Another Souvenir.

Yesterday, as I was unpacking and sorting the Christmas decorations, I discovered a keepsake that I didn’t even know I had.

Morris the Rainbear

It seemed odd at first when I found one of last year’s Christmas cards tucked into the bag of tinsel and other soft decorations: my elves from Canada, Morris the Rainbear which my sister gave me decades ago, some plush toys in Santa hats, and all the tinsel.
And when I say “all the tinsel”, I’m not kidding.
There’s a lot of it.
I love that stuff.

The thing is, I don’t usually keep Christmas cards. I usually give them to the pre-school or school, where the kids use the pictures on the front or, in the case of the beautiful cards made by my very clever sisters, the whole fronts of them to make cards for their families and friends.

When I opened the surprise card, realisation was followed closely by tears welling up in my eyes: it was the Christmas card my father gave us last year.

Card made by Jenny Greig.

I don’t know why I kept it.

I didn’t know then that it would be his last Christmas with us, or that it would be the very last thing I had with his handwriting on it.

When I saw his handwriting, all those mixed happy/sad feelings came rushing back. Tears from missing him so profoundly were mixed with laughter at how bad his handwriting was.

To say that Dad had lousy handwriting was no exaggeration.

If practically illegible handwriting alone were enough to qualify someone as a doctor, Dad could have been a professor of worldwide renown. It was a problem for as long as I knew him, and there were times when even he had no idea what he had written. More than once, he found that even though he had written a shopping list, by the time we got to the supermarket he had forgotten what was on it and neither of us could read it.

So, my attempt to transcribe what Dad wrote on this card may be inaccurate, but I think it says, “Jesus who came to suffer in our stead to the glory of his Father. For so was his wish.”

It’s such a classic Dad thing to do: just casually pop a little mini-sermon into a Christmas card. It’s such a lovely reminder of his love for Jesus and his desire for us to put our faith in Him, too. Among all the glitz and glitter and parties and feasting and end of year rush and revelry, the reminder of the true meaning of Christmas is as timely and important as it ever was. 

Teardrop is a collectable Charlie Bears bear.

I can tell you now, I’m keeping this card forever. It is on display on my grandfather’s bookshelf next to my chair, safely nestled in the lap of Teardrop, the bear who cuddled me throughout the afternoon and evening of the day Dad passed away, and mopped up more than a few tears along the way. .

It is an unexpected bonus having another souvenir of my Dad on display in my study this Christmas.

This Year, It’s Not Too Early.

My tree, all lit up and spreading a little joy.

Today I put the Christmas tree in my study and decorated it.

I know. I know.

It’s not December yet, and I usually have a very firm rule about that.

2020, though, has not been renowned for playing by the rules. In a year of so much heartbreak, social isolation, separation from family and friends, reinventing careers, and widespread misery, it seems to me that we should celebrate what we can, when we can.

I also have a rule about waiting until the exams are marked and my reports are finished and submitted before I can be ready for Christmas. I finished the marking on the weekend and finalised my students’ reports yesterday, so at least I managed keep that rule intact!

So, given that it’s the 25th of November, I decided this morning that a month from Christmas was as good a day as any.

Besides, I needed something to do. Abbey the Labby was at the vets having surgery to remove a lump, and while the vets had told me it was most likely completely benign, I wasn’t altogether confident that 2020 wasn’t going to take that as a challenge. Anxious as I was, staying busy was a good thing to do.

Abbey the Labby, resting comfortably tonight after her surgery.

Just after the tree was finished, the vet called and told me Abbey’s surgery went well and that he is really happy with the outcome. When we picked her up, two vets and the nurse all told us how beautiful and well-behaved she is. They commented that she is she is in excellent health and the perfect weight for a Labrador. They congratulated us on taking excellent care of her.

I’m calling that my first Christmas gift of the year.

I won’t be playing any Christmas music untilDecember 1st, though.
I don’t want to push my luck.

This Year, It’s Not Too Early
#ChristmasIsComing #Christmas2020 #November25

There Should At Least Be Cake.

Today would have been my father’s 89th birthday.

My Dad. Photo taken in March, 2020.

It’s the first time in my life that I will not be able to wish him a happy birthday. It’s the first time in many years that I will not hug him, kiss his cheek, and provide the cake, complete with candles for him to blow out while we sing that silly song.

I miss him so much. I miss his big laugh, his cheeky grin, our talks when I got home from work, our hugs, our days out together, shared dinners and coffees, cheeky afternoon teas at the bakery, and holding his hand just because I could. He was part of every day, whatever else I might have been doing.

