The (Sleep)over

The SleepoverThere’s something so terrifically exciting for a child to stay the night at someone else’s house. It’s different from just going over for a play or a visit. You get a real insight into how other people live, what rituals they have and what they look like when they wake up in the morning!

As a youngster I was always up for a sleepover, to the point that Mum would throw me a stern glare when I’d ask in front of a friend if they could stay the night. “It puts me in a difficult position to say no,” she’d say. That was the idea.

I can see the pattern recurring with my own children, whose eyes light up when they find out they’re off for a sleepover or someone is staying at our place. They quickly start sorting out teddies and clothes to pack for a night out or pulling out mattresses and blankets for a guest.

Some months ago when a nephew was staying over, I was transported back to my childhood and the ritual of staying the night with my cousins. Once the lights went out the quiet chatter and stifled giggles began. “Boys,” I warned, feigning my disapproval. It didn’t make any difference, the banter continued. I decided to let them go.

Instead I text messaged my cousin and partner in childhood sleepover antics to fill him in on the situation unfolding. We pinged each other a series of messages reliving the fun “My god, they are some of the best memories of my childhood,” he said. I could hear the joy through his words “I remember we used to get told to shut up but it wouldn’t matter.”

He was right, they were some of the best childhood memories. We were constantly harassing our parents for a sleepover and knew that if we kept at it we would eventually wear them down and get our way.

Around the same time I was recruited by an elderly neighbour to be her babysitter when her husband was on overnight work trips. It was a novelty to spend the night at someone else’s place on a school night. My payment was a plate of tinned spaghetti and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast. Life didn’t get much better than this.

Slumber parties took the sleepover to a whole new level. A roomful of giggling girls was any parent’s worst nightmare. I recall my very generous Mum saying “You can have a slumber party if you’re going to slumber.” I considered the response albeit I was a little perplexed. Slumber had an actual meaning and it wasn’t trying to pin your eyes open all night to see who could make it to sunrise?

Sleepovers evolve with you. As a young adult they often arise from necessity like finding a place in the corner to curl up after a wild party. Or you’re travelling and a friend of a friend has offered accommodation for the night. This scenario can present any kind of outcome.

My husband and I were kindly offered a place to stay one night while we were travelling, long before we married. The timing was a little unfortunate as the couple we were staying with had only just moved in together, that day. We were settling in for the night when we heard some very soft squeaking. My husband looked around like a meerkat, I joked that it was probably a bed. With the realisation that it was in fact a bed squeaking in the other room to its gentle rhythmical movement we both buried our heads in our pillows trying desperately to stifle our laughter.

Seems you’re never too old to enjoy a sleepover.

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Pants Girl

BlushI’ve just noticed an interesting milestone. The blush sitting in my toiletry bag has been with me for nearly 21 years. No, the full point isn’t missing, 21 years. Is that some kind of record in this day and age?

My Mum bought it for me for my first high school ball and it’s accompanied me on my minimalist makeup journey ever since. Ok, it clearly didn’t get much use in the middle 18 years, but it’s still kind of remarkable that it’s stuck by me for so long. It’s nearly reached the end of its days, the mirror dropped out sometime ago, the cover recently disintegrated and I’m starting to scrape out the corners but Mum definitely got her money’s worth.

This isn’t unusual behaviour for me. Many of my clothes have stood the test of time proudly hanging in my wardrobe long enough to go out of fashion and come back in. I’d like to think that it was all to do with my sustainable living persuasions, but it’s a lot more than that.

You see I’ve never really been a fashionista and definitely not a girly girl. I thought that a lot of it had to do with being a sporty person. Olympic champion Flo Jo dispelled that myth never letting athletics get between her and having incredible nails and dangly jewellery.

Was it something to do with what my dad drove into me “Piercing your ears is self mutilation.” Quite possibly. Although I eventually succumbed to self mutilation.

I guess I just always felt a bit funny getting dressed up. I remember the dresses my Mum coerced me into wearing to Sunday mass. The green corduroy skirt and shirt, the brown checked dress accompanied with floppy bows on headbands digging in behind my ears. Nothing’s changed, women still suffer in the name of fashion.PantsGirl

It suited me to dress down and so I became the pants girl. Pants for any occasion in all colours and styles. In late high school I teamed my jeans with Blundstone work boots carefully scuffed and dusted in authentic farm dirt to create the country look.

When I invested in the real deal woollen ugg boots I boldly declared that with these beauties “I could even wear them under jeans.” Whoops, I better watch who I say that around. I was in earshot of a true fashionista. She shot me a quick “No you can’t!”

If I’m really honest with the self-righteous me, it has become more about caring what others think about what I have to say, than how I look. Remember that old saying “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Well maybe I’ve taken that to the extreme…a little.

