Posted in Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 17

It is now Saturday July 4, 2020. Week 17 of my diary of a distancer posts, although I didn’t write entries for weeks 11-16.

They were tough weeks and I felt there was nothing much to communicate. Life rolled on for me; work was work; birthdays were celebrated – at a distance. Well, at a distance from me. Not being able to travel to Tasmania for the three June birthdays was tough, as was not being able to travel to NSW for my mother’s birthday.

I admit to falling into a hole I’m only now climbing out of.

It was tough in other ways too. Protests were held around the world – people protesting about being locked-in, others protesting about police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, still others protesting about racial inequality more broadly. Dissent and civil disobedience followed … and arguments flew from all sides.

One argument went this way:

Other arguments went in very different directions but I refuse to give them any space by repeating them here.

So things have been happening in some parts of the globe that affect other parts. We are, after all, living on the one planet and the ripple effects of our actions and our beliefs don’t stop at our national – or state – borders.

It’s a bit like our bodies – something happens in one area which then impacts other areas and as the ripples move around and across and through your body it feels like it’s never going to end. That there’s always going to be pain. One area subsides just for another area to flare up. The physical starts to play with the mental and the emotional and back again. And it’s ongoing and thus distressing.

Just like the current situation with coronavirus. It goes quiet, and then flares up in another hotel room/suburb/region/country. There’s no end in sight. It’s ongoing and that adds to the distress.

After a period of relative quiet, COVID-19 has re-emerged in Victoria, and so Victorians are now not welcome in other states. Except if you’re part of an AFL team. Then you can go to Queensland to ensure the season continues, but ordinary Victorians cannot enter unless they’re willing to be fined or sentenced to gaol time.

Such is life. Money talks. Sport is important, it would seem, for national well-being.

Or something.

Not so The Arts it would seem. The Arts, as a sector, has been hit particularly hard by the lockdown. But there’s no other state to go to as a way of surviving – unless we’re talking a state of unemployment or sheer determined survival. Many people have turned to TV and movies for solace in this time yet many of them deny the importance of the arts to the economic or social or cultural or intellectual fabric of our society.

Luke McGregor – Australian comedian – made an argument for the role of the arts in national well-being on The Weekly with Charlie Pickering last week.

We don’t need the arts to survive … but they give us a reason to‘ – Luke McGregor

In many cases, the arts gives us the means to survive as well. I’m don’t mean in terms of financial support, but I mean in terms of an outlet for our creativity, for communicating, for seeing differently, for noticing, for making connections between ideas and perspectives and views and beliefs and values and thoughts and actions. And more.

And an outlet for connection with others.

Without an outlet for creative expression some of us may not have survived as well as we have through this on-going, never-ending (it seems) saga of COVID-19. While personal ‘creative expression’ might not have much to do with The Arts, I for one acknowledge the essential role the arts plays in my life.

I listen to music. I read books. I view works others have painted or photographed or sculpted or designed. I watch movies that started with an idea and grew over time, involving many (many) others in their production. People who have made artistic choices about sounds and movements and locations and backgrounds and lighting and music and no music and points of view and camera angles.

I watch and listen to others performing – dance, music, singing – and I am in awe of their determination and talent and desire for creative expression.

All of the people who make things, who produce things, design, craft and tinker and even those who, like me, play at the edges of creative endeavour … The Arts is there as a means and a reason to survive. They add something to the lives of those who spectate. They add much more to those of us who engage. They enrich us in ways simple spectating cannot do.

Click the image for more information about why The Arts matter

We are not a family of artists it has to be said, but many of us do like the creative outlet photography provides, and so I was thrilled that 15 family members contributed to our latest photography challenge: Ordinary Objects.

Our first challenge was the Alphabet of Isolation.

Cover design: Tim Moss

Our second was Images by the Dozen – a project in which we took images of the numbers 1-12 without using the actual numbers.

I designed this cover

The Ordinary Objects project required us to photograph 10 ordinary objects:

  • Something you eat
  • Something you eat with
  • Something you cook with
  • Something you see with
  • Something you put on your feet
  • Something you wash with
  • Something you wear
  • Something you drink from
  • Something you find in the garden
  • Something (not someone) you love

Fifteen family members, ranging in age from 4-81 and across four generations, contributed. We live across four states of Australia with one family member in the UK. As with our other projects we’d get together on a Sunday night and share our images. Yet another magazine to add to our collections as a physical memento of our creative decisions and expression.

I designed this cover too

Our next project is Variations on a Theme. Six images, all of the same theme/idea of each individual’s choice, but with variations.

My theme is abandonment. It’s meant I’ve taken photos of a type I wouldn’t normally take – I’m usually quite conceptual, but this time I wanted to try something different and so have expanded my photographic range slightly.

Here’s one of the first images I took for this project. Mind you, I’ve since adandoned this image as I went in a slightly different direction … but that’s the way it goes!

Abandoned as the urban sprawl creeps closer

Another image we drove miles to shoot, was also one I reluctantly abandoned as the church didn’t feel abandoned enough. I particularly love the Australian feel of this scene, with the gorgeous gum trees surrounding the church.

