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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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Being Kind

There’s been a lot of discussion about mental health lately.

A couple of weeks’ ago, Australian billionaire James Packer resigned from his public company boards, citing mental health issues. A few days later, Professor Patrick McGorry published this opinion piece. In it, he discussed current government initiatives in the area, and what further steps need to be taken to ensure that all Australians have access to appropriate and necessary treatment.

Prof. McGorry is correct, of course, mental health should be afforded the same concern and care as physical health in terms of government support and services. But it also made me think about what we as individuals could do to bolster both our own mental wellbeing, as well as that of those around us.

And I realised that…we can be kind.

We can be kind to ourselves.

I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life. Looking back, I suspect it was exacerbated by being a severe asthmatic at a time before Ventolin existed, but there is also a clearly identifiable anxious gene which runs right through my dad’s side of the family. Most of the time, I think it’s quite well managed (Pete might not agree), but over the years, I’ve experienced several bouts of that gut-wrenching, wish-I-was-dead, internal turmoil which is almost impossible to explain to folks with calmer dispositions. “Just don’t worry about it” is their usual, well meaning advice.

Over time, I’ve learnt strategies to maintain my balance, but I know it’s a work in progress (and trust me, the menopause hormones aren’t helping). More importantly though, I’ve learnt to be kind to myself. I no longer see my anxiety as a weakness – it’s simply part of who I am – so I no longer beat myself up about it. I’ve long ago accepted I’m never going to be willowy thin…or always calm.

We can be kind to others.

Ironically, first world society is hard on all of us. We are constantly bombarded with bad news, struggling to keep afloat financially, and trying to live up to peer pressure and the expectations of family. Most of us no longer need to worry about where our next meal is coming from, but stress can be very real and debilitating nonetheless.

There is probably little we can do to change society at large, but I think we can make a small difference by actively trying to be kinder to others. I know it sounds trite, but saying “good morning” to my fellow bay run walkers brightens my day, and I’d like to think it brings them a little cheer too. Stopping to acknowledge someone asking for coins, actively building neighbourhood communities, saying thank you – any small act of kindness might bring a moment of happiness to someone else’s day and improve their mental and emotional wellbeing. It will help ours too.

Let’s cut strangers some slack – if the waitress is grumpy, don’t let that spoil the meal. She might be having a rough time, and getting her in trouble with her supervisor won’t help anyone. Let’s try not to slam a fist on the horn when someone cuts us off at the roundabout. It will raise both their blood pressure and ours. Stuff is going to happen all the time that we have no control over – all we can do is respond in as gentle and considered a way as we can manage. It’s not worth taking any of it personally, because most of the time, it’s not about us.

Even more importantly, let’s do what we can to shelter and empower those we love. Big Boy and Small Man are now 25 and 21 respectively, and both trying to find their way as young adults in a competitive world. Society places enough expectation on them without Pete and I adding our own, so we try (I’m not saying we’re always successful) to give them as much space as we can. We try to provide them with a home where they can feel unconditionally loved and completely at ease. We try to offer advice and guidance without expecting it to be actioned. And seeing so many young people struggling to maintain their equilibrium in this fast moving and stressful age makes us determined to try even harder.

Wishing you all a very happy Easter. May it be joyous and calm and stress-free! ♥

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Happy New Year!

In 2018, let’s do MORE.

Let’s laugh and explore and play and eat and drink and create MORE.

Let’s forget about moderation and minimalism, even though they’re in vogue at the moment.

Instead, let’s bake and cook and sew and grow MORE than we need so that we have plenty to SHARE.

Let’s build our communities and break bread together.

And let’s find more TIME, for ourselves and for others. Time to sit and be quiet inside our own heads. Time to marvel at the wondrousness around us. Time to be kind…and time to LOVE each other more.

Happy New Year! ♥

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