Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Gym People

Exercising Female Athlet In Gym-Dress
Click image to see its source.

Most of us are members of a gym, aren't we?
Have you ever watched the people around you? It's fascinating to watch all the different people that turn out to buff and polish.

The Kids
They're teetering on adulthood. The boys are skinny and the girls are too. They are half-hearted but frequent visitors. They wear their school shirts and never take off their earphones. Their phone is always close by.

The Oldies
There are two kinds of oldies - the beautifully presented oldies who have been doing this all their lives: They're fit and can keep up with almost everyone else in the gym. They are either solo or with their other, but they don't socialise.
Then there are the 'new gymmers'. They started when they were older. They know all the instructors by name and love a joke. They do well in the gym, but balance it with a life of fun, good food and wine!

The Couple
They work out together. She holds his bottle, he picks up her towel. They check up on each other several times. Their towels/shoes/shirts match.

The Dutiful
They're there because they've gotta maintain their look. They wear the latest gym wear and they look good, but only because they go to the gym every day. They do their 30 minutes and then they're gone. They leave the class before the cool down.

The Twins
They are both good looking, but one is always a little bit more attractive than the other. They usually spend thirty minutes on the treadmill talking to each other, occasionally breaking into catty arguments. They set up each other's gear and wear matching wrist guards.

The Trainers
They're training for something. They are there every day, sometimes with their coach. They push themselves hard. They sweat and grunt and they are focused. They wear clothes that tell a story - the marathon they ran in, their team colours.

These are the big boys. They wear singlets so you can see how big their muscles are. And they are BIG! Their arms are as big as a grown woman's thighs. They grunt a lot and talk up their 'reps'. They're very polite but don't like to wait for a machine. They like to watch the twins walk.

The Hardcores
They have the latest gear and their sneakers are pristine. Like they've only just bought them, or like they have a pair for every day of the week.  They never grunt or sweat or even seem to exert themselves. They run for an hour with nary a hair out of place. They never, ever look at anyone, especially if it's a fat chick in an oversized t-shirt.

The Fatties
They are keen, I'll give them that. They put all their effort into whatever it is they're doing, but they find it hard to sustain long term. They wear big, baggy t-shirts in the hope that it will hide their lumps and bumps. They pick the spot in the room where there are no mirrors. They sweat, their hair gets messy, and occasionally when they're bending over to pick up the weights, a little fart pops out...but that's OK, no one can hear them!

Have I forgotten anyone? Who do you see when you go? Which one are you?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What do you do when you don't know what to do?

My little boy is hurting. I think.

I told you a little while back about the tears when we told him Merlin was going to die (who, by the way, is still well and truly alive. And nearly 17 in people years!)

A couple of weeks ago, his teacher called me, and said he'd 'changed'. That he was 'flat', and not as chirpy as usual.  That he was regularly drifting off, and not snapping back to attention like he used to. That he was being a bit more 'silly' and 'naughty'. Mainly following others (how like my boys!), but still, somewhat out of character.

He's also lost some of his energy. He's more inclined to want to watch TV or play a video game than to head outside. Some of this is the horrible cold weather we're having at the moment, but I'm always looking for other signs.

Granted, he's been sick lately (the flu kept him at home almost a week), and seems to be still a bit flat after that (with big, worrying black circles under his eyes until a couple of days ago), but always in the back of my mind is that it's about Sam.

Which is fair enough, yeah? I mean, it's only been 18 months (last week) since we lost Sam. And Oliver was a lot younger then. I'm still having trouble understanding it, I can't even imagine how Oliver's processing it.

And the bizarre, tragic, pointless stuff doesn't stop either. Never do we get a chance to say to Oli 'everything's OK. No one's going to die today', everyone's OK.

Last week, a good friend of Anthony's mum was in a freak accident. Something you would never imagine happening. She's now on life support with little prospect of recovery (and no prospect of healthy brain function). Of course Oliver sees how this has affected his grandmother. How could he not? His cousin is also in hospital with complications (I'm assuming) from his recent epilepsy diagnosis. A kid in the class next to his has been in hospital for the last few weeks with collapsed lungs and goodness knows what else.