I was after something that looked a little more abandoned

We finalise our Variations on a Theme project next week and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone’s come up with.

Connections through creativity.

What’s kept you connected with others through these anything-but-ordinary times?

Posted in Family, Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 10

I missed yesterday.

Well, not entirely. The day still happened, and I did stuff … but I didn’t write a blog post.

It was one of those beautiful autumn days we sometimes get in Melbourne: icy start but eventually warm enough to get the washing dry, a tiny waft of breeze to help the leaves spiral from the trees, and a no-cloud day which made it perfect for a late afternoon walk around the neighbourhood.

Walking late in the day

And no writing.

The week for me has felt a bit like those old cartoon backgrounds that keep repeating as the character runs across the screen. A window pops up every now and then, and then you notice the same door re-appearing and the pot plant on a stand.

The illusion of movement without any real progress.

The numbers keep going up, and not just of COVID-19 cases. Numbers of people calling for lockdown restrictions to be eased, numbers of people not social distancing in supermarkets and department stores.

Numbers of people out for picnics or gathering inside others’ homes.

Numbers of people wondering what life will be like when the lockdown is over … when we’re able to visit family interstate, to head out to a favourite cafe or pub, or return to our workplaces.

Some workplaces have indicated that working from home will be an option after this – possibly forever. I sincerely hope mine will be one of them. It’ll feel strange to go back to a windowless cold office now and chat face-to-face with colleagues. I can’t think why I’d want to do that or why it’s a better way of working than how I’m working at the moment.

Working from home suits me. I don’t have little children or pets to distract me, although I get my share of phone calls from my daughters asking about high and low modality words and about phonemes and graphemes. It’s not the same though as a two-year old seeking my attention as soon as I start a meeting, or a dog running around and around the couch while I’m working.

Jimmy, formally of Giggle and Hoot fame, has been keeping me entertained this week with his spot-on observations of life with little children, particularly in this era of working from home. This video applies just as much to parents working from home when their Zoom meetings start.

 

 

Sarah Cooper has also been keeping many of us entertained with her lip syncing of US President, Donald Trump’s press conferences. She doesn’t edit the audio – just does a great job of lip syncing to it. The little flourishes she adds make her videos even more entertaining.

What’s been keeping you entertained this week?

One thing that’s kept me busy – not sure how entertained I’ve been, but I’ve certainly been busy with it – is creating the magazine for our numbers project. Ten of us are engaged in a photography project – to take 12 photos of 1-12 without including the actual numbers.

The favourite image I’ve taken is my number 4:

Four(k)

I’d had a different idea in mind initially, so we shot that and then we started playing around with the idea. The afternoon light was beautiful and when Tim held the strawberry out in front of him, it hit the strawberry and the ends of the fork’s tines nicely. I like that – when you play with ideas and one of them works. It worked that Tim was wearing a dark hoodie too – made for a great backdrop.

Through doing this project and the alphabet one, we’ve come to an even stronger realisation of how different we are as photographers. Tim has a wonderful eye for detail. He can wander around and see things that I’d never notice in a lifetime.

I, on the other hand, plan all my shots, storyboard them and then play around with the original idea as I shoot. He’s more of an observer and documenter and I’m more conceptual in my approach. Neither is better or worse – except when I try to document what I see. That always turns out worse!

Although, having said that, two magazines I created a few weeks ago turned up this week. One is Country Shops of Victoria and Tasmania and the other is of bus stops. I am so thrilled with them. They don’t sound terribly interesting I know, but I get a little frizz of pleasure everytime I look at them. It was my attempt at documenting and I think it turned out okay.

I’m now keen to do more.

Again, a week in which connections and creativity featured heavily … and the other stuff just kept repeating in the background.

Stay safe out there …

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 9

As I write, it’s May 9 2020. Many parts of the world are slowly emerging from restrictions due to the spread of coronavirus. Restrictions are beginning to ease in parts of Australia too.

Some people are concerned about this, others are cautiously optimistic that life will return to ‘normal’ soon, and others are pressuring governments to ease restrictions more quickly.

We might all ‘be in this together’ but we’re certainly not in the same boat. The same storm perhaps, but not the same boat. Everyone’s experience of lockdown/self-isolation – call it what you will – is different.

It’s alarming and distressing to read that instances of domestic violence have increased, as have calls to helplines such as LifeLine.

Through the week, I read a tragic story of a 12 year old boy in the US who hung himself in his wardrobe in mid-April. His father blames coronavirus. His view was that as his son wasn’t able to go to school or meet up with his friends, he had nowhere to put his energy (particularly his negative energy) and so took this very drastic step, perhaps, his father said, not fully realising the finality of his action.

There are other situations, just as tragic.

For some, then, this period is particularly difficult. They’re in the storm but in small boats, or boats with one oar, or boats that don’t have a lot of supplies. They’re tossed around by the waves and the wind and can find no safe anchor.

We can’t imagine that our own experience of this time is the same as others.

