Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day

Is Valentine’s Day even a thing in Australia? For some of us yes, for others it’s another capitalist plot to make us spend money.

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Capitalism is fed

As Hallmark scams you!

According to a 2019 survey conducted by Relationships Australia, more than half of all adult Americans and a third of adults in the UK celebrate Valentine’s Day in some way. Eighteen per cent of the 1700 Australian respondents in this survey said they had never celebrated Valentines Day because they don’t believe in it. I am with that 18%.

Valentine's day

Another Australian survey conducted in 2015  by Canstar Blue says that of the 2050 respondents they questioned, 46% said they intended on doing nothing for Valentines Day. Of these people, 54% did not celebrate it because they didn’t believe in it.

I don’t think I have ever received a Valentine’s Card. Well, at least I don’t remember if I have. I don’t know of many of my peers who make a fuss over the day either. From my casual observations, it seems to be celebrated here by people who celebrate Halloween or who think Black Friday is a sale day and not a day to commemorate tragic bush fires in Adelaide!

On a personal note, I see it as another way to get people to spend money on things they don’t really need. Or perhaps spend money on things they should be doing anyway, such as spending quality time with people they love or have significant relationships with.

Approximately 131 million Hallmark cards were exchanged on Valentines Day in 2016 raising more than a $1 billion dollars.  Not to mention the money spent on roses and chocolates.

Valentine's Day

On the other side of things, it singles out single people. This might make them feel sad or SAD! A counter-movement called Singles Awareness Day (SAD) is ‘celebrated’ on February 15th and accentuates the positives of being single. I’m with them!

Maybe we should start another movement and channel all that money into showing our love for our planet. Instead of buying a single long-stemmed red rose grown in a greenhouse, think of ways to lower your own greenhouse emissions. Instead of giving a whole bunch of roses that will die in a few days, plant some trees which will last more than a lifetime. Instead of giving chocolate which leads to the destruction of rainforests, spend time with the people you love and volunteer together to help clean up your local area.

Make February 14th (and every day) LOVE Day. Love Our Valuable Earth Day

 


 

Ob-la-Di-Ob-la-Da: bringing up memories

It’s funny how your memory gets sparked and where that memory will take you. Down rabbits holes of forgotten actions, people and secrets.

When I saw words Ob-la-Di-Ob-la-Da tattooed on the arm of a colleague, it made me fly back to 1969 when I was in Year 3, eight years old, blond and tiny. It took me back to the time when eighty students crowded around a  TV borrowed from the local department store to watch the moon landing. It took me back to playing elastics and jacks. To skipping ropes and sour milk.

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Scans of a scanned 35mm slide – terrible quality – but heh! It’s a pump-up scooter!!

Those particular words from that jaunty little Beatles tune brought back a mix of fun, embarrassment and guilt

The Fun Bit.

My class was preparing to sing Ob-la-Di-Ob-la-Da for the weekly assembly. This was a BIG deal! We had been rehearsing with our hip and gorgeous teacher Mr Chinner for weeks and weeks. Our class, 3A, were doing a new song! A chart-topper! Not a choir of screeching descant recorders, but a grooooovy Beatles hit! It was a top-secret mission. We were not allowed to tell anyone! We were asked to bring a towel to wear around our shoulders like a Mexican poncho.

The Embarrassing bit.

Because I was small, I was scheduled to be in the front row. Because we were sworn to secrecy, I didn’t tell my mum why we needed the towel. Thinking it was for art clean-ups, and without a better explanation from me, she gave me a faded tatter of a towel. When Groovy Mr Chinner saw my faded rag, I got relegated to the back row. I couldn’t see over the tops of the bigger kids. My bubble was well and truly burst. I felt humiliated by my family’s lack of bright Mexican-like towels.

