A Much-Needed Break

COVID-19 restrictions were recently eased in our area, just in time for us to make the most of us both having four days off work.

We took the opportunity to sneak away for a break and headed down the coast with our friends, caravans in tow, phones switched onto silent, and four days’ worth of food, drinks and comfy old clothes ready to go.

At this point of 2020, we fully realise what a luxury four days away from home really is. After months of staying home, teaching from home, and only leaving home when absolutely necessary, the change of scenery was most welcome. Of course, Melbourne and its surrounding area are still under restrictions, so this is a privilege most people in my state do not have. I do feel sympathy for them, but not sufficiently to forgo the pleasure of my first real break since January.

We are camped at the little coastal hamlet of Yambuk on the south-western coast of Victoria. It’s a picturesque little spot, overlooking a lake that is kept separate from the ocean only by sand dunes. We can see the ocean beyond the dunes, hear it murmuring all night as we rest, and easily walk to the beach whenever we so desire. The lake has a bird population of a dozen gulls and one magnificent pelican, while our campsite has several blue wrens that keep us entertained.

Not that I need much for entertainment. I’m happy to gaze at the sea, or the birds, or watch the sun dip behind the dunes as dusk cloaks the countryside with a blanket of almost-but-not-quite-darkness, illuminated by stars and a full moon so bright you could almost read by it.

I had planned to record and upload a couple of spooky stories for Halloween, but the phone signal is so low, I can’t even upload images to Instagram unless I drive twenty minutes to a bigger town. This would usually frustrate me but, this weekend, I really don’t care. So, I put my phone down and decided I would also take a good break from screens.

I have taken the opportunity to walk, to nap, to read books, to do puzzles, and to sit in companionable silence with my friend. I have managed to get a few nice photos. I have taken time to contemplate the huge differences in my life between last January and now. I don’t know if this year has changed me, but it has changed lots of things for me.

I suppose I am stronger, but I don’t feel it. It’s going to take more than four days to heal that amount of damage, but at least I’ve made a bit of a start.

I’m very thankful for this beautiful place and the time off that made this little getaway possible.

Most of all, I am thankful for the people who are willing to nourish me physically and spiritually, and to hold my hand or encourage me while giving me time and space to work on myself. I am blessed to have some of those people right here with me this weekend, while others are still on the other side of closed borders. It may have been one of the most rubbish years ever, but I am richly blessed to have some amazing people in my life to help me get through it.

This post and its pictures actually uploaded after who-knows-how-many attempts. I had actually given up and put my phone down again, and noticed some time later that it has uploaded. And they say miracles don’t happen!

Chasing Waterfalls.

In wilful defiance of TLC’s advice, we spent today chasing waterfalls. Thankfully, though, we were visiting real waterfalls rather than metaphorical ones. 

It was great to get out in the sunshine and fresh air, and to enjoy a change of scenery after months of social restrictions and another term of teaching from home. 

I visited both Nigretta Falls and Wannon Falls near Hamilton, Victoria, with my bestie in July, but my husband hadn’t been there before, so it was nice to be able to visit with him. 

Western Victoria has had a lot of rain the past couple of weeks, so the falls were both far more spectacular than they were in July. The volume of water at Nigretta Falls actually made it look completely different than it did just a few months ago. Wannon Falls had more water, but still looked much the same. 

While watching the water cascading over Wannon Falls and flowing away, I spotted one resilient little tree growing in the river. It is barely visible in the bottom corner of the image above, but it’s there.

I thought about how the river just washes around it and keeps going, but rather than being washed away, that little tree stands its ground. The rocks around it may give it some protection and reduce the drag of the water, but even so, it must have very good roots. 

It occurred to me that I am a bit like that tree. 

This year has been a powerful and relentless river, and the last four months in particular have swollen that river with a lot of extra rain.  I’ve learned to stand my ground and, to purposefully allow many of the pressures of life to just pass me by. I’ve had to. My priority has been to just hang on and try to not get completely overwhelmed and washed away.

