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Pelicans

Lake Illawarra

Pelican Portraits

The COVID19 movement restrictions are being lifted in NSW and we are all getting outside more. Getting back to “normal” and exploring our still clean environment. I went out last weekend for my first photo safari for a very long time. I wandered along the shore of Lake Illawarra and took some rather nice portraits of pelicans.

Pelicans are lovely birds. Big and ungainly on land, but magnificent flyers. Their broad wings carrying their heavy bodies effortlessly.

They eyed off the human fisherman with cheeky stares.

P1930901pelicansLake Illawarra fishermen

A humanist eulogy

I recently did a course through Future Learn on humanism. One of the set tasks was to write your own eulogy from a humanist standpoint. That is, there is no afterlife and once you’re dead, you’re dead. It’s a viewpoint I feel quite happy with. Don’t worry I am not planning on dying anytime soon. I hope that I am around for many more years to come!

A eulogy for Robyn

Wow! What a life! What a life my friend lived! She lived with passion, enthusiasm and vigour. She was never afraid to try something new. To create a challenge or set a goal. She annoyed us with her special projects and obsessions. She annoyed us with her bossy and dominating personality but still, we loved her energy and drive. Her get up and go! Her pizazz! 

Well, her get up and go has finally got up and gone and her chirpy voice with it. We are sad at her passing but OUR lives are richer for her being here and we pause today to celebrate that life. That temporary cohesion of elements and energy that combined in a unique way  and in this time-frame, to make the human we called Robyn. 

Robyn’s one life was, in the end, a life well-lived. She tried each day to make a difference to someone or some cause that needed a little boost. She had kind words to say to those who would listen. She had new tricks to learn and she kept us entertained. 

Robyn’s philosophy of life and death was a simple one. 

We start from nothing. We end as nothing.  But our life is our everything and it is not for nothing. 

For her, a life well lived was one that leaves behind a string of memories and inspiration for those of us who remember her.  We remember her travels. We remember her photos and quirky little movies. We remember her stories. We remember she couldn’t type to save her life and was hopeless at editing her own work! But these things did not stop her from getting out and having a go. For being brave enough to put her thoughts out in the world. 

In her autumn years, she supported the plight of older women, The Old Chooks. The older women marginalised by society who became vulnerable, homeless and forgotten in a culture that values youth over the beauty of a caring soul. She asks that you support charitable causes that help older women rather than put flowers on her burial place. 

Robyn’s motto “Be Invincible, Not Invisible” will live on in her memoirs and autobiographical short films. 

Robyn’s last wish was for you to stand here with her one last time, to enjoy the good food her family have prepared and add one small memory of your time with her to the slips of paper and add it to the jar being passed around. 

She asks you to move on, think of her fondly and know that she’s looking forward to becoming fertiliser for those trees!


I know some of my posts have been a bit dark lately. Don’t worry, I am not feeling dark. I am grateful that I have a secure job in an “essential Industry”. I am grateful that I am still healthy and have plenty of food in the cupboard.

If you are feeling dark and need help, please reach out to services such as Lifeline

Stay Calm and wash your hands!

 

Happy Birthday to Me!

a deep pink and yellow peopny

Today is my 59th birthday. I guess getting older beats the alternative! I’ll be at work. I won’t be doing anything special. My lovely family friends will ring me,  send texts or Facebook messages and wish me good luck for the year ahead.

I greet the day with a little trepidation. I like to use my birthday as a trigger to take stock and reflect on what I have done over the past year.  2020 has certainly been interesting so far!

About 2 1/2 years ago I set myself an ambitious list of 60 things to do before my 60th birthday. I don’t think I am halfway through yet. I made some modifications when I realised some of them were not SMART goals and I had no real control over whether they were achieved or not. I modified them again to align with the Year of Zero Goals.

There are a cluster of about 15 that I will be doing in the days leading up to the actual day and involve the celebration trip I plan to take.  I am happy to leave those on the back burner. I may refine them further.

There are two goals, dear reader, that you can help me with. I set a goal to reach 1000 followers on this here blog and 500 on my Instagram account. I am not even halfway there! It’s taken my 3 years to accumulate the readers I have. The curve is not rising steeply enough and at my current rate, I project I’ll reach 1000 by 2027!

