Beautiful, beautiful girl.

Two and a half years ago, my girl’s dearest dream came true when she rounded the corner of the stables at her riding school and met a very special pony. A pony of her own.  She couldn’t speak for half an hour; lost in a thrall of wonder and joy. It was the beginning of such a beautiful friendship. This is her on that day, the picture was later used for the cover of the Horse and Pony ‘Ponies’ mag.

We’ve just had the vet out to see our beautiful girl. Her leg has been swollen and not responsive to ice, poulticing and wrapping. She looked at it, grimaced a little and got the ultrasound machine. After looking at the ligaments from every angle, she started her next sentence with
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news…”.
I swallowed, hard. She talked about how the type of injury was the sort of thing they usually see in high performance sport horses, that it is often career-ending. Our mare had injured her check ligament in the paddock (probably reliving her heydays with all her galpals).  The vet showed me on the screen the big hole in her ligament.

Then it was time for a thorough check up. And more bad news; her melanomas have spread into her face and through her gastointestinal tract. She is not a young filly, our girl. This year she’ll be 25 years old.  The treatment for her leg injury means six months of penning, treatment and rehab. There is no treatment for the spread of the melanomas.  She won’t be flying around like the fiery showjumper she is, anymore.

We are faced with having to weigh up that beautiful pony’s future.  To make the hardest decision of all. How do you know if euthanasia is even right? How do you explain that sometimes, that is the kindest path, to a kid who loves this pony with all of her being?  I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way. I’m talking to her about how responsibility means making tough decisions sometimes; about not letting her beautiful pony suffer longer, about letting her go with the dignity she deserves, while she is in a happy place, surrounded by love. And in between I’m fighting back the helpless sadness of this mothering task and wondering how on earth we will say goodbye.

I want to shield my daughter from the sorrow of it all, but my arms can’t hold it back. This pain we feel is as much a part of living as the air we breathe. It’s as much a part of loving, as the happy times. So often I’ve had to say to my kids: the cost of great love is the grief we must shoulder when we lose our loved ones.  When the sadness of loss overwhelms us: it is proof of the depth of our love, of how lucky we have been.

Lyndsay-pony (elsewhere on this blog referred to as Lulu) will always be a special part of our family. The gifts she brought us when we were lucky enough to become hers will be treasured forever. There is no forgetting a beautiful girl like that.  She hasn’t just made my daughter’s pony dreams come true, but mine too. I don’t know how we are going to say goodbye when the time is right, but we will. We will find a way that is respectful and kind and beautiful.  I hope that the rainbow bridge really is there. I hope we’ll cross over one day and find her there, waiting to wuffle into our palms again and push her beautiful big head up against us.  I know my Bee will want to twist her fingers through her mane again and whisper secret pony murmurs into her grey ears.

Until then, sweet girl, we will just miss you with deep gratitude.  Thank you for making our lives so much better.  I’m so sorry we can’t fix you and I wish with all my heart that you could stay with us.  Be free, Sweetness. Go run into the bright sunshine and let the wind fly your hair.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful girl.

 

 

Kel’s Angels

Today is the anniversary of Kellie‘s death. All over the world, the people she impacted in life will be feeling a deeper ache today. 365 more days around the sun on this blue and green planet, in our little sector of the universe. For many of us she is our Supernova. A brief, brilliant miracle. A solar biker chick, burning trails in the galaxy.  Spinning on a dime and firing up the skies as she blazes past.

I think of lyrics from a song that has always helped my own mother-grief, Bright Star by the Indigo Girls. This song has always spoken to me and for me. Today I’m dedicating it to Kellie’s girl, Ash.  For me, it is the song from a daughter to a mother she has lost. I’m sure Ash has her own grief music closer to her generation!  I just wanted to share this one from my heart to hers.

Fare thee well my bright star
It was a brief brilliant miracle dive
That which I looked up to and I clung to for dear life
Had to burn itself up just to make itself alive

And I caught you then in your moment of glory
Your last dramatic scene against a night sky stage
With a moment so clear that it’s as if you’re still before me
My once in a lifetime star of an age

So fare thee well my bright star
Last night the tongues of fire circled me around
And this strange season of pain will come to pass
When the healing hands of autumn cool me down

-Indigo Girls ‘Bright Star’

Today I received an email from Kellie’s husband Mark.  He wrote to share the latest news of the Scholarship Fund they created in Kellie’s name. I love the idea of a legacy like that. Her passions, her generosity.  Here is what he wrote:

Hi All –
With today being the 19th of July, I thought it would be meaningful to celebrate our memory of Kellie today with an update on the scholarship.

Nicola was our first recipient who went on to achieve remarkable success in her final year with a GPA of 6.66, two publications, and several readings. Beyond this she was continuing to submit to larger journals. She shared how this would not have been possible without receiving the award. In short, the outcome for our 2016 recipient exceeded all expectations.

