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SO THAT WAS XMAS

I hate Xmas.  I am always thrilled when it is over.  At least, I think I am.  Maybe I am just being contrary.  It has been known.  I don’t understand why people like the songs that are playing in the shops.  I can’t fathom why Father Xmas persists in wandering around in an itchy red outfit in the middle of the Australian summer.  I hate fruit mince pies, ham, and candy canes.   They all taste like soap to me.   My inability to enjoy it makes me feel cast adrift in a sea of forced jolliness. If I was a floatable device I’d be shaped like the Grinch.

My mother loved Xmas.  She’d start planning in October.  We would have long phone conversations about what we might eat and drink on the day.  Who we might visit.  What we might wear.  What time we might be allowed to start drinking the Baileys.   Well into my 40’s I trekked from my interstate home on the annual Xmas pilgrimage and more than went along with it.  I walked with her through streets lit up with light displays.  I ate the ham, even though I was vegetarian.  I drank the Baileys.  I might be contrary but I knew better than to stand between a Scottish mother and her idea of Xmas.

I’ve tried to work out why I hate it.  The best I can do is to say I find all the expectations – not to mention family time – hugely stressful. 

When my mother died, friends invited me along to their Xmas celebrations.  I went wherever I was invited.   This sometimes meant I went along to several Xmas lunches or dinners  The irony wasn’t lost on me.  Xmas on steroids.  The opposite of what I had been trying to achieve.  Sometimes, when I could get past feeling like a complete loser for having been so churlish and somehow finding myself on the end of such kindness,  I even had a good time.  I  saw strange and wonderful things.  For example,  a family who actually got along.

Since coming back to my home state,  my experience of Xmas has been quite different.  The fact that I don’t see my family on Xmas day is both a reward and a punishment for all the years of bemoaning how much I hate it.    I never expected them to take me seriously.  Even when I went overseas to avoid Xmas.  And I never really took my own complaints seriously.  At some level, I knew was just being contrary. 

But the current guard believed me and they left me out.   I think I’m glad.  As it turns out, I actually do hate Xmas.  But love and friendship are different things entirely.   I’d turn up for those in spades.  Even it does mean celebrating Xmas.

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TINKERBELL ROAMS FREE

Self-development media is full of helpful hints about how to make a life transition painlessly.  One that is often featured is, when we are working out what might be our future calling, we should revisit our childhood dreams.  Ask ourselves, what did we dream of doing when we grew up? Which is fine.  Except, if like me, you wanted to be a fairy in a jar.  A fairy called Christabel.

I have been pretty annoyed at my younger self about this.  While entertaining or a bit amusing, it didn’t seem to offer many possibilities for my future self.   I’ve come to see that being a fairy in a jar might not be such a bad life story.  Fairies have nice outfits, or at least, interesting ones.  They can fly everywhere which definitely beats walking.   Fairies can fly under the radar as only the very young, very old, or fey among us actually believe they exist. 

When I let my mind stray back to that jar, I have to say it was pretty plush.  Velvet sofas, lots of gold.  Not unlike the inside of a gilded bottle a genie might carry.  What I did notice, while mentally traveling as my fairy self,  was that there was a stopper in the jar that could only be opened by someone external to it.  Not good.  My adult self simply re-imagined my lush fairy home as a jar with a lid that I could open and close at will.  A bit like the soft-top convertible on a sports car.   There is something to be said for life experience when determining what really matters.

It turns out that the fairy story I told myself as a kid is a pretty useful narrative.  As long as I have control of opening and closing the jar.  Oh, and my name is not actually Christabel.  Some things really should be left in the past.

A REALLY ANGRY BIRD

There is a small, angry bird in my neighborhood.  I have come to know her quite well over the past few months.

I first came across her in a local park when she dive-bombed me.  She is a grey finch with yellow markings.  She reminds me a bit of a woodchuck – or at least what I imagine to be a woodchuck from the American cartoons of my childhood.  She has a kind of chevron marking in the centre of her forehead (if birds have foreheads).  It is white with a black outline and it makes her look permanently angry.   The next few times I went to the park she dive-bombed me, squawking loudly and looking angry.  I was half annoyed, half amused by her.  I did wonder how she learned to be so aggressive.  Maybe she’d learned it from the local magpies?

As winter drew in, I didn’t see the angry bird so much.  I did see the wood chips from the garden beds in my courtyard strewn all over the pavers.   Every day.  At least once a day.  After the worst of winter was over, my partner gave me some fresh compost.  Romantic, I know.  After I put it on the narrow beds on either side of my pavers and in the small garden bed in front of my terraced house, the wood chip flicking escalated.  It really started to piss me off.  Every time I left my house, I’d neatly sweep it back into the beds.  When I got back home, it would be scattered across the pavers.  There was some serious digging going on when I was not around.

