Month: January 2020

Keeping it Weird

The bumper-sticker ‘Keepin’ it Weird Austin, Texas‘, has a special place in my home. Not that I’ve been there, but my son has. And I love that there is a whole city that is weird – and proud!

And if Alexis is anything to go by, then I’m all for a whole city of weird.

Let me tell you about Alexis.

A friend and I stopped for a coffee at The Churchill while holidaying in Wellington, New Zealand, a couple of years ago. The coffee was good and the conversation with the young girl who took our order was even better.

Being the chatty person I am, I asked where her accent was from. I’m never sure whether it’s a Canadian or American accent. And I’ve learned from experience to never, ever guess. Some Canadians get a bit upset if you get it wrong. It’s a bit like asking an Australian what part of New Zealand they’re from.

Keeping it weird

Alexis was from Austin, Texas.

My American friend was quick to remind Alexis of the – keeping it weird in Austin – slogan.

But as far as weird goes, there was nothing weird about Alexis. She was an extraordinary young person, on a working holiday in New Zealand. And in the course of the conversation she told us her next journey would be to Australia.

Naturally, I gave Alexis my contact details and asked her to stay in touch. And she did.

The Vlog!

I had never heard of a Vlog – but Alexis has one.

Instead of writing about your holiday – you Video it. Add a bit of background music and dialogue and you’ve got yourself a Vlog. It’s a great way of sharing places you’ve been.

Alexis made it to Australia and I caught up with her in Byron Bay. And there was just enough time to show her around my area before she set off on another adventure.

Alexis loved the sunset at Tumbulgum

And I am really glad they are keeping it weird in Austin. I’m totally okay with that.

Is eccentric the same as weird?

Maybe that’s why I like the idea of keeping it weird – it fits so well with my eccentricity.

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 2 comments

High Humidity, With a Chance of Paint.

The weather over the past three days is enough to challenge anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I love summer, but this is beyond a joke! There might be a slight breeze blowing but the high humidity overrides any benefit from the movement of the leaves.

Looking at the weather report for my area shows that the high humidity today, is a lot less than the 98% of a few days ago, but it is still bad!

That’s Celsius, not Fahrenheit

I don’t usually put the air-conditioner on because I hate they way it dries out the air. Some people sleep with them on – but not me. My bedroom window is open all year round, and in summer the fan whirs happily above my bed. Yep – you’ll often hear me complain about how hot it is, but I just hate having the air-con on.

But not so the last two days! I had to give in because the heat and high humidity were unbearable. It felt like my head would explode!

I still can’t sleep with air-con on, but I had relief from the heat for at least a few hours through the day.

Paint!

Today, I can’t put the air-con on, despite the high humidity. One of the jobs I have to get done is painting a kitchen chair. I can’t procrastinate any longer, today is the day!

Most of my painting projects happen on the balcony at the back of my place. There’s enough room. and I have a built in workbench – the top of the air-conditioning unit. By throwing a plastic sheet over the top, I have plenty of room to store the paint, roller, brush, whatever, while I work on whatever I’m painting.

Oh, and I’ve learned (the hard way) to work a bit smarter with DIY jobs. I only stripped down two of the chairs, leaving a total of two fully intact chairs to sit on. I might add, I stripped those two chairs down a few weeks ago, and I’ve only managed to paint one so far. Did I use the word ‘procrastinate’ earlier? Yep – thought I did. It’s amazing what jobs you find around the house while avoiding the ones you don’t really want to do..

The chair in question was already on the balcony so I went out a while ago to get started. Less than a minute later the chair, paint, plastic sheet and painting tools were all in the kitchen.

It was way too hot out there!

It isn’t much cooler in the kitchen, but at least the sun isn’t beating down on me, threatening to burn my shirt into my skin.

When the high humidity runs down your cheeks

Have you ever tried painting with perspiration running from your forehead, down your cheeks, dripping onto anything in its path? Including the chair you’re trying to paint?

No problem, I thought, I’ll turn the air-con on. Oh wait, you have to have ventilation while you paint. If I turn the air-con on I have to close the doors and windows.

For the next minute I pondered the validity of the ventilation rule. I was using Chalk Paint. Does that have toxicity?

I put my nose near the edge of the paint tin for a whiff of the paint.

It smelled okay to me – actually – it smelled good. But then I remembered I added some Essential Oils to the newly opened tin a few weeks earlier. For once I didn’t consult Google on the pros and cons. Sorry, Paint-Police – I just did it.