Chances are, without the rocks around me, I might have been broken or got washed away. I am so thankful for those people who have supported and protected me. I’m thankful for the powerful roots and protective rocks of faith, family and friends who have held me and sheltered me, each one of them helping to deflect the water in their own way.  

Hopefully, the floodwaters will recede soon and both that little tree and I can start to grow and flourish rather than merely surviving.

Chasing Waterfalls.
#LifeLessons #thoughts #grief #resilience

A Day For Healing.

Today was a day for healing. 

After several absolutely brutal weeks, my bestie and I headed out to spend the day together— a day just for us. 

We didn’t talk about grief, or death, or funerals, or wills, or medical treatments. We just enjoyed each other’s company and pretended as much as we could that the rest of life and corona and lockdowns and work and pretty much everything else was not happening. 

Don’t get me wrong, though. We sanitised , we distanced, we avoided people as much as we could. We’re neither stupid nor irresponsible. 

We drove up-country and visited places we haven’t been to before. 

We stopped in a little country town, took some photos, bought a Coke, and kept going.

We stood on top of a mountain — well, technically it’s a dormant volcano, albeit not a very big one— and saw as far as we could see. We watched in silence as a wallaby fossicked for sweet blades of grass to eat, then hopped away. We listening to birdsong and tried to work out how many different birds we could hear. 

We visited a bookstore, as we always do on our expeditions, and we both found a couple of new treasures to bring home with us. 

We visited two different waterfalls about 9 kilometres apart on the same river, and looked at rocks and water and cascades and lichen and soil profiles. 

We ate lunch as we watched the water running and leaping its way down the rock face, and as we watched other visitors walk all the way down to the river bank and back up again. That’s a great way to wear out the kids during school holidays! We packed up our rubbish, along with some left behind by some other less considerate visitors to the park, and put it in the car to bring home with us, then returned to the falls to take photos. 

We watched the most delightful older couple walk hand in hand as they explored the park around the waterfalls, obviously as delighted with each other’s company as they were when they first met. She used a walking stick with her other hand, and he carried two umbrellas. The way they looked at each other was just adorable. 

We looked at trees and enjoyed their beauty, their shapes, and their different profiles. Then we drove down country lanes where the gum trees on either side almost made a tunnel and commented on how magical and beautiful that felt.

We found a campground we want to go and stay at. It’s nestled in the bush near one of the waterfalls, and it’s just natural and quiet and beautiful. 

We met a lady with a gorgeous little dog named Milo, who insisted on wrapping his lead around my legs not once, not twice, but three times. We laughed. 

Oh, it felt so good to laugh. It felt so good to breathe fresh air, to not feel pressure from time or commitments or places and things that reminded me of my losses. 

It felt so good to just be. No responsibilities, no demands. Breathing deeply, enjoying the moment, and feeling refreshed. I can’t remember the last time I was able to do that. 

I am so blessed to have a friend with whom I can share days like today, but who has also supported me so faithfully through the trauma of the past few weeks. She has been an absolute rock for me, and I am thankful.

I am blessed to live in a place where I can go and spend time in nature and feel at peace there. I’m very blessed to not be in an area that is locked down, as Melbourne has been once again. 

Today didn’t make all those other things go away — far from it. But it gave me time to breathe, and it was very good therapy. 

A Day For Healing.
#therapy #emotions #grief #trees #waterfalls #personal #reflection #blogpost

Upside Down.

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

My father and one of my closest friends recently passed away within five days of each other. In fact, Helen died on the afternoon of Dad’s funeral. It was too much loss. It was too painful. It was definitely too soon and too final. And “upside down” is exactly how I felt then and still feel now.

As always, my feelings have turned into poetry.

I wrote this poem on the morning of Helen’s funeral. It was impossible to contemplate one without revisiting the other in my mind.

So, this poem is for both of them.

Upside Down.
#grief #emotions #poetrylovers #poem #personal #blogpost

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

I don’t know how to do this.
I don’t want to say goodbye,
But I have no choice,
You have taken your wings,
And I have to let you fly. 

