Mum’s the word.

Newcastle’s Saturday soundtrack is the buzz of lawn edgers and the throttling hum of mowers. It’s the first sunny weekend after the April storms, the massive east coast low that wreaked havoc on homes and communities. There’s a welcome breeze drying out waterlogged yards and blowing a cloud of sawdust across my clean washing; our fallen gum was finally chainsawed into oblivion two days ago. The air is filled with sweet grass smells and the expectation of a sunny weekend, a fine Mother’s Day.

And on this fine morning, I found myself reflecting on what it means to be a Mum, all those moments that bring joy and exasperation in equal measure. Last year I wrote a little ditty in honour of Mother’s Day, my response to some of the over-the-top sickly sweet reflections on motherhood that peppered social media in May last year (you can read it here). This year I’m rolling a little differently, exploring some of my most memorable mother moments and experiences of the last 12 months. Here’s my take on my mummy year-that-was.

Making the grade. Making the 2014 preschool end of year concert with my partner and Missy Moo’s grandparents and great-grandmother. Full family representation at preschool’s final day followed by an organised afternoon tea at a cafe. Missy Moo was delighted we were all there and it showed. As someone who works long hours and often travels too, this effort in logistics paid off generously via Missy Moo’s smiles. I was pretty proud of that one.

Failing the grade. The very next night I received a phone call at 6.45pm whilst at work asking if Missy Moo was still coming. Pardon? To what? I listened to the daycare teacher tell me that the Missy Moo’s ‘graduation’ from 4 and a half years of daycare was imminent; they could hold off the ceremony for another 10 minutes. I rang my parents who agreed to drive her there as quickly as possible whilst I sped down the highway cursing the previous day’s smugness. Roadwork delays turned me into a sobbing mess. I made it to daycare as other parents and children were leaving. Missy Moo’s first words were a sympathetic “It’s OK Mummy”. Hmm. Mother-guilt cemented for at least 6 months.

Joy to the world. Christmas, glorious Christmas. Could there be anything more fun than Christmas Morning with a 5-year-old? Novocastrian Backyard Summer2

Schools in. Missy Moo started school this year. Sheesh, where did the time go? Circumnavigating this new entity and all it brings whilst worrying that Missy Moo is making friends, spending time with nice kids, learning and coping. She’s still excited after Term 1 which is a good sign. Some minor traumatic moments but all in all she seems happy. And so we are too.Belle ist day 3

“You can go in now”. First meeting with the school principal. That feeling of trepidation when walking into a principal’s office doesn’t change with age. A tough conversation about school stuff-ups and a few tears and sniffles later I walk out reassured and hopeful that the problem will be fixed. Go Mummy-me!

Pass the pencils. Cafe colouring-in time with my girl. On increasingly rare ‘free’ days we search the web, source  and print off black and white mandalas, grab her textas and coloured pencils and head off to a cafe together. We chat, colour and compare our artworks. Love, love, love this time with her.

Pass the bucket. This one goes to Missy Moo’s courage and how proud it makes me feel. My little girl is wonderfully brave when she is sick, really sick. She is the best young “bomiter” I have ever met. No fuss, no hesitation. She’s scared when she knows it’s coming but she’ll grab that bucket and bow that head, even when feverish, tired and sad. What a little trooper.

The best medicine. The sound of my little girl’s laugh is infectious, giggly and has a touch of madness about it. It’s natural and sweet and always makes me smile and laugh too.

Dance baby dance. My daughter and I sing and dance together all the time. I’ve embraced singers that will never grace my preferred station of Triple J’s playlist: we shake it off to Taylor, shake our booty’s to Meghan and I shake my head at Charli XCX. Nevertheless, we do it together whilst singing and flinging our bodies around. Glorious!

Nighty night. Saying good night to Missy Moo every night. Kisses, cuddles, sometimes lying in bed reading a book together. It’s special and I know oh-so-short-lived. She will grow up in no time and these moments will pass. I treasure them.

Last but not least. Each morning last week I was greeted with the number of days until Mothers Day, my own personal countdown . Sunday morning she had the same look on her face as Easter and Christmas Day, that gorgeous anticipation. I love the fact that she’s as excited by giving as receiving. It makes me hopeful for the type of person she will grow into and that is, without a doubt, the best Mothers Day present ever.

Belle birthday 4

 

After the Storm.

This week my little town of Newcastle has been battered and bruised. A severe weather event known as an East Coast Low traumatised us with its cyclonic winds and torrential rain. It was a tricky beast, rotating slowly, offering a ruse of respite in the short-lived eye of each of its many storms. The Bureau of Meteorology online radar became our dreadful focus as we waited for a sign it was over. The Low was vulture-like, repeatedly circling, ready to swoop. We braced for impact. Upstairs, our house shook. Water in the glass on my bedside table generated pretty concentric circles with each new gust of wind. The rain fell in great sheets, swathing the landscape in greyness. Rivers broke their banks, new lakes engulfed houses and cars, water surged and wilfully carved its way. Many lost homes, roofs, fences, trees, cars, belongings. People died.

