Tag Archives: Childhood

Knowing me, knowing you

It was suggested to me recently that I’m having an “Identity Crisis”. I guess that is one more thing to add to my extensive list of “Issues”.

know-002This came about because I was having another wail about Church People just seeing me as “The Pastor’s Wife”. This variation on my 25-year old long-running theme was a specific gripe, due to me feeling taken advantage of over a current issue, too convoluted to relate here, but one aspect being playing Pipe Organ in Church five out of six consecutive weeks. Which I actually enjoy doing. But, while at the same time, there had been some question raised over my qualifications and skills as an organist. The irony of the confluence of these two things was not lost on me.

I have reflected before on how we go through life being identified, I feel, in relation to other people and other things. Which is natural. Someone’s child. Someone’s sister or brother.

As a student at a particular school.

know-008
Hilary,Kylie, Frances, Caroline in “Die Musiker Studio” days

As a member of a sports team or club perhaps. Or, at a Music or Ballet school on the weekend.

Then, later, as someone’s husband or wife. Then parent of our child or children. By the job that we do.

But to what extent is our identity just “ME”?

My long-ago, long-term Piano Teacher’s wife, Beryl Kimber Leske, an eternal matchmaker, was extremely excited, a img500quarter-century ago now,  when she discovered I was engaged and wearing a diamond ring. One of her first questions was “What does he play?” I explained my fiancé was a “Nice Lutheran boy” (I thought this might go down well, as the Leskes also have Lutheran connections). She was a little taken aback to learn that Neil was not a musician per se (although he does sing well). But then she brightened, stating “Ah, well, every Performer needs an Audience”.  She had assigned a Role for him that, in her world, worked.

On Thursday of this week I did the closest thing to “Work” that I have since I resigned from my school teaching position in September 2016. My daughter’s violin teacher had asked me to assist at a “Strings Day of Excellence” at the local High School where she teaches. This involved the resident String Orchestra of the host High School, plus invited String Students from five nearby Primary Schools.  The purpose of the day appeared to be twofold. Firstly, to give the younger students the opportunity to participate in a larger, more proficient group of musicians, and to inspire them to continue studying by seeing and experiencing where they might be in a few years’ time. And secondly, as a PR exercise by the High School to showcase their Performing Arts options – because they would be looking to recruit students from these Primary Schools.

I arrived early to an assembly hall already set up with 150 chairs and music stands, a few staff getting ready, and a handful of High Schoolers. A few “early birds” – anxious small uniformed children – started trickling in with parents in tow. After checking the plan for the morning, I amused myself how quickly I unconsciously slipped into “Meet and Greet” mode, as the trickle of visiting Primary children became a flood. “Good Morning!” “Welcome!” “How lovely to see you” “Please unpack your instrument over there”. And then “Let me help you tune your violin”. I looked up and realised a queue had formed in front of me of a dozen children all waiting for me to help tune their instruments.

febmarch-039rs

In the middle of all this, a harried looking woman approached me and stated: “I’m one of the other String Teachers”. And then, in an irritated tone: “Nobody told me what time I had to be here, or what I was supposed to do”.

“I’m just borrowed for the day” I volunteered brightly, and carried on tuning fractional-sized violins, violas and cellos. There was something resentful in the other teacher’s tone, which I deliberately did not pick up on. I noticed, however, that neither did she instinctively start another “tuning station” which would have prepared the children more quickly. She simply disappeared in a frustrated huff.

I’m sure we all have “Family Folklore”, those little stories which our parents and Grandparents love to tell of times gone by, as some type example or thing to remember. In our family there was one such tale of a relative who consulted her mother about her current boyfriend. Who she found perfect in very way. Except one.

She was concerned that “John” was not very much of a self-starter where domestic things were concerned. That he did not seem to notice that a table needed to be set or that dishes could be washed. That she was worried that if they were married, she would shoulder all of these things herself.

Her wise mother thought for a moment, and then counselled her. “There are two types of people in this life. Those who “see the need and do”’ and those who need to be asked. Perhaps your young man just does not “see” and you need to “ask”. “Try it”

So her daughter tried this tactic. “John, would you please set the table for me?” “Certainly, dear” and he would immediately leap up and do it. A more helpful, loving and giving person you could not wish for than John. Her mother was right. John just did not “See”.

I have long wondered if this is partly typical of men of this era (“John” is now in his 80’s) – those who were children during World War II and grew up in a time when male/female roles were much more defined such that males were typically “Breadwinners” and females “Homemakers”, so there was an assumption that certain things were “women’s work”. Because I have noted this same lack of domesticity in other men of a similar age.

However, it’s not necessarily restricted to senior folk – “Generation Y” appear to have many, if not enhanced of these tendencies – the ability to be in a room totally oblivious to the fact that others are busily working or things need to be done. “Millennials” – according to one expert – are accused of being lazy, self-involved, cosseted, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren’t able to function without a smartphone and who live in a state of perpetual adolescence, incapable of commitment.

But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

All that said, I believe that being such a person, one in the “See the need and do”’ category, transcends Gender and Age.

It is a way of thinking. In the much bigger picture – A way of defining yourself.

Because I think I have finally got a handle on this “Identity” thing.

(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).

I am the See-the-need-and-do person.

I am the Whatever-it-takes person.

I am the Above-and-beyond person (which was the “Theme” of my previous school the first few years I worked there.)

above-beyond

For years, my Facebook “About Me” section has included a statement I wrote some years ago, in reaction to someone who had been quite dismissive and negative when I had suggested trying something more challenging than had previously been attempted in a certain situation. I had found her attitude really frustrating. and it had prompted me coining the statement:

Kylie warns those who say:
“It’s too hard and it can’t be done”, I consider that a challenge and I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!!

I also found the following quote, printed it out in an attractive font and hung it on the Office wall, where it stayed for some years:

Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. (Robert H. Schuller)

The last – now five – months of being “Gainfully Unemployed” have also been a time of considerable reflection and soul searching for me, much of which has been personally difficult.

And trying to rationalise and compact so much down to try and work out what, ultimately matters about it all.

Spending seven years of your life going, yes, “Above and Beyond” in a place, working closely with particular people, establishing relationships, building something substantial (in the case of the Strings Program) and aiding in the growth generally of something that is meaningful to you (the Music Department of a school), having the opportunity to impact the lives of young people.

On a personal basis, coming to the “Big Smoke” from a small, regional town where you have built up a life for yourself, including a network of supportive friends, and having to start again from nothing. For the first two or three years counting only three people as friends on the Gold Coast. This sprawling, soul-less, artificial, fake, somewhat seedy place. And two of the three “counted as friends” people being colleagues at the school.

So, over seven years, the school is not just a place you go to, punch the time clock for your allotted hours and leave.

It is Family. It is Community.

And what is “My Role” “My Job”?

Interestingly, I never had a printed Job Description. I was employed as “Instrumental Teacher”. And so, I made the role my own. Whatever needed doing, I did it. So did, at the time, my colleagues. Amongst things my former colleagues did … costumes for Primary Musicals – sourced in lunchbreaks. Sets? Paint them yourself. Christmas Carols to be sung? (as related previously) – throw a choir together. The students have never heard a Symphony Orchestra play?  Research and organise a Group Excursion and put them on a bus to Brisbane. As my Mum used to say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”.

