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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.

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Homeward Bound

To what extent does what you do, define who you are?

Variations on this theme have been swirling around in my head in recent times, and, serendipity being as it is; I seem to have come across this same question in various forms in the lives of others as well. [And it is one to which I will return on another occasion].

But for now, I’ll stick to the “up close and personal” as it were.

As most of you are aware, three weeks ago I resigned from a position I had held for nearly 8 years, in a school I support, working with students I love, which had been fulfilling and positive for the majority of that time. It has been a huge step.

While I recognise that, for many reasons, the time had come for me to move on, actually NOT being intrinsically involved with a place and a group of people, which has been such a major part of my life is something very difficult for me to reconcile. I looked at my son the other day and it sunk in, that he is now eleven and we moved to the Gold Coast when he was three. I have been part of that one workplace, and it part of me, for the majority of his life.

My husband had the view, and expressed it on a number of occasions that  “the school pays you for three days a week and you work for them for seven” which was largely true. Because, for the first many years we were short-staffed in our department and essentially three part-time people ran it as a team, with many additional hours of work in our own time. Because, if we had not done so, we could not possibly have achieved the growth and success which we did. But the important thing is that we did so largely willingly and cheerfully, and it was always for the students and the school and the joy of the music making. Sometimes the sheer enjoyment of it made it all worthwhile. It was never “All About Me”. I didn’t do it for the Greater Glory Of Kylie.

And I think the people close to me, the people who mattered, understood that. Although of course I received satisfaction from what was achieved and certainly from being part of the students’ lives, and building them up and inspiring them to achieve something approximating what they were capable of.

So, a fortnight ago now, Term 4 started, and all the students and staff went back to school, but it isn’t “my school” and “my job” any longer. So this reality wouldn’t be too stark and smack me in the face on a daily basis, I decided to be proactive and create for myself, as Diana, Princess of Wales once famously said, some “Time and Space”.

So, I saw my kids off to school, and got on a plane.

The last two weeks I have explored being “Gainfully Unemployed” down in Victoria, taking respite from my life, based at the home of my beautiful cousin. It really was the best thing I could have done, because it removed me from my normal environment, while still having me surrounded by family. But also providing genuine quiet and reflection time, because the household where I stayed all went off to work early, leaving me in what must be one of the world’s quietest homes, with the only sounds an unevenly ticking clock and the occasional snore from an elderly diminutive dog.

Without giving it too much conscious thought I then took a weekend side trip to Ararat, 200km West of Melbourne, the Regional town where I previously lived for 5 years. This was either an extremely good or a very bad idea, as from the first minute I arrived, Ararat people embraced me as if they had seen me the previous week, rather than 8 years before.

p1070416One by one, friendships were picked up and even some quite personal things confided (for example I heard the sad tale of some departed horses in the first half hour). Now, far from being depressing, I actually felt quite honoured, that after this length of time, my girlfriend would still feel the strength of connection to share things of importance to her.

And so it continued over the time I was there. All the adults seemed identical to when I had seen them last, although the children were a jolt…. While logically I realise that my daughter’s friends I had last seen aged 6 would now also be 14, in my minds eye they remained frozen as youngsters. I was unprepared for the parade of beautiful teenagers and young women all now able to look me in the eye.

Why potentially “a very bad idea?” Well, it struck me that I felt considerably more “at home” in Ararat, a place I had left for the Gold Coast 8 years before, than in many ways I feel in the place that IS now home, and has been for that intervening time. That I had more friends there (and had kept in contact with many) than I had in Queensland. And, what hit me hardest, was that my Ararat connections were quite broad.

Even amongst those who I met up with last weekend were: Members of the Ararat City Band (in which I once played the Trombone badly), delightful Local Doctor and his wife, Semi-retired couple who had been James’ carers and their daughter, a number from the Mothers of Pre-schoolers Group (from when James was a Baby), Former Workmates, and Church folk…and I didn’t make a point of chasing down everyone I knew. (In fact, I had forgotten how long it takes to do something in Ararat like pop out for a paper, because you spontaneously RUN INTO people you know – and this happened despite 8 years away!)

