Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Seasons of change….

The hills are a beautiful place to be in autumn….trees put on their stunning parade of gorgeous colours as the nights grow colder and snakes of grey smoke from wood heaters spiral up and link chimneys to clouds, heavy with fat droplets of rain.  The first blush of colour spreads down through the branches and leaves change from green to an amazing array of yellows, ambers, rusts, reds and oranges. Small gusts of wind pick up fallen leaves and dance them, swirling and twisting, end over end, until they float down and settle.  Creeks gurgle and come to life as their stony beds disappear under fresh, cold water numbing fingers trying to float boats of sticks and leaves. 

As autumn gives way to winter, people hibernate in warm houses and hurry along cold windy streets as icy fingers pluck at their ears and noses.  Wood piles are stacked and electric blankets turned on as the temperature drops and the wind rattles at windows and sneaks through barely there crevices to play its whispery coldness along the back of your neck.  Trees are bare, their branches naked and lifeless with only the occasional abandoned bird nest to adorn them.  Rain becomes a common occurrence falling from dark, angry clouds in a grey, bleak sky.  Daylight seems to lack colour as dawn and dusk become closer and closer.  The cold seeps into bones, chatters teeth and turns lips blue.

Spring brings a visual promise of warmer weather to come….those first blossoms popping open in pinks and whites adorning bare branches like party lights.  Tender green leaves start to unfurl and grow as the sun begins to encourage them out. The first hint of colour peeks from closed flower heads and show a promise of blooming to come.  Birds pick up the flow of life - singing joyfully as they noisily start preparing eiderdown softened nests for small speckled eggs.  Bees get busy as petals loosen and nectar becomes sweet and enticing.  Ducklings, fat balls of brown fluff, appear and scurry around after cautious parents.  Faces turn to a warming sun and spirits are lifted as lazy afternoons are increasingly enjoyed.

The days lengthen and the sun gets hotter as summer takes its turn at the wheel.  Days become lazy as holidays start and the beach becomes a magnet on hot, sweltering afternoons.  The blazing sand roasts delicate toes on the journey from towel to sea.  Shoulders and cheeks turn an intense red with the promise of a painful, uncomfortable night’s sleep.  City buildings and roads radiate heat after the sun retires, keeping the temperature high as people toss and turn in warm,  sweaty sheets.  Air conditioners hum and clank in an attempt to cool inner spaces and children camp out in lounge rooms in an effort to sleep.  In the hills, gully breezes are blessed as windows are flung open and sweet, cool, fresh air is invited inside.  Paddocks and grass begin to dry as the relentless heat continues.  A harmony of sprinklers play after dark in an attempt to keep gardens alive and green.  Relief as nights start to cool and the hint of autumn appears.

Nature’s seasons each have their own beauty and terror but the most amazing thing is that they are all never ending…that ebb and flow of Mother Nature renewing and reinvigorating the earth…..the wheel of life and death.  There are many inspirational things we can take from mother earth….just like the seasons. 

Autumn could be a time of purge….of letting go of the things that bind us, the negative and the unwanted. A time to reflect on the changes we would like to bring about and a cleansing of the mind and spirit. 

Winter would be a time for deep reflection and meditation.  Of pruning back the areas of our lives that have become dead wood, turning within and preparing ourselves for the growth of new and invigorating aspects of our lives that we wish to change.

Spring is when the new seeds of change are sown and the transformation begins.  Tentative at first but becoming stronger and more confident as we embrace our new mindset and grow our thoughts.  Fresh routines become habit as the mind and body settle into newly formed patterns.

Summer would bring time to settle back and bask in our new customs and trains of thought.  A time to reflect on how our changes have affected us and whether the alterations had positive connotations.  Did our transformation affect those close to us and did our tide of change cause ripples or waves…and was it worth it.  And so we would come full circle….ready to once again let go of the things we wish to change or improve. 

If you live your life without embracing the possibilities of improvement, without constantly growing and readjusting or without acknowledging that change is needed, then are you really living…or just existing?  The mighty oak does not display only half its leaves because it is unaware of its full potential….grow and change…progress and develop…learn….and show your full foliage.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them."

