Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mum



Just over a month ago, my dear Mum died. I had actually been working on a blog post at the time about how I felt two years on since my dear Dad had passed away in the same month in 2013. I had written how, when I was reminded of him and/or thought about him, it didn't hurt anymore. For example, a few months ago when I was walking along Manly Beach, I heard a man whistling a tune that sounded just like my Dad's whistling in the same way, and I couldn't help but smile. Dad was always walking around the house singing or whistling. The memory didn't break my heart, it opened it. And it felt good.

A year ago, when my Mum's health seemed on the decline, I wasn't ready for her to go. I was still healing from my Dad's death the year before, and losing another parent seemed too much to bear at the time. Fortunately, her health improved (a change of medication made all the difference). For a while anyway. I was told by one of her doctors at the time that, 'Essentially, she is dying,' and so I prepared myself for the inevitable. He warned me how it would go: 'She will probably get a chest infection. The nursing home will call me and tell me she has a fever and then it will up to you and your sister to decide if we pump her full of antibiotics or make her comfortable.' She had lung cancer, amongst other health issues, and she was eighty-six at the time. In truth, she'd lived longer than we ever imagined she would.

Her death pretty much happened the way the doctor described it. My sister received a call from the (second) nursing home she lived in, in the very early hours of Saturday the 26 of September - the day before what would have been my Dad's ninetieth birthday - to tell her that our mum's breathing was becoming more difficult and she was not good. They advised my sister that they could either send her to hospital (where we knew they would probably pump her body intravenously with antibiotics - she'd already been through one round of them), or they could make her comfortable at the nursing home. My sister, much to my relief, chose the second option. I flew to Perth that afternoon. By the time I got there, Mum could barely breathe, and she was hallucinating - playing with the curtains near her bed and muttering something about 'the table'. She didn't seem to 'see' me. However, when I said, 'I love you, Mummy,' she replied, 'Love you too, Jodie.' I even repeated it to make sure I wasn't hearing things, as she seemed so out of it by then, and she, once again, told me she loved me. Clearly, with the oxygen not reaching her brain as sufficiently as it should have been, her brain was suffering - evidenced by the fact that for the past few weeks, she had been 'looking' for me. Not me, actually, but the younger me. My sister had found her looking around her chair one day and asked what she was looking for. My Mum replied, 'Where's Doll?' (The nickname she used for me when I was a little girl.) 'You mean, Jodie?' my sister asked, before explaining I was in Sydney. Another time, when my sister found her looking at her bookshelf, my Mum had told her she was, 'showing Jodie, Bull's room,' referring to my Mum's younger brother who had died some years ago.

The next day, after meeting with a doctor assigned to her at the time, it was decided we would start morphine. My Mum was eighty-seven years old, her health and mind had been deteriorating for the past year, and she had said repeatedly that she'd 'had enough'. It was a no-brainer - starting morphine and making her as comfortable as possible was the best option.

Like many people who are on the cusp of dying do, she had one last 'wakeful' moment before the morphine started. My nephew, his partner and his two boys walked in to visit on the Sunday and Mum suddenly perked up a little. She couldn't speak very well, but she managed a smile here and there, some food and a cuddle for her great-grandsons. As we left to allow her to rest, I was the last one out of the room. I turned back to her and said, 'Love you, Mum.' She smiled and replied, 'Love you.' It was the last time I would see her awake.

The following day - Monday 28 September - at around 6pm, my dear Mum took her last breath. I was with her when she died. Watching her go was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do (my heart was racing), but I'm also so glad I was there for her. A second after she exhaled for the last time, my sister walked in to her room (I had texted her to come - she was minutes down the road at home making us dinner - it happened so quickly in the end). I honestly felt as though at that moment, her spirit was leaving us to join Dad and Valda and the rest of her family. She waited for my sister and I to be there together - two women she had given life to were there to watch hers end.

I have been doing okay. My mother-in-law once said that losing the first parent is the most difficult, and although I think that may depend on the relationship you have with each parent etc, I would agree that is the case for me. I was very, very close to my dear Mum, but seeing her devastated by my Dad's death was difficult to witness. I know that by the time she left us, she was more than ready to go and there is a certain amount of joy for me in the knowledge that, after forty-four years, she has finally been reunited with my sister.

At her funeral - held a month ago today - I was sitting in the chapel listening to the Chaplin from Mum's nursing home read out the eulogy my sister and I had prepared and I couldn't help but smile. Mum may not have found the cure for cancer, or found a solution to ensure world peace, but what she did do really, really well, was create a lifetime of fond memories for those around her. My childhood is something I look back on with such a great sense of fondness, love and happiness, thanks in huge part to my Mum. Even though she experienced a lot of loss in her life (my sister, her parents, all her three - younger - siblings, and my dear Dad), she didn't stop smiling and creating joy for those around her. Who could ask for anything more than that?