I’ll own that statement. I don’t imagine that my experience of this time is the same as others.

It’s why connections are so important to me. It’s important to me to stay connected – to others, to ideas, to creative pursuits, to routine, to family, to physical and mental health.

For some, unexpected connections have made this period of time less unsettling than it might otherwise have been.

ABC News Breakfast shared a story on their Facebook page of a man in Wagga, NSW who is drawing a crowd during his trombone practice. What a delight – a time for people to come together – to sit and listen, to tap their feet, to wander into the sunshine, to reminisce. Connecting the past with now, connecting memories to others, connecting sound and emotion.

There are examples of this sort of connection between people happening all around the world. If we can, we should seek them out as they can bring pockets of light into what otherwise might be a dark time.

I’ve also been struck by the connections some people are making as they seek to make some sense of this time. Poet Lorin Clarke writes from the perspective of dust motes as they watch humans spending more time at home. It’s clever, this way of seeing things from another perspective and making connections across people’s experiences. And then putting images and music and a very particular kind of voice to this, adds to that sense of connection across more than ideas – across aesthetics and art forms too.

And then there are those who can sum up experiences many of us will recognise, in seemingly simple ways. My friend Taimi, shared this on her Facebook page earlier and I laughed out loud (I won’t tell you which particular image made me laugh the most).

If our things could talk

Graphics like this can connect us to others – even unknown others – as they allow us to know we’re not the only ones putting the dishwasher on more often or rarely using the car.

We spent a few hours one night through the week listening to Wes Tank rapping Dr Seuss books over Dr Dre beats. Connections again – between words and sounds and beats and voice and cleverness and creativity and silliness and more. See if you can do it!

 

And then there’s connections to things I didn’t know I was missing. An email arrived just the other day, and I glanced through it disinterestedly until I saw the words ‘Slow TV’. My attention was immediately caught.

A car company filmed a driver driving through the NSW countryside for four hours. It almost made me cry!

There’s a world out there that I haven’t connected with for weeks … months. There are hills and trees and bumpy roads and grassy verges and sky … all that sky. There are horizons that go beyond the back fence, two metres from my back door. There are sheep and road signs and beautiful music to accompany me on this journey of what might be described as nothingness, but which I describe as bliss. Absolute bliss.

Connection to country. Who knew it was something I missed?

And, of course, as always, there’s connection to family. To Mum, and my sister Deb, and my daughters Rochelle (and on weekends her husband Michael) and Emma, and their kids, and Alison, and to my daughter-in-law Kaz (and even more grandkids), and my cousins Cassandra and Jenny (and often their kids), and sometimes to my nieces Sarah and Eliza and sometimes their kids too. We exercise together every day (those of us who can make it), then chat – or listen to all the kids saying hello to each other.

It’s a fabulous connection – four generations and multiple arms of family coming together as often as we can to keep physically and mentally healthy. As has been emphasised as we’ve exercised more and more, exercise is not about how you look, it’s about how you feel, and exercising with family feels good!

And on the back of that connection, we also connect creatively. We’ve completed our Images of Isolation project and are into our Images by the Dozen project. We’re all to take 12 images – representing the numbers 1 to 12 without actually having numbers as a feature of the image. It helps keep our brains busy, our eyes seeing differently and our connections strong.

These are just some of the connections I’ve made this week. What connections have you made? 

Posted in Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 7

You know, when I started writing these ‘diary of a distancer’ posts, I never imagined I’d still be writing them seven weeks later. I actually had no idea how long I’d be writing them for, and no expectations or otherwise about the length of time we’d be in lockdown, but seven weeks is a while, isn’t it?

How are you coping? Are you starting to feel a bit of cabin fever? Or have you been getting out and about, pretty much as normal and so haven’t really noticed?

I’m not getting out and about anywhere near as much as usual, and there are days where I really feel it. Yesterday, for instance. I had to go to Camberwell to get my flu shot and it was such a lovely afternoon that I was very tempted to head off up the highway. It was one of those rare blue-sky Melbourne autumn days, there wasn’t too much traffic and I had the day off (yes, another one). But no matter how tempting it was, I headed home, although I did take the long way round.

I’m surprised I’m not dealing with cabin fever. I usually dislike spending holidays at home – something I’ll be doing all next week. I was supposed to be going to New Zealand on Sunday – this year was my year for travel – but of course that’s not happening and as I can’t cancel my leave, I’m have to spend it at home. Strangely, I don’t actually mind the idea.

My week trundled along as the week before had – except I managed to work for four days this week, unlike the 1.5 days the week before. More Accounting exams to review. I now know what a journal entry is – it’s not, I learnt, an entry you make in a journal of the diary variety, but has to do with debits and credits. I’ve looked up information about the role of a board of directors, more governance than I knew existed, and I’ve read lots and lots of exam questions about liabilities and assets, and debits and credits. It hasn’t grown any more interesting I have to say.

We had two birthdays to celebrate this week. Both on Thursday. It had always amazed me that in a family as large as ours there weren’t any shared birthdays, but that changed last year when Byron, my youngest grandchild, was born on Tim’s birthday. Byron had had some cake with icing when we spoke to him, and it’s fair to say that as a child who hadn’t had much sugar before, he was super-charged on it!