And that came about because I painted my bed with Chalk Paint a few years ago. I’m not sure if it was the paint, or the wax I applied afterwards, but it’s had a bit of a ‘smell’ to it since then. That’s another job on my To Do List – repaint the bed.

Back to the chair…

With the paint smelling just fine, my mind wandered off on a hidden toxic journey. What if the paint has deep, dark toxic chemicals that don’t have any odour? And what if those deep, dark toxic chemicals get into the air-conditioning? They could end up being delivered to every corner of my abode. Including the bedroom. Heck, I could be breathing in those deep, dark toxic chemicals while I sleep!

I looked back at the unpainted chair, just as another drop of perspiration made a futile attempt at escape. The corner of my painting-apron caught it just in time. I gave the rest of my brow a cursory wipe as the high humidity hung ominously over me.

And then I thought some more…

The kitchen window was open. And there was air, albeit hot-air, circulating between the front and back doors. Oh, and the fan in the lounge room was in full-swing.

I picked up the roller and started.

Did I mention – I am not a painter?

When I painted the first chair I used a brush. I figured it would be good for getting into all the little fiddly bits. And it was – but the job took forever and there were lots of little lines left where it should have been smooth.

Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the little microfibre rollers that I bought to paint a wall – that was before the man at the Hardware store convinced me to use a B-I-G roller for the wall. I’m sure I saw his eyes roll when I told him about the little rollers I’d bought. But at least he was gracious enough not to make any comments about my apparent lack of knowledge or skills.

Using the roller to paint the chair was much quicker! And I’m hoping there’ll be less need to sand off the mistakes. Although the first coat looks a bit thin – is it supposed to look thin?

Well, it’s probably dry already. But I sat down to write while I waited for the first coat to dry – and it is so much cooler here in my writing chair. The breeze is now blowing cooler air across the room between the two open doors. The high humidity seems to be dropping a little. And the clouds are increasing with a promise of rain.

We’ve had a few storms lately. Each one promising to release its grip on the hot steamy weather, which it does while the rain is falling. But within minutes of the rain stopping, we are back in the grip of heat and high humidity.

Will this heat and high humidity ever end?

Not likely.

The humidity is higher now than it was earlier today. As you can see, we don’t get much of a reprieve at night.

But at least I’ve made a decent start on the chair. The second coat is on and I’m just waiting for it to dry so I can do the other bits.

I paint everything white because my hair is white – and the paint doesn’t show up on it. Somehow I always start painting from the top instead of the bottom, so I usually end up with paint on my hair…

But because this year was going to be my year for bright colours (or was that last year?) – I’m thinking about painting each chair a different colour. And since I haven’t decided which bright coloured fabric I’ll use to cover the seat yet, I should probably decide on the chair colour first. I should only need one coat of colour over the two coats of white – right?

I’m not good with matching colours so my house is a mis-match of pinks, blues, gold, orange, red and a colour called Kakadu – kind of an earthy green. And of course – white!

So any colour should work well…

Any suggestions?

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 0 comments

Finding Your Blogging Niche…

By Not Finding Your Blogging Niche

Most experts agree that finding your blogging niche is the starting point of a successful blog. Find something you’re good at or know a lot about, they say, and simply write.

I didn’t find my blogging niche!

A few years ago I blundered into my blog-world the same way I blunder through life. I didn’t read the instructions first – I just did it.

Everything starts with an idea – sometimes not even a substantial one – more like a whim. And then before I know it, I’m up to my neck in it, for better or for worse. Yep, relationships were no exception.

It’s only when I failed that I took the time to find and read the instructions.

Who are you writing for?

Find a niche, they said, and write.

I tried.

I signed up for a couple of Ultimate Blog Challenges (UBC). The challenge is to write a blog a day, for the entire month. You can either free-write or follow the prompts that Paul sends out.

Sometimes the prompts are life-savers, especially when you can’t think of anything to write about. At other times they are like being on the ocean in a boat with a hole in it. No matter how much water you bale out, you’re still sinking.

Some blog posts were easy to write.

Others not only sank, but almost swallowed me up as well. Especially a recent blog that is still sitting in my Draft Folder. The only reason it didn’t suffer the ‘delete’ function is because I’d put so much work into it.

Is it just about your blogging niche?

According to the experts, finding your blogging niche forms the basis of a successful blog.

I’d like to take that a step further.

You have to honour your writing style. No matter how good your niche is, if you don’t apply your unique writing style, it probably won’t work.