The Guilty Bit

In the same class, but in a different episode, I am simultaneously ashamed and amused to confess that I committed a fraudulent act. Our class had been chosen to go on an excursion to the Herald’s newspaper printing factory. Only 25 could go although our class had 43 students. In the spirit of fairness, Mr Chinner decided to pull the names out of a hat.  As the names were called out, the lucky ones were clapping their little hands with glee. In the middle of all the excitement, the end of the day bell rang and the draw was not completed. It was declared that it would continue the next school day – Monday. I was heartbroken that my name had not yet been called out and even back then I realised the odds were not looking good.

When we returned after the weekend, Mr Chinner admitted he had forgotten to write down the names of the children who had been pulled out and no longer had the strips of paper. He asked us to raise our hands if we had been selected.

A few classmates put their hands up confidently. As I looked around at the remaining faces of my peers and saw them faltering.  They either couldn’t remember or they didn’t seem too fussed about whether they went or not. I took my chance, I shot my hand in the air. Mr Chinner wrote my name on the list.

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Again a scanned scan – from around 1969

For the next few days, I expected to be challenged. For someone to remember that my name had never been called out and that I was a fraud, that I had lied. No one did. I went on the excursion and had a fabulous time. This is only the second time I have revealed this story! The first time was to the tattoo owner! (Sorry mum another thing you didn’t know!)


I guess Mr Chinner could still be out there. I have never forgotten him. He was young in 1969. Perhaps he’s out there, somewhere between 80-100 years old, thinking about his time as a teacher. I know he won’t remember me. There are too many children that pass through a teacher’s life. Even so, Mr Chinner, I apologize for my deceit.

As I look back on him and the lessons he taught us, I realize I don’t remember the specifics of one single scrap of the maths or spelling or grammar he may have taught us.

But I do remember the moon landing.

I do remember his laugh.

And I remember being a faded Mexican con man.

The smell of coffee in the morning

A cappuccino in a green cup.

When I first started writing, I was part of a Writers’ Group. We would get together once a month for a “meeting” hosted by members in turn. We would discuss our own projects, give some constructive criticism to each other and generally give support and encouragement.

At the end of each two-hour meeting we would have a fifteen-minute creative writing challenge based on a prompt suggested by the host.  I wrote this short fictional piece in response to the prompt to write something from  the point of view of a single sense. This one is based in the sense of smell. I have only done a light edit. Not bad for a fifteen-minute burst in my opinion! I might go back and have a go at the other senses as well.

The coffee welled up inside my head. Deep, rich earthy and warm. It smelt like a morning. A late morning, but a morning no less. It was time to get up. Time to start the day.

I pulled back the sheets and the raw aroma of the previous night’s sex wafted up from the linen. Sweaty, slightly fishy, not yet unpleasant. I thought about the time we had spent entwined in each other’s arms. Hesitant at first, then with reckless abandon that seemed embarrassing now in the coffee rich morning. He had smelt of rum. Rum with coke. Sweet, spicy and heady. The very thought of it made me quiver again.

The hot water took a long time to emerge from the tap. The chlorine, pungent and clean, drowned out the fresh citrusy bursts from the soap. It was like this in the winter. The chlorine did not have the energy to evaporate and clung to the water like a silver coat; lazy and slow.

I washed the sex away reluctantly. It had been a long time. A long time since I had smelt a man on me and in me. I lingered a little longer than necessary on the folds of my body and began to relive the passion.

The knock on the bathroom door snapped me back to the now.

Oh, that’s right! I wasn’t alone this morning. Not like the years of mornings that strung together in an endless stream before this morning. That’s why it smelt like coffee! There was another somebody in the house and he was making the coffee. Deep, rich and earthy.

How would it be now that the beer goggles were smashed by sobriety and the harsh winter light.

In my mind, I always saw myself as 27. That was a good year. Slim, tanned, lithe and strong.  But 27 was 27 years ago. A marriage ago.

What would I say? How would I act? This was worse than the first time! At 15 I had all the confidence of a goddess who bestowed precious gifts on the lucky. Now it was I who felt lucky – that this rum-soaked man had seen me despite the invisibility cloak of menopause and maturity.

