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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Our Urban Village

I came home recently to find teenagers on our back deck, using our wifi.

Don’t worry, they had permission. The internet had gone down at their house, so they’d hot-footed it across the road to use ours. The fact that we weren’t home didn’t make any difference.

And for the umpteenth time since we moved here nearly 30 years ago, I gave thanks for this wonderful urban village that we live in.

We love our house, but it’s just bricks and mortar at the end of the day – what makes it special is the neighbourhood it’s located in. I recently came across a post I wrote six years ago, and it occurred to me that while some of the faces have changed, the essence of our community hasn’t. It’s still a street where folks say hello, share food and conversation, and look out for one other. And it made me wonder – what makes a neighbourhood a village? Why is our little corner of the inner west so magical?

When I was a child, I desperately wanted to live in a village. Perhaps it’s what every new immigrant wants – when my parents arrived in the late 1960s, barely speaking English and the only Chinese family in the area, they left behind all their loved ones. I was only four, but old enough to remember the noise and laughter and camaraderie that filled our house back in Malaysia. We went back for (very) occasional visits as I was growing up, and I have vivid memories of family and friends, gathered around kitchen tables, eating and talking loudly. It seemed to be a wonderful way to live.

So I feel incredibly lucky to have found this neighbourhood.

I love that we’re able to share our food, time and resources in a relaxed, easy way. Mark mows our front lawn, Jane brings me cocktails, and last week, Graeme dropped over sashimi plates and smoked meats. PeteV bought us a fancy bluetooth thermometer for Rosie the Smoker, so that we could sleep through the night rather than getting up three times to check the thermostat. Maude spends early mornings crocheting and drinking tea with me, Margaret made us a jar of her secret family chutney, and on a really good day, June will drop over a plate of her amazing Hungarian cabbage rolls.

In return, we hand out loaves of bread, share our old vintage ports and force feed everyone experimental chocolate. Last weekend, we pulled out an entire bed of perennial leeks from the garden and left them on the back deck so that the neighbours could come and help themselves.

I say “in return”, but in truth, it’s never been a case of quid pro quo. None of us keep track of what we’re giving or receiving, because what’s actually happening is that we’re building a community. Every neighbourly exchange gives us an opportunity to interact, nourish and build relationships, while always respecting each other’s personal space.

It also makes our village a safer place to live – when Pete and I go away, the boys have a dozen numbers to call of folks who will drop everything and run over if they need help (not that it’s such an issue now that they’re both adults). We keep an eye on each other’s houses, chase runaway pets down the road, and text when we think something might be amiss.

Let me give you an example of how well it all works. Darling Norma passed away a couple of months ago at the grand old age of 92. She’d had several strokes and couldn’t remember our names anymore, but she’d been able to keep living at home, on her own, largely because of her neighbours on both sides. They would drive her to doctors’ appointments, take out her rubbish, ring to tell her there was someone at the door (she was quite deaf), and so much more. Norma was born on our street, but it was Jane and Jacinta’s love and care that made it possible for her to spend her final days here.

Over the years, we’ve watched our sons and the other neighbourhood babies grow up and head off into the world, going to university, travelling overseas, starting careers and getting married. I hope that one day, they too will all find villages of their own. ♥

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It’s About Connection

What is it we all need?

Hannah Gadsby would argue that it’s connection.  What every human being wants, at their core, is a way to connect with others.

I watched her program Nanette on Netflix recently, and would urge anyone who has access to it to spend an hour of their time doing the same. Perhaps it will speak to you as powerfully as it did to me. ♥

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Holding Hands

After 35 years together, almost to the day, I love that he still holds my hand on the bus. ♥

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Making Peace with My Hands

I have my father’s hands and feet.

And his face, but that’s another story.

Whereas my mother and sister have sleek, elegant hands, I have chunky palms and stumpy sausage fingers which are routinely garrotted by rings. They’re proper peasants hands.

“Darling, they do a lot of work”… my mother reassures me, when I bemoan how sore and cracked they get.

“You have a well-developed thenar eminence, probably from all the kneading”…my massage therapist says, whenever she works on them (the thenar eminence is the fleshy bit of palm under the thumb).