My writing style is me. It’s what carries my passion to the screen or page.

I’ve clocked up a few miles around this planet in my lifetime and I was convinced my blogging niche was in the travel field. I love writing about where I’ve been and the adventures I’ve had.

But recently I tried a serious approach to a prompt on the UBC. It sank faster than a lead balloon. I mean, it was rotten to the core. It’s the one I mentioned earlier – the one sitting in my Drafts Folder. I will resurrect it one day. And I’ll rewrite it in my writing style.

I found my niche!

My writing style – the one I’m most comfortable with – is conversational. It’s pretty much the way I’d say it if I was having a conversation with you. Kind of casual. And probably way too wordy…. But I’m working on that – trust me!

When that great (potential) work of art flopped, I figured it out. I can write about something I’m passionate about, but if I try coming at it from a formal perspective, it ain’t gonna work. And that pièce de résistance will be stuck there in draft format until I rewrite it in my style.

Once I figured out my style, and how important it is, I figured out my blogging niche.

For me, it isn’t about finding a single topic or theme, it’s about writing about anything. As long as I use my writing style! It’s kind of like my niche style, I guess.

It works when I use my writing style to write about anything

By not finding my blogging niche – I found my blogging niche!

Yep – I think that’s going to take another blog to explain – another day….

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 8 comments

An Hour in the Car

I love how much thinking I can do while I’m driving. This morning I had to drive to Southport, on the Gold Coast, for a minor car repair. It was no big deal – the service department just didn’t have the part they needed when they serviced my car last week. And an hour in the car gave me quality thinking time.

The traffic wasn’t too bad, given that I allowed almost three hours to get there. And I based that on the catastrophe of an attempt to get to Southport a few weeks ago.

I had booked the car in for a service on a Friday morning. And I allowed two hours for the one hour journey because the major link between home and the Gold Coast is so unpredictable.

That didn’t end well…

The twenty minute drive along a minor road to meet the major highway was uneventful. That is, until I arrived at the juncture of the two roads. Brake-lights stretched ahead for as far as I could see. Cars in front of me were taking advantage of the gully that linked to the roundabout (traffic circle?) that would take them back in the direction they had just come. The road back also links to a detour across the range.

But not me. I thought I would stick it out. After all, experience told me that traffic-jams like this were usually short-lived. So I sat there. And waited. I phoned the Service Centre and explained I may be a little late. No problem, they assured me, just call us again at 9 o’clock if you are still stuck.

By 9 o’clock I had only just merged onto the highway. And judging by the degree of ‘stuck-ness’ I was in, I wasn’t going to get to Southport until at least lunchtime. I had no way of knowing there was a truck accident just around the bend from where I was stuck!

So I phoned back and rescheduled for the following week, which was last week. That trip only took about an hour-and-a-half. I was lucky!

Murphy’s Law?

I allowed three hours to get there today, just in case. Besides, it wasn’t a service on my car, just a simple repair. If I got there early, they could start early.

I’m beginning to wonder if Murphy’s Law has something to do with the traffic? If I allow two hours for a one-hour journey, it will take a lot longer. But if I allow three hours for the trip, there’ll be no traffic and I’ll blitz it in just over an hour.

The advantage of no traffic (or accidents) today meant I could indulge in some quality thinking time. Once I was on the dreaded highway, it was a straight drive for about 30kms to the Southport exit.

My thinking meandered through a lot of topics, but the one that had the most impact was ‘human nature’. Not the Aussie band ‘Human Nature’, the other type. You know, the one that makes seemingly sane people do crazy things.

And surprisingly, as people get older, human nature seems to kick into overdrive. I witness the idiosyncrasies of human nature on a daily basis. At its best and its worst!

At its best I see seniors living happy, productive lives long after their careers have ended. They get involved with volunteer work and are just happy, contented people.

But at its worst I see seniors who are demanding, threatening and seem to be on some sort of power trip. Luckily, the worst are a very small minority.

And that’s where the human nature element ramps up.

Were they always like that or is their behaviour a manifestation of grief?

Are they grieving lost opportunities; wrong choices; loss of career; loss of power; or even lack of power throughout their career? Were they stuck in a subordinate role when they really wanted to be the boss?

Could it be fear?