Luc, Ash, Ann, Charlotte and I attended the presentation event late last year at QUT where the 2017 recipient was announced. We have another very worthy recipient in James (picture attached). I am particularly pleased to understand James specialises in writing Sci-Fi. As part of his address, it was good and unexpected for Luc and Ash to hear Glen talk about Kellie’s passion and engagement in class.

As I think about Kellie’s legacy, the part that resonates (as I write this note) is how she never gave up exploring and sharing her passion for life with those around her.

Mark

The ‘Ann and Charlotte’ Mark speaks of are his new wife and new baby. The family is doing really well according to my sources, in case you were wondering like I did! Babies are magical joy bringers. Big love to the van Meurs. And big love to you Kel. Your angels are here doing their thing; your angel gift to those writers enables them to do theirs.

We miss you. X

The Keeper

When he decides it is time to do something, he gets stuck in. And then he keeps on keeping on until it is done.

My hubster is one of those men who works in an office. His days are spent going from meeting to meeting and in between, plowing through the outstanding tasks at his desk. He’s employed a great team to work with, so at least there is a good measure of hilarity in their office banter. But it is a sedentary kind of occupation. Hard for a busy kind of guy.

Before he got saddled with kids and then, a sick wife (thank goodness I am not anymore!) he was all action stations. When we met, he spent most weekends out sailing, at the gym and in his workshop, building stuff.  Fixing things, tootu-ing (that’s kiwi for messing-about-with-intention).

So when my guy is on holidays, the way he winds down is to get busy. Productive. It’s weird, it is like the opposite to the rest of the world, who holiday on sun loungers, sipping cool drinks in the shade. My fella likes to get physical, out in the water or on a DIY project.  If he doesn’t complete something significant during his holidays, he feels like he’s wasted them (I know, right?!).

So, he decided it was time we updated our living room. We inherited a rather loud ‘feature’ wall of tangerine juxtaposed with maroon. I’ve always hated it! Of course, I had decided it was time we updated our living room a week before we moved into the house, eight years ago. But as with most of the practical tasks in this house, nothing happens until the hubster decides.

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And he did! It seemed like we got interrupted in the task constantly, but finally, last night, we finished. The final coat of paint went on the mantel and we were finished!  I can’t even tell you how happy it makes me. I keep standing in the doorway, just gazing at our lovely room.

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That man of mine installed new coving, skirtings and architraves. Built floating shelves, plastered and painted the ceilings and then all the rest, too. He had some help from me, but I was definitely his sidekick. I marvel at his skills. It’s rare, these days, for guys to know how to do all these things. I feel stupendously lucky! He used muscles he rarely uses anymore, and engaged a part of his brain that brings him satisfaction and respite. Sometimes, he groaned when he stretched his office body out at the end of the day. But most of the time, he grinned. He’s got a great grin, my hubster, among other things.

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As one of my friends said “he’s a keeper”!

Here are some more pictures.
Reckon I might keep him on. 😉

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12 Must-Haves for the Family Laundry

I never used to care much about laundry matters. When it was just myself and the hubster, even before then, my interest in the laundry really didn’t extend beyond whether or not my clothes were ready yet.

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But my family grew. I now run a household of six, which amounts to roughly ten loads of washing a week once you factor in towels and sports gear.

Consequently, for a long long time I have had wistful laundry dreams.  Dreams of a space that has everything I need. Our laundry is tiny so I didn’t really believe it was possible to have my dreams come true… but my Bobby Dazzler has done it!

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Our small but smart laundry. We sourced most things for this refit from Bunnings, the fittings are from their wardrobe organiser range. Ready made bench, adapted to fit over laundry tub. Hooks from Fagan’s in Whitianga, Tiles from Tile Warehouse. The walls are Resene Half Drought.

I kid you not, I find myself hanging out in our laundry these days by choice. The warm quiet of that tiny room; the scent of clean clothes and the knowledge that everything is as tickety-boo as can be. It’s my new secret hideout!

A great deal of analysis and thought went into our laundry.  It needed to be functional enough to make the kids doing their chores easy. Because this job is too big for one of me.  The way I have set it up, they can sort their own dirty laundry, and find their clean laundry easily. The sock sorter knows exactly where to find the pile of odd socks. We’re set.

Just in case you are renovating or planning your own laundry, here is my curated list of laundry must-haves.