My dear Mum. A talented woman who could decorate a birthday cake like no one else; who could sew dresses that looked like they were straight from a clothing store, and spent many hours sewing sequin after sequin on her daughter, Valda's ballroom-dancing costumes; who could always be found with a book in hand; who could cook the best baked-goods you could imagine; who taught her grandchildren the joy of looking for fairies in the garden; who passionately supported the West Coast Eagles and the Australian Cricket team; who could float around a swimming pool in an almost upright position - head up, her arms pushing her gently around the water; who could always be found with a jar of lollies ready to share with her grandchildren and great-grand children; who could polish an apple until it almost sparkled; who welcomed her daughters' friends with warmth and love; who made her family everything.

You will be SO missed, Mum. I'll love you always.

J
xox

Monday, August 3, 2015

Cleansed


So my month of avoiding alcohol and sticking to my 5:2 Diet has concluded, and I couldn't be happier. I've managed to nearly reach my goal weight (I'm about 400 grams off!) and keep away from the wine for a month. I feel like my body is thanking me for it. A good cleanse now and then is a good thing, right?

Having said that, it wasn't always easy to stick to both. A couple of weeks ago I got to my Monday fast day and by mid-morning I knew I couldn't follow through. For some unexplained reason I was ravenous. My body was crying out for food, so I decided to listen to my body and give in to its request; eggs on toast for brunch, it was. Even though I pretty much felt the same way the following day, I made up for my non-fast day by fasting anyway, with one small adjustment: I allowed myself more calories. Up to 600 if I wanted. (The recommendation for the 5:2 Diet is 500 calories for women on fast days, 600 for men.) I got to 560 calories that day and felt satisfied. Still feeling hungry by my next fast day later that week, I allowed myself 550 calories, which I stuck to, and was able to go back to 500 calories the following week. I didn't beat myself up for it. I figured doing a little more calories for a couple of days was better than not doing a fast day at all.

As for the alcohol? Well, I have to say that even though for the first week I would cook something for dinner and think, Geez, a nice glass of white wine would go well with this, sticking to the no-alcohol thing was pretty much a breeze. Even one night, when Mr A, the kids and I met friends for dinner at an Italian restaurant - our first dinner out in ages - it crossed my mind that a nice glass of red would go down well with my meal, but by the time I'd started eating, I'd albeit forgotten about the wine.

It made me think: I never remember my parents drinking alcohol with any sort of regularity. Sure, they had the odd glass of something mostly on special occasions, but that was it. I guess by the time I was old enough to notice such things, my folks were already well in to in their fifties. I think age plays a big part in the choices you make (or forced to make) about your diet and general health. In my late teens and twenties, I could eat a large bowl of pasta for dinner, head to a nightclub, drink a number of glasses of wine, whip my body around a dance floor for hours, pick up a doner kebab on the way home and experience very few repercussions for doing so the next day. If I was to do the same thing now at age forty-four, I'd wake up feeling bloated with both a horrible hangover and an aching neck and body from all the dance moves. (Heck, just sleeping these days can sometimes give me aches and pains, let alone dancing!)

I'm slowly learning that by making a few adjustments, I can feel like I'm twenty again, even if I'm not. I don't need to drink each week, even if it's only a couple of glasses of wine two nights a week like I was doing before my cleanse. I'd much rather be feeling great most of the time than feeling a little heady with alcohol for a short amount of time each week.

There's no turning the clock back, but at least, going forward, I now know what small adjustments are required in order to feel better physically. Now all I need to do is step up the exercise again, and I'll be so healthy it'll be almost sickening! (And I'm fine with that.)

Stay tuned ...

J
xox

Friday, July 10, 2015

The lost art of boredom


Our second lot of school holidays this year have almost finished. Youngest Son heads back on Monday, Eldest Son & Middle Son return the following day. Dare I say, they can't really complain about being 'bored' these holidays. We've headed to mini golf, a movie or two and an indoor trampolining place. They've visited friends and had friends visit them. We've been to the local park a number of times where we've played football and frisbee. Youngest Son spent a day with a friend in a holiday camp building Lego and swimming in the indoor heated pool. We've eaten out, spent very little time in shopping centres (something they dislike, unless they're buying something for themselves!) and played a heap of video games on the wet, cold days. I played an intense game of Junior Trivial Pursuit with Middle Son (and lost - ahem), and a number of games of Connect Four with the other boys. They've played board games with each other. They have, in my opinion, been kept sufficiently amused.