It's terrible that a kid so young has to see so much death. So much pain. So much grief. But how do you shield them from it? You just can't!

So what do I do? I told Oliver's teacher that I wasn't too worried if he fell a little behind. Which is kind of true. I've always thought that primary school was more about developing kids as people (social skills, communicating etc), so I can handle it if he's a little behind on his reading or maths. Plus I'm a teacher, so I can catch him up if necessary. But what can I expect from them in terms of mental health?

The school counsellor's not an option. They are only in schools once or twice a week, and Oliver doesn't really have an identifiable (by testing) special need, so it's not likely the counsellor will be able to do much.

She also referred me to the school chaplain. At first I baulked at that, because I'm an atheist, but she assured me that they had a non-religious approach to working with kids. So I'm thinking about that.

I think what I'll probably do is take him to my GP. Get him checked out - the full works. Perhaps from there a psychologist? I don't know.

But in the mean time, I've organised a special trip. Just for him and me.

In the holidays, we're going to drive down to Melbourne. We had a fairly nice time there last year, and I wanted to see my Grandpa, so I took some leave and decided to take him down. During our trip, I've booked a hotel near the city for three nights, so we can do some touristy stuff, like the zoo and the Tutankhamen and Lego exhibitions, and just hang out. The two of us. Days busy doing the running around, but nights at the hotel watching movies and playing cards. With no distractions. Just me and him.

Because a lot of how I react to Oli's situation is guilt. Guilt because I'm at work every day, and taking on study and gym commitments; which I know are good for my mental health, but I feel guilty about them because I'm not 'here' for Oli.

It's not like he's all alone. I mean, Anthony's here with him all the time, and he does a good job of it too. But still I have the guilt. It's probably not rational (and I know I shouldn't worry about Anthony thing, because he's not the same man that he was when he and Sam were in this carer situation - something I may write about one day), but it's there.

So to compensate, I do what I do best: overcompensate.

Still, I think it will be a nice trip. It will be nice for us to hang out, to talk (6 hours in a car together kinda promotes conversation), to do some mum/son things. I'm looking forward to it. I think he is too. Let's hope it helps. Even if just a little bit.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let your smile be your umbrella!

I was having a bit of a whinge today about some people that have been getting me down lately. I know, I know, hard to imagine me having a whinge about something, huh??
So Paul, my boss, told me that I should write about it.

It's not a bad idea really, because writing about things does seem to help. It must be that the act of putting them down on paper blogper gets them out if my head.

Anyway, aside from the lying and the broken promises mentioned previously, there are two other...let's call personality traits, that get to me.

The first one is negativity. At the moment, in my job, I am facing a bit of it. Not because I suck at my job (I'm hoping!) but because things aren't working the way people want them to, and as the public face for some of these things, I cop a lot of their opinions.
The trouble is, when people are constantly negative around me, it really brings me down. Because I'm a naturally positive person (or at least I was once!), it can be hard to be around people that can't find the good in anything.

Those of you that know me might wonder that if this is the case, why I am with Anthony? He is a fairly pessimistic old soul, and he certainly projects a serious gruff image to the world, but I can (mostly) deal with his brand of negativity. Sometimes it can be a good balance Tony over-the-top-ness!

And let's face it, he (and I) both have some cause to be negative. In fact, that's one of the things that gets to me when people are being negative. Sometimes I just feel like telling them how good they've got it, that they can't even begin to imagine what horrible feels like...

It's more of a problem when there is more than one person carrying on. It's contagious! Before I know it, I'm going along for the ride! It takes all my strength to pull myself out of it.

The other thing that gets to me is people that are constantly singing their own praises. I truly believe in giving credit where credit's due, and sometimes these people are very clever or talented, but by god I get sick of hearing about it! Especially when I know that there are 5 other people who are just as clever, that are just getting on with it. Of course they don't get the recognition or the accolades (what's that saying- the squeaky wheel gets the most grease?), but that doesn't mean they're not as good. Or better.

