Pieces Falling Into Place

A complicated puzzle became both a memorial and an allegory for my grief journey and my life.

I’ve been working on a beautiful jigsaw puzzle over the past month. I chose it in honour of Helen, because she and I often did puzzles together. In fact, this was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve done without Helen in probably twenty years. I also chose it for my dad, who would have loved both the map and the fact it was created by a Dutchman. 

The image is an antique map of the known world, complete with solar systems and representations of the four elements; highlighted with gold embellishments. It was created by F. De Wit in Amsterdam in 1663, and the puzzle was produced by Hinkler Mindbogglers. Boy oh boy, did they get that branding right! 

It really was a mind boggling challenge. Intricate lines, many pieces that still looked almost the same, and corner and edge pieces that were almost identical to one another made putting this puzzle together quite the labour of love. 

Mind boggling, to say the least!

Piece by piece, though, it started to happen. It is no understatement to say that I felt a profound sense of achievement when I finished a section and could anticipate how beautiful the whole thing was going to look. 

Piece by piece, it started to come together…

Doing the puzzle in honour of Helen and my father gave me purpose, but the concentration it required and the distraction from other things in life gave me a sense of mindfulness and peace that really helped me in my day to day life. 

Almost there! But those last couple of hundred pieces were the hardest!

Dealing with my grief and managing tasks related to Dad’s estate were somewhat complicated by the challenges of teaching online again during Victoria’s second major Covid-19 lockdown, but working from home also gave me the space I needed to do those things and start to heal. 

In many ways, that puzzle became an allegory for my own life. I was putting those pieces together too, seeing how things fit and getting an idea of how things would look. I too have intricate lines and a complex design that needs to be observed carefully in order to achieve the desired outcome. My life is full of pieces that fit together neatly, and it’s up to me to make sure I get that right. 

So, while the puzzle on the table is complete, the puzzle that is me is still a work in progress. 

A beautiful picture indeed!

Today marks thirteen weeks since my dad graduated to heaven. Thursday marks the same interval for Helen. 

Three months seemed like an appropriate goal for completing the puzzle, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction at having done so.

This week, I will make arrangements to have it framed. 

When it is hanging on my wall, it will be a daily reminder that doing life well is a process, not an event. It will remind me that every piece matters. And it will remind me of my love for Dad and for Helen, of their love for me.  

I am so blessed to have known and loved them both, and to have been loved by them. The pieces they contributed to the puzzle of my life have helped to make it a thing of beauty. For that, I am very, very thankful. 

I know that as the pieces of life continue falling into place and fitting back together, my grief will remain present, but it will change. It will transform to become a part of the bigger picture, while keeping its own shape and character. In time, it will be differently painful, but the picture of my life would be incomplete with out it. In its place, fitting in with the pieces that represent joy, achievement, love, and hope, it adds its own detail, texture and embellishment to the canvas. 

Happy National Teddy Bear Day!

Happy National Teddy Bear Day!

This is a celebration I can get right behind, because every day is Teddy Bear Day in my house!

I actually have a beautiful collection of Charlie Bears, who not only adorn my house but help me market my books on Instagram.

To see all my beary bookish posts, follow the hashtag #abearandabook on Instagram.

They are beautifully made and delightful to hold, and their faces are so expressive!

Some of my bears mark special occasions. Others are rescues, having been adopted from other people who no longer want them. As I keep telling my husband, our home provides an important service as a refuge for orphaned bears. And others, I have bought because I just fell in love with them when I saw them.

Benson: my first Charlie Bear.

If you’re interested in seeing my bear collection, there are photos of them all on my Pinterest board titled ‘Bear Collection’. There are some that are not Charlie Bears, because I already had a small collection of other bears before I discovered Benson, my first Charlie Bear, in a shop and was forced – forced, I tell you! – to bring him home with me and love him forever.

In additional acts of service to teddy bears, I’ve inspired my cousin and my sister to start collecting Charlie Bears. Between us, we’re saving the world, one bear at a time.

And in case you were wondering, the collective noun for teddy bears is a hug.

My Souvenirs.

Yesterday, I wrote about completing thef tasks I needed to do after my father’s passing. That included rehoming a number of his things, including two bookshelves that have been in our family longer than me, the art prints that Mum and Dad loved to have on their walls, and personal things like his bed and his walker. 

I don’t know how many times I told my siblings that I wasn’t sentimental about giving away things we didn’t need, or selling the things worth money, via buy/swap/sell groups on Facebook. There are people out there who needed them more than we did. That was mostly true. 

I have kept Dad’s hat and his walking stick. I don’t need them, but they are so iconic of him in the last few years that they are deeply meaningful to me. Those are things that he held and wore most days. They identified him at any distance, and had become part of his identity to everyone who saw him when he was out and about. 

My beloved Dad in March, 2020.

These things are my souvenirs, tangible holders of memory, and valued physical symbols of my no-longer-present, much loved father dad. 