And then finally, after two nights and a day, the Low left. There was still rain and wind gusts but nothing compared to what we’d experienced. It was time to assess the damage, to see what could be done, to prepare for the inevitable and continuing flooding. On Wednesday, Newcastle went into clean-up mode.

Disclaimer: I should probably throw in here that I’m a proud Novocastrian. We breed them tough in the Hunter Valley, especially in our town, and for all our apparent and sometimes-frustrating parochialism we are a generous and giving community. Bring on your worst because no matter what – the aftermath is when we shine.

We had a houseful of guests. We put out a call on Facebook that our little home was open for business. We still somehow had power and could offer food and hot water. We were better off than the majority of our family and friends. We fed cousins, showered kids, charged iPads and iPhones. Someone brought a thank-you bottle of red wine which was gratefully received by the grown-ups at dinner time. Others were doing the same; offers were all over social media.

At about lunchtime midweek I could stand it no more. The worst was over and I was itching to get out and see what was happening. I wanted to check out the big surf, grab some groceries, get back in touch with life outside the walls of my house. All within our home were fed and playing happily so I grabbed my camera and slipped out.

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Driving into Newcastle was an eye-opener. My partner had been into town that morning to grab his lap-top so I knew a little about what areas to avoid and which roads were closed. I’d seen all the images in the media. I knew that many trees would be down; we’d had our own disaster with an enormous gum tree uprooted and resting precariously on our fence and neighbours shed. I knew that traffic lights were out, schools were closed, trains and buses were out of action. But I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the damage.

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The trees. Everywhere, trees on their side, uprooted, branches, seeds, flowers, leaves, leaves and more leaves. Huge piles of greenery shaped by the force of the water and wind: a she-oak carpeted pavement alongside Newcastle High School; dark and heavy branches blanketing the walk at Customs House; piles of plane tree leaves along King Street. And the Banksias! May Gibbs’ big, bad Banksia men blown from their tree homes, all wet and muddy on the foreshore. Hundreds and hundreds of them spread mournfully on the ground, wet and unrealised.

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I headed to the beach. There were many others, mainly families looking to entertain their house-bound broods while schools remained closed. And yes the surf was BIG. Messy, brown, frothy and just a little scary. A handful of surfers braved the waters at Nobbys Beach whilst pedestrians headed to the flooded Newcastle Baths, oohing and aahing over the surf-made waterfalls within its walls. The kid’s canoe pool was no longer visible save for a few rusty posts and chains on the southern edge. The Esplanade was closed to cars and strangely eerie to walk along in their absence. And Newcastle Beach – what was left of it – was a study in abstract art with millions of tiny pumice stones swirling in and out of the waves with noisy movement. The powerful surf must have broken up shelves of the stuff; there was more of it than sand.

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The horizon didn’t disappoint, with heavy purple-grey clouds washing the skyline whilst the sun shone through cloud-breaks above. I saw some blue sky whilst I ran from the rain. There was 15 minutes of a gusty southerly preceding complete stillness on Newcastle Beach. It all felt other-worldly.

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I spotted a family on Newcastle Beach ferreting through the debris and filling bulging garbage bags with…what? I asked. They were cleaning up the beach. The same surf that created all those tiny pumice stones had also pulverized the rubbish out at sea, creating a colourful confetti of plastic refuse. The father said they were happy to be photographed. The little boy told me they always cleaned up the beach after a storm. This was their ‘thing’. I wish I’d taken their names so I could publicly congratulate them.

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During the first frightening night of the storms, my five-year old daughter snuggled against me seeking reassurance and warmth. I told her it was all OK, that we were lucky we were safe inside and could look after each other. She looked up at me and asked “what happens to the homeless people when there’s a storm?” A good question. We talked about it and hoped that they all found somewhere safe and dry to wait out the weather. On my afternoon excursion I saw a man in the foreshore park string up a makeshift clothes line to dry out his sleeping bag and tarpaulins. He’d survived the storm OK but all his gear was soaked. I read about a woman in Sydney who asked her Facebook friends to donate clothes and food for her to deliver to the homeless in her area as the storms hit down south. She and her sister collected the goods and distributed them among the city’s homeless community. Apparently they were easy to find, having gathered in large groups in any dry spaces they could find. This type of response restores my faith in humanity, just like the family on Newcastle Beach. Sometimes, people rock.

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Not everyone was happy to talk. A fellow along The Esplanade was shovelling sand and sweeping out his garage. I approached him and asked if I could take his photo. “Why would you want to photograph this? What possible good could come from it?”. He was agitated and unhappy. I left him to it – I didn’t think he was in the mindset for a conversation about shared experiences. Perhaps the prospect of another huge high tide fuelled by flood waters was too much for him to bear.

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And then there’s this. Someone who saw an opportunity. How better to put forward your climate change beliefs than use the enormous tree that’s crushed your car as the result of an out-of-control East Coast Low? Severe weather? Tick. Dramatic outcome? Tick. You can’t help but admire this person’s dedication to their cause.

