Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Perfect Christmas gifts...

On Christmas Eve I received an absolutely perfect gift. It was so unexpected and so perfect. We had Christmas drinks with friends. These friends live in the general direction that my parents live in and since we were heading down there we made arrangements to head to our friends' place first. It was lovely. It made us realise we should try to catch up with our friends more often... life, you know... It gets busy.
So we're sipping champagne and suddenly T says she has something for me. As she brings it toward me I instantly know what it is. It's a Claire cowl. A what? I don't expect everybody to know what I mean by that so let me go grab a Sony pic from Outlander to show you what it is.
See that neck scarf? That's what in Outlander fandom is now known as a Claire cowl...and I have one! My gorgeous friend T made me one. My eyes started to well up when I saw it. I was madly blinking away trying to stop myself getting emotional over a scarf, but it was just so perfect, and the tears flowed. T is the friend I referred to in this post (link) who introduced me to Outlander (aka Cross Stitch) but when we were chatting on Christmas Eve she said she thought I introduced her! I'm still pretty confident it was the other way around but both of us associate the other with our early introduction to the series. What a gift. Seriously it felt just perfect!

Later that night my husband was very mysterious as he hid in my parents' laundry wrapping gifts, and writing cards. On Christmas morning I discovered what he'd been wrapping. It was a vintage milk can. He'd researched all the history of their use and thought it would look great in our kitchen (and it will). The poignant part of the gift, and his note however was the circumstances of him buying it. On Monday I had to drop him at the auto electrician to pick up his car. Our 11 year old daughter was with me and after we dropped him off we decided to stop at this quirky little store that I'd driven past dozens of times but never been in. I didn't even know what sort of shop it was. It turned out it stocked a bunch of secondhand stuff, some antiques, but lots of stuff that you find in a regular op shop. Miss11 found a few pig things (pigs being her latest obsession) but we left without making a purchase.

Little did I know, but my husband had noticed my car and decided to see what we were looking at. He parked around the corner and walked into the store to find out what we had found, but as he came around the corner, we drove off. He decided to go in anyway and he asked the shop assistant what we had been looking at...realising he sounded a little stalkerish he explained that he was my husband and he was looking for a Christmas gift for me. She mentioned the pigs! lol! But she wasn't sure what else I'd been looking at. He had a bit of a look, found the milk can and decided to buy that! The antique milk can is lovely, but the story behind it means so much more to me....and the two page letter he wrote to accompany it with the detailed history of it and the means by which he tried to find a gift I might like.

The other REALLY awesome gift we received this year...which unfortunately I knew about and spoiled my daughter's surprise, was a Soda Stream. You know, one of those machines that carbonates water, and then you add syrup and hey presto you have home made fizzy drinks. The reason this was one of my favourite gifts was because my 15 year old daughter bought it for the rest of our family (her brother, sister and parents) using money from her first ever pay from her first ever part time job. My heart swelled with pride when I saw that she had bought it and her intention to gift it to the family. Sure, she'll get benefit from it too, but it was such an awesome thing for her to do. We've been so proud of her working at her part time job, earning and saving, and then making such a lovely gesture with some of her new found wealth.

And finally, one more gift that I just loved this year was the book 'Love your Sister' by Connie and Samuel Johnson. I was keen to get a copy anyway, but I love that my own sister bought it for me. I look forward to getting stuck into it.

It's been a lovely Christmas and these few gifts were some of my highlights. Overall, I am overjoyed to be thought of by my family and friends, and to spend some quality time with them. Did you receive something extra special?

Friday, October 10, 2014

There's no trade week for fans

I've blogged about a variety of topics here but not football, that I can recall. A blog post is usually triggered by something that affects me emotionally...something that causes words and thoughts to float around in my head, desperate to get out and yesterday football triggered that. It's a bit romantic, and I know football is big business now and I'm a little naive to all the machinations...but here it is.

[Note: I wrote this before Brendan McCartney, the coach, resigned]

I was home with my sick son. We were watching a movie and I was scrolling through twitter on my phone, when a bombshell tweet in the @afl feed rocked my socks.