On Eagle’s Wings.

Today’s important task was to finalise the wording for the plaque on Dad’s half of the headstone he shares with Mum, so that we could order it and have it done. 

Most of the inscription was easy enough – name, dates of birth and death, and “loving husband of Anne”. 

The challenge for my brother, sisters and myself was which bible verse to include. We knew Dad’s favourite passage was Romans 8, but that was way too long, and far too complex, to include or even simplify. We’re limited to 10-12 words, so it needed to be short but still meaningful, and reflect Dad’s faith as his final message.

There were some really good suggestions made. 

This morning I texted my siblings a list of the “top eight” for their consideration and vote. 

As it turned out, the decision almost made itself when my sister asked, “Why don’t we just continue the verse that’s on Mum’s?”

The simplicity and beauty of that idea took my breath. Mum’s side of the plaque has the first line of Isaiah 40:31 “They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength”. 

It was the verse that Dad chose for Mum’s inscription, so we knew Dad would have approved. It was a way of embracing their unity, too. They shared 58 years of marriage, they shared five different homes in that time, and they shared four amazing and super-talented children. Now, their earthly remains share a final resting place while their souls share eternity in heaven. Sharing such a beautiful Scripture on their headstone seemed to be a lovely reflection of their shared faith.

Still, it was another reminder that Dad is gone, another challenge to meet head on, and another emotional hurdle to overleap.

Feeling the weight of the moment, I went for a drive to one of my favourite thinking places: on top of Mt Leura, overlooking Camperdown and the volcanic plains and lakes of the area, where I have sat and thought, or taken photos, or walked, or written, or listened, or prayed, or rested,  or had dinner before a theatre company rehearsal, at least a hundred times. 

The inscription we chose for Dad’s plaque.

I typed up the text of the inscription for Dad’s plaque, ready for ordering. I knew the words, and I am pro at typing, but still, that was hard. 

“Maybe I shouldn’t be on my own right now,” I whispered to nobody but me. 

I got out of the car, and walked the short distance up to the top of the lookout.

And then, for the first time ever in all the times I have been there, a wedge-tailed eagle flew overhead, soaring in the sky above me. 

It was there, and then it was gone. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t even manage to get my phone out of my pocket in time. I so wish I had, though. 

I’m not the biggest believer in coincidences. In that moment, I accepted it as a sign: a reminder that although I was by myself, I wasn’t actually alone at that point in time. 

Hm. I think there’s a poem in that.

On Eagle’s Wings.
#TrueStory #MyLife #grief #coincidence #eagle #personal #blogpost

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.

Meet My Home Office Team

I’d be lost without the support of my brilliant team.

In my endeavours to work and teach from home, I am supported by a highly competent and very specialised team. It’s fair to say my home office environment would not be the same without them. 

Human Resources Manager: Scout

Scout’s vision is to head an organisation that exists to serve. Not one for sitting on the fence, she is unashamed about demanding efficiency and expecting 100% compliance. She is an expert manager of her Human Resources and is proficient at making them do exactly what she wants them to. Current levels of isolation and social restriction have made little difference to her management style, and she continues to dispatch any unwanted guests of the smaller variety with impressive alacrity. 

Scout started here as a junior in July, 2006, and has leapt from height to height since then. She proudly acknowledges that she is, in fact, the cat’s whiskers around here.

Office Manager and Head of Security: Abbey 

Abbey has a range of responsibilities, but dislikes being described as a ‘general dog’s body’. She oversees security, makes regular inspections of the yard and monitors all entrances and exits with careful attention, Abbey takes motivating all team members almost as seriously as ensuring that every meal and snack is thoroughly Lab tested. Abbey consistently demonstrates a level of loyalty and commitment that goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is also a most excellent listener, and regularly provides great counselling and support. 

Abbey started here as a junior in November, 2007, stepping eagerly into the role sadly left vacant by her predecessor, Chiara. At this point in time, she has no plans to retire, and we embrace her presence here for as long as she is willing and able to stay.

These wonderful team members have a very strong rapport and consistently demonstrate genuine mutual admiration and respect. They work really well together, each bringing their unique talents and abilities to the job and complementing one another perfectly. 

I’m sure you’ll agree, I have a sensational team! 

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Just. Stay. Home.

Here’s a Public Service Announcement for everyone thinking of breaking out of isolation and going somewhere else for the Easter weekend, especially those Australians who seem to think that the rules apply to everyone but them.

Just. Stay. Home.

And the places you’re thinking of going? They don’t want you there at this point in time. 

Sure, spending the long weekend at home with the same people might be boring, but aren’t they the people you’re thinking of going away with for the weekend? Maybe it’s home itself that is boring. Consider, though, that it’s also safe, because it’s keeping you out of the way of that nasty corona virus and any other germs that might be doing the rounds. 

Yes, it’s inconvenient. But it’s no more inconvenient or uncomfortable for you than it is for anyone else. 

