Tag Archives: family

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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

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.

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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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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Exactly a month ago, I was contemplating a return to school after 7 weeks of holiday. After spending the previous year’s Summer break moving house, this year we had basically “chilled” – a couple of days we barely made it out of our pajamas, others we went out and about: to favourite places, and places new. Caught up with friends. Watched movies. Discovered “Raspberry Crown” pastries and new-style luxury donuts.

All wonderful things.

IMG_3061 copy

For most of this time, I decided not to “wish my life away”, instead focusing on the here and now, and opportunity to spend time with my kids, but, come 19th January, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that “This is It”.

In the words of my former violin teacher Bogdan’s favourite joke: “Tea break’s over, back on your heads”.

And so, off to school we went. Checked the kids into Vacation Care. Fronted up to the School Auditorium where the Staff Chapel Band was finishing rehearsal. Hung back as the place slowly began to fill with largely familiar faces. Watched silently as staff greeted each other, smiling, renewing acquaintances and catching up their news. I stood quietly, to one side, feeling a little like the kid who is picked last for the sports team – scanning for a friendly face. Unconsciously looking for “my people”. Instead, my eyes settled on a couple of individuals with whom things have not always been “smooth sailing”. My heart sank.

What further sunk in was that “My Team” was no more.

Despite weeks, months even, of planning for this day, of trying to reassure myself that everything would be OK, that I was prepared for “the new reality,” I was hit by the realisation that it really wasn’t going to be easy. I felt like picking up my proverbial bat and ball and going home. Then suddenly a familiar face approached. A friendly, open person who embraced me and ushered me to sit with her. Who exchanged a few words about each of our 10-year-old boys’ mutual cricket-tragicness. I didn’t follow my instincts and back out the door. I stayed for the opening staff session, praying a silent “Thank-you” to this staff member who had touched me by sharing her commonality as a Mum.

I was determined to “get it right”. A lot hinged on establishing positive working relationships with my new boss in particular, and also getting to know 5 new staff members in our expanded Music Department. I was impressed, early on, when the new boss called a meeting or two of all the Instrumental Staff and tutors – at one point having us all in the same room at the same time, a feat which I don’t think had been achieved in the previous 7 years – when there were many fewer of us.

She talked “Team”, of everyone having a place. Barriers were coming down and people were starting to pull together. I attempted to keep my “big mouth” shut, remembering that it was “New Year, New Broom”. I was resolute in my desire not to be like a stereotypical irritating old biddy, often found at churches who my husband refers to as “Gatekeepers” – who says “but we always do it this way – we’ve done it this way for the last 50 years”. I was impressed with what I saw, and relaxed somewhat.

Maybe this would work after all. Perhaps my fears were unfounded.

Over the next week or so, though, I was not so sure. Being the only staff member with continuity from last year to this, naturally everyone asked me how to do this or that, where to find things and so on. And I was so self-conscious about not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, or stray into the territory of others, I was conflicted about how much to assist, whereas this time last year I would have walked the new guys through every step of the first few week’s start-up without a second thought.

With so much to do and so little time, there were moments of tension and frustration, heightened by the fact that I felt, to an extent, that there was “re-invention of the wheel” going on around me, and much being left undone, largely because nobody [aside from me] knew exactly what needed to be done, nor what the priorities were.

This I could understand, the myriad of new staff scrambling to get up to speed, and all on a sharp learning curve, but what rankled with me was I DID know and I DO know but I wasn’t asked.Person feels appeciated

This made me feel undervalued and that I wasn’t trusted by the new regime. A number of times – in my head or, on occasion, vocally – I spoke out: “All you had to do was ask”. Finally, things came to a head on Friday 29th January, when an “executive decision” was made without reference to me, about an issue I cared about, which I felt to have been pre-emptive.

I was seething, and shot back an email expressing disappointment, and giving “chapter and verse” about how I felt the situation should have been played. A further email exchange followed, during which I guess I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. By the time 7.30pm rolled around, I was frustrated beyond belief, mainly with myself.

Things had escalated quickly. We were 9 days in. I had not taught one single student, but yet all my good intentions were in tatters.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Saturday morning, I got up early, preoccupied with the fact that, within all this, I felt I had not been a very good mentor or guide to my new colleagues. In holding back and, to my mind, treading on eggshells, I had not been as informative as I could have been. I also had a sinking feeling that I had “cooked my goose” and may well be “out of there” come Monday. So I spent a couple of hours flicking emails to the new staff – sharing procedures, forms and tips. So at least, I reasoned, if I was sacked on Monday I could leave feeling I had at least equipped my replacements.

Later that Saturday morning, I needed to go to school to take Miss 13 to a rehearsal. Due to rain, a tradie vehicle blocking an exit, and poor sight-lines, I managed to back my car smack-bang into a yellow bollard. I got out to look what the hell I had done, and was picking bits of my tail-lights up off the roadway as some of my own students, also arriving for the rehearsal, looked on.

Great. Just great.

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My serenity of the holidays only two weeks before was now completely shot to pieces. All my worries and anxieties and fears came tumbling around my heels.  I sought the advice of a trusted friend whose ears I battered with every she-said-she-said of the scenario, until my friend gently pointed out that after a few hours of patient listening, my verbiage started to become “White Noise”.

I was sleeping poorly, I was anxious, I was stressing…not a good combination. At this point I figured I had nothing to lose, so set out with a new agenda – to properly settle in and look after my new colleagues in earnest, so at least when I was no longer there (which I saw as a real possibility) they, at least, would have a fighting chance of getting a toehold, and furthering the work of the department, so dear to me, that I had assisted in spending many years building up.

Partly due to this new focus, I felt happier. Tension had been slightly released, too, by the scheduling of a meeting with my new boss, to attempt to sort out differences, which I felt a “necessary evil”, while wondering how it had come to that, so early in the piece.

I was, however, no longer sure of my ground, of how I fitted in. I looked back on a proposal I had written in September 2015, laying out my concerns about the new structure, vacuums in authority and knowledge, and fears I had, that this might prove unworkable in a day-to-day context. And how I was concerned that lack of clarity in roles, responsibilities and boundaries would lay open the potential for misunderstandings and conflict.