Tim had no sugar and so wasn’t quite as wild, but was excited at the prospect of eating fancy restaurant food for his birthday. He’d discovered some weeks ago, that Attica was still cooking, and better still, were delivering. Luckily for us, we live in their delivery area. What a fabulous meal! Seemingly simple, but completely delicious. We’re also fans of the way Attica has embraced the enormous changes they’ve had to face, in light of the pandemic. They haven’t focused solely on their own business, but have considered those who haven’t been formally included in the ‘all’ of ‘we’re all in this together’. They have a soup project that’s helping feed newly unemployed hospitality workers who are on temporary visas.

While some ‘leaders’ are making inane and dangerous ‘suggestions’ for tackling COVID-19, others are taking matters into their own hands and doing something worthwhile and real and kind. We’d much rather support people like that.

We even got the good plates out!

We’ve been stepping up the exercise this week. We’ve still mostly been doing the 10-minute seniors workout with The Body Coach, but we’ve been tacking a cooldown to the end. The cooldown is harder than the seniors workout, but we all acknowledge we’re getting stronger and feeling good for it. It’s been lovely to have Rochelle, my eldest daughter, join us again this week and of course the bonus of seeing lots of the Tassie grandkids. Kaz, one of my daughters-in-law, also joined us when she could, and today Rochelle’s husband Michael joined in too. As did Mum, Tim, Deb, Rochelle, Kaz, and cousin Jen.

Yesterday I changed things up a bit. We started the 20-minnute Ultimate Beginner’s Low Impact Workout and did that again today, plus the cooldown today. Even Michael had a sweat up by the time he finished, although he went a fair bit harder than us ‘beginners’. Mum was thrilled that she could plank for the full 30 seconds!

On Wednesday in my personal training session, I asked Tom when my workouts were going to get easier. He didn’t sugar coat it. ‘They’re not’, he said, ‘because as you get stronger, I just make it harder. You lift more weight, do more reps, or do exercises in a different order’. On Friday he was true to his word. It was tough, and apparently I complained. A lot. But I still did 60 seconds of bicycle crunches, had a 10 second rest to catch my breath, did another 60 seconds, another quick breath catcher, then a final 60 seconds.

I was way too out of breath to do any complaining after that.

I wonder if that was deliberate?

I’m having a hard time moving today … but I’m putting that down the after-effects of the flu shot.

We finish our Alphabet of Isolation project this week. Last Sunday night we had quite a chaotic sharing of images among the eight or nine of us involved in the project. Now that we’ve ironed out some of the technological challenges, I reckon we’ll be in a better position tomorrow night to share the second half of our alphabets. We’re going to create a Blurb magazine with all the images, and it’ll be a great reminder of our time in isolation.

Here’s my D-M.

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I returned to a previous post yesterday, just for comparison. Three weeks ago, on Friday April 3, there had been 1,098,006 cases of COVID-19 and 59,141 deaths.

On Friday April 24, there were 2,828,826 cases and 197,099 deaths.

I’ve found that now the numbers are that high it’s even more hard to compute, but also more difficult to think of each of those 197,099 deaths as individual people. To see the number of new deaths for Italy and Spain now, I catch myself thinking ‘oh, it’s only 497 today’. When did 497 new deaths ever mean ‘only’? It’s so easy to become immune to what the numbers actually represent.

While we don’t know when this is all going to end, we do know that many people are still suffering in a range of ways. The best thing we can do is stay home and stay safe.

 

Posted in Life, Photography, Writing

Diary of a distancer: Week 6

Week 6! Six weeks of self-exile from the world. Not that it’s been strictly necessary to stay as at home as I’ve stayed, but with no real reason to go out, it hasn’t seemed to make any sense just to go out for the sake of it.

Six weeks of working from home – which I’ll look to turn into forever weeks of working from home on the other side of lockdown.

This week has been the best yet, mostly because it was a short work week. I had Tuesday off (thanks university enterprise agreement), and then on Thursday lunchtime, after one and a half days of work, I decided to take leave for the rest of the day and the next day too. Yes, I managed a day and a half of work before needing more time off.

Can I retire yet???

Over the Easter long weekend, we engaged in a photography challenge – Images in the time of Coronavirus: An alphabet of isolation. Photos from around the house and yard (if you’re lucky enough to have one) – one image for each letter of the alphabet. Deb and Grant decided to join in, and we had a sharing session on Sunday night of the first three images (not necessarily in alphabetical order, although as Tim and I had shot the alphabet by then, we shared our A, B & C).

Mum joined us for the sharing session, became inspired and has decided to join us. I’ve had a sneak peek at some of her shots and her list, and she’s going great guns. I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Emma, my youngest daughter, mentioned through the week that she’s running out of things to do, so I invited her to join in. She’s made a very strong start.

Jada, one of my grand-daughters, is also keen to join in, and I’m looking forward to seeing her shots.