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There are many cafes and restaurants who’ve opened their doors to people without power. They all deserve a shout out, like the Newie Burger Company at The Cambridge who offered free tea, coffee and movies for kids to watch and the Euro Bar in Hamilton offering free pasta dinners to those in need. Of course, there’s so many more that could be mentioned – sandwich shops catering for emergency workers, pubs keeping isolated towns in good spirits, people opening their doors to strangers for showers, offerings of empty freezers so those without power don’t lose all their food. In a wonderful and usual show of Hunter Valley-ian ethos even those in need are extending their limited resources to others.

When in dire straits it’s good to have a sense of humour. Tuesday night’s 135km/hour winds wreaked havoc in many ways, not the least of which was the ‘flying trampoline’ effect. Many woke on Wednesday to strangely empty backyards, owners not sure what was missing but knowing there was an absence. In homage to the flight of the trampoline(s), there is now a Facebook page entitled “Where’s my Trampoline gone? April 2015 carnage”. Yes, you can upload your crazy pics of trampolines gone rogue. The page has 5,237 followers and growing. The things you do when you’re in lockdown and looking for the lighter side of a natural disaster.

And so in the aftermath of the storm, I offer the following:

  • My heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones in the floods. Of all those who died, the loss of great grandmother Anne Jarmain on Cessnock Road near Maitland affected me deeply; I traverse that road going to and from work. The images on social media ‘as it happened’ were horrifying. The thought that the sheer volume of water made it turn uphill and gather velocity is frightening. The open letter from the woman’s grandson to a local radio station thanking everyone for their efforts was extraordinary. The prospect of any lives being lost in a flood is overwhelmingly sad.
  • Huge karma points to those acting selflessly, in whatever capacity, over the last few days and coming weeks. From emergency service workers to those handling call lines, from retailers and foodies offering freebies to those sharing their own resources, time and care. Special kudos to the family cleaning Newcastle Beach – a great community service, a good way to get the family together outdoors and a fabulous lesson for those children.
  • On a personal note, thank you to Kelly Lees, Urban Hum beekeeper. Our bees are much, much happier now that their home is right side up. They are getting on with the business of cleaning up just like everyone else.
  • ABC 1233 Radio deserves a special mention. This local broadcaster became our emergency lifeline, a provider of updates and information. They did and continue to do a great job (we still missed you though Carol!).
  • At the time of writing this morning I received notification that my workplace at Maitland has been evacuated. It follows another flood warning for the Hunter. The rivers are rising again. My sincerest hope is that all are safe, dry and out of the way of those waters.
  • A warm imaginary hug to the guy sweeping out his shed on The Esplanade. Hope he’s found something to smile about today.
  • To nature: well, that was (and is) a spectacular and not-so-gentle reminder of your power. In the aftermath of your fury I found beauty in the fresh debris of sweet-smelling leaves and the glory of the huge ocean swell. The Hunter’s water tables are well-recharged now. Next time be a bit more kind, if you can.

Now for something I didn’t write. I love this perspective and think it sums up our East Coast Low experience rather well. These words belong to Paul Burke – dog owner, fireman and photographer extraordinaire:

“Now the wind and rain has stopped for a while, I can’t help but think Mother Nature has walked away from this excited conversation we’ve been having all day, shaking her head, thinking “…they thought it was all about them!”

Yes, I suspect she has.

Rich & Glorious

Today’s blogpost is brought to you by life: rich and glorious. How quickly we can forget it.

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So far 2014 has been quite the challenge. Health issues (you can read about it here), work restructures, applying for jobs, the start of preschool – busy, stressful, chaotic.  In thinking about what to write in this blogpost I found myself looking at pictures instead. I take photos, lots of them, to remind me of beautiful moments and to catalogue the happy times. I can’t help it; I like to record things. And my most recent photos made me realise that for all the hurdles of the last 2 months, there’s been joyous times too. Little events that add up to some pretty funny and wonderful moments, captured in some of my favourite shots.

1. The Advent of Maxie

I’ll begin this story with a description of a wonderful, fluffy, old boy in our household, our kelpie-border collie cross Jasper. Jasper turns 17 (yes, that’s right – 17) in a couple of months. He’s a bit slow on his feet, a bit blind, a bit deaf, a bit wobbly. He sleeps for around 20 – 22 hours a day. He’s slowed down a great deal since we lost or other pup last year (you can read about Ripley the Unholy Terror here). He has doggy-dementia so every now and then relives his puppy years, bounding around the yard in springbok-like jumps that make our daughter Belle giggle with delight. We all love Jasper immensely – he’s the sook, the dog that always wants a cuddle, the Mummy’s Boy. He lives a quiet life of gentle snoozing on a soft cushion.