  1. A drawer for all the socks so they are in one place for pairing. No more odd socks drifting around the house!
  2. A long hanging rail with coat hangers for drying knitwear and delicates, longer at one end for maxi dresses and drapey items.
  3. A retractable shelf for all the laundry potions, within easy reach of machine, with baskets for pocket finds* and miscellany.
  4. Rails for hanging smalls and delicates to air dry.
  5. Bench space for dumping big loads before folding, de-pilling and de-linting.
  6. Sorting baskets. I recommend three large (lights, mediums and darks) and one XXL for linens
  7. Hooks for all the various laundry, PE and sports bags
  8. Shelves for air drying washed shoes
  9. Shelves for stacking clean laundry into piles for collection
  10. A massive capacity washing machine
  11. A reliable drier for the rainy days.
  12. A juiced-up, battery-charged, de-pilling machine and a lint sticky roller
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Sock drawer! Even when these are unsorted, people who can’t find their socks know exactly where to come to dig around for their pair. Best. Bit. Ever.
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Sorting baskets. These are almost a metre tall and go back the depth of the bench. The kids bring their laundry down and sort directly into these baskets. Saves so much time!
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This shelf slides out between the drier and washer, so I can get right to the back of it without having to contort myself.

*Family Rule: if it is left in the pockets, it belongs to me!  This gem was passed down to me from my Mum.  Helps the kids remember to empty their pockets before sorting their washing, and provides me with a handy coin stash.

Last time the washing machine broke down, I asked the repair man what kind of washer he would buy himself. He said, instantly: a Maytag. This brand is usually seen in coin operated laundries. Mine is a 10kg top loader and can take two sets of King sheets in one load, or six towels. I’ve had it now for 7 years and it is still going strong. That repairman put it down to the sturdy steel componentry. He was right. It’s brilliant. Without it, I’d be doing double the washes.  If you have a big family too, consider the humble Maytag. She’s chunky, but determined!  I like that kinda gal.

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My hanging rails, shelves and the removable bench top over the laundry tub.

What’s on your laundry must-have list?

The Embrace

 

Some years ago I came across a seminal video clip that was going gangbusters on social media. I think my cousin, Kylie in Australia posted it. It was made by Taryn Brumfitt. I remember most the way she looked at herself in the mirror. The things she said out loud that sounded like the script I’d had swirling around my own head about my body.  She was talking about the shocking way we look at ourselves as women, and why that has to change. As I watched her clip, the tears began to run down my cheeks. I felt that old familiar despair about my body. I felt shame. That tired dirge within my heart, a deep disappointment weighing down my soul. It had to change.  I added Taryn’s clip to the arsenal of information I had begun to gather around my fledgling body positivity. I’ve thought a lot about this body of mine since then, all the things it has endured. I thought about how truly wonderful it is to be here, in it. This vessel deserves thanks. Not deprecation.  I hugged myself in a long, forgiving, kind-hearted embrace. It was the beginning of this new phase in my life, the start of something brand new. Liking myself exactly as I am (how sad that liking ourselves is almost revolutionary). It’s been liberating!
Thanks Taryn for your part in this shift for me!

 

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A little drawing from my sketchbook of me, embracing myself.

 

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Taryn Brumfitt’s viral social media post.

 

Taryn has since made a full length documentary, EMBRACE, exploring the potent body-ideal saturation of our media and the various ways that affects self image. She discusses the powerful, soul destroying ways we fight the unattainable fight and why we do. Sharing perspectives from a cosmetic surgeon, an anorexic girl, a plus size model, photographers, campaigners, educators, an actor, a public figure, and the general public. The themes and message in her documentary are world-changing.  I urge you to find a screening near you. I hope it will be available soon on DVD. It’s incredible. Last night, I took my daughter and my Aunty to see that documentary. It was a special screening hosted by Meagan Kerr and Monique Doy.  At the end of it, my eleven year old girl hugged me and said “Mummy, everybody needs to see this”.  She’s smart, my girl. She’s right.

 

The documentary was hit by controversy when it was first screened here for the Film Festival. Due to the images of female genitals during one part of the film, it was considered to be sexually graphic and had to be reviewed by the censorship board. The purpose of showing those private parts, was to address a very real problem for young women; asking crucial questions about the rise of labiaplasty among young women. Labiaplasty is surgery to removed the inner labia and create a more ‘streamlined downstairs’ sometimes known as the ‘designer vagina’. Women, especially young women, are clamouring for this surgery because their vulvas don’t look like the ones in pornography. They may not know this is the standard to which they are altering their bodies, but pornography and soft-porn magazines are often the only place women see other women’s vaginas. The proliferation of porn across our internet means young people encounter multiple images of one particular type of vagina (to be technically correct, vulvas). The type fashionable in the porn industry. Waxed or shaven, minimal labial folds. A vagina more stylistically akin to that of a pre-pubescent girl. It’s a sick world, and we wonder why?  Taryn shows a  range of female genitalia to shine a light on the fact we are meant to be unique. In showing realistic, post-puberty vulvas she valiantly attempts damage control. Thankfully, our censorship board watched the film and approved it’s screening. I actually dearly wish that we could make it compulsory in all schools, for girls and boys. But there are some themes that are significant triggers for our youth and it needs to be approached with care.  NB. Suicide, self harm, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery.