In contrast, up on the Gold Coast, I realised that everybody I count as a friend is either connected with the church congregation (and most are more acquaintances than friends) or the link is with the school.

And it’s not “My School” any more.

So I’ve had a lot of well meaning people ask, “What are you going to do next”.

And my genuine answer is: “I honestly have no idea”.

I know I need to stop. To re-focus. To take stock.

To rediscover –

To what extent do I define who I am by what I do?

Because I do define myself as a Musician.

But to what extent has the Musician become buried under layers of teacher and parent over the last dozen years? (And I count my time in Ararat amongst that).

And, although I seem to have some skills in teaching music, I have never pretended to be the most skilled Strings teacher in the world. But what I hope I have brought to my work is a sense of desire, of passion, of “You can do it” of Inspiration to my students. Even if they have lacked in technique or theory or practise skills or drilling in scales. All of which some teachers may have insisted they study to a greater extent than I largely have. But my first priority has been, in recent years, to help the students “Catch the fire” of music, to be motivated, to want to do it, to “join the revolution”. Knowing the fingering for E flat minor can come later, in my book.

So, what next?

I usually try to avoid “Naming names” in Serendipity but as I once devoted an entire Blog entry to my teenage “Bestie” Margie [“Old Friends”] I trust she’ll indulge and forgive me for dropping her in it once again.

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The Blonde Violinist who is NOT “the Pastor’s wife”

As perfect timing would have it, the exact day I flew into Melbourne to escape from my life, Margie also got on a plane in her current home base of Perth, also heading to Melbourne. She is contracted by Opera Victoria for the orchestra of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” which is currently in Rehearsal, the massive undertaking of which will eventually be performed at the Arts Centre, Melbourne between 21 November and 16 December 2016.

Margie and I are only two months apart in age, both blonde, and were very much contemporaries in our younger days, learning violin from the same teachers and participating in Adelaide’s Secondary Schools Orchestra, State and National Music Camps and the Australian Youth Orchestra together. Our first official “Paid gig” was the same – second violin in the State Opera of South Australia’s production of “Don Giovanni”. I well remember how amazing it was, after years and hundreds of hours as School and Uni students rehearsing in orchestras on a “voluntary “ basis to be handed an envelope containing a pay cheque (and they were proper cheques in those days) for that first “Three Hour Call”.

Not long afterwards our paths diverged, as Margie took on professional work with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, then later Tasmanian, Melbourne and West Australian Symphony Orchestras amongst much other high-level performing.

As I had been doing some teaching, I returned to Uni and took a further year to complete a Graduate Diploma in Education (which proved over the years to be a smart move).

Subsequently, I did a variety of “Stuff” including, yes, some pretty cool music-making in Cambridge and other British locations, but later quite a bit of “this and that” as we moved frequently due to my husband’s Pastoring and I worked in retail, and administration, and did periods of nothing much, and eventually produced two beautiful children.

All the while Margie has been the dazzling performer, and I guess she has always been, for me, somewhat of my personal benchmark of “How it could have been” or my own “Sliding Doors” movie plot. Because I believe that I had, at least at one stage, the potential to be the same type of professional musician (maybe not of quite the same calibre), had I chosen to pursue that life course.

But the important point is, that I did not choose the lifestyle. I also recognised early on, that with my Husband’s vocation as a Pastor, it was never going to work if I had to have the dazzling career, which needed to always come first.

Imagine the scenario. Pastor gets called out at midnight to dying Parishioner in hospital. Me: “Sorry dear, you’ll need to mind the kids, I have to be at the Opera House”.

But this has been a choice on my part.

And so, I have come to realise, the music-making, teaching, planning, brain-storming, organising, all of those things that I have undertaken in the last however many years, have been me finding situations where I have found a way to use whatever skills and talents I may possess in a positive way.

And it has dawned on me, unfortunately this past week or so in a rather crash-bang-wallop sort of way, was that the reason I was so happy at my only-just-categorised-as-previous job for the first half-dozen years was that I found a niche where I could use those gifts. And, ironically, the fact that the Instrumental Music Department was short-staffed for a school of its size, that much of the time it was all-hands-to-the-pump, that I pursued much outside of my unwritten job description, ironically these were the very things on which I thrived.