One year I was drafted into playing Lead Piano in the High School Musical 10 days before Opening Night, in response to an S.O.S. from the High School Music Teacher. “Kylie – I need you. Please help”. I dropped everything and learned the entire score – eighteen complete songs –  for “Aladdin” in one weekend.

Whatever it takes.

However, this exact same approach has got me “into hot water” repeatedly. I have a long history of rarely sticking to my “Job Description” (when I have actually had one). 23 years ago I assisted a hardworking small business owner in England with his accounts and paperwork, including some letter writing and legal work as, English  being his second language, he had got into arrears with some payments and was very stressed and concerned about losing his business. [I was actually employed to sell accessories at 40 pounds cash per week.]

Later, I had a part-time job as coffee-maker and telephone-answerer for a Graphic Design Company in North London. By the time I left there for Australia, the Director had indulged me by calling me his P.A. (which does look good on my C.V.)

Where people have wanted to “pigeon-hole” me and required me to “stay in my box” and “do what you are supposed to do” I guess I have literally felt boxed in. Sometimes their attitude is couched in terms of apparent concern for my welfare – suggesting I should not overwork or overstretch myself – that there are other people who can/should be/are actually employed to do those additional tasks which are “not your job”.

But what is often missed is that much of what I actually enjoy doing is not in the “Job Description”. And one of the things that frustrated me mightily last year was, when I stopped, by request, doing things I was not “supposed” to do, many of these were not picked up by other staff, by anyone – they just ceased altogether.

And – witness the lady at Thursday’s Workshop – I seem to have an innate ability to Irritate people by simply existing. By just diving in and doing what needs to be done. She at least appeared to be put out that she did not know who I was, yet I was doing obstensively “her job”. Yet, importantly, I noticed that she allowed her pique to come to the fore. Instead of taking over, or taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and setting up beside me – after all, why can’t we work TOGETHER in life – she chose to take offense.

Amusingly. my ACTUAL role for the day was “Designated Pianist”. AND I was slightly late for the first part of the rehearsal (for the role I was actually hired to play) due to the fact I was busy tuning literally one hundred instruments – something this lady was skilled and able to do. And which was actually her role (probably). But it was not me, but her attitude which prevented her from fully assuming it.

matter-mindFortunately, the organiser of the Workshop, my daughter’s teacher, who had invited me to participate, was the exact opposite. She appreciated all my assistance and thanked me for “pitching in” and helping out wherever needed.

At the risk of sounding like some religious group (and Mr. Google tells me there are a number with this exact name) there comes a point where we all need to step forward in faith.

To stop looking behind ourselves, second-guessing and mistrusting.

To realise that the exact same qualities we have which make one person love and appreciate us, may make another resent and even hate us.

And perhaps true Maturity is finally being able to be content with that.

This is the year that my contemporaries and I reach “Round-number” birthdays, and already some are asking how I might celebrate it. Well, I’m not really intending to. Because there are plenty of people who have walked this earth longer than I have, have achieved more than I have, who have contributed more than I have.

Equally, there are many who have fallen by the wayside, whether that being simply not achieving their potential, or they are staring into some mid-life crisis or have suffered ill health or pain, anxiety, or depression. Or perhaps have tried to deal with life’s complexities, its ups and downs with the use of medications or alcohol or drugs or other therapies.

None of us are perfect and none of us are getting any younger.

This week I came across a handful of letter copies I had written home during my early efforts at word-processing when I first moved to England twenty-five years ago. Including quite lot of “life advice” to a younger friend was I pseudo “Big Sister” to. Reading it now, in some ways I seemed wiser then than I seem to be now.

But equally, I think perhaps I have learned the odd thing in the past quarter century.

And this month, perhaps I’m a little closer to learning Who I Am.

pooh-and-piglet

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally

Sometimes I wonder if I am just the wrong age. Many of the people dearest to me are ten or even twenty chronological years older than me (or, in the case of my Mother-in-law, 30 years older).  Yet we share an affinity, things in common, a wavelength if you like, where those years on paper are completely irrelevant.

My tastes in some things “officially” belong to a bygone age – for example I joined a Facebook group called “I’m fed up with bad church music”, which has a membership of some thousands of mainly church organists across the world. Its central tenet is a prejudice against the rather benign Christian ditty “Shine, Jesus, Shine” (which I actually don’t mind), yet I find myself in agreement with much of what is expressed by its participants.

shine-jesus-shine

One of my many obscure personal theories is that the popular music we are most familiar with, is that which receives constant airplay in our early teens. For me, that was Abba and local efforts Sherbet, AC/DC, and the ubiquitous John Farnham. Therefore, along with the fact that my own teenage years were devoted to many hours of homework and studying classical piano and violin, I have very little knowledge and understanding of popular music.

Once I stayed for the Easter long weekend with delightful cousins who have, in contrast, a very extensive collection of vinyl LP’s and a keen understanding of DECENT popular music. And, yes, are ten years older than I, so, therefore, blessed to be born into a more quality era of popular music. My relatives took me in, and even gave me “Homework”, a detailed listing of what I should listen to over the four days to improve my musical education.  There was, as you would expect, an album each from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but also some musicians I had never, at that time, even heard of, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane.

This I did, and I still remember, to this day, some of the songs I was introduced to, and it has certainly helped broaden my horizons. Also on that same weekend I saw the newly released film “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the cinema.

dirty-dancing

How time flies. I can remember that Easter, and its significance to me, as if it were yesterday.

Something else that I learnt on catch-up from from my older former boyfriends [with co-incidentally British connections] and then later my actual British husband and the English people I lived amongst for seven years, was an appreciation of British Drama and Comedy. So much more gentle and subtle than the offerings on television here, of both the Australian and American variety.

Although we had been fed, via our ABC, a steady diet of British fare, I had never got my head around “Monty Python”. But I needed to learn about it when my, again, slightly older mates at Uni would quote odd passages from it, and then fall about laughing. One-liners about Dead Parrots and Spanish Inquisitions and Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life.

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” – the closing song from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”. Which I guess I “shouldn’t” watch because it’s considered to be blasphemous by some, and I am, after all, a Pastor’s wife. But, as y’all know, I am not really good at conforming to stereotypes, and I definitely have issues with the concept of “SHOULD”.

So, yes, I have seen the film.

always-look

And right now I am trying to embrace the sentiment of that closing song.

Again, as a teenager, I was a keen reader. One of my favourite books was “Pollyanna”, by Eleanor H. Porter, now considered a classic. pollyannaIt would be seen as quite old-fashioned now, I’m sure, with its dated language and somewhat quaint concepts. The story of an orphaned missionary’s daughter trying to find something to be “glad about” in everyday life, even when things were tough, and attempting to spread that concept amongst those in her community.

She quoted from her late father that there were apparently eight hundred times in the Bible where God exhorted us to be glad and rejoice. So he must have wanted us to do it. Like “Shout for Joy” “Be Glad in the Lord”. “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Sing to the Lord a new Song”. Her mission was to try and find SOMETHING to “be glad” about in each situation, no matter how bleak it may seem.