The very fact that it was on the AFL twitter account was enough to cause concern as it gave it authenticity. I gasped and my son nervously asked, "What?.....What?" I could barely bring myself to say the words. He has No.16 on his football jumper. "Griff wants a trade". He joined me in shock. Just days earlier we heard speculation that Adam Cooney, our Brownlow medallist, was being considered for a trade and prior to that Shaun Higgins and Liam Jones. Football is pretty brutal when it comes to player movements but some players are at the core of the club, well, I thought they were. Gone are the days when being a one club player was almost the pinnacle, behind being a premiership player I guess. It just feels so.... brutal. I was reminded today of the 20c that a young fan sent to Chris Grant to lure him to stay a Bulldog.  He's considered a legend these days.

I'm a footy chick. I always have been. I've followed Australia Rules Football since I was a tween. I would draw up team lists and listen on the radio or watch the replay (they used to do that - show a replay on Saturday night of one of the Saturday afternoon games...when ALL the games were played on a Saturday afternoon). While I watched (or listened) I'd mark the goals and behinds against the relevant player. I'd cut articles from newspapers and sticky tape them into scrapbooks.

My husband and I would go to Footscray games in the early to mid 90s and we'd take his elderly Dad with his thermos and packed lunch. My husband tells a story of being at the Western Oval (now Whitten Oval) when the club was on its knees being forced to merge with Fitzroy back in 1989. He saw his pensioner Dad open his wallet, and moths flew out, but he threw some dollars in the collection tin to help save his beloved Doggies. Up until his death, my father in law had a framed news article on his mantle. It said "There are 3 certainties in life: Death, Taxes and The Doggies in the Wet", alongside this was a framed picture of Tony Liberatore; his favourite modern day player. He loved the Dogs, and that love had been passed to his son, and now it has been passed to our children.

Footscray became the Western Bulldogs in an effort to appeal to a wider fan base and we accepted that change. We were signed up members from about 1996, and in 1997 saw the club on the brink of success. It was an incredibly exciting time. The club had only ever won one premiership, in 1954 and its only other Grand Final appearance was in 1961. The Dogs were not a powerhouse. There was no cabinet full of silverware, but the fans were devoted and loyal...they still are. In 1997 we could almost taste success. We were at the infamous preliminary final that year. It is such a vivid memory. The excitement at three quarter time when we began to believe we might see our team in a Grand Final... How would we get tickets? Then the cruel unravelling, as Adelaide powered home and we suffered the most painful of losses, by only 2 points. We wept real tears that day. We were stunned, and to this day the Adelaide theme song haunts us.

I have tons of football memories. I have pictures of players holding my children as babies, and my kids attending clinics on Whitten Oval, or standing with their paraphernalia at games, and school footy days. We didn't really give them a choice about football. We signed them up as Bulldogs members and dragged them along; kitting them out in red, white and blue. We live in Geelong. It's a tough gig to not support the Cats when you live here. People don't understand how we can live here and not support the local team and its hard to explain, but we feel we have red, white and blue running through our veins. The kids have seen some success, but not the ultimate success. A few years ago we planned our September school holidays around the likelihood of the team being in the finals, but the current team is rebuilding and struggling. It can be demoralising being at games when your team isn't doing well but we hang in there. We've stayed members all through this. The club labels us Bulldogs for Life, as they deduct payments from our account each month. With all the various commitments that a young family has we don't get to many games, but still we do it. The membership feels like a donation, but still we do it. I don't have regular employment at the moment, but still we do it.

This post has turned into a family history about the Bulldogs and that wasn't my intention. I guess I'm giving some background to our family commitment to the Dogs. We love them. We've been through thick and thin, and we're still here. 

There's no trade week for fans. We don't have a two week period at the end of the season when we consider the membership options of rival clubs. Where can we get a better financial deal? Which club has the most appealing package?  Where will the games be played? We don't have a look at the teams in the Premiership window and consider jumping on board to taste success. We stick. We're true. Coaches, players, administrators come and go. We stick. We're here for the long ride through all the turmoil; as a player we love, a player who has captained our team, endeared himself to our kids, announces he wants out. And we're entitled to be angry, and sad, and tearful. We may even threaten to tear up our membership in the heat of all that emotion...but we don't. We stick. We have no real power. The club needs us, and we need them. Our frustration leads some to rant on Facebook or Twitter...or to write a long rambling blog post with no real purpose except to be a small voice for the fans.