I felt I had been positively prophetic.

By the end of the week, though, I was exhausted. I had just worked too hard to try to juggle too many balls in the air. I was stressed. I was hyper. I didn’t know which way to turn. The car accident had thrown and depressed me. (Not to mention the looming $1500 repair bill). I wasn’t sure what I wanted any more. And without putting too fine a point on it, the prescribed tranquillisers and sleeping draughts I was taking to help keep me sane weren’t helping my demeanour and ability to keep up appearances and smile through work days, when I felt like anything but.

I was pretty well hitting Rock Bottom. And I was kicking myself. So much thought, planning, preparation, agonising, “talking through”, good intentions, hard work…. all seemingly wasted.

I had tried and failed.

And I just didn’t care anymore. This was pretty well the “Worst of Times”.

Then some of those “Serendipity” things just kicked themselves in. Our invited babysitter for Friday 5th February (a retired friend from church) asked if she could bring a friend – who turned out to be a lady who was very kind to us when our children were small, and the two had often babysat as a team. This second lady had moved away interstate, but was visiting, and they came together. Just like old times. It just seemed “Right” to leave them with our kids.

Then, the occasion we were going out to, which had been booked some time before, was a rare “Date Night”. Instead of either my husband or I on some work-related business, we were actually going out together for leisure – quite a rarity. We had discovered that the ‘80’s girl band “Bananarama” were appearing nearby at the Twin Towns Services Club in Tweed Heads.

So I put on my “posh frock” and off we went.

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At first, I just sat during the (excellent) support act. The volume was loud and the speakers were pointed in my direction, as they always seem to be at these things. I was sitting, my thoughts wandering, dwelling on my various woes, and silently crying.

stress music

How had it come to this?

But then, after a bit, I realised I wasn’t achieving anything, and decided to get my act together and just listen in to the music. The concert just got better and better with the Bananarama girls essentially parodying their younger selves, reaching a climax when they had a number of audience members up with them on stage to dance to “Venus”. Despite myself, I had relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the night.

I had turned a private corner.

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Monday morning was the “Conflict Resolution” meeting. It was difficult, but ultimately necessary and cathartic. I took the opportunity to express my feelings and points of view.  Forgiveness was offered and accepted, fences were mended and hatchets were buried. Since then, communication, consultation and the general atmosphere has markedly improved. A new dawn – thankfully.

Then, later that week, more of “the Best of Times” – with the visit, from Europe, of my younger sister and her 5-year-old daughter, after a gap of 4 years. We attempted, over a few days, to give them a taste of Queensland, and it was lovely to have two parts of my family under the one roof, and see first-hand my sister’s development and growth as a Mum.  She has a beautiful little girl who is a credit to her.

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And then the “Piece de résistance” ….

I had put together a school excursion to see the “Australian Youth Orchestra”, who were performing locally (a rarity). At first, I had not intended to go, in deference to my sister’s visit, but, when speaking to the AYO office and letting slip we were both alumni , they insisted on offering us tickets from their allocation so we ended up attending after all.

Two things were significant for me about this – firstly, that I had not experienced the vitality and exhilaration of AYO’s playing for many years, and it transported me back to my youth.

Secondly, I met up with the AYO’s CEO, who I grew up with (we had the same childhood violin teacher) and who was part of a close circle of friends when we were Uni students. I had not seen him for 25 years, but those years melted away in a moment.

Somehow, I found myself reflecting to him that I had struggled with National Music Camp, that I had found it overwhelming, and felt I had failed in not coping with the intensive 2-week January summer schools I had attended as a teenager. To my amazement, he (the current CEO!) agreed that aspects were tough back in the day, and he hadn’t always enjoyed it either.

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National Music Camp, The King’s School Parramatta, 1987. Schumann Piano Quintet.

 

Later that night (during the wonderful music) I reflected on this, and found it strangely freeing.  I realised I had not properly embraced my personal musical history, as my love of being included in wonderful experiences such as NMC and AYO had been mixed with my feeling of failure in these same spheres. That, to some extent, I had not kept up contact with many of my old friends because of this.  That many of my friends had gone on to have glittering musical careers, while, to an extent, I had settled for second best.

But did this mean I really was second best? Was I now “just” a teacher and “just” a Pastor’s wife?

As I marvelled at the piano soloist’s incredible rendition of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto, the realisation hit me.

THIS is my world. I belong here.

My work at the school is not done. In all the personal and professional turmoil, I had almost lost sight of my vision and goal there – to give my students a taste of this AYO-style magic.

And, you know, I’m not necessarily “Second Hand Rose”.

Maybe I am prickly sometimes, but there might still be a whiff of some pleasant fragrance remaining.

If I stand still long enough.

Rose

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 – 1870)

 

Time for a Cool Change

One of the myriad of “Light bulb” jokes goes something like this. Q: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? A: Only one. But the light bulb really has to WANT to CHANGE.

This time of year it seems every magazine, lightweight newspaper edition and certainly online articles and Facebook feeds are filled with “New Year, New You” articles. Suggestions on making New Year’s Resolutions. What they should be. How to keep them. Why people don’t keep them. And then advice on how to go about keeping the resolutions that statistics show you probably won’t keep anyway.

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New Year’s Resolutions typically do not work; in fact, only about 8% of those who make a resolution are successful (however, those who write down their resolutions are ten times more likely to keep them than those who don’t).  Still, this daunting statistic doesn’t stop us from taking stock of our lives and thinking about what we want for the future. It’s a new year, it’s practically impossible NOT to look back and think about what could be different going forward.

The most commonly made resolutions tend to be:

  • Lose weight
  • Eat more healthily
  • Exercise and get fit
  • Quit smoking
  • Quit/cut down on alcohol
  • Spend less and save more

We basically end up with a list of all the ways we feel inadequate, and the things we’ve failed to do. Not to mention New Year (and the associated resolutions) immediately follows end of year and Christmas parties, and pleasant holidays which invariably include over-indulging in unhealthy but extremely tasty foodstuffs. Changes in routine and perhaps additional time spent with family can leave us feeling emotionally exhausted, along with the building stress for many at the thought of returning to work and an inbox overflowing with emails. (Fortunately for us Aussie teachers who are blessed with long summer holidays, these thoughts can be banished for a few weeks yet).

