Tattoo

Today is new tattoo day.

My new ink.

This tattoo honours my late father, my family, and my unique identity within it. My family’s surname is Dutch: Groenenboom, which translates to ‘green tree’.

I am thankful to be starting the new year by doing something to deeply meaningful. It is a positive way of acknowledging those who have passed, including my dad and my beloved cousin six months ago, those who remain and are still flourishing, and my connection to them all.

I spent months choosing the tree design, as there are myriad options available and many are gorgeous. I chose this one because it symbolises strength, beauty and grace. The maple leaf represents me, obviously— unique among the other leaves, but strongly connected and coming from the same source.

I am so proud that this symbol is now part of me.

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The word tattoo is interesting because the one word has two completely different sets of meanings that have come from entirely distinct sources.

That makes it a homophone, a homograph, and a homonym all at the same time: as it is pronounced and spelt identically for each of its various meanings.

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67 Years.

This morning, my sister and I visited Mum and Dad’s grave on the 67th anniversary of their marriage.

On this date, every year since 2011, I have been purposeful in spending quality time with Dad as he spent the anniversary without Mum. He often had some tears, as did I, and we would talk about family times and happy memories. There would invariably be coffee and cake involved at some point of the day.

This year, Mum and Dad are together again, and we are without them both for the first time.

Instead of coffee and cake, we went out for breakfast together before heading up to the pretty little cemetery on top of the hill.

Nature blessed us with a beautiful morning: sunshine, blue sky, white fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. The grass is starting g to cover the grave now, so it looks less  fresh and confronting. Still, it was the first time my sister, brother-in-law and husband had been back to the grave since the day of Dad’s funeral, so in that respect it was harder for them than for me.  I quite like cemeteries, and I have been back to visit Mum and Dad’s grave on several occasions. 

Neither my sister nor I had a big howly cry, which we wouldn’t be ashamed to admit because we have both done it several times before, but we both had some tears. We’re not ashamed of those, either. Crying is healthy, and so is owning your emotions.

Christmas won’t be the same this year. For the first time in our lives, we will be doing it without our father. I haven’t bought boxes of chocolate-coated ginger or liquorice allsorts for the first time in decades.

It’s all kind of weird, and it hurts, but we are doing our best to make it positive and memorable. Before visiting the cemetery, we went out for breakfast with our husbands. We bought a little Christmas poinsettia, which Mum always loved, to decorate their grave instead of taking fresh flowers this time.

Most importantly, my sister and I are spending Christmas together. I am so enormously thankful that, after months of lockdown and closed state borders, she and my brother-in-law can be here.

There are gifts under the tree, plans for special meals and treats, and neither of us has to navigate the first Christmas as orphans on our own. Our other siblings and my nieces can’t be with us, but they will be with family. We will video call and spend time together that way. It’s not perfect, but it beats not being together at all.

As I observed in my post on Dad’s birthday, the firsts are hard. There are so many feelings, and it can be challenging to know how to mark the date without being morose. It’s good to honour the memories, but the fear of people thinking you spend too much time in Memoryville or Griefland is real.

Will they want to read another Facebook post or blog about it? The fact is, some won’t, and that’s okay. At the same time, there are plenty of others who will. We are not the only ones grieving for a loved one for the first time this Christmas.

It matters to me, and to them, that we know we are not alone in our feelings, nor are we weird or wrong for feeling the way we do. It’s completely natural, and the best thing to do is acknowledge it: cry and laugh when we need to, retell the family stories, share memories, and deal with it in the most positive and constructive ways we can.

It’s also important to be deliberate about creating new memories and treasuring our time together, so that we make this first Christmas as merry and bright as we can.

Yet Another Reason Why I Love Where I Live.

Our local council has created this gorgeous candlelight memorial for all the people in our local government area  of Corangamite Shire who have passed away in 2020.

Most of these people‘a families were very limited in how many they could have at the funeral. The way we have mourned and comforted one another has had to change. Our ability to travel and see each other has been limited or, at times, impossible.