Fans are the backbone of clubs, and I know the Western Bulldogs fan base does not compare to teams like Collingwood and Hawthorn in number, but in passion, we rival any team. We love our club and we hate to hear that there are tensions, or issues that can't be resolved. What can we do? It feels like the only time we have power is when the club needs money. Without the fans, there would have been no Footscray, no Western Bulldogs after 1989... But otherwise, we watch from the sidelines, Bulldogs through and through, as coaches are sacked, or resign, players walk, or get dumped, new players come along, new hopes are ignited and we endeavour to #bemorebulldog, even though we're SO Bulldog it's a wonder we don't bark.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Thus, Outlanderaholic denotes a person addicted to Outlander...and that is me.

I'm trying to remember the last time I seriously watched a TV series requiring a weekly commitment, and never missing an episode. I dabbled with Offspring in the early years, but didn't stay the course. I was a regular watcher of Miss Fisher in season one, but being on on a Friday night meant I occasionally missed an episode, and for one reason or another I missed almost all of season 2 but have it on DVD, still in its shrink wrap. I'll watch it someday. I do watch TV, it's frequently on. I like seeing Mediawatch and Q & A on a Monday. The Project is often on during dinner time, but nothing is a must watch for me. My kids watch a lot of the realty shows, so I could tell you some sketchy details about a girl called Dee annoying everyone on The Block, or that there is a magician on Big Brother, but that's about it.

You may have read this post here about my anticipation for Outlander, and my chance to see episode 1 at a preview screening. The build up had been enormous and I wasn't disappointed. My only real problem was that I don't have Foxtel and that was how you had to watch it...legally. I'm not a fan of piracy. I have friends who work in the movie industry and feel like it could impact on their livelihood if I supported that sort of activity. Fortunately a friend, who also loves the book, has Foxtel. I kind of told her, rather than asked, that I would be visiting every Thursday to watch with her! Luckily for me she was up for that. She was also my plus one for the preview screening. We're on this journey together. 

So, every Thursday, sometime before 8.30, I rock up to her place with a bottle of red or a pack of mint slices and we settle on the couch to watch our hour of television. We sigh and we gasp, and for the most part there is a stupid grin affixed to our face as we see our favourite book come to life with actors performing their roles just oh so convincingly. As book fans we notice little details that non book fans might miss... things like Jamie rubbing the back of his neck when Claire falls on him during her aborted escape attempt, and when he drums his fingers... The attention to detail is phenomenal. We're so hooked it's not funny.

I mentioned to my husband that it feels like I'm having an affair. I slip out of the house, go see my show (and my friend) and then slip back in. We don't spend hours together, just a little over an hour and then we're done for another week. Recently, we realised that I would be away for a holiday with my extended family for episode 6 and 7, and she would be away for episode 8. Six was pivotal. Having read the books, I knew approximately what it was going to feature, but also, I had read reviews from critics saying that it was a key episode, especially for the non book readers who were viewing the series without any prior knowledge of what was coming.

Fortunately my Dad was able to get this episode to play on his computer, so I lay on a bed in a hotel room with his laptop resting on my chest, desperately trying to block out the noise from other parts of the hotel and watched this amazing episode, with details so gruesome only centimetres from my eyes. The whole front of my body was burning from the heat generated by the laptop and my retinas burned from the awesome special effects used to convey flogging scenes that tore skin from the back of the main character. It wasn't ideal, but it meant I hadn't missed out.

The next episode was The Wedding. I should say THE Wedding. Every Outlander book fan the world over was anticipating this episode and the thought that I wouldn't see it was *mildly annoying. (*mildly annoying is drastically understating it) My cousin heard me lamenting the fact that I wouldn't see it and said that perhaps he could get his Foxtel Go app to play it. He checked, and yes, SOHO was one of the channels. I made plans to watch on his phone in a nearby pub, so I could use their wifi.  Thursday approached. I'd been loosely checking in on Facebook and Twitter and had seen excitement from the US fans about the episode. We were out for dinner on Thursday. My cousin encouraged me to download the app from Foxtel on my ipad so I could watch it on there. I had to hotspot into my iphone, which was already in data trouble since I'd been away from wifi for a week, but the app downloaded and it looked like all would work perfectly. My cousin detached his phone from the app and reverted it to my ipad. He could claim it back in 30 days. (What a debt I owe him!) 