And during those years we achieved much, much, more than, by rights, should have been possible. But we did so, with our hearts in the right place, and verve and passion, and if necessary dragging those kids up by the bootstraps, to prove to them just what they could achieve.

We worked tirelessly to build programmes up. For example, in the case of Strings, I started with only two girls who played cello reluctantly, to this year having 20 Cellists enrolled, so we could successfully make a case to employ a Specialist Teacher, having a full day’s available teaching load. And that (the employment of a Cellist Specialist Colleague) has been a marvellous boost for the school and the students.

Back in 2009, I took only 9 proficient students to the Gold Coast Eisteddfod, the oldest aged 12, mainly violins. Recently we took a full String Orchestra of 46 Students.

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Finally, staffing has been expanded to get closer to what is really required for a school the size that it is. But there is still much more to be done. The phrase “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” has been uttered a few times. Those “giants” toiled long and hard to put in place what is there to this point.

But there is no time for complacency because there are now more “hands”. We achieved what we did with a lot of hard work. And if we didn’t know exactly how to do something, we learnt. And perhaps we didn’t always get it right. But we gave it out best effort. And I think we can be proud of what we achieved. Now it is up to others to carry on and respect, not betray, that legacy.

Returning, however, to my original question.

To what extent does what you do define who you are?

To what extent does what I do define who I am?

Is a teacher without anyone to teach still a teacher?

Is a performer who does not perform still a performer?

Granted, if you have children, you are always a parent, but once your children grow and walk and talk and dress themselves, your hands-on role diminishes.

My husband is organised and can shop and cook and iron and taxi the children around. Which he has demonstrated very capably this fortnight while I have been absent.

So, then.

If I don’t teach, If I don’t perform, if my kids are pretty well independent, if my house is cleaned by somebody else, if it not strictly necessary for me to cook and shop and iron…

Then, am I really needed?

Okay, do not panic here…I am not reaching for the vodka bottle (although people in Melbourne did seem to place a glass of wine into my hand on a regular basis – I wasn’t sure if that suggested a certain look on my face but I’m told its “A Victorian thing”)…

Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile reflection that even after two weeks away and having taken quite a lot of personal strides, I’m still pretty vulnerable and not out of the woods yet.

Proving, as if there was really any doubt, that I have left something that was not “Just a job” to me. And perhaps demonstrating a poor life balance beforehand. But one that might prove more difficult to rebalance than for some. Because it’s not like your Bank branch closes and you transfer to doing the same work the next week in another bank branch. I invested a lot, perhaps too much, in that school. Now I am reaping the “reward” of that… because leaving it has left a much bigger void than it might have for somebody else.

In a way I feel “homeless”. I have been a guest of extremely generous relatives and friends in Victoria, but I know I basically went to “escape” and I can’t hide forever. I felt scarily at home in Ararat despite not having being there for 8 years and so embraced by people there, I felt I could walk back in as if I had never been away.

In contrast, although the Gold Coast is “Home” I don’t feel as if I have very much to “Come Home” to. Even the majority of my Gold Coast friends are connected with the School, although there are significant people who, although the initial link was through the school, did some time ago cross that invisible line from acquaintances to friends.

It was, [and is], for me, still a pretty stark picture.

For someone who realises she needs a purpose in life.

All of this weighed pretty heavily on my heart while in Melbourne. Then two significant things occurred to help focus my thinking.

One wise friend counselled: Take time. Do things which make you feel better. Sit on a beach. Drink Coffee. Eat Ice-cream. But don’t take too long. Then pick yourself up. “Fake it ‘til you make it”

“Go where you are needed”.

The evening of the same day I had this conversation; I received a message from a musician friend telling me of a vacancy for one day a week’s String Teaching in a local school. She wanted to know whether I would be interested before putting me in contact with the school. This was no ordinary vacancy, however – it had come about in the most tragic of circumstances.

A family had been on vacation, in the recent September School holidays in New Zealand. They had been involved in an horrific car accident. The woman was seriously injured, her 9 year daughter injured also, but not so badly. But distressingly her husband and two sons, aged 12 and 14 all died.