I am therefore asking for a tiny little birthday gift from you all. Please introduce and recommend my blog to some of your friends.  They may enjoy the crazy ride of unconnected stories as much as I do writing them! 

Make an old(er) lady happy on her birthday!

Me

 

 

 

 

Saving the planet – one pair of socks at a time.

I am balancing precariously on the intersection of two conflicting intents. The conflicting intents? Saving money so I can retire and saving the planet.

Personal savings intent:

I am 59, and I have a huge mortgage as a result of getting divorced and needing to start again. I don’t want to downsize as I am already in a small villa. I want to retire by 62. I have set myself a goal of saving a little over a third of my net pay for the next four years. This should get the mortgage paid off and means I won’t end up homeless.

I am achieving this through a number of strategies which I set out in my Year of Zero Post. Essentially I’m saving money by:

  1. Placing an embargo on buying new things and only replacing stuff if it gets broken or wears out.
  2. Being much more frugal in terms of food, entertainment and lifestyle in general.

Saving the planet intent:

I want to be a more sustainable and ethical buyer. I want to buy from smaller companies, not multinationals. I want to buy local more often and hyper-local wherever possible. I want to buy from people who have bonafide planet-friendly strategies. I want to buy Australian made and Australian owned.  I want to buy from those companies whose triple bottom line includes, profit in terms of money, environment and people.

My dilemma? I need new sports socks. The ones I have are disappearing inside my shoes as I run.

Weighing up the options

I can go to the local chain store KMart, and get three pairs of socks for $2. I won’t buy those because I know they won’t last long and are probably synthetic and will end up smelly. I can afford to splash out and get 3 pairs for $12. KMart has an ethical buying commitment. They are establishing a framework to ensure their suppliers’ employees are paid a living wage.   Their sustainability policy concentrates on sources of cotton and cocoa, social responsibility and saving energy by installing LED lighting. Their environmental bona fides are not great, but they are working towards it. They’re are thinking about it, but they are not there yet.

On the other hand, I could buy from a company like Boody. Boody is an Australian family company which manufactures underwear and socks from ethically and sustainably sourced bamboo. Their environmental credentials are impressive. The bamboo is grown and treated in China. Some of their products are made in Australia, but from their website, it is hard to tell where the items are actually knitted or stitched together.  They employ local people, pay a living wage,  and have a close to zero waste production cycle. They give to planet-friendly charities. They tick the environmental boxes but not the manufactured in Australia box.

Given the KMart socks are also not Australian made, this factor can be cancelled out.  BUT one pair of bamboo socks will cost me $10! I can get a discount if I buy five pairs. This brings it down to $8.80 a pair.

The Decision?

And here is where I get stuck. This is, I fear is where most people get stuck. Do I spend 400% more buying the eco socks or stash the cash in my own account? What wins? The now or the later? My economic future or the future of the planet? What legacy do I want to leave?

The answer becomes clearer when it’s personalised, and I think about my own family. What impact will my actions have on my offspring? What impact can I have as one person?

The journey has to start somewhere, and this time I am going to give the eco-socks a try. My desire to ensure that this one planet remains liveable and viable for my grandson has won the argument.

DISCLAIMER: I have no connection to Boody. They just came up when I searched Google for ethical and sustainable socks.


Nearly $60 later; the socks arrived, they’re soft and fluffy and good quality.  They are labelled “Made in China”. I hope they last!

 

Do Gratitude Diaries Work?

Do gratitude diaries work? I am going to start by putting it out there right now!  In my opinion, it’s a resounding YES!

A gratitude diary or a three good things journal really helped me get out of a slump post-divorce. Actually, post-post-divorce.  That period of time when the euphoria of actually being out of a toxic relationship and into the world as a free and independent person has worn off and the realisation that you are a free person and you have to work out who you are and how you’ll navigate the world without that other person even if they were toxic.

I came across the idea in Martin Seligman’s Flourish. I was sceptical so did some light research and discovered it was a persistent theme in the realm of positive psychology. There are many proponents of the idea. There are apps that help you record your statements of gratitude. You can buy lovely diaries and notebooks. Or like me, you can use one of the many notebooks you already have lying around because you have a tiny stationery fetish!