I slid the door open a crack. There he was, coffee in hand, in trousers but no shirt. He was older than I had thought. Grey speckled hair, his skin half a size too big for the muscles underneath. But he smiled and his eyes shone. He handed me the coffee. He looked awkward and shy.

“Have you finished? He asked pulling a face “I have to pee!”

That’s how it was going to be – relaxed and friendly. I remember this. It was a start. Perhaps there’d be more coffee in the mornings.

 

The How of Happiness

How to be happier?

A review and executive summary of the book by  Sonja Lyubomirsky

Are you unhappy? Do you know why?

If you blame your unhappiness on things like lack of money, a lousy job, the world’s worst boss/spouse/children you just might be barking up the wrong tree looking for your happy place.

If you think winning the lottery will make you happy, it will… for a while, but then you’ll probably just return to the same level of happiness you had before. You’ll become used to your new state of being, a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation.

Wealth, health and work etc. are, of course, not irrelevant, but have less influence over your happiness than you think they do.

I have been doing extensive research into happiness for a few years now.  In my opinion, it comes down to two things.

  1. Positive psychology
  2. Gut bugs

This post is about positive psychology. I have written about gut bugs elsewhere!

Positive psychology

Positive psychology has been defined as:

“[being] is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living” (Peterson, 2008).

The Positive Psychology Institute defines it as

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive (Gable & Haidt, 2005, Sheldon & King, 2001).

The concept has been around for a while, and Martin Seligman is cited as the father (or perhaps grandfather by now) of positive psychology. His book Flourish is an excellent starting point. I have read it a few times to keep me on track and have the tenets of happiness in front of mind.

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This month I have read Sonja  Lyubomirsky’s The How Of Happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want.  (Penguin Books 2007) It’s not a new book either, but my goodness it’s a simple to read, based-in-science guide book that makes a whole bunch of sense! I loved it!

 

This post gives you some of the main points but get your own hard copy because you’ll want to write all over it!  You’ll be underlining the important bits, completing the short quizzes and answering her questions out loud as you read through it.

The basic idea is that you can make yourself happier. It takes some effort and determination and like most things in life, it is something you will actually have to DO on purpose. It won’t fall in your lap. It is something I have been working towards for the last 10 years in my road to recovery from divorce.

How much of your happiness is under your control?

The answer is very nearly 42! According to Sonja, 50% of your happiness is down to a “set point”, 10% is circumstance, and 40% is created by intentional activities on your part.  Your set point is determined by your genetics and your personality and stays pretty much the same throughout your life. Some people are just happier than others.

Circumstances account for a tiny 10% of happiness. A poor person can be just as happy as a rich person. Where you live doesn’t really matter that much. A bigger house, a better car, a different job will not matter much either!

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However, you can control the remaining 40% of your own happiness by intentionally choosing to commit to some “happiness activities”. Lyubomirsky posits twelve categories of happiness activities. You don’t need to do all 12 to be happier. In fact, she suggests that you concentrate on  3 – 4 that will work best for you based on your set point, personality and interests. How do you know which ones to pick? There, is a questionnaire that will point you in the appropriate direction. After doing the questionnaire you can read the sections relevant to you.

This link will take you to a very brief summary of the happiness activities identified by Lyubomirsky and her researchers. Click through the arrows at the bottom of the page. It only scratches the surface and obviously does not give the depth of detail as in her book, but it will give you the road map and hopefully spark your interest.

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The link takes you to a Prezi site. Best viewed on a larger screen. You don’t need to sign in.

The last chapters give the “Five hows behind sustainable happiness” which are:

1. The upward spiral of positive emotion: one positive act will lead to another

2. Optimal timing and variety: mix it up and time it right to get maximum benefit and prevent hedonic adaptation.

3.  Social support

4. Motivation, effort and commitment: you are going to have to work at it and keep working at it.

5. Make it a habit!

 

My Happiness Activities Profile

After I did the questionnaire, the recommended happiness strategies for me were:

1. Committing to goals

2. Savouring life’s joys

3. Practising acts of kindness. (I have a post here about that)

4.  Taking care of body and Soul

None of these really surprised me. I feel like I already have the goals and taking care of body aspects under control.  I am going to make more of an effort for savouring, and while my physical health is good, I would like to learn how to meditate. So I’ll add these to the to-do list!

