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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Loose Change Smiles

Yesterday, I walked from one end of Sydney to the other.

I started with lunch at Spice Alley with Big Boy and then walked all the way down George Street to buy a hat at The Rocks. I think it’s pretty cute…

As I walked down the main street of our busy city, I was struck by the number of homeless men and women asking for money. Most were sitting, staring at the ground – a couple were bent over on their knees, holding a cup above their heads. I felt sad and guilty, because like everyone else passing by, I’ll often pretend not to see them. It’s too confronting and discomforting.

We’ve all heard the warnings…

“They’re just using the money to buy drugs or alcohol”

“You’re perpetuating the problem if you give them money”

“It’s a racket, don’t fall for it…”

But yesterday, the little voice in my head was saying…

“You’re walking down to buy a hat you don’t really need, and stopping for a $4 coffee on the way..”

So I pulled all the loose change out of my purse and stuffed it into my coat pocket. As I passed each person, I dropped a few coins into his or her bowl. Without fail, he or she looked up, smiled and said “thank you”. I smiled back, and said “good luck to you”. Serendipitously, I had exactly the right number of coins to take me all the way down to Circular Quay.

I don’t have enough money to fix anyone else’s life, nor the emotional strength to shoulder their burdens. I think that’s where the guilt comes from – we see pain and suffering which we can’t fix, and then we feel bad because our lives are comfortable and easy by comparison. So we turn a blind eye, or explain it away, or worst of all, discredit the person suffering to try and make our more fortunate situations seem less unfair. All because we feel unable to make a meaningful difference.

Yesterday, I realised there was something I could do.

If you’re sleeping rough in a major city, my loose change will make very little difference to your financial situation. But what it will do is give me an opportunity to look you in the eye, and to wish you well. It will give me a reason to exchange a smile and a few words, and to interact with you as a fellow human being rather than walking past you, trying to pretend you don’t exist.

I rode the train home yesterday, in my new hat, remembering the faces of those I’d met that afternoon. I hope today is an easier day for all of them.

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Light Show

When the sun is shining and our timing is right, Big Boy and I get to experience this magnificent light show on our morning walks. It’s created by the sunlight on the wind-driven waves bouncing off the concrete pillars on the underside of the pedestrian footbridge. If it was a contemporary art installation at the MCA, I’d happily pay to view it, so you can imagine how chuffed I was to be standing in the middle of it!

It  was particularly glorious earlier this week, so I took a video to share with you. This is exactly as my iPhone captured it – I haven’t added any filters or special effects…

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In case you’re having trouble figuring out all the angles, here’s a photo taken this morning from the outside…

…and a middle of the day pic from a couple of months’ ago…

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Pete suggested I upload the wider video as well, so you can see a bit more of the bridge (click on the fullscreen tab on the bottom right of the video for a better look)…

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If you’re walking the Greenway or the Leichhardt side of the Bay Run in the mornings, the best time to catch the light show is around 8.30am, on sunny, windy days when the tide is high (I’m adding that info for you, Greg!).

Wishing you all light and happiness every day!

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Frugal Friday Soup

At least once a fortnight, I’ll cook pasta soup.

I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s constantly evolving.

Last night I used nitrate-free bacon offcuts from our friend Johnny, half a packet of leftover pasta, garden beans, onion, carrot, potatoes and a tin each of lentils and chick peas. It was seasoned with a little paprika and topped with garlic croutons made from stale sourdough. The entire pot cost me under $5.

This dish is a house staple – we call it “pasta soup” and occasionally “survival soup”. When we moved into our house more than 25 years ago, we had very little cashflow and pasta soups even sparser than this were what kept us going. We’ve made a variation of this weekly or fortnightly ever since, and Small Man has been known to eat six bowls at one sitting. For all of us, it is quite literally the taste of home. 

You know, we don’t need to eat this frugally anymore.

But I keep making our pasta soup, not just because everyone loves it, not just because I can assemble it in my sleep, and not just because it’s a reasonably healthy vegetable and legume laden meal.

I also make it because it’s good to practise frugality and because it’s good to remember when times were a bit harder. It’s good to teach our sons that food made with love and eaten together as a family is grand, regardless of how “humble” it might be. It’s good to cook large, generous dishes that can be shared with anyone who walks in the door at the last minute.

Pasta soup night, at least for me, is always a time for reflection and gratitude. I remember when our elderly neighbour brought over that first covered bowl of peas, spring onions and broken spaghetti. I watch with joy as Big Boy and Small Man eat their bowls of soup with the same excitement as they would an aged steak. And I feel incredibly grateful that not only have we always had enough to eat, but that it’s always been delicious and nourishing. Even when it’s a simple pasta soup. ♥

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I wrote this before today’s walk and it felt timely to put it up right after yesterday’s post, as they’re related. Together, they’re a pretty complete wrap of where I’m currently at. Please don’t worry, it’s all good. ♥

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I’m in my fifties now, and I have to say, it’s a weird time of life.