The “firsts” are pretty awful, to be honest. The absence of someone you love on a day which you have always celebrated with them is jarring. It feels as though the world has tilted again, and everything is just a little more out of kilter. It feels… wrong.

My siblings have all experienced their first birthday without him since he passed away in June: two in September, and one just last week. I called and wished each of them happy birthday, but I also wept for them because I knew what they were thinking and feeling, even if they didn’t admit it. Some things don’t need to be put into words.

And yet, for children to bury and grieve for a parent whom they loved dearly, and who has lived a long, happy and faithful life is also so …right.

Therein lies the awkwardness of it all. We are all glad he is no longer suffering, and we would not have wanted him to linger in a realm of pain or disease or  anguish but, at the same time, I miss him so very much. The emotions are so powerful that they threaten to overwhelm, but not one of us would bring him back to go through it all again. That would be cruel and selfish.

On the first Father’s Day since his death, I chose to do positive things in his memory. Now, on the first birthday, I find myself trying to achieve that again. There is still pain and grief, though. regardless of how I try to window-dress the day, and it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and not suppress or deny them. The healthier choice is to experience them and work through them in appropriate ways.

So, a visit to my parents’ grave with flowers was my first priority for the day. I made a video message for my siblings and their families, all of whom are long-distance from me, from the final resting place of our parents. At least that way, they could share in the visit too. I chose yellow roses, because Dad loved his roses. Yellow roses are symbolic of friendship, but also of remembrance and new beginnings or rejuvenation of spirit, so they are perfect for Dad’s first birthday in heaven.

My best friend and I visited one of Dad’s favourite bakeries — the same one where I took the picture of him enjoying his coffee — and drank coffee and ate sweet things in his honour.

Later on, we will be having Dad’s favourite thing for dinner — pizza — followed by birthday cake, because there has been one on every other November 17th that I have known. 

I have also spent some time in quiet contemplation and giving thanks for my Dad. I know I am incredibly blessed to have had such a loving and supportive father with whom I got along so  well, when so many people don’t ever get to know what that’s like. I am thankful for my family, for my husband, and for my best friends, whose support helps make days like today a tiny bit easier. Again, so many people don’t have that, and I know I am incredibly privileged to have those people in my life.

I have thought, too, about what comes next. Soon there will be the first Christmas. The first New Year’s Eve, and the first calendar year that hasn’t had Dad in it. And 360 days after his graduation to heaven, I will have my first birthday without him. And then, soon after, the first anniversary of his death, and then of Helen’s.

These anniversaries and the emotions that go with them may be painful, but they are poignant reminders of deep love and the profound blessings of knowing and sharing life with such amazing people.

On such occasions, there should at least be cake. Dad would have insisted on it.

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!

Shakespeare Halloween Party

If you’re still trying to find a costume for Halloween, one of these ideas might be just the thing!

Head over to Shakespeare Nerd and check out Mya Gosling’s great cartoons. 

Shakespeare Nerd

Last year, I wrote a number of posts about the best Shakespeare scenes for Halloween.

This year, Mya Gosling has very kindly given permission for me to share her Shakespeare Halloween Party cartoons.

Mya is the creative genius behind Good Tickle Brain, where she turns Shakespeare’s characters and plays into insightful and amusing cartoons. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do.

Used with permission.

Used with permission.

Used with permission.

Used with permission.

Shakespeare Halloween Party
#cartoons #Shakespeare #halloweencostume

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Horror-ween Week

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

It’s one week today until Halloween. The shops are full of costumes, accessories, and big bags of treats to hand out.

Australians are once again protesting about it being an American thing (it’s not) while they gladly binge-watch American TV series on Foxtel and Netflix, listen to predominantly American music on commercial radio, and argue about whether Coke or Pepsi is better. (It’s definitely Coke.)

Despite the protestations of those Aussie nay-sayers, it’s a week that I quite enjoy. It reminds me of my first Halloween season in Canada, where I learned more about the background of the holiday and started to appreciate it in a different way. I like seeing kids and families out together, dressed up in costumes and walking around my small town, spending time together and having fun that doesn’t involve a screen.

It’s also a time when, like many other horror authors, I’m hoping to put my books in front of people and maybe get a sale or three.

I write spooky short stories, among other things. I work hard to build the right atmosphere, to lure the reader in, and then shock them with a macabre turn of events. I try to appeal to different senses so that they hold their breath while their skin crawls. It’s not splatter for splatter’s sake, and the monsters generally don’t hide under the beds or in the wardrobes of little kids. The monsters I write about are, more often than not, people who seem ordinary in most ways— until they prove they are not.

So, why not try a creepy story? You might enjoy it more than you think!