Negative emotions

Negative emotions should not be avoided at all costs. Negative emotions have their place. I am no way suggesting that you be 100% deliriously happy at all time. It is vital that you feel some struggle in your life and that there will be difficult times to face. You can’t and shouldn’t go around this world being ignorant of negative emotions that have a relevant and important role to play.

My philosophy is that you should tend towards a life, that, on the whole, is pleasant, fulfilling and purposeful. This is turn will be a life that is more likely to be a happy one.

Furthermore, happiness should not be confused with pleasure. Some things that make us happy are not pleasurable. For instance, running a marathon might not be pleasurable but leads to happiness because you achieved a goal.

Sonja also gives some advice to people suffering from depression, which you should read first if applicable.

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce – Ten years on.

I don’t remember what I was dreaming about, but I was in one of those stages of sleep where my mind was buzzing, and even though I was sure I was awake, in reality, I was still unconscious. One of my dream-characters reminded me that this month marked the 10th anniversary of me leaving the marital home. Me walking out and into my own little bedsit, so we could “have some space to think things through”.

I took an independent step. I was proactive.

Another dream-character piped up with the idea that it must be getting close to 10 years since I raised my voice in anger. Ten years since I have screamed with murderous rage and ill intent… At anyone.

I am not saying I haven’t been angry or upset since that time – of course, I have, but since then I have never been in a frame of mind that was so filled with venom and hate.

So much has happened in those ten years. So many good things! I still lament the 10 years I wasted before that,  in trying to stitch together something that was shredded and beyond repair. Why did we do that to ourselves? It’s not only me who wasted time. It wasn’t just me who lost good years in the technical “prime” of our lives.

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That is all inconsequential now. Now is what counts, and where my head is NOW. If you have been reading this blog, you will know I have been rejoicing in the discovery of a new found creativity that has been hidden below the surface. It took a while for it to bubble to the top and make its way through the cracks, but it’s here – NOW.

I am happier although I am still restless. Something else is out there waiting to be discovered. And before all my friends get excited, it’s not another partner!

One thing I have learned is that I don’t need to be in a partnership. I have good friends, a loving family and an intentionally busy life filled with interesting pursuits and being coupled won’t add to this.  Not NOW.

If you are in a broken relationship, it probably won’t get better. Leave! Don’t stay for the children’s sake. The kids will do better in a settled home. They don’t need to feel or hear the hate that seethes out of your skin. If there is violence, they don’t need that either.

Leave!

Don’t waste 10 years. Don’t waste five!

Take the plunge.

It might be cold when you first get in, but you’ll warm up!

 

Sing out loud!

I don’t miss much about my marriage, but the one thing I really do miss is singing! My ex was a musician. He played guitar and drums. While never achieving any fame and spending way more than he ever earned, it was a very satisfying hobby for him and by default, for me as well. Sitting around the kitchen or on the lounge after work and on weekends he would play his Maton acoustic and sing. Most times I would join in with him. I am no virtuoso, but I could hold a tune and used to really enjoy these times.

I guess if we were singing, we weren’t fighting!

 

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High School Teachers Band! (photo by David Croft)

The repertoire was fairly broad but consisted of mostly “middle of the road” rock and folk music. There was plenty of Paul Kelly, Cold Chisel, Dire Straits as well as Bob Dylan (which incidentally I didn’t join in on).

I especially enjoyed the family singalongs with his brothers and sisters. These were always happy nights that went into the wee hours.

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Once upon a time, I had the guts to get up and sing in front of people!

Since I have been on my own, my opportunity to sing ad hoc has completely vanished, and now when I try and sing along in the car or in my kitchen, my voice is weak and becomes hoarse very quickly. I begin to splutter and cough. I  guess it’s like anything, it takes practise and training.  My “singing” muscles are no longer in good condition. Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I actually sang with other people!