We set off for the pub for the free wifi. My family were laughing at me and my need to see this TV show. I rode it out. Their good natured teasing wasn't going to put me off. When we got to the pub and asked for the wifi code they told us we couldn't have it unless we were staying there! We'd cut it fine, it was about 8.25 and I went into a panic. My sister came to the rescue and said I could hotspot to her phone. I didn't know how much data I would use but she had about 1.5gb. I bought her a cocktail, and then I moved myself aside from everyone and got it playing.

The pub was too loud. There was music, and people talking. I tried the verandah...still too loud. Can't they see I am trying to watch...and listen to my TV show?? I had to get out of there. I marched past my family. Sister's phone in one hand, ipad in the other. I headed back to our hotel and sat in the foyer. I had the keys to our room (which also allowed entry to the hotel) and knew my husband and kids would need me to let them in so I sat in sight of the front door. It was a deserted foyer. The reception desk was closed.

Occasionally someone would walk through from the street to the lifts but for the most part I had the space to myself. Thank goodness you can rewind and pause Foxtel. So I settled in to watch. I smiled like a cheshire cat the entire hour. I had to pause, and reduce volume on a couple of occasions when someone walked by....some scenes were quite sexy. But, I saw the episode. It was lovely, just lovely. In the middle my family came back and I was tempted to go upstairs with them but ended up staying in my isolated spot, away from their ribbing.

When I returned to everyone I gave my sister her phone back. She checked. I'd used .9 (point nine) of a gb. Woah! Fortunately her data was refreshing in a few days.

I'm back home now. I was able to watch the episode again, with earphones in and no distractions whatsoever. I smiled again. It truly was lovely. 

As for this week's episode I think I can wait until Saturday when my friend returns and we can watch episode 6,7 and 8 as a marathon...or.... I still have the Foxtel app, so maybe I can watch on the ipad on Thursday night.... 

As for episodes 9 through 16...that wait is until April 2015! I'm going to have to satisfy myself with re-reading the books, and hopefully getting the series on DVD for Christmas. So, yes, I guess I am an Outlanderaholic... I went to great lengths to ensure I didn't miss an episode and I still love the books, the TV series and the fact that there is more to come. I probably owe a few people a drink, or ten and a note of a thanks for feeding my addiction.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

10 books - Go!

In much the same way as the Art Meme circulated on Facebook (that I wrote about here), I recently saw a Book Meme that, as a book lover, really appealed to me. Essentially, the instructions were to list 10 books that had stuck with you. You weren't required to think too deeply, just off the top of your head. I mentally started coming up with my 10 books and thought I'd expand a little on them here.

So, in no particular order, and certainly not a highfaluting list, I present the books that came to mind:

Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

I first read this as a 10 or 11 year old and feel like it is almost a right of passage type book that young girls should read as they enter that strange pre-teen adolescent stage - where lots is happening with your body and hormones come into play. Friendships are important and you are sorting through feelings and emotions. When my eldest daughter was approaching puberty I bought it for her and will soon introduce it to my youngest daughter.
A little while ago I found Judy Blume on Twitter, and of course started following her. So many of her books were a part of my youth. It was wonderful to know she was still writing. I love the little tagline she has on her Twitter account as a nod to this book:

Kane & Abel by Jeffrey Archer

I always think of this book as the first grown up 'big' book that I ever read. Google helps me to know that it was 592 pages long, but I probably would have guessed more. It seemed huge at the time, when I was a youngish teen. At the time I read it I had no idea that Cain and Abel were biblical characters (no religious upbringing for me) so didn't make that connection to the title as most would do. The story of rich man and poor man and their intersecting and warring lives, set against the history of the early 20th century, captured my attention, and I know I went on to read the sequel, The Prodigal Daughter, too.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

A very dear friend, who is a dog lover recommended this book to me. We had not long adopted our own golden retriever and she thought I might enjoy the book. What an understatement. I loved it. A unique, told through the eyes of the dog, story that had me enthralled throughout the journey of joys and sorrows. I looked at my own dog differently after reading it. And I don't think Enzo was a golden retriever necessarily, but the cover picture certainly looks like he is.

Outlander / Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

I've already gushed quite a bit about this book in a separate post here but had to include it in this list. I think of it as Outlander now but when I first read it, it was Cross Stitch. This is a book, and a series, that stays with you. I find myself thinking about the characters frequently. It is such a powerful series, with such rich characters. There is so much history cleverly interwoven. I read recently that Diana Gabaldon wanted to write about characters who have a 50 year relationship and that spoke to me. How lovely, to think that  a series is built around the lives of two key characters who celebrate a long marriage and ongoing love and passion. It will take an amazing book to knock this one off as my 'All time favourite book'.