My goals

There are various little sayings or mantras which are supposed to help here, especially with the first two. My Mum used to have a brilliant large poster depicting a table filled to the brim with tempting looking foodstuffs – cakes, donuts, pizza, you name it. Next to this excess was a woman holding a long filled French stick to her mouth, which she was looking at hungrily. She was a large lady. The caption read “Once on the lips, Forever on the hips”. I haven’t seen such a poster for 30 years now. I suspect that in today’s politically-correct world it would be construed as “fat-shaming” (although we didn’t have the frequently demeaning “Biggest Loser” TV “Reality” shows back then).

Another pretty good slogan reads: “Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels”.

In the last week I have had articles pop up suggesting drawing up a “Vision Board”. A friend of mine has one of these pinned up on her kitchen wall. She is approaching 50 and her collage contains positive images – a 50th birthday cake, happy, smiling people, and, yes, a fit slim woman dressed in gym clothes with exercise equipment. All visuals of where my friend would like to be in a certain amount of months’ time. Such vision boards are believed to be a valuable goal-setting tool and an aid in visualisation and meditation by motivational speakers and Personal Development  life coaches.

ces-loftus-vision-board-example-inspired-life-business

New Year’s Resolutions and stated intentions to personally “improve” this or that often contain the word Should.

We teach our children what they should and should not do in given situations, generally for their own safety and well-being. Sometimes this is backed up by hard experience for the child – such as when he has been told repeatedly not to touch the hot toaster, does anyway, and ends up with a blistered finger for his trouble. That hopefully will be a lesson leant for next time.

I believe a baby and then child is essentially a blank canvas. Consider that every child learns its native language from hearing what is around him or her – we are not born understanding English or French or Urdu or Cantonese. As we learn to talk we do so by imitating what we hear, and so our mouths and voice boxes learn the contortions necessary for what then becomes our “mother-tongue”. Likewise parents and teachers (bearing in mind I am both) have the most important jobs in the world imparting young ones in our care with knowledge and understanding of the world, both unconsciously, by modelling, and by direct instruction.

One of my favourite childhood books was “The Bike Lesson”, in the Berenstain Bears Series. Bears CoverYoung boy bear receives a bicycle as a gift, and Papa bear tells him he cannot ride it until Papa has taught him all about riding and road safety.

Unfortunately, everything the over-confident father attempts ends in disaster and sometimes injury, however each time the father still tries to turn the example into a lesson by saying “This is what you should not do. So let that be a lesson to you”.

bike lesson 1bike lesson 2

And I have thought of this phrase many times during my life and also now as a parent – yes we can learn by experience what are good things to do, but also hard lessons in what we “Should not do”.

A very famous Bible passage, often read at weddings, contains: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.  (1 Corinthians 13: 11-12)

No longer a child, I learnt some years ago that SHOULD is an EVIL word and conveys external pressure or obligation. [And obligation is one of my “issues”]. We tend to use the word “should” when we talk about unpleasant things which we’d really prefer not to do.

And doesn’t “should” fit nearly into those common resolutions?

  • I should lose weight
  • I should eat more healthily
  • I should exercise and get fit
  • I should quit smoking
  • I should quit/cut down on alcohol
  • I should spend less and save more

But because we don’t do these things, or we have good intentions but fail, we end up feeling more depressed or disappointed than before.

Here’s an exercise for you. Consider a sentence in which you would use the word Should.

  • I should go to the dentist.
  • I should cut down on work
  • I should save more money
  • I should go to church more often
  • I should quit smoking
  • I should go to the gym

And for females:

  • I should have a Pap test.

[You may find your “should” sentence contains something which, if you are really honest, is not your favourite thing in life.]

Now replace the word “should” with “choose not to”

  • I choose not to go to the dentist.
  • I choose not to cut down on work
  • I choose not to save more money
  • I choose not to go to church more often
  • I choose not to quit smoking
  • I choose not to go to the gym
  • I choose not to have a smear test.

Now instead of external obligation, you have taken back choice and power.

That said, choices have consequences. Choosing not to go to the dentist or have a medical test could mean your health deteriorates, giving you further – potentially serious – problems in the future which could be more difficult or costly to address.

However, choosing not to save money could be a valid choice – if you wish to live and enjoy the day-to-day with necessities and perhaps small luxuries, rather than being so frugal that you don’t look after yourself. (A trait quite often seen in elderly people who “go without” even to leave an inheritance to their – often less than needy – offspring).

You might actually really enjoy your work and find it fulfilling, so cutting down is a really the wish of someone else, or a pressure of society.

Quitting smoking might not work for you right now. A friend of mine chooses to smoke as she finds it helps her relax and de-stress, and in her own words “I am a nicer, better person as a smoker”. She has balanced up the health risks but accepts that for her, smoking assists her cope and function well day-to-day. This is someone I admire who has come through enormous adversaries in her life.

My own tenure at the gym was short-lived. I actually enjoyed attending, the “me-time”, the atmosphere, and the feeling of achievement. Unfortunately, however, I injured my already damaged knee fairly early in the piece, and soon my main communication with the gym was emailing them periodically to suspend my membership. When I sporadically re-activated it, other activities and routines crept in and I realised I really wasn’t getting there, but felt  guilty for not doing so, while I continued to pay the membership fees. Eventually I put my membership on permanent hold. I felt as if a load had lifted from my shoulders.

Walk every day

The benefit of disposing of “should” and giving yourself back choice, is that you can indeed make an alternative positive choice.

I choose to go to the dentist, and to have that smear test. It might be uncomfortable, but ultimately won’t kill me, if I keep my eyes closed.  

I choose to save more money. If I set up a direct credit into another bank account it will happen without me thinking about it, and then I can later purchase something special.

I choose to go to church more often than I otherwise might, because my husband is the Pastor and I want to support him, and it shows a good example to my children.