 

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Photographer B Jeffrey Madoff

My favourite part of the doco was when Taryn was shooting a special diversity project with New York photographer Bernie Madoff. I’ve been involved with a few diversity shoots, bringing up the rear (pun intended) and representing women over 40 and over size 18. I adore shoots with other women where encouragement and acceptance are part of the scene. It’s a rare thing in this world, for women to accept and encourage other women, just as they are, for being who they are, not just what they look like. It’s intoxicating. It’s a force I want to see more of in this world. Not just for me, but for the generations coming through. Empowered women empower women and when they do, happiness… wholeness, happens.  I’ve been involved in education, the disability sector, and now the plus size fashion world. Advocacy seems to be part of my purpose. But I can’t help wondering if all of the disparate sectors of my life, of my society, are together the thing that lights my fire. Diversity.

 

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Shoot for Euphoria Design’s “Confidence is Beautiful” campaign. 2016.

I want to see more fully grown women fronting women’s fashion brands and having a stronger presence in the media. Women of various ages, various stages, body types, abilities, ethnicities, backgrounds and gender histories. I want the fashion world to give us all credit for wanting more than the one type of ‘woman’ (girl) we see everywhere. I want more representation, not just because I love modelling and I am not a typical model, but because it matters for our young ones coming up. It matters for them to see that women are diverse. It matters for them to see that they have a place.  Here, with us. The women of the village. If we don’t show them they have value, that their image is beautiful, how will they ever embrace the realities of growing upward, outward, and older?

 

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Shoot for Autograph Curvy Model Search. 2015.

 

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Backyard shoot for Sera Lilly jeans. 2015.

Taryn Brumfitt makes room for us all with this documentary. With her wonderful fun loving sparky approach, she elbows the status quo out of the way and asks finally, and loudly, REALLY?  Is this what we want for our gender moving forward?  She calls us to wake up and begin the revolution in our own mirrors. She’s a rockstar, and I wholeheartedly embrace her movement.

#Ihaveembraced #TheBodyPositiveMovement

 

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

a book review

 

image of The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs book cover

 

When I was seventeen, there was a Guggenheim exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I went there with my art class, and returned, time and again. It was a window into the world of my art text books. Here they were. I stood as close as I could to Brancusi’s, Calder’s, Dali’s, Moore’s and Mondrian’s. I breathed the air next to them like I might catch some ions of genius leaking from the very spirit of each work. I stood back and squinted at them, turned my head and observed them in their minutae. It seemed to me, a spotty gangly teenager in a distant antipodean gallery, that these foreign artists were the master race; their works a gift from the greatest muse of creative expression. The soul of life itself.

The Joyce Girl is Annabel Abbs’ inspired story of an Irish girl in the 1930’s. She lives in Paris, right in the midst of the bohemian art world of my Guggenheim heroes. A dancer, dreamer and artist, Lucia lives in a straightjacket world of obligation and overwhelm. She is the daughter of James Joyce, celebrated writer.  She is known historically as integral to the production of Joyce’s lengthy work, Finnegan’s Wake. She is caught in the undertow of her father’s work, sublimated by her roles as dependent daughter and co-dependent muse. Her own genius, obscured first by the narcissism of her father, despised by her mother and brother and later destroyed by the inept machinations of mental asylums, is explored first hand. She is finally given voice by the author Annabel Abbs in this novel. Heavily based in the facts of Lucia Joyce’s life, we see first hand the struggles of a troubled girl trying to make sense of herself.

“An ephemeral arch of colour, swaying and dissolving. Flashes of imprisoned light. Trembling loops of movement. A wind washed rainbow, my bands of colour shivering and melting. I crouched and twisted. Needles of rain, spiked and hard. I stretched and spread my fingers, soft rays of warm sunlight. I was a swathe of luminous colour. I was the gold-skinned weaver of the wind. Sun-spangled sovereign of the cosmos”  -Annabel Abbs ‘The Joyce Girl’

I loved many things about this book. But, oh, Abbs’ descriptive passages of dancing! She is expert in describing this artform with a keen sense of the visceral experience of dance. I realised that my legs and feet were flexing and moving as I read, and I do love a book that transcends the brain barrier.  I enjoyed Abbs’ turn of phrase; sometimes, I felt she was touched by a Joyce-ian way with words which added depth and relevance to the experience of reading this book. It was immersive.

