've been to really do what I want, and...'

'Charmaine's your lady then,' I enthused. 'She reads hair. She knows all my crazy cow licks and crowns and cuts to them. She's brilliant.' (As I said, always helpful.)

'And how do I get your cut?' she asked.

'Just say you've been talking to Cecily,' I answered, although to be honest, that seems rather pointless. The woman's hair didn't look that much like mine at all. She needs a cut for her hair, not a carbon copy of mine.

Anyway, with that, Cathy wrote down the salon details on one of her own business cards and the other customer declared she would let the dye grow out and try original highlights too, and I walked out feeling fantastic because not only do people like my hair, they want to copy it, which is surely the pinnacle of hair-dom-ness. At this rate I shall be up there with Mary Kostakidis and her uber grey coolness in no time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

wrapped up in memories

Way back, around 1988, my extended family got together for what must have been our final big time Christmas gathering. I'm a bit foggy on dates and what happened which Christmas, but I think I'm remembering the year we took a rather cool photo of all of us together on my aunt and uncle's tennis court.

Anyway, we were all together. I was staying in my cousin's room along with another cousin and several Pharaohs hanging on the walls. At some point we did the gift thing, I suppose on Christmas Day. One aunt gave me a gift wrapped in just a strip of wrapping paper... from memory she'd run out of paper, but you never know - she was a non-conformist! I remember thinking it was all a bit weird, but today I may have upped the stakes in weird present wrapping.

I'm a bit of a recycling fanatic and have made quite a few things out of recycled material: sun shields from recycled tetra packs, bags from old felted jumpers. And there's a hundred more ideas where those ones come from.



Probably one of the earliest recycling things I ever did was reuse wrapping paper. Mum used to do it, until I grew too posh for it and spent packets of money on beautiful wrap. Then I grew my environmental conscience and went back to reusing. A bit of clever trimming, folding and bow tying goes a long way to making a beautiful looking gift out of old paper.

So today I was wrapping up some presents and hoping they don't look too crumpled. (The advantage of posting gifts I suppose, is that it's possible the crushed look developed in transport, rather than from being wrapped around something of a different shape. That is what I hope people think, although the old sticky tape tears might be a give away)... and I used the plastic wrap from a bunch of flowers Frank gave me. Like I said, a bit of ribbon makes a big difference - you can hardly tell where the paper's been before. Until you unwrap the present and find the florist sticker. Oh well.

So here's to my aunt who led the way in saving paper and going against the flow!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

keeping up the fight

Frank and I have been at a pulp-the-mill celebration fundraiser this afternoon. It was a lovely, relaxed affair with local wine, pizzas, home made sweet treats and music.

To be honest, I'm rather tired of the whole thing. Not the afternoon - I just wish the pulp mill would go away. But it keeps rumbling along. Gunns just won't die, although how on earth they can continue to keep going when they have sold off so many of their income streams, I don't know. Obviously I'm no business expert, but it's hard not to suspect back room deals and hand shakes between governments and corporations. People with power and money work together to get thier way so they can keep ripping the guts out of the environment and make greater and greater profits.

However, this afternoon was not an afternoon for cynicism. It was a time for enjoying the beautiful Tamar, mingling with like minded people and relaxing before the next assault against the mill.

When you mingle with people, you discover things you never knew about them. I've protested with some of these people, but I had no idea of their musical talent. Tucked away all over Tasmania (and the world I imagine) are gifts and talents and bands and singers.

It reminds me of 'How to be free' by Tom Hodgkinson. His book is one of anarchy. Not the wild, lawless state we often associate with the word. Rather subverting the system, beating the corporations, living free from those institutions and powers that seek to control and manipulate us. In one chapter Hodgkinson suggests we should all learn to play the ukulele. His point is that the music industry has stripped many of us of the ability to make music. Where once we would have sat around playing instruments and singing together, now we put a song on the iPod and hit play. We've lost the desire and skill required to play instruments and create our own melodies. Take back the music, learn the ukulele and connect with music making in a new-old way.

This afternoon was a bit like that. No commercial music in sight, just a bunch of people having a good time, using their gifts to craft a sound that was good. It was very good. I like that. It might even give me the invigoration I need to keep up the fight. And I love how people can inspire and encourage each other. We need one another, hey!

Friday, November 18, 2011

chickens 1, cecily 0

I know it was an 'I've just laid an egg' cluck emanating from the backyard this morning, but alas no eggs. None yesterday either, and the numbers have been slowly dropping for a week or so.

The chickens (Roxanne, Penelope and Gwendoline at the moment) all appear well. Their combs are red, their appetite as voracious as ever and they follow us around and talk to us just like normal. There aren't any signs of them being sick or needing to stop laying. Unless the ginger cat that hangs around all the time is putting them off.

Nests have been popping up all over our yard and the neighbour's for a while now. An egg in the coup and two by the garage for a couple of weeks, then two hidden in the long grass at one end of the neighbour's yard and one tucked away at the other end. A heavy burst of rain sent one of them back to the coup to lay. Then output dropped to just one at the top of next door's yard. Now none.

I've hunted high and low, scrabbled around in grass, fought my way through prickles and weeds and blackberries, climbed over cement blocks and train tracks (the neighbour's yard is a veritable wasteland)... still nothing. So last night I closed off the hole in the fence, determined to make them lay in our yard. There aren't so many places to hide, and I know their favourite spots.

Great plan, if only it had worked. Roxanne nests on a branch that leads over the neighbour's fence. On hearing all the clucking I went down the back... and there she was, stuck in the wrong backyard. I still have no idea where she lays. Rather stupidly I removed the sheeting from the fence and all the chickens sallied forth into the other yard. Now I don't know where any of them laid.