Seriously though, I’m all for people dressing well and looking good, I’m the first to appreciate great style. Yet I was extremely disconcerted when I read comedian Sarah Millican’s account of her experience at last year’s BAFTA awards ceremony. She was given a public dressing down all because of the outfit she’d worn to the event. She was being recognised for her comedic talents, not how well she could pull off a designer label.

In recent years I’ve ditched the pants only policy and ventured back into the world of skirts and dresses. It’s kind of fun getting a little dressed up and being a bit more feminine. But I think I’ll always be the pants girl – ugg boots optional.

 

Battle of the Unknown – MH370

Wild Ocean

The drone of the RAAF aircraft across the dark sky announces the start of a new day. Like an eager bee out to collect its pollen stash, this plane has purpose. The days are getting shorter so the sun hasn’t risen in time to guide the way. But waiting for it would waste precious moments and it won’t be long before its long rays join the search anyway.

Even if all hope is lost of finding survivors, it is a race against time to find the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and salvage some answers. Suddenly the focus of this mystery has turned to the Indian Ocean south west of Perth, Western Australia. It is a hostile and unforgiving expanse of water. The isolation almost spurs the search on as searchers fight to retrieve victims from this lonely, watery desert.

It was as though international media had never considered there was such a pocket of isolation left in the world. They could barely fathom a city could exist nearby, even if it is 2500km away. It was a struggle to pinpoint Perth on a map. Like playing pin the tail on the donkey with a blindfold, Perth landed hundreds of kilometres north of its actual location.

Once the coordinates were correctly established, the spotlight amplified on Perth with the base for the eagle-eyed pilots and their aircraft growing ever bigger at the RAAF Base Pearce. The attention will only swell with the expectation that many of the devastated families will arrive to await news on their relatives’ fate. Being physically closer to their temporary resting place could only bring minimal solace, but it’s something in a whole lot of nothing.

Perth is enjoying it’s usual extended summertime blending into autumn, still bathed in sunshine. Yet the stunning warm weather can only bring cold comfort to those families searching for answers they may never find.

As the war planes return each evening from the battles against rough seas and fierce weather there is an air of anticipation. Is there any news? What has been discovered? So far, very little.

For the time being the drones will continue each morning and evening. When the battle will be over is unknown. All that is known is that there are no survivors of the wreckage, only those who must survive without their loved ones.

Broken

DollI watched as the tears rolled down her cheeks before she quickly smeared them across her face with her sleeve. My natural instinct was to reach out and hug her, but my head overruled, sternly reminding me that it was best to empower her with words. I should encourage her to continue the battles she had bravely fought throughout her life. So I decided to give her the advice I’ve been trying to take myself – give yourself a break and be kind to yourself. I could also throw in, be proud of what you’ve achieved and, never let anyone tell you you can’t do something – only you can know that.

I regularly come across people through my work who are ‘broken’ from their educational experiences. Often they are scrambling around in the darkness desperately trying to find the remaining pieces that they can haphazardly put back together. Sometimes it’s as though they have only sticky tape instead of super glue to adhere the remnants. The fact they are willing to try, and have very little to work with is indicative of their inner strength.

Education has to be one of the most powerful gifts anyone can receive, but one of the things we can take most for granted. It’s easy to associate lack of education with developing nations, but the reality is that this is happening in Australian cities. If the value of education isn’t seen by parents then children can be left behind. People will go to extreme lengths to cover up illiteracy  and I routinely see students become overwhelmed when asked to give an opinion, they have never had the opportunity to do so.

I never tire of the elation I feel as I see the transformation from shy and nervous students to those who are eager to offer an opinion and mentally challenge themselves.

Debate and lively discussion were sport in my family, everyone had an opinion on everything. Broadening our understanding of a topic was actively encouraged and debates could rage for weeks or even months. So the first time I heard a student say that their parents or school discouraged them from pursuing further education I was dismayed.

The lengths that some of these people go to get an education is nothing less than awe-inspiring. One student relayed to me her experience of waiting in an African refugee camp to be selected for a new life in a foreign land. She was picked from the tens of thousands to come to Australia, a moment akin to winning the jackpot in an unwinnable lottery. She didn’t waste a moment upon arrival and quickly started taking the first steps to gaining a tertiary education.

So as I talked to the young lady with the tear-stained face, I could see she had the determination not to give up until she’d achieved her goal of completing a teaching degree. She didn’t need me to tell her she could do it, she already knew. But I wanted her to know that I cared that she could do it, that I could see it would be a remarkable achievement against all the odds and naysayers and I was willing to impart my knowledge to help her.

This little interaction made me reflect on the relative ease my education had been and never to take that for granted. As I left the young lady on that sunny afternoon I stopped off at a vending machine for a snack. My little treat soon became stuck alongside another, which looked like it might join the snack graveyard. With a little encouragement the two items dislodged. Feeling like one treat was plenty I called to some people walking by and offered them the other snack. Looking at me quizzically, they accepted. I didn’t want anything in return, just letting them know that I wanted to share the bounty was enough.