Tandia by Bryce Courtenay

I knew I had to include a Bryce Courtenay book in this list. For many years he would release a book a year, usually in time for Christmas and I would receive it as a gift. I was a total fan, writing to him and gushing all over the letter about how much I loved his books. When I went to a literary dinner to hear him talk and then meet him to have my book signed, he inscribed one 'From your man, Bryce Courtenay' which was a play on the fact that my husband always referred to him as 'Your man'. So when I sat down to think about which book I would include in this list, it came down to two, Tandia, which I've chosen, and April Fool's Day, which was a really wonderful book, and educated me so much about AIDS and the way those with it were treated, back when there was so much fear and innuendo. I chose Tandia though, which is the sequel to The Power of One. I distinctly remember reading it  when I was commuting on the train and crying unabashedly through some of the brutal and heartbreaking scenes. I just couldn't stop reading, tears or not, this story written against the backdrop of South African apartheid.

My Brother Jack by George Johnston

Seems so odd to think a book I HAD TO read is on this list. This was my year 12 English text and I really enjoyed it. I still have my copy with all of the annotations I made throughout it. I must re-read it again. I remember it as an important piece of writing about 20th century Australian history, and relationships, and the way Australians view themselves. I don't remember it as a chore to study this book and my HSC results for English were quite good so I suspect I did okay responding to essay questions about it.


Oh! the places you'll go by Dr Seuss

It wasn't that long ago that I learned that this was the last book written by Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) and what a gift he left as his final piece of work. I love it as a book of hope and inspiration, filled with lines of whimsical wisdom. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” When I completed my studies to be a primary school teacher recently we had a last day gathering of our cohort. I had collected $10 from everyone as a contribution toward a secret gift for themselves. At the appointed time I sat at the front of the room and read this book to our group of new teachers. "Congratulations. Today is your day"..."You'll get mixed up, of course, as you already know"  It realistic suggests that it might not be perfect smooth sailing but you can make it happen... "Today is your day... Your mountain is waiting" I then gave everyone a copy of the book and we signed messages to each other in the books. The message I wrote to my peers was "100 years from now, it won't matter how much money you had, what your house was like, or what kind of car you drove, but the world will be a better place because you made a difference in the life of a child."

Uncle Bert's Diary by Herbert F.G. Lefevre

This one is totally biased and nepotistic. I've spent a huge amount of time these past few years, and especially these past few months, typing out my Great Uncle Bert's world war 1 diary. You can read it here. I first read this diary in 1989 when I was studying a a subject at uni called 'Australians at War'. I then wrote an essay about 'mateship', which, as a word has modern origins. Back in the first world war they referred to each other as 'pals' rather than 'mates', but word usage evolves I guess. My lecturer gave me a 'First' for the essay, which I think these days is a High Distinction. But enough about me. This diary is remarkable. It is a detailed, daily account of Bert's war experience, from enlistment, through training, travel across the seas, time in Egypt, Italy and England and then on the front line in France. His writing is awesome and as his great niece I am incredibly proud, and now honoured, to be bringing it to a wider audience. I hope to shortly be finished typing so I can send it to print. If you want the link to the start of the diary, you can click here. If you'd like to buy a copy of the printed version message me here.

The Wave by Morton Rhue

Another book from my school years that I HAD TO read for English, or perhaps for Social Studies. This book absolutely fascinated me and I recently read it again. It is such a thought provoking book and as a fictionalisation of a real class experiment it demonstrates how people can become indoctrinated. It has powerful messages of bullying, leadership, peer pressure, family and individual vs community. This is a book that really makes you think and reflect. The fact that so few of the students were able to see the dangers of what was occurring in the school is quite frighteningly symbolic of the larger narrative that the author is trying to demonstrate about how The Nazi's were able to rise to power in the 1930s.