I could go on I suppose, but that's really all I wanted to say. I guess I'm being negative myself, but it's nice to get it off my chest.

And here's my challenge to you. Pick someone, at your work, or in your street or somewhere, and either do something positive for them (bake them a cake, smile at them, wash up their coffee cup). Or give someone some recognition. Tell the boss about something good they did, or write them a thank you note. Then please, tell me (and my readers) about it. Let's spread some happy vibes around, see if we can't turn those frowns upside down!! (that one's for you Paul!)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cookin' up a storm

I've always quite liked cooking. When I was younger, it was mainly sweet things: cakes, bikkies etc, which I did pretty well - most of the time. I remember once I made a chocolate coconut slice with the recipe calling for 3/4 of a cup of sugar. I read it as 3-4 cups....let's just say it was pretty sweet!

During my teens, I started to branch out into meal-type dinners. Not too often for the family (sorry mum and dad!), but quite often for my friends. My neighbour and old (as in I've known here a long time!) friend Meg and I used to like throwing dinner parties. They were always fun, and occasionally spectacular! (a story for another day!)

As I've said before, by the time Anthony and I had settled into domesticity, I wasn't an amazing cook. I could heat up a meal frozen fish fillet and boy could I microwave peas, but that was about it. I could still make nice cakes, but didn't do it as much.

But over the years I've become much better at it. Mainly because I had to: you know, nutritious foods for my kids; and the fact that Anthony doesn't really cook (again, a story for another day).
But I do like knowing what's going into my kid's mouth. It's not that I go crazy sourcing organic, free-range everything, but the fact that I rarely cook processed meals makes a difference - to my sense of fulfillment if nothing else.

Until recently, the only exception has been school lunches. In the past, I'd occasionally cook a batch of bikkies or something, but for the most part, the kids would take 'snacky' type things for recess. Not chips and lollies, because I never buy those (I know, I'm so mean!), but things like muesli bars and fruit sticks.

But for the last couple of months I've been spending my Sundays (well, at least part of them) cooking up snacks for Anthony and Oliver. Today I'm making blackberry muffins (with blackberries from my garden!), muesli slice and ham/mayo twirls. Last weekend I made the twirls, pizza scrolls, Anzac bikkies, as well as a soup, a spag-bol, a roast lamb dinner and an apple an berry crumble.

It's nice to get back into the cooking thing! I wonder how long I can keep it up??

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sam and his phone

A couple of years back, I was sitting waiting for a meeting to start and checking my emails. I noticed there was an email from Sam. (I've spent the last couple of weeks searching through archived mail for it, but to no avail sadly).

In really really tiny writing, he told me that he had lost his phone at school. He'd only had it a few months - we'd come to an arrangement regarding the bills and he'd bought it on a plan.

Well when the story came out, it turned out that it had actually been stolen. While out on the oval, a kid had asked to look at it, and it was the last Sam saw of it. Another thing I found out later was that I knew this kid (I'd taught him a couple of years previously), and he was seriously messed up. It wasn't a surprise to find out it was him.

It said a couple of things about Sam too - that he was trusting enough (or naive enough) to let someone else take his phone from him, and that he didn't like making trouble. He'd sent me the email rather than reporting it to the school.

I went one better than that. I reported it to both the school and the police. They (both the school and the police) were very good about it. The police came around that evening and took a statement, but we all knew we'd never see the phone again.

So Sam had to make do with my old phone for a while. Because we still had more than a year's contract payments to go, I wasn't going to go out and get him another one. I told him that if he wanted a new one, he'd have to save up.

And save he did. He was very good about it. By Christmas (3-4 months later) he had almost enough. And when Christmas Day pushed him over the edge, guess where he wanted to go?
That's right, by 10am on Boxing Day, he had his new phone...
Of course, his run of bad luck continued. A couple of months later, he went to the coast with his friend Ryan, and managed to drop the phone in a salt water puddle. It was never the same again.

Still, he persisted with it, it did enough that he could still actually use it. But by the end of 2009 he was talking new phones. We even took a phone catalogue to dinner on my birthday to talk about the cool new phones we both might get.