I meant to go down at dusk tonight and sprinkle some seed in the coup, then lock them in for the night. Ha, that'd show them. Except I forgot to do it, so now it looks like another day of not knowing is heading my way.

On the bright side, I have three dozen eggs sitting on the bench. We won't starve any time soon, but I'm still determined to get them back to laying in the right place.

(And please don't offer me any well meaning advice about chickens slowing down sometimes, or hot weather putting them off. It hasn't been hot and I've had chickens for long enough to know their routines... but this one still has me stumped!)


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Self image is a funny thing. I suppose I don't really think about it most of the time. Then I wear something different and feel uncomfortable all day if it doesn't fit with that imprint of myself I carry around inside.

Take today. I decided to crack out the 'new' dress I bought in Sydney in May. This was an allowable purchase since it was a refashioned, upcycled vintage dress. It has a very 80s pattern printed on a red background, gathered short skirt, and a refashioned bodice with slightly puffed, elbow length sleeves - not the kind of thing I'd usually go for, but it looked groovy so I bought it. Only when I got home did I wonder if what looked good in Newtown would look quite so good in Launceston.

Anyway, what's the point of buying something if I'm not going to wear it? The temperature seemed about right for a short dress with the requisite leggings, so I got daring and put it on.

Look in the mirror, think 'that looks ridiculous', don a belt, ask Frank if it looks alright, and shrug. One of the great things about getting older is caring less about fashion. Feeling stupid this morning provided me with a chance to wear whatever I like and not let the 'is it fashionable' question stop me.

Except the voices in my head kept saying 'That looks ridiculous, you don't have the legs for a short skirt, you're way to old for that outfit, it looked good in Syndey but it's outrageous in Launceston, blah, blah, blah....' I scurried into work with my head down and a gigantic bag of teddy bears held such that anyone looking out the window would not see my legs. Dropping off the bears, I tossed my head and sallied forth bravely.

And nearly every one I bumped into said 'Cecily, you look great today,' or 'what a pretty dress'. Sagging with relief on the inside, I babbled on about refashioned clothes, and Sydney, and my worries about whether the dress worked, and, and... and I should probably learn to shut my mouth and accept a compliment.

I put it all down to self image. There's some picture hidden in my mind of how I should look, a persona I carry around with me and express through what I wear. Today's dress didn't fit that image. It looked fine really, it just didn't fit the picture in my brain and I was uncomfortable until I received enough external positive feedback.

So. I should just wear whatever I want and ignore the voices. I'll be a whole lot happier, and probably look just fine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

beauty all around

I've been driving to Evandale every Wednesday morning for the last six weeks. I particularly love the mid morning drive back to town through White Hills. It's so green and lovely.

This morning in particular I was struck by the beauty all around me. The graceful, precise arc of a raven coming in to land. The wombat pausing mid-road crossing to think about what it should do when I slowed down to let it pass. Eventually it waddled off and ducked through the shrubbery on the side of the road.

Other times I dawdle through the park and admire the carpet of daisies, or notice the perfect light of the sun on the clouds.

It seems to be that beauty really is all around, if I only have the eye for it. That God is all around, in the the arc of the raven and the waddle of the wombat.

And when I remember that, I remember how blessed I really am.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

choral ups and downs

This is what's running through my head tonight: "da, da, dl, la, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da...." Over and over again.

I guess that's what being in a choir will do for you. Our end of year concert is in a mere week and a half and we are working like crazy to finalise the last few pieces, one of which is 'Africa' by Toto. This is the version we are doing. Crazy hey! But I nearly have it nailed. (This version is my favourite. Those harmonies are divine in that run of da da das!)

It's been an interesting journey joining a choir. One of the things I have missed about attending church is singing, so I applied to Vox Harmony at the end of last year. At first I was told there was no space for more sopranos. Then there was space, and I had two weeks to see if I liked it or not. So I walked in on an incredibly warm and friendly bunch of people, thinking I'd be fine because, hey, I've sung in church. With a microphone. I must be good, right?

This whole year has been a lesson in how rubbish most church singers are. Or perhaps I should stick with the personal and say how rubbish this church singer was?! Yes, I can sing and my voice sounds nice enough, but vocal range? Forget it! Most modern church songs consist of about five notes over and over again. (If you don't believe me, check out Chris Tomlin. He used to be a fave but now I can barely listen to his CDs) It turns out my vocal range was pretty lame.

Then there's the whole 'sliding' thing. If you can't hit your note straight out, or you're not confident, just slide up to it. The added bonus is you sound really cool when you do this, like you're a professional. I've been to a couple of church services recently, and after having the sliding drummed out of me at choir all year, I've discovered it's pretty rare for anyone in church to hit a note straight.

So I went from thinking I was a slightly rusty but pretty good singer, to moaning each week about how I couldn't sing at all with my self esteem literally in the mud. And then I visited a couple of churches and sniffed at their pale attempts at singing and realised I was a better singer than all of them after all. We're humble at happy chatter, constantly engaging in one up-man-ship as we do.

I guess it was half way through the year when things really began to turn. I started to feel comfortable with the music and learn the pieces and trust my voice again. My vocal range grew by half an octave and counting, and I even managed to co-ordinate myself enough to sing and dance at the same time. I felt so good I offered my services for a solo... with the proviso that if people thought I was rubbish they should tell me and I'd slink off into the back of the stalls.

It turns out I do sing OK after all. Not amazingly, but I can manage a shared solo (we both sing the same part for moral support) and I even hit the last note most of the time. People have been most encouraging and positive.

So it's one and a half weeks of crazy practice, Christmas carols until they come out of my ears, and then the year is done. I will have survived my first year in a choir. How cool is that?!

Monday, November 14, 2011

posting by the letter of the law

Sheesh I'm tired. Self inflicted by too much weekend busyness and too many late nights.