And yet, here we are on Friday, and they're asking if we can do something 'special' today. *sigh*

Kids really don't know how to entertain themselves these days. Back in my day (I know - I'm sounding just like an actual parent now), boredom was part and parcel of school holidays. I recall many times complaining of being 'so bored!' and yet my mother didn't haul me off to such venues mentioned above (in actual fact, she didn't even have a driver's licence), rather she suggested I 'play this' or 'play that' and in the end, it was up to me to amuse myself.

And guess what? I did. I read books, I wrote stories, I played many, many games of solitaire (with actual playing cards, of course). I had one electronic gaming device: a Nintendo Game & Watch (remember Parachute?), and believe me, although it was addictive catching all those parachutes in a boat as they fell from a helicopter, it was a just little repetitive after a while. I played with my dolls, I played 'schools' - pretending to teach my imaginary class of students about a made up island, drawn on my chalkboard. I set up a 'shop' in my cubby house, selling mud pies out of the window to imaginary customers. (Perhaps the imaginary parents of the imaginary students?)

I didn't even have siblings around to amuse me; being twenty-one years apart in age, my sister was well and truly out of the home before I was even born. I did, however, sometimes have her kids - my niece and nephew (my age) - come over for a few days to both relieve my sister during school holidays so she could work and provide entertainment for me. And together, we played all those imaginative games together (and partook in some very noisy sessions playing Hungry Hippos, from memory).

I think it's really important to be bored. I was bored so often as a kid, it taught me how to amuse myself and as a consequence, I've always been very comfortable spending time alone. In fact, I crave alone time, and I'm very capable of finding ways to keep myself entertained.

So, even though my boys get to do a helluva lot more than I ever did on school holidays, there are days (like today) I instruct them to amuse themselves, and if they tell me they're bored, I advise them I'll find them something to do. Like, say, empty the dishwasher or pick up the dog poo or replace all the toilet paper in the bathrooms or colour-code the Lego. They soon realise they can probably find something else to do that's a little more appealing than that.

Being bored, I say, is a great life lesson.

J
xox

Monday, July 6, 2015

After such a strong start too ...


During the early nineties, I briefly dated a work colleague's son. I met him at a work dinner. He had come along as his mother's 'date' which I (and everyone else there) thought adorable.

I won't lie: he was attractive, in a tall, dark and handsome kinda way. He had a lovely smile, was well-mannered, appeared capable of holding a conversation and he clearly loved his mum, so my first impressions of him were pretty high. By the end of the dinner, I was quite taken with him.

After dinner, a bunch of us ended up at a nightclub. He and I had been talking - getting to know each other - and after watching everyone on the dance floor situated on the lower level of the club for a while, I turned to him to comment on some of the dancers only to find him holding a long-stemmed red rose which he immediately handed to me, smiling as he did, and, well, I was officially smitten.

Later, when he (and his mother!) dropped me home in a shared cab, he walked me to my door and kissed me goodnight. I went to bed that night thinking I'd done it: I'd potentially found my new boyfriend.

I was, however, also a little wary about getting involved with him because a) he was my work colleague's son (enough said); and b) he was in the process of getting a divorce and had two young kids. To be honest, I wasn't bothered at all about dating a guy who had been married before, and I'd always loved kids so that wasn't an issue either, it was just that I questioned whether he was ready for anything serious? I was looking for a long-term relationship, not to be someone's transitional fling.

I needn't have wasted so much time thinking about it: it all went downhill from there.

He called me at work the following week and asked me to his place (which also happened to be his mother's house) that coming Saturday night to watch a video with him. 'We'll just grab some dinner out beforehand and pick up a movie on the way home,' he suggested. I couldn't wait. A cosy movie night in sounded good to me. I pictured us grabbing some food at the local cafe, maybe even a pizza place, then snuggling up together on the couch in front of a nice, romantic movie. Perfect.

Saturday night arrived and I was beside myself with anticipation. His mother greeted me as I walked through the door, but left soon after. 'Let's go grab some dinner,' her son suggested just minutes later.

You can imagine my surprise when we pulled up to the local shopping centre, outside the entrance to the food court. 'Is the video shop here?' I asked.

'No,' he said smiling. 'We'll grab dinner here first then pick up the movie.' Hmmm. Okay, I thought. Not quite the casual cafe or pizza restaurant I imagined, but ... whatever.

As we walked up and down the food court, assessing all that was on offer, he asked what I felt like eating. 'Maybe some Thai?' I suggested, my mouth watering at the thought of some chicken satays or red curry with rice.

'Hmmm,' he replied, frowning, perusing the prices. 'Looks a bit expensive.'