I so loved the characterisations of some of the artists I had studied as a teenager. That world of Bohemian Paris, where artists came for freedom and connection, was painted with a vivid hand. I felt like I had stepped inside my Guggenheim exhibition. That I could walk alongside Alexander Calder and listen to him expound on shape, form and movement. It was transporting.  And when the time came to explore the deeper psyche of Lucia, Abb’s sensitive writing captured the child Lucia with care. It was emotionally difficult to read, but a necessary and bittersweet journey with Lucia through the dark travails of her mind.

Most of all, I loved that Abbs gave Lucia’s story an audience. I doubt that before reading this novel, I would have read Carol Loeb Schloss’ biography of Lucia Joyce’s life, To Dance in the Wake. But now, I will. Lucia is a woman of history, of art, of feminism, whose story should be told. Abbs’ story of Lucia; childhood trauma, repressed memory, subjugation, dysfunctional family relationships, unrequited love, unfulfilled ambition and incarceration… I am certain is an echo of the many women whose independence and freedom were stolen during times when mental institutions were dangerous places and Psychology a fledgling discipline.

My own Great Grandmother was institutionalised when her children were very small. Now we assume she had undiagnosed postnatal depression. But I wonder who she really was, and now there is no way of knowing. These stories should be told. These voices should be heard.

I recommend The Joyce Girl. Thank you Annabel Abbs for writing this important novel.  I will take it with me on my own metaphorical dance of independence and freedom.

 

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Lucia_Joyce_dancing_at_Bullier_Ball_-_Paris%2C_May_1929.jpg
Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Lucia_Joyce_dancing_at_Bullier_Ball_-_Paris%2C_May_1929.jpg

 

Jane Makes Hats

Remember when I said I’d be sharing with you, my favourite creative people?  Here’s the first!

I met Jane when I did the ‘Confidence is Beautiful’ shoot for Euphoria Design. She works for the marketing company who devised that project; Identify Marketing. In her own time, she is Jane of Jane Makes Hats. She and I bonded quickly over our physical similarities, it’s not every day I come across someone tall like me, same age, same shoe size, same colouring!  But we differ greatly when it comes to knitting talent!  It’s been lovely getting to know her. One day, I told her I had been oogling her amazing hats on instagram. We we got talking about them. I told her how long I have been looking for the perfect Rachie hat, eye-colour-green, soft and slouchy. She said, let me knit it for you! And she did. I adore it so much!  Here it is. And here she is, because keeping Jane a secret would be too mean. You are welcome!

 

Q: Jane; your hats! Every one is a work of art. As a beginner knitter I have enormous respect for your skill, before we even talk about your talent!
Please tell us how it all began?

Well thanks! It’s a subject dear to my heart – my skills were passed to me via a very patient Nana and Mother. My Nana was an amazing knitter, her tension was so tight she often bent the needles (I still have some of her wonky needles in my collection to prove it). My sister and I had matching knitted poncho’s we would wear with pride and we always received compliments on them. My Mum still knits and donates loads of wee teddy bears to charities all around the World and NZ (St Johns in Pirongia just received a bunch for the sick kids who ride in the ambulance).

 

Q: Tell us about what inspires your projects?

Each person I knit for inspires me. I hear their story, I find out what they want, and I get so excited about each project. I loved creating your hat Rachel, you wanted a hat that matched your eyes (and personality). I still get nervous when I deliver the finished project – I want people to love them!

 

Q: What is your creative process?

I find out what the recipient wants, I go through my massive stash of donated wool (given to me from Mum’s, Nana’s and Great Grandma’s), and scour the shops for the perfect yarn. I usually create a pattern from scratch, so the maths skills come into play. I knit at night to wind down from the day.

 

Q: What would you like to try next?

I like small projects as my attention span is a wee short, I have 5 projects to complete then I want to make a few squares for my blanket. I like to make squares from the wool of hats I have created for people, it’s like a happy memory blanket.

 

Patchworking. Using up my scraps on a blanket for my boy. It will grow as he does.

A photo posted by Jane (@janemakeshats) on

Q: You once told me, when talking about Moss stitch, that it was “fun”! Is challenge or difficulty a motivating factor in your knitting? How important is the fun factor for you?

I do like nutting out a pattern, This week – for a new challenge – I offered myself up to be a test knitter for a talented knitter in the States. It was for this amazing pair of cable gloves, I re-did that first glove about 10 times because I couldn’t figure out the pattern (I usually just create cable without a pattern). I eventually googled it, slapped my forehead at how easy it was, and made a fab pair of gloves.

 

Q: What has been your favourite project?

The Dinosaur Hats, they take a long time but are so exciting when they are finished. So far I have made 3 for boys, one for a baby girl (not yet born) and one for a cool lady in Wellington (I just loved that she saw the baby hat and said “I can rock a hot pink dinosaur hat with multi-coloured spikes”).

 

#regram @_cubaka_ getting all growly in his fab #dinosaur #hat. #knittingforkids #knittersofinstagram #grr

A photo posted by Jane (@janemakeshats) on

Q: How important is having a creative outlet for you and why?