The Scrapbook: a novel of friendship and love by Peggy B Baker

This is my easy read book for the list. For ten years I was a Creative Memories consultant. Creative Memories has gone by the wayside now, but during the early 2000s it was at the forefront of the scrapbooking industry and introduced many, many people, mostly women, to scrapbooking. From the minute I was introduced to scrapbooking I knew it was for me. I love photos, I love stories, I love craft. For me, being able to integrate all three in one hobby was a dream come true. I was immersed in it. I made dozens of albums for my family and as gifts for special people in my life. A US friend met this author and had her sign her book and sent it to me as a gift. This book truly is about friendship and love. It's simply told, with scrapbooking as a backdrop to the story. I purchased several copies of the book to gift to friends and family, who, like me, love reading and scrapbooking. As the back blurb states, "Scrapbooks tell the stories about our girlsfriends, our children, our parents, our boyfriends, and our husbands. This novel celebrates the art of scrapbooking and our memories of those who have touched our lives."

So, there you have it. My list of 10 books. Please share yours. I love a good book recommendation and I'm curious about the story behind people's book choices. Since I started writing this post I've come up with more books I could have included, so, I suspect if I did it again, my list might be different, but here it is for this moment in time.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I have a wound. On my back; my lower back, where you bend and twist. It hurts. I’ve spent two days in bed and two days sitting because moving hurts, getting up hurts, sitting down hurts. Basically I am in pain a fair bit of the time. It started as a mole. I had it scraped by a skin specialist two weeks ago and that left me with an open wound the size of a one cent coin. Pathology came back. Not melanoma, but not nice either. He wanted to take more skin around it. My own GP was able to do it so I went to her. She cut around it and then had to pull the skin together to stitch it. At one stage she needed the nurse to hold the skin together while she stitched so my body was fighting against the idea that it was joining in this way. I have 9 stitches.

This all happened on Monday. On Tuesday the dressing was a little blood soaked so my husband offered to change it for me. I leant against the bench so the skin was as smooth as possible on my back for the new dressing. He started to pull at the old dressing. It didn’t hurt but it was an odd sensation. Suddenly though, I started to sweat profusely, yet I felt cold. Then I felt sick. “Get me some water”, “No, get a bucket… I’m going to be sick” “No, don’t put a blanket on me, don’t touch me.” He placed a chair next to me and I slid into it. I was holding my head over the bucket, convinced I would vomit. Then, very slowly my hearing seemed to be going. I could feel it drifting away, like I was moving but not moving. Everything felt far away. When would this stop? I wondered how this would end. Was I having a heart attack? At what point should I tell him to call an ambulance. Then slowly the radio came in range again. I could hear. I could hear him, his worried voice and calming strokes on my back…and I was present again. Did that really happen? My t-shirt was spotted with perspiration. My skin was clammy. Somehow I made my way to the bedroom and lay flat on the bed. The dressing was half off by this stage and with the support of the bed under me he was able to continue changing it.

I was reflecting on all of this this morning. I asked my daughter to help me dry my feet and put my shoes and socks on. My son asked to look at my back and recoiled, as he does, when he spotted a little blood on the bandage. He was gentle when he hugged me goodbye. My elder daughter enquired as to whether I could drive. They understand I’m a little incapacitated at the moment. My husband, bless him, is running around like a chook with his head cut off…doing almost everything in our household while I sit or lie, trying to will my wound to heal and not pull apart every time I move.

And the reason I was reflecting on this was because I’ve spent the week grieving for Robin Williams; a man I didn’t know personally, but a man who touched my life through his many gifts. I’ve thought a lot about mental illness in the days since he died. I know I’m very, very inadequately equipped to understand. Robin Williams didn’t have a wound on his body with a blood soaked bandage. He had a wound in his brain. No-one could see it. It makes it so much harder to understand. 

Last night during the news my 10 year old daughter asked me questions that seemed difficult. I didn’t shy away from them but it reinforced to me that our society responds to mental illness differently to other illness, not necessarily intentionally, mostly through lack of understanding. If he'd died accidentally, or as a result of a physical illness, the questions, still difficult, would have had more straightforward answers.

Why did Robin Williams die? He was very sick. It was called depression and it affects the brain. It made him think things about himself and other people.
Why do people get it? I don’t know.
Can you take medicine for depression? Sometimes.
Did Robin Williams take medicine? I don’t know.
Is the illness why he died? Yes, it probably was.
But they just said he hung himself… I know... the illness…. sometimes makes people…. do things….

I want her to know we can talk about it and people who have depression can be helped. Just as my back will improve in time, people with depression can get better. I want the conversation to be about hope. But sometimes the wound is so bad, or so deep, or so unfixable, that just like the worst melanoma, they don’t recover. And that’s perhaps why Robin Williams didn’t get better.