All in ebook and paperback. Signed copies available.

Horror-ween Week
#Halloween #horror #Halloween2020

A Little Kindness

This afternoon, while I was in the supermarket, I saw the lady who used to do my father’s in-home care until he moved into residential care in May.

We started charting, and it became evident that she didn’t know the details of his passing in June. Somewhat surprised by that, I told her of his decline over the last few days of his life, and of my honour and  privilege in holding him in my arms as he died.

As the conversation wound down, I thanked her again for taking care of Dad, and for taking the time to stop and chat with me about him. We both blinked back tears, and then we parted ways.

I had held my emotions together while we were talking, but had a bit of a cry to myself in the otherwise empty pet supplies aisle a couple of rows over.  I told myself I should not feel silly,  nor should I try to hide my feelings. It had been a while since I’d had a cry, and it was probably healthy to let it go.

Still, standing among the bags of cat and dog food and kitty litter in the supermarket probably wasn’t the best place for it.

I thought I had got away with out anyone else noticing, but a lovely young man who worked in the store approached me and asked if I were okay. I told him I would be, I just needed to pull myself together. I managed a weak smile, hoping it would be enough to reassure him.

He smiled back and handed me a little purse pack of Kleenex. I realise that may not sound like much, but it was an act of kindness that brightened an otherwise  miserable moment, and one for which I am very thankful.

I’m also thankful for the reminder that it doesn’t always take much to make a difference in someone’s day.

As the popular saying goes, “in a world where you can be anything you want to be… be kind.”

It occurred to me as I was writing this post that this is the second time  in recent months that I’ve been surprised by the kindness of a young person when they’ve seen my tears. That thought made me smile again.

A Little Kindness
#kindness #ChooseKindness #KindnessMatters

Masking The Awkwardness With Humour

Teacher masks students covid COVIDSafe

Disclaimer: I don’t kneel for my students, as that would send entirely the wrong message. Besides, they are teenagers and I’m only 5’2″. Also, I can no longer kneel. Image via Pixabay

Face to face teaching is back in full swing in Victoria, with all students over the age of 12, and all teachers, required to wear masks.

The kids generally don’t like wearing masks, and I totally get that. Still, that’s not an excuse for defiance. It’s currently a legal requirement, so whether or not we like it is a moot point.

Most of the students are quite cooperative. Some kids, though, are getting sneakier— or perhaps just less conscientious— about wearing them properly. The challenge for teachers is to find ways to remind them without being awkward or, even worse, coming across as nagging. As anyone who has tried to get a teen to do something they don’t want to will attest, that’s only ever going to create more resistance. 

As I am wont to do, I have reverted to humour in addressing the problem. 

When a student has their mask pulled under their nose, I tell them “don’t fly the flag at half mask”. 

When someone is not wearing a mask, I say, “Oops! Your face is naked.”

When the mask is sitting under their chin, I tell them to “pull their face pants up.” 

In a quiet classroom environment, or if I want to remind someone without drawing attention, I  simply make eye contact, hold my hand horizontally near my chin and lift it to above my nose. 

These responses engage the students by surprising the m and making them think about what I’m saying. They generally respond with a smile and then comply. The occasional student tries to argue, which invariably ends in disappointment for them.

I am always happy when it works. I was also very pleased when, while I was on yard duty, I heard one of my students tell another kid to pull his face pants up. I smiled with great satisfaction and whispered, “Good work, kid! Keep it up!” Nobody noticed, though, because I had my mask on. 

Masking Awkwardness With Humour
#TeacherLife #humour #blogpost

Note: Arguments about whether or not masks should be worn will not be entered into, and negative comments to that effect will be deleted. 

Kiss My Mask!

One thing I have noticed with the wearing of a mask every time I go out is how dry my lips get!

I don’t know if it’s the mask that does that, or the fact I’m not wearing lipstick as much as I used to.

So, I decided that the term break was the perfect time to try something new: making my own lip balm! I’m going to brand it ‘Kiss My Mask’ because saying that makes me smile.

This all-natural lip balm recipe is easy and quick, and the end product is quite lovely. It absorbs quickly, is not greasy, and there’s no colour to mess up my masks.

An Aussie Maple Leaf, adrift on the wind...

I’m very happy with my first attempt at making my own lip balm!

There are myriad recipes for DIY lip balm on the internet. Some of them were very complicated, and every single one is a bit different than the others, even if they have the same ingredients in them.

In the end, I decided that proportion was the thing to get right, and the more straightforward I could make it, the better!

This was the recipe I used.