Choices are important and also priorities. This was brought home to me recently by my friend Catherine. Catherine, who I worked with a dozen years ago at Trinder Park Retirement village, may have been a decade younger than me, but she was always the “adultier adult”. Wise beyond her years, level-headed, cool in a tricky situation, but with a warm heart, a wonderful laugh and a keen sense of humour. She would regularly tidy and categorise my desk drawer (a skill I have yet to master), in the certain knowledge that it would soon descend into chaos again, and counsel me frequently to “Play Nice with the Stapler. Kylie”.

We kept in touch in recent times by email, message, and Facebook. I realised a couple of years ago that we hadn’t actually met in person since just before I moved from Brisbane to Western Victoria probably late 2003. Since my return to Queensland 7 years ago, we periodically talked about meeting up in person, but lived just far enough apart for it to be impractical, with conflicting work schedules, children’s needs and so on. This was not unique – there are a number of people who I consider special to me who I have (or had until recently) not seen for 10 years or more –one of the perils of moving around the country and across the world.

For the past few years Catherine has been battling a brain tumour. Despite strenuous and unpleasant chemotherapy , radiotherapy and other treatments, she insisted on working between times, traveling when she was able, and living as full a life as possible.

Sadly, last month Catherine lost her long and determined fight and passed away. In one of many posted tributes, one of her close friends wrote: “To her family and friends, I know she has given you great forever memories that will make you laugh for the rest of your lives! Finally, stop smelling the wrappers Catherine and just eat the damn chocolate”.

In being health-conscious and watching her weight, Catherine had denied herself small pleasures, but ultimately, what good did it do? Chocolate or not, she was taken far too soon. She was 37.

wrappersCatherine’s death gave me pause for a number of reasons, one being something I myself have prioritised in the last year or so. A reminder to hug my children a little closer and remember to reach out to those dear to me that perhaps I haven’t spoken to or connected with for awhile. Because we make the mistake of thinking there will always be time, but that’s not necessarily so… “Tempus Fugit”.

So, am I suggesting that the whole concept of New Years Resolutions and setting goals is futile and we should just give up now? No, not exactly. But in order to change your actions, you first need to change your thinking. Albert Einstein is credited with saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Similarly, Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

You are most likely to make positive changes if you align your goals with your passions and dreams. In middle age we might struggle to elucidate these, so its worthwhile thinking back to what you were passionate about aged perhaps 20. Did you achieve those ambitions and plans, or did life get in the way? Are there any that you can re-ignite?

If you do indeed make plans or set goals for the coming year, make sure they reflect your own choices and priorities, not those of family members and friends or some type of society norm or pressure. Otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.

And some goals may be worthy or desirable but are easier talked about than achieved. Losing weight, for example, requires sustained discipline, effort and patience. Because if it was really true that “Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels”, we would not be a nation where 63% of adults are overweight or obese. Not that I am advocating ignoring your health, however it is also true that “a little of what you fancy does you good” and self-care and the odd indulgence can be extremely valuable for the state of mind.

Resolutions

My own aspirations for the coming year incorporate building on the positive changes I have made in recent times.

These include: making the time and effort to connect with people special to me.  Higher focus on family togetherness while my children are still young. Recognising my own skills and attributes and talents and using them to the best of my ability, and to inspire and nurture others. Being braver in asserting what is important to me.

Not settling for second best.

Tambo Picnic

But still attempting to have a ‘kindergentler polity‘. (Thanks to former Prime Minster Tony Abbott for that fabulous phrase). To stress less. And to be realistic about what I can do and control, and recognise that much is outside of my control, and learn to accept that more!.

My New Year’s advice?

Don’t stress so much over the “Shoulds” in life, that you neglect to “eat the damn chocolate”.Musical Resolution

 

A Merry little Christmas

So Christmas Day has come and gone for another year. Although we are still in the “Christmas Season”, I always feel that once the day has passed, the significance has gone. (Likewise we have always tried to celebrate birthdays before, rather than after the actual day, otherwise it feels somewhat as if the boat has been missed).

The traditional liturgical Church calendar starts with “Advent”. Advent comes from the Latin word meaning “coming.” Jesus is coming, and Advent – the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas – is intended to be a season of preparation for His arrival.

Advent Wreath Cheryl
Traditional Advent Wreath – the four outer candles are lit progressively each Sunday, the centre candle on Christmas Day. (Image thanks to Cheryl Naumann)

The idea of waiting, of anticipation, of leading up to and looking forward to, is almost a foreign concept in our modern world of instant gratification.

Likewise, even the idea of “church seasons” has been dispensed with in many churches as “denominational” or “outdated”, as they seek to be “Relevant” (with a capital “R”), which personally I feel is quite a shame, as then their worship, observance and celebration, while broadly Christian, can, I imagine, become a non-stop “Praise-fest”, without the ebb and flow of various emphasis and reflections.

It has been impossible not to notice that “Christmas is coming”, with local councils decorating streets, endless junk-mail with “Gift Ideas”, and stores full of tat. One department store was selling Christmas decorations and trees amid Halloween paraphernalia in the SEPTEMBER school holidays.

Big W Xmas Halloween

Typically cringe-worthy renditions of pseudo-carols have been piped through shopping centres for weeks. I guess, as a musician, I might notice this more than others – but why is that? There are exquisite recordings of traditional carols and religious music by the likes of the Choir of King’s College Cambridge.

Granted, however, this is not to everybody’s taste in the more secular realm. It must be acknowledged though, that Mariah Carey makes an excellent fist of “Have yourself a Merry little Christmas” and Celine Dion’s “O Holy Night” is spine chillingly beautiful.

For a touch of history, why not Bing Crosby? But no, our ears are assaulted with horrible cheesy Rudolphs and Up on the Housetops and Drummer Boys (a curious song which mixes the Biblical Story with absolute fiction).