I opened my mouth to reply, but couldn't. Nothing would come out. I can't remember what we ended up eating, but it certainly wasn't Thai food.

But hey, I figured, maybe things are tight with the divorce coming up and all that? And besides, I assured myself, it was supposed to be a casual night in. That's all. This is what most 'couples' did, right?

The movie wasn't the romance film I'd imagined we'd watch, but we had a nice enough night nonetheless. Hey - I saw a film, at least. I drove home feeling ... a little disappointed. But, you know, I figured it was early days yet.

Later that week, he called me at work and asked if I wanted to meet him for lunch? He'd come to me, he said. Well, I thought, perhaps he felt bad about the Thai food thing and was going to make it up to me? I worked on a busy street, spoilt for choice on places to eat. Just a couple of doors down was a nice Italian restaurant/cafe. I figured he'd take me there.

Instead, he suggested the local cafe/deli. Which was fine: there were tables and chairs there and the food was also pretty good. In fact, I ate there regularly. It was just ... nothing out of the ordinary.

We enjoyed a pretty nice lunch and a chat. I pushed the disastrous movie date from my mind and wondered if things would improve from here. A new beginning, perhaps?

A few days later, however, when I went back to the deli to grab a spinach and cheese filo pastry for lunch, the owner called me over. 'I'm sorry,' he said, looking apologetically at me. 'The gentleman you were in here with the other day?' I nodded in acknowledgement. 'Well, he left without paying the bill.'

Seriously?

I should have paid the guy right then and there, but out of principle, I didn't want to. My date was the one who was supposed to pay - after all, he invited me to lunch! - and I was damned if I was going to be out of pocket. I assured the owner I would make sure he paid - and soon - and hot-tailed it out of there, red-faced with embarrassment.

As I spoke to him on the phone, warning bells were going off in my head. He's a cheapskate. Dump him! But he apologised and ensured me he would pay. I ascertained it was probably just an honest mistake. A mistake anyone could make. Right?

I had to chase him for over a week to fix up the outstanding bill. He didn't seem to see the urgency in my request. At all. From memory, he eventually delivered the money ... to me! I'm pretty sure I insisted he go to the deli owner and pay!

So by now, I was not so enamoured by him any more.

I gave him one more chance when he called me out of the blue a couple of weeks later at the eleventh hour asking if he could see me. But once again, he didn't want to take me out anywhere - just hang at my place and watch a movie (a movie I'd already chosen and he complained about, so he decided to go home when I wouldn't change it). Funnily enough, I never saw him again after that.

Sometimes a connection can start strongly, only to peter out as quickly as it started, eh? *sigh*

J
xox

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Back on track


With winter comes its challenges: comfort food, more excuses not to get outside and walk, less trips to the park with the kids, more time reading on the couch in front of the fire rather than swimming in the ocean (not entirely a bad thing, that. Might just reduce my reading pile soon), more comfort food ...

Not that summer doesn't offer similar challenges. I started the 5:2 Diet in December last year, and it was going really well. I was about half a kilo off my goal weight, and then the warmer weather arrived and we found ourselves entertaining more (pass the cheese, please) and when school started in late January there were numerous events to attend, most of which involved food. But I mostly stuck to the diet. I organised coffee catch ups with friends around my preferred 'fast' days (Mondays and Thursdays) and there were probably a couple of weeks I only did one fast day, rather than two.

In April, Eldest Son and I flew to Perth for a week and I decided to take that week off my diet. How could I refuse dinner, lunch or any other catch up that involved food with family and old friends?! I figured: one week won't hurt, and to be honest, it actually didn't. The only problem was that, on my return to Sydney, everything got busy again with school holidays and Term 2 and I found myself doing more of a 6:1.

It's easy to slip in to bad habits, and I would have to say I've mostly kept to just the one fast day a week since then. Which is still not so bad - my weight has pretty much stabilised. Except for the fact that in the last couple of weeks, I've found myself finding excuses to not fast at all, and coupled with the fact that I've moved in to typical Winter Mode (you know - the comfort food and less movement I mentioned above), I can pretty much tell without jumping on the scales that the weight is creeping on again. I'm definitely not back to where I started - I can still fit in to my skinny jeans (well, just) - but nevertheless ...