My job is creative and I love it, but I think doing something with my hands and producing something with love is so important. I like to give every baby born in my circle, a new hat as a gift – I really can’t explain why, but I have done it for around 10 years. I really want to pass my skills onto the next generation and love the craft movement. These skills are not lost, they are being used and re-invented and cherished – it makes me smile and think of my Nana and her wonky needles.

 

Ah, Jane, thank you so much for sharing your creativity with us. If you want to follow Jane, you can find her here, on instagram.

  • Are you a knitter?
  • Have you been taught a special craft that you plan to hand down to the next generation?
  • What kind of creativity floats your boat?

I caved. You rock.

 

Photo of a climber high up on a rockface in the Odyssey Adventure, Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

I don’t have a bucket list. It seemed like a stupid thing to have when I was sick, like a pointless fantasy.  So while the well-world went about inventorying all their possibilities, I thought more about the small things I would love to do when I was well. More baking for my family. Swimming in the ocean. Making memories of connection and authenticity; creating those little moments, that pieced together would someday provide comfort for the people I love. Like a soft woven wrap to draw around themselves when I am gone. Like I do with the memories of my mother.

But like all the things I never realised about the ‘well-world’, being in remission has me thinking about this bucket list phenomenon. I suspect the list I am developing is a ‘fuck-it list’ (pardon the crude word, but it rhymes and expresses my feelings in a satisfying manner!) I am seeing opportunities that I never would have taken on previously and thinking ‘…ah, fuck it.  Why not?’  Things that never would have been on my radar before I got sick, because, let’s face it; who in their right mind would want to rock climb inside a mountain?

The thing is, if I can go through all those years of sickness, I can do most things. And yesterday I figured if I could put this fat body in front of a camera, I could put it on a caving expedition too.

Let me preface with the fact that the last time I climbed anything was a tree when I was a teenager. I’m not agile, I’m not yet fit. And I am carrying a lot of weight, even for my 182cm frame. I’m 110kg.  So when we arrived at the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. in Waitomo (I was with our friend Tatijana from Macedonia, and CC from China) the plan was to glide on black inner tubes through the cave rivers, under the glow worms. It was a real disappointment to discover that the rains had flooded out all but one expedition: the most challenging of the three expeditions, the extreme 5 hour Odyssey caving adventure through the heart of the mountain.  Humouring the girls (both teeny creatures), I agreed to see if I passed the ‘fit test’, where you have to physically force yourself through a tiny low tunnel constructed in the ticket office. It bends around a corner and the theory is, that if you can fit through there, you can fit through the cave crevasses on the trip. Inside the fit tunnel, I had a little hyperventilation moment. Two young tourists I didn’t know giggled at my predicament. I said no to joining Tatijana and CC on the trip.

We went for lunch at the nearby Huhu cafe.  It was delicious. I enjoyed a glass of wine with my lunch, and as I sipped, our waitress (who summers as a cave guide) wanted to know why I wasn’t joining my companions on the climb. I explained the fit test squeeze and she said her partner who is bigger than me could get through the mountain, so I could too.  And besides, the tightest bit is only ten minutes long (puh! says my hindsight!). Was it her?  Was it the wine? Was it the encouragement of my tiny and enthusiastic companions?  We went back to base, I spoke with the cave instructors, and I signed up.

Note the relative size difference between me and my fellow cavers....
On our way to the cave entrance, me and my tiny companions felt excited…. the relative size of us will help you see how small the spaces were in the photo below.

Even when they attached my harness and ropes to me, I didn’t really think about why we needed them. Even when they put the helmet on my head, and passed me some men’s size tens, I didn’t really think about what was ahead. I suspect my brain had ceased all extra function, I was already into the first challenge of my trip, and I was all denial. It’s nothing I thought, it’s been done before, it will come to an end… it’s fine.  Thoughts ominously reminiscent of going into labour.

CC inches her way through a tight spot.
CC inches her way through a tight spot.

About five minutes into the cave, I had to bend double to fit under a rocky outcrop. “I hope there aren’t too many of these” I thought, clueless.  At that point, my feet were still on flat ground and I had balance in my favour. For the next two hours, I would be squeezing my generous self through the narrowest spaces, balancing all my weight on one toe, or holding myself up with my weakling abs and two fingernails. It was a kind of torture. The girls ahead forged on, laughing and chatting with the instructor who was guiding them. My instructor, Tim, calmly pointed out footholds he liked to use. Inside my head, there was a litany of swear words for Tim and his favourite footholds. I wrestled my long, large self, up, over and under the bumps and edges of limestone, willing myself onward. Sometimes, my legs were so weak I had to lift them by pulling on the fabric of my overalls.  Sometimes Tim would push my foot into a hold, and once, he planted his hands on my bum and pushed me upward.  I was so horrified I lost my grip and slithered back down the slippery rocks; he broke my fall.
“I’mfhotyu!” (I’ve got you!) he tried to say, but his voice was muffled by the arse in his face. It was not my finest moment on (in) the planet.