People selfishly ignoring the rules, going out and potentially spreading germs all over the place is why we have such strict isolation rules now. 

And, you know, it’s an investment in everyone’s future. 

Some of us have elderly family members that we’re trying to keep alive long enough to be able to see and hug their children and grandkids at Christmas, if this is all over by then. 
Some of us have family members whose immunity is compromised by illness, or chemotherapy, or their own unique biology. We’d like to keep them alive, too. 
Some of us have chronic illnesses that make us susceptible to every bug that floats past our noses. Given that we already battle significant health issues every day of our lives, we’d prefer to not add Covid-19 to that list. 

So when selfish, ignorant people insist on travelling places where they don’t live — whether it’s to deplete our shops of the essentials that are in short supply everywhere (thanks for that by the way, we didn’t need toilet paper this past fortnight) or hang out on the beaches or lake shores or in the parks — and so disrespect the boundaries that the government has established to keep everyone healthy and safe, we get more than a little annoyed. 

Because the rest of us are staying home, too. And we would like to be able to eventually see and hug our families and friends. We’d like to be able to go to a cafe or restaurant, or meet with friends at the pub. We’d like to be able to browse a real bookstore with real books in it, or go shopping for things like clothes or shoes without worrying about whose health we might be endangering. 

And let’s face it – most people who have lost their jobs because of this pandemic would like them back, sooner rather than later. Essential workers would like to be able to go to work and come home not worrying about what they’re exposed to every day. 

The more selfish prats who insist on going to the beach or driving some tourist route instead of just staying home, the longer and harder the lockdown is going to be. 

So please, for the love of everything good in this world, stay home. 

If home is “boring”, that says a lot more about your imagination than you realise. If you decide something will be boring, guess what? It will be. 

Making changes or finding and introducing new opportunities for entertaining yourselves at home is entirely within your control. So if you’re bored, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself. 

Consider this long weekend your opportunity to change your attitude and your environment, not your location. 

Please: #StayHome this #EasterWeekend #EasterWeekendlockdownchallenge #StayHomeAustralia #StayingHomeStaySafe

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

What do you want for Christmas?

<a href="Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/congerdesign-509903/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2991174">congerdesign</a&gt; from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2991174">Pixabay
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

This post caught my attention today because it echoes many of my own thoughts and feelings about the gifts I’ll be giving – and receiving – at Christmas.

I’m keen to give people what they want and what they need for Christmas, rather than spending money on something they won’t value. I’m also increasingly aware of the level of waste and discarded goods that are piling up on our planet.

So, this year, I have gone a little green in my requests and in my shopping.

My gift request of my husband was to buy me a couple of trees for our yard. The first one I chose is a maple, as anyone who knows me would assume,- and the other is a spruce that we can use as a real-life Christmas tree each year, and dress it up in the garden. Both hearken to my love for Canada and the very happy memories I have made there. I am unable to travel there at the moment, so why not add a little more Canada to my home? While some might say that I should only be planting Australian species, I would argue that tree is a tree, and any tree is better for the planet than having none. And in this case, two trees are better than one!

Without disclosing any secrets about gifts I have bought for others, I have rejected anything plastic, disposable or wasteful. I’m using recycled paper giftwrap and cloth ribbons rather than the curly plastic foil variety. I’m buying from local small businesses, and hopefully helping them provide their families and workers with a good Christmas too.

My contributions might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but making a difference even on a local scale is still worthwhile.

#MILLENNIALLIFECRISIS

Photo Credit: earth.com

I find this question really interesting to ask people because there are so many different ways a person can approach this question.

There’s people who’ll say “a million dollars” and people who’ll say “I don’t want a thing”. There’s people who’ll say items that they really know and love, and people who’ll provide practical options they know that person can afford. Some people even ask for donations to be made in lieu of gifts.

Honestly, to me, what people provide as an answer tells me a lot about who they are. Not that any one answer is better than another. Well, perhaps some answers are better than other’s. If you told me you wanted to kick a puppy for Christmas then I’d think you’re a bad person But, that was a huge tangent and I should get back on track. For the most part, when people answer…

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Thank God It’s Friday.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not being flippant or casual in saying ’Thank God It’s Friday”. 

Not. 
Ever. 

And especially not tonight. 

At the end of yet another really sucky week in a succession of variously sucky weeks,  I can honestly say I am so thankful for the fact that it’s Friday night and I am free of any obligation to look or sound like I know what I’m doing, stick to a schedule, wear proper shoes, or talk to anyone that I’d rather not talk to, for two whole days. 

I’ve come home from work tonight, fed the dog and fed my dad, done the dishes, and consider all my obligations to have been met. I am currently hiding under a quilt in my living room so that the universe might not know where to find me. 

And if you see someone poking pins into a voodoo doll that looks like me, do me a favour and take it off them, will you please?  Gently? And maybe give it coffee and pizza. Thanks in advance.