I tried to shake off some of the malaise with a walk to town. I'm still tired, but there was soul food to enjoy along the way:

The scent of roses wafting from gardens I passed.
A carpet of daisies in Brickfields Reserve.

Anyway, that's the post for the day, lame as it is. I'm all about the letter of the law today. What NaBloPoMo decrees, I have done.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

twirl girl



Nearly two years ago I bought myself a domain name, got a quote for a logo design and dreamed of crafting a living from paper earrings.

I still own the domain name, but not much else came of it really. I developed what I thought was RSI when my fingers did strange cramping things after making 50 pairs of quilled earrings, and the whole thing petered out.

Occasionally I still quill, and I may get back into the whole thing over the summer break. We'll see. Anyway, these are my latest twirling gigs.











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Saturday, November 12, 2011

on not not buying new

Earlier in the year a friend and I held a 'swaperoo' (the cool way of saying 'A clothing swap party'). We invited a few friends to come along with clothes they no longer wanted, cooked a cake and had some fun swapping clothes and drinking wine. This morning I got back into the clothing swap groove with a large scale clothing swap fundraiser at a local church. Twenty dollars for coffee, cake and a bag of clothes. I came home with a few practical tops and some awesome vintage dresses I plan to chop and refashion.

Both my forays into clothes swapping fit with a kind of goal I set at the beginning of the year. I decided I wasn't going to buy anything new, for environmental reasons such as sustainability and to buck a global system that pushes me into being a constant consumer.

The year has not been an abject failure, but neither have I stuck entirely by my goal. It has been more of an ideal I've aspired to. Which isn't to say I've run around spending lots of money on new things, because I haven't. There have been many times when I have stopped myself from purchasing items because they were new. I've hunted things up second hand on eBay, borrowed from friends, made do with what I have or made things from what I had at home. Still, I have bought enough new things to run out of fingers counting them. I think I've run out of toes for it too.

So what's my excuse for buying new despite saying I wouldn't? Sometimes it was practical reasons. I walk a lot and wear my shoes into the ground. I needed good shoes that fit properly and would last, so I've bought one pair for work and one for walking and bike riding. (I also bought a second hand pair of eBay, was given a pair and borrowed some fancy shoes for a wedding. That last one wasn't so successful, as they were a size too big and so high heeled that even with tissues in the toe I could barely walk. There was also no joining in the bridal waltz - but on the positive side, they did look amazing!)

Sometimes it was 'weakness'. I just happened to be walking past the local book store and there was a book by a favourite author for $10. So I bought it and gobbled it up. Mostly I have been borrowing books from the library like crazy and reading lots. I have also ordered a couple of books in - they're the kind of books I reckon I will refer to again and again and again. I managed to convince myself I needed them.

Some things just aren't that available in second hand stores. I'm a terrible op-shopper at the best of times, though I am slowly developing a knack for it. But no amount of looking is going to turn up every day long sleeve t-shirts in quality fabric that is going to keep me warm as toast. So I had to buy some Woolerina tops and singlets and a beanie to wear under my helmet for winter bike riding. They're good quality and will last for years, they're a sustainable product and they're Australian so my footprint isn't too huge from them.

The other thing that has really bothered me is the mass exodus of locally owned stores from the streets. It's economically tough in Tasmania at the moment. Not as tough as, say Greece, or even the USA, but compared to the rest of Australia, the government is crying poor and cutting loads jobs in the public service and people are pulling their belts in and spending less. Local shops can't cope with the retail down turn and almost every time I walk into town there is another closing down sale somewhere. It upsets me a lot, because I value buying from people I can develop a relationship. I prefer to avoid corporations and chain stores if I can. I like knowing where my cash is going and where my purchases are from. So if I decide to stop buying new, these local stores have one less person supporting them. Without putting too big a value on my contribution (because what I buy is piddling in the grand scheme of things), my lack of spending is another nail in the coffin of small business.

And if there's a closing down sale where I can buy a few things cheaper, it seems good use of my resources to pick up some bargains. (I am now fully stocked up on stockings and socks for next winter, though very sad to have lost the only locally owned supplier I know of in town)

Supporting the 'little people' of business doesn't stop locally. I love a company called 'Eternal Creation'. They're based in Dharamsala, India and the tailors set their piece price and the pricing of items is worked out from there. I've ordered loads of clothes from this site over the last three years or so, and every piece is a well made, quality product that is true to the size on the website. Since they make up the clothing to your order, I've discovered they are happy to adjust things. I was able to get a dress made with different sizes for the top and bottom. Yay! I heartily recommend their clothes to you. If you think the prices are too high, join the mailing list and receive notification of discounts by email. I've ordered from Eternal Creation this year because I want to support what they do, because their clothes are beautiful and... because I wanted to. (Yes, that is an epic fail on not buying new!) And a month or so ago I won a dress in their recent facebook competition. It arrived two days ago - beautiful, beautiful dress.

I'm still musing on the benefits of not buying new. I guess I'll keep pondering it, and trying to mostly stick to it until the end of the year. It's been worthwhile, it has made me think, and I have developed a pattern of living that will probably carry on into 2012.

Friday, November 11, 2011

challenged

I was mid-session at work today when a group arrived from a local disability support agency. We smiled, rearranged the tables and chairs and included them in the activities.

This has happened to me a few times now, unexpected attendance by people with disabilities. It's confronting. Not the way they look, talk and eat, (I can deal with that) but they way they challenge my assumptions and beliefs. They catch me on the hop, and flush out thoughts and feelings I would not have credited with being tucked inside me. I'm not quite as accepting and non-judgemental as I like to think I am. I feel uncomfortable, not with them, but with me.

