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

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

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

Can’t Sit… Still

My back has been giving me grief the past few days. Today, though, it has been plain nasty.

This meme was shamelessly borrowed from the Internet. I don’t know who created it.

By the last lesson of the day, the spasms were so bad it was all I could do not to cry in front of my students. Then, as soon as most of the students had left the building, I started the slow, painful walk to my car.

Getting home was a relief. The process of lying down was no fun, and it still took some time for the spasms to ease.

So how did I get to be in such a bad way? I sat down at work for more than fifteen minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes.

Since my spinal surgery last October, Sitting has been a huge issue for me. I can walk, I can even manage stairs, which I had really struggled with for a few years prior to that. But if I sit on a regular chair for any period of time, I am in pain. The more tired I am, the worse it is.

So, the only sitting I tend to do these days is in the car on the way to and from work. That, too, can be exhausting.

My current physiotherapist insists that it’s just my brain telling me my back might hurt.

I disagree. Those spasms are not the fruit of my subconscious spine having a panic attack. That level of pain is actually my back hurting– and way more than it should.

I’ve been doing the exercises and stretches, and there just doesn’t seem to be any improvement.

So, I’m going to listen to my body and not the physio. Well, not that one, anyway. I’m going back to my former physiotherapist and I’m going back to the doctor, because I can’t keep doing this.

It’s been seven months since my surgery, and I should be able to sit long enough to have dinner or do some work without suffering for it by now.

That’s Jo, not Joy.

This weekend we’re attending a family reunion in Anglesea. Just before lunch was served, we sat in a room full of relatives and listened as one of our cousins shared a reflection on relationships among family.

He said, “Think about tthe friendships and relationships you have. Consider the negative, the strained, and the unhealthy…”

“Never mind about the unhealthy,” I muttered. The cousin sitting beside me laughed.

“Can you imagine if they all went Marie Kondo on me?” I continued.

“Does she bring me joy?”
“No, she brings sarcasm, snark, inappropriate humour and painful honesty.”

Seriously, I’d be here with maybe three people.

Current Status: Anticipation

There is a very particular thrill in waiting for a new book to hit the shelves.

There is something extraordinary about seeing a book you have written hit the shelves on release day.

Months of work. Writing. Refining. Painstaking editing. Preparing a marketing plan and creating ads.

And then the day comes, and you wait for the clock to tick over. Because time is a contrary beast, it drags its heels and makes you wait.

The waiting, though, is as exciting as it is tiresome. It really is a lot like waiting for Christmas or a birthday,

There is another layer of joy in this anticipation for me. After several really challenging years, it feels as though 2019 is starting in a very positive way that closes the door on those painful chapters.

That’s because while there are still poems in this collection that explore the darkness and the shadows that can plague us, there is a greater focus on looking at experiences and challenges with the clarity of hindsight that enables us to see through the deceptions and illusions to which we so often fall prey.

I see in many of these poems a fulfilment of the desperation expressed in some of my darker work. There is, quite frankly, more light and more hope .

It is that positivity and hope that I intend to carry into the new year.

So that’s where I am at this point in time.

New year. New book. New beginnings.
Bring it on!

Current Status: Alarms Have Been Turned Off

I feel like one of those athletes who stagger over the finish line and collapse… but I made it!

Today was the last day of term and the end of the school year.

The last two weeks since I returned to work after my surgery have been brutal and I feel like I have run a marathon, especially having had dad in hospital again at the same time, but I’m proud of myself for doing it, and looking forward to a very well-earned rest.

One of the things I really enjoy doing on this one particular day of the year is turning all my morning alarms off. It may take all of ten seconds, but it’s a ritual that restores my sense of “owning” my time again. I love being able to embrace my inner night owl once more, and take my daylight hours at a slower pace.

Current Status: Bearing Up Quite Well!

Current Status: Onward and Upward!

It’s just over four weeks today since my spinal surgery, and I am really happy to be able to say that things are going very well.

My efforts toward moving better, walking further, regaining my strength and working toward a return to work before the end of the year have been yielding good results.

I am able to stand longer, sit longer, walk further and manage my pain better than I was even just a week ago. I have driven on my own, for ten minutes each way, and then twenty, to build up my ability to drive to Warrnambool for work.

On Friday night my husband drove me to Warrnambool – a 45 minute drive – so that I could attend to the graduation dinner for my senior high students who have now finished their formal school education. I didn’t last the whole night, but I did get to wish my past students well. I was really pleased to be able to do that because I wanted to show them that they mean a lot to me and that I am enormously proud of each one of them.

This was a huge achievement for me – it was my first “big outing” post-surgery, and I am proud of myself not just for getting there, but also for recognising my limits and leaving when I needed to. As soon as I was home i cracked out the really big pain meds, and went to bed.

On Saturday, I went back to Warrnambool with my cousin Angela, who just happens to be my partner in crime when it comes to Charlie Bear collecting. We both have a penchant for those particular bears, so an invitation to celebrate Charlie Bears birthday and witness the unveiling of the annual birthday bear was one we were both keen to accept.

I didn’t adopt the anniversary bear reserved for me: she is beautiful, but too pink for my taste. Anyone who knows me knows that the only time I like Pink is in my music collection, so that bear went home with Angela instead. I adopted a little black bear named Teddy and a little panda named Bobble instead. They will both be featured soon in my #abearandabook posts on Instagram.

I came home having coped really well with my second trip to Warrnambool in two days. It was a deliberate decision to do back-to back trips, because that’s what I am going to have to do when I return to work.

Today I drove to Camperdown again with a different purpose in mind. I will tell you more about that tomorrow when the details of my mission can be made public, but I can tell you that today’s significant achievement was walking down a set of steps – and back up again later – without pain. I can’t remember when that last happened, but it was at least a decade ago. 

I am very optimistic about returning to work on Tuesday.  I know I have to take it easy and not overdo things, but I am keen to do what I can to pick up the pieces of my life and see what I can do with them. We”ll see how it goes! 

What’s In My Head?

A memory that has become a family tradition.

I love a good family story or tradition, especially one that gets etched into the conversation patterns and banter for years to come. A moment of humour or a funny experience becomes part of who we are, both individually and collectively.

One of those stories half belongs to our great friend, Lindsay. He is a super nice person, and we’ve been friends for at least twenty years.

On one particular occasion maybe fifteen years ago, maybe more, he and I were outside doing some work on the farm that my husband and I were living on, and where Lindsay was a regular and most welcome visitor. I can’t remember what were talking about, but I remember this part of the conversation vividly.

We laughed. We told my husband the story. And it stuck. We still “do the routine” at least once a week. It honestly never gets old.

Monday was one of those days. After the lines were said and the laughter was had, I thought for a while, as I have often done before, about how clever a comeback it was.

I also thought about exactly what I am full of. It wasn’t much of a surprise to me when those thoughts began to turn into a poem. That’s what my thoughts do.

You can read the poem titled ‘Full’ at WordyNerdBird Writes.