Since my dad died three years ago, I’ve come to love my hands and feet. They’re not just similar – they’re exactly the same as his were. It’s like a little piece of him that I can never lose. When he was alive, we’d often put our hands together and compare – every finger was the same length, every nail was the same shape.

. . . . .

I’d like to think they were my grandmother’s hands as well, even though she died before I was born. By all accounts, she was very clever with her hands. It can’t have been easy feeding nine children through the Japanese occupation of Malaysia in the 1940s. My grandfather was the local Presbyterian pastor, so money was always tight.

Dad once told me that his mother brought in extra income by taking on small sewing jobs, and that she donated a lot of this money to folks in need in her little village. None of her family knew about it until the day of her funeral, when strangers arrived, weeping. She slipped away peacefully in a diabetic coma, and they found her, kneeling by the bed, in the middle of saying her prayers. No-one had any doubt where she went.

. . . . .

I don’t have my other grandmother’s hands – they were small, strong, and oh-so-clever. She would come and stay with us for six months at a time when I was young. She was always making something – crocheting daisy squares, or threading tiny beads, or folding paper.

Ah Mah would sit at our dining room table, sorting glutinous rice, one grain at a time, to make joong, little parcels of rice and meat, wrapped in bamboo leaves. Just for me, because she knew that they were my favourite. My strongest memory of my maternal grandmother is her seemingly endless patience. When I’m sewing or crafting something intricate, I try to follow her example, and to slow down and work more carefully, rather than rushing to finish a project.

. . . . .

So now, when I look at my hands, I no longer see ugliness.

Instead, I see the legacy of my father and my grandmothers. In many ways, my lifelong urge to create – to bake, craft, sew and cook – is inspired by the examples that they set for me. I’m incredibly grateful for such an enduring gift! ♥

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Old Medicine Bottles

I was tidying up our medicine cabinet recently and found these. And even though they’re nearly 20 years old and very out of date, I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out.

As many of you know, when Small Man was three months old, he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma 4S cancer. He had a golf ball size primary tumour on his adrenal gland which had metastasized into hundreds of smaller tumours in his liver, causing it to swell to over three times its normal size.  Emergency surgery removed the primary, after which the doctors adopted a wait and see approach, as this particularly rare form of cancer was known to “self-resolve”. We were told that the “4S” stood for “Stage 4, Special”.

Thankfully, blessedly, Small Man didn’t need chemotherapy, but he had to undergo a brutal but essential testing protocol over the following four years to ensure the cancer didn’t spread any further. Initially, we spent a fortnight in hospital every six weeks (by the end, we only had to go in once a quarter), and it took its toll on all of us. By the time he was one, Small Man would start crying when we turned onto the motorway entrance towards Westmead Children’s Hospital. In later years, at the end of each round of tests, he would stop talking completely for a week.

The only effective way to track what was happening inside his tiny body was through nuclear imaging scans, so our son was injected with radioactive isotopes and strapped down to a scanning bed. Apparently neuroblastoma kids are notoriously difficult to sedate, and Small Man used to put up an admirable fight. It wasn’t until he was old enough to be hypnotised by the Wiggles that the process finally got easier. Prior to that, the only thing that would settle him even slightly was an elephantine dose of chloryl hydrate – the doctors used to tell us that the dose could knock him out for up to 12 hours, but we were lucky to get 45 minutes. He also needed iodine to protect his thyroid during the scanning process, but he was allergic to the formulation that the hospital used. In the end we had to crush up iodine tablets usually dispensed for nuclear emergencies and feed them to him in a sugar syrup through a syringe.

It was all so long ago but I treasure these old bottles, because I don’t want to forget. They remind me to always be grateful for everything. They remind me how lucky we are to still have our strong, strapping 21 year old son.  And they remind me that as individuals, Pete and I are powerful, but as a team, we’re unstoppable.

Sometimes, life can feel very tough. In those moments, it’s good to remember that we’ve been tested before, and we survived. Yep, I think I’ll keep those bottles. 

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