This morning I made my annual pilgrimage.  The alarm woke me at 5.30am in the dark and by 6.00am I was out the front door, the first morning glow was just starting to show on the horizon.   My windscreen was iced and I spent several minutes with the heater on full and the wipers going until a space big enough for me to see had cleared. I travelled to a nearby town, parked my car and stepped out into the crisp, fresh morning.  As I moved onto the sidewalk, I turned to look back down the road and I could see many other people, rugged up in coats, beanies pulled over ears, gloved fingers balled into fists and scarves rolled up around necks at an attempt to keep the warmth in and the creeping cold out.

I joined the throng as we all moved like a flowing stream, one destination in our minds. As we turned the corner and got closer to our goal we were joined by more and more, and as we arrived, the sombre crowd was a sight to see.  There were the very young, still in shock at having been pulled from warm slumber and wrestled into hats and coats.  There were teenagers, forming small groups with friends, glad they had someone of their own ilk to be with, deleting the necessity of having to stand with parents.  There were the mothers, fussing over children, making sure warm coats were done up and noses were wiped.  Fathers also were out in force, hands shoved deep in pockets, many wearing medals rewarded to family members – and wearing them with pride.  There were also the elderly, struggling on frames and walking sticks, grateful for the chairs that had been placed for their comfort and ease.

I swallowed a lump that had caught in my throat…it was 6.30 and the service started.  I took a deep breath and stood among the crowd, surrounded by family, friends, acquaintances and strangers as quiet took over and we stood with respect, listening to the service.  I did not join in the hymns…I am not religious and feel a fraud if I pretend.  There was too much religion in the ceremony for my taste but it was all a part of the reverence and esteem that the occasion called for.  I justified it by thinking that many of the people we were there to respect had embraced religion in their everyday lives and many would have found that religion comforting as they faced the horrors and fears that they did.  I have thought for several years now that they need to tone down the religion, and temper it to appeal to a wider audience…especially the younger generations.

The bugle sounded…and silence filled the park.  The sun had started to show above the horizon, and lovely shades of red and yellow started to leak into the sky. I thought of my grandad…of how he might have felt when he first arrived in Pt Moresby.  Luckily he arrived after the fighting had finished and was there for the clean-up operation.  Still, he must have seen some terrible sights…he never spoke about his time in PNG….the images too horrific to be put into words. Witnessing the horror of life on the Kokoda trail too much to bear…and maybe some guilt as he had gotten off so lightly compared to so many others.  War can be devastating in so many ways.

Another lump in my throat as my emotions take over.  A couple of deep breathes and I’m back in control as some of the crowd…the elderly who lived in such a different time and place….stand and sing “God Save The Queen”.  Then, finally, something I feel proud to sing and I join the voices around me as “Advance Australia Fair” rises clear and strong.  I always get emotional when singing the National Anthem.  I love this country and am glad and grateful to have the privilege to call it home.  The people we have come to pay tribute to, fought so we could be free, and deserve our respect….our admiration….and our thanks.  The service ends and the group move off, rambling down the road to the town hall, for a shared breakfast of cold toast lathered with jam or vegemite, tea or coffee topped with rum for those that want to partake, and Anzac biscuits to finish off.

As emotional as the service is for me, it is one that I honour every year and I am extremely proud that my children also attend…a tradition I hope they will also pass on to the next generation….lest we forget.

Monday, 3 February 2014

The billion dollar scam….my two cents worth

My suspicions have been proven.  Over the years the amount of shops and services using gift cards has increased immeasurably.  Now, don’t get me wrong, gift cards are a great idea.  Some can be used in more than one location, the recipient can pick exactly what they would like, it makes it easier to buy for someone who is difficult to buy for and they make the perfect gift for someone living some distance away, so much easier to post. But I have a beef with gift cards and this goes back to the very first gift card I received some years ago… beef is that if not all of the gift is used, then the business or corporation wins….and wins big.  If one million people leave one cent on their gift card - that is one million dollars of pure profit for the company.  Then there is the fine print attached to some cards….must be used within a certain time….can’t be redeemed online….non transferrable….rules that definitely set many people up to fail which means a big win for business.

So my thoughts about the lost millions was correct….but was much more than I ever imagined after an article in the news recently that stated there was over 1.6 billion dollars of unused gift card credit in Australia.  1.6 billion dollars of pure profit that the companies have had to do no more than provide a plastic card and two minutes of salesperson income…..a good way to do business but not so good for consumers.  But how can consumers win?  Well, they can make sure they know the rules for the gift cards they receive, make sure they spend the whole amount (which usually means spending over the amount…another win win situation for businesses) and they have to remember to use them.