The older we get, the closer we are to sitting in our Maker’s waiting room. But there’s a big difference between sitting in the waiting room, and sitting in the waiting room with joggers on. I’ve met the ones with joggers on, ready to sprint up those stairs when they get the call. They’re the ones who want something done, yesterday! They don’t have time to wait for tomorrow. I mean, they could get that call at any time, right? Tomorrow might not come – for them… and they sure as heck don’t want to miss out on whatever it is they want you to do for them.

These people are struggling through what’s left of their life, weighed down by a huge grudge.

Who would want to do that?

Okay, that part comes down to personal choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose to be grumpy.

But that doesn’t give anyone the right to make everyone around them suffer, does it?

It’s like a ripple that goes through a huge pond, touching everything in its wake. Fortunately, ripples are caused by a small object impacting a wider expanse of water. If it was a large object, it would cause a tsunami-like effect.

By now you’re probably wondering why I would spend an hour in the car, thinking about ripples, tsunamis and human nature?

The answer to that question is simple.

I‘m one of the swimmers in the wider-pond, impacted by the ripples far too frequently. I just want to swim peacefully by. I don’t want to be bobbed up and down, twisted and turned – like a cork-screw in the ocean (where did that saying come from?).

But it happens.

I know it is human nature and I know some of the reasons that might contribute to it. But it doesn’t make it any easier to navigate. Especially since I chose the word ‘ignore’ as my word for 2020.

If I could just swim around the edge of the pond I could probably ignore the ripples – but I can’t. My job is to get amongst those ripples and help sort out their problems. Which I’m happy to do, as part of a bigger team. But the impatience, constant threats, accusations, and generally miserable attitudes of the ripplers are hard to ignore.

Each member of the team I’m part of is conscientious, dedicated and works tirelessly to accomodate the requests of everyone in the pond. I should have added ‘volunteer’ to that list. This isn’t a paid gig.

When volunteers are called for, the ripplers are off swanning around somewhere else. Their raised hands are conspicuously absent.

Their job, as far as they are concerned, is to sit back and throw objects into the pond. I mean, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s much easier to be an armchair critic, sitting back in your comfy position of opposition.

I reckon they’re the ones just hanging around in the waiting room of their Maker. Some are still looking for their joggers, while others have theirs well and truly strapped on.

And before I upset the Ageist Police, some of these ripplers are a lot younger than I am. They are not all ‘very-senior’ seniors, although some are.

So an hour in the car this morning unleashed a lot of thinking. Not all productive, I might add.

If I was being seriously productive, I wouldn’t have wasted the hour thinking about the problem. I would have used the hour to come up with a viable solution. But I didn’t.

So I’m still no closer to working out why human nature becomes so complex, the older we get, and what we can do about it.

But as I sit here at Taco Bell (lunching), having dispensed with the minor car repair, I wonder where my thoughts will take me on the drive home?

That highway is so unpredictable it could be more than an hour in the car, so I might have enough time to actually come up with a solution to the problem.

Maybe an hour in the car isn’t such a good thing…

Perhaps I think too much…

Maybe I could just listen to some good music instead.

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 2 comments

The Principal’s Office

I don’t remember what day it was when I sat outside the Principal’s office.

The door was closed so I still had time to decide if I would run, or stay. The choices were simple enough. But what was behind each choice, made it hard to decide. To run was to give up – but to stay was to commit to something bigger than I’d ever done before.

I stayed.

It started with a dream

When I was five years old I made a decision to be a teacher. It was a dream that would continue to haunt me.

Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay 

I didn’t think of ambitions the way other girls did, switching from Air Hostess to Nurse on a whim. I just didn’t think about it at all. If I couldn’t be a teacher, I didn’t really want to be anything. And at that point in my life, becoming a teacher was a long way from my reality.

By the time Year 10 was drawing to a close, I knew what I didn’t want to do, but not what I wanted to do when I walked out the gate for the last time..

There were four logical options:

  1. nursing
  2. working in a bank
  3. become a secretary
  4. finish senior school and go to University.

Nobody really talked about the fourth option. Besides, the nearest (Catholic) school that provided the last two years of secondary education was twenty miles away.

Nursing and banking were the most talked about options.

I didn’t want to do either – and I certainly couldn’t imagine being a secretary, cooped up in an office all day.

Leaving School was the only option

Tears flowed on the last day of that school year. We said our goodbyes and drifted apart.

I didn’t look back. And I didn’t look forward.

When I applied for a job in a local Department Store, the manager gave me a maths test. He commented on my quick responses, but the questions were just too easy. And I started work immediately.