Lots of people are writing about mental illness at the moment, and I’m glad. I want to know what I can do and what we as a society can do. Yes we can listen, and many of us do and are more than willing to. I’m 99% sure I’ve said some things that are wrong. Not intentionally. I want to help. I want to understand. 

I’m sure someone with a mental illness could write those first few paragraphs I wrote above about my back wound, but about their mental wound. Would people be as understanding of their need to lay in bed, not move, be incapacitated? I think perhaps our society doesn’t accept that a dark, hidden, brain wound can be just as bad, or oftentimes worse, than a bloody, visible wound. I'm more than willing to tell you I'm sitting here in bed because I have a bloody, back wound. If I was sitting here suffering with depression would I tell you that? I don't know... Would I? The very fact that I question myself on that tells me that somewhere in my consciousness is a thought about not being open about mental illness. I seem to know that many people would choose not to share, because sharing means exposing something that our society has attached a stigma to. How do we shake that? How do we change that?

I'm not sure how to end this piece of writing. I feel pretty useless while desperate to help. I’m searching for something; some education program, some answer, some guidance, some way of breaking down society's way of thinking about mental illness; a way of thinking that is driven by fear... fear in so many guises. Fear we might hurt, or get hurt, fear because we don't understand, fear we might catch it or fear we might make it worse.

I don’t have a mental illness. I hope I never do, just as I hope I never have physical illness. But I want those who do to feel that they can lay their wounds open, and know that we’ll try to help them… if we can. We as a society need to be willing to do so. We need to stop this from being something that is hidden. We need to be fearless.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Loving something before you've even laid eyes on it

About 15 years ago I read a book called 'Cross Stitch'... I probably should say, I devoured it. A friend had recommended it and left it on my doorstep one day. I can pin point the approximate timing because I was on maternity leave after having had my eldest daughter, who is now 15. I then went on to read the second (Dragonfly in Amber), third (Voyager), and fourth (Drums of Autumn), books in the series. I had fallen in love with Diana Gabaldon's historical, time travel, romance, action series. It's a genre-less series. Booksellers tend to pop it on the romance shelves but it is so much more than that. True, woven through all the books in the series is a love story between the two main characters, Claire and Jamie. I guess it's a tad spoiler-ish to tell you that their story runs through the series...on several occasions one or both of them come close to dying, but the series is still going, so I guess you now know they make it. Sorry about that. (#NotSorry)

I soon discovered that the first book was called 'Outlander' in the US. When it was released to the UK, Australia and New Zealand market they made a few changes...cut out some scenes, changed words, fixed up some date anomalies and changed the title. I'll never understand why they changed the name. Cross Stitch brings up images of sewing, but it was explained as crossing in time...i.e. the time travel element to the story.

I learned that Diana Gabaldon was writing a 5th book in the series and that the series would probably end with a 6th book...a double trilogy. Leading up to the release of the 5th book (The Fiery Cross) I re-read the entire series so I could read the new book with everything fresh in my mind. It was released late in 2001. I did this again when the 6th book (A Breath of Snow and Ashes) came out (2005)! I have never done this with any other book or series. I'm an avid reader and like anyone who loves reading I have a pile a mile high of books I want to read, yet with this series I have read the books multiple times. The first many, many times. Incidentally, the 6th book wasn't the end, and Diana Gabaldon continues to write. She's just completed the 8th and has indicated that there are more to come.

About a year ago I heard that the first book was to be made into a TV series. Fantasy casting of the characters has occurred for years and years by the many different fan groups online and now it was a real thing. Ron D Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame was involved and Diana Gabaldon was incredibly positive about the adaptation. Fan groups fretted and fussed over the casting choices as they were announced. It was very exciting when it was announced an Australian partner, Foxtel's SoHo, had signed to screen the Starz series.