But what about all this extra cash….this 1.6 billion dollars??? A service or product has been paid for…shouldn’t a service or product be received??  A charity should be started where people can send their unwanted, unused and left over gift card balance so that cards can be pooled and the money used to benefit charities and those that need it.  Or imagine if companies donated even half of that profit to charity….that would be $800 million dollars….imagine how much help that would be to people in need and how much good that money could do.  Should companies be made liable for unused gift card cash or should they be applauded for good business??  Even if companies did donate half of left over gift card money to charity, that would still leave them with a hefty profit….and good karma. 

Personally I would be more inclined to support a company that donated a percentage of unused gift card cash than a company that didn’t.  And I would be more inclined to purchase gift cards from that company over others.  It would be like a gift that kept on giving…and if someone didn’t use their gift card…then at least you would know that someone needy would benefit and that it wouldn’t just go to an awesome bottom line for corporations.  I may look further into the unused gift card charity idea….something should be done…..


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

You can pick your friends…..

I have been struggling with a notion for months now as it continues to cycle through my head and I try to grapple with my thought process and unravel the threads to make some kind of sense from the muddle…..and what has been causing me so much confusion?? Friendship!  Friends are fantastic….no doubt about it.  And you have different friends for different reasons.  There are friends to confide in, friends to have fun with, friends to shop with or you could have a friend that encompasses all of these….friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for a lifetime…..simple.…or is it?

The thing I am struggling with is when a friend does something or says something that disappoints you.  Your friend may be perfectly fine with what they have done or said..…they may well be within their own moral boundaries….but their actions may have left you feeling disappointed, disillusioned and sometimes completely gobsmacked.  The issue though is that the disappointment is your reaction, the way the situation has affected you and not something that should be blamed on someone else….they have acted how they wish and it is your issue if you do not agree.  But how does this affect the friendship??

I am guessing that people’s reactions would be wide and varied and it would depend on the individuals and the situation.  Of course, most people have a line and once it is crossed, there is no forgiving and there is no longer a friendship.  That line would be different for everyone and would have to be fairly major in my books… murder or drug running or sleeping with your partner.  But it’s the other little things that sometimes wear you down…..maybe the way they act when they get tipsy, or that it is always you that pays for coffee or you that always has to ring them.   The niggling thought that has been bothering me is that friendships are broken over our reactions….our feelings…our boundaries.  Shouldn’t everyone be free to make their own decisions….to have their own opinions…..make their own mistakes?? And if they have made the decision, the opinion, the mistake, then shouldn’t we accept that because it is a part of that person….that friend??  How hard…or easy…. is it to overlook the annoying little things??

I am sure this has been the cause of many friendship breakdowns and I can understand why…because sometimes it is very hard to leave your own expectations on the sidelines when it comes to how you think things should be done.  Therefore, do we pick friends that we think will have the same moral ethics that we do or because they make us laugh or because they are good in a crisis?  What attracts us to our friends??  And do we forgive one friend for something that another would not get away with??  And on the flip side……what kind of friend are we to others???

You can pick your friends,
You can pick your nose,
But you can’t pick your friend’s nose!


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Trash and treasure……

Today I did something that I haven’t done for a long time….I visited the ocean.  Not very exciting you may comment, but for me it was an exceptional visit. 

It was two days ago when I shockingly realised that I had not been to the beach, not even sighted the ocean for over a year.  Something that is very unusual for me.  I grew up in a seaside town and so was constantly surrounded by the ocean and ocean activities.  Summers were spent on the seaweed strewn beach getting increasingly browned by the summer sun.  We also had a shack about 45 minutes’ drive away and many weekends, both summer and winter, were spent here….swimming, fishing, crabbing, catching worms, watching out for snakes and just being free to be kids immersed in nature.