It was this lady, a violist in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, who had been teaching part-time in a local school. Still in hospital in New Zealand, she is unable to return and complete the year. The school thought that at this late stage they would be unlikely to find somebody suitable to take on her students.

So here I was. Having vowed I needed a break. That I was not ready. I was out of energy. That I needed time before I committed myself to anything. That I was, in a sense, grieving.

I realised very quickly that this teacher, this wife and mother, was suffering the worst grief imaginable. And her students needed a teacher under very difficult circumstances.

“Go where you are needed”.

Up on the 34th floor of an apartment block in Southbank, Central Melbourne, I gained some further insight into “How the other half lives” – with the knowledge that a number of my former orchestral contemporaries are currently rehearsing Wagner’s Ring Cycle around the corner.

Much as I could grow accustomed to this (some more of that “But for the Grace of God go I”), as I sipped my “G and T” on the balcony with Margie, one of my best friends, I was reminded of a home and three very important people in Queensland where I ultimately belong.

Two very special young blondes and one loving, faithful husband.

Yesterday I flew home.

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Today I started my part-time, (possibly temporary) new teaching role.

And, ironically, despite having taught on and off for many years, I have worked for the State Government System in South Australia and in London, in Private Music Schools, in Local State Schools and Catholic Colleges in Victoria and, most recently, for schools aligned with the (more Pentecostal) Australian Christian Churches. But I have never worked for the Lutherans.

Until now.

Despite I am a “Born and Bred” Lutheran.

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So, in the strangest way, in this sense too, I have “Come Home”.

It’s only a small first step, but more is sure to follow.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 says: 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

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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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).

P1060235
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”.

blackadder-2
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?

Go together like a horse and carriage

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Dashing Brit Shane with Kimberley, from “Days of our LIves”

Being a tragic fan of both “Days of our Lives” and “The Young and the Restless” through the 1980’s (Mum and I watched nearly every episode, often sitting up Sunday nights to churn through a week’s worth of videotape), I knew a thing or two about weddings, Daytime Soap Opera style. The good, the bad and the ultra romantic.

In addition, my younger sister and I had a semi-professional String Quartet during our Conservatorium years, so we had witnessed another set of weddings from the “hired help” perspective. So I had a pretty good idea of what a fairy-tale wedding should include. (And not include – I was hoping to be spared the appearance of any long-lost amnesiac ex-wives, crazed gunmen, or former boyfriends on motorcycles).

It didn’t take long to decide that our wedding would take place in my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. Not least because Neil has very little family, both his parents being “Only” children – meaning he has no Aunts, Uncles or first cousins. Whereas I have a lot of relatives on both sides, some of whom I was convinced would not forgive me if they missed the wedding. Plus, as the viola player in our String Quartet had once laconically observed “What The Bride Wants, The Bride Gets.”

So planning for the “Bartsch-Guthrig Wedding Spectacular” began. We determined early on that as far as possible we would aim to have people we knew take part, for a personal touch, plus knowing that we could delegate and trust them to carry out their particular role well, without too much direction from us. Something quite important when you are trying to plan the essential details of such an occasion from the other side of the world, with only a couple of weeks in Adelaide at the end to complete the final touches.

First up to be decided were the date and venues. Our “window” for this was between Neil’s academic year-end in Cambridge, and start of “Curacy” (a kind of internship for intending Pastors) in Ruislip, West London, which was due to commence in September. I rather fancied the 19th July as being 18 months to the day since our New Zealand engagement, and a year since I had got on that plane to England. This fell on a Sunday, which despite being unusual, I discovered was quite legal to get married in Australia.

The church also chose itself, as I had grown up at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Unley, including being Baptised and Confirmed there. I wanted to include a connection to my late father Ken, so asked permission to utilise afterwards the Hall at the nearby St. John’s Primary School, which he had designed, and which I had visited with him at various stages of construction during my last year of school.

The Best Man was to be Martin, who we “blamed” for Neil and I meeting, and the ushers Rhonda and her partner Jonathan (also given responsibility, Rhonda we jokingly referred to as “Cupid”).

Thinking that it was only fair to give Neil some input, he largely chose the Minister, Revd. Dr. John Kleinig. Dr. Kleinig had been doing some postgraduate study in Cambridge and had encouraged and paved the way for Neil to come to Adelaide as an exchange student, so, again, were it not for him, we would not have met.