To find the proverbial “Silver Lining” in every cloud.

Readers of “Serendipity” will know that I have had my difficulties this year. But that I have done my best to work through them. That, despite a horror start to the year (detailed in “It was the Best of times, it was the Worst of times”), I came to the conclusion, then, that: “My work at the school is not done”.

Sadly, now it is.

I have done everything in my power to make things work. But I have come to the end of the road. Much as it grieves me, it is time to move on.

Sometimes letting go is indeed better than holding on.

holding-on

These past few weeks have been very strange for me, with a number of huge contrasts and seeming coincidences (or out-workings of the power of Serendipity, if you prefer).

I had written to a composer acquaintance in Britain, Peter Martin, asking for suggestions for repertoire to teach my Year 4’s and 5’s, as previously we had used his fabulous compositions to great effect. He wrote back with a list of suggestions. Then, curiously, within days, I received a second email with the rather obscure query – was the term “Down under” – used by Brits to describe Australians – seen as offensive at all? Oh no, I wrote back, if anything we see it as humorous.

Before too long, I discovered the reason for this question. Peter had composed a brand new suite of pieces for Beginner Strings called “String Street Down Under” – all with titles inspired by Queensland place names (such as Hayman Island Hop) and dedicated:

 

My Grade 4 Beginners were very excited to try it out, especially when they understood that they were the first people in the world to ever play the music.

And then, when I got home, there was a beautiful bunch of flowers waiting, which had been delivered, from an esteemed friend overseas thanking me for my assistance with a project we had been working on together.

On the very same day, two different men, on two different continents, send me messages to say I am appreciated and valued.

And then, while doing some filing at home, I coincidentally came across a good-wishes-for-the-future message from my revered Year 11 Maths teacher (a small pink card kept for 33 years).

AND, stored with it, something I had not even seen for 25 years – a thin, white piece of paper folded multiple times.

When I carefully unfolded it I found it was the list of “Good reasons” I had challenged [now husband] Neil to provide for why I should go with him to New Zealand to meet his parents way back in 1990. (Knowing full well I would need to convince my own Mum of the same).

Being just as “bolshie” then as I am now, I had suggested ten good reasons should be the aim, but the handwritten list stopped at 8.

[But I remember the verbalised Number 9 – which I gave Double points – and the rest, as they say,  is history.]

Meanwhile, some local problems loomed on the horizon, and other doors seemed to be closing.

Very strange times indeed.

And then, in a further piece of happenstance, in a “Downloads” folder I didn’t even know existed on my computer, I found an image of a significant day I had previously reflected on.

November 2009 at Pacific Fair Shopping Centre. The day two colleagues and I took a bunch of students, an Electric Piano and a String Quartet, sang some carols with the odd Violin Descant, won a cash prize, and made good on our promise to the kids to reward them for their efforts. On the way back to the Bus stop, went to McDonalds and bought NINETY ice-creams.

november-09-pac-fair

With the passage of time, my many 2009 Year 7 students who participated on this occasion Graduated in 2014, and are now in the workforce or well into their University courses. One Year 11 student of mine from this period has completed a degree and teaching diploma, and has now come full circle, teaching at the same school where she was a student! I posted the photo to Facebook this week, as I have kept in touch with a few former students. Soon comments came flooding in, not only from them, but from their former classmates – names and faces from the past, ghosts of my past.  “I remember this day! Such great memories!” “This was such a fun time” “Oh, my, wow, I remember this”, “Best memories, remember it like it was yesterday”.

Then 12 year olds who are now 19 year olds.

But no longer children but adults. They have moved on.

And so must I.

I described this cluster of rather serendipitous and confusing events and messages to a wise and trusted friend, and mused:

“What is the universe trying to tell me?”

His response: “Be quiet and listen”.

The Bible relates the story, in 1 Kings 19, of the prophet Elijah fleeing the evil Jezebel, who had essentially “put out a contract” on him. He literally ran for his life and hid in a cave in the mountains.

 Verse 9 picks up the tale:

The word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

14 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

***************************************************************

Sometimes when things are very bleak in our lives, it is easy to wallow in despair and even depression, to feel that nobody cares, that no-one understands, and, yes, to feel “I am the only one left” When you feel little sympathy or understanding, its easy to take that a step further and feel persecuted, literally “now they are trying to kill me too”.

But did God leave Elijah sitting wallowing in his cave? No, he did not. God sought him out. And gave him some quite miraculous signs that he was not alone – a powerful wind, an earthquake and a fire. But then God spoke, not in those dramatic ways, but in a whisper.

One of my favourite traditional hymns is “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”

Here are the last two verses. I wonder if they may even reference Elijah?

4 Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

 5 Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

O still, small voice of calm!

A gentle whisper

“Be quiet and listen”

***********************************************************************Version 2

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there L.P. Hartley

Endnote: Main Photograph is of my daughter Cassie and her friend Jenn singing “I know him so well” from “Chess”, the first lines being:

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally, Perfect situations must go wrong, But this has never yet prevented me, Wanting far too much for far too long…

 

You’ve got to give a little, take a little

Recently a number of people dear to me seem to have been struggling with one thing or another. Yet these people are those who are always giving to others, of their time, effort, wisdom, skills. They are used to being the strong ones, to being the ones others lean upon.

But what happens when they are ill, or down, or struggling, or upset, or grieving? Who cares for the carer?

A few years ago when my children were small we lived in a country town, Ararat, in Western Victoria. At the time the whole area was drought-declared and there were strict water restrictions. Residents were encouraged to collect run-off from their morning shower in a bucket, and use this to wash the car. And then only the windows, mirrors and number pates were to be cleaned. No sprinklers or hoses on lawns were permitted, so all the grass died back to a dusty barren brown until the occasional rain shower.

The only way of watering plants was by watering can or bucket. Not even hand-held hoses were allowed.

WC 3

The children and I tried valiantly to keep our garden alive. We had certain plants that we favoured and others that we ignored. It truly was a case of “survival of the fittest”. Those watering cans, big and small, were soon emptied onto the favoured blooms and then came the repeated trips back and forth to the tap. The biggest bugbear was the need to continually fill up the watering cans and containers so that the life-giving water could be very quickly used again.WC 2

Each of us in our daily lives is like one of those watering cans. We give out. Give out of our time, our energy, and our skills. We favour certain “plants” in our lives. Perhaps those that we planted ourselves and so especially want to nurture. Perhaps the sickest and frail which have the least chance of survival left to their own devices, without special care and attention.WC 1

There comes a time in the lives of many when our “Watering Cans” are empty, or have frequently been “running on empty”.

Every drop of our water has been devoted to:

  • The business to which we gave our all, but which still did not succeed.
  • The elderly frail parents who require constant effort and attention, day 
after day.
  • The small children who still don’t sleep through the night.
  • The marriages and relationships that need nurturing, but we are too exhausted by the business (and the busy-ness) of our lives that we have no time, no energy to give to the people we love.

You see, we cannot continually “run on empty”. It is necessary to trudge those watering cans back to the tap and refill them. But many of us just give out continuously. Often it is a difficult thing to learn and accept that we need to receive back from life too. We should not feel guilty about doing and participating in things and activities that “top up” those watering cans. Even if that topping up simply enables us to give out some more.