Pretty soon I was promoted to the office. I was the newest employee and the youngest. My promotion upset a lot of older women. But I kept my head down and learned the new skills I needed.

And somewhere in that post-school year I met my future husband. He was in the Air Force. But what would you expect when you live in a military town?

He walked into my office one day and I immediately read the look of sadness on his face. He had been posted interstate. And they’d given him a little over a week to be there.

We got married in that week. I was eighteen and he was twenty. It all seemed perfectly normal to us.

Family Life

Before we knew it, we were a family of four. I was twenty-one and was coping with a new baby and a two-year old. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t that hard either. I just did it.

When I look back I can see how I just took everything in my stride.

After four years interstate we were posted back to my home town. We worked hard and bought our first home just before our youngest child turned five.

The following year, my daughter would start the same school as her older brother. And the school was about a block and a half from our home.

The Dream

I had no reason to be at home all day while my kids were at school. It didn’t make any sense. What would I do with myself all day?

The dream that had been cocooned all those years somewhere deep in my soul, started to emerge. Just little bits at first, you know – like ‘what-if’s’:

What if I could:

  • go to College now?
  • do my teacher-training?
  • graduate as a teacher?

But the dream kept trailing off. There was always the But…

‘But, you need to finish secondary school to go to College’.

There was a night-class about fifteen miles away where I could finish those last two years of school. But how could I not be there for my family at night? That just wouldn’t work.

I was talking about the ‘but’s’ at my daughter’s Playgroup that week and someone asked why I wouldn’t just go to our local high school?

The Principal’s Office

Christmas came and went and the new school year began. I settled my son into his new school year and my daughter into her Kindergarten year.

As I sat outside the Principal’s office at my local high school that day, my future was in his hands. I thought about the commitment I needed if I was going to make this work. And I wondered if I had the strength to do it.

When I left home at eighteen there was no fear. I just did it. Even having children at such a young age didn’t scare me – I just did it.

So why was I so terrified now?

The door opened…

I could barely think of what to say, but somehow blurted out “I want to come back to school”.

Mr Pope obviously hadn’t had too many requests like that. In fact, he had to leave the room to make a phone call – and I suspect it was to District Office, seeking permission to enrol a twenty-six year old.

He finally returned, and he had good and bad news. I could enrol, but I would have to wear the school uniform and follow school-rules – including no jewellery. In hindsight, I think he used that as a possible deterrent. But it didn’t work.

On Monday morning I arrived at school in the regulatory uniform, as I did for the next two years. And I only wore my wedding ring on weekends and holidays.

Most teachers had no idea I was married.

I figured that out when one gave me a permission note for Sex Education. I explained that I probably didn’t need that class. She knew there was a married student on campus but she didn’t know it was me. I guess that’s because I looked more like a seventeen year old than a twenty-six year old.

At the end of the two years I bought a new dress for the Formal (Prom).

It marked the end of the struggle of juggling two jobs – supervising my kids homework, and then doing my own once the kids were tucked up in bed.

But it was mostly a celebration of my strength. I’d managed to hold down the two jobs – oh wait, make that three – I was a wife, too.

I knew by then that College was going to be a lot easier. For a start, I didn’t have to wear a uniform, I could wear my wedding ring everyday, and there were some days when I wouldn’t have lectures.

After three years of College, I graduated as a teacher!

And that was the start of my very long teaching career.

As I sat outside the Principal’s office on that day long ago, I had no idea what the future would be. I only knew I had a dream to be a teacher and nothing was going to stop me.

And nothing did!

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, Teaching, 8 comments

According to Hugh, Australians are Coffee Snobs!

If Hugh Jackman says Australians are coffee snobs and had the cappuccino before America – then that’s it – we did! After all, who wouldn’t believe Hugh? He’s one of my favourite Australian actors!

Australians are coffee snobs. An influx of Italian immigrants after World War II ensured that – we probably had the word ‘cappuccino’ about 20 years before America. Cafe culture is really big for Aussies. We like to work hard, but we take our leisure time seriously.

Hugh Jackman

I have to admit, I have never thought of Australians as coffee snobs. I thought America had that game all sown up. But apparently not.

My journey with the cappuccino didn’t start in earnest until I was in my fifties – well – let’s just say I was well and truly an adult. Sure, I drank coffee before then – but only if you call that tinned instant stuff, coffee.

The transformative journey towards coffee-snobbery started for me when I lived within walking distance of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast of Australia.