Hopefully various other family members will jump on board too. It’s always great to see what people come up with and how they think and see the world.

Deb reckons my photos are very artistic – I don’t think she said ‘too’ artistic but she said ‘artistic’ in a way that momentarily made me think she saw this as a competition. Not that she’s competitive, my sister (ha!!!), but she does like to win the sibling war!

Here’s my A, B & C. I’ll reveal more next week.

A is for Apple

B is for books

C is for chocolate

Talking of the extended family … we’ve been doing exercises (Mum, Deb and I) at 6pm every night for a few weeks now. We put on a Joe Wicks workout for seniors and follow along as best we can. Alison and Emma often join us as well.

Because of not working over Easter, I was able to do exercise at 10am as we do on the weekends. That proved to be a popular time and so we’ve regularly worked out with my cousins Cassandra and Jen, my friend Michelle, who joins us on non-work days, and this week my eldest daughter Rochelle joined in, as did my niece Sarah.

It’s become the highlight of my day. It’s chaotic – lots of kids wanting to say hello to various older relatives and to each other – but we huff and puff and get the workout done, then settle in for a chat.

This week we’ve been doing flexibility and mobility work with ‘The Strength Temple’. It’s been fabulous and I can feel myself improving each day.

 


This week I also added another personal training session with Tom, my PT. That means at 7:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I sign into Google Hangouts and there’s Tom, ready to get me working hard for 30 minutes. The Turkish Get-ups are the hardest, but on Friday morning I kind of managed to do it with the 15kg weight rather than the 10kg one I’d been using till then. I don’t do it properly mind you, but the sitting on the floor and getting up again is a big enough effort for me these days. It takes ages to get on the floor and then get up again! Doing that and lifting a 10 or 15 kg weight at the same time is huge and everytime I lift the 10kg weight above my head, I feel like I’ve won a prize. While I can get the 10kg weight above my head, I’m not even going to try to get the 15kg one up there!

I also do squats with the 15kg weight in a backpack strapped to my back and a 10kg weight clutched to my chest.

If I’m not getting stronger there’s something very wrong with me.

On the days I don’t have a PT session at 7:30am I tune into Facebook Live for X-Train on Tuesdays with Alex – which just about kill me – and on Thursdays I do a beginners’ HIIT workout.

This morning I joined Tim on his daily 6.8km bike ride … with its seven hills. The first three are the absolute worst, but once they’re done the rest of the ride is good – some nice downhills to counter the ups. It was nice to be outside and have some fresh air on my face and sunshine on my back.

So, an exercise session at 7:30, flexibility and mobility at 10, and then as Alison’s been working and hasn’t been able to make the 10am session, we’ve been doing another one at 5, which Tim joins in on too.

On Wednesday night I also did a physio rehab session with Rob, my physio. One of the tougher exercises I do there is a scapular pushup – on a bench, rather than on the ground as this guy is doing, but it still makes me sweat!!

It feels like a lot of exercise! It’s certainly more than I was doing before isolation and I’m hoping like mad it counters the gingernut biscuits I’ve been having with my after dinner cuppa.

Lots of exercise, daily catch-ups with family, photography … with a smidgin of work thrown in this week.

This coming week is going to be tough. Five days at work … how ever will I cope?

This coming week is birthday week for two of my favourite people. Byron, my youngest grandson, turns one on Thursday, the same day Tim celebrates his birthday. No candlelit dinner out at a fancy restaurant, but we might just have a candlelit fancy restaurant dinner at home.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite moments from this week. This is a song for the times, particularly for those of us trying to work out how best to do online teaching and learning … by Makeshift Macaroni on TikTok.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Photography

It’s not a headlight

I stopped listening to Enya some time ago, without making a conscious decision to do so. I guess I just didn’t need her anymore. Her music had seen me through a few challenging and difficult months, but I’m through them now and so no longer need the calming effect she had on me.

I woke up on Monday morning two weeks ago and immediately felt a different sort of energy in my body. It was a really interesting experience; I just knew that something had changed. My breast was still discoloured and peeling but the fatigue I’d been experiencing was gone. Just like that.

Then it was Easter and I had 10 days off work, travelled to Tumbarumba to visit family, then came home and faffed around home for the rest of the week. It was fabulous. Lots of time spent taking photos and deciding which ones to include in my developing portfolio; lots of time talking photography with Tim, discovering, then almost obsessively watching, Sean Tucker’s videos on YouTube; seeking out others’ work to draw inspiration from; doubting my own capacity as a photographer then coming across an image that causes me to catch my breath and think that maybe I am okay at this, then doubting myself again.

I went back to work on Monday and just about every colleague I ran into said how well I was looking. Many of them also commented on how fabulous my hair was looking, with one woman telling me I looked 400 years younger! All because I was wearing it down, rather than tied up to keep it off my face. There’s less grey when it’s down!

So spending time with Tim, my mother, sister,  brother, uncle, neice, nephew and great neice over Easter, spending time at home in the week after Easter, realising I don’t need to listen to Enya anymore, and being complimented on how good I’m looking has meant the last two weeks have been great.