All of us need, indeed we deserve, a happy, healthy, balanced, fulfilled life.

So, what is a life “Fulfilled”?
 The “Oxford Dictionary” defines the word “fulfil”:

  • Achieve or realise (something desired, promised, or predicted): “He wouldn’t be able to fulfil his ambition to visit Naples”
  • (fulfil oneself) Gain happiness or satisfaction by achieving one’s potential: “Arts grants go to young people who say they wish to fulfil themselves”.

Alternatively, the definition offered by online dictionary “Vocabulary.com” resonates with me beautifully:

“The verb fulfil means to fill a need or want. To fulfil yourself personally means to follow your inner passion, like flute-playing, no matter who thinks it’s silly.”

A fulfilled, balanced life needs to be made up of a number of components. We need to work towards happiness and fulfilment (and yes, set goals) in a variety of areas.

“8 Key Areas of Life” are detailed as:

  1. Relationships and Family (Socialisation)
  2. Relaxation
  3. Recreation
  4. Health and Wellbeing
  5. Personal Growth, Knowledge, 
Education (Intellectual Pursuits)
  6. Spiritual
  7. Wealth and Finances
  8. Work (Career?)

Experts say, for a Balanced Lifestyle, we should include at least some of each of these 8 areas, although the priority, proportion and emphasis will vary from person to person.

Relationships and Family (Socialisation):

Each of us needs to have social contact on a regular basis with people we enjoy spending time with and who can be a support system for us.

And this, importantly, must include FRIENDS as well as family. Many people think that, as they have a close family, that is surely enough, but not so. A Grandmother for example may dearly love her teenage Grandson but also worry about him and his risk-taking behavior, including too many late nights and frequent Skateboard accidents. Family connections are most times a mix of opposites: love and concern, rights and responsibilities. Whereas true friendships are largely weighted towards giving positive energy.

There is a growing area of neuroscience proving that social bonding sharpens brain function. It also extends life, according to a recent Australian Study, which followed 1500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 per cent. [Reference: http://seniorliving.about.com/od/lifetransitionsaging/a/longevity.htm]

My Grandmother, Muriel, exemplified this. Widowed in her early 50’s, she and her 3 close female friends Maudie, Marge and Jean were inseparable. The trio became essentially additional relatives to all us kids as they attended my cousins’ sporting events, our music performances and various family functions. The four ladies roared around in my Grandma’s car “The Red Terror” and met weekly for Lawn Bowls and Bridge Card Games as well as other activities. At one stage a gentleman from the Bowling Club took an interest in Grandma and various family members encouraged her to “Go for it”. She famously retorted, “I’d rather have a Cuppa Tea!”

Myrt and friends
Marge, Jean, Maudie…and Grandma Muriel (right).

In the last few years of her life all this changed. The eldest of her close friends, Jean, moved into Aged Care some distance away. Her closest friend Margie died. Maudie became more frail and relocated to live with her son. Grandma started turning up unannounced at our place for no particular reason, just stating, “I’m sick of my own company”. She gradually became unwell herself and spent the last year of her life in Nursing Care, although doctors could not diagnose any specific illness. We believe the loss of the “Gang of Four” had contributed to this marvellous, capable matriarch of the whole family simply losing her zest for life.

Certainly, the amount of time we spend socialising varies with each of us, but on the average, experts recommend “one or two activities per week”. Such experts also suggest “If we are in a “couple” relationship it is important that we engage in independent socialisation, i.e. coffee with a girlfriend, or golf with the fellows, so as not to become overly dependent on our partner. It is also important in a couple relationship to spend regular fun time away from the children so that we have time to develop and strengthen the relationship”.

Those of us with young children and without nearby family and support systems choke on our coffee at such “advice” and see such frequency as a forlorn hope.

However, it is important to make the effort and at least TRY.

Relaxation:

Relaxing the muscles and quietening the mind are important stress management techniques. Various techniques are available including yoga, meditation and deep muscle relaxation. Making a daily time for relaxation is vital to allow our bodies to re-charge. The important part is being able to learn to relax your body and turn off your thoughts. Sleep is critical (remember, in warfare, Sleep Deprivation is used as a form of Torture) but sometimes good sleep is elusive, due to shift work, travel, or care of aged relatives or young children.

However, it is important to try to have some Rest (not necessarily sleep) as part of your daily routine. This sage advice, taken and always remembered, was given to me by a caring healthcare worker when I was struggling with a three-year-old and a newborn.

Here I am with a week-old baby, too much make-up and a Glazed Expression.

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Recreation:

If we look at the word recreation, we can see that it is made up of re/create/ion. Many people think that “Relaxation” and “Recreation” are the same but they are not. Ten years ago I attended a marvelous group: MOP’s (Mothers of Preschoolers) that had, as part of its focus, that the babies and young children were cared for out of sight while the Mums bonded together over coffee, but they also insisted on “Craft Time”. Personally I found it a bit twee, but the organisation insisted it was important: the process of creating something, of completing something tangible, they decreed was extremely valuable, as stressed people, [Mums of preschoolers in particular] often found this lacking elsewhere in their lives.

Recreation does not need to be craft. Recreation includes leisure activities that help us feel rejuvenated. Pottery, woodworking, dressmaking, knitting and crossword puzzles are just a few suggestions. Gardening, for those with a green thumb, is also “recreational” as a difference “Before” and “After” can be observed – a specific achievement.

Although I have no evident talent in craft or gardening, Birthday Cakes are my thing. Fortunately, I only have two children with one birthday each a year!

One of the things I love most is their unwavering blind faith (especially when younger) and absolute confidence that Mum can do anything.

There are many examples, but here are just two:

“A Rainbow with Fairies and Unicorns?” – “No Problem”

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“For my cake, please Mummy, would you make a Green Dragon with Purple Spikes?” “Of Course”

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OK, I agree. That’s a bit excessive for an object with such a short life span. But look at this little face. Priceless.

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Of course the important aspect to realise when accepting these types of projects is that you aren’t really decorating a cake, or blowing up balloons, or painting the letterbox in stripes …you are, in reality undertaking the much more important mission of:

“Creating Memories for your Children”

Health and Wellbeing (Physical):

The physical side of a balanced life style involved several aspects: proper nutrition, which includes three healthy meals a day and watching our caffeine and alcohol intake. The “fight/flight” response of the body to stress is intended to end in physical activity. It is important that we engage in a regular type of physical activity such as swimming, walking or jogging to use up the adrenalin that might otherwise harm our bodies. (Admittedly I am pretty bad at following through on this one)

Personal Growth, Knowledge and Education (Intellectual):

Our minds need to be stimulated so that we have a variety of focus and do not become involved only with our stresses and ourselves. It is important to continue to learn throughout our lives. Intellectual stimulation can take many forms – reading the paper, attending courses and lively discussions are all good. People of all ages and stages of life are capable of learning new skills – it is not true the old proverb that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. In Australia, the “University of the 3rd Age” where Retirees take short and long courses in Computing, Languages, Workshop skills and a myriad of other fields are flourishing.

Spiritual:

Looking at the spiritual side of our life does not mean that we all have to attend Church. For some, regular attendance at Church is in fact appropriate. A spiritual activity, though, can be as simple as taking a walk and appreciating the natural beauty of the area. It is valid to periodically examine our beliefs and values. We need to be able to look beyond ourselves and appreciate the world around us in a meaningful way. The other night here, we noticed the sky glowing red at night and the whole family dashed out onto the front lawn to look. “Has somebody remembered a CAMERA?” demanded my daughter. We have taught her well.

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Wealth and Finances

It is important to have sufficient finances to live, to have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies. In the western world we expect a reasonable standard of living. Our aim should be to be able to live comfortably from our earnings and savings, not worrying every day about bills, but still keeping a clear picture of the difference between our true “Needs” and “Wants”.

The old adage is that “Money does not buy happiness” and sadly for many this is the case. Stories abound of lottery winners around the world finding, sadly, winning a truck-load of money on the lottery, any lottery, comes with a heap of baggage. Daydreams of a millionaire lifestyle seem to have a habit of turning sour, as isolation, paranoia; drugs, crime, poverty and prison await those who fail to adjust.

Career and Purpose (Work):

Last but not least “work”. You may say, “work is a stress for me!”. The word “work” basically means that we all need to engage in activity that we have a sense of satisfaction having completed.

Near the end of the film “Pretty Woman”, Edward (Richard Gere) has come to a new realisation about his work:

Edward: You know what I used to love when I was a kid, Phil?

Phil (Stuckey): What?


Edward: Blocks. Building blocks. Erector sets.


Phil (impatient and exasperated): What’s the point?

Edward: We don’t build anything Phil. We don’t make anything.

Phil: We make money, Edward!

“We make money…”

If our work is in fact too stressful we need to look at either changing our attitude to it or changing our job.

Now, my friends, it’s YOUR TURN!

Look back at those 8 areas and apply them to your life, and how you foresee your “better” or “perfect” life being in 5 years’ time or 10 years’ time.

It is important to realise we cannot give equal time to each area, and that sometimes priorities change. The aim is to have SOME component of these as a regular part of your life. The proportions of each will also vary from person to person.

If you assess that your life contains very little – or none – 
of one of these key areas and a large
 proportion of another, you may need to think 
again about your current priorities, even your future ones.

“All Work and No Play makes Jack a dull boy” is a proverb which may resonate with your past or present situation.

However, to some extent the opposite can also be true. Will whiling away endless days lying by the pool, idyllic as it may seem for some, truly give you the Fulfilment you need?

How full is the Watering Can of your Life?

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Make me a channel of your peace

I’d hazard a guess that if you asked my friends and family to describe me, “Peaceful” is probably not the first adjective they would come up with. Perhaps a poll might prove interesting, although I suspect it may be a case of “be careful what you ask for, you might just get it…”

I’d embrace the descriptors of: bubbly, lively, passionate, loving, loyal, protective, compassionate, determined, confident, creative…but some would most likely include the not-so-flattering: difficult, strong-willed, argumentative, emotional, perfectionist, procrastinator, high-strung, crazy, unbending….

My Naughty Little Sister

Sometimes I wonder if I’m simply the quintessential “Problem Child”. As a youngster I loved Dorothy Edwards’ “My Naughty Little Sister” series, family tales told from the perspective of the “Big Sister”. Sometimes the “Naughty little sister” was indeed mischievous. But often times – in the books, and also in life – it’s a matter of viewpoint.

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May Music Camp 1976 – Slightly later (Aged 8 1/2) but probably the giggling and fashion sense would not be much different

I remember once receiving a stern talking-to by my parents who wanted me to understand that “When you sit down the back of Training Orchestra with your friends and giggle, it reflects badly on your sister”.

Now, so many years later, I can understand this admonishment from multiple viewpoints.

Firstly: Yes, my sister was the more serious musician and had some kudos as a more responsible member of said Training Orchestra, and my presence was possibly embarrassing and even cringe-worthy.

Secondly, I was SEVEN years old. Don’t 7-year-olds mess about and giggle?

Thirdly, as a Strings teacher now of multiple lively children, many with short concentration spans, I have been known sometimes to just give in and laugh along with them. OK, frequently…

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Three Sisters makes me the Middle Child. (Wouldn’t have it any other way, really). Urrbrae, 1974.

From being the “Naughty Little Sister” I progressed, shortly after the arrival of my younger sister I guess, to having a fairly classic case of “Middle Child Syndrome”. This is actually a scientifically recognized “thing”, and indeed your birth order in a family can be quite significant as to how you deal with life, possibly owing to the fact that parents (possibly even more so these days?) balance Baby Number 1 in one hand with a copy of “Baby Love”/”What to Expect in the First Year” in the other, but loosen their grip on the book – and the stress on themselves – with subsequent children. In addition, younger children grow up in the constant presence of the older ones; so have always had to share and compromise and so forth. But I digress.

My other childhood and teenage hang-ups included: wearing glasses from the age of 11, being seen in High School as a Music Snob, not having a boyfriend until after I finished school (this wasn’t a big concern to me at the time but probably suggested to my peers that I was somewhat of a wall-flower). Then at Uni and beyond: not being much of a party person, not being much of a drinker (in fact I have never in my life been properly “Drunk”), being a bit of a homebody (partly due to losing my Dad) and various other Issues.

Issues what Issues[“Issues, what Issues?” is incidentally the title of a very amusing, autobiographical book by two Brisbane women Alli & Genine. Well worth a read (and a forty-something giggle) in recognition that we all have flaws, none of us is perfect, and, if we were, the world would be a very boring place…]

And then, of course, as an Adult, I have some what would be seen as Defining Issues. I am definitely Blonde. I am still a Classical Musician (although my musical experience and tastes have broadened somewhat). I am a Church Organist. I’m still not much of a drinker. I don’t understand Sport (although the males in my family have been working on this one for years). With the death of my Mum, I am now an Orphan. Oh, and I’m a Pastor’s Wife.

So to what extent do we allow our issues to define us?

Last year I was part of a dozen odd people (scattered over multiple continents) who were the pilot group for a personal-development program known as “Compass for Life”. This I found a most enriching experience for a number of reasons. One, simply to connect with largely new friends thorough twice-weekly “webinars”. Secondly, the course content – partly based on finding your passions and not losing sight of your dreams – was excellent. Thirdly the honest, sage guidance I received from the course leader and writer, whom I had actually known in a former life many years ago.

His summation of my various struggles was: “Kylie, you need to be more comfortable in your own skin”.

To some extent the establishment of this very Blog, “Serendipity” has helped me to do this. To assist me to see parts of life through a different filter – what has made me who I am today, and how it all contributes to the rich pattern of life. And I guess in sharing both my autobiographical bits and pieces, and current musings on life, I hope that I might in some ways provide a little thought and insight, perhaps to those who read these ponderings.

And, paradoxically, one of the things which I have resented about the stereotyped “Pastor’s Wife” persona is that people have sought my insight or advice, which I have felt unqualified to give, yet I often find myself writing here with a somewhat Christian slant. One of life’s little ironies.

So what of being “Peaceful”?

As it happens, today is the traditional feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. Christian or not, animal-lover or not, the “Prayer of St. Francis” contains wonderful words to attempt to live by. Prayer-of-St[1]The beautiful hymn written in 1967 (the year I was born) by Sebastian Temple: “Make me a channel of your peace” has led to the prayer being commonly known by its first line.

The first section is a reflection on the very concept of “Peace”. It has similarities to biblical Isaiah Chapter 61, where negatives become positives through a transformative work of God. Here the writer declares that the Lord is about to turn despair into praise and mourning will be turned into joy:
“to bestow on them (those in Zion) a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”. (Isaiah 61: 1-3)
In the 21st century, we often associate the word “peace” with a personal sense of calm and restfulness. Indeed, as the years go by and technology intrudes more and more into our (and our children’s) lives, I feel we are in severe danger of losing this altogether, in the fast pace, noise and “busy-ness” of every minute of every day.

However, the word actually derives from the Latin “pax”, and is a translation of the Jewish word “Shalom” which has to do with wholeness – both at a personal and social level.

This prayer is about transformation – the movement away from darkness to light, from despair to hope and so on, and hence summarises the meaning of “Shalom” in that it is about a direction of travel, rather than being about something that has already been arrived at.

Which is reminiscent of one of my favourite quotes (which I once had on a REMO T-shirt)…Travel Hopefully

The prayer is also a declaration of intent for the person who prays it.

The first lines of the last stanza have three requests to God (to seek to console, understand and love others first). The second three lines are statements of faith.

  • grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console

The first request is to ask how one might console somebody else first, rather than seeking to be comforted in his or her grief or trouble. The idea that in caring and comforting others we ourselves will find comfort resonates with Christ’s words in the Beatitudes: – Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

  • to be understood, as to understand

Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” observes that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Covey encourages people to begin interactions by seeking to understand somebody else first, before wanting to make yourself heard or understood.  This act of understanding will involve deep listening. This goes against the natural instinct within oneself of wanting to impress or tell ones story first, before thinking about anyone else and their life and story.

  • to love, than to be loved

Jesus says that to love God and  “Love your neighbour as yourself” are the greatest commandments. Rather than waiting around to receive love from others, we are encouraged to be pro-active in giving it.

The Peace Prayer of St Francis underscores the principle of going first. Often in situations of deadlock, where relationships have broken down, the route for resolution is to be humble and ask for forgiveness (even when we feel like we are the ones who are owed an apology).  In going first, the other party is more likely to be open and responsive. They may even “say sorry” as well.

Ironically, I have at various times been not only the “Middle child” but the “Middle Man” and somewhat of a Peacemaker in situations involving family, friends, or work colleagues. I would hope to have had a hand in resolution of some situations, even if I know I have, at other times been divisive as well.

Because I do also believe that there is a time for overlooking differences, avoiding conflict and “keeping the peace”, but other times true resolution is only possible when the root causes of problems are examined, parties take responsibility for their actions and issues are properly resolved at a grassroots level, rather than “Papering over the cracks”.

Sometimes, only then is true peace achieved. (And what a difference that makes).

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The view from Burleigh Heads. Having this as a “local beach” is an incredible blessing.

Times I feel truly at Peace are indeed when no apparent trouble is brewing in my various spheres, but especially in the calm and beauty of the natural world, away from the computer, the phone, the television, and all that calls to work – cooking, washing, cleaning, the minutiae of daily life.

Today is a public holiday in AustraliaBrace Yourself copy, and in Queensland this marks also the end of two weeks of School Holidays. For many parents of school-aged children, I suspect large swathes of peace (and relief) will ensue after school drop-off in the morning when returning to an empty house for a few hours. For us teacher types the reverse is true, as we summon energy and look for the impetus to work through the final term for the year, which always seems to be somewhat a race to the finish, with countdowns to Speech Nights, Graduations and Christmas, while still attempting to plan for next year.

So, as I take a deep breath tomorrow morning, as I “crank it up” for another school term’s work (and play, and achievement, and joy), I will attempt to be an “Instrument of Peace”.

And, much as I am no more qualified to offer it than the next person, I wish you, too, Peace. And Joy.

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Some information on the “Prayer of St. Francis” sourced from http://www.lords-prayer-words.com/

I think I can, I think I can…

“The Little Engine that Could” is a classic picture book, first published in 1930. It has been a favourite of children for generations and I’m sure thousands of parents have used its words to encourage their children to learn Persistence.

the-little-engine-that-could-

In the story, the little blue engine hears the pleas of some stranded toys.

“Just over the mountain”. “Please, please help us. ” “Oh, my,” said the Little Blue Engine. “I am not very big. And I do not pull trains. I just work in the yards. I have never even been over the mountain.”…

 At last the Little Blue Engine said, “I think I can climb up the mountain. I think I can. I think I can.” Then the Little Blue Engine began to pull. She tugged and she pulled. She pulled and she tugged. Puff puff, chug chug went the little engine.

“I think I can. I think I can,” she said. Slowly, slowly, the train started to move. The dolls and toys began to smile and clap. Puff Puff, chug chug.

Up the mountain went the Little Blue Engine. And all the time she kept saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” Up, up, up. The little engine climbed and climbed.

At last she reached the top of the mountain. Down below lay the city. “Hurray! Hurray!” cried the dolls and animals. “The boys and girls will be so happy,” said the toy clown.“All because you helped us, Little Blue Engine.” The Little Blue Engine just smiled.

 But as she puffed down the mountain, the Little Blue Engine seemed to say…”I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.

The killer of optimism and persistence, in my view, is doubt.

The moment doubt creeps in, we start to question. What if? Can I really do it? What will happen if I fail? Am I worthy? Will I upset someone? Will they hate me for it?

Famously (and here’s my “Bible bit” for the day), Jesus’ disciple Peter climbed out of a fishing boat and walked on water, with Christ’s encouragement. Just think on that for a moment. Actually defied the laws of Physics and miraculously walked on the very surface of a lake. And was doing well too. Until he looked down. And realised exactly what he was doing. And maybe thought: “Man, I’m walking on the water! But how? It’s not possible! I’m just an ordinary guy! I should sink!” And he doubted. And so, he did sink.

I was fortunate to be brought up in a loving household with parents who encouraged my two sisters and me to be the best we could be.

That our potential was limitless.

We had good footsteps in which to follow. My paternal Grandfather was a self-made businessman. Family folklore recalls that, in the (then) small country town of Murray Bridge (80km from Adelaide), he “borrowed” a sheep from a farmer friend. Grandpa Gus carefully prepared it into cuts of meat, which he then sold. Then his first task was to pay the trusting farmer for the original sheep. And he had enough money left over to purchase two more sheep. From this modest start, Grandpa gradually established a shop in the High Street and a faithful clientele and he was the Murray Bridge Butcher for many a year.

My Father, Ken, in turn, graduated from Murray Bridge High School but was not content to settle for small-town life. He ventured to the “Big Smoke” Adelaide as part of the 1948 class of “Technicians in Training”. To study communications and electronics. These young men, once graduated were sent out in twos and threes all over Post-war Australia – and as far away as the Australian Antarctic Territory – to establish telecommunications and to build infrastructure for the future.

img099 Jim and Ken Broken Hill 1950
Jim Asher and Ken Bartsch (Dad), Broken Hill 1950.
img100 Jim Love, Ken, Jim Asher Kulappedy Station 1950
Jim Love, Ken Bartsch, Jim Asher at Kulappedy Station 1950. Apparently some of the canned food had been there rather a long time and was wriggling.

Dad and his best mate Jim spent periods of time in Darwin and Broken Hill, both towns just beginning to take off. Later Dad returned to Adelaide to study an Engineering Degree at University. He didn’t let his World War Two era youth or humble country town beginnings limit his horizons.

Our own family lived a relatively frugal, and I guess fairly routine day-to day existence of work, school, homework, music lessons, music practise and so on. Mum made all our “Good” clothes on her trusty Janome Sewing machine, while otherwise we wore hand-me-downs from friends and perhaps our slightly older cousins. Or the fruits of Mum’s bargain-hunting at local “Op shops”.

Kathmandu 1970
Kylie in Kathmandu, 1970.

But, as Dad expressed it in a note many years later: “We used all the money we saved by not smoking, drinking or eating out in restaurants, and living simply, to enjoy wonderful overseas holidays”.

Wit 8 elephants New Delhi 1970
Jill, Ken, Kylie and 8 Elephants – New Delhi 1970.

As a family we took many special trips locally and interstate, as well as a number of exotic locations including India, Nepal, Fiji, Noumea, New Zealand, and throughout South East Asia: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines. Hong Kong was a particular favourite.

But Dad was irritated when colleagues and friends commented, somewhat enviously on these travels saying: “You are So Lucky!” Dad’s response to us was “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.

076 Whole family at Prambanan
Family at Prambanan, Indonesia, 1981.

My three most important roles in life now, as a middle-aged blondish female are as a Mother, Wife and Teacher. Often my little students express wonder at my skill when I pick up a musical instrument and play (not necessarily something very difficult – the young ones are easily impressed). “Wow! How can you do that?” they ask. “Because I’ve been playing the violin since before you were born” is my standard reply.

Many a student is frustrated when they don’t get something right “first time” or at least in the first few minutes. I have had a good few who then give up and proclaim that it’s “too hard.” In the fast-paced world of the 21st century, they have little tolerance for such frustration.

But the path to success isn’t necessarily getting it right first time. As my Mum used to preach, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.

Did you know, for example, why the fix-almost-anything spray WD-40 has its name?

Working in a small lab in San Diego, California, it took the inventor’s team 40 attempts to get the water Wd 40 candisplacing formula worked out. But they must have been really good, because the original secret formula for WD-40® -which stands for Water Displacement perfected on the 40th try—is still in use today.

WD-40’s website goes on to explain: The uses include everything from silencing squeaky hinges and removing road tar from automobiles to protecting tools from rust and removing adhesive labels. But they get a lot crazier than that.  Some of the more interesting stories include the bus driver in Asia who used WD-40® to remove a python snake, which had coiled itself around the undercarriage of his bus, or when police officers used WD-40® to remove a naked burglar trapped in an air conditioning vent.”

circa 1880: Still life of the first electric light bulb, invented by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879 and patented on January 27, 1880. (Photo by Welgos/Getty Images)
circa 1880: Still life of the first electric light bulb, invented by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879 and patented on January 27, 1880. (Photo by Welgos/Getty Images)

In 1879, Thomas Edison tested the electric light he’s famous for. His light bulb was the first that proved practical, and affordable, for home illumination. The trick had been choosing a filament that would be durable but inexpensive, and the team at Edison’s “invention factory” in Menlo Park, New Jersey, tested more than 6,000 possible materials before finding one that fit the bill: carbonized bamboo.

I’ve had a whirlwind of a week. Over 160 performers and 10 different groups took to the stage in our school Ensemble Concert last Thursday (10th September), which featured Beginner Band, Novice Strings, Mezzo Strings, Rubber Band, Senior Concert Band and Senior String Orchestra. It was also exciting to feature our Middle School Choir for the first time at such an event.

It all went off amazingly well, considering some of it was quite under-rehearsed (there have been a lot of kids absent on camps, excursions, with illness and so on, and the older ones with exams and tests) and so some bits only JUST held together. It was, however, a classic example of being “All Right on the night”.

IMG_2137 copySo then the next morning – Friday – I thought: “Wow, we pulled that off by the skin of our teeth…” realised how drained I was, and then went back to bed!

Then in the last week of term, my Band teacher colleague and I had arranged to try out the Year 3 students on all the instruments, with a view to recruitment for next year. Previously we have done this in Term 4, but it was just too busy. So using last week seemed a good idea at the time – until, with local storms, we had a power outage all day Wednesday.

So we had dozens of excitable Year 3 kids coming up with no light, no air-conditioning, we discovered that we could not find the keys to the locked windows (as we usually turn on the Aircon when it’s hot), no Internet – and even had to race down half the school to the bathroom! And the kids were all extra lively as you can imagine. We completed the task on Thursday, amazingly, but 120 Year 3’s in 3 days was a big ask. (Especially with the unforeseen issues caused by power on Wednesday).

The final aspect in the emotional week was the confirmation of some news I’d been expecting, but will mean a number of changes for me, some of which are unsettling. Like most people, I guess, I like to know where I am in my own little world and can be anxious when I don’t know where I’ll quite fit.Could go right

Apparently one of the most dangerous sentences in the English Language is “But we’ve always done it this way”. There are, however, a few figures of speech counter to this, including “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” and, from our American friends: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

The coming changes have caused me to take stock, and to doubt. Doubt what I have done in the past. Doubt how things may work in the future. Wonder if I can indeed make it work.

Being an optimistic and passionate person, I love to throw myself into what I do, and do it to the best of my ability. I love to say, “YES” and make things happen. And to try and encourage, even push others to do the same, too. But I understand that some can find this overwhelming. In my quest for “aiming high” I can be impatient and want things done now, and to an extent, in my own way. Having learnt that this is one of my many faults, I try to curb this tendency. I am blessed that people I am close to appreciate my intentions and largely overlook my foibles.

But how to get the balance right?

Now there is a wonderful woman I know, Katinka, who is one of the driving forces of our school Parents and Friends Association. She is the most positive person with an incredible can-do attitude. She gives the impression that nothing is too hard, nothing is impossible. Even given difficult situations, or very tight timelines, she just assures you that something will be done, and it is done. And if Katinka says she will do something, you can be sure that you don’t have to worry about it any more. Because she just has the knack of making things happen.

Now I don’t know this marvellous woman’s secret. (I suspect she doesn’t sleep). I also suspect she may on occasion carry off some of her magic by perhaps pulling the odd string or favour behind the scenes. But if so, she gets away with it because she is hard working to a fault, and utterly dependable.

And I love her to bits.

I was explaining some of my current “issues” and concerns to a mutual friend who thought for a moment and then suggested: “When in doubt, think to yourself: What Would Katinka Do?”

Sage advice.

So now I have two weeks of School Holidays. In theory, some time for reflection and recharging the batteries.

Thus far it has heavily rained, the normally active child has pulled a leg muscle and is taking it gently, the normally hard-working husband has a nasty tooth/sinus infection and has been forced to rest, the normally switched-on assignment-writing other child has embraced teenagership and sleeping-in.

And me? I’m learning to breathe.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… Puff, Puff, Chug, Chug….

 

I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could…

Pooh Piglet no text

The Winner takes it all

“The Winner takes it all” decries ABBA’s blonde Agnetha, in one of the pop world’s most anguished break-up songs. The “Loser” in contrast, is “standing small” or “has to fall”. Such is the black-and-white concept, for many, of competition. And it seems society goes through phases of deciding whether competition is a good thing or not, on the basis of: while it creates “Winners,” by definition there must also be, well, those who have “Not Won”. And this is seen by many to be A Bad Thing.

I started school in the 1970’s when the prevailing educational fad was to build self-confidence in students by having as little competition as possible. Sports Days were round-robin affairs where we all received ribbons for participation. Even my early report cards note results as “+” “o“ or “-”, lest some poor child get their little nose out of joint by being awarded a “B” rather than an “A”.

Perhaps it had some positive effect, in a feel-good manner.

But the most immediate effects on me were: I arrived at Secondary School having not been taught any skills in any sport, and without a clear impression of what I might be good at, aside from music.

Interestingly enough, my musical education, rather than looking to maintain the status quo, was focused on achieving excellence, and that same desired self-confidence was built from performance and actual achievement.

My first violin and piano teacher, Marie Roberts, held an extensive student concert each Christmas, at which all the students would perform: in groups, duets and singly. Mums, Dads and Grandparents were invited and we all wore out best party dresses.

In addition, we sat yearly practical exams (which were, [shock! horror!] graded A+, A, B, C and D) and also Music Theory (Exams marked out of 100… 75% being deemed the desired “Credit”).

Yet we were all “Winners”. Certainty in our proud parents’ eyes.

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“Pot of Gold” Channel 10 Studios, Adelaide 1977.

As a 10-year old I performed on TV talent show “Pot of Gold”, playing the violin, accompanied by my elder sister on piano. As “Act 5” I didn’t “win”, but what a fantastic experience it was, details of which I remember to this day.

Spending the day at the Channel 10 studio, amongst the other “Acts” including the (at the time) well known compere and judges. (See here: https://youtu.be/Vlf36XRuwv0   for the full nostalgic amusement). Getting the inside perspective of the makeup room, back corridors, and the red “LIVE” light which meant taping was in session, and you must not enter.

And appearing on TV! Wow! Truly “Lights, Camera, Action”.

Then there were the yearly Eisteddfods. These were always held, for some inexplicable reason, in the middle of winter in a draughty church hall. So it was always freezing. The competitors for each section would huddle around a bar radiator back stage in our coats and gloves. (We even had special pocket hand-warmers). We took part in various piano and violin “Sections”, divided by age group: Solos, Piano Duets and, as we progressed, the Junior, then Senior “Eisteddfod Concerto”.

Over a period of years we got to know students from other teachers and areas of Adelaide who were the same age and looked forward to meeting them in “Our Section” from one year to the next.

Of course it was always nice to “win”, but the aim was more to do your best and to play as well as possible. As we were all friends, I was often happy for someone else to be acknowledged…as long as we agreed with the adjudicator!

My Grandma Myrtle really enjoyed the Eisteddfod and had a season ticket. She would attend weeks of sessions whether my sisters and I were appearing or not, often bringing one of her mates and a spare crocheted knee-rug to share with us… Grandma would mark up her program with her own choice of prizewinners and comments – rarely did the official adjudicator “disagree” with her.img082

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“The Advertiser” newspaper, July 1977.
U10 Piano Eisteddfod 1977
The competitors in the Under 10 Piano “Set Piece” 1977

Aged 9, I took part in a “set piece” section for Piano Under 10, where we all had to play the same piece “Four Funny Frogs” by Australian composer Miriam Hyde. I can still sing part of this ditty in my head, even now, as the music was designed to teach the “Three against two” concept – playing straight quavers (eighth notes) in one hand while a “triplet” on the other. Chanting “Four Funny Frogs” in time was supposed to help this feat of rhythmic coordination.

One of the conveners had placed 4 leather frogs on the piano in sympathy – which I did not notice at all as I performed…. but which were brought to my attention afterwards when a photographer from the local paper asked for a re-enactment!

These are the memories that stay with me.

The competition aspect was as much an incentive to work hard and perform well – a “personal best” I suppose.

4 Funny Frogs

With this came the life lessons of perseverance, consistency, practice, repetition (necessitating patience), combatting nerves, picking up and carrying on if something went wrong, and then…when the “Prizes” were produced, being able to accept these “results” with good grace.

Being humble in “success”, when it came, but also accepting of not winning. And to be happy for and proud of those who did.

I’ve been thinking on all these things this week, with two excursions with students from the school where I teach, to the Gold Coast Eisteddfod. Far from a freezing, dusty, church hall, the Music sections are held in the professional Gold Coast Arts centre, quite the prestigious venue.Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 3.24.07 pm

Tuesday Morning was “Novice Strings” (Year 4) and Wednesday afternoon my Senior String Orchestra.

The little ones were very excited and it was their first ever “gig” as a group (a perfectly balanced 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 celli), so their performance taking place at the Arts Centre was quite special. The whole Eisteddfod here runs like clockwork with schools allocated warm-up rooms, and being shepherded in and out of the stalls (front section of the audience) to see the other schools perform.

My students acquitted themselves very well and I was most proud of them. But, like Grandma 35 years ago, It was evident to me (and also, interestingly, the senior students) which other groups had that little extra bit of finesse, panache, had greater dynamic contrast, all their bow strokes synchronised, excellent balance and so on. So we expected those schools to be “placed” ahead of us (which they were) and that seemed right (which it was).

But both of my groups received awards (Very Highly Commended – 4th out of 9, and Highly Commended – 5th out of 11) and positive comments. The adjudicator also acknowledged (on both days) that there was a variance of experience and background between students in the ensembles – some school programs beginning earlier, some students undertaking group lessons while others have more intensive one-on-one tuition. Also, anecdotally, I am aware that some schools devote more time (and staffing) within a typical week to preparation. So it is still not a level playing field. And these are all things to take away and consider for further improvements.

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Evandale Lake, behind the Gold Coast Arts Centre.

An added bonus was that taking the Orchestra kids out was actually fun! Especially as we were quite early with the senior group so had a bit of a picnic by the nearby lake beforehand, a chance to enjoy the perfect weather and some fresh air.

What did the students gain from all this, then, granted that they did not “Win”?

I would say, for example, the “Novice Strings”, a music ensemble recently formed, which only rehearsed properly together twice, learned about: precision, ensemble, concentration, cooperation and working together, displaying cohesion and (a certain amount of) maturity, giving their first EVER performance very publically and in front of hundreds of people, representing their school and doing a great job of it, all at the age of 9….

So, as a child (and young musician), and now an adult (parent and teacher), I don’t believe we are simply divided into “Winners” and “Losers”.

Sorry, Agnetha, I’m glad to say you got it wrong.

Agnetha