We all know how that ended up...

It's amazing though how important Sam's phone was to him. He was never without it, and texted his friends well into the night (we often heard the telltale 'beep beep' at all hours).

And the phone gave us a little of Sam after he was gone. It sits on his shelf not doing much, but it's there if we need it. I've also left his sim card active, so that we can call and hear his voice on the voice mail ("Hi, it's Sam, leave a message") whenever we need to remember what it sounded like...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lies! All Lies!

The best way to keep one's word is not to give it.  ~Napoleon Bonaparte

I place a lot of value on honesty. that's not say that I'm a saint that's never told an untruth, but I try very hard not to. I also try hard to do the things that I say I'm going to do.

So, you can imagine that two things that really get to me are when people lie, and when people don't do what they say they're going to do.

We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us.  But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.  ~Tad Williams

Being  a mother, teacher and someone who reads people fairly well, I can spot a lie pretty easily. My kids learned early on that it probably wasn't worth telling me a lie, as they tended to get caught out fairly quickly. There's not really much that makes me more angry than someone who disrespects me/themselves so much that they feel they have to lie.
Now, I know there are times when we 'have' to lie. The whole Santa Claus/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy thing comes to mind. I guess I could have told them right from the start that it was all a concoction, but I didn't want to be the party killer in that respect. And I didn't want them to be the only kid in the class that didn't believe (and spoiled it for everyone else). I'm not comfortable with it, but it's one of those 'for the greater good' lies; like telling your friend their butt doesn't really look good in those jeans, or your kids that you really did like their char-grilled toast.

Apart from that, we've tried hard not to lie to our kids. It's led to some pretty hairy conversations over the years, but at least we can look back and say 'we didn't lie'.
I guess part of it that I've never been very good at telling lies myself. My dad could always spot me in a lie (perhaps it's a Sagittarius thing?) , and I guess I lost confidence in my abilities pretty quick. These days I try not to tell lies, because I know sooner or later I'll stuff it up. It means that I occasionally upset people - the whole truth thing plus my propensity to talk first, think later, is probably not the optimum combination for keeping people happy - but in the long run it's better.

But I'm surprised at how many people think it's OK to lie to me. Sometimes people that are close to me. I always know, either straight away from their body language, or later because they forget some aspect of it and stuff up. 

I don't call them on it. Perhaps I should, but you know me, don't want to rock the boat. It pisses me off though. Especially when they're standing in front of me telling me a bald-faced lie that I know is absolute rubbish. Each time they do that, I lose a little bit more respect for them.

Promises are like the full moon, if they are not kept at once they diminish day by day. ~German Proverb

And then there's the lying by omission. The other thing that gets to me is people that say they are going to do something, then don't.
Now, of course I don't think that everyone should be running around doing things for me, and I know that sometimes things come up that get in the way of what we've promised. But once again, it all comes down to respect. 

If I have told someone I'll do something and something gets in the way (I don't want to any more, someone gets sick, I can't afford it etc), I feel like the least I can do is tell them. I don't always tell them why, but I try very hard to let them know that it's not going to happen.

Because it really pisses me off when people promise something, and don't deliver, but don't let you know.

One example I can think of, a few years ago we had a New Year's Eve party. I know now this is dangerous territory, as everyone has lost of invitations on New Year's Eve. Anyway, I talked to a lot of people about it, and invited a lot of people, most of whom said they'd come, or at least 'drop in for a while'. So on that basis I bought a heap of grog, food and decorations. I even forked out $400 to hire some pinball machines and a pool table for the night.

Less than 10 people showed up over the entire night. Now I know you probably think it's silly for me to mention this several years later, but it's a good example of what I'm talking about. Of the 30-odd other people who told me they'd come, only 1 or 2 bothered to call and say they couldn't make it. If they'd all called, then perhaps it wouldn't have gotten to me so much.

I get so sick of it, because it does happen a lot. How hard is it to call (or send a quick text message) to say 'I'm sorry, something's come up'?

