A run in the Park.

The “Park Run” is a free event that happens in lots of different places world-wide on Saturday mornings. It’s a 5km timed run/walk organised by volunteers. There are three park runs near where I live in Wollongong, but strangely there wasn’t one in New York.

This weekend I am in Old Bar on the Mid North Coast of NSW, Australia for a 40th School Reunion. That in itself is a scary concept which I will write more about later for my regular Friday post.

In the meantime here is a little CHOOKUMENTARY about the Park Run in Taree. Today I ran the course in just over 27 minutes. The course is relatively flat and follows along a footpath on the foreshore of the Manning River.

Check out Park Run’s Website for more information. This link is for their Australian chapter but there are others in other countries. Park Run Australia

Central Park, New York

New York is legendary. The thing of thousands of stories. Central Park is …well…central to many of these stories. Police dramas where unsuspecting joggers get murdered or raped on one of the winding pathways to romances like When Harry Met Sally. A quick search of the internet throws up several web pages that give you a list of movies made in Central Park. Have a look here for a start. http://www.centralparktoursnyc.com/central-park-movie/

Since being in New York I have visited the Park a lot. My lodging location helps, I’m just across the road. (Thanks again RJB!!) The pace of my morning jog has been slowed right down as I have stopped to take photos of early morning reflections in the ponds and the reservoir.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a picnic on Sheep’s Meadow and indulged in some serious people watching. On this, the first hot sunny day of spring, puffer jackets were replaced by bare chested men playing spike ball (see this video – I had never seen it before https://youtu.be/jdRKqguEbas)

The blossoms trees had blossomed and the bees were a-buzzing. Clusters of daffodils, jonquils and crocus had survived the previous week’s snow to brighten things up.

The less active, lay around on the grass reading or sleeping.

To think only five days ago the flowers were buried by snow.

I can see why this enormous Park is labelled New Yorker’s front yard. It’s a place to play and relax. A place to meet a place to zone out. A place to remember green.

A very public proposal

There I was minding my own business sitting on the basalt steps at the Pebble Beach between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges waiting for sunset and along comes a man and woman carrying a double sized white rocking chair. They plonked it down and started rocking in the last rays of sun before it dipped behind the skyscrapers.

The sign on the fence said “No pets or furniture can be brought into the park.” When I first saw that sign I thought “goodness who would bring furniture” but obviously it’s a thing.

Next along comes the Photography Tour Group. They set up their forest of tripods in front of the rocking chair. The rocking chair people moved their chair to one of the lower steps, but to the side of the camera group. At first I thought they were together but no, just there at the same time.

As I watched the wedding parties and engagement photo shoots all looking for a divine sunset to silhouette the bridge and provide a perfect back drop, I forgot the chair people.

My attention came back to the them when I saw the original couple slink off away and leave the chair empty. It was soon taken up by another man and woman who sat there chatting, when all of a sudden, he got down on one knee with a ring. The camera club turned in unison and quickly adjusted their focal lengths. At first, the girl looked a bit confused. She seemed oblivious to the hoard of people watching them. Then tears, hugs and kisses. Many, many kisses. She had obviously said yes. The crowd all around burst into spontaneous applause and cheers.

The couple suddenly became aware that they were the centre of attention. More tears, more hugs.

The original chair carriers appeared out of the crowd. There was backslapping and thank you’s from the groom-to-be and “Did you now about this??” from the bride.

It was obvious then that the man had planned this very carefully with his friends. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the camera club to be there but in the end they had better photos than the friend who had tried to take shots from a distance, so emails where exchanged. These photos are a re-enactment. They decided they needed some more photos of their own so turned the chair around and did it again. A bit of over-acting, but still very touching.

The tear-jerking moment for me though was when the girl called her Mum to let her know. You could see (and hear) her waiting for mum to pick up and the call going through to a message bank. She looked so disappointed. Then seconds later mum calls back. More tears!

Floods of happy tears.

There was no spectacular sunset that day. It ended up very overcast and cold, but I felt a little warmer for watching this bit of love. I wish this happy couple lots of luck and hope that the groom stays as thoughtful for the rest of their marriage.