A couple of weeks ago, Mr A asked if we were going to take on Dry July (an alcohol-free month in support of fundraising for cancer research). Neither of us have taken it on before, but thought it might be a good way to kick-start a healthier us this winter. I don't really drink a lot of alcohol anyway - I probably drink two (sometimes three) glasses of wine two nights a week, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes it's a little more, sometimes less. But, you know, I figured it would be a great way to boost my 'healthier me' plan. Besides, I've had three kids and managed to stay off alcohol completely throughout each pregnancy, as well as around six months before each boy was conceived, so one month is sure to be a walk in the park for me. Right? (*crosses fingers*)

So, July becomes the month I plan to get back on track: No alcohol and back to two fast days a week - the real 5:2 Diet. No excuses! I know I can do it, because I've done it before. And I can do it because I want to. All I needed was an excuse, and Dry July is providing just that.

J
xox  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Money does stuff to people

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When my dear Dad's father died (I was fourteen at the time), he left a fairly substantial amount of money to all of my father's siblings, but left nothing to my Dad. We have no idea why. My Dad was the firstborn and his mother died when he was just six weeks' old. Therefore, his siblings are all half-siblings, born from another woman. My Dad always maintained that his first step-mother (there were a couple over the years) didn't like him. That's the only reason we could come up with for his father leaving him out of his Will. Perhaps she was more influential than we realised?

In any case, my Dad decided to appeal his father's Will. All his siblings had to do was sign an agreement to relinquish a small amount of their inheritance to my Dad so that all the siblings (including my father) would end up with an equal share. However, only two of his five siblings agreed to sign the documents, with only one sending my Dad a cheque for her share (unprompted). 

Nice, huh?

Not surprisingly, my Dad eventually dropped the appeal because it was too upsetting. I remember as a young teenager, and knowing what had happened, despising my father's siblings who didn't sign over their share. And although I hardly knew my grandfather (he lived out of Perth, so we didn't see him often), I had all but decided he was a waste of my thinking time.

My anger dissipated over the years; no use crying over spilt milk and all that, and who really knows why my grandfather did what he did - perhaps he suffered dementia like my Dad did in the end, and someone took advantage of that? Besides, my Dad had a wonderful life regardless of his family members' actions. However, my Dad's experience did teach me a very important life lesson: money can bring out the worst in people. 

When I first started blogging in late 2009, blogging seemed to be all about the writing, sharing and connecting with a creative, supportive community (in Australia, anyway). Although it is still about that, by early 2011, PR companies had started to tentatively tip their toes in the blogosphere pool as a potential platform to promote their products, and blogging changed a bit. Suddenly bloggers (including myself) were receiving free products and invitations to blog-related events. Some of us were being offered to fly interstate and overseas. All of these events were highly publicised on Twitter and Facebook and suddenly bloggers became conscious that some were being invited to events and some weren't. They also discovered that some bloggers were being paid to write posts, whilst others were offered baked goods vouchers instead for their carefully formed words.

Suddenly, a lot of jealousy and 'why not me?' started rearing its ugly head in the blogosphere. Bloggers became more critical of each other and wrote about cliques and 'top bloggers' and started philosophising about the supposed hierarchy in the blogosphere. Blog posts about 'integrity' and 'selling out' became commonplace. Some bloggers even started to hesitate to jump on Twitter about being at an event because they 'might offend someone'.

Some bloggers, I feel, got a bit - dare I say it - greedy. I'd see blatant 'hints' for goods on Twitter and it would make me cringe. Goody bags were sometimes, well, just not good enough. And although I completely agree that bloggers shouldn't be offered peanuts for their writing - bloggers have worth and can be influential - I have to admit some blogger's derogatory comments about the lack of cash being thrown their way came over all a bit too Linda Evangelista for my liking. It felt as though blogging started to become more about how much money could be made from having a blog, rather than about the writing.

See how money changed it?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with bloggers choosing to monetise their blog, write sponsored posts, accept free gifts or attend events. Nothing at all. It's all about choice, and good luck to all those that set out to do that. And it is most certainly not a deliberate kick in the face to other bloggers when bloggers highlight what products they've received or events they have attended on their blogs, Twitter or Facebook. That's why they were given the product/invited to the event in the first place. Not just for fun, but to promote it.

Mummy Mayhem became one of those blogs. I never intended it to be - it was supposed to be my creative outlet. Something just for me; a platform where I could share my thoughts and opinions (mostly on parenting) and just write. Although I found it fun in the beginning when companies started sending me stuff and inviting me to events, I soon realised the price I paid to accept the products/attend the events. In short, it became hard work, and I found myself spending way too much time writing blog posts about products, which then led to me feeling too pushed for time, as well as less enthusiastic, to write in general. I felt backed in to a corner, and the only way out, I concluded, was to finish up my blog and reassess what I really wanted to do with my writing.