Like I said, I think it's all about respect. What do you guys think? Do you take the time to call text? Can you pick a lie at 30 paces? Am I overreacting (apart from the NYE party thing, I know I am there!)

"Liar, Liar, Pants for Hire" - Oliver

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Do you think they make me look smarter?

Nah, you can still see your face...

Do you remember that line from Grease? In that scene, Rizzo was talking about Frenchie's glasses. I'm talking about degrees. Or more specifically my degrees.

As you know, this semester I started my Masters. A lot of people, when I tell them, say "oh no, how can you study? I hated uni", and stuff like that.

But I actually do like it. I love learning new things, and studying at university is one way to do that. Yes, it takes up some time that I could probably do other things (watch TV? Housework?), but I do quite enjoy it. People talk about how long it takes, and how boring it is, and how they can learn new stuff without getting a piece of paper to go with it. And they probably have a good point. I guess I like that bit of paper. That little bit of recognition (am I still craving my little bit of fame perhaps? Left over from my 'I wanna be a movie star' days?)

Yesterday, Yong Zhao, a well respected educator and academic, came to talk to some of the principals, teachers and office staff here in the ACT. I was so inspired and captivated by him, I watched his presentation 3 times.

And those three times, while there was some of the same content, he managed to spin it around and make it relevant to whoever was sitting in the room. He had everyone in the palm of his hand. He was truly a great speaker. Perhaps one day I'll tell you about some of his ideas about the future of education.

But the reason, I think, that he was so great is that he's a really smart guy. A smart guy that knows how to talk to people. To make them think, to make them laugh. A guy that knows his stuff, and has a good answer to every possible question someone might throw at him.

I don't think I'm that smart. I wish I was, I really do. I'd love to be someone like him, that travels the world inspiring people to do really great things.

But the truth is, I'm not.

It's not that I'm dumb. I know a lot of stuff, and I have experienced many things. But I just don't think I have that 'total package' of above-average intelligence, as well as a knack with words. Spoken words especially (have I told you about my tendency to let my mouth run way ahead of my brain?)

So perhaps that's why I study. Not because I want to be smarter, but perhaps because I feel I need to prove myself (hence the piece of paper). That I can't (like some of the amazing people I work with, and have worked with in the past) absorb new ideas and information or naturally do really amazing, innovative things. For me to really understand things (some of the things some of the people mentioned here seem to grasp instantly and easily), I need to read, to write, to throw all the ideas together on a page and move them around until they make sense to me.
And don't get me wrong, I do that pretty well. I got great marks all through my Bachelor's degree, and so far, so good with the Masters. I'm not trying to put myself down, I just wish that I had a bit more of the....well I don't even know what to call it!

Actually, I would like to be really great at something. Anything. Yong said yesterday that to be really great at something, it takes 10000 hours. I'm not sure if I've put 10000 hours into anything in my life. Perhaps that's why. I've done lots (and lots) of things in my life, taken up lots (and lots) of different hobbies, but there hasn't really been anything that I've been great at, or so passionate about that I would devote that kind of time to it.

Ken Robinson talks about finding your element (great book by the way, if you get the chance, have a look at it). The thing that you love doing and that you do really well. He says that when we find our element, we can achieve great things. I have a feeling that my element is something to do with teaching. I'm just not sure what type of teaching: kids, adults, monkeys...who knows? Or maybe learning. Because I love learning. I do it well. Sometimes in very short bursts, but I always do it well.

All I know is that I walked out of there yesterday with a desire to study even more. Ideas for PhD topics have been popping up in my head all day! But I guess it's best to finish my Masters first!

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Being the type of person that I am (that is, the addictive, impulsive type), when I find something I enjoy, I tend to focus all my energy on it, getting very actively involved. You would have seen it with my photography thing last year, but believe me, I've done it with many other things in life.

Some things, I continue with. Some I don't (you should see my guitar collection! I can play maybe two songs...) Some, I come back to a long way down the track. Some things (this is, I believe, the shortest of my lists), I actually stick with.