As I grew older and moved to the city, which was still situated on the coast, my seaside visits became less and less as other mundane and necessary events of life filled my hours.  We still visited the beach during summer, mostly on hot balmy nights to gain some relief from the relentless heat waves and more often drove the seaside route from where we lived to Glenelg and back, the equivalent of a “Mainy” back home where cars filled with teenagers would drive from the round-a-bout at one end of town, down the “main” street…often admiring the reflection of their cars in shop windows…. along the beach, and then back to the round-a-bout…over and over……sometimes parking along the beach car park to catch up with friends, or have quiet time with girlfriends….and often honking and beeping to other friends in cars as they passed along the Mainy going in different directions.

Once children arrived, visits to the beach were still enjoyed but there wasn’t much time for peaceful solitude as I constantly counted heads, made sure sunscreen was topped up, struggled to keep sand out of food and drinks and always seeming to carry half the beach back in the car, boot and bathers.

I love visiting the beach by myself.  The first deep breath as the pungent smell of sea salt assaults my nose and I breathe deeply, closing my eyes…face to the wind as it whips my hair back and flattens my clothes against my body.  I walk eagerly down to the sand, slipping my shoes off, and stand on the wet sand as the waves roll in and the sound of the ocean breathing shuts out all other sounds and intrusions.  I breathe deeply and feel the waves rolling backwards and forwards.  Their salty brine washing out any negative feelings and the fresh, salty air carries away all my worries and troubles.  My toes work with a mind of their own as they dig down into the soft sand, anchoring me against the tides pull.

As I walk slowly along the beach, I can’t help but look for rubbish.  Growing up on the beach my mother passed on to me her passion of keeping beaches clean.  I have always had a love of beachcombing because as you look for trash…..papers, fishing line, broken bottles, you can also find the most amazing treasures…..beautiful shells, faded pieces of driftwood, not to mention man made treasures….I once found $10, wet and soggy as it was paper money then, but $10 none the less. 

My walk along the beach today yielded only a little trash, a lolly wrapper, a McDonalds straw and two beer bottle bottoms which pleased me immensely.  It was wonderful not to be confronted with a beach littered with rubbish or debris.  I reflected on what a wonderful country I lived in, and how grateful I was for the opportunities and choices I was free to make. 

The night before had been a high tide and there were not too many treasures to be found.  The sand was washed smooth and yielded only what I could fathom to be pieces of seaweed but more pod like and bright green.  They covered the beach in looping patterns like Christmas lights where the tide had risen up and left them.  There weren’t too many shells to be found….this particular beach was usually a popular one and treasures such as shells are always coveted by the chubby fingers of young children and invariably taken home to be proudly displayed.  I did manage to find one shell, half buried in the sand and a small feather, plucked from a seabird of which I had no idea what kind.

There were few people on the beach as I slowly strolled, lost in my thoughts but it was a wonderful time to be on the sand.   It wasn’t hot, but neither was it cool. The water was warm, but the pull of the waves was strong…I only witnessed one person brave enough to venture out…but only to his waist before he returned.  The wind was strong but I embraced it….almost challenging….to blow out my cobwebs, renew my verve and ready me for the year ahead.  The visit to the sea was a gift to myself to help me embrace the year that was beginning to unfold, and to strengthen me to face whatever it holds.  I promised myself I would not let another year go by before I returned…perhaps to a different beach…but I promised myself I would because the calm and serenity I feel when I leave, is always well worth the trip…..and I even managed to leave the sand where it was supposed to be…and not in my car.


Monday, 16 December 2013

Fat bottomed girls……

On the weekend I saw something that disturbed me.  And the more I thought about it, the more disturbed I became.  I was visiting a nationwide chain department store and my daughter and I were browsing through the ladies section when we came across a rack of clothes that made me do a second take.  As usual, you scan the rack of clothes to look for material, patterns or styles of clothes that catch your eye but when I looked at the small, coloured, sizing clips on the top of the hanger, I received a surprise.  The sizes on the rack went 4,6,8,12 etc.  I looked again, checked which section we were in, then pulled out one of the “4”s.  The design could have been adult but could well have been a tween design also…shoestring straps, midriff cut, frill around the bottom, the material was nice and after checking the size of the item, it was clearly marked 4.  I checked some other racks in the same area and found more hanger sizing that started with 4,6,8.