More than words was created as a site where I could purely write - about anything. Importantly, I chose not to monetise it, because I didn't want to experience the restrictions and limitations I felt I allowed MM to place on me. Although I don't get offered nearly as many freebies anymore, or to write posts to promote something, I turn any such offers down because I just want the freedom to write whatever I like, and I write without considering what might be considered interesting or popular. (Although, admittedly, it was really challenging to turn down a free coffee machine once. I LOVE coffee!) Quite frankly, it's all about me now, and I make no apologies for that. Essentially, on this site, I've returned to the original reason I started blogging: to write.

I'm not even close to considering myself any sort of blogging expert, but if there's one piece advice I could give to new bloggers, it would be to not allow money to shape your blog. Don't presume your own worth based on what products you do, or don't receive. If you want to build a 'brand', go right ahead and build it. Embrace that, and don't let posts about 'selling out' put you off. Just do what feels right for you.

But if you just want to write? Then just write. Don't worry about what's going on around you. Don't think for a second that you are somehow less of a blogger because you don't choose to turn your blog in to a Goop.com or the like.

Your blog doesn't have to be anything. Just yours.

J
xox

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What I wish I'd never thrown away


I always loved writing letters, and receiving them too. There's something about opening a letter for the first time and experiencing the anticipation as you slide your finger under the envelope flap to tear it open and pull out the folded communication, wondering what news you're about to receive. Then there's the joy of reading your correspondent's words for the first time and then, afterwards, being able to carry that letter with you and read it at any time, pouring over the words whenever it suited.

Of course, these days, letters have been firmly replaced mostly by email. But it's not quite the same, is it? For example, email is so instant and fast, I find that communication with my friends via email is often short and sometimes unsatisfying, if I'm honest. I think, because it's easy to assume you can 'drop a quick email' anytime, the tendency is to not write a lot in one sitting, but rather a bit here and there that doesn't add up to much in the end because most times an email is sent, it's short. I know I'm guilty of doing just that, and yet I'm a born communicator! I pretty much always write more and beyond what most of my friends and family do! With a letter though, commitment is required. You're not going to get out some pretty paper, a pen, find yourself a comfy position and sit down to write just three lines, now are you?

I wish I'd kept every letter I had ever received. What a great form of entertainment that would provide on a cold, wintry night in front of the open fire! (Oh alright, the faux fire gas heater. It's just that 'open fire' sounds so much more romantic for such a pastime, don't you think? I'm sure Jane Austen would agree.)

I've kept very few letters sent to me in the past: a number of them from my mother, a few from my niece and a couple my husband wrote to me in the early days of our relationship. I also have two from another friend I met on a European Contiki Tour back in 1991: a Canadian girl I eventually found on Facebook a few years ago after losing touch many years before that. I read her letters for the first time in years just a few months ago, and it was like walking back through time, recalling her news - and mine (through her response) - from all those years ago and our musings over what had happened on our holiday, and afterwards.

Late last year, while going through some of my dear mum's documents after she moved to a nursing home, I found a few letters I had written to her from the same holiday. It's so interesting, and yet also a little cringe worthy, reading the words your twenty-year-old self wrote. All of life's little problems back then seemed huge at the time, when in reality, they would be nothing compared to some of the things I've had to deal with since. I took the letters to my Mum and read them aloud to her. She loved hearing my news again.

And you know what I love the most about her letters to me? Looking at her handwriting. Holding the paper I know she held in her own hands all those years ago, before carefully folding it, placing it in an envelope, putting a stamp on said envelope, then walking to the local post box to send it. Such time and effort, and all for me...

Many letters I exchanged with friends over the years are long gone. I never say, 'I don't regret anything,' because I believe regret is important: regret is what makes us question our choices and learn from the mistakes we're all bound to make at some stage. So I do regret throwing away a lot of those old letters. What an insight in to my past they would be now, as would the diaries I kept over the years that I also threw away, at the time believing that by letting go of the past, I could only then make way for my future. Silly girl. Looking in to your past is sometimes what makes you appreciate your present and allows you to move forward.

I feel sad that my boys are growing up without letter-writing. I'm so thankful that the few letters I have I can cherish, and living with the regret of throwing out so many letters is what makes me put away the few notes here and there my boys write for me. Along with my mum's letters, and the few other letters I have, they'll be cherished. Always.

J
xox

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sacrifices that are worth it

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Mr A and I surprised our Sydney friends in 2013 when we announced we were moving further afield after selling our house the previous year. The original plan was to move further north up the train line from our old suburb, but we decided on a sea change: we moved closer to the beach. Our friends were aghast. The most common response to our news was an incredulous, 'Whaaaaat?!'