I'm just one of those people. I like experiencing new things, and I tend to get bored (or maybe just restless) when I do the same thing for too long (Don't tell Anthony that! 17 years is probably my record for sticking with something!)
It was a problem for me at school too, because I also loved (love) meeting new people. There was an expectation at school (I guess there probably still is) that when you found a group of friends, you stuck with them forever. It wasn't that I didn't like the friends I had, or that I didn't want to hang out with them, it was just that I liked hanging out with the others too.

But I digress. My current 'passion' is Sh'Bam (Anthony calls it Sham WOW!). I've mentioned it briefly already. I must say I'm absolutely hooked. Sh'Bam is a Les Mills class that I've been doing for about 6 weeks. It's a dance-based workout, a little like Zumba, but easier and not as focused on Latin music. It's kind of like going to a Blue-Light disco to workout. And it's so much fun! No matter what kind of mood I'm in when I arrive, I end up with a huge smile on my face by the end. Always wanting more too.

It's not the first time I've gotten hooked on exercise. You might even remember last year I was talking the same way about Zumba (which I would still be doing, if they ran it at my gym. I just can't justify the expense on top of my gym membership).

I've always liked dancing. It could be the steady diet of Hollywood musicals that I grew up on (thanks dad!), or perhaps because I'm a musical person anyway. I've always been a little disappointed that Anthony isn't a dancer, but I never really let that stop me dancing (luckily he's not the jealous type!) I used to love the blue light discos when I was a kid, and have been caught many a time dancing in the loungeroom!

So I'm hooked. I'm currently getting to 2-3 Sh'Bam classes a week, but would probably go every day if I could. It's doing some good things for my body: I feel better and I'm sure that some of the fat is coming off. But more importantly, it's doing great things for my mental health.

As I said, every time I go, I end up with a huge grin on my face. And it's pretty hard to do that some times. Especially lately. I've been so fed up with everything lately (which I'm sure was reflected in my blog). I seemed to be doing everything for everyone else, but getting nothing back. I've been completely ignored by people that should know better, and too supportive of people who definitely haven't earned it. I've spent too long on work stuff that wasn't really all that meaningful and, worst of all, have been neglecting myself. There's nothing worse than neglecting yourself to do stuff for other people.

If you ever pay attention to self-help stuff, you'll notice they talk a lot about looking after yourself.  I'm very aware of that and these days, I usually do it pretty well, but lately I haven't been. But Sh'Bam is a good way for me to get back into it. I'm definitely hooked. I don't know how long it will last, but while it does, I'm gonna through myself whole-heartedly into it. I'm not going to let anything get in the way of going. It might mean I upset some people, but it's not about them. It's about me. Because when I look after myself, everyone benefits.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I think it was around this time last year that things took a slide for me. I wonder if it's the cold weather. Getting up when it's dark, coming home from work when it's seems harder to get anything done and everyone's tired and cranky.
Winter is so demotivating. And it doesn't help that it's been freezing cold for the last month too.

I've had some real cranky moments lately. Some of the people I know have been doing really stupid/annoying/crazy/selfish things, and that, combined with my high levels of busyness and stress, have made me a very grumpy, and sometimes sad person.

There have been some nice moments - the award nomination was nice (I didn't win, but -as they say - "It was nice just to be nominated"), and I found out that my job's been extended until next January, and I had a nice evening at Goodberry's with the boys, Laura and Jocelyn last weekend.

So that stuff keeps me going. but god - It's times like these I really do wish I lived somewhere warmer. Like Queensland, or even Newcastle!

I'm also having a massive block (as you've probably noticed). I think that this blog has really served me well over the last 18 months, but I'm having trouble thinking of things to write about Sam. As I said, I have to dig stuff out. And when I do I'll have some new topics, but until I get a moment to do that, I'm stuck.

I also need a new direction for my blog. I do like writing, but I've gotta think of what I'm going to write about now. Oliver and family stuff? Daily observations? My weight loss journey? Current affairs commentary? Creative Writing?

Hmmmmmm.....I'll get back to you. Soon, I promise!