So imagine my surprise finding a scrappy cockatiel waddling about our deck, squawking belligerently in the face of poor old Jasper. To Jasper’s credit, despite being more than a little bewildered, he managed to haul himself up to sniff and stagger behind the indignant creature. I “rescued” the bird and put out some water and bread, hoping it would recuperate and fly home. Not to be. The bird seemed intent on harassing Jasper and/or flying straight onto my shoulder whenever I ventured outside. It was obviously someone’s pet, flown the coup. A little while later I saw a streak of yellow past the kitchen window and felt happy the bird was likely returning home. However, it was not long before I was again “rescuing” the vocal cockatiel from our front yard, the bird hugging the trunk of our gum tree with open wings, blinking against the southerly blowing up the street, bleeding and distressed (I don’t think the resident native birds took kindly to it at all).

Belle and Maxie week 2c

This bird, now well-ensconced in a home with food and water, proceeded to ‘woo’ my daughter, my partner and my step-son. I borrowed an old bird cage from my Grandmother (who was rubbing her hands with glee at disposing of the large, rusted-metal object, having lost her Galah years ago). We bought bird seed, had a notice put up at the local vet surgery, did a letter-box drop and rang numbers in the Lost and Found. We even had someone come ’round to our house – still the bird was unclaimed. My daughter gave it a name. We bought bird seed, bird treats and a new cage.

And so Maxie became the newest member of our little household.

Well played Maxie, well played.

2. The Deviation at Nobbys

I have the luxury of taking Sunday evening walks on Nobbys Breakwall. I have 2 hours off from domestic life and I walk. I take my phone, I capture shots, I think, I listen to music, I tread it out  – it’s my “me-time” (you can read about it here).

I hadn’t been for a while; surgery in January meant I was restricted for a few weeks. When the time finally came for me to resume my walks, I decided to do something different. I grabbed my partner and my daughter and took them with me. With the clouds threatening rain and windy conditions, we walked the breakwall. We threw stones in the water, we raced and chased each other, we played. We waited as the grey clouds grew close and the crowd thinned, then hightailed it back to the car. It was possibly one of the nicest Sunday walks I’ve had in a long time.

Nobbys family walk

Whilst I highly value my me-time, on this particular Sunday I just wanted my family with me. I deviated from the norm and it was worth it.

Sometimes it pays to break tradition.

3. Nobody puts baby in the corner (dance, baby, dance).

February birthday celebrations for friends found me at a  girly ‘High Tea and Tarot’ afternoon at Mayfield. Libby and Erica, friends and work colleagues, decided to combine their February birthday celebrations into one event. And so I arrived at Teresa and Erica’s home with cake and champagne in hand, ready for polite conversation and bubbles. The table was set, the eskies were packed and the fortune-teller/tarot car reader was ready and waiting.

I had a fabulous time. I knew very few of the 50 or more women but still I found myself chatting, bonding, laughing and having a bloody great afternoon. The tarot reading was quiet respite from the party happenings, although sharing the session with 4 other women ensured that any seriousness was kept appropriately at bay.

The party continued into the night: a drag show, dancing, more drinks, more dancing. As always, I had my camera with me so I captured the fun, frivolity and joy of an arvo’ high tea gone rogue.

My favourite shot? This one, which I think imparts the essence of the afternoon. It screams happiness, fun and joy as the birthday girls (in red and blue) shimmy and laugh their way around the lounge-room. Life is too short not to eat, drink and be merry.

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I didn’t think much had happened in my life in the month of February, nothing worth writing about anyway. Yet these images tell a different story. Seems, happily, I could not have been more wrong.

A New(ie) perspective.

In my house there are unswept floors, unvacuumed carpets and untidy piles of unread magazines. I go to work early and promise myself I’ll leave at 4, then 5, then 6 o’clock. I plan to shop for groceries during lunch, after work, after I have collected my daughter. Late home, I face the spectre of cooking and serving an overdue evening meal to unbathed children while yesterday’s towels bunch wetly in the bathroom. There are dog-nose prints on glass sliding doors, finger-prints on the stairwell and a headful of unwritten blogposts. There are unmade phone calls, unmade beds, unrealised promises. I can’t stop thinking about things I should be doing and things I haven’t done. I want more time, more time, more time.

Lately it has been quite a struggle. And so I haven’t written for a while.

Today, with some precious writing time, I don’t want to dwell on the issues of madness and mess – suffice to say they exist and are unresolved. Instead I want to talk about something that’s saving my sanity and whose images are crowding my camera memory cards. It’s close and unexpected. It’s Newcastle, Newie, my home.

Nobbys 14   IMAG1194   Nobbys Beach, Newcastle.

Most weekends I manage an hour or so to go walking. Originally unplanned and now pleasant habit, I head to the breakwall in town near Nobbys Beach, always an hour or so before dusk. It’s a beautiful time of day, my favourite time of day. It’s when sidewalks are being swept clean of daylight-muck and preparing for night. It’s when shadows lengthen, stark skies become shaded-colour and people pack up and head home. There’s a sense of completion and a touch of anticipation at dusk. It’s day’s end, the sunset winking in night’s welcome.