It’s a bit like going through puberty again – only in reverse, I guess – my body shape is changing (not in a good way), I’m emotional (wept through a Disney movie recently) and my sleep is unsettled.

Somewhat ironically, in August last year, I noticed a significant spike in my anxiety levels. It was ironic because, as those of you who’ve been reading along for a while will know, 2016 was actually the easiest year we’ve had in a long time.

To try to combat the niggliness, I started walking (as mentioned in the previous post). It’s been glorious – I spend an hour outdoors each day, more often than not with Big Boy.

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At the start of this year, I noticed that the walks weren’t quite enough to take the edge off the creeping, hormone-driven anxiety. I decided to add daily meditation to my schedule as well.

Let me begin by saying that I’m pretty content with my life. For years, I’ve worked hard to be mindful – to really enjoy the moment, to be present, and to be grateful for how truly wondrous life is, both in general and in my particular circumstances. To that end, I’ve always viewed meditation as curative rather than preventative medicine. I’ve attempted it on an ad hoc basis during times of stress, and found it emotionally soothing.

Then I watched this TED talk by Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, and realised that I was going about it the wrong way. Andy sees meditation as daily exercise for the brain – one designed to bring order and strength to it in the same way that physical exercise does for the body…

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My Pete has been saying this for years, but I guess I wasn’t ready to take it in any earlier. He’s been meditating daily since he was 17 years old. And he has the most disciplined brain of anyone I know – it has quite literally protected him (and in countless ways, our whole family) through the many trials he’s faced over the years. So I have a lifetime of hard evidence that the process truly works.

I downloaded the Headspace App three weeks ago, and started the daily ten minute meditations…

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I’d love to tell you that I experienced a sudden and immediate sense of Kung Fu Panda inner peace…but I didn’t.

What I did notice though, was that after the first few days, I seemed to get some of my short-term memory back.

I stopped going back to the car to check if it was locked, because I could clearly remember locking it. I remembered that I’d put washing in the machine that needed to be hung up, rather than leaving it there for days. I remembered what I’d walked into the pantry to get instead of staring blankly at the shelves.

It turns out I don’t have OCD after all, but rather that my anxious brain had simply been laying down poor memories. I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing at the time, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to – I just couldn’t do it. My mind was always racing ahead – planning, imagining scenarios, and often catastrophising. The author Mark Twain once said “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” It’s so true, isn’t it?

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After the second week of daily ten minute sessions, I noticed that I seemed to have more time. Life stopped feeling as rushed. Last Saturday, I started at 6am and was still going at 10pm, having walked for two hours, baked six loaves of sourdough and a batch of brioche rolls, shopped for an hour, washed and dried a week’s worth of laundry, and gone out for dinner with Kevin and Carol. As we ended the evening with a game of 500, it occurred to me that I’d had a rich and fulfilling day, but at no point had it felt hectic. It was as if I had more energy.

My old friend Kevin understood exactly what I was talking about – he practises his own form of meditation by running mindfully for 20km at a time (no headphones, he tells me, because he needs to concentrate on every step).

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I’m now up to day 22 on the Headspace Foundation Series. I’ve paid for an annual subscription (there’s a January promo here if anyone is interested) and have worked up to 20 minutes of daily practice. I still have spikes of anxiety, but they seem to be fewer and easier to manage. I’ll write again about this a bit further down the track and let you know how I’m going.

If you’re interested in trying it out, download the Headspace app and give it a go for ten days. The initial sessions are free and you never have to pay if you don’t want to – you can just keep using those guided meditations. Having said that, I’m finding the paid content very useful!

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Happy New Year

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It’s taken me a long time to understand…that happiness is not an entitlement, nor is it a state of being that magically descends upon us when the stars are aligned.

Rather, it’s the product of continued hard work and effort.

It’s closely linked to contentment, and the adjustment of our eyes and brains and expectations to find gratitude in our many blessings rather than misery in what we lack.

Life is always going to be challenging and unpredictable. We’re constantly dodging hurdles and occasionally, we’re going to trip. But if we work on changing how we view the world – if we learn to celebrate every sunrise and every smile and every taste and every glimpse of beauty and colour, no matter how small…then we can find tiny pockets of bliss in even the most difficult of times.

Learning to be happy takes practice and application, and whilst I’m getting better, I’m still not brilliant at it. Sometimes, life can feel overwhelming. When that happens, I try to eke out an hour  – to go for a walk, or have coffee with a friend, or study my fossils, or sew a useful bag – something to calm the jitters and soothe the soul. These small things keep me present and grounded, and they help me to reconnect with what is real in my life. Rather than being mere distractions, it’s only in those moments, when my heart is full of love and gratitude and contentment, that I feel like I’m truly living well.

I hope you all find moments of sheer, unadulterated joy in both the spectacular and the everyday in 2017. I wish you gentle times and peaceful hearts.

Happy New Year, my lovely friends. ♥

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