As an aside, I also felt this way when Frank and I watched 'The boy in the striped pyjamas'. It was a sad, upsetting story, but I was more disturbed by what came to the surface in my thoughts: "Not him, he's not one of them, he's not a Jew, he shouldn't be dying." Hello... like any of them should have been!

We're such a society of beautiful people. Perfect hair. Perfect makeup. Perfect teeth, clothes, shoes, handbags. In all our fake perfection, we don't know how to deal with the less than perfect, the not-so-beautiful. We hide them away, pretend they aren't there, stare or look repulsed.

The more I continue to work in my job at the neighbourhood houses, the more I rub shoulders with society's 'misfits'. The people the population at large would rather not have to deal with. I was talking to someone the other day who said the best thing the government did was build that string of low socio economic suburbs along the ridge. "They're out of the way," she said. "They can't bother us. We can all live our lives without disturbing each other." Of course I told her just what I thought of that! But don't we do it all the time? Push out the people who are different from ourselves?

There lurks in me a desire to be with people similar to myself. Maybe I think they have more value, maybe it's just human nature to stick with what we know. Bumping up against people who are different to myself forces me to see past our superficial differences and value them. And how couldn't I? They may not be perfect, they may not be 'beautiful', but they count. They're people. Many of them are truly beautiful, living with circumstances and limitations I would struggle to bear, often with a smile on their face.

I'm rambling and it's late and I can't think how to finish this properly right now. I'll just say "People matter" no matter what their ability, style, address, race, size. Whatever unpleasant feelings surface when I'm unexpectedly confronted by those who are very different from myself, those people still matter. And that's that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

so. i'm getting older.

A class at school had a relief teacher today, and the kids didn't cope so well:

'He won't let me...'
'He's making us...'
'He's mean,'
and (this is the clincher I think) 'He's old!'

There were other remarks linked to his age that do not bear repeating. I tried my best to broaden the student's outlook:

'He doesn't know you, so he might not be sure he can trust you.'
'He has been teaching a long time, and his way of doing things is different.'
'That thing you made with him looks interesting.'
'Just because he's old doesn't mean he's __________. Why don't you try and find out some things about him. Ask him about ___________.'

It didn't work. To them this guy was just an old man sent to torture them for the day and no amount of talking would convince them otherwise.

I find myself looking at older people differently lately. I've just about clocked up 20 years since finishing high school, and I have no idea how it happened. For years I've known I'm in my thirties but felt like I'm about 28. Suddenly my mind is jumping to catch up with my body and I seem to think I'm already 40.

I peer closely at the mirror and study the wrinkles. 'You have no wrinkles,' says my beautician, 'that is superficial dehydration!' Call it what you will, no one says I look young any more and they certainly don't mistake me for being in my twenties. Occasionally I catch myself feeling hysterical about this, which is ridiculous, because I've never been one to fuss about age. But the skin on my neck is changing, my hair is more grey than I care for ('original highlights' I try and say), I have creases around my mouth, my eyes look tired.

It's possible I am obsessing over this too much. Amy Grant and Kaz Cooke sagely advised in their respective books that leaving the glasses off when looking in the mirror was helpful... but I'm not so old I can't see myself clearly in the mirror yet.

As I puzzle and puzzle over this passing of time, this betrayal by my body, I look at others differently. I smile at the freshness of youth and the promise of a lifetime to come. "Make the most of it," I think, "cherish each moment," as if I missed out on something. But I didn't. I did some great stuff in my twenties.

I look at people my age and think, "are you as stunned by this as me? Are you trying to figure out where the years went? Are you trying to understand how you can feel old at the same time as realising you are far from old?" Because I am not old. I am just older. There is a difference.

I am convinced one of the reasons this bothers me so much is because I do not have children and I want them. Reproductively, I am old. Heck, if I should happen to have a baby now I'd be what the gynaecologists term 'geriatric prima gravida'. Such an attractive label.

When I stop mourning the loss of my own youth for long enough, I look at people older than me and I feel as if I see into them. I imagine them also reeling at what their body has done. "Why, wasn't it just yesterday I graduated from University?" "Seems like my son was born just the other day, and now he's 50!" Those wrinkles and lines, grey hairs and sun spots are 'recent' additions to their features that may well have taken them by surprise in the same way my crinkly hands have. I look at them as 50 or 60 or 70, but for them they are a continuum. They are more than the moment I catch them in... they are a life and a history all together. This is clearer I suppose, now that I have my own continuum to look back on.

Willem Dafoe as Martin David in the recent movie 'The Hunter' helped me think through some of this. Now there's a movie star who hasn't resorted to plastic surgery! Large as life on the big screen was the face of a man with lines and wrinkles. Blurring the line between Martin David and Willem Dafoe, I like to imagine they have decided to feel comfortable with the changes to their face and body. Those changes tell a story, the story of a man who has lived and learned and honed his hunting and acting skills. He could not have hunted or acted as a young man the way he does now. Time and experience have taught him what he knows. And you don't get that without picking up a few lines and wrinkles along the way.

Watching Dafoe, I was challenged to keep thinking through what has worth. Youthful features and a blank slate? Mature skin and a wealth of experience? It's not really an and/or. Both have their place at the right time. I've had the youthful features and blank slate, and it was good. (If you catch me on a good day, even I'll admit there is plenty of blank slate to fill. Those 80 year olds? They've still lived more than twice my life time!) Now I'm moving into new phases of my life. And that is also good.

Sometimes I feel embarrassed about it though. Like I don't want my mum to notice I'm looking older because then the joke will be on me. Or that my class mates from those long past high school years are laughing at me behind my back because I'm nearly forty. Except my mum is older too, my brothers are showing their age just as much as me. And the class mates? Ha. They're nearly forty too! We're all in this together people! Nothing to be embarrassed about.