We've always wanted to live near the beach, but we figured it would be too inconvenient, travel-wise for work etc. I'm not sure what suddenly changed our minds, but when Mr A suggested the move - during a day out at one of our (now) local beaches - although I initially thought him a little cray-cray, I quickly warmed to the idea. Mr A's words continued to ring in my ear, 'If we're ever going to do it, now's the time.' Indeed.

Within days I had found our house on the Internet, within the week we were looking at it for the first time, and within a few months we were moving in.

With the move, sacrifices have had to be made. We've gone from a two minute walk to school for Youngest Son, and a seven minute bus ride for the other two boys, to a forty minute (sometimes longer, sometimes shorter) car ride in the mornings (with just over twenty minutes each way for the return journey in the afternoon). I spend a helluva lot more time in my car than I used to (before the move I'd often go days at a time without having to get in to one).

We also had to sell two beloved cars (one which we had had since just before Youngest Son was born - we all loved it and it held a lot of fond memories for us) so we could buy more fuel-efficient ones (with all the extra driving, it was costing us a small fortune in petrol).

We used to live a very short walk to a bunch of shops, cafes and restaurants. Now if I forget something, I'm mostly in the car for a quick drive to the local Coles.

If the boys want friends over, it's not as easy to organise as it used to be, and there's certainly no time for after school play-dates these days.

If I want friends over, more planning is involved/required. There's no 'quick drop-in' for coffee anymore.

Because the boys still go to school in our old area, Saturday sport is often quite the commute, and if there are any after school meetings etc during the week, a third trip back to our old stomping grounds is required.

On reflection, the decision to make the move was quite a quick one, mostly made without giving the whole thing too much thought. I mean, yes, we did research travel options to and from work and school, we talked to a few people who already made the commute, and we pondered how we'd balance it all. But in the end, it also came down to a gut feeling that it was the right move. I'm a big believer in listening to your inner voice.

So has it been worth it, and did we make the right decision? Completely and absolutely. We haven't regretted our move for a second. And our friends now understand our decision too; most people, when they visit for the first time, say, 'Well now I get why you made the move.'

I've never felt happier than I do in our new home. When the ocean comes in to view as we drive home from school each day, or whenever I take the dog for a walk to the local beach, I can't help but smile and feel myself relax, and then I sigh a deep, grateful sigh that we made the right decision.

Some sacrifices really are worth it.

J
xox

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The diet


I've never believed in diets, per se. I think for the most part, diets are just not sustainable. I mean, do you really want to eat soup most days for the rest of your life? Or give up cake on special occasions? Feel hungry every second of every day? Nope. Not for me. I've always believed - and have expressed this opinion many times online on various sites - that if you eat well, exercise regularly, drink lots of water and eat crap occasionally, then whatever weight you are is the weight you're supposed to be. We're not all genetically engineered to look like Kate Moss.

However, I'm also 'lucky' because I've never struggled with weight. (Well, except for when I wanted to gain it as an insecure fourteen year-old. MYTH: if you're naturally 'skinny', you automatically don't have to worry about your weight.) So, you could possibly argue that I'm not exactly the right person to talk about whether diets are a good thing or not.

BUT - can I also say that since I reached the big 4-0 (four years ago now - ouch), I've noticed my body start to change, and whilst, in the past, I've enjoyed being able to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, that's not quite the case anymore. My mid-section isn't quite as svelte as it used to be. (Ok, it  probably hasn't been 'svelte' since circa 2001, ie pre-kids), and I feel I could shift a few kilos. I knew that eating well and exercising - just as I mentioned above - would make all the difference, but I kept letting myself down in that department. I started well with a healthy breakfast, and I eat pretty good dinners too, but everything in between? I don't always make the healthiest of choices. I love to walk the dog when I can, or jump on the treadmill at home, but some days the housework, errands and the like keep me from doing just that. (And I've never been a morning person, so getting up at 5am to fit in exercise is not natural for me.)

Another thing that has concerned me, especially in recent years, is the kind of genetic background I have, inherited from my family (cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes etc). I knew I had to do something to reduce the risk of such diseases. I need to make a change. Albeit a small one. But how? A diet? No way, I thought. I love food too much!

Then late last year I saw a BBC documentary on the 5:2 Diet that absolutely fascinated me. The concept is kind of simple: for five days a week, eat normally (or 'feast' - but obviously, don't go crazy on the donuts), and for the other two days, 'fast'. And by 'fast', they mean women should eat no more than 500 calories, and men 600 calories on those days. So, it's not exactly 'fasting', is it? The benefits? Not just weight loss - but an increase in overall health.