One morning, I was sitting at my kitchen table, working on my mac,  gazing out into the courtyard through the sliding doors when I saw her.  The little angry woodchuck digging up my garden beds.  I hardly moved.  I just clapped my hands and she took off.  But she waited me out.  Every single day.   I came back to debris all over the front and back pavers.  I couldn’t understand why this little bird was so intent on digging things up.  My things,  making a mess.  I really hate a mess.

Before I moved into this house, I had always dreamed of being able to sleep with my bedroom door open.  Fresh air and the sounds of nature poured into my room.  These days I live in a quiet neighbourhood.   My bedroom is upstairs.  It has a small balcony that faces right into a large established tree.  Every morning, for two years, I’ve woken up to the sound of bird songs.  It changes with the seasons.  And I’ve learned a lot about birds.  I had no idea that birds play, chasing each other down the long boulevard just for the fun of it.  Nor that they worked so hard.  It turned out that is exactly what this little grey finch had been doing.  Working hard.

I’d started to hear the high-pitched sound of baby birds outside the window in the early morning.   After a bit of squinting, both from my balcony and up into the tree from the ground underneath, spotted a nest.   It’s fair to say I got a little obsessed.  I’d stand behind the black mesh of my screen door and watch.  That’s when I saw her.  The little grey bird, feeding her babies.  On-demand.   When I opened the door to get a closer look and make sure it was her, she let fly her most angry squawk.  I padded back to the bedroom, closed the door, and left her to it.  I still watched, whenever I got the chance.  I couldn’t help myself.

Over the next couple of weeks, I saw and heard the chicks grow.    The little grey finch just kept on feeding them.   That’s what she’d been working so hard for.  I let go of my tidy garden beds and watched new life unfold from my balcony.

One Wednesday morning, the Council contractors came as they usually do.  It is was early Summer and I guess, wanting to reduce fire hazards, they trimmed the trees.  By the time I’d walked back to my house, they’d already trimmed the gorgeous big tree.  They hadn’t cut the branch the nest was in.  Whatever it was they had done had resulted in absolute silence.  No more baby bird songs. 

I spent the better part of the day trying to convince myself that the birds had flown off.  When I opened the deck door in the middle of the afternoon I was eye level with the little grey finch.  She was really angry now.   She looked into the empty nest and then looked back at me squawking as if to say “What the hell happened here?”  There was nothing I could say.

Except maybe that humans can be dumb.  Not to mention careless.  I haven’t seen the bird around for a while.   There is no mess in my garden and no chicks’ birdsong.  All is quiet.  It feels like the beginning of time.  Or maybe it’s the end and  I’m just too dumb to tell the difference. 

FALLING INTO HANDSTAND

This last week, I’ve had to learn that it really is okay to slow down.  I am talking about laying aside the habits of a life working, doing and making up for lost time.  Lots of women feel  this way from what they tell me.  We lay aside the things we want because of caring responsibilities, fear of failure or fear of not fitting in.  Annabel Crabb (Australian  journalist and host of ABC TV’s Ms Represented) and Caitlan Moran (English journalist and author of How To Be A Woman) agree with me so it must be true.

I’d decided that, if I can’t go to the Northern Lights for my upcoming 60th birthday because of the uncertainities around international borders opening,  I need to do something new.  Something big!  I need to overcompensate.  For coming to the party late.  For not being enough.

I decided I was going to walk on my hands.  Now for someone who has always been frightened of being upside down and has a permanently dislocated wrist,  this was a big step up.  I figured I’d be okay as I’d been able to kick up into handstand – just for a few seconds – in a couple of recent yoga lessons.   So I went at it in my usual way.  Jumped into handstand every time I got the chance.   Within a few days I wound up with a permanent earache and constant discomfort in my neck and shoulders. 

Instead of doing what I usually do and pushing on through,  I stopped.  I did some online research and discovered that ear pain can be associated with neck and shoulder tightness. Hmmm.  Then I went to the physio to get the elbow pain I’d developed, checked out.  Both of these things led me to reconsider the standing on my hands thing.  Not the goal, just the way I got there.

I want it to be fun.  I want to share it with other women who also might have been afraid to do new things.  With their bodies, their art, their job.   So, I’m going to keep seeing the physio to sort out my elbow.  I am also going to act as if I have all the time in the world and build up to handstand.  There are a heap of poses that will help.  Dolphin, scorpion,  plank.  So, I’m going to do those, get good at them and enjoy them.