Much, much greater though is the fact that I’m a grandmother again. Yes, grandson number 9 (aka Byron) is now 9 days old and I’m heading north at the end of the week to introduce myself to him. I’m feeling as excited as I did when my first grandson was born just over 20 years ago (and just in case you didn’t know me then, that’s VERY excited).

Tim and I had been talking just days before about how we have so many grandchildren, yet there are no double ups with birthdays. That is, until now. Byron was born on Tim’s birthday, making it an extra special day! At least I think that’s the way Tim’s viewing it.

The year so far has been difficult and challenging and confronting, but I feel like I’ve reached the end of the tunnel and I’m happy to announce that the light at the end of it isn’t the headlight of an oncoming train!

I’ve learnt to listen to my body, to rest when I needed to, to exercise when I can and not push myself too hard, to not be too bothered about what I eat, to give myself a break and know that if I didn’t get to something one day, I’d get to it another day. I’ve learnt to not feel guilty about taking the time I needed to get well, to let my body and mind recover from the trauma of surgery and treatment, and the fears and uncertainties that come with a cancer diagnosis.

And I’ve had reinforced for me how fortunate I am to be surrounded by incredibly generous family and friends who have done all they could to support me.

I am indeed blessed.

All I need to do now is sort out the pain in my chest caused by the scar tissue. Any ideas for how to do that?


Here are some of the photos I’ve been taking over the last few weeks … most of them are a long way out of my comfort zone, photographically speaking, but I’m enjoying the challenge.

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From Empire at Burnham Beeches

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Mmmm …

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Part of Melbourne Central I’d never seen before

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Nicki serving icecream

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Centre Place, Melbourne

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Saskia

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Honour Ave, Macedon

 

 

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Celebration …

I finished my radio therapy treatment on Thursday last week. The final four treatments were ‘booster’ treatments, which I found quite terrifying. No goggles, no holding my breath, just a really big machine zapping a very targeted part of me at close quarters. I almost asked for the goggles back, then realised I could just shut my eyes to avoid being confronted by the bigness, closeness and scariness of the machine.

Each treatment was over quickly though and Emma would drive me home while I felt a little more shell shocked each time. I have no idea what I would’ve done without her.

It was fabulous to have Emma stay with us (Photo by Tim)

I’d somehow forgotten about, or perhaps thought I was immune to, the side-effects though. Apart, of course, from fatigue.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Karen, my radio oncologist, told me about the potential for them, as did the breast care nurses, and others I’ve spoken with who have gone through similar treatment. I even wrote about them on this very blog a few weeks ago, yet I was still caught off-guard.

A sunburn type response.

Redness.

Swelling.

Peeling.

Pain.

I wrote in that earlier post: ‘I might get all of these, some of them, or none.’

I got the jackpot – all of them.

The good news is that they probably won’t last more than a week or two (or maybe three or four).

And the other good news is that I’ve had company since halfway through my treatment – others to share my daily annoyances with. Probably not good news for them, but I’ve appreciated having Emma (who stayed an extra week with me) and now Deb to whinge to.

I also had the foresight to take some sick leave and I’m very pleased I did. I couldn’t have coped with going to work on top of everything.

But this is getting boring now. And if I’m bored by it all, I’m sure you are too. So I’m not going to write anymore about it.

****
On Sunday, Alison (aka Number 6) decided to spend the day with us, celebrating ‘me’ – my birthday earlier in the month and the end of my treatment.

Alison knows that I love to photograph flowers and so we went to the Queen Vic Market and bought loads: carnations, daisies, bluegum leaves, wheat that had been spray painted, and others I have no names for.

The outside table was strewn with flowers and leaves and twine and special scissors for cutting the stems and ribbon; palings from a fallen-down fence were put to good use as a backdrop and a surface; a tabletop was perched on the backs of kitchen chairs so we could shoot against the white wall under the clothes line; a shiny black tile and a sheet of black cardboard was set up in the kitchen as a different kind of photographic space … in amongst this chaotic space Alison managed to create a beautiful bouquet, and a delicious dinner.

It was a fabulous way to spend an afternoon!

Yellow daisies

 

 

These are beautiful even though I don’t know what they’re called

 

Gorgeous lilac roses

 

Spray painted wheat

 

Alison’s bouquet

These are just some of the shots I took – and if the wind stops I might take even more.

Thanks Alison! Let’s do it again some time.

Posted in Photography

Days #17 & #18

Flying … Prague to Paris

Paris to Hong Kong

Hong Kong to Melbourne

36 or so hours.

Dark, light, light, dark.

Breakfast when it felt like dinner time.

Dinner when it felt like the middle of the night.

Dark when it felt like midday.

Melbourne Airport – Uber – home.

Midnight.

Bed.

Nine hours later I’m back at work.

******

I’d been worried that I’d hate the cold, that I’d be so cold I wouldn’t enjoy myself, that the cold would see me reluctant to head outside, and whinge vociferously if I did.