Basically, the doco shows that scientists have found that we are genetically engineered to not eat constantly all the time. After all, as cavemen, there weren't a lot of Maccas around and food was hunted/gathered and consumed in stops and starts. Not every day. You see, according to Dr Mosley - the scientist who has made the diet popular through the doco - our bodies like stress - in fact, our bodies respond well to it. Just like our bodies love it when we exercise (ie, we tear muscle), our bodies like to/need to feel hunger. Intermittent fasting activates the processes that repair the body's cells and cuts insulin production, which in turn makes us less likely to lay down fat stores. And healthwise, the 5:2 diet seems to have many other positive effects: research on animals and humans has shown, for example, that fasting tends to lower the production of the IGF-1 hormone that plays a role in the development of cancer. Apparently, the effects on the brain are encouraging too. There's a potential reduction in the risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. That's good news for me: my dear Dad had Alzheimer's in his latter years, and I'd like to avoid that like the plague. 

Curious, I asked Mr A to pick me up a copy of the book on the 5:2 for Christmas, and he thought he had, but instead he bought me a book called 'The 5:2 Diet Book', written by Kate Harrison (pictured above). Basically, the book is written about Kate's experience on the diet, coupled with tips, science, recipes and case studies. I devoured it (not literally!) and decided a few days later to give the 5:2 a go.

The first couple of fast days were ... uncomfortable. I was hungry. But I'm writing this on my sixth fast day since starting. It's currently 3.05pm and so far today all I've had is a small, soft-boiled egg and two long black coffees with a dash of milk and half a teaspoon of sugar in each. And I feel absolutely fine. Later, I'll have some canned tuna in springwater (drained) mixed with cottage cheese and a handful of carrot sticks. For dinner I'll have 100 grams of roasted chicken (no skin!) and a crunchy salad next to it, including lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes. Maybe I'll have a cup of black tea in the evening (no sugar). In fact, I can drink that all day if I want to.

In the first two weeks on the 5:2, I lost 1.6kg and my waistline looked less fuller. And that's a period during which Youngest Son celebrated a birthday and chocolate cake was consumed. Two pieces, in fact. With freshly whipped cream on the side. So were pancakes, complete with maple syrup and gorgeous marscapone. Hot chips were enjoyed at the local bowling alley. I shared a delicious pizza with a friend one night. Yesterday, I ate two homemade banana muffins. I'm not missing out, people. Not at all.

Just two and a half weeks in, I have more energy already. I really do think I'm thinking more clearly. On my 'feast' days, I find I'm naturally making healthier choices with my food - a fantastic flow-on effect from the 'fast' days. I also now realise that feeling hungry is ok. I don't have to eat something as soon as I feel those initial rumblings of hunger. I'll survive! And a little can go a long way.

I'm a FAN. If this is a diet, then so be it. I am ON it.

J
xox


* This post is not sponsored. I don't do sponsored posts!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The writing year that wasn't



Almost a year ago to the day, I promised myself I would write more in 2014. My initial thought was to continue writing a book (a fictional story) that I started during the fiction writing course I took some time back. My tutor at the time commented that she thought it a story that could work well. But then I got distracted writing another story that suddenly came to me (I started it as a short story, but then it got bigger and bigger ...), and then I got distracted again thinking about yet another storyline that I felt could work, even if it seemed it could be a little tricky to write (for various reasons).

After confusing myself considerably, around mid-year I decided I would step away from the fiction writing altogether for a bit - give myself a break from it, you know? - and focus again on freelance writing instead, as I hadn't written an article in a good while. I thought I'd better hone my skills some more before leaping in to that again, so I took an online course.

To be honest, I didn't enjoy that course as much as the fiction writing one. It had nothing to do with the course itself, or the tutor (someone I admire greatly); rather it was about my mindset, I think. I just really love writing fiction, and although I like writing articles (and blog posts!), the process of doing so doesn't come as naturally to me as writing fiction does (never has). Nor, to be honest, do I find it as enjoyable.

After the course finished, and we were encouraged to go out and start thinking of ideas for articles to write, and figure out what publications to approach with those ideas, I couldn't get in the head space to even consider doing it. I guess, almost immediately after the course finished, I pretty much abandoned the idea of writing articles again. For the time being, at least.

And yet, I still didn't go back to my fiction writing either. I suppose I've been a bit distracted this past year with other things, not to mention my dodgy elbow hindered my writing capabilities for a good six weeks. I think all in all, I haven't been 'in the zone' to dive in to my writing with enthusiasm. I need to sort out what story I want to write, and write it. (And stick to one story!) I have a terrible habit of starting things and not finishing them. Always have, actually. (Not a trait I'd like my kids to pick up from me any time soon.)

And so, even though I made a New Year's resolution of sorts last year to write more, I'm making one again now.

It's a good thing it's here in writing, eh?

J
xox