I imagine that soon I will have processed my current transitional stage and I'll stop thinking about age all the time. I doubt I'll lose my new found perspective though. I shall ever feel more respect for those who have seen a few years. I shall wonder about their story, what they've done, where they've been, what they learned along the way. I might even ask them about it.

And in the meantime, I'll keep encouraging kids to be respectful and curious and to see the value in those they consider old. Cause if those oldies learned from life like I seem to be, they are a rich resource we could all benefit from listening to.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

rain and things

So much rain this afternoon! I think it washed all my writing ideas away.

But you'll be pleased to know the beans that, until yesterday afternoon, I thought would never sprout... are now nearly 10cm tall.

And there are 18 corn up.

And some of the seeds I planted on Sunday afternoon (lettuce, pak choy, silver beet) are already sprouting.

Speaking of sprouting seeds, I took a salad to school for lunch today. Usually I eat in the staff room, but I was short on time and ate in my office while overseeing various crafting activities. We ended up having a great time identifying all the different leaves in the salad, although I couldn't quite tell them what all the leaves were. Such a range. Then I explained how I'd sprouted fenugreek seeds and they would make me healthy and my skin and hair beautiful. A few upturned noses as I munched on them, but the avocado and tomato received a tick of approval. I love stretching the kid's vegetable world.

And then, when the bell rang and I was all alone, I scoffed down a chocolate. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

chillin' out

I managed to turn a long weekend into an extra long four day weekend! Yay. One of my jobs entails seven and a half hours a week, but once it's spread across almost three days it feels like I'm at work all the time. So I've been setting boundaries and guarding them and keeping one week day as work and volunteering free as possible. Today was my day off for this week, and with all the house work done and rain falling outside, I decided to make cards. Once it fined up I walked to the shops, caught up with a colleague (whoops, that was work) and stocked up on groceries. The day was topped off with choir practice. Noice.

Part time work has become an important value for me - I hope to never work full time again. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, with everyone else rushing around like crazy and most people having too little time to do everything they want. It seems almost selfish to have time to myself and be at home without the socially acceptable justification of being home with the kids. I joke about my maternity leave without the maternity, or claim to be on the path to early retirement, because mostly I'm not too rushed and I have space to tootle along and enjoy the world around me. I like it like that - and why not? We want to live a simpler life for environmental and justice reasons and can afford to take the foot off a bit.

I don't want to die regretting that I didn't enjoy life and instead missed out on the amazing things all around. Financial security is one ideal to aim for, but I'd rather less money and more peace. What's life all about anyway? As a society we have a whole lot of goals and values I'm just not convinced on - lifestyle and status and comfortable retirement. Of course I don't want an uncomfortable retirement, but it is possible to be happy with less and squeeze every last drop of joy out of each day. Right now. No waiting for that distant retirement.

It's a nice ideal but I admit that even with part time work I don't live in the moment every day, or even most days. However, I am trying to fashion a space in my life for just being. For noticing the finches and talking to the chickens, urging on the sprouting corn and smelling the roses, creating beauty and living consciously, hanging out with Frank and having time for friends.

David Roberts at grist calls it the medium chill. I get what he's saying, that society is aiming for the big chill in retirement when, with different choices, we could enjoy a medium chill right now. But I reckon the medium chill right now is the big chill. It is for me anyway.

We're all different, and if you love your job and find it satisfying and fulfilling and want to be there every day - that's fantastic! But if work is just a means to an end... maybe you could join me in some chillin'.

Monday, November 07, 2011

a little NaBloPoMo breather

I've fairly exhausted myself with all the blogging of the last few days. That's what happens when a word dam built up over several months is allowed to burst - words spill out almost uncontrollably. I couldn't hold it all in any longer, and out they poured, word after word after word, late into the night. Thank goodness for NaBloPoMo providing such a release eh. I'd still be chocked up otherwise!

So, now for something lighter that should take only a minute or two to type. A garden update.

This whole weekend has fairly sparkled with good weather. (Yes, it's still the weekend here as today was 'Recreation Day', whatever that public holiday is about. We fulfilled the spirit of the day by having friends over for lunch. Nice.)

After so many days of sun and warmth, seven of my corn are up. Yay. And my first ever zucchinis from seed have sprouted! Double yay! The beetroot are poking through, we ate a salad of lettuce and nasturtium from the garden, and so far so good in keeping the slugs away from the carrots. I have a whole bunch more seeds in (more lettuce, spinach, rainbow chard, kale and rocket) and am trying to decide where to plant some turnips. The asparagus ferns are falling over and the basil is up. Yarrow is spreading everywhere and the lemon balm plant is two feet high. I'm still deciding whether to buy tomato seedlings or just go with the abundance of self sown plants that are everywhere. I know roughly what's what by where they have sprouted so could hopefully select a range of varieties. The rhubarb survived a rather vicious transplant too late in the spring, and the neglected raspberry canes that sat in bags for months have also mostly survived their transfer into the earth. We will have at least 10 raspberries off one cane. Good news I say!

So things are looking good in the garden, although of course I'd like them to be even better. Maybe if we'd planted the raspberries sooner there would be 100 raspberries off 10 canes! A whole bunch of seeds didn't sprout. They were still in date but must have died - yes, I have learned seeds can and do die if not planted in a reasonable time. I still feel like an experimental garden novice.

But as my lunch time guest said today - we're always learning, and better to have taken a risk, had a go and pushed the boundaries. For how can any of us achieve a good garden if we don't start with a bad one!

With this I comfort myself. And now I must away to sleep.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

occupy deloraine

I've been following the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement with one eye. I know it's happening, am pretty sure I support the protests, but haven't read that much detail about it. This article made things clearer, and anything that's anti corporations is pretty well OK with me. I'd be in if I was anywhere near Wall Street.

