Posted in Life, Nature

The consolation of trees

Flicking through Instagram on Sunday morning, I came across a quote attributed to Winnie the Pooh.

There was something about the simplicity of that little sentence that touched me deeply and at that point my morning dissolved into tears.

When I remembered it was Tim’s father’s birthday, the tears threatened to overwhelm me.

You see, it’s my father’s birthday in a few weeks and it’ll be the first birthday he won’t be with us. Oh, there were birthdays when he was away – but he was always within reach of a card and after the Navy years he was always reachable by phone.

But not this year.

It’s one of those firsts I’ve been warned about but haven’t fully understood, in the way you just don’t until you actually experience it.

After big and comforting hugs, we headed into the forest to the north-east of Melbourne, into the consolation of trees.

As an added bonus, there was water.

Never underestimate the consoling power of trees … and a waterfall at the end of the path.

Posted in Learning, Life

Because you are my Dad

Monday 22 January 2018

Dad lies completely still apart from the rise and fall of his chest, his breathing regular though shallow: a quick breath in, a just-as-quick breath out, count to four, another breath in. On the odd occasion his body misses a breath my heart races and I watch closely for the rise and fall of his chest.

Music wafts gently around the room Dad’s called home for the past 18 months and despite the scurry of nurses outside in the corridor there’s a sense of peace and calm here in this room.

I never imagined keeping watch over my dying father, but here I am, sitting on the hospital bed the nurses brought in and placed next to his, thinking about what I know and who I am because Noel Pittaway has been my Dad.

I know the importance of spit-clean shoes – polished and buffed till they shine. People notice shoes, Sharon, he’d say as I’d present them to him for inspection. Make sure they’re clean.

I know how to spell by breaking words into pieces and sounding them out.

I know that it annoys Mum when we do that (you’re just like your father, she says in that tone she has that indicates she thinks we’re clever but a bit show-offy.)

I know to eat my vegetables first before even touching anything else on my plate.

I know it’s best to eat cauliflower and cheese sauce while it’s hot.

I know how to swim because Dad insisted I stand in the shallow end of the Nowra pool and while all the other kids got to muck around I stood there and practiced my strokes and my breathing. I was never a fast swimmer but I had a nice style (just like your father, Mum used to say in that tone she has that speaks of admiration).

I have an eclectic musical taste because Dad had an ever-expanding record collection that ranged from Rachmaninov to Ray Charles via Ravi Shankar.

I know how to be comfortable with silence; that I don’t have to fill it with words and that in the silence there’s still warmth and togetherness.

I know that reading fiction opens up worlds I would never have been able to imagine on my own. Some of those worlds were beyond the comprehension of my 11,12,13-year-old self, but I discovered that being stretched imaginatively is important and immensely beneficial to a teenager’s developing mind and spirit.

I know the thrill of the rollercoaster, big slippery dips and rides that spin and whirl and fling you upside down and inside out and the added thrill of experiencing that with your granddaughter. Again and again and again.

I know it’s wrong for a girl to swear.

I know how to snorkel. And not to be afraid of the ocean. And the delight of walking on the squeaky white sand of Jervis Bay.

I know that travel is an adventure to be indulged in whenever possible and part of that adventure is the spontaneity of a detour or an unplanned destination or heading down a one-way street the wrong way.

I know that creative expression is an important part of life, whether that expression is theatrical, literary, artistic, musical or photographic – and the importance of taking the lens cap off.

I know what love for your wife(husband) looks like because of the depth of love Dad has for Mum … and I know that romance is not dead.

I know that people are deeply complex and that an external quiet doesn’t necessarily mean an internal quiet.

I know that laugh-yourself-silly fun is contagious and being surrounded by your grandchildren and great grandchildren is joyous and delightful in ways that can’t be described in words …

and that when you’re in your 60s and you think you can still somersault off the 1 metre board at the Murbah pool and get up there only to find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, that a poolside cheer squad led by your grandchildren will push the fear down and turn you into a hero as you run along the board and somersault effortlessly into the diving pool.

I know that the rougher the sea the more you enjoy the ride. Just hang on tight and ride the swell.

And I know that while the taste of beetroot is a flavour they serve in hell, Dagwood Dogs are a tiny taste of heaven.