The changing soundtrack of my life

My ex was a musician. Not professional and certainly not full time, he was in a few pub bands doing OzRock covers. He played drums and guitar, wrote songs and we would sit around and sing. I enjoyed being the musician’s wife and lugging drums and the vicarious fame. When a little chickkybabe in the crowd once asked me if I knew the drummer’s phone number I laughed and said “Yeah sure, it’s the same as mine!”

My one and only public singing performance at a school concert
Teachers band at the the school concert. The one and only time I have sung in public. Image by David Croft

 

The music was a happy place. We had a vast record/CD collection. Our house was never silent with some form of music either being played or performed.

We went to lots of concerts, Elton John (twice), Bruce Springsteen (x3), Cold Chisel (at least 3 times if not more), Steely Dan, Dire Straits (x2) Mark Knoffler, Bowie (x2). The Eagles (x2) to name a few. We went to see Bob Dylan when my daughter was just 6 weeks old. We had a few hours on a “pass out” and had to co-ordinate everything between feeds including an hour drive there and back. I slept right through it! Bliss for a new mum!

Snowy Mountains Country Music Festival

The only day I jigged school was in Year 11 when we went to Rockarena, one of the first of the all day music festivals at the Sydney Showground back in November, 1977. I still remember the sun setting as Santana played Black Magic Woman – it was magic. They, along with Japan, Kevin Borich Express, and the Little River Band were back up for headliners, Fleetwood Mac.

One of the first items we purchased for our home after we got married in 1984 was a CD player with a remote! Imagine that! It was around $900 and the most expensive thing we owned. We progressed to a surround sound Bose system with the subwoofer under the lounge and the little speakers mounted on the ceiling 25 years later.

Illawarra Folk Festival
From the Illawarra Folk Festival

When we split, he took the physical artefacts of the music. I had already copied what I thought I wanted to my iTunes account. I had the music, the problem was it wasn’t my music. It was his. Every time I played something it would bring back memories of him. I needed to find my own playlist. My own music that didn’t come with memories.

Ruby Boots - Illawarra Folk Festival
Ruby Boots

In the raw days of the wine and wedges phase (see my previous post) I had a list I called “single girl anthems” which consisted tunes like Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough”; Dixie Chicks – “Not Ready to Make Nice” and a favourite “If I could turn back time” by Cher. You know, the one where she wore the gown-less evening strap on the battleship.

I would crank it up on my little iphone dock and belt out the songs in my finest style. It was a combination of angry, strident songs of independence and weepy wailers. By the end of the 2 hours and 32 minutes (if I made it till the end) I would be either crying or punching the air depending on how it got shuffled.

But still it was mostly stuff we had had in the “ours” collection.

After giving it some thought and analyzing my favourite tunes, I came to the shocking conclusion that I liked country rock. Shocking because this was a genre essentially ignored and at times even vilified by my ex.

I borrowed CDs when I could and added Johnny Cash and downloaded the likes of Morgan Evans to the collection. OMG I even bookmarked all of Keith Urban’s anthology on Spotify. Now I sing and dance along to Kasey Chambers or Catherine Brit while I am cooking and on road trips Busby Marou and John Mayer keep me company. I have since moved on and I have expanded into other genres enjoying some new talent like Fanny Lumsden, The Audreys and Aoife O’Donovan.

Now that I am more settled and confident and “have my shit together” I have been able to return to my old favourites without the tears and regrets. The memories are still there but I have come to terms with them and they have a different edge. No longer so sharp or harsh, they are like glass that’s been washed up on the beach. The edges have been polished and worn by time and I can hold them in my hand without them hurting.

While my guitar gently weeps....

Remember to look out the window!

I read that life goes by quickly for adults compared to children because we have fewer new experiences. For children most things they do are brand new. Something they have not experienced before and this makes time go slower. For adults, because we have done most things before we don’t anticipate, we know what’s going to happen and this makes time appear to go more quickly. Ergo, to make time seem slower, adult needs to do more new things.

When I look back over 2017, it certainly was a year of new things and while it seems like the year has whizzed by, when I look back on what I have done I find it hard to remember that if it was this year or last year. I seemed to fit a lot in!