 Nobbys 5   Nobbys 1

And the reason I’m walking here and not somewhere else is the landscape. I could walk anywhere; my gorgeous local park, my street, the bike track, anywhere. But I find myself driving into town, parking the car and treading the coastal breakwall with it’s beachy-backdrop, to its end and back again.

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While I walk I listen to music. It soothes me more than the crash of waves, the cry of seagulls or the chatter of fellow-walkers. You might question why I don’t let the rush of water-on-sand be my soundtrack. I think it’s because I see these walks as a bit of an escape, a chance to clear my head of The Crazy, and so I like to set the tone for this time myself. It’s one of the few times I get to listen to my choice of music, that I want to hear, that I like.

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Unexpectedly, these walks have changed my life. The solitary nature of them is soothing, and the exercise warranted, but it’s the stage show that’s taken my breath away. Incredibly, I’d forgotten about the power of it and how much better I am for it.

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The air is fresh, salty, bracing. The ocean can be angry grey-green, mildly turquoise or glassy, crystalline blue, rolling gently or spraying thunder against man-made rocks. Recently there have been dolphin pods, breaching whales, quick and cheeky seals. There are try-hard tugs ushering in overloaded ships, their cumbersome bulk swaying ponderously into the harbour. To the side, over-excited dogs populate Horseshoe Beach, fetching sticks amongst the off-shore foam. People, everywhere, all sorts – families, kids, tourists, surfers, cyclists, walkers, lovers, strangers, even robed monks. There is sand, salt, marshy smells and flowering plants. There are bleached timber keepsakes, pock-marked rocks and swooping kites.
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And then there’s the show. The horizon, the sunset, the end-of-day/beginning-of-night spectacle that demands its shaded-eye salute. The business end of the harbour looks delicately pretty in silhouette. The pink-tinged horizon urges you forward, faster, to beat the night-fall. Overcast days provide a gentler final act, a slower drop of the shadowed grey-on-grey curtain. Other times the harbour is angry and the only nod to the passing of time is the steely-blue boiling of the clouds as they roll into Newie.
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Every week this event reminds me that nature is fierce and wonderful. I feel lucky to witness it, to be in Newcastle where nature is so near that I can always, always find it closely, quickly. That I can feel better and happy because of it. That it can transform me from darkly overwhelmed to clear-headed and composed; there’s something about facing a sunset that makes you feel special, amazing and even beautiful.

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The sun sets and I walk a little taller, smiling. I drive home, sad for the moment just ended but grateful – grateful for nature’s show, for reminding me what truly matters, grateful I know how easy it is to feel better, and how unimportant an unkempt house really is.

I go home, kick aside the widely-strewn toys and hug my daughter.

Anything can happen.

Recently my partner and I indulged ourselves as a guests of friends at the Peppertree Winery harvest luncheon. Fantastic food, lovely wine, fabulous company. A true celebration and degustation feast. And for me, yet another example of the extreme highs and lows in life of late.
Wine glass1
Let me explain this further. Recently, a number of close friends have experienced some distressing and life-changing situations, all in the space of a few weeks. I previously wrote about some of them here: Thankful. Friends have unexpectedly ended a seemingly-happy marriage; one had a double mastectomy; others had a family member attempt suicide; and a friend’s beloved father passed away. Conversely, over the same period I’ve experienced some thrilling life-rides: an opportunity to pursue a hobby semi-professionally; the lost-now-rediscovered joy of writing; the will, discipline and desire to exercise; some seriously much-needed and regular alone-time, to sort out my unkempt mind.

So I found myself on the way to Peppertree, in the confines of a mini-bus, talking about this strange life. My friend was incredibly sad and unsure she should be with us, as current family matters are tragic and overwhelming. Her despair and grief was palpable – she felt helpless, uncertain and unworthy of enjoyment.
Bag Glasses winegalsses
In talking of things so very sad, we moved to the inevitable ‘why?’. There were and are many reasons why, but a left-fielder thrown into the mix was this: seems the Universe is in a bit of a state at the moment, all skirts akimbo and make-up askew. We’re in an astrological ‘event’, advised by a friend-of-a-friend that there is massive change afoot and “all the crap is falling out” – it’s a time when things are ending, and a time of new beginnings.

I know, I know – that last thought could apply to, well, everything… things begin and end all the time. For many of you, talk of universal matters seems ridiculous, and I get it. How could external forces existing millions of miles away exact any influence on the decisions of individual souls? But here’s the thing – with all the extreme events, mad changes, highs and lows of late, in the grab-bag of crazy that is this life – it fits. And when you’re suffering, sad or simply overwhelmed with grief, you look for a ‘why’. Interested in the friend-of-a-friend’s theory, I decided to do a little Google-ing. Turns out there’s some serious eclipses rocking around the Universe at the moment, sending astrologers into a spin. There’s talk of life-shifts and changes, and not by halves – it’s apparently ‘revolutionary transformation’ time.