Essentially a Gratitude Diary (or three good things) is simply a way of recording the positive aspects of your daily life.  At a set time, usually just before you go to bed, you write down or record in some other way; at least three good things or things that you are grateful for that have happened that day.

From personal experience, I know that when you are in the depths of depression or sadness the three good things are hard to come by. It might be as trivial as I found matching socks; I enjoyed a cup of tea or more importantly, I drank my whole cup of tea before it went cold! As you get into it and persist, the snippets of goodness are easier to write, in fact, you begin to store them up during the day and rush to write them down. They may not be profound, you may have not saved the world but a little switch in your brain has flipped from sad to happier. You begin to notice the good things. Coupled with a deliberate focus of random acts of kindness it is very powerful.

Is it all hocus pocus and a phony treatment? It would seem not!

In a metastudy published in 2011 which compared traditional treatments to things like the gratitude diary, Layous et al * found a number of interesting conclusions

 

  • Medication and therapy don’t always cut the mustard

Medication for the treatment of depression can be a bit hit and miss. Not everyone who has depressive illnesses seeks treatment. Treatments such as psychotherapy can be VERY costly, especially in places where there is no universal health system and therefore simply not available to many sectors of our society.  On top of that, these treatments have been shown to be effective in only 60 – 70% of cases. Of these, 80% of the response to medication can be accounted for by placebo effects.

  • It takes a long time to get results: 

It can take up to 4 – 8 weeks for the antidepressants to kick in. People are in therapy for years! That’s a long time waiting to get happy or even a little bit happier.

  • The side effects can be brutal. 

Side effects of the medication include a reduction in libido, weight gain, insomnia and moon face (caused by retention of fluids) to name a few. These things are unlikely to make you feel any better!

  • A pharmacological approach does not teach you any new tricks to help you on a behavioural level. 

What was causing you to be depressed in the first place? Cognitive approaches help people stay away from negative thought patterns. This is something medication does not do. On the other hand, “positive activity interventions” (PAIs) can help people flourish and allow them to move them beyond “not feeling depressed to a point of flourishing”. One of the reasons for this is that the person feels in control. They did it, not the drugs.

Positive Activity Interventions

PAI’s include activities such as writing letters of gratitude, counting one’s blessings, practising optimism and performing acts of kindness. Gratitude diaries fit into the counting one’s blessing category.

The benefits of PAIs are:

  1. They are cheap!
  2. They are easy to do.
  3. They’re self-administered and give the person a sense of agency and empowerment over their own treatment.
  4. They work just as effectively as traditional treatments. The magnitude of effect for PAIs was determined to be 0.30 and for psychotherapy, it was 0.31.
  5. Their effects are long-lasting. A gratitude diary can lead to an improvement in mood and well-being for up to 6 months after completion.
  6. They work quickly, with decreases in depressive symptoms in less than a week. In a limited study, after only 15 days, depression scores were reduced by 16.7 points and 94% of participants felt some relief.

The PAI’s are thought to work by changing the neural and reward pathways in the brain. The study also suggested that PAIs are not likely to be as effective in cases of severe depression or those who had a very strong bias against these sorts of treatment. If you think it won’t work, it won’t! This is no different to the placebo affect for drug therapy.

So if you are open to the idea, and want something to work cheaply and quickly you might want to try a  gratitude diary and other PAIs. I have reviewed Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness in a previous post which gives examples of many other PAI’s.

You might want to read both the post and her book.

This approach certainly worked for me and in times when I feel a bit low I go back to it for a few days to truly count my blessings!


This post obviously does not constitute proper medical advice. If you are depressed and thinking of hurting yourself please reach out for help NOW. Call a suicide support agency in your country or state. In Australia, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

* Layous,K; Chancellor, J; Lyubomirsky, S; Wang, L; Doraiswamy M. Delivering Happiness: Translating Positive Psychology Intervention Research for Treating Major and Minor Depressive Disorders. The Journal Of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol 17, 8 (2011) pp1 – 9.

Go Solar!