This year my kids bought their own “Advent Calendars” (as a kindly retired friend who has gifted same to them in recent years has moved away). A bizarre mix of sacred and profane, my daughter chose the designs from the movies “Frozen” and “Inside Out” as a bit of an in-joke, as we feel that the excessive merchandise from these in particular is ubiquitous. Anyway, each night they have duly opened one of the 24 windows (one per day of December) and eaten the piece of chocolate within. So, despite the Disneyification, this has added to the sense of anticipation of and the gradual count-down until Christmas.

I was surprised and saddened when my daughter had a friend to visit who, despite coming from a Christian family, (identifying as Pentecostal) neither recognised the calendars nor even the word “Advent”. Another case of the quest for “Relevance” in newer churches throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater? Sometimes I think, despite my “Issues”. I genuinely am Too Lutheran!

By the same token, on 29th November, we spotted this outside Kmart. Looks like someone else doesn’t quite understand the concept of the “Advent Calendar”…Wreath Kmart

Christians agree that Jesus wasn’t actually born on 25th December, or in December at all. The general consensus is September, as that is when Israeli Shepherds would have been out in the fields with their sheep, but theories on the exact year abound.

Our western year-numbering system was introduced by the 6th-century Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus, who started the Anno Domini  (“in the year of the Lord”) designation, intending the beginning of the life of Jesus to be the reference date. Many scholars, however, would place Christ’s birth between 6 and 4BC, depending on the other supporting evidence used, such as the reign of contemporary kings, counting backwards from events such as the death of Jesus’ relative John the Baptist,  or the movement of stars and constellations which could have been the “Star of Bethlehem”.

My children were asking me “Why December 25?” and they seemed to know that Christmas had been grafted onto a Northern Hemisphere winter festival, and I was aware that the Winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) was connected.

A little research, however, has proved fascinating.

For those who like to know these things, for the church’s first three centuries, Christmas wasn’t in December—or on the calendar at all.

If observed, the celebration of Christ’s birth was usually lumped in with Epiphany (January 6), one of the church’s earliest established feasts.

Some early church leaders opposed the idea of a birth celebration. Others speculated on various dates. Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215) favoured May 20 but noted that others had argued for April 18, April 19, and May 28. Hippolytus (c.170-c.236) championed January 2. November 17, November 20, and March 25 all had backers as well. A Latin treatise written around 243 pegged March 21, because that was believed to be the date on which God created the sun. Polycarp (c.69-c.155) had followed the same line of reasoning to conclude that Christ’s birth and baptism most likely occurred on Wednesday, because the sun was created on the fourth day

The eventual choice of December 25, made perhaps as early as 273, reflects a convergence of the early Fathers’ concerns about pagan gods and the church’s identification of God’s son with the celestial sun. December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers.

The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that the people were already exalting deities with some parallels, Christian church leaders decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new festival.

Western Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336, after Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity the empire’s favoured religion. Eastern churches, however, held on to January 6 as the date for Christ’s birth and his baptism. Most easterners eventually adopted December 25, celebrating Christ’s birth on the earlier date and his baptism on the latter, but the Armenian church celebrates his birth on January 6 to this day.

(Incidentally, the Western church does celebrate Epiphany on January 6, but as the arrival date of the Magi [Wise Men] rather than as the date of Christ’s baptism).

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My daughter’s nativity scene, gifted piece by piece over a number of years by my younger sister who lives in Europe. Our own “advent” as we tried to anticipate what the next piece might be!

The pagan origins for not only the Christmas date, but also many Christmas customs (gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia; greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year; Yule logs and various foods from Teutonic feasts), have contributed to arguments against the holiday. The church, however, has generally viewed efforts to reshape culture—including holidays—positively. As a theologian asserted way back in 320, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”

In our modern age it seems increasingly that Christmas is a commercial festival, devoid of much spiritual meaning, but used primarily as a driver of consumerism. If reports are to be believed, Australians will have spent $47 billion this Christmas on food, holidays and presents – with more spending to follow in the New Year sales. For a population of 26 million that is both obscene and unnecessary. Yesterday I indulged my daughter with a trip to the Boxing Day sales, a major bun-fight of human activity.

Far from peace and joy and wonder of a newborn baby born in a stable.

With the media focusing on the Syrian refugee crisis, there seems to have been, this year, increasing political comment about the meaning of Christmas. One such example:

Middle East Family copy

Which has elements of truth, but is quite an over-simplification of the familiar Christmas story told in the Bible’s Luke Chapter 2.

Similarly, the concepts that Christmas is really about family, really for children, really about goodwill to all – these are worthwhile sentiments but still miss the mark.

Where I do agree is that we need to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk”.

And I have read a number of articles, in print and online, cautioning that Christmas is not necessarily a happy time for all, that many are lonely, isolated, depressed, grieving a missed loved one, feel pressure “to keep up with the Joneses” and so on.

A particularly insightful article, Joshua Becker’s “12 Steps to Avoid Disappointment this Holiday Season” includes:

  • Slow down.
  • Realise perfection is not possible.
  • Don’t push your expectations on to others.
  • Make room for rest.
  • Offer forgiveness  quickly.
  • Admit you can’t change others.
  • Realise the meaning is in the giving, not the gift.

Some of these I have had to discover or finesse over many years. “Don’t push your expectations on to others” and “Admit you can’t change others” are two that have taken me a long time to acquire. For example, my husband has a very small family. Both his parents are “Only Children”, consequently he has no Aunts or Uncles therefore no cousins either. In contrast, my Mum had three siblings and my Dad two. All of these Aunts and Uncles had at least two children, so I grew up with cousins on both sides of the family, who I saw reasonably regularly throughout childhood. But I have had to learn that my husband can find large family gatherings overwhelming, its just not something he is accustomed to.

Also, in social gatherings, it seems he is very rarely allowed just to hide in a corner or blend in– either the revelation that he is a Minister of Religion is a conversation-stopper or he is then button-holed by somebody and quizzed with complex theological questions, so it is quite hard for him to be “off duty”.

As far as Christmas and other celebrations such as birthdays go, we all, I think, have our mental concept of “How it should be done”, based on our own childhood memories. But of course, everyone has different memories and different traditions and what may be considered vital to one family member might be unimportant to another. Therefore, the potential for frustration and annoyance, and letting small things cause friction, is heightened. Which feeds into “Realise perfection is not possible”.