In 2017

I did 6 writing courses 5 face to face and one online

I went to two writers’ festivals

I went to 8 meetings of my writers’ group and about 5 meetings of a screenwriting group in Sydney

I started this blog

2 online courses through Udemy – food photography and inDesign

I did several online modules through the Adobe Education site

Wrote at least 7 short stories plus 35 blog posts, a screenplay and 4 chapters of a novella.

I entered 5 writing competitions and 7 photography competitions.

I won none! But that’s not the goal. The goal is to actually do it. After all you have to be in it to win it!

I went on a short cruise with friends

I went to Canberra with the same group of friends

I hosted 3 (relatively) fancy dinner parties

I went to the Sydney Mardi Gras

I did a general rescue course with the NSW SES

I started running and trained hard over several months and built up to a 15km run which I completed in good time.

I lost 7 kg.

I did a full Tough Mudder (17km and 18 of the 20 obstacles)

I started to de-clutter my house and sold some stuff at the local markets

I haven’t bought anything new since July 1 (well anything that does not fit in my guidelines)

I bought and paid off a new car (I bought it June 30!)

I took over 2000 photos of various subjects.

I bookended the year with two trips to Israel to visit my daughter and her family.

Oh and I worked full time in a demanding job.

I did a lot and I don’t think this is a complete list because I forgot to bring my 2017 diary with me.

It was a good year. I felt content and fulfilled and despite the long list I did not feel “busy”. I have come a long way in my journey to live meaningful life. I have a ways to go.

2018 is shaping up to be a different sort of year. My daughter and grandson will be staying with me in Australia me for a visit. I already have a writer’s course booked in for February and I am going to New York in March.

My goals include

To continue writing

To keep getting better at taking photos

To make a few short documentary style videos

To keep fit

Stay creative

Continue to downscale my material goods by natural attrition and not buying anything new

Continue with this blog. (And learn how to set it out better from my iPad!)

I hope you have some goals. In my opinion, they keep you grounded, give you clues for what to say no to and provide you with some directional signs so you don’t meander around too aimlessly. Although a meander can be good too as it puts new and unexpected things in your path.

Happy New Year! Remember to look out the window – there is always something new to see!

A consuming interest

At the start of the financial year[1] I set myself a challenging goal.

Not to buy anything NEW for a whole year. There are a few caveats around the goal:

  1. It does not include consumables such as food and cleaning products.
  2. If something essential breaks or wears out I can replace it, preferably with something second hand.
  3. It does not include experiences.

After six months in I am doing OK, I have not brought anything new into my home.

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I tried to argue with my accountability partner that magazines and books were experiences and not stuff, but she said they were stuff because I could borrow them from the library or read them online, so I cancelled the subscriptions I had.

Have I missed buying stuff? So far –  no. I have made do with what I have. The hardest thing so far was what to do about gifts. With the holiday season looming I was not sure what to do. For the most part, I bought experiences or perishables or gave second-hand stuff. As a last resort, I decided that since it was not coming into my home, a new book and essentials like socks were OK. (This may be cheating a little bit I think!)

Over these last six months, people have asked me why?  Why would I set out not to buy anything new for a year? “That’s crazy” they’d say.

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It wasn’t about saving money – although I have. It’s not because I am a hoarder, although I do sometimes feel crowded in my little home. The real why emerges out of several interlocking events and ideas that have been with me for a few years and which all came together in a flash of realisation.

The interlocking events included

  • Growth coaching
  • Some workshops on mental health first aid and positive psychology
  • My discovery of the Minimalist podcast[2]
  • My only daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism
  • The ABC TV show War on Waste[3].
  • The Story of Stuff[4].
  • Having lots of time to think and reflect

The interlocking events led to my quest for a richer, more meaningful life. In this post, I will only elaborate on one aspect of the jigsaw. Positive mental health.

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I previously talked about[5] the foundations for wellbeing.  These being

  • to give,
  • to connect,
  • to be active,
  • to take notice and
  • to keep learning.