In a moment you were gone
And life turned upside down;
Too soon. Too final.
And now we gather to lay you
To rest in the lonely ground.

The grave seems so absolute,
Stark proof you’re really gone:
It’s a mystery
That your life can be over
And yet, your soul lives on.

Your life is now in heaven,
Eternal peace and rest,
My comfort is knowing
You’re in Jesus’ arms
Safely treasured, fully blessed.

Life here without you is hollow,
The days all seem so long,
I have grown weary of cliches
And platitudes
That feel so empty and wrong.

The future is bleak without you, 
I don’t know what life will be, 
But…

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Remembrance, Always.

Always & Remembrance: are the two Willow Tree figures I have chosen in memory of two significant people in my life: my father, and one of my closest friends, who graduated to heaven five days apart.

These two lovely figurines now have pride of place in my special cabinet to remind me daily of these beautiful people and the incredible love I have for them both.

Chalking One Up For Positivity

Who knew a few pieces of chalk and a positive message could make such a difference?

This is one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. 

It’s cheerful, and simple, and sincere, and it’s just so beautiful. 

In the midst of these bleak and socially-distanced times, these messages are a delightful trend that is bringing heartfelt encouragement to communities. 

This story comes from ABC News, Australia. 

Chalking One Up For Positivity!
#StayingHome #StayingPositive #positivemood #PositiveVibesOnly

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Positive Things We Should All Be Doing While Staying Home

Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that add up to make a huge difference.

While many of us are staying in and working from home in the interests of slowing down this drafted virus, there are some important positive things we should all be doing at this time of social distancing and isolation during the time of Covid-19. 

The good news is that you don’t even have to leave home to do them. 

Some of the positive things we should all be doing include:

  • Check on your older family members. They are susceptible to loneliness at the best of times, and this is definitely not the best of times. 
  • Check on your extroverted family members and friends. They are probably already a little stir crazy, and it’s nowhere near over yet. 
  • Sincerely thanking everyone you know who works in the health
    profession, in a supermarket or pharmacy, or who drives a truck delivering the produce and goods that we are all relying on. They are the ones making it possible for us to stay home and stay safe. 
  • Share encouragement, kindness, and support, instead of germs. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make that stuff go viral?
  • Social media is full of parents who have suddenly found themselves homeschooling their kids and wondering what level of purgatory they have landed in. Now is a great time to send a message of thanks to your kids’ teachers, acknowledging what an incredible job they have been doing.
  • Take care of yourself. Nutrition, hygiene, exercise, and fresh air and sunshine are all super important. 
  • Sharing great ideas and resources for things to entertain, teach, inspire and motivate. It’s not just kids needing something constructive to do— there are plenty of bored grownups out there, too.  Can you imagine how different a place Facebook and Twitter might be if we filled them with cool posts to help each other instead of all the complaints that seem to be there? 
  • When a friend shares something good on their feed, give it a thumbs up or a heart, and share it around. If you enjoyed it, you can bet there’s someone else out there who will benefit from it, too!
  • Support local small business. Now more than ever, your local stores need your support. When you have to go out and restock the pantry or replace something that has broken, buy local, support your neighbourhood businesses, and keep the community going. It can’t be said often enough: your $50 or $100 won’t actually mean much to a huge multinational company, but it will make an enormous difference to a family business that is endangered in this current economic climate. You’ll help to feed or clothe someone’s kids, or keep the lights on. 

These might sound like quite basic ideas, but it’s so easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when things seem dire. A bit of positivity here and there adds up to a mindset that can completely change your day, or your perspective. Give it a go! 

Positive Things We Should All Be Doing While #StayingHome
#StayHomeandStaySafe #positive #stayingpositive #PositivePosts

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

As The Year Ends

Like any year, 2019 had some great moments and some wonderful memorable have been made. 

Among my favourite memories are performing in Monty Python’s Spamalot! with the amazing Camperdown Theatre Company, weekend escapes camping by the beach with our closest friends, my bestie and I kidnapping each other and running away for a day or two at a time, and my own production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor TM Dreamcoat. I had three new books published, and am very proud of each of them. 