Weekends were for relaxing. And Saturdays always started with a coffee at a local coffee-shop (Cafe).

Shopping, chores, and preparation for next week’s school didn’t start until after the ritual of slowly sipping a long, hot cappuccino. Time stood still until the coffee-ritual was done.

Weekdays – it was back to the instant powder from the tin. Oh, how I longed for Saturday mornings!

Big Changes Were Imminent

It all happened so fast I’m not even sure where to start telling the story. But the short version is, we packed up and moved to North America for two years. I remember sitting on the beach one morning while preparations were in progress, wondering if I was doing the right thing.

That little bit of self-doubt lasted about a minute. From then on, it was full-steam ahead with planning and packing. There wasn’t much time for any more thoughts of should I or shouldn’t I.

As we left on the big jet-plane from Sydney, I thought I would actually burst with excitement. Not so for Bill. Bill was Canadian/American. For him, it meant going home. Going back to a past-life. Memories tugged at his feelings of excitement – but he handled it well.

Destination Vancouver

A hotel was our home for the first few weeks. And coffee became the start of every day.

Tim Hortons was a short walk away. And this Aussie learned the language of Canadian coffee in a big hurry. I walked up to the counter the first day and ordered a cappuccino for me, and a flat white for Bill.

Hmm, it seems there was something wrong with ordering the flat-white. When Bill heard the commotion, he came to the rescue. I was still in shock that they didn’t understand the order so I can’t tell you what Bill said to resolve the crisis, but it worked.

Apparently a flat-white is a coffee order unique to the Land Down Under or it’s neighbour across the ditch (New Zealand). But I don’t think that’s enough to make us coffee snobs.

From then on, it was Bill’s job to order the coffee while I sat and waited.

A few weeks later we moved into an apartment on Robson Street and a whole new world opened up for me.

Bill’s American roots resurfaced.

I discovered there was a Starbucks on almost every corner! In fact, there were two diagonally opposite each other (does that mean Kitty Corner?).

The sign at the very first Starbucks – in Seattle…
Yep – I lined up and bought a coffee at the original Starbucks…

Every day started with a coffee at our nearest Starbucks – right across the street on Robson and Jervis.

I had landed in coffee Heaven.

I know, there are some who would say coffee and Starbucks are not synonymous. But I’m not one of them. I happen to love Starbucks (but that’s another blog for another time).

Once you’ve ventured onto the path of white chocolate mochas with no whipped-cream, there’s no going back.

And Bill progressed to Soy Latte’s.

The fantastic Barista’s at our Starbucks even taught me how to order my favourite cup-of-joe. I took up the challenge of being the one to bravely order the coffee now that it was a lot easier. A ‘Grande no-whip white chocolate Mocha’ for me, and a ‘tall soy latte’ for Bill.

When we left Vancouver and moved over the border to San Francisco, our nearest Starbucks was a couple of blocks away – but it wasn’t too far to walk each morning. The day had to start right, right?

A year later we moved back to my homeland and back to the Gold Coast, and for me, back to teaching. The first year is still a bit of a blur.

Bill spent most of that year in hospital. And my weekend coffees consisted of whatever I could get before rushing off to visit him, or the dreaded hospital-canteen coffee. Sometimes you just have to make do.

All too soon I was on my own.

Weekend coffees resumed at my nearest Starbucks, a block away from where I lived. The first year was the hardest. Ordering just one coffee – and staring at the empty chair opposite – but I survived.

On weekdays I would look at that jar of instant coffee and say – Yeah? – Nah! I just couldn’t do it. I’d call into a drive-thru on my way to work. The coffee wasn’t good, but it was a whole lot better than the granules from within that jar.

When I ran out of Starbucks by moving to a town in Central Queensland (CQ), something had to give. The nearest coffee-shop (cafe) that even remotely resembled a Starbucks was a two-hour drive away. And then two-hours back. It was a long way but I often did it, just to sit in that cafe and soak up the atmosphere.

But the weekdays were the problem. So I invested in a coffee-machine. Not the Pod variety. I mean, a real one! I bought a Rocket Giotto, and a coffee grinder.

Every time I went back to the coast I would go to my old Starbucks and buy lots of beans to take back to CQ. Then I would make my coffee each morning – put it in a travel mug – and enjoy the taste of real coffee as I drove to school.

What makes us coffee snobs?

There is a local cafe near where I live now that makes the best cappuccinos, using beans that are roasted a few hours from here. Since the very first cup, I was converted.