I suppose I could join one of the 'occupy' protests in a number of Australian cities, but while corporations are just as dominant here as in the USA, our economic situation is no where near like that of the USA. And inequality exists but not to the same degree as in the USA. Consequently, the Australian version of 'Occupy Wall Street' seems a little paltry in comparison, almost like copy-cat protests because protests seem cool, not because they have the significance or meaning they carry in the US.

So. From all of that it would seem I am not protesting, but... really, I am. Not in New York, but down here in little ol' Tasmania. Yes, there are even ways to protest here! That is, if by protest you mean 'buck the system and beat the corporations'. I've decided the way to beat corporations at their game is not to play their game.

Don't engage. Don't participate. Don't. buy. their. stuff.

Instead, go to Deloraine Craft Fair and rub shoulders with a host of small time creators who have turned production back into an art form.

Buy a card from Bruce Bain, and hear the story of the pictured wren laying four eggs the day after the photo was taken. Or chat with Joanna Gair, whose every card is a work of art. Or purchase one of Mel Hills delicate drawings of lady birds. Tell Joseph Austin you love his art and buy a card or two every year.

Get into the hand dyed woollen fabric, hand made recycled jewellery or glass beads. And if art or craft aren't your thing, head into the food tent or look for every day items. Whether it's Chilli Ginger Beer (oh la la - delicious), chocolate raspberry sauce, cinnamon hazelnuts, blackberry with fig and balsamic paste, pure olive oil soap, salmon, honey or a host of other produce, it is possible to live and eat without buying from a major corporation.

That's why I go to the Deloraine Craft Fair. It's worth every cent of entry fee and time and effort. I get to meet the people making the stuff I buy, compliment them on their produce, make a connection.

Who needs to occupy Wall Street? Occupy Deloraine instead.

(And the best thing is, if you're nearby, you still have one more day to get there and check it all out!)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

calculating the impact of takeaway

I washed up four take away containers this morning, courtesy of last night's take away from Aaj India. (If you live locally and haven't eaten there, get thee to Aaj India I say. It's delicious and last week they kindly cooked a meal for us at 10pm!)

Take away. By Thursday or Friday evening I'm over the organisation required to not only decide what to eat, but also have all the ingredients on hand. I love take away. It's a love-hate relationship however, because for all the convenience and release, there are a bunch of plastic containers at the end of it which I don't want to keep but I don't want to throw away either.

I'm becoming increasingly cautious about eating from plastic for a range of health reasons. However, my uneasiness at takeaway containers does not stem from these health concerns. 'Slow death by rubber duck' by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, seemed to indicate that if I'm going to eat from plastic, takeaway containers aren't too bad. They don't contain BPA and don't leach too many nasties. Disposing of them is another issue altogether. Plastic just doesn't break down.

That's not entirely true. Plastic may break down under the glare of the sun's UV light into smaller plastic fragments over the course of, I don't know, ten years? Eventually its long plastic polymers might biodegrade with the assistance of microbes in... well nobody really knows how many years it would take. Possibly millenia. That's the good news. The bad news is that salt water prevents the sun from breaking down plastic. Any plastic in the ocean stays there. Forever. Possibly in broken down form, but possibly intact. This means that all the plastic produced in the world in the last 80 years is still sitting around somewhere. That thought troubles me deeply, and every time I eat takeaway I feel a twinge of guilt that I've personally contributed yet more plastic to the plastic dump sites of the world. (Check out 'Plastic. A toxic love story' by Susan Freinkel [Text Publishing, 2011] for more distressing plastic reading)

I manage to assuage some of my take away guilt with the thought that communal cooking must surely use less energy than everyone cooking individually in their own homes. One kitchen running hot must beat 30 kitchens running hot at the same time. I like to think so anyway, and I did find a supporting paragraph or two in a book on environmental sustainability last year, although the positive contribution of eating out has nothing to do with better kitchen efficiency! Apparently in Japan, it was calculated:
...that if households decreased cooking at home by 10% and increased eating at restaurants correspondingly, the demand for eating and drinking places would go up by 1.49 times. This would increase total carbon dioxide emissions by 0.3% (less sustainable) while landfill (waste) would decrease by 0.3% (more sustainable). However, the effect of spending more time and money at restaurants would mean that less was available to spend on other forms of consumption. If this 'rebound effect' is taken into account, it would lead to a significant reduction in emissions and waste, and the lifestyle would become more environmentally friendly.

Heap and Comim, 2007, Consumption and Happiness: Christian values and an approach toward sustainability in Berry (Ed) When Enough is Enough. A Christian framework for environmental sustainability, Apollis, Nottingham.
These calculations are far more precise, complicated and comprehensive than my own, and my idealist dream of communal kitchen benefits is most likely cancelled out by the increased contribution to landfill by those blasted takeaway containers.

Am I the only one who makes these crazy, constant mental calculations about my impact on the planet? I ordered a couple of organic, fair trade cotton tops over the internet. Organic equals better for the environment and better for the farmers. But what about the miles the clothing travelled to reach me? One was produced in India, another in the Netherlands. Did I cancel out the organic goodness by purchasing a product which has traversed nearly half the globe? What about the organic pepitas from China and those delicious, all-natural nougat bars from Belgium?

It seems to be a situation of damned if I do, damned if I don't - don't consider the environmental cost of my lifestyle and the world is doomed (sorry to be melodramatic there, but if you read what I've been reading, we're pretty well stuffed). Make an effort to reduce my contribution to environmental degradation, and I'm still contributing to the degradation.

Maybe you are a climate change denier who finds my calculating angst over the top because you don't believe human activity is contributing to global warming. Think about this: As much as 1.6 billion pounds of plastic end up in the ocean each year. 267 different species of turtles, birds and marine mammals are dying because of the impact of plastic in their environment. And if turtles, birds and sea life dying doesn't concern you, plastic is increasingly being linked to significant health problems in humans. Global warming or not, our consumerist, oil guzzling lifestyle is having a devastating impact on the earth, and I've just skimmed the surface of only one area of destruction.