I am incredibly thankful for good friends, for those who believe in me, and for the encouragement I have received from both friends and strangers. I am blessed to be loved as fully and enthusiastically as I am. 

The past year has also left some scars that, while they may fade with time, will never truly heal. I do not wish to dwell on those, especially here. Even so, I will say in no uncertain terms — and not for the first time — that cancer, chronic illness, liars, backstabbers, and two-faced people can all improve the world by disappearing and not coming back. 

Here’s to closing the door on what has passed, and welcoming new beginnings and opportunities in the year ahead! 



Taking The Bad With The Good

I have spent this morning contemplating the ways in which life can be so good and so utterly awful at the same time. 

Life offers many wonderful experiences, opportunities and pleasures. Some of those are simple, some are constant, and others are once-in-a-lifetime events. Little things happen every day that can really blow your mind when you stop taking them for granted. 

One of my most constant joys is that I am blessed with wonderful friends. Sure, I’ve known the pain of broken friendships, and the shock of discovering someone who I thought was a friend was the exact opposite of that. But I am also enormously blessed and privileged, because I have some of the most amazingly loyal, loving, supportive, and caring friends on the planet.

At the same time, everyone in my circle of closest friends is struggling with something awful. There have been victories, there have been defeats. There are ongoing issues that don’t look as though there will be resolution or healing anytime soon. Those friends would all consider that I am in that same boat with my chronic pain and spinal health issues.

Everyone suffers something awful at some point in their life. The hard times are balanced and put into perspective by great days, wonderful experiences, and the love and encouragement of those near and dear to us.

Still, the news I received from one of my closest friends this morning was particularly devastating. She has taken this news the same way she has dealt with her entire battle against her illness: in true warrior style. Although her future is unsure, her faith and courage are not. I am so inspired by her attitude and her strength. 

I feel as though I am the complete opposite of that. I’m full of tears and anger and questions and fear. I cried more than she did during our phone call. There is no point in pretending though, because this is all part of the grief process and it’s not healthy for anyone to suppress any of that. 

I don’t know what the coming weeks or months hold, but I do know one thing: I don’t want her to die. I don’t want to be without her. And I know that is a sentiment shared by every member of the family and probably everyone who knows her. 

I am keenly aware of not putting the cart before the horse, and treating her as though she’s already on her death bed. Although painfully aware that is the likely outcome, I will keep hoping and praying reminding myself that it might not come to that because I do still believe in miracles. I want to make every opportunity, shared moment and experience count. We already have a lifetime of memories together, and because I treasure her and her friendship so much, I want to make more. They don’t have to be big or magical. They just have to be.

So, as far as is possible, I will embrace and make the most of the joys while never forgetting or praying against the bad. None of us knows the number of our days, but we can do everything in our power to make every one of them count. 

It’s not about denial. It’s all about focusing on the good while living with the bad. There are no rules against tears, or frustration, or hating on whatever hurts. The only thing I refuse to do is give in to it and let it steal what is good, too. 

PS: Please don’t feel sorry for me. I am truly blessed – just very human.

One Less Star.

A couple of years ago, a friend asked a question on Facebook: “What difference would it make if I wasn’t here anymore?”

I wrote this poem for him.

I also wrote it for those who had never asked me the question — well, not that I know of, at least — and left of their own accord.

Because it is Suicide Prevention Week worldwide, it’s a very appropriate time to share this poem with you. I hope it encourages you.

Just so you know, my friend stayed. And I’m very glad he did.

And if you’re ever in that situation, I hope you will stay, too.

©Promo X One Less Star plain

Tonight
Through the tears
That sprang from your pain
And fell from my eyes,
I looked into the sky
Where there was one less star shining,
And I wept for the world
Where life carries on
Just that bit darker
Than before
You left.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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img_3407This poem and fifty others are now published in a new collection: The Passing Of The Night.

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