Gestures like this help us to feel less alone, and to know that our loved ones are remembered. It’s very touching that the community as a whole is able to acknowledge their absence from the towns and social circles in which they lived.

There are 129 lights burning through the night. That’s 129 families like mine that have been changed forever. And, I’m sure, it’s 129 families who appreciate the thoughtfulness of a local government that thinks beyond budgets and logistics to stop for as long as it takes to light 129 candles, and invite the community to stop, remember and reflect.

My sister and I went to see the memorial tonight, to pay tribute to our dad and to share the sight with our family interstate via video.

Thank you to the Corangamite Shire and the local community members who helped make this happen. It is very much appreciated.

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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!

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. 

Good Grief! Getting Through My First Father’s Day Without My Dad.

The challenge: dealing with my feelings on a day I’ve always enjoyed celebrating before.

Over the past few weeks, I found myself growing heartily tired of advertisements and posts about Fathers’ Day. 

I sincerely wish all the dads out there and their kids a very happy Father’s Day, and I truly hope they can spend some quality time together. I hope kids of all ages cherish their dads and make the most of every opportunity to spend time with them while they still have them. 

For me, though… it just hurts. This is my first Father’s Day without my dad after 53 years of having him in my life. It has only been 11 weeks since he died and I miss him enormously every day. 

Dad enjoying a great coffee at Camperdown Bakery in March 2020.

I have so much to be thankful for. Dad was wise, and funny, and encouraging, and consistent, and caring, and always there when I needed him. I loved being able to care for him and provide for him, to spend time with him every day, and to take him to the places he needed or wanted to go. We were father and daughter, but also great companions and partners in laughter, day trips, good coffee and sweet treats. 

All of that is why I miss him so much. And while everyone else is celebrating their dads as they absolutely should, it feels empty for me. 

So, I spent part of my day commemorating my father. 

I went to visit the grave where both my parents are now buried. I placed flowers there, took some photos, and had a big howly cry. 

There was a young guy nearby, placing something on a grave — maybe his own dad’s or grandfather’s resting place, I don’t know. He approached me gently and asked, “Are you okay, miss?” We we’re both wearing masks, but his eyes were kind and I could see he was genuinely concerned for me. I thanked him and explained it was my first Father’s Day without my dad as he died in June, and he nodded. “He was lucky to have a daughter who would cry for him,” he said. Then he patted my arm and walked away. What a kind, compassionate soul! 

As I calmed my breathing and emotions, I took some photos for the family. 

My next stop was the Camperdown Botanic Gardens. I love walking there. It’s so pretty and there is always something lovely to see. It was the perfect place for reflecting and mindfulness as I walked.  Surprisingly, I was the only person there: everyone else was missing out, because it was an absolutely glorious day. There were blossom trees covered in buds and blooms, new leaves on limbs that have been bare all winter, a glorious grove of bluebells, pretty tulips and cheerful daffodils and jonquils. They were all sights that were good for the soul. 

My third destination for the day was the nursery: I wanted to buy a tree to plant in memory of my dad. There were some lovely options – silver birches, ornamental pears, weeping cherry blossom, and a range of decorative blossom trees. In the end, I couldn’t decide between the crabapple and the Persian witch hazel, so I bought both. They both have leaves that change with autumn colour, and pretty blossoms to give cheer in late winter and early spring. 

There was one funny moment when the lady who runs the nursery suggested a maple tree. I had to confess to her that I adore maples — they are my favourite tree— but I couldn’t get a maple this time because nobody would believe I bought it to remember Dad. A maple would definitely be just  for me. 

It has been an emotional roller coaster of a day, but I have tried to fill it with positive things and happy memories instead of dwelling on the past or wallowing in misery. I experienced a beautiful moment of kindness from a stranger, enjoyed fresh air and sunshine on an absolutely cracking spring day, and I have two lovely new trees that will brighten the garden and my life. 

The crabapple has been planted, and the Persian witch hazel is just waiting until tomorrow evening for its turn. 

Counting my blessings instead of my tears is definitely what Dad would have wanted me to do.

So, once again, job done.