I know that what your dad teaches you can be hard to learn and that you can fight against it (and him) and that what you learn might not have been the intended lesson, but I also know that Dad has influenced my life enormously and I am who I am in big measure because my Dad is Noel Pittaway.

The movement of Dad’s body … the rise and fall of his chest … stops in the afternoon of Thursday 25 January … but the movement of his life and his legacy have transcended his body and spread through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren … it’s a legacy that moves invisibly yet steadily across and through the generations.

On February 14, 2016 Dad and I flew over Antarctica. It had been a life-long ambition of his. Here we are ready for our 14-hour adventure.

*Many thanks and huge appreciation to Alison Cosker for providing feedback on this post. It has been strengthened because of her input.

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #8: Mont Saint Michel

Jeudi 28 Decembre 2017

A guest post by Tim Moss

Much of the trip had seemed a little impossible at the planning stage. Convince Sharon to trek half way around the world, at a time when maximum temperatures were likely to only just edge into positive numbers? Impossible. Travel through so many countries, in such a short space of time, and still feel like we had a sense of each place? Impossible. Get up at 5am, make our way across an unknown city (Paris), find a completely new train station and navigate to our early train, just to journey for several hours at high speeds, to see a lump of land in the middle of the ocean? Yep, you guessed it; impossible.

And yet there we were, rugged up (as usual), Sharon with more layers than your average filo pastry, boarding the train to Mont-Saint-Michel. I didn’t have a strong idea about what to expect, but I was enjoying the adventure. And the first-class train carriage. My early advice about travelling in Europe is to always travel by trains if you have the time, and to always travel first-class if you have the money. It’s the only way to go…

The train pulled away smoothly from the station right on time, and the first half hour was spent zipping through a series of tunnels (I think? It was pretty dark outside, but these were definitely darker), each more ear-popping than the last. And then, whoosh, out into the countryside, past green-edged paddocks, tiny barns and houses with earthy coloured thatched roofs, a rather exorbitant number of powerlines, and so on, all punctuated regularly by a new ear-popping sound, that of the similarly svelte bullet trains going in the other direction. Sharon jumped a little each time, through the whole trip. At one point I looked at the speed indicator – 317 kilometres per hour. Yep, impossible, but there we were, in a smooth, air-conditioned bubble.

I’m a little hazy on the rest of this part of the trip, mostly because I might have napped a little to make up for the early start I suspect! But the hours passed impossibly quickly, and with just a short hop on a shuttle bus, there we were, at Le Mont.

When you get to Mont-Saint-Michel, you have a choice – you can hop on a shuttle bus (which is somewhat convincingly panelled to look like a wooden carriage, except for the diesel fumes and lack of a horse at the front end), you can ride a horse-drawn carriage (although the horses appeared to have slept in on the day we visited), or you can walk the 45 minutes to the island. Despite Sharon’s ongoing knee pain, we decided to act like pilgrims and make the journey on foot. I’m so glad we did. You walk along a nondescript gravel path for about 15 minutes, with very informative (I assume) panels about grasslands and birds and stuff, and then the path opens up, and there in front of you is the most impossible thing of all, Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

Frankly it’s a little hard to describe it, but just imagine your average tidal wetland. It’s flat, there’s some water but because the tide is out there’s not much of it, and a few small rocks creating something of a border or boundary for that puddly water residue, and then some muddy flatland that seems to go on forever. And then, rising out of this completely ordinary landscape (believe me, I’ve tried for several minutes here to make it interesting), is a rock. And on that rock is a wall. And behind the wall there are turrets, ramparts, buildings, flags, lights, seagulls, people, and rising above it all, seemingly perched on just a tiny triangle of land, impossibly small, is the abbey, which is everything except tiny and impossibly small. It’s quite an impression, and easy to forget where and when you are.

Once we’d picked ourselves up from the ground after being bowled over by this incredible view, we finished our pilgrimage and made our way in… Somehow we managed to find the back way to the abbey, past groups of people washing their feet after exploring the wetlands outside the walls as people have done for centuries, past armed men entrusted with keeping order as armed men have done on Le Mont for centuries (hopefully we didn’t look too rowdy), past dozens of tiny doors that seemed to lead to sheer cliff faces, or to tiny rooms with no clear purpose, up stone steps worn to smiles by generation after generation of tired feet, and miraculously to the front door of the abbey.