Flowers were entrusted to Neil’s Mum Sylvia and Martin’s Mum Melva, while Music was to be in the capable hands of St. John’ s organist Don Wiadrowski (who had taught me as a teenager) with friend Warren on trumpet.

My two sisters were bridesmaids, and Mum Carlein made all the gowns. Being a winter wedding, the girls were in burgundy velvet and taffeta, very wintery and classy. Mum also painstakingly decorated the three-tier wedding cake.

We thought hard about the type of reception to have, as I had been to weddings where I was isolated on a table with near strangers with little opportunity to speak to those I wanted to. We also had the issue of wanting to include a lot of people but realising that it would be very unbalanced if we went for the traditional “Brides Side and Grooms Side”…both for the Reception and also in the church. [As the “groom’s side”, as far as family went, numbered FIVE.]img028

In the end we devised a “Finger Food” style reception in the Hall, so if there were a few more or less guests, it didn’t matter, and then invited EVERYONE. We even had Dr. Kleinig announce at the end of the ceremony that anyone who had come along to the church that day was welcome to join us for the reception in the hall afterwards. Hence this included even the elderly church ladies who had come along for a “Squiz” at the dresses.

(This ended up being a winning formula – Mum told me that years later, folk still talked fondly about being at Kylie’s wedding).

Neil was concerned, however, that we would all starve if we didn’t have a hot meal somewhere along the line, so we also booked an evening dinner at “The Ed” (a pub where we had shared some early dates). This was quite small – only around twenty people, which we restricted to the “Wedding Party” and immediate family (including Aunts/Uncles but no further, to keep it consistent and contained). However we did all the “Proper Wedding Stuff” (Toasts, Speeches, Cake Cutting) at the afternoon “do” with everyone, so all felt (we hoped) part of the “Real Reception”.

There was a lot of planning and arranging to do in the short period of time from arriving in Adelaide and the day itself, although my family had done as much as they reasonably could. I will admit that this was pretty stressful, and at some points we weren’t sure if we would bring it off.

But we got to the night before, everything was organised, and delegated, so we made a conscious decision to leave everything in the hands of those trusted people, and to relax and enjoy the day.

It dawned rainy, but it didn’t matter. Us girls spent the morning in hair and make-up, while reportedly the “boys” attended church and ate a Roast Dinner with Martin’s family.

Martin’s Dad David arrived in his meticulously restored vintage Dodge, and we were so excited that we left early. And looked like arriving at the church early too (rather than “fashionably late”) so we drove around the block a few times, deliberately making the elderly engine backfire and startling vague teenagers and the odd dog.img096

As I had no Dad to “give me away”, we had decided to enter the church soap-opera style, sending each bridesmaid down the aisle in turn, with the Bride last.img097

This we timed carefully to the 8-bar sections of the Processional – Helen’s favourite – and that which I had performed in Cambridge – Charpentier’s “Te Deum”.

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The beautiful, and tearful Hope vows “To Love and to Cherish” (Days of our Lives)

We included our favourite hymns, with Don’s thundering pipe organ playing, and included all the traditional vows I had always loved “To have and to hold…to love and to cherish”.

All went off without a hitch, the Minister Dr. Kleinig amusing me highly while preaching on Romans 8:38, when he spoke of things which can potentially separate us, as people, from one another, citing as an example “Kylie’s messiness and Neil’s fussiness”. Oops!img029

[The beautiful text reads: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.]Wedding Group Guthrig

The Reception was just perfect – surrounded by family and friends, and we were overwhelmed by the fact that so many came.img031

It was a wonderful day, truly a fairy-tale day. An important next step in our own fairy-tale.

I wore my silk taffeta gown right through to the evening, because I knew it was the most exquisite dress I would ever wear. It was wonderful to be the Bride, although I knew it was just for that one day.img030

But now, not just for one day but (I trusted) for many years hence, I was a Wife. Neil’s Wife.

The Winner takes it all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the memories that stay with me.

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

4 Funny Frogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Evandale Lake, behind the Gold Coast Arts Centre.

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

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

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

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

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

Agnetha