Singing is good for you! It’s a positive, life-affirming thing and when you’re with a group of people making music it’s so much darn fun! This article talks about the benefits of singing for your health and wellbeing   but I  don’t need any convincing!

Singing is something I will have to find a way to bring back into my life. I didn’t include it as one of my 60 for 60 items. That was an oversight and something I will need to remedy.

I am not sure I have the level of commitment needed for a choir while I am still trapped in the day job, so I’ll be on the lookout for a Grannies’ garage band! 😆

I wrote about other aspects of music in my life in a post last year. You can read it here.

Not Millennial but Perennial

As I was looking for articles about older women doing amazing things, I came across this story in the Telegraph. Not exactly what I was searching for, but thought-provoking none-the-less.

The report concentrates on the shift in attitudes of women who, 20 years ago, may have been described as middle-aged. It highlights how older women are generally taking on a more positive approach to aging and being more confident to express a style other than “grandma”.

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This section particularly resonated with me and sent me on the search for more information.

Everywhere we look, highly visible older women are rewriting all the rules. From JK Rowling to Nicole Kidman; Michelle Obama to Anna Wintour, they are at the peak of their power and creativity.

They are engaged, influential and often increasingly political.

There’s even a new term to describe people with this no-age mindset: ‘perennials’

It was coined by US internet entrepreneur Gina Pell, 49, who explains, ‘Perennials are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, and are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded risk takers.’

Hell yeah! I want to be a perennial!

You can hear more about Gina Pell’s idea of perennials in this Youtube video. Not everything she says had the same point of resonance, but I like where she is coming from. 

 

I  think the Telegraph has misquoted her because Nina refutes the concept of being ever-blooming. My interpretation is that age should not be equivalent to relevancy.

Our changing view of paedophiles.

Sexy is here to stayI found this newspaper advertisement in a recipe book my mum kept full of clippings of things she wanted to cook. It’s from 1975. It caught my eye for two reasons. It shows how our attitudes have changed, and it struck me as oddly relevant to my life at the time.

While the  #MeToo movement has highlighted the need for women (in particular) to be treated with more respect and dignity, things were different in 1976.  What we would consider sexual abuse or exploitation was a “normal” part of the landscape.

 

 

When I was 15, I used to walk home from school through the local shopping centre. I could take one of two routes. Either through the arcade (quicker) or up to the end of the shopping strip (more to see). This longer walk went past a butcher’s shop. The butcher, Bill, was a man somewhere between 35 and 40. He used to park is brown Porsche Carrera out the front of his store. I would sometimes slow down to look at it. He must have noticed me, and he would wave and smile. After a few weeks, the wave and smile turned into him coming out to say a few words, and then eventually me going in to chat with him. It all started pretty innocently. Then the talk started getting a bit risque. Flirting, I thought, and I was flattered that an older man with a Porsche would pay any attention to me, a silly school girl in a short skirt. It eventually became outright sex talk, and I felt excited! He was a sophisticated guy, and I felt so grown up! I knew it was “naughty,” but that was the risky part of it, the part that made it fun.

So I kept going by and talking to him.  It’s hard to remember the time frame now, but he asked me out. I was over the moon. Can you imagine how sophisticated I felt! I didn’t tell my mother, but my best friend’s mum was in on it, and she didn’t seem to think it was inappropriate. She gave me no warnings. There was no talk of the age gap beyond “Wow…he’s an older man paying attention to you; be flattered.” Mrs. J helped me get ready in a tight black dress and lace-up boots. I looked fabulous in a 70’s kind of way!

He picked me up from their house, and off we sped in the Porche. First, to a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills, where Bill winked at the creepy-looking maître d’. The maître d’ ran his eyes over me in a way that stopped my breath. This was my first inkling that things were a little more sinister than my naivety had allowed. The nervous, excited butterflies in my gut began to be replaced by more anxious thoughts. I didn’t have a Plan B. Plan B’s were not a thing in 1976; I had no money. I was a long way from home.