In my quest to reduce my carbon footprint I am seriously considering installing solar panels. I am coincidently doing a unit of work on energy with my Year 7 Science class.  Since our school is “learning from home”,  I  had time to play with some new apps and techniques to prepare a lesson for remote learning, I put this clip together as a bit of fun. Three parts learning new skills, 3 parts lesson prep and 4 parts just fooling around!

Video footage using my iPhone, screen capture using Loom. Music from Purple Planet. Adobe Sketch with an Apple Pencil and iMovie to put it all together.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am anti-social…

The COVID bubble begins to burst!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social or anything, but perversely I am sad that the restrictions for COVID19 are being lifted. I have been enjoying my State-sanctioned semi-solitude. I had a perfect mix of interactions with others and being allowed to retreat all worked out.

It’s a selfish stand, I know because I wasn’t all that disadvantaged by them.   I kept working through the whole time, was able to get out and exercise and had a steady stream of activities to keep me occupied. I was not affected by the great toilet paper shortage or scarcity of other items due to some uncanny coincidental forward planning. I didn’t have kids to home school.  I didn’t get sick. I had already planned a low key year. I did miss seeing my grandson and daughter, and that’s about it. One other big regret was not being able to attend my good friend’s funeral at the end of April.

At work, I was able to be proactive and not reactive. Every item on my daily to-do list was crossed off, and I left at a reasonable time. I didn’t have students to discipline. The parents I did talk to were appreciative and not berating me for dealing with their children.

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Plenty of iso-baking happened at my place!

Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-social but with most of the teachers working from home, the constant stream of interruptions to solve other peoples’ problems dwindled to next to nothing. They return en masse this Monday, bringing their problems with them. (11/5/20)

A  rumbling low-level of anxiety is beginning to penetrate my calm as the invitations to “catch up now that we can” are starting. It’s not that I went out partying every weekend anyway but having to stay at home, HAVING to be cocooned because I was told to, gave me a legitimate reason to stay quiet and at peace.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I don’t want to see people, but this time to be slow, deliberate and self-sufficient was tantalisingly comforting. The bluer than blue skies have already started to brown over as more and more people are going about their business.

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Bluer than blue!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social, but I have discovered that I am also not pro-social either. When I am with people, I feel on guard. Will I say something stupid? Will I accidentally offend someone? Does my hair look alright? What will they think of me? The internal monologue never ends. Sometimes it’s so noisy I forget to listen to the person in front of me. That voice has been so quiet these last two months. I guess it proves that even though I am friendly, loud, bossy, speak in front of a large crowd etc I am in essence a socially awkward introvert.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social, but I could live in this bubble forever… I think…  As long as the bubble had a door. It might be different if I didn’t have the option to leave when I wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am antisocial, but I might re-gig my world a little so I can keep the calm for longer. Please don’t be offended.

 

….and Mum! Don’t worry, I am OK!! 🙂

 

Can I live a life without alcohol?

I have just completed Day 100 of my alcohol-free year. It is the second time I have reached this milestone in the last 12 months. I decided to quit alcohol in the 100 days before Christmas,  2019. I did it for a few reasons. Firstly for my health, secondly to see if I could, and thirdly because I have been becoming more and more concerned about my complicated relationship with alcohol.

I have always been a drinker. I come from a family of drinkers. At some stages in my life, I have been a very heavy drinker. People who know me in real life will know that I am usually one of the first at the bar.  I would usually have a glass of wine (or three) when I got home from work and while cooking dinner. I’d have a few drinks on Tuesday night when I went out with friends to pub trivia and a “few” more on the weekend. Some weekends I’d have two glasses and other weekends, two bottles. The only other time I have had an extended “dry” period was when I was pregnant.

 

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Home-brewed kombucha, cheap but not nasty!

That original 100-day stint was not as difficult as I thought it would be. The first three weeks back in September 2019 were challenging from a habit-breaking point of view. I swapped wine for (homemade) kombucha, soda water with lemon or just plain water. My friends (eventually) stopped questioning my no alcohol stance and I was able to sip on soda water or non-alcoholic beer without being hassled when I went out.