At this point, I’ll just share some general impressions, as the overall experience was quite profound and worth experiencing first-hand… There are still monks in the abbey. They live, work, and share their modest lives there, surrounded by swarms of tourists but somehow still able to live lives of peace, tranquility, and worship. And they have extraordinary singing voices, if (like us) you should happen to find yourself wandering through the main chapel as mass is taking place. Those voices and the whistling winds have been finding harmonies for an impossibly long time, and I feel extraordinarily fortunate that we arrived there at that moment so purely by chance. The abbey itself is almost impossibly complex, to the point where those trying to interpret the layout now are simply unable to describe why some rooms exist; there are chapels, refectories, crypts, a scriptorium, rooms with great wheels turned by the feet of prisoners held in the abbey when it was a prison, cloisters, gardens, great halls for receiving dignitaries and kings, and then there are other rooms, spaces that link these purposeful rooms, spaces with fireplaces large enough to hold entire trees, and spaces that… well, do something. It’s like a home improvement reality show has been running for centuries – “I reckon we could add another well here to really spice things up a bit”, and somewhere along the way, the reasons for that work were lost.

But this is perhaps an injustice, as the spaces that we can explain are extraordinary, and the design shows a level of sophistication and insight into not only the engineering required to build a remarkable space, but also the ways space can be shaped to create an emotional response (like the tall, slender windows in the refectory, that bathed the room in light but are invisible as you enter the room). This is an abbey of drama, prestige, intrigue, history, story, and time. And it is still unfolding, still being told…

As our shuttle bus groaned away from the kerb on our return journey, rain had started falling in earnest. A kind of light mist began to curl around Mont-Saint-Michel, softening the lines, reducing clarity, wrapping it up again, ready for tomorrow’s pilgrims, tomorrow’s tiny marks in the impossible pages of its time.

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #7 – Paris

Mercredi 27 Decembre 2017

A slow morning as we pretend we live in an amazing Parisian loft. Tim had found a supermarket nearby last night and we started the day with a home cooked breakfast.

We found a laverie around the corner, in the cobbled laneway we’d walked through last night, and despite the instructions being in French we worked out pretty quickly how it worked. We were so adapt we were able to help a young French man who didn’t speak any English, and a young couple who didn’t speak English or French who were so appreciative of our help they bought us a Nutella crepe! I wanted to sit there for the rest of the day helping people, but once our clothes were washed and dried Tim insisted there were more interesting things to do in Paris than hang around a laverie hoping for Nutella crepes!

We were booked to go on a photo tour of the canals around the Bastille area (where we were staying) but the weather wasn’t good and just after lunch it was cancelled. We decided to head out in the rain anyway and made our way to Notre Dame, a wander through the Latin Quarter, an hour or so in Shakespeare and Company and a cruise on the Seine where the rain on the windows made for a great impressionistic shot of the Eiffel Tower.

It felt much colder today than when we were here before Christmas – it got to 4C (felt like 1.4C) but I still didn’t complain. I was actually warm, probably because I had so many layers on – only my nose and eyes were exposed to the elements, and walking back from the cruise I pulled my buff over my nose so not even that was cold. Weirdly, my hands stayed warm even when I wasn’t wearing my gloves!

The rain didn’t appear to be stopping, so we headed back to our apartment where it was cozy, warm and amazingly comfortable.

Mel wrote to say it was snowing in Cheddar! It feels cold enough to snow here … wouldn’t that be good?!

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #5 – A Cheddar Christmas

Monday 25 December 2017

People have been doing this for years (celebrating Christmas in very different time zones than their families) but for Tim and I it was a first. A very different day from this time last year when Rochelle hosted a family Christmas with all the noise and excitement you’d expect with more than 11 children under 10 in the same house!

Phone/FaceTime calls punctuated the morning: Hunter and Lily excitedly showing me all the gifts they’d received; Felicity sleeping peacefully in her cot after a relatively quiet day; Emma getting all the kids bathed and into bed; Daniel’s relief that Ziggy was recovered; Mum’s delight that Dad had recognised her; Deb’s cool-ish day at the beach (though still warmer than the 4C we were expecting); Ben’s day spent with friends in far-off WA (too far away when we’re home, let alone now) …

We were keen to explore Cheddar but given the weather decided a walk up/through the Gorge was out of the question. A bacon sandwich fortified us for a stroll through the village and, once we’d added another three layers of clothing, we headed off.