Going hard to get what you want is often the right thing.  But not for everything, all the time.  I’m going to go hard and then I’m going to rest making time to observe what I’m doing and learning along the way.  Seeing things from another perspective, as well as taking the time to develop it, really is okay.

#handstandpractice#yogainmidlife#upsidedownisgood

I AM AN ARCHAEOLOGIST, PERIOD!

If the use of contemporary menstrual products over the course of a lifetime was considered a suitable PHD topic I would be a doctor of menstruation at least four times over.  I have been menstruating – regularly – for more than 4 decades. The previous sentence does not contain a typo.

Nobody in the medical profession has been able to offer much insight.  They’ve never met anyone like me.  My hormone levels remains stubbornly high.  The only time I ever see a hot flash is on the first night of my period.  There I am bleeding like a teenager while sweating like a dowager.  To try and distract myself from the whole thing, I have developed a weird fascination with the evolution of menstrual management products.

I started off with the pad, or surfboard, as we called them here in Australia.   After a single sweltering summer I got rid of them as quickly as I could and moved onto the tampon.  It took a couple of months practice and a couple of boxes of tampons, but they helped me to feel as free as anyone who was having a period could.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched in awe as younger women talk about periods, run marathons with their menstrual blood running down their leg to avoid tampon chafing and address the gnarly issue of period poverty.  That last one drew my attention to the use of plastic packaging and dyes in the actual tampon and, ultimately to the environmental impact of menstrual management. 

I am happy that, on the cusp of ubercronedom, I have come across the menstrual cup and the period undie.    Who would have thought that a near perfect level of freedom would come in the form of a silicone cup?  Not to mention the period undie.  All while making minimal impact on the planet.   But Goddess, whoever and wherever you are, I am happy to hand over the mantle of period archaeologist extraordinaire to almost anyone who will take it.  Like now!

#neverendingmenstruation#periodarchaeolgy#environmentalimpact

CURLY HAIR AND I.T. UPDATES -EQUALLY UNPREDICTABLE

I’ve been wearing my hair curly for a few weeks now.  I haven’t suddenly become an afficionado of the curly hair movement.  I’ve just been trying to disguise a really bad haircut. While I’ve discovered that, since the last time I wore my hair curly, the products are tons better and I can make my hair look presentable most of the time, I’m not settled with it. 

Judging by the number of social media offerings on this topic I’m not alone. I’ve started to see myself as a member of an international virtual community of curly haired women with worried looks on their faces staring at their screens.

The thing about curly hair is that it never looks the same from one day to the next.  It is totally unpredictable. One day you think you are some sort of siren with your amazing curls.  I imagine myself wafting down the street looking like Andie McDowell at her recent Cannes outing, surrounded by a halo of shimmering silver curls.  The next day I am Krusty the Klown from The Simpsons.  

I still haven’t figured out how not to look quite so bad I when I am wearing a hat.  Which might be a problem in the Australian summer.

I’ve even stopped a woman minding her own business in the street to ask her how she made it look so amazing.  She laughed and said “Ha!  That’s only today”.  From everything I hear, that’s curly hair. You are never really sure what you are getting.  You just have to deal with it.  Until you are overwhelmed by the call of the straightening irons with their promise of peace, neatness and all good things on earth.

#moderndaymedusa#tolerateyourcurls#

NON CAMINO

Last night, I knocked up against a white fan shaped shell about the same size as the palm of my hand, that hangs from a rack in my bathroom.  A red cross is hand drawn on it.  It’s the one in the picture (along with a small selection of my hair products). For anyone who has been on a Camino in Europe, it’s a familiar sight. Camino is a Spanish word for path.  In times past, weary pilgrims trudged the path – sometimes for 6 long weeks – trying to make a spiritual connection to themselves, their God and the world around them.  All the while, people called from their houses “Buen Camino” (or good path). They still do today as I discovered on 2 short Caminos in Portugal and Spain.

I was a mere traveller rather than a pilgrim. Nonetheless, I learnt a lot about myself on those walks. Even when it revealed less than flattering truths, I felt more alive than I had for years. I wanted more of that feeling and I turned my life on its head a couple of years later.   One of my big commitments to myself was that I would travel a lot more.  I did get in trips to Mexico, Hawaii, Tennessee and Peru before COVID 19.  Since then, in common with the rest of humanity, I’ve been grounded.