But I actually loved it. It wasn’t so cold that I couldn’t function; Tim had bought so many winter-in-Europe appropriate clothes that I wasn’t ever very cold; my fur-lined boots meant my feet were always warm (and dry); my borrowed coat was perfect; the addition of buffs to our wardrobe was a master stroke of stylish fashion meets practical warmth; and I came to enjoy those times when it was cold and/or raining.

That’s not to say I’m now going to enjoy winter in Melbourne. Not unless we get proper heating and weather-insulating features common to European houses/apartments.

But in Europe the cold made sense to me. It fitted in a way it’s never fitted in Australia; especially at Christmas.

And, I have to say, I wouldn’t be reluctant to go back in winter.

Posted in Photography

Day #16: Sedlec and Kutna Hora

Pátek 5 Leden 2018

Guest post by Tim Moss

By Prague standards it’s still early when we meet Darko outside our apartment at 10am; the air is still fresh and cold enough to fog our reintroductions, although these aren’t strictly required. Darko is every bit as welcoming and warm as we had anticipated, giving the distinct impression that he is a man very much engaged in doing what he loves: meeting people, and sharing stories and time together.

As we discover on the way to Kutná Hora (it’s about an hour from Prague, or at least it’s an hour with Darko’s efficient, precise, and fast – very fast – driving style), Darko is himself an import to Prague, born in Macedonia and relocating 14 years ago, frustrated with the difficulties of trying to attract tourists into fractured countries. The Czech Republic seems to genuinely suit him, and he it, and he speaks of the Czech people with a fondness and familiarity. He’s a wonderful host; we find breakfast and water waiting for us in his comfortable and modern van, and we learn about his daughter, who is still new to skiing but can swim better than just about any other child in Prague (thanks to Mediterranean summers), his business (how he holds an ambition of one day working full-time in Kutná Hora, leaving Prague to a colleague), and some of the people he’s met. Needless to say, time passes quickly in his company, and we arrive at our first stop, the Sedlec Ossuary.

Darko tells us something of the history of the place, and how earth gathered in the middle east was scattered here, as it was believed to be the driest soil in the world and thus excellent at returning bodies to their most base materials in no time. People lined up to be buried here, and with plague and war both close to hand, it was a long line. Bodies and their component bones piled up in the ossuary for many years, until in the 19th century, a carpenter was employed to “do something” with all of the bones. He did, and what resulted is something of a unique fusion of display, respect, pomp, macabre sideshow, and religious offering. There are sculptures, piles and pyramids, threaded columns of spine, skull, and hip bones, and a chandelier containing at least one of every bone that can be found in the human body. The sculptor even signed his name on the wall. Using bones. I’m not sure how I felt about all this; I think a strange, unresolvable mixture of awe, shock, revulsion, and appreciation. Maybe that was the intention all along.

P1050555
The bone church – Sedlec Ossuary

The place begins to fill up as one and then another large coach pulls in and disgorges loads of onlookers. Darko’s approach is more in tune with our own; some brief facts and points to note, and then he removes himself while we “make photos”, joining him outside for our next stop. This is the pattern across the day, and it is well-practised and orchestrated. Darko has clearly rehearsed this tour; it seems effortless as we move to our next location (the Church of the Assumption, still in Sedlec), hear some interesting points about how the church was designed somewhat too ambitiously (taking so long to finish and costing so much money that it had really outlived its necessity by the time it was completed), “make photos”, and then find Darko waiting outside with our van, ready to move to the next location.

Next is Kutná Hora itself, a fascinating and well-preserved (in fact still quite busy and fully-functioning) city that at one stage looked set to challenge Prague for the status of capital of Bohemia. There’s a sense of wealth behind the place; I’m reminded of gold rush towns in Australia, where there are giant, solid, opulent architectural examples that hint at a past that was considerably larger than the present, or indeed the future.

Kutná Hora had modest beginnings, as the site of a monastery, until one day, taking a much-needed break, one of the monks put his feet up on a rock, scuffed the side, and discovered silver. Fast forward just a little, and Kutná Hora was gripped by what Darko called “silver fever”, with tens of thousands of people both above and under ground working the mines (in dangerous conditions, almost total darkness, and caverns constantly at risk of collapse or flooding) and creating wealth and status and lives. In places, it’s a beautiful town, and Darko points out the fusion of Gothic and Baroque architecture that seems to dominate the town itself.

Much of the Gothic architecture is gone as residents decided the style looked horribly dated and so conducted ‘extreme renovations’ to update their properties to the Baroque style (Sedlec Ossuary was similarly updated in somewhat disastrous style, as the cement poured to fill in the Gothic windows has so overloaded the structure that it seems to be collapsing in on itself, putting at risk the unique treasures of the basement described above). As we stroll the streets, Darko gives us a sense of life in the town, and some of the colourful personalities and exploits of the past (we are fascinated to hear of the jeweller who specialised entirely in making jewellery for the many statues of Kutná Hora, and indeed for the wider region – the Czechs do love their statues!). We see grandiose buildings and churches constructed with ambition and prestige in mind, such as a palace constructed so that the king could relocate from Prague (he politely declined, but did make use of the palace as the royal mint so at least the place didn’t go to ruin). After our delightful walk, we have lunch in a traditional Czech restaurant, and Sharon’s meal of svickova na smetae (a kind of stew with beef, cream, and cranberries) looked extraordinary and (I’m led to believe) tasted even better.