Shooting the Breeze – Part 9 – Final Thoughts

ShellPhew…I finally got there!

I started writing these final thoughts long before finishing this little exercise…a little premature maybe! It was at a time when I had shared my progress with my parents. Up to that point I had read my words thousands of times, meticulously combing through my thoughts. I hadn’t felt particularly emotional about this exercise, although I was completely engrossed in it. However, my emotions ambushed me and I was utterly taken aback. It was at that moment I realised how powerful this venture was for me and how privileged I was that these people were willing to be a part of it.

Initially my purpose for this project was really to see if I had the stamina to see it through. I sifted through numerous topics believing that I would eventually hit upon the right one and my instincts were right. If I started out thinking that this was a bit of a laugh and simply an endurance test I quickly discovered how wrong I was.

The people I have written about are everyday people, talking about everyday things. They have spoken to me so candidly, without hesitation. Even the people closest to me, who I know the best like my parents astounded me. They have all helped me to have a better understanding of myself as well as the human spirit.

It has been fascinating to see the responses from those I have written about. Many have been flattered and a little overcome by what I have said about them. It makes me realise just how different the perception of ourselves can be to others’ perceptions. We can often be overly critical of ourselves without reason.

Although I started writing this little assembly of stories more than three years ago, I have been a little overwhelmed sharing them with a wider audience now. It has been really challenging to put myself out there, in such a personal way. As I reached the halfway point of posting these pieces I almost gave up. I couldn’t believe that it would be such an emotional and draining journey. I’m glad I persisted.

I must also acknowledge the beautiful photos that adorn my blog posts, carefully crafted by my wonderful husband John. Although he hasn’t featured in any of these posts, I’m still tackling that one – his photographs speak volumes.

While I haven’t explored these topics as greatly as I first intended, I have still learned an incredible amount. We may never be able to do everything we want to in life, but we can still take joy and fulfilment from what we can do.

I have been absolutely humbled by the support I have received during this process. If you’ve made it this far with me…a very heartfelt thank you.

Shooting the Breeze – Part 8 – Mere Mortals

Water coloursI had an early introduction to death, not in a morbid, disturbing fashion, rather through the gentle and even beautiful experience of my paternal grandmother’s death. I have very few memories of my paternal grandmother, as I was very young when she passed away. Yet there are two vivid recollections I have which also hold particular relevance to how parts of my life have played out.

The first memory, the ‘living’ memory is of me sitting on her lap reading a made up story from the tiniest book possible to print. The size of the book was almost representative of me, a small child, and it illustrated my enduring love of stories and reading.

The second memory, the ‘death’ memory is slightly longer. I recall sitting around a children’s table with my mum and two siblings as we waited for a call from dad to come to see my grandmother who had passed away. We later visited her lying peacefully, as if sleeping, on her bed. Each of us placed a flower on her chest and gave her a kiss. There was no fear, just a tender moment of farewell from three young children.

This experience was a gift from our parents, the opportunity to see that our grandmother was no longer with us. It set the scene for a realistic view of life and death. At some point life would come to an end. My surgeon father was well known for his phrase, “you know not the hour”, having seen this play out time and time again in his professional life. This confirmed the preciousness of life and that it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

It’s unfathomable to me when I hear about people aged in their 30s who have just experienced their first funeral. I am unable to tally the number I have attended. However I understand that death can be confronting and most people wouldn’t choose to take part in a funeral. Fortunately, most of my most personal experiences with death have been positive and in some instances slightly quirky.

Both of my deceased maternal grandparents were brought to the family farm for their last night before burial. That way the family, many who had flown in from other places, could say their final farewells. Both experiences were extraordinary opportunities to say parting words in our own time and manner.

There were times when some of us nearly jumped through the roof when it seemed they were about to take a final breath. My grandfather’s coffin must have doubled in weight as we stuffed little gifts into his pockets to take with him. However the sheep wool, thrown into the grave with the coffin, indicative of his farming life would have cushioned the load!

Despite these almost comical experiences, my view of death is not flippant. It holds much reverence. Yet it is pragmatic and I place a strong sense of importance on farewelling the deceased and supporting those dearest to them. At the time of writing, one of my closest friends was caring for her dying mother. The emotions were so raw that we skirted around the inevitability of the situation and often conveyed our thoughts and feelings through actions rather than words. While we looked to the positive side of the situation, particularly that she had the opportunity to say goodbye, it didn’t take away from the tremendous sadness of losing a loved one.