I discovered these foundations when I attended some workshops about student and teacher wellbeing as part of my day job and much of it began to resonate with me personally.

Some other workshops suggested that there was a very strong connection between positive mental health, diet and exercise. While I initially began the research to help students and teachers at my school, I was able to apply what I found out to myself.

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A small part of one Christmas’ horde

I started investigating my diet and the link between gut microflora and mental health. I had already read some books about positive psychology such as Flourish by Martin Seligman. I disappeared down the google-search-vortex as one thing led to another. I eventually found a paper[6] called A Wonderful Life:  Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness.

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The abstract to this article states:

This research indicates that experiential purchases provide greater satisfaction and happiness because:

(1) Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods;

(2) Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person’s identity; and

(3) Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.

It all boils down to the fact that money can buy happiness, as long as you buy experiences and not things (material goods) . Things give you short-lived happiness. You quickly tire of them and want something else. Something bigger. Something brighter. Something that needs to be stored when you grow tired of it. Experiences, on the other hand, give you memories. You can reflect back on them. They give you something to talk about. They put you in a social space with social beings that you can form connections with. They help you learn about yourself and other people. They help you learn about the world.  They hit on at least four of the five pillars of positive mental health. If you choose to experience the world by helping others you can hit on all five.

If you are waking up from a “stuff-hangover” now that Christmas is over maybe next year you can think of buying the things that make memories. The only place you need to store them, is in your (digital) photo album and your brain.

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[1] July 1 in Australia

[2]https://www.theminimalists.com/

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/ourfocus/waronwaste

[4] https://www.google.com.au/search?q=the+story+of+stuff+youtube&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=oQExWp7jOePDXpuwpJAF

[5] https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/09/wellbeing-an-introduction/

[6] A proper peer reviewed one! Gilovich T, Kumar A and Jampol L Journal of Consumer Psychology 2014) available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/280715372/Gilovich-Kumar-Jampol-in-press-A-Wonderful-Life-JCP

Wellbeing – an introduction

You might have noticed my by-line

“One woman’s journey to a more meaningful life”

It’s not that my life lacks meaning now, I just want to be more purposeful and intentional and not drift through my life bouncing from one thing to another like I feel I have in the past. This blog is about physical and emotional journeys[1] but don’t worry I am not going to get all hippy-dippy[2] or religious!

The by-line is also a product of my recent discovery of the “THE Minimalists” podcast[3]. The underpinning mantra of Josh and Ryan’s message is to do more with less and follow your values. I’d recommend it even though I sometimes find their banter a bit repetitive.

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Another significant factor leading me down the meaningful pathway is my day job. I am a Deputy Principal at a large high school with close to 1000 people on site every day. Part of my role is to improve their wellbeing. I have been teaching for 25 years and I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students with low-level (but no less real) mental health issues linked to anxiety and depression.

 

It is reaching plague proportions. Part of me thinks it’s just a case of telling sixteen-year old’s (as empathetically as possible) to “Toughen up Prince/Princess” and/or tell their lawn-mower[4] parents to back off and let their kids face a bit of a character-developing challenge every now and then. Another part of me knows there is a real problem that needs to be dealt with urgently.

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Looking for ways to take action, I came across a great paper[5] published by the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation which in turn is based on research by the New Economics Forum. Five Ways to Wellbeing – A Best Practice Guide sets out in very easy to understand language, the five key factors in improving your wellbeing in everyday life. I have wrapped up the advice in the infographic below.

five ways graphic

This post is only an introduction and I recommend you have a look at the paper and the research behind it.

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I volunteer for the NSW SES – where I  learn lots of new skills while helping my community and making great connections to people. Three birds with one stone!

[1] I am sort of hoping you may have noticed that already if you have been reading any of the previous posts. J

[2] Although I have started to make my own kombucha, kimchi and alfalfa sprouts. That is for a whole other blog post and has been triggered by reading Michael Mosley’s Clever Guts Diet at https://cleverguts.com/

[3] Find their podcast on iTunes or here on their website http://www.theminimalists.com/

[4] Parents who clear all obstacles ahead of their children so they don’t face any problems.

[5] https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/  click on the link halfway down the page.