Ingredients:

40g pure Shea butter
40 g coconut oil
80gm beeswax pellets
40 drops peppermint essential oil

Equipment:

Microwave safe jug
Wooden spoon for stirring
Small spatula

Method:

  1. Melt the Shea butter, coconut oil and beeswax in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring each time.
  2. When it is all melted and no wax pellets remain, stir in essential oil.
  3. Pour into small pots or tins.

Notes:

It will set at…

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Gluing a Jigsaw Puzzle for Framing

A simple, step by step guide to preparing a completed puzzle for framing.

The first thing I discovered when I started researching how to prepare my memorial puzzle for framing was the amount of conflicting, and sometimes terrible, advice the internet had to offer. 

Why did it all have to be so hard to find? Why couldn’t there just be one post with clear, straightforward instructions? Who even knows? I resolved then and there to write that post once I worked out what I was doing.

So, I drilled down, made notes on the approaches that seemed reasonable, and sought out some experts to guide me on the process. 

On their advice, and a fair degree of holding my breath and hoping things worked as I had been told they would, this is the process I followed. 

Materials: 

  • A good solid board to mount the puzzle on. I used 2mm strawboard which I bought for about $5 at my favourite office and art supply shop. It is strong and flexible, but won’t sag or warp. It is also slightly textured, which makes it less likely that things will slide around on it. 
  • A rolling pin.
  • Mod Podge sealant glue. I didn’t know how much I would need, and I knew my puzzle was big, so I bought the 16oz bottle. It turned out that I only used about 2 oz of that. It’s handy stuff, so that’s okay. 
  • A small cup to pour your glue from. This allows you to have more control over how much and where you are pouring.  I used an old measure from laundry detergent. 
  • A plastic spatula with a straight edge for spreading the glue. Some people use a credit or ATM card, but the handle on the spatula moves your hand back from the action and allows you to see right away what you’re doing. 
  • Strong spray adhesive. 

Practice Makes Perfect.

Before you go anywhere near the puzzle you want to frame with your glue, practice an old puzzle so that you develop your skills and your confidence. 

A friend who runs a puzzle exchange gave me an old one that nobody was interested in. Goodwill and charity shops often have loads of them for a dollar or two each. 
 I didn’t even make the whole puzzle. I simply completed a couple of sections to practice on.

My first attempt was not bad, but I quickly discovered how easy it was to use too much glue. It spread easily, but pooled around the edges.  This gave me a better idea of how much to pour on in the first instance, and how to spread it evenly. So, the edges were messy with glue, but the effect on the puzzle was good. 

My second attempt was much more even. It came up really well. 

I braced myself, got my gear ready, and turned to my beautiful puzzle. It was time. 

Gluing The Puzzle

  1. Use your rolling pin to ensure the puzzle is completely flat and the pieces are evenly joined.
  2. Pour some glue from the big bottle into the small cup. You can always add more if you need it. 
  3. Don’t panic that the glue is white. It WILL dry clear and glossy.
  4. Pour the glue in a thin, even S shape line over your puzzle. Spread it thinly and evenly over the surface with the spatula.

    Make sure all the joins between the pieces are filled with glue. Make sure you don’t have globs or spots of glue anywhere. The aim is to achieve an even coating over the surface. 

    Mine was a very large puzzle, so I did it in three sections. When one section was done, I poured more glue and kept going. 
  5. Allow it to dry for several hours. It will feel dry to touch after about 20 minutes, but it’s important to allow the glue in the joins between the pieces to cure and dry completely before you go any further. 
  6. Turn your puzzle over very gently. It may have been glued, but it’s important to be as careful as you can with it at every step of all times, as it is still fragile.
  7. Repeat the gluing process on the back of your puzzle. This will both strengthen the bond between the pieces and seal the surface. 
  8. Wait at least 12 hours to ensure that everything is completely dry. 
  9. Cover the back of your puzzle evenly with spray adhesive, then cover the surface of your mounting board.

    Wait a few minutes for the surface to become tacky to touch. then flip your puzzle very carefully onto the board. 

    Do this outside or in a well-ventilated area, and wear a mask. Remember, you don’t want spray adhesive all over your furniture OR in your lungs! 
  10. Use a rolling pin to ensure the entire surface of your puzzle is pressed onto the board. 
  11. Leave it alone to set and dry. Your puzzle will be ready for framing tomorrow. 

The Result: 

I’m really pleased with how my puzzle turned out. The finish is beautiful, and the gloss of the glue really highlights the gold highlights and subtle colours in the puzzle.

Because my puzzle is a very special one, and because it is too big for any of the commercially available frames I have seen,  I’m going to take it to a professional picture framer. 

All ready to go to the framer!