The fact that I can’t do what I want in a big way has led me to think more about what I want in small ways.  I take joy in small pleasures – the pelicans where I live, the warmth when I wake up in the morning and the happiness I feel when I am teaching yoga.  But is it enough? Like hell it is! I’d love to say that I am now fully committed to staying in one spot, learning to live.  To be satisfied with my lot.  But it isn’t true. As soon as the international borders open, I’ll be at the airport waiting to get away.  From myself as much as anything.  Happy to trade my non Camino for a Buen Camino almost anywhere, anytime.

#camino#walktheworld#lookwithinifyoumust#opentheborders#planesarefun#

WRITERS GOTTA WRITE

A couple of years ago, I decided to get serious about writing, I went to a writer’s retreat and I actually managed to finish a first draft of a book called Dreams, Schemes and Flying Machines.  Then I wrote another draft and another draft.  By then I hated it. Now it’s sitting, not in the usual drawer, but neatly filed away in a sky-blue lever arch file.  I have no idea whether it’s any good or not.  All I can tell you is I am sick of it, so I’m giving it a rest.

I’ve also done an opinion writing course, a website building one and one on pitching my yet to be finished novel. You get the picture.  Still no novel I’d be happy to release to the world.  I do have a website though.   Embryonic, as you can see.

I hadn’t figured on just how hard writing my own content would be.  Nor website building – even with the course and the help of the very patient manfriend.    Hadn’t figured on how to tackle the technology, the industry, the loneliness.    The feedback.  For example, “It’s opinion writing, not poetry!”  Ouch.

I keep finding myself going back to writing in one form or another.  So, there must be something in it.   Which is why I’ve now joined the Romantic Writers Association of Australia.  Maybe it’s time to have a serious go about writing something that might actually be fun.

As to the website, time to make it more like a Life Garage than an empty aircraft hangar.  Cos a writer gotta write. Whatever the tool! 

AFGHANS, YOGIS AND DREAMINGS

I’ve lived in the Northern Territory twice.  It is the sort of place where you can feel other people’s dreaming pulsing in the air. The dreams of Afghans trading, far away from home. Aboriginal peoples’ dreamings. The dreams of people new to the frontier. 

I quickly discovered in the Territory was how hard it is to make things happen in a sometimes deeply divided community. I had gone there for work. Sometimes I felt like I had been part of something that had changed people’s lives for the better. Other times, it was as if I had never been there. Those failures sat heavily with me and I wondered if there was a better way to help people in struggling communities.

Yoga was the other big discovery of my first stint in the shadow of the MacDonnell Ranges. It has been a part of my life ever since.   Whenever I’ve felt tired, sad or lonely I’ve pulled out a mat It was almost inevitable that I trained as a yoga teacher.

Taking class at an inclusive yoga school in Memphis, Tennessee reactived these old memories. I was impressed by the team’s dedication to take yoga to a sometimes divided community.  When I got home to Australia, I talked a community centre into trialling a yoga class. More than a year later, it’s still going and it’s still free.  Helping to heal a struggling community.

The success of that class convinced me to start teaching yoga to Middle Eastern – primarily Afghan – women in nearby communities. It’s become increasingly important in recent times. My classes cannot change the world but, for an hour at a time, yoga brings people together and eases all manner of pain. Who knows, it might even help to keep peoples’ dreams alive. That is enough of a difference for me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#yogidreaming#afghannightmare#internationalyoga#dowhatyoucan#changingtheworldone classatatime#northernyoga#dreambelievers

MARTHA, IS THAT YOU?

Yesterday, I had a strange moment.  I felt like I’d gone to sleep and woken up impersonating the American cooking legend Martha Stewart.  Well, I’d been headed there the day before but just hadn’t woken up to what I was about to become.

It’s been a wintry, blustery, gloomy week.   As I walked past the fruit bowl, my eyes fell on two pink lady apples which, under an unkind gaze, might be considered as having seen better days.   Without really thinking about it, I cut them up, and leaving the skins on stewed them.    The next morning, I opened the lid of the pan and saw the most beautiful pink hued pieces of fruit.  They were nutritious, sweet and did not waste precious food that somebody else had gone to the trouble of growing.

Then, I noticed that I was feeling more than a little sheepish.  Why, I asked, myself am I turning into some sort of down-market Martha Stewart?”   In my old life, I rarely cooked, I ordered a food service – Lite N Easy, Hello Fresh, Youfoodz.  I’d tried them all.  I regarded cooking as a waste of time along with cleaning.  If I wasn’t at work, I wanted to be exercising or out with friends. For a long, long time I thought my executive job was fun.  I’d outsourced anything that got in the way of that, including the pleasure of making and eating good food.  Those apples reminded me that it was time for me to be own mash up.  The sum total of all I’d even ever been and all I will ever be.  As long it nourishes me, is fun and just plain beautiful.