The two hours of ‘squeeze’ replay in my memory as a kaleidoscope of close up views of rock. The feeling of rocks pushing against my back and diaphragm, the pain of resting all of my weight on my knees or hands, the scrape and panic, the trap and terror. But just like labour, I kept going, thinking that the only way ‘out’ is to keep going onward. I tried to focus on my breathing, on the circle of light from my helmet. I looked intently at each section of rock in front of my nose, refusing to let myself lose it.

 

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…the rock just happened to match my nails. This pic was taken before we went off the path, while I still had the presence of mind to notice the similarity.

 

“Attach your clippers now” said Tim. His voice even and controlled. I looked down. Beneath me, maybe four or five storeys down the crevasse, was a roaring river.  Between me and the end of the trip was more rock, more rope, more dizzying heights. There were intermittent slippery little metal staples to hold or stand on, and every couple of meters, we had to unclip and clip our safety harnesses from one section of rope to the next. Sometimes, to do that, we had to lean outward and use our body weight to make the ropes taut. I could hear the roar of the rising river below us and the hammering of my heart.  Twin thunder shouting at me to ‘get out!’. I intended to.

 

Abseiling down from the top of the crevasse. This was near the midway point.
Abseiling down from the top of the crevasse. This was near the midway point. My face may be smiling, but my eyes tell the truth!

 

Twice, we had to trust our harnesses and swing out into space.  Once, we abseiled. Neither were things I have ever done before. I panicked with the abseiling. The rope burned the print from my palm because I was gripping it so hard. I was far beyond my maximum ability to keep pushing on, and yet I was. Tim was ahead now, and had cheerily set up afternoon tea at the bottom of a gully. I lurched into the space and sat my shaky self down. I swallowed the sugary cordial in great gulps, it tasted so good! Ems, the other guide, fastened her big brown eyes on us. 
“Want the good news, or the bad?” she asked. I couldn’t respond, I just stared at her. We had taken three hours to traverse the first half of the course. There was at least one and a half to two hours ahead, of even higher terrain. I looked down at my shaking legs and hands, wondering how I could do it. And she said “there is a way out from here if you need it”.

I caved.

Striding forward, up the spiral pathway to the outside, my body surged with new energy. I was going to see the outside!  I tore of my helmet, and stepped out into the air. The wind whipped my hair sideways. The pale sky rained over my face and muddy caving gear. I tipped my face upward and grinned at myself. I didn’t give a monkey’s about not making it the whole way, I was utterly delighted that I hadn’t died, wrapped in rock, pinned under the mountain. I was free.

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The most beautiful view of the expedition: the way out.

I don’t think I will ever try caving, abseiling  or rock climbing ever again, but I am glad I did.

As I write, my arms ache from the push and pull of my afternoon underground. My limbs are bruised and swollen, but my self-belief is soaring.

So, I caved. And I caved in. And I made a memory with Tatijana and CC that none of us will ever forget. A small piece in the tapestry of our lives that will connect us forever.  And for me, more proof  of the universal fact that we are never what we have always thought we were. We can do things that we imagine we can’t. We don’t need to limit ourselves because we are fat, or unfit, or fearful -or any other combination of self-limiting descriptors. If any of these things are holding you back, maybe you should start a ‘fuck-it’ list, too.

I’d just like to acknowledge all the beautiful people I know who are still pushing through the relentless difficulties of being sick, or caregiving for someone who is. Climbing through the mountain yesterday was so hard, but even at it’s worst, in the seconds of sheer terror, it was not as hard as the long journey through Dysautonomia. I tip my helmet to you, because you are the true boundary pushers. You are the endurance athletes. You are the explorers who discover ways to live with meaning through all that struggle. Two words for you my friends.

You rock.

A Ballet of Pavlov’s Dogs

 

Photo credit: Ron Schmidt www.looseleashes.com
Photo credit: Ron Schmidt www.looseleashes.com

 

My writing mojo has been off leash lately.  It’s gone and done a runner.

I’ve been sick in the more ‘regular’ sense of sickness. One run after another of yucky bugs, bacterial and viral. My third round of antibiotics. It’s nothing compared to how I was before; could be worse. Blah. Still feeling like a germ ball. Thankfully, I’ve had the internet to keep me entertained. Some of my friends on social media post awesome things. Entertaining, political, thought provoking things. Some of the bloggers I read wrote some great stuff this week too. This resonated with me so much. And when I’ve felt too yuck for all of that thinking, there has been that old internet comfort of window shopping for… shoes!  Looking at shoes, dreaming of shoes. I have developed a bit of a passion for shoes, probably due to their scarcity in my big-footed-girl-world.