 

 

 

It was my intention to return to “normal” after Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Day 99, I was riddled with anxiety. Not because I was craving for alcohol, but rather that I didn’t want to start up bad habits again.  I had felt more energetic, had less joint pain, was sleeping better and was saving money. I had declared very loudly to my family that I was doing “A 100-day challenge” and joked about enjoying my first drink with them over Christmas lunch. I had bought a very nice bottle of wine which was sitting in the cupboard in readiness.

When D-day arrived I was torn. I had done the work, moved over the hump of looking for wine when I was cooking or socialising and I was doing just fine!

I did have a few glasses of wine at Christmas time but I did not enjoy them with the same gusto as in the past.  I had discovered in those 100 days, that I could have just as much fun without it. I started my next ‘challenge’ enthusiastically on the 30th of December and included it as part of my Year of Zero. This time I  planned for a year-long abstinence.

As a society, we tolerate and even celebrate drunkenness and “party” behaviour. For me, like most people, alcohol meant “fun”. You wouldn’t be going out if you didn’t have a drink or two. Too often though, two leads to three, three leads to four and after that who’s counting ? I have had more hangovers than I can count and many mornings where I have woken with that dreaded feeling of not knowing what I may have said or done. I know I have caused some people distress. I also know I am not alone in this socially endorsed way of using (or abusing) alcohol. It’s almost un-Australian not to drink! Still while I remain a functioning adult and don’t miss work or my responsibilities or break the law, it’s deemed “OK”.

I couldn’t help thinking there was a  story to tell to others about my experience and it would seem I am not the only one thinking along the same lines. In January 2020, I came across two stories by Flip Prior in  ABC Life about her year without alcohol.  She wrote

“Because excessive alcohol consumption is so normalised for many of us in Australia, no-one had ever said anything to me about the way I was drinking or raised it as an issue, even though for me it felt like a problem to fix.”

Snap that’s a match, Flip! I wanted to solve my problem of overusing alcohol. It was never my intention to not drink again, but rather give it a break to prove to myself I could. I guess in the back of my mind I was trying to prove to myself that I was not an alcoholic.

Let’s be frank. Alcohol is bad for you! Seriously bad! Physically, emotionally, financially! You don’t have to look far to see that.

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Moderation is not one of my strong suits. It tends to be all or nothing!

Flip wraps up her story with a sentiment I  wholeheartedly agree with.

[After a year of not drinking] “You’ve done all that work, you’ve got rid of all those triggers and associations and your brain no longer equates fun with alcohol — why would you want to go back to drinking poison? It makes no sense.

Will I drink again? I don’t know. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I am not going to say I’ll never have alcohol again, I am not ready to do that.

I’ll let you know in January 2021.

(PS: by the time this post is actually published it will be 122 days)

 

EDITED TO ADD: These video are great! Four short (fun) videos in the affect of alcohol. 

The (Un)official Hugh Grant Film Festival

In the Age of Corona, we have all been in front of screens a lot more. Those of us who have screens to be in front of anyway. This story is about my (un)official Hugh Grant Movie Festival.


As part of my isolation journey, I finished watching a few Netflix series, namely Sex Education and The Stranger. I started Ozark as recommended by many of my friends, but was finding it difficult to get in to mainly because it was scaring the crap outta me! It was too suspenseful when I was already experiencing some ongoing low-level anxiety as it was. Browsing Netflix’s menu, I struck upon Notting Hill. I’ve seen it before a few times. I knew it was sweet and funny, and Hugh Grant provided some eye candy.  I thought, why not, an anxiety-free zone!

As the credits were rolling, I thought poor old Hugh!  He always plays the same character. The sort of bumbling, humble, sweet fellow who always gets his girl in the end after a confession of true love following some kind of misunderstanding.  The same every time. I had a look at the font of all knowledge (Wikipedia)  and discovered that he had several film credits to his name. More than forty stretching back to 1982!  Along with movies, he has made substantial contributions to TV.

True to my form, I set an isolation goal (another one, I know!!) to watch as many of his movies as possible and see if my observation of the depths of his typecasting was correct.

Where will I source the Hugh Grant omnibus?

I searched the interwebs for ways to view his movies.