Deep breath, Kylie!

We actually did pretty well on theP1060224 “Slow Down” and “Make room for Rest” quotients this  year – in fact we have never been so well organised and tranquil in advance of Christmas Day…all gifts for the family were wrapped and under the tree before Christmas Eve and we even peeled and chopped vegetables for our Turkey Dinner the night before.

Regular readers will be aware that our historic church building is currently off-limits, due to asbestos concerns (see previous blog “You know the future is casting a shadow”). Meanwhile, our neighbouring school has extended to us the use of their beautiful chapel for our Sunday Services for the foreseeable future, so we are happy in our church-like temporary home.

One effect of being in “temporary accommodation”, however, is that the chapel was unavailable for services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. So, as the “Frozen” song says: “For the first time in forever”, they were not “Working days” for us.

Christmas Morning, while relaxed, felt quite odd. Although I don’t play the organ weekly, (I rotate monthly with three others), generally I play either organ or violin on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. And of course, I have been part of, in one way or another a number of parishes, (four in England, three in Australia) over the last 25 years, with a variety of musicians.

My pattern is to just bring out the violin on “High days and Holy days”, so I have collaborated on playing Christmas Carols with many musical church friends. I believe that I have played every one of those 25 Christmases. More so for my Pastor husband, Christmas (and to a greater extent, Easter) is one of his busiest working times. Although we are accustomed to it, there is an aspect of feeling somewhat like swimming against the tide. When most people are on holidays and taking it easy, not so for clergy and their kin.

As a family, we decided to worship at one of our sister churches on Christmas Morning, and it was a quite pleasant service. I also realised, however, that an aspect of being “Staff”, both as a voluntary musician in church and as a teacher at school, is that you are, to some extent, in command and control of what happens, and you know what to expect. So not having the “inside track”was, for me, unusual.

It was also rather strange for all four of us Guthrigs to sit together in the congregation, all “off duty” and functioning as “normal people”. A recognition also, that part of the identities, public face, and, to an extent, confidence both we adults have, is bound up in what we do, the roles we play. Stripped bare of those things there is a level of uncertainty and even vulnerability.

At least we had the chance to heartily sing carols and have reinforced the true meaning of Christmas – Christ with us, expressed beautifully in the words of St. John, Chapter 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Manger CS Lewis

Afterwards we returned home to host the first Christmas dinner in our new house – sharing the rest of the day with my sister, her husband and two teenage boys who drove down from Brisbane. My husband took on chef duties and did a wonderful job coordinating the kitchen. I sensed he felt more comfortable and in command of his space, now having a sense of purpose. It was wonderful to have a “Family Christmas” and, yes, include a few traditions from when we all were children, and to pass these on to the next generation.

And so that was Christmas. Phew. Spent largely as a “Normal Person”.

Strange feeling, that.

Wishing you, in whichever corner of this ever-shrinking world you may be, an extended “Christmas Season”, one of true Peace and Joy.

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Joshua’s full post: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/avoid-christmas-disappointment/

Just don’t know what to do with myself

This year, personally and professionally, has been amazingly full. And I guess what characterises it to me, amongst all the many years up until now, is that I seem to have been perpetually active. Always thinking, always doing. Not just the minimum expected, but always on the go. Tackling this. Planning that. Like Baldrick, in “Blackadder”, frequently working through the next “Cunning Plan”.

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Lord Blackadder and Baldrick hatch another Cunning Plan

This time, 12 months ago, I had just returned from a rare solo trip away, to my Hometown Adelaide, for my 30-year school reunion. As I have previously described, the highlight for me was the chance to once more see two favourite teachers, and have the chance to thank them for the impact they had on my young life.

Also at this exact time last year, a colleague and I were encouraged to stand up and be counted at school, to stop hiding behind our part-time status and, in my case “Dumb blonde” persona, and make our voices heard, setting out our passions, visions, and plans for our school Music Department.

On the family front, we had just bought our first ever home, and so spent the Summer vacation time sorting, sifting, downsizing and then boxing and moving our goods and chattels from one location to the next. Fairly well filling up this “holiday” time, leaving little room for relaxation or refreshment – for when I wasn’t busy, I felt guilty for not being so.

The 2015 academic year has been one of drive, achievement and growth, of frustration, worry and irritation, but also of a number of victories snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Certain frustrating situations have pushed me to take action, to not settle for second best, to realise that sometimes short-term pain is worth it for longer-term gain. I have agonised, stressed, talked through, argued, pushed, bargained, fought for a number of things which have been important – to me, to people close to me, for the greater good – or that’s how I have looked at it.

And some days it has been really hard. But every day  I have taken a deep breath and kept going, and tried to make positive choices for good.

Daily Choice

Along this journey (although this is a word much over-used by television “Reality” programs) I have been upheld, strengthened and supported by a handful of friends who have patiently listened, tolerated, guided, advised, had their shoulder cried on and administered coffee.

To these people I owe a huge debt of gratitude.

Through what has been a tumultuous year I have also discovered much about myself: who I am, what makes me tick, and what is important to me.

And I have become braver.

A strange thing to say, I suppose, for a 40-something female, but I think we all hide behind the too-hard basket. Things we want to do, we’d like to do, have perhaps even made a start on,  but have never quite taken that final step.

So this year I did.

Pushed through an unsatisfactory workplace situation which had become a thorn in my flesh, building over literally years. But finally to a satisfactory resolution, bringing peace in many quarters. (Although causing some strain and upset in the process).

Made a flying weekend visit to Adelaide to see my 92-year old former piano teacher and his family, in a celebration of all they had given to their students’ lives over half a century.

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With Piano Teacher Clemens Leske

Looked up (also in Adelaide) a mentor of mine from University days. We had lunch and I had the chance to thank him for his influence on my younger life.

Reconnected by email, by phone and in person with a few significant people from the past in a meaningful way.

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At South Bank, Brisbane with special friends from Adelaide youth: Sarah, Sophie and Margie

Given something of myself and my time to establish some new friendships which have become a significant part of my life and, when needed, support network.