My first thought was a puzzled “What the??” My next thought was “Has the world gone mad?”  My thoughts since then have been “Why?”  Any women shopper knows that sizing is definitely not universal.  What could be a size 12 in one brand could be a size 10 or 14 in another brand…and don’t get me started on the whole S, M, L sizing! Also sizing changes from country to country…you only have to pick up a fashion mag to see skin and bone models wearing size 0’s.  Is this where we are heading??  Is this the message we want to give to Australian women?  Have some of the brands in this nationwide chain store started reducing their sizes to accommodate to the increasingly skinny sized frames of women – Definitely not if you believe the national consensus that obesity is on the increase.  Or is it just another way that the so called importance of image is being shoved down our throats just to make us even more subconscious and guilty about the way we look?

I have a teenage daughter and I hope that I am succeeding in teaching her how to be confident and to have self-worth without having to starve herself to be stick thin.  Skinny models are everywhere you look, and in every magazine or paper you look at and in every ad and program on TV.  When is enough going to be enough?  I thought that the sizing in women’s clothes were adequate enough……obviously, I was wrong!

Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin’world go round….



Tuesday, 10 December 2013

I believe the children are the future….

It seems poignant that I was thinking of Nelson Mandela only weeks before his death…..but let me start at the beginning…..

I have seen several TV programs recently that started to make me think about children and how we influence them.   The first program I saw was about the skinhead movement in America.  It shadowed a well-known speaker as he moved within the skinhead society, speaking at rallies and promoting the white nation notion.  This program disturbed me deeply as it showed instances where children were subjected to their parents ideas and prejudices pertaining to anyone that was not white….ie coloureds, Jews, Hispanics…and when they discovered that the interviewee was possibly a Jew, they were visibly upset and disgusted that they had been so “violated”.  I couldn’t believe that people still thought this way, that they were teaching their children to think this way.  That they could hold such hate for a people that they knew nothing about….and that they were passing this hatred to their children.

And it showed in their children….and that is what I found so sad….and so disturbing.  They had been raised to believe that coloured people and Jews, in particular, were races of people that needed to be wiped out completely and that they had nothing to offer to society….that they were dirty, stupid, incompetent and should be wiped out.  The hate that the children showed was so sad to me, and something so obviously taught to them by their parents.

The second program I saw was about the Amish society which is a way of life that has fascinated me.  The program showed an Amish family and the daily life that they followed.  The program was filmed in secret because if their church found out that they were speaking to a TV program and being filmed, they would be shunned by their society and they would be forced to become outsiders.  A big risk to take when their views and beliefs were on the line. 

This family lived without electricity, TV, telephones or computers as were the rules of their religion but in some ways they were trying to introduce some elements into their family life to make it a little easier.  Once again I was struck by how the parent’s lifestyle and beliefs were ingrained in their children from an early age and how much influence this was having on their children’s psyche.  These children were being bought up with good ideals, but their ideals were restrained within their restricted community.

A third program I saw was about the most hated family in the USA.  This family followed the religious ideals of the patriarch of the family and they shunned anyone that did not embrace their religion.  They were happy when people got ill, when natural disasters happened and when 911 happened.  They believe that if something bad happened to you, then you must have sinned and deserved to die.  That they live the ultimately perfect life and that they are the only people going to heaven.  Once again I was saddened by the children caught up in this religion.  Children forced to believe what they were told until it became the truth to them.

Children are like sponges.  They absorb everything around them.  They will suck in and believe what they are exposed to…...whether it is good or bad.  Parents need to understand that they do not own their children. They are only custodians of their health and wellbeing until they are old enough to make their own decisions. Children are their own people and circumstances that affect their growing up…linger long into their adulthood….and affect them in so many ways.  Is it not our duty to show the children of the world as much of the world that we can?  We need to expose them to as many of the different lifestyles, religions and ways of life that fill our world so that they can then make their own unbiased decisions once they reach adulthood…without prejudice.  I came across this quote from Nelson Mandela…and it summed up everything for me….

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

It is so simple as a concept, but so mind boggling as a world ideal of peace, tolerance and acceptance.  So easy, and yet so difficult.  Like Mandela, I dream of a world where people are accepted no matter how they look, how they live, how they talk or what they believe.  And I believe that the key to this dream….is in our children.  Teach them to accept…and the dream with become reality.  Nelson Mandela was an amazing person.  May his dreams and hopes for a better world become a reality.

I believe the children are the future,
Teach them well and let them lead the way…..