What an interesting place. Tiny laneways, houses whose front doors open straight onto the street, stone cottages, old old pubs, and above all the Gorge looming overhead. I can see its appeal.

 

Craig spent hours in the kitchen and around 4 in the afternoon produced a Christmas meal unrivalled in my many years of Christmas meals! It was a Christmas meal that made sense. It was hot and hot makes sense when it’s 4C outside. Honey roasted parsnips, the most deliciously crunchy roasted potatoes, Yorkshire puddings (who knew they were so good!), rosemary and sage stuffing, pigs in blankets, turkey (beautifully moist) and more … much, much more.

We ate and ate … such good food … and then snoozed away the rest of the day in the warmth inside. It was raining outside and so spending a quiet evening in was just what the doctors needed!

Posted in Life, Photography, Travel

Day #3 – Paris

Samedi 23 Decembre 2017

When Tim mentioned he’d like to go to Paris for Christmas, I have to admit that my response was not one of enthusiasm or excitement.

Christmas in Paris means winter.
Winter means cold.
I hate the cold.

No, you don’t understand.
I really hate it!

But I said yes anyway – who could say no to Tim’s obvious enthusiasm and excitement, and I made a promise to myself to limit my whingeing about the cold to a bare minimum.

Luckily for Tim, it hasn’t been too cold so far. 10C each day – which I’ve been able to live with quite comfortably. It helps that we stocked up on merino tops, merino thermals, merino socks, merino buffs … and, for me, fur-lined boots. Sharon, a colleague from work, lent me her duck down, knee-length puffy jacket and matching beanie … so with multiple layers, and thus, nowhere for the cold to touch my skin, I’ve actually remained surprisingly warm.

Luckily.

For both of us!

The l’Orangerie was on the agenda for today – a Christmas gift from Daniel and Cathy – and sitting (calmly – as the sign asked us to) taking in Monet’s waterlillies was a fabulous way to spend the morning. One of the things I love about Paris is the ready access to artworks we often don’t get to see in Australia – except for travelling exhibitions. Downstairs from Monet’s waterlillies were works by Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir and others … a visual treat!

We find our way to No Glu – a gluten free cafe (thanks Michelle) – for lunch (our first meal for the day) and do a lot of Google translating to work out the menu before the waiter brings us the English version.

It’s started to rain but we are warm and dry inside our layers as we make our way to the Louvre – ready to laugh our way around it. Cedrik is our guide – a historian and stand up comedian. It’s an entertaining way to see key works in the world’s (second?) largest museum – apparently, if you were to spend two minutes looking at each of the art works, you’d be there for 150 days!

It’s an overwhelming place – so much history, so much art, so many people and selfie sticks and pushing to get a photo with the Mona Lisa. We didn’t push, but we also didn’t get selfies with her. Her smile was enough thanks.

On our way to and from the Louvre, we make some of our own art works – works of a photographic nature. Here’s a small sample of mine. As you can see, it’s a very wintery day!

From Pont Neuf looking towards Tour Eiffel

 

Looking from Richelieu Passage into the Musee du Louvre

 

The French Institute – home to the Immortals
Posted in Life, Travel

It’s finally happened …

Just over five years ago – on September 28, 2012 – I packed my bags (well, ‘bag’ actually because I only took one) and headed to Paris and from there caught a train through France and Italy to Germany, stopping off at various places along the way. I went on my own – Tim had something else on – although I did meet up with my niece Sarah and her (now) husband Ben in Venice for a few days.

The year before – on September 28, 2011 – I had also packed my bag and headed to Paris to spend some time with various members of my family before the majority of them headed on a bike and barge tour to Bruges. I was fat and unfit in those days and decided to spend my time wandering around Paris on my own and visiting Elke in Germany, rather than jumping on a bike and riding for days and days.

In that year – 2011 – my granddaughter Lily was born (on the day I left), so the date remains in my memory long after other details have seeped out. What did I wear on the plane? How and when did I get European money? Useful stuff like that, that would come in handy right about now.