I cherish the last years of my maternal grandmother’s life. Up until then she hadn’t been very physically present in my life as she lived on the other side of the country. When she came to stay for a few weeks, I secretly hoped it would be longer and as it turned out it was. While it was difficult to watch her struggle with the thought of being a burden on my mother, I relished the opportunity to ‘Gran-sit’. We would talk about all matter of things. On one occasion I polished the brass bed she was sleeping in, while she kept a watchful eye and delighted in the transformation to its former glory.

When it came time to say a final farewell, I was quite surprised that my grief and sadness had been replaced with joy. She was ready to go and in her delirious state in the hours before death she announced that my deceased grandfather had entered the room. To me, it was clear that he was ready to take her and she was not going to resist.

Shooting the Breeze – Part 7 – Boom Town

Cott BeachThe city I live in is a pretty one. The natural landscape has been shaped by a fusion of sand, sun, water, bush and even more sand. For a city geographically located thousands of kilometres from any other, little old Perth in Western Australia does quite well for itself. Blessed with rich natural resources, these have become the lifeblood of the State creating an opulent lifestyle for many, yet forging an ever growing divide between rich and poor.

In the more affluent areas of Perth, mansions dot the banks of the city’s greatest asset, the Swan River. Cars more valuable than some houses cruise the streets often desperate to christen their tyres on the rugged terrain they were designed for. On a hot summer’s day boats litter the river and the bays of nearby Rottnest Island as tanned bodies plunge into the cool water. The locals form a second skin as a salty residue encrusts their bodies after their saltwater pursuits. Perth’s is a social lifestyle built around hard work and a yearning to utilise the natural environment and bountiful sunshine.

During my lifetime Perth has grown from a large country town to a city but along the way it has developed an identity crisis, akin to an awkward adolescent growing into an adult’s body. There are familiar complaints that there’s nothing to do in Perth and the people are backward. WA’s moniker has long been ‘Wait Awhile’. But in a brave act of defiance, our largely conservative population has dug its heels into the abundant white sand and resisted changing with the times.

Over time, experts have been called in to diagnose the ailments of this city and I fervently awaited their prognosis. A common suggestion from such examinations was that we needed to ‘be ourselves’. But is it quite simply that this is who we are?

As a teenager I was intensely defensive of my city, but after travelling the world my stance has slackened. It’s not that I want my city to mimic the bright lights of the big cities, but I often mourn opportunities lost and regularly lament the views of my compatriots, particularly when they appear to repudiate progress.

In more recent times the vibrancy of the city has begun to escalate. Led by an enthusiastic band of community members we are beginning to embrace change and form a greater understanding of who we are.

The city has undergone a considerable transformation largely due to a prolonged mining boom. As our city has prospered, it has created an almost tiered community or more crudely – ‘the haves and have nots’. Simple things such as being able to choose where you are going to live and what school you might send your child to are no longer straightforward.

I was interested to find out what a relative newcomer thought about Perth. Although my dear friend Deb has lived here for more than 10 years, she is still undeniably European and this is why I affectionately call her the ‘little Malteser’. I regularly spend time with Deb and find myself paying great attention to my outfit on these days, not that I can ever match it with hers. She has an incredible knack of making anything look amazing. Take the $10 orange Bali dress she made to look like a designer piece. It’s apparent that she will never lose her self-proclaimed ‘I’m such a wog’ tag.

Her warmth, genuine interest and care for people have made her transition into Australian life very smooth. She felt warmly welcomed and almost exotic when she first arrived. “I think Australians in general, but especially West Australians are very open and warm to foreigners,” she said. “Definitely more so than anywhere in Europe – by a long shot.” However, while she did find that people were very friendly, they initially seemed to keep her at arm’s length.

Perth nightAt this point, I’m suddenly feeling a bit proud of my little city, especially as she continues by saying that while she has the choice to live anywhere in Europe or Australia, she chooses Perth. She starts to reflect upon a conversation she had with a friend on a recent trip to her native Malta. They had been to the beach and were watching the sunset over the Mediterranean, it was a wonderfully still night compared to the often windy Perth summer evenings. Her friend asked, “Why would you want to live anywhere else when you can live here?” Her response was, “How do you choose between Paradise and Heaven?”

The cross-cultural move hasn’t been without its shocks. For someone used to getting ready for an evening out at around 8.30pm, it was almost a deal breaker to find that this was the time her local restaurant closed. She was almost ready to pack her bags and head home.

And, in one of those moments where you didn’t realise something was a cultural phenomenon, Deb said she couldn’t understand why whenever she asked someone how they were, they were so quick to respond “great”. “You guys are always fantastically happy – nothing ever goes wrong.” In Maltese culture everyone is blunt when asked how they are, so this was a big adjustment. “I actually felt that people were not being honest, so that unnerved me a little until I realised it was just the Aussie way, people are tough here.”

So maybe it’s time to give ourselves a break. Lose the ‘Dullsville’ label and embrace our city for the beautiful and widely appealing place that it is.