  • Many are on Netflix and Prime Video which I already subscribe to. So tick!
  • Some are on Prime/Neflix but not in Australia. Booo!
  • Some I can get from my local library on DVD, but it is closed at the moment due to the Corona Virus.  Sigh!
  • A few more are on the streaming service called Kanopy which I can get free through the library. Yeah!
  • One of my local Op Shops was open, so I ducked in there. (Only six people allowed in the shop at a time – keep your distance – sanitise before and after!) and picked up six titles for $2 each. (50% off the marked price!)
  • His very early work from the 80s is still causing some issues which I hope YouTube might solve.

Hugh Grant

The results so far?

Movie Role Source
Notting Hill (1999) Yep – typecast as William Thacker Netflix
Did you hear about the Morgans (2009) Yep – typecast as Paul Morgan Netflix
Sirens (1994) Interesting! Australian production and a bit of very soft porn. Very young Elle McPherson who gets her clothes off a lot, Sam Neil who stays dressed and Portia de Rossi who is naked for much of the time too! But yes still a bit typecast but not so much! Prime Video
The Englishman who went up a hill and came down a mountain(1995) Yep -very much so! As geologist/surveyor Reginald Anson Prime Video
Music And Lyrics (2007) Yep! Aging has been pop star finds love! Prime Video
Our Sons (1991) Made for TV. NO!! Not typecast. Plays a rather angry-with-the-world-gay guy whose partner is dying from AIDS. He plays the son of Julie Andrews and speaks with an American accent Prime Video
Mickey Blue Eyes (1999) Yes! Typecast as a would-be mobster Michael Felgate. If you recognise most of the cast it’s because many of them later appeared in the Sopranos! DVD from the Op shop
Two Weeks Notice (2002) Yep as Sandra Bullock’s English love interest – George Wade DVD from the Op shop
Paddington 2 (2017) No! He plays a baddy! An aging thespian has been! Is this another typecast genre arising as Hugh gets older? Netflix
Sense and Sensibility (1995) Well yes and no…He is not bumbling but he is humble. Given the script sticks to Jane Austen’s original story – it’s not really up to him, but he plays the love interest again, there is a misunderstanding again, and he gets his girl in the end! DVD from the Op shop
Bridget Jones Diary (2001) No. He is not bumbling or humble. He plays the Playboy cad. So while he tries to lure Bridget into a relationship, in the end, he does not get the girl. (Well not Bridget – every other girl but not her!) DVD from the Op shop
Bridget Jones – The Age of Reason (2004) No. A reprise of his character above, slightly but not totally reformed. He is still a cad and he still does not get the girl. DVD from the Op shop
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) Yes. According to Wikipedia, this is the pivotal movie that cast him into this typecast role and the start of his Hollywood career. On another note, Andie MacDowell’s character is very mono-faceted. I think if the movie was made now it would be very different. He essentially falls in love with her because she looks good. Her character and dialogue are very wooden. DVD from the Op shop
The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015) Hugh plays Waverley. An MI5 agent. Not typecast! Does not have a girl to get! Rented via Apple TV
About a Boy (2002) He’s not humble and bumbling but after a misunderstanding, he does get his girl (plus a whole network of friends). So partially stereotyped. Rented via Apple TV

That’s ALL I have watched so far.  I have copies of/ access to

  • Love Actually (again!) on Netflix/Prime
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
  • Cloud Atlas from the Library when it’s open
  • The Remains of the Day – Library
  • The Lady and the Highwayman (TV) Library.
  • I can rent a couple of more titles such as The Gentleman (2019) and The Rewrite (2014), from Apple TV

Once I have finished these, the real searching will begin as all the low fruit will have been picked!

If you know where I can see them in Australia let me know. There are many more titles on the US version of Prime and Netflix, but I don’t have access to those.

(Hugh even talks bout the typecasting himself in this interview with HQ.)


Edit: 29/4/20

My original reason for starting the (unofficial) Hugh Grant Film Festival was to prevent me from aimlessly searching Netflix and Prime for something to watch in the upcoming weeks of Corona isolation. It meant I could just concentrate on one thing and reduce decision fatigue. I wrote the post over several weeks.  As of yesterday, quarantine and lockdown restrictions are beginning to be lifted in NSW.  We can now visit family. While welcomed in one respect, the tone of the low-voiced mumbling in my workplace is fearful. Is it too soon? Will there be a second wave? We can only wait and see.