I vowed and declared I would return in 2013 and my hope was, every year thereafter.

I didn’t.

Fast forward to today. 20 December, 2017.

Our (yes, Tim is coming with me this time) bags are packed and we’re ready to go. Almost. We have time for dinner and a shower before we head to the airport – and one final check to ensure we haven’t left some small detail unattended to – like grabbing my passport from the drawer where I shoved it last month, hoping it would never see the light of a security check because the photo is THE worst passport photo. EVER. No, it truly is.

I can tell already that this is going to be a different sort of adventure.

For one thing, it’s winter in Paris and I’m not a big fan of the cold. My challenge will be to not whinge about it. It’s going to be a really (really) big challenge. Except I keep hearing how beautiful it will be, so a tiny part of me is thinking that it won’t be as much of a challenge not to whinge as I think. One challenge has been to pack for the cold when it’s 36C outside – trying clothes and my fur-lined boots on has been a sweat-filled task of epic proportions!

We’re going to France and Italy and the Czech Republic. Neither of us speak French, Italian or Czech and that wouldn’t usually matter because English is quite widely spoken, except that Tim has particular food intolerances (he doesn’t tolerate onion and garlic, for instance) and neither of us thought to learn to say ‘no onion; no garlic’ in any of those languages. We also neglected to learn the word for bathroom. Luckily for us we live in the 21st century, not the ones before, and that means we can use technology when our attempts at miming fails. We might even bypass miming ‘I need the loo’ and go straight to the technology.

 

We’ve booked photo tours in each major city we’re visiting – sometimes more than one – plus a ‘laugh your way around the Louvre’ tour with Cedrik – a clown. And yes, I checked, and no, he doesn’t dress up like a clown. He’s just a funny and entertaining man who makes the Louvre all kinds of fun. Daniel and Cathy gave us tickets to the Musee de l’orangerie so we’ll have fun exploring that as well.

We’re catching trains – my favourite form of transport – from Paris to London and from Paris to Mont Saint Michel and from Paris to Venice (via Basel and Milan). And then we’re catching a plane from Venice to Prague.

It’s going to be all kinds of interesting.

In a few hours we’ll be on our way. The excitement is building!

Who knows, we might even get some snow … although we possibly should have gone to Tassie for that!!

Ready … set … almost time to go!
Posted in Life

Just when I thought I could …

As communicated in my last post, I can now jump.

At least I could.

Here’s the lowdown …

My jumping days came to a crashing halt when I tore the medial meniscus in my left knee. I didn’t even know I had a medial meniscus (I also have a lateral one which I didn’t know about either), yet I’ve somehow managed to tear it, preventing me from jumping on the trampoline at Rochelle’s place on the weekend with 11 of my grandchildren!

It’s also preventing me from walking too far (more than 10m and I’m done), standing on it, bending it (putting shoes and socks on at the moment is a source of some discomfort (for ‘some’ read ‘lots’)), and jumping.

Not that I did a lot of jumping it has to be said, but I liked the fact that I could.

And now, for the next few weeks at least, I can’t.

Not being able to jump won’t change my life too much, but it’s one of those things we do that we quickly take for granted, and then when we can’t do it anymore, our lives are changed and somehow (strangely, in this case) diminished.

I felt the same way last week when a water pipe burst outside #12 and as a consequence we had no water. I had been to the gym and as a consequence was on the pong, so went to have a shower. When I turned the tap on however, nothing poured forth. I trundled off to work unwashed, and sat there, in my open plan office, convinced gentle wafts of eau de Sharon were circulating to all and sundry. I admit to leaving sheepishly, and somewhat early.

Meanwhile, a plumber had been to fix the water pipe. When I returned home from work, even more ready for a shower and a cuppa (not, I hasten to add at the same time), it seemed that not all was fixed. The water pipe was, and #12 was happy, but when I turned the tap all that came out was a trickle of muddy water/watery mud – it was hard to differentiate.

We quickly sought shelter, and a shower, elsewhere for the night.

But that incident caused me to reflect on the ways our lives can be diminished by a small change in something we generally take for granted – in this case, the ready supply of water. I turn the tap, and water comes out.

But for one day last week, it didn’t.

And my life was somewhat diminished.

Imagine the ways we could change people’s lives by giving them taps to turn on, and even more joyfully change them, by having clean water pour forth.