Whatever happened, I knew I would love the adaptation. I was a signed up, card carrying fan. They would have had to have cast Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber to have disappointed me. So, as the launch date drew nearer I started seeing clips and interviews. I watched all the interviews from the San Diego Comic Con, I read the reviews, I devoured every single thing I could find. Just over a week ago I saw that SoHo were planning to screen episode 1 for fans selected from a competition. I entered in a variety of ways and succeeded in winning tickets via Random House. (Thank you thank you)

I invited a friend who I used to work with to go with me. We had shared many 'Jamie & Claire' chats when we had realised we were both fans of the series. She was equally excited. Our drive to Richmond in pouring rain was filled with anticipation. As soon as we arrived we saw other fans. They were clutching "pocket Jamie's", eyes wide with excitement. I had started to realise just how widespread the fandom of this series was and just how much we all loved this book series...and it was about to come to life before our very eyes.
It's hard for me to review the episode without gushing. I'm not an unbiased viewer. I loved it before I saw it. As the opening credits rolled my eyes welled with tears. I could hardly believe this was happening. My favourite book had living breathing characters up on the screen. It was amazing.

Since seeing that episode, and being sworn to secrecy, then following online groups where US viewers were discussing their first viewing I've seen a glimpse into a global fan following like nothing I've seen before. Small details have been discussed to within an inch of their life. Things like character features, Jamie's hair colour, Claire's eye colour, the sound of their voices, the way they look at each other, Claire's first husband Frank, THAT scene in the castle, her watch, her belt, her dress, her hair, the Gaelic, the cussing, the voiceover, the gunshot, the music.... I can't ever remember following such an intense dissection of a television show...but these were fans of the book, who had read every sentence and chapter, usually multiple times. Maybe fans of Game of Thrones, or other book to TV adaptations have done the same.

So, the thing is. I love it...and I want you to love it too. In fact I want everyone to love it so much that Starz signs on for a second season, and then a third etc etc... And if you want me at 8.30 on a Thursday evening for the next 8 weeks... I'll be busy back in 1743!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter Art School Holiday Project

I'm currently trying to develop my Teacher portfolio. It's one of those projects that I have a ton of ideas for, but most of them are still in my head and I'm struggling to get them down onto paper, or the computer. In the midst of that it is school holidays and I'd like to do some fun stuff with my kids. So.....

Miss10 and I decided to create a piece of art using Easter egg wrappers. It's something I've wanted to do for ages and also something that I think would be fun, and engaging for kids in a classroom around Easter time. It also fits with a reuse theme, so rather than throwing away the wrappers, you make something fun and visually stimulating. (This is my link to the cross curriculum priority of 'Sustainability' in the Australian Curriculum) :)

Here is the result of several hours of our time... Miss10, being a hoarder like her Mum, had previously saved wrappers and stored them in her craft box, so we had a great stash to start with. She came up with the idea of a rainbow and given the selection of colours we had it seemed a perfect subject matter.

We started by arranging them in colour order.

We did a rough sketch of our rainbow design, including a pot and a cloud.

We then started sticking the colours down using a collage technique.

 Then came our cloud

 and our pot

and some grass

and a couple of chicks, who we made slightly 3D by packing them with some offcuts.

And finally, some gold for our pot

Now, to add to the educational element (and art in itself is a wonderfully crucial aspect of education) I decided to have Miss10 write a poem to accompany the art piece.

Cinquain poetry was introduced to me at uni recently so we googled that and found the main rules for writing this sort of poetry. Essentially, it should have 5 lines.
The first should have 2 syllables
The second should have 4 syllables
The third should have 6 syllables
The fourth shoud have 8 syllables and
The fifth (and final) should have 2 syllables.

Furthermore, each line can follow a format of:

With these general principles, Miss10 came up with a poem to accompany our art:

Rainbow of hope
Into the clouds it goes
Birds chirping at the colourful

Here are the rough drafts

Here is the finished masterpiece:

Integrating art and poetry means I have ticked off on a couple of aspects of Ausvels (level 5 for this purpose since that is the year my daughter is in), including:

English (Writing - literacy):
Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive print and multimodal texts, choosing textstructures, language features, images and sound appropriate to purpose and audience (ACELY1704)
The Arts (working toward level 6, Creating and Making)
At Level 6, students independently and collaboratively experiment with and apply a range of skills, techniques and processes using a range of media, materials, equipment and technologies to plan, develop, refine, make and present arts works. They investigate a range of sources to generate ideas and manipulate arts elements, principles and/or conventions in a range of arts disciplines and forms as they explore the potential of ideas

So, my fun activity with my daughter has resulted in something I can possibly include in my Teacher Portfolio. Win - win... and as I continue with my work, she is searching for a second art project to work on, and already talking about writing a Haiku to go with that one!