Luckily I can order the beans online or buy them from the cafe, so there is always a supply on hand (well – at least in the freezer).

The only trouble is, I will now only drink cappuccinos made from Dancing Bean beans. If I meet friends at any other cafe, I just can’t bring myself to order a coffee.

I know what tastes best – and there is no substitute.

Oh, that is, unless I happen to be near a Starbucks. There’s still something about the atmosphere in a Starbucks that I just can’t resist.

I just wish there was a Starbucks close to where I live now. I’d make it a weekend thing – but I’d do it. Perhaps it is because I still can’t sit at a Starbucks without thinking of Bill…and the fond memories of our Vancouver and San Francisco coffee routines.

And his major role in my journey to becoming a coffee-snob.

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 6 comments

Every Kid Needs a Champion

I was a teacher for a very long time. But by the time I saw the TED Talk by Rita Pierson explaining why every kid needs a champion, I think I had it all figured out.

Before I flew solo in a classroom of my own, I watched an older teacher approach a difficult situation in the playground. Within minutes she had those tough kids knocking themselves out to do what she had asked.

I was mesmerised. Her explanation was simple:

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

I never forgot those words, or their effect on that unruly bunch of students.

Over the ensuing years of my long teaching career, I figured out a lot of things – mostly out of necessity.

Like the year I inherited the group of students no other teacher wanted. There were only about six kids who were the problem – but they were pretty much considered the thugs of the school. And I got them all!

Luckily, a few years earlier, I’d had a much bigger challenge. A really difficult little guy who no teacher wanted. In fact, no school wanted him. Alternate arrangements were made for me to teach him in an off-campus setting.

On the first day I figured out that I had to find something to love about this kid. Okay – at first it came down to how well he breathed. I just loved the way he did that: in – out – in – out.

Eventually I discovered that this ten-year old had a lot going for him – but he’d been totally misunderstood. Together we worked hard on his skills and the following year he graduated into the school I was attached to.

Because every kid needs a champion

So when I got that tough group of kids – it wasn’t a problem. I just found something to love about each one of them. And it worked.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered the wisdom of Rita Pierson. Not only did it validate what I’d already learned, but it gave me the reason why. It made me realise that every kid needs a champion because they often have nobody else in their lives to stand up for them; to have their back; to not give up on them.

And at the end of that first year with those tough kids I went to the Principal’s office with a whole bunch of research to show why a teacher should move up with their class. He laughed.

“Are you kidding?”, he said. “Nobody else wants those kids. They’re all yours!”.

I stayed with that group for three years. And loved every minute of it.

After watching Rita’s TED Talk, I figured it out. I had become the champion for those kids. The one who believed in them. The one who had tears of pride in her eyes when my reluctant non-reader read his first book to the Principal. The one who secretly laughed inside when the class made their own classroom rules and insisted on much tougher penalties than I ever would have. And the same one who missed five minutes of break-time when I broke one of the rules. Those kids were tough disciplinarians! But it worked.

So whether you are a teacher or a parent, take seven minutes out of your busy life to watch Rita Pierson deliver this passionate (and humorous) TED Talk.

Tip: Watch for Sir Ken Robinson in the audience, as well as a few other notable faces.

And if you know a teacher – make sure you share.

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, Teaching, 2 comments

From Drought to Flood in Twenty-Four Hours

The big word that has dominated media coverage in Australia for way too long is the D-Word – D-R-O-U-G-H-T! The soil in most parts of the country has been dry as a bone. There are toddlers who don’t even know what rain is in some parts of the land. There just hasn’t been any since they were born. But in twenty-four short hours, we’ve gone from drought to flood.

Image by holdosi from Pixabay 

Here in Murwillumbah, we are usually luckier than most – our overall rainfall is generally healthier than in other parts of Australia. But not this season. Even before summer officially started, rain was nowhere to be seen.

And with drought comes water-restrictions. A few weeks ago our local Council brought down the verdict:

Level Two Water Restrictions for the Tweed Shire!

I don’t have too big an issue with that because I try to limit the amount of water I use every day. I’ve lived in the bush and relied on tank-water (with very little rain to fill it) often enough to appreciate how precious every drop of water is.

But no so for my neighbours. They are gardeners. And Level Two restrictions means they have to ration the water out to their ever-thirsty plants.