It’s worth a thought.

Posted in Learning, Life

I think I can …

Actually, I know I can. Because I did!

Okay, I’ll back up a bit.

In February 2016, I went to the gym. Not for the first time, I hasten to add, but this particular occasion was quite memorable because it was my first ‘seniors’ class.

Yes, I snorted too – but it appears, in the world as we know it today, ‘seniors’ means those over 50. I had not, until that point, considered myself a senior and even though it’s a year later and I’m a year older, I still don’t consider myself to be a senior.

But I went anyway. I wasn’t working, the class was included in my gym membership, and it was on a Friday morning when I had nothing better to do with my time.

It may come as no surprise to you that I was the youngest person there (apart from the instructor) … by at least 10 years. And I quickly realised that’s a highly motivating factor. Here were all these oldies doing things, sometimes more quickly and with greater flexibility than I was doing them.

Yikes!

It got me moving I can tell you!

But I also discovered something important that day. I discovered that I couldn’t jump. I stood in front of the box I was to jump on to, and all sorts of thought processes went through my head but none of them helped get my feet off the ground and onto the box. While my mind was very willing, my flesh was anything but.

I simply stood there and stared. And then when we moved to the next exercise, I watched the old lady following along behind me nimbly jump onto the box, and off again, then on again as if she’d been doing it all her life. Well, let’s face it, she probably had.

But not me. I thought back to the last time I’d jumped and drew a blank. It wasn’t something I’d been called on to do in my professional life – metaphorical hoops are much easier, I learnt, than actual boxes, to jump through (or on as the case may be).

And it wasn’t something I’d had any reason to do in my personal life either.

So there I was … a non-jumper. I went home and in the privacy of my loungeroom, turned my attention to jumping, but to no avail. It seemed I was destined to be a non-jumper for life.

Fast forward to three weeks ago when I remembered my inability to jump and mentioned it to Josh, my personal trainer. “Josh”, I said as I was pushing 80kgs of metal with my legs on something appropriately named a ‘leg press’, “I can’t jump”.

He looked at me, slightly stunned that I would say something so outlandish. “What do you mean, you can’t jump?”

“I can’t. I just can’t do it. I try, but I physically can’t do it”.

He saw that as a challenge, and once I was vertical, he held my hands while I launched myself off the ground. With both feet. At the same time.

It turns out I can jump, and now not only can I jump, I can also star jump, and squat jump, and rope jump (as in skipping) and do burpees, and forward bounds, and I’m even getting the hang of running man (my coordination still needs a little work).

So there you have it. When you think you can’t jump*, hold someone’s hands, start out small, gain some confidence, and you’ll be jumping* all over the place in no time.

*Insert any other thing you think you can’t do here 🙂

Body by Josh; photo by me.
Posted in Life

Way better than never …

Life’s funny … and not always ‘funny haha’.

But funny, nonetheless.

In June 2014, I moved from Tasmania to Melbourne to live with my husband who’d moved here 5 months before. That move meant I stopped being a pre-service teacher educator.

I admit to falling into a bit of a hole. It took me some time to get used to the idea that I wouldn’t teach at university again.

And then, in 2015, I taught at university again – for one semester. And when semester ended I again stopped being a pre-service teacher educator.

I admit to falling into a bit of a hole. It took me some time to get used to the idea that I wouldn’t teach at university again.

And then earlier this year a former colleague from the University of Tasmania asked if I’d like to teach at university again.

I would. I did. It was great. One semester of interacting with students – students who were keen to learn, who were mature in their attitudes and capacity to think for themselves; some of these students I’d taught when they were in their first year of university. They remembered me, as I did them. It was great to reconnect, and interestingly, they thought so too.

And then the same colleague asked if I’d be interested in teaching the post-grad version of the unit in second semester.

I would. I did. It was great. Another semester of interacting with students – challenging their ideas about teaching, gently encouraging them out of their comfort zones, helping them see that they are more than deliverers of content, more than transmitters of what they know, and that students are more (much more) than empty vessels waiting to be filled.

I had marking to do, and I did it, and now I’m finished and the relief I feel is real and very (very) sweet.

So, am I a pre-service teacher educator? It appears the answer is ‘sometimes’ … and that’s way better than never!