He bought a bottle of wine and poured me a glass. The drinking age is 18. The restaurant was breaking the law. “No problem,” said Bill “the owner is my friend.” After dinner, he suggested a movie. Sounded good to me, perhaps a little tipsy.

We went to Oxford Street in Sydney. These days a hip place with lots of bars that cater mostly to the LGBTIQ crowd, back then, about the only place you could see X-rated movies in Sydney. As we walked in, he handed the guy at the door some cash, presumably, a bribe since it was a restricted premise. We sat in the dark seats, I looked around, and  I realised there were not many other women there. The “action” started on screen. I felt sick! Uncomfortable. Scared. I said I didn’t want to watch anymore and would he take me home.

He did.

I’ll give this to Bill; he never tried anything I hadn’t said yes to. He never tried to kiss or touch me. We drove home from Sydney to my place. The one hour trip took less than  30 minutes.  He drove hard and fast in that Porsche, certainly exceeding the speed limit. He didn’t speak. I could sense he was angry.

From then I always went home via the arcade. I never saw Bill again. I had emerged unscathed.

More than forty years on I reflect on this and it stands out so clearly he was a paedophile. That he had been grooming me from the beginning. Starting with slightly rude jokes and working up to porn. Thankfully, he had some principles. It could have ended very differently. I don’t recall hearing words like paedophile then. Sure, there were creepy guys you avoided, but as a 15-year-old, I didn’t feel like a target. I hadn’t heard of books like Lolita. It just wasn’t a “thing”. Not in my world anyway.

“Things” have changed. The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse shows this behaviour was rampant and people either turned a blind eye or didn’t think it was an issue in the first place.

I don’t characterise myself as a victim. I willingly, although naively, put myself in a place I should have avoided. In retrospect, I am concerned my friend’s mother did nothing but encourage me. I am glad to think this is less likely to happen now.

(Apologies to you mum! Here’s another story you didn’t know about!)

I wrote this post in response to the trial and later sentencing of Cardinal Pell; Australia’s highest ranking priest and a man who has caused misery to many.  If this post has caused you any distress, I urge you to seek help through some of the agencies that have been set up for this express purpose. Just because it happened a long time ago, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

These services may help:

https://www.blueknot.org.au/

https://bravehearts.org.au/

 

THE unwanted wedding dress

I have written about my road to firstly accepting my divorce and finally flourishing after years of wallowing. My final hurdle is the billowing meringue of a 1980’s wedding dress that sits in its box at the top of a wardrobe. The last reminder. The piece I seem not to be able to let go.  The past regrets, the guilt, the hurt and the disbelief have all faded into a not forgotten but a no longer badgering past. But this? This dress…it won’t let go.

I have decluttered that particular cupboard a number of times. It’s not as if it has any use. It is tragically out of fashion with a plunging V-neck, a backless back and layers of frothy white lace and super-puffy sleeves.

My daughter has already married. She doesn’t want it. She quipped “It’s not as if it’s going to bring good luck to anyone!” Ouch!

I could donate it to a charity but I fear it would end up as a fancy dress costume for a 80’s themed cruise or part of a zombie apocalypse parade.

The catch is not so much to do with my failed marriage but more with my Mum’s effort to make it. That and the five bridesmaids’ dresses.

That dress was a labour of my mother’s love. She was a seamstress and wedding dresses were her thing.  We spent many hours designing it. We made visits to bridal stores where I tried on dresses and Mum secretly took notes and made sketches in the dressing room to copy the pattern. She had to make so many alterations because I wanted the front plunging and for it to have no back. Short of using sticky tape to keep it on, this was a major feat in engineering. On top of that, I kept on losing weight – as brides tend to do even though I was already quite thin.

But she did it. My dad cried as he walked past the room as Mum was tying the big wide sash around my tiny waist.

My wedding day was wet. The rain pelted down, the dress got dirty at the hem. I have never tried it on again after that day. Not even for an anniversary. These days I’m 12 kilos heavier than then and a very different shape.

It’s just gotta go….but I can’t make that step. It just needs to vanish without a trace.

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