During all of this, still managing to keep the home fires burning (food on the table, dishes and laundry washed, children sent to school daily), church commitments (even when there hasn’t been our regular church building to frequent) and rocking up to my “Day Job” on a regular basis.

The last month has been crazy busy, with many of the day-to-day commitments plus Term 4 events coinciding. Our absurdly early Christmas Concert on Monday 23rd November all went off well, although God played with us with storms threatening and an ambiguous weather forecast, making a tricky decision to be indoors or out…we tempted fate (so I thought) with outdoors and for part of the day I was convinced this was the wrong call, and the heavens would open and it would be all cancelled mid-way (as had happened once before) but it was all “All right on the Night”.

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“Sing, Choirs of Angels…”

The remainder of the week was spent stocktaking, cleaning, consolidating and moving everything that could be moved out of our Music Department, due for Redecoration over the break.

And so, all of a sudden, the school year is at an end. The students’ last day of term was 27th November, which my children are pretty happy about, as at their old State Primary school, the kids are still there until 11th December. (A touch of Schadenfreude, methinks.)

Little Mr. Cricket tragic James (who has a mathematical brain) has calculated he is now on holiday for EXACTLY  2 months – between breaking up on Friday 27th November and when Term 1, 2016 resumes (27th January) when he will be – shock – in Year 5.

Over these last months, I seem to have been on perpetual “High Alert”. The classic “Flight or Fight” stress response, I suppose.

And I seem to have received a lot of good advice lately.

From one wise friend, some historic quotes:

“Answers to prayer often come in unexpected ways.  We pray, for instance, for a certain virtue; but God seldom delivers Christian virtues all wrapped in a package and ready for use.  Rather He puts us in situations where, by His help, we can develop those virtues.”  C.R.Findley

“I know not what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”  Anonymous

Her own thought:

Take heart–you have all you need within you, beginning with your Faith and your family…

Frequent counsel at work when I get out of my proverbial tree:

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With wonderful colleagues Lindsay and Claire

“Don’t worry about things which are beyond your pay grade”

And from a trusted friend, who knows me well:

Take heart Kylie. Sometimes you need to stop rowing to see which way the current is going. Take a breather. Change is often difficult, but it will be good.

Rowboat

This last thought reminds me of one of my favourite movies, “The Truman Show”. Maybe the reason I first liked it was as an aficionado of Daytime soaps, given the plot features a long-running serial. It really spoke to me, however, as a most thoughtful foray into the nature of reality, and how we largely believe what we see, but how that oftentimes is not the whole picture.

Those who know the film will remember (I will try not to be a “Spoiler” here) that the world of the main character, Truman, and the greater – true – reality collide literally with a bump in the closing frames of the film. (I well recommend a viewing, if you haven’t seen it).

But I’ve realised that I have been so accustomed to always be working on this or that project, this or that cunning plan, or stressing, or worrying, that, like Truman, the “Full Stop” has taken me by surprise.

And I have realised something else too – that I rather enjoy, thrive on all this activity.

That often the work “beyond my pay grade” is what I like doing most. Teasing out tricky situations. Working on and resolving problems. Putting together jigsaw puzzles. Grand plans dreamed, worked on and refined. Without all this to occupy me, I feel like my little rowing boat is somewhat adrift.dusty__oPt

In the words of the song made famous by Dusty Springfield: “I just don’t know what to do with myself”.

(Which was part of Dusty – The Original Pop Diva, an Australian “Jukebox musical” based on the British singer’s life, which my daughter and I enjoyed recently. The title picture above features cast members Deon Spann and Chris O’Leary).

So what now?

Time to listen to my own advice – which I give out to hardworking others – to  “Slow Down and Smell the Roses”. Roses-e1328895048887

Focus on my family and those who have supported and upheld me throughout this challenging year.

Sharing frustrations, upset and tears.

Sharing love, laughter and joy.

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Our neighbour’s extravagant Christmas Lights display. What’s not to like?

One life for yourself and one for your dreams

The other day I did something very simple, yet quite profound. I walked along a beach. For quite some distance. Up, and back, taking about an hour and a half in total. Walked in the shallows. Got my shorts wet as the waves came in. Breathed the sea air. Appreciated the space and clear oxygen and clouds and view and the peace of the almost deserted expanse at dusk.

I’ve had a tough few weeks (getting into months, even?) with much playing on my mind from various directions, with a variety of difficult circumstances and external pressures.

But somehow, physically leaving the house and breathing the sea air, just seemed to blow the cobwebs away.

While I walked, I talked with a friend.

My friend is an extremely conscientious and hard-working individual. Who works very long hours. Who studies. Who has family responsibilities. Who is committed to the church in his rare free time. Who even looks after his health by going to the gym.

Who lives almost opposite the beach (although not the exact one I chose to stroll along). The proverbial stone’s throw in fact. But who confessed that he hadn’t put his toes in the water for a very long time, probably years.

Then, the next day, I contributed to a thread in a Facebook group of which I am part. We were “chatting” about the difficulty, worse in some areas than others, of getting into the housing market.

Having in the last 12 months gone through the whole process of choosing and purchasing a new home ourselves I wrote:

There is a big argument for grabbing a house now while you are more likely to get a loan. Even if it’s not ideal. Because paradoxically once you get your toe into the housing market, stop paying rent and hopefully get some equity into the house, down the track will be much better to then sell and trade up to something else, if that’s what you want”.

The – somewhat sad – reply came in almost immediately:

“We always just don’t do it. Because of work and contracts. When we could have been paying off a house the whole time.”

Back in my Adelaide Uni student days, we had a musical friend visit from Melbourne. We assured David that he was most welcome to stay at our house, but that we had various commitments so he would have to amuse himself for some of the time. He was quite content with this.

Day Two he returned from a bus trip to Adelaide City and said quite indignantly: “You never told me you had such a great Museum!” My sister and I looked at each other and laughed, then realised that we had only ever visited the Adelaide Museum on Primary School Excursions. Yet it was within easy walking distance of the University and we could have called in any day.