For me, a series of lunar eclipses peppering our skies does not adequately explain the cluster of hard and awful happenings in my friend’s lives. What it does provide is a potential “method-to-the-madness” which may be of comfort to some. And whilst I’m not sure where I sit on this, I am sure that it’s hard to watch people you’re close to experience life’s crud, it’s horrible to feel helpless when all you want to do is ease someone’s pain, and its human nature to always look for answers and reasons.

Today I have no answers – but instead I can offer the following:

1. I recently read an article written by Em Rusciano on the hard and tumultuous change her life has undergone (you can find it here Em’s Life). Her story featured a beautiful piece of music that I love; an Eddie Vedder piece that I find both melancholic and uplifting all at once. It’s from a movie called ‘Into the Wild’, about a guy who abandoned life as we know it to embrace pure ‘experience’ by living simply, in nature. It’s a movingly tragic yet joyful story of a life – all highs and lows.

2. The only person I know who truly answered ‘why?’ is author Douglas Adams. The ultimate answer to the question of life, the Universe and everything is apparently 42.

3. My take? I believe the only thing that’s certain in this life is that nothing is certain…..and that anything can happen.

Reality Mum.

I’m enjoying Mothers Day…really, I am. I had a sleep-in, which I love, and was given the gift of noise-isolating headphones for my mp3 player (they’re actually fantastic but, oh, the irony!). My daughter has been hugging me all morning, wishing me ‘Happy Mothers Day’ whilst also asking me when it will be finished. She put on her thickly-tread gumboots to play outside after lunch and promptly walked through poo left on the deck by our geriatric dog who can’t quite make the lawn anymore. Wouldn’t be so bad except she had walked it all over the decking boards before I noticed the smell, having just sat down to read a magazine that I’ve scanned the same page of for the last 3 days. I burnt caramel in the saucepan and had to send out the troops for more condensed milk whilst I dealt with my teary ineptitude. I’m going away for work tomorrow and haven’t packed or organised anything related to meetings or the daycare run. All in all – a pretty typical day as me, and as a Mum.

In stark contrast to this – I’ve been reading a lot of facebook posts today about mothers, from friends to their Mum, grandmother or daughter. Lots of flowery well-wishes, chrysanthemum-kisses and pale pink-dusted memories. Some of the messages infer motherhood is one long cupcake baking session. Stark contrast to my day so far. Where’s the ‘thanks for wiping my bottom’ or ‘thanks for tolerating my belligerently toned teenage years’? It got me thinking about being a Mum, and the tremendous highs and lows that come with the experience – for all involved. There’s no denying that sometimes I look at my daughter, my gorgeous girl, and am overwhelmed with love to the point of weeping. Other times…well, I’m being honest – I’m sure she’s as unhappy with my behaviour as I am with hers.

Which brings me to today’s post. A little unrefined, but warranted. A more balanced view of a mother’s days, not just the May-dated one. For Belle. Enjoy.

Motherhood.

You want it cold,
you want it hot,
you want it warm,
You want it ‘NOT’.

You whinge to me
Of hair astray,
And blame me, too,
For missing play.
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I write your name,
For you to trace.
You roll your eyes
And pull that face.

I bathe your limbs,
I wash your clothes;
You paint the walls
And pick your nose.
DSCF7837
You stamp your foot
And cry in rage,
And all I did
Was turn the page.

I touch your face
To make you smile.
You frown at me
and run a mile.
belle water
I paint your nails
The colour pink.
You chew it off
And flood the sink.

You want a say
In clothes and shoes,
Then moan and cry
When I say ‘choose’.
050
You drive me mad
And age me fast.
I had you late;
I hope I last.

And whilst oft’ said,
it’s more than true;
You’ll never know
How much I do.

Yet in the blur
Of daily grind
Such joy and warmth
In you I find.
Mothers Day 2013
Your frowning smiles,
Your happy tears,
Your lovely face
I hold so dear.

Snail town
So in this deal,
I think I win.
Your hand in mine,
Your cheeky grin.

For here I am,
And you are too.
I am your Mum.
Thank God for you.
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…hear me roar.

Yesterday I attended the Newcastle Writers Festival, a session entitled “How women are changing social media”. Carol Duncan of ABC Radio Newcastle shepherded Jane Caro, Kerri Sackville, Rebecca Olive and Marina Go through a discussion of how these strong women each utilise and influence social media in their work, their careers and their lives. And strong women they are – in thought, in the pursuit of their chosen field, in their passion and in solidarity; even when panelists expressed an apparent difference of opinion, the general discussion moved towards encouraging one speaker not to undervalue her voice, rather than pursue a right/wrong scenario.

I loved this session. And whilst I don’t think these women stayed directly on-topic, I didn’t care. They were successful women talking about a brave new social media world which is all-inclusive, easily accessible and tremendously exciting. They outlined concepts I understood and mentioned platforms I use. They shared anecdotes, made us laugh, nod our heads in understanding and shake them in sympathy. I walked out inspired and more determined than ever to keep exploring and contributing to this new electronic realm. It was bloody great.