It's ridiculous and vacuous. I know.(5)

It’s not an interesting thing, but I do love them. So anyway, there I was browsing shoes, in my congested, mouth-breathing, heavy lidded state when I passed a pair that had a style name I recognised; Lexie. The name of one of my son’s fantastic karate senseis (I wonder what the plural for sensei, is?) Lexie is a dignified, wise and fascinating person who is teaching my son so much more than karate.  We think she’s great. I saw the Lexie shoes. I fired off a quick and first-world-shallow message to her facebook account, something along the lines of ‘saw these shoes and thought of you.. tee hee’. And as happens with Lexie, within a few sentences, we were discussing the bigger issues in life. Education is topical today because of this article.   We agree that something needs to change in our schools.  At the end of our quick exchange, she sent me something I HAVE to share with you.

Please watch. Share. This. All the yes. This is exactly what is needed so we can extract the human race, our beautiful, creative, questioning, thoughtful selves, from becoming, as Welby Ing so elegantly put it,
“…a ballet of Pavlov’s dogs”.

Disobedient Thinking.  Intellectual Disobedience. Don’t just sit there, think something.  Ask something. Something all your own. Or something that piggy backs off something someone else thought. Something to transcend shoes and religion and educational beaurocracy.  Because being creative really is the most beautiful precious thing we can do. It’s how problems get solved.

I was never taught that my own disobedient thinking was a “precious thing” but I did learn it.  It was the pathway to my independence, to mental freedom. It was the harbinger of self-knowledge and self-acceptance the beginning of discovery. Ing is so right. I value this precious gift, in myself and in all the children I have ever taught.

Rebels of the world unite!

Useless

Hello, my name is Rachel and I am a useless blogger.

nametag

When I was little, the single most frustrating retort from my mother was when she would close my most recent, incessant argument with:

“JUST. BECAUSE.”

I needed a reason why I couldn’t chew gum/ wear a t-shirt with ‘easy’ emblazoned across the chest/ yell at my maths teacher (all true stories).  I needed reasons so I could keep arguing. So she would tighten the set of her jaw and shut up shop. Just. Because.  It’s taken being a mother myself to understand the value of the statement. It’s a full stop, a justification in and of itself. It’s enough, already. It’s when something needs simply to be accepted.

Back to this blogging malarky. It used to be that I would write a couple of posts a week, sometimes more. Each around 800 words apiece. I’ve amassed a large archive of words. But more often than not these days, I’m so busy in my offline world that my online world makes much less noise than it used to.

When I started blogging, I studiously ticked the boxes on the ‘backend’ of my blog. I fretted over my ‘niche’ and tried to quantify my ‘audience’. I ran giveaways, launched ‘series’, built awareness for my illness community and cared more about ‘SEO optimisation’ in my writing. But these days, I care most about writing. Just writing. If you are reading this I am so genuinely grateful, because I haven’t done much to bring you here or keep you here. I’m just being me, writing my story, in post-sized-bites.  I guess, technically, that makes me a useless blogger, a tag I am really proud to wear.  Because blogging is about much more than all that useful stuff. Blogging is about self-expression, about reflection and learning. For me, it’s a record of my thinking, an archive of my journey.

Veggiemama (Stacey) from Melbourne started it all. You can read here about how the useless-blogger-groundswell began, that my mate from I Give You the Verbs (Annette) turned into a movement, complete with it’s own hashtag (#uselessblogger), that ate the cat that swallowed the fly. I don’t know why we swallowed the fly, perhaps we’ll die!

It’s a grand thing to know that my blog can continue, ‘useless’ as it may be. It’s a bit extravagant maybe, blogging anyway, blogging about all of my life, not just one part of it. Writing even when what I have to say comes out and I think ‘yawn, who is going to want to read this anyway?’. But I have great faith that my readers, like you, have free will, and will only read on if you want to. If you don’t that’s fine with me too. There are blogs that I have lost interest in over the years. If you are here it’s because you want to be. I like hanging out with you! Thanks for staying.

This whole ‘useless blogging’ thing resonated with me. The blogs I love most are the ‘useless’ ones. The ones people write for the love of blogging, not the pursuit of followers.  The ones that bare it all, that lay their hearts out on the screen, full of authentic power. The vulnerability, the mundane, the beautiful normality of life. And sometimes, too, the pain.  I love these blogs because their authors care most about being real. It’s much more interesting to me than a pretty splash page, a new header image, or fancy widgets. Those things all have their own merits, but it’s content that floats my bloggy boat.

Do you blog?  Are you a ‘useless blogger’ too?
Join the revolution!  Be a daredevil and blog,

just. because.