I should explain that my place is where plants come to die. Not intentionally. It just happens. Apart from one Zanzibar Gem that even I can’t kill, an Aloe Vera plant that thrives on neglect, and one small succulent that has managed to remain in the upright position – I don’t do the gardening thing. I tend to either drown plants or they die of thirst. So I prefer to leave living garden things in other people’s capable hands.

My plant-loving neighbours can now only hose their gardens on odd or even days (depending on their house-number), and then only late in the afternoon. But if they want to carry a bucket-load of water to each garden, they can water whenever they like.

Drought to Flood!

A few days ago it was hot and dry in Murwillumbah, as it had been for a very long time.

But last night the rain came in earnest. Heavy drops that you could actually hear falling. And accompanied, sporadically, with thunder and lightning.

This morning, it’s a very different scene.

The soil the rain is falling on is so hard, from prolonged lack of moisture, that the rainwater can’t get through it. The water is just pooling on the surface. And naturally, that water has to go somewhere, so it is spreading out across roadways.

At least one road in the area could easily change its name from Ducat Street to Ducat Creek.

And a local cafe has closed for the day due to water backing up. There just isn’t anywhere for the excess water to go.

Floating Debris and Flooded Roads

The fires that have ravaged so much of our land since October have left very little in their path. Ash and unstable trees, the ones lucky enough to have escaped complete destruction, are all that is left. The water from the long overdue rain, unable to soak into the ground, has enough force to topple some of the trees that have not already been taken down by fire. Those trees, along with ash and other debris, is now at risk of being pushed onto roadways.

Sadly, while one of our Fire and Rescue teams was out saving motorists who were trapped in their vehicles on a flooded street, their Station was inundated with water. According to their Facebook page, the morning has been taken up with rescues in the area, and then sandbagging their station. All they hope for is a bit of downtime so they can eat, drink coffee, and brush their teeth. I guess the early morning call outs don’t leave much time for life’s basic necessities. I hope they get that downtime today.

Despite the sudden onset of the flood, which is why it is called flash flooding, we still welcome the water falling from the sky. Not only will it help relieve some of the drought-related problems, but hopefully it will extinguish the fires that are still burning.

The flooding is temporary. And if motorists take adequate precautions, there shouldn’t be too many problems.

Remember: If it’s flooded – forget it!

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 4 comments

Tumbulgum – Can You Even Say It?

The first time I drove past a sign to Tumbulgum, I reckon I did what any non-local would do – I mispronounced it. Yep – I got it totally wrong because it isn’t how it seems.

There are a lot of places down here in Australia with names you can’t pronounce. The first time I saw the name ‘Indooroopilly’, I almost packed my bags and moved back to New South Wales, from whence I’d just come.

How was I going to live in a state where I couldn’t even say the name of neighbouring towns? I mean, really?

But like everything, once you get the hang of it, it’s easy.

Let me introduce you to some of our Aussie slang.

We have a habit of shortening anything that seems like an effort to say.

  • Ambulance Driver = Ambo
  • Tea Break = Smoko
  • Garbage Collection Driver = Garbo
  • Avocado = Avo

And just when you think you’ve got this – we change the ending.

  • Motor-bike Rider = Biko Bikie
  • Brick-layer = Bricko Brickie
  • Fire-fighter = Firo Firie
  • Barbecue = Barbie

Then there’s Maccas = McDonalds – of the fast food variety.

And when I lived out in Central Queensland, the town of Woorabinda was simply Woori.

Mullumbimby is shortened to Mullum.

Well, that one was easy.

So you see, there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to sorting out our language. All you need to know is: if it can be shortened – it will be shortened.

And that goes for people’s names as well. Oh, unless you have red hair – then you’ll be called Blue.

Wait, is that even politically correct anymore? Probably not – but it was certainly the case when I was young.

Let’s get back to those place names.

As it turns out, Indooroopilly hasn’t been shortened – as far as I know – but it is shortened in the way you say it. Instead of sounding out all the oo’s, you kind of just leave them out altogether. So it ends up sounding like ‘Indrupilly’ (using the short vowel -u- sound like hum).

And now, let’s get back to Tumbulgum. Nope – it isn’t like Tumbul-gum. It’s more like Tm-bol-gm – you kind of run the t and m and the g and m together. And the first u becomes an o sound – as in r-o-c-k

Actually, it doesn’t matter how you pronounce Tumbulgum, as long as you go there. It is a spectacularly beautiful little place.

That’s Mt Warning (Wollumbin) in the background. Rumour has it that Mt Warning is the first place in Australia the sun shines on every day.

Tumbulgum is where the Rous River