I’m not going to revisit the detail of the discussion here, but I will share what I took away:

1. A reaffirmation that social media is here to stay.
This one’s important because I’ve had a minor crisis of late, mainly due to my circle of friends and family not being as enamoured with, or excited by social media as I am. I’ve felt like a bit of an island, so at the very least – the Writers Festival session has propelled me back into the archipelago.

2. An enduring admiration for the panelists.
Already a fan of Jane Caro, and with some memories of Marina Go as a teenage-magazine editor, I was unprepared for the ‘smartness’ of all 5 women at the front of the room. The quickly articulate Kerri; the powerful pocket-rocket Jane; the quietly confident and elegant Marina; the earnest and humble Rebecca; the eloquent and dulcet-toned Carol… what a powerhouse of female intelligence. If I didn’t follow or subscribe to them on twitter, WordPress, BlogSpot or the web before – I certainly do now.

3. A sunny-side-up feeling about life in general.
I’m not saying I’m the smartest person I know, not even close. Nor am I the most philanthropic or even very sympathetic person. I’ve definitely got my faults. But I think I generally recognise them; I am a work in progress. In the meantime I do try to live an ethical, empathetic and mindful life. So with this in mind – lately I’ve been reading, hearing and seeing a God-awful lot of stories about horrible, stupid, rotten and/or just mightily dumb people and things. Selfish acts by thoughtless humans. Harmful, hurtful and generally clueless things. My opinion of current, broader societal values and behaviours has been at an all-time low. My thoughts about the world my daughter will grow into have been particularly bleak. So it was truly wonderful to spend an hour or so being simply inspired, sitting with like-minded peeps and exploring…..possibilities. Thinking about and feeling empowered, acknowledging the ‘good stuff’ that can be and is being achieved by women in social media. Talking about taking people to task, accountability, exposing bullies. Listening to stories of success and shared wisdom. It. Was. Awesome. I left Newcastle City Hall with a spring in my step and a headful of smiley thoughts.

4. A compelling feeling.
I like writing, but haven’t committed to it in a long time. I did write a diary for my daughter during her first 2 years of life about her achievements, cute moments and baby-milestones, for her to read when she’s older (perhaps as a teenager when she’s not liking me so much) – but that’s it. So earlier this year I started this blog: my sanity-saver, my challenge and my biggest leap into the unknown in a long time. I’ve set myself a goal of writing once a week. It doesn’t sound like a huge commitment but as someone who works, has a partner, a 3-year-old, a household and two 15-year-old dogs, well, it is. So to walk away from an experience and actually want to write and write and write…whoa! Be still my fingers! Hold the phone on the thesaurus! Charge that lap-top! Perhaps this point should be entitled ‘Inspired’ or ‘Excited’ or ‘Caffeinated’? It doesn’t matter. The ‘gift of the urge’ is precious.

My final thoughts?
If you’re reading this blog it means you’re somewhat web savvy, so go mull over the social media stylings of the women mentioned above. You won’t regret it.

Thank you ladies.

Little ditty.

Last weekend was Easter. We had a couple of days where we bounced from one event to another. A busy, full and generally happy weekend – but I didn’t make my Sunday blog deadline.

However I did spend some time thinking about what I might write. I realised that lately I’ve been surrounded by ditties: short, simple, catchy, tuneful. The sort that persist in your head. My daughter Belle’s favourite books, all cadence and rhythm, suited to a three year-old’s sensibilities – we read them over and over. Belle’s teenage cousin’s facebook post, a youtube video with a boppy song about keeping all your fingers whilst you knock out the beat with a knife (don’t ask!). The Easter Bunny’s gift to Belle in exchange for her baby-dummys: a toy pony that walks, talks and repeatedly sings ‘Are you excited, are you, are you? Are you excited, are you, are you?’.

I thought about something I once wrote, my own little ditty for Belle. I came up with a four beat rhyming verse (tetrameter?) to accompany a photo of my daughter’s shampooed hair. It was short and punchy – a good companion for the photo – and she loved it. I decided to complete it for this week’s post, so here ’tis. Inspired by, and with thanks to the works of Dr. Seuss.

Belle’s hair.
A ditty for my daughter.

Belle likes her hair,
She likes it lots.
She likes it straight,
Not tied in knots.

She likes it clean,
She likes it shiny.
She keeps it well,
For one so tiny.
Belle's hair
She wears it high,
She wears it low.
She’ll change it twice
Before she goes.

And when she runs,
Her hair does bounce
From left to right,
Like frill or flounce.
Belle running 1
On days when rain
The clouds unfurl,
It makes it frizz,
It makes it curl.

But in the end,
Belle still does smile.
She likes her hair,
In any style.

And I must say,
I like it too!
But ‘why?’ you ask,
‘What works for you?’

And so my friends,
I must then tell –
I like it lots,
Because it’s Belles.
Belle posing

Feeling alive.