Nine hundred words later and I'm no closer to completing my calculations. But I'll keep plugging away at it, trying to minimise my impact on the earth. And I suppose one way to solve the takeaway container problem is just to eat in at the restaurant. Or organise myself better so I can make it through a whole week without resorting to convenience. Now there's a goal!

Friday, November 04, 2011

spring

Today was a glorious day. All sun and blue sky and light breeze and green trees and birds singing. Spring might truly be here. Or possibly summer is poking its head up, since I'll grudgingly admit that (despite the cool days) signs of spring have been around for quite a while now.

Spring was huge for me this year. I'm not sure if it was a one off, but winter was hard. Not any more miserable or cold than usual, just winter being winter. However for me, it was a bit of a slog. I missed bike riding. The few times I ventured out, I froze or nearly passed out shortly afterwards, so I gave up and settled for motoring around. A pall of grey seemed to settle over me. Depression? Seasonal affective disorder? Perhaps. Whatever it was, it wasn't pleasant, and spring could not come soon enough.

As spring crept its way through the wintriness, I drank it all in. Darling buds poking up from the ground, barren trees blanketed in leaf burst, blackbirds singing, plants experiencing exponential growth spurts, stealthy warmth, twilight lingering longer and longer every day. I've embraced the spread of spring and experienced an echoing thaw in my heart.

The most touching thing for me this year has been the lush, green growth on trees. At times it has moved me to tears, and at the very least it has refreshed my soul. It's also got me to musing.

I often walk through Launceston's many beautiful parks and notice the leaf buds. 'Nubile' always pops into my head when I see the first flush of green, although I know it isn't the most appropriate word, referring to the sexual maturity of young women rather than the lush growth of trees. Maybe my mind links the newness of spring leaves, so pure and unadulterated and completely lacking in artifice, with the fresh innocence of youthful girls. Whatever the connection, for me, trees in spring encapsulate the joyfulness and energy of life producing new life.

And I want to be like that. I've been experiencing a winter of the soul for a while now, but I want to be like a spring tree. No matter how old they are, every year they produce fresh, young, tender growth, unblemished and unharmed by life. I want to do that - no matter that I'm getting older and fighting off creeping cynicism - I want to put out new growth that is soft and gentle and lush.

Spring. As the earth around me transforms itself, let me be transformed with it.





Thursday, November 03, 2011

an ode to my bike, except it's not an ode

It turns out I rather like riding my bike, something I have discovered just this year. Prior to that Frank and I may have pedalled around a few nice bike tracks a couple of times each summer. Thirteen years ago I hired a bike and cycled around Dingle Peninsular, County Kerry, in the rain. I was left with a pilonidal abscess which ensured I never really forgot the experience. Further back, in the dark recesses of my memory, I have recollections of riding to school and locking my bike up near the monkey bars with a chain coated in transparent orange plastic, before wobbling around in an effort to dodge magpies intent on gouging my eyes out as I headed home.

It's a mixed bag of memories that's for sure! What makes me love cycling so much now?

At the risk of waxing lyrical, let me count the ways:
  1. It's a great way to get into shape. Stomach fat literally melts away and thighs slim down with a pleasing, toned effect.
  2. Don't just get into shape, get fit! I push myself far harder on a bike, get more puffed and sweat a lot more than I ever do walking. That seems like a good thing to me... my body pushing the boundaries and going further than it has before.
  3. I can walk the environmental talk - or ride it. I grow weary with paying lip service to being kind to the planet when often I'm not living it. Riding the bike is a practical way of treading lightly and living sustainably. It also qualifies me to wear this t-shirt.
  4. Cycling gives me a huge emotional kick... and not just because I feel all noble about doing the right thing to the earth! After riding the bike I feel exhilarated, invigorated, fit, healthy, buff, joyful, alive. What an endorphin rush. It's fantastic, and the feeling flows over into the next day.
  5. Sense of achievement or what?! I ride up Henry Street (big hill) to work. (Perhaps I should rephrase that - sometimes I ride up Henry Street, other times I walk) I time myself in both directions and shave off the odd minute or two here and there. I get myself around town under my own steam and I might be tired at the end of the day, but I'm pretty proud of that achievement.
  6. I've noticed a reduction in general aches and pains, particularly in one of my knees. Initially it's a bit sore, but after a few weeks of riding the pain is diminished and I can go further and longer without noticing it. I think my other twinges here and there all fade away too, but I've never kept a diary of the aches, so who really knows!
  7. Great skin! Of course I pick the best photos for my profile pictures, so you might not know my skin is not the clearest. Bane of my life sort of stuff, but something about sweating lots seems to flush it all out and my skin becomes smoother, softer and more supple, with noticeably less age lines. Hahaha, tricked you. That was really an ad for an anti-aging wrinkle cream. (Seriously, my skin is better when I cycle)
Have I convinced you all to ditch your car and ride a bike at least one day a week yet? No? Let me keep trying then.

One of those things about riding the bike to work is you have to ride home. There's no car to jump into. Tired? Grumpy? Want to collapse into a chair? Too bad. Get on your bike and get going. Maybe that sounds like a negative of cycling, but I've found it very motivating. I often catch myself doing the whole silly 'reward' thing. 'Oh, you didn't eat a chocolate all day? Have a chocolate now for being so good.' Or 'You stayed off the internet for an hour just now, go buy yourself a new pair of shoes.' The more I slip into that kind of thinking, the more cosy and comfortable life becomes.