After lunch, to “aid our digestion” we walk to the largest of the three churches in the area, St Barbora’s Cathedral.

St Barbora’s Cathedral and monastery

It seems too large, too grand, too ambitious for Kutná Hora, and indeed from the information we’re given it probably was.

Again, this was an effort to trump Prague’s efforts at communicating with and celebrating God; unfortunately the silver, and thus the money, ran out (several times) before the cathedral could be finished, and so it sat as a fixer-upper for several hundred years, only really being completed in the 20th century.

Even then, completion really involved chopping off about a third of the plans and just putting up a wall instead and calling it done.

St James – the other cathedral in Kutná Hora

Still, as we learnt in Venice, apparently the architects of these great cathedrals always had a ready-made excuse for any alterations and compromises in their completion, because “only God can create perfection”. We take a little time to learn about the various chapels, make a few photos, and then head out, to find Darko waiting with the van again, already running and warm inside. He’s even restocked our fruit and water supplies.

It’s later than expected when we arrive back in Prague, and we decide we’re too tired (and still full from our traditional – in both taste and size – Czech lunch) to head out in the evening. It’s an early start again tomorrow – we’ll see Darko in another 12 hours for our airport drop off!

 

Posted in Food, Photography, Travel

Day #15: Prague

Čtvrtek 4 Leden 2018

Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) was on the agenda for today … it’s the largest castle complex in the world and took us most of the day to wander around it.

The castle complex began its development in the 9th century! That’s mind boggling to me.

I could say loads more about the Royal Palace, St Vitus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, plus the nearby Strahov Monastery … but my words could never do them justice. It’s the history of the place that amazes me … the recorded history as well as the history written in the stones, decorations, artworks, altars, weapons, torture instruments, plus the histories written in the hidden places and the public spaces.

A history full of intrigue and violence and sacrifice and conflict … of visionaries, philosophers, designers, architects, goldsmiths, jewellers, and of kings and mothers of kings, and priests and monks, and those who spent their lives building these massive structures – those who aren’t remembered, who aren’t written into the official records but who were central to these records of history.

So many years’ worth of visible, recorded, in-your-face history. It forces me to ask questions about our own history and how we engage with it when it’s not as visible; a history that’s more spiritual and engaged with the environment – a history so unlike European history it’s easy to see how the first Europeans missed it. They were looking for structures and monuments and artworks and society’s visible, tangible marks on the environment … there are questions and thoughts and inklings of ideas to ponder here, to contemplate and reflect on …

******

As well as exploring the history of Prague and the Czech Republic more broadly, we’ve also explored the food. We’ve discovered it’s good food. Even Tim can eat it. On our first night at a restaurant called Vinohradský Parlament, I had dessert – not something I generally do – but one of the options was one I simply couldn’t resist: Podilové taštičky: u nás dělané taštičky z bramborového těsta, plněné povidly, podávané se strouhaným tvarohem, přepuštěným máslem a moučkovým cukrem (in other words potato gnocchi with plum jam filling, grated cottage cheese, a butter sauce, and icing sugar).

As you can imagine, I just had to try it. It was fabulous!

For one meal I had goulash, which is Hungarian rather than Czech, but I was particularly interested in the dumplings. I’d said to Tim before the meal arrived ‘what if they’re circles of white bread?’ and when it arrived we saw that’s exactly what they were … but somehow more delicious than circles of white bread, or maybe that was the sauce.

I also had a much more traditional Czech dish, svíčková na smetaně, made up of beef (very tender), some kind of gravy/sauce, bread dumplings (or circlets of soft white bread) and then, on top of the beef was a dollop of whipped cream and one of cranberry sauce on a slice of lemon. Delicious.

Svíčková na smetaně

Then there was the dessert of apricot dumplings swimming in sour cream with icing sugar sprinkled over it all, adding a touch of sweetness. Surprisingly, it too was delicious. Although I had too much and felt very sick for a while.

On the whole though the food was very good. And very cheap. Czech money is Crowns and the traditional meal I had was 195 of them. Sounds a lot, but when you work out it’s about 12 Australian dollars you realise it’s a bargain. It wasn’t unusual to have wads of 1000 crowns in our wallets!

Don’t try to pay for something costing 50 crowns with a 1000 crown note though! Not unless you want a stern talking to – it was in Czech so we couldn’t understand the actual words, but the tone was enough for us to know we were in trouble.

One more full day in the Czech Republic and then we have to face the idea of making our way home. I’m so not ready to go back yet – there’s still so much to see and do.

* Please note: As you’ve seen from some of the words in this post, there are plenty of accents in the Czech written language. Here are a few snaps I took as we wondered around the area we were staying in. I reckon you can work out the final word on this first sign.