I was driving home from work the other day – I have a 40-odd minute each-way commute – and I had one of those moments where I just felt ….alive. It was a beautiful Autumnal afternoon, almost dusk, cooling breeze gently buffeting in the car window. One of those amazing atmospheric songs came on the radio (God I love triple j – but that’s another story). I felt happy, relaxed, peaceful and alive. Everything was working in my favour. I loved it.

It got me thinking – what makes me feel really ‘alive’? What in the past has made me feel the way I do now, in this very moment? Happily, gloriously alive. It took me a while to construct a list, and it’s by no means definitive – so I’m calling it my Top 4.

1. Living in the moment.
Harder than it sounds. And by ‘living in the moment’ I mean actually enjoying the moment without thinking about 10 seconds, 10 minutes or 10 hours ahead. Not contemplating where you’re off to next, what should be on your shopping list, the next deadline for work. Not thinking about something other than what is happening “right now”. Unless you’ve mastered the art of meditation or successfully subscribe to Buddhist ‘mindfulness’, you’ll likely find this incredibly hard. Since I don’t meet either of those criteria – I feel lucky to have achieved it at all. But I have. When I spend time with my 3 year-old daughter on our day off together, I can honestly say that I have been completely ‘in the moment’ with her – no thought of anything other than what we are doing, nowhere to be except where we are, nothing to do other than what we are doing. And the wondrous thing about children is that they usually inhabit this space, this ‘moment’, more than anywhere else. I wonder how we/they lose that sense of present-play. I suspect it’s all on us – we teach kids to think, plan and move ahead. But that feeling of freedom and blinding happiness, so consciously alive in the moment…I’ll be eternally grateful to my daughter for sharing her experience of it.

2. The throes of passion.
There is nothing like being so overwhelmingly impassioned that you can barely control yourself. Yes, I’m talking lust. That deep longing for human physical contact, when desire seems to ooze from the pores of your skin and you feel so overripe you’re about to fall off the vine. Mmmmmm…OK….you get my drift. Anyway – I don’t think anyone would argue that you don’t feel alive when you’re embroiled in a passionate tryst with the object of your romantic desire. Your mind has turned off, your body is on disconnect from your brain and sensation is…well, sensational. Anthropologists might argue that despite years of evolution, passion (whether love or lust) simply arises from a deeply-rooted need to procreate. Whatever. What matters is that irrespective of whether it’s primal, biological, spiritual or soulful – it certainly makes you feel alive.

3. Music
Whatever your taste, if you listen to music at all you will understand the heights that it can elevate you to when it’s good – really good. The estimation of ‘good’ is (in the main) subjective – sidenote: my apologies to those who study music theory who have just baulked at this statement – but I think we’ve all heard a piece of music that prompted an emotional response, triggered memory, or swept us away on a magical, tuneful carpet ride. For me, it usually happens when I’m listening to music on my own: at home, in the car or even wired-for-sound at the gym. And it’s not always the same song, it’s often a song in the context of where I am or what I’m doing. Surely one of the following rings a bell for you: the long highway drive with a pumping, kick-arse beat matching the tarmac treads; the melancholic songs, where every sad note abides in the air like misty rain mixing with your tears; the sweet-moment music, where happiness sparkles like sunlight through glass, your heart swells and makes you feel glad to be alive. Yep, music makes all that happen. I love, love, love music for making all that possible.

4. Beauty
This last point is clearly connected to points 1 through 3. How could it not be? Anything that makes you feel truly ‘alive’ is by its very nature stunningly, maddeningly, sweetly beautiful. But this also refers to those moments outside of you; when you see or hear something so wondrously perfect and simple that you can’t help but step back and admire it. Like the ocean on one of those days when the seawater is blue-green-clear and the sand is grainy whitewash. Like the embrace between reunited loved ones at an airport. Like the joy on the face of a child on Christmas morning.

Ans there’s another type of beauty. I’m not sure how to elaborate on this point except to say something that, even to my mind, sounds so “wanky” that I’m not sure it’s worth typing. But this IS a blog, so here goes. Sometimes the beauty of everything in a moment crystallises into one absolute sense of…completeness. It’s like a flash of insight, a feeling of being part of everything, a perfectly architected instant. Some think it’s connecting with nature or the universe, for others it’s just like ‘waking up’ to what’s going on around you. Like passion, it really doesn’t matter how you define it, as long as you get to experience it. Because it’s a beautiful thing. And it makes you feel alive.

I’m going to wrap up this post with a poetic reference that may just cement the “wanky”-ness of today’s mental meanderings. My favourite poems hold something true about being alive; they speak of beauty, truth, days, living and even acknowledge our human-need to explain all these aspects of being alive which, to my mind, often don’t really require explanation at all – I’m just happy I get to experience them. Having said that, I had to study “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats in high school; it’s certainly not poetry I would have discovered on my own. The last 2 lines are the kicker and it’s those I’ve quoted because, well, they are simple and true.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.