I think I'd reached the point of not really wanting to do anything hard or challenging or demanding. But then I had to get home. The more I had to ride home at the end of the day, the more disciplined I found myself becoming in other areas of my life, as if the positive feedback from cycling helped me to face other difficulties with a more positive attitude and just get on with it. What a boon!

Nicholas Carr, in his book 'The Shallows. How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember" (Atlantic Books, 2010), describes the way maps and then clocks changed the way humans saw themselves. For example, the clock ushered in the concept of time spent, wasted or lost. People were able to personally measure time and productivity and individualism began their ascendancy. In the same manner, the way we write, read and manipulate information changes the way our mind works. Carr states that 'a medium or other tool transmits into the minds and culture of its users.' We are, in effect, controlled by our tools as much as we control them. Carr says this in the context of how the internet is changing the way we think, but as I read his work, I couldn't help connecting his ideas with my experience on the bike.

Yes, I'm fitter, healthier, happier, but more than that, my way of viewing the world has changed, and I have also changed. In a sense, riding the bike has helped stretch and shape my character in unexpected positive ways. Going back to the sense of achievement mentioned above, the personal growth I've gained through cycling has given more into that positive feedback mechanism of feeling good about myself. I like it when I stick at the difficult tasks. I'm motivated to do other things I don't want to but need to. Heck, I've even cleaned out the bathroom and the kitchen drawers in the last two weeks!

Seriously, you can't beat riding a bike. Or maybe you can... my house mate loves jogging. Jogging just isn't my thing. So if cycling isn't your thing (you don't have to wear lycra!), go for a jog. Anything that pushes you to the next level. It is so worth it!

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

on being real

In less time than it takes for a hand to circumnavigate the face of a clock , I've had two separate conversations about being real. Both times we were talking about relationships, anger, forgiveness, conflict and the Aussie culture.

The conclusion was that too often we avoid being real because we don't want to offend. But in the not offending we settle for shallow relationships and uncomfortable tip toeing around important issues. Or looking inwards, we refuse to acknowledge faults we have ourselves, stunting our personal growth and development.

Where does this come from, this unreality?
Fear of vulnerability?
Needing perfection?
Inability to manage conflict?
Unwillingness to acknowledge failings?
Trepidation over the response we might receive?

I'm as guilty as anyone. I don't always address issues. More particularly I would prefer not to have issues addressed with me. Mostly because I don't want to admit I'm weak and frail and sometimes pathetic, and... human. I want you to see me as in control, chic, successful, and I will act my way through anything in order to maintain the pretence.

Where did this truth avoidance come from? I always prided myself on my honesty and authenticity. Now I lie, even to myself.

I have a few ideas about the source of my unreality, but in a way they are inconsequential. The more important thing is to find a pathway back to truth. I'm not talking about brow beating and back lashing and running myself and everyone else into the ground in the interest of being real. I'm just talking about speaking honestly about what's going on.

I sometimes wish life could be like the 'Speaker Box' one of the teachers runs at school. After each student speaks they are scored by a panel of three. The first and third members of the panel (usually classmates, though I was a guest judge one week) give 'stars'. The middle judge presents a 'wish' and all have the same judging criteria, be it 'good eye contact', 'clear diction' or 'you kept our attention'. Each judge provides feedback on one criteria using the formula 'I liked it when you...' or 'I wish you...'. Every student grows and develops in their public speaking, but more importantly they have the opportunity to learn to give and receive both positive and constructive feedback.

Would we all did that! Calmly, factually gave objective feedback or offered an insight into how we have been affected. Or, since we are emotional beings who find objectivity difficult, if we saw life as a journey of increasing self awareness and growth, perhaps we could give and receive feedback freely. Gratefully even. If I was less concerned about making sure I always looked good, perhaps people would approach me and suggest ways I could improve. And then I could graciously accept their comments, discern their truth, admit my mistakes and change for the better.

I expend a great deal of energy maintaining my fa├žade, striving to keep face. Part of me longs to let it go, let it all hang out, just admit I can't do everything and be at peace with that. Another part of me cringes and hangs back in fear.

But here's my pledge: to become increasingly real. It's much better. Really.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

sometimes you just have to let it go

If you've ever visited Frank and I then you will know we are pretty house proud. We like our house, we like our stuff and it is possible we look after it to excess. When people visit we try and keep it all in check, but I guess making people remove their shoes at the door is a bit of a give away. That, and hovering over them with a cleaning cloth. And the obsessive neatness of everything.

OK, I'm exaggerating. A little. But at times I wonder if we love our stuff too much. And when people visit and point out the cleanness of everything I feel bad about our obsessiveness and the niceness of it all, but hey, we don't have children, we can keep things looking schmick and it works for us.

Recently our house pride was put to the test. A guest spilt tea on a beautiful, cream woollen rug. That rug is our pride and joy. (I exaggerate. A little) We like it a lot. It now has a dirty great tea stain which the carpet cleaner has warned us may be impossible to remove. A situation not helped by my well meaning, bicarb frenzied cleaning attack. (Although when you think about it, tea is tannin and tannins stain and dark stains show up best on light colours. Bicarb can hardly have made it worse)

It's been interesting to note Frank and my reaction to the situation. Not the cleaning attempts... but our emotional reaction. We've been really upset, out of sorts even. Almost grieving the loss of the rug. Crazy but true.

It's got me thinking about what has real value and worth. Yes, the rug definitely had value and worth - it was beautiful. But people matter more. And accidents happen - stuff gets wrecked. We loved having a house full of people the other day. Yeah, we're pretty sad about the stain, but friends are more important. Relationships are real and they have value it is difficult to quantify.

So. What price a rug? The price of choosing not to raise it when I saw the person again. Choosing not to be angry that they made no mention of the accident and didn't enquire as to the state of our rug... I let it go and forgave them in my heart.

I think Frank and I may have passed the test. (But no more tea spills please!)

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