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With “Dudley Moore”, London 1991
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With “Manuel”

Similarly, my elder sister visited the U.K. when I was living in Cambridge in 1991, and we decided to “Do London” in a long weekend.

We explored many well-known sites: Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, Madam Tuassauds, Hyde Park, Covent Garden Markets, and so on.

At the end of the three days we were exhausted, but satisfied that we had experienced, and seen with our own eyes, places which we had only imagined or dreamed about, growing up on the other side of the world 10,000 miles away.

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Covent Garden Markets, London 1991.

On my return to work in Cambridge (to “Iceland”, for those following along at home who have read my earlier Blog posts) I described my whirlwind weekend to my colleague Katie. “Oh!” she said airily. “I’ve been to London”. “I went a few years ago on a school trip”.

I was amazed. Here she was, living only an hour’s train trip away from that amazing historic City, yet she had only been there once on a school excursion. A place I had come literally half way around the world to see. But she was unfazed. Her attitude was that it was there, she could go down anytime.

We always just don’t do it.

And so often, I hear people express ambitions or aspirations. Unfulfilled dreams.

To move away from an area where they are unhappy or feel stagnant. To gain more independence. To change jobs. To travel. To make a fresh start. To get married. To have a child.

To catch up with an old friend they haven’t seen or spoken to for 20 years. To reconcile with a relative that there was a dispute with years ago. To apologize for a situation or wrong long past, but with the hurt still lingering.

To repair, restore.

But we make excuses. More to ourselves really.

It’s too long ago. Too hard. Too difficult. Others might think it strange. Not on the priority list. It’s not the right time. I don’t have time.

We always just don’t do it.

My stepfather was a widower when he married my Mum, herself a widow. They were both in their sixties. I grew to know something of his earlier life before he joined our family – I’d never met his first wife (although my Mum had), and felt that, over the last 20 or so years, I’ve known him pretty well and we have had a positive relationship.Adelaide 155 cpy

So I was pretty amazed to learn that his first wife – to whom he’d been married some 30 years and with whom he had two (now adult) children, was not his first love. It transpired that Stepdad had a childhood sweetheart to whom he became engaged as a young adult, and they planned to marry. Circumstances kept them apart, he felt temporarily, but then his fiancée suddenly ended the relationship. He never understood the reasons for this, but felt powerless to do anything, and felt he needed to respect her decision.

Later it transpired that for motives now confined to the bin of history, both his and his fiancée’s mother had contrived together to break them up, and had forced his sweetheart to write and send him the “Dear John” letter.

Now, the incredible part of the story is that, recently, following my Mum’s passing, Stepdad tracked down his first love and they have become reacquainted. Now in their 80’s, they are friends and enjoy spending time together. More than sixty years after they were parted. (And two images of the once young couple are amongst the collection of treasured family photos today in his room).Adelaide 153

Now he has a measure of peace, knowing that it was not his girl’s choice to reject him. But he had lived with that false assumption (and sadness) all of his adult life.

Now that’s a real “fork in the road” story. It really makes me wonder – if the Mothers hadn’t intervened – how different his life may have been?

As a teenager, I had many ambitions for the future. I had a “thing” where I would list these in a journal at the end of each calendar year. Then I’d have a check of the previous year’s page to see if the update had changed significantly.

Now, as a reasonably conservative young girl who did her school homework and spent many hours practicing the piano and violin, you’d suspect “Concert Pianist” or “Orchestral Musician” would be high on my list.

No.

“Astrophysicist” was Number One for a good few years, followed by “Journalist”

(“Pastor’s Wife” was never on the list ! )

We always just don’t do it.

Yet, even in my younger days, I feel I had at least that concept right. The “Adelaide Bank” where I had an account at one stage ran a mortgage campaign featuring a poster with the words:

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That was my motto for quite some time.

So…. Have I failed?

Do we all fail?

Yes, of course. We fail and fall down every day. But we can get up. And not give up.

I didn’t become an astrophysicist. Although I am still fascinated by science – especially Physics – the Mathematical Science of how things work. And I have a bent for Science Fiction.

Yes, I didn’t plan the “Pastor’s Wife” thing…but my now husband introduced me to the “Star Trek” Universe. (And we have all the boxed sets of DVD’s. Years of viewing. Don’t ask). So – Serendipity…

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My parents instilled in me a love of travel. We try and take holidays. Yes, we need to work around commitments – including working Sundays. It’s hard with kids, especially youngish ones. But it gets easier as they grow, and become more capable.

Now they are great travelers. We’ve taken road trips and flights interstate – New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia.IMG_0045

And to North Queensland to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. And a few overseas destinations – thus far my kids have been as far afield as New Zealand, and also Tonga.

We are not high earners. (Indeed, the Taxation Office still lessens my annual tax burden with a “low income offset”). However we prioritize travel to live a full life.

And to create memories for our children.

If you talk to my 13 year old, she has no concept yet of a future career path, which is fine.

But she’s adamant she’s certainly going to be travelling.

Italy, apparently. Not until she’s finished school or even some Tertiary Study. However she won’t be caught napping. Last weekend was spent studying Italian verbs. (Please note she does not learn Italian at school).

Never say never.

My thought for the week?

In the words of poet W. H. Auden
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone…”

I’d add… turn off the TV, don’t take your mobile device with you, disconnect from the busyness of your daily life, just for a little while.

(I will allow you a pen and paper).

First, today, find a beach, a forest, a park, a rooftop, somewhere to walk or sit.

Sit in quietness and stillness. Look. Listen. Soak in the world around you.

Allow yourself to think, reflect and dream.

What are your dreams?

Something small for today, this week, this month?

Some ambition for the next year or so?

Or something huge. Life changing.

Now, before you put it in the “Too Hard Basket”…

Stop.

Don’t dream it, do it.

Get on a plane.

Investigate a new job.

Look to study.

CALL THAT FAMILY MEMBER OR FRIEND. (Sorry to shout).

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Especially with yourself.

Make first steps. Even tiny first steps.

Don’t live a life of regret over unfulfilled potential, chances missed, words unspoken.

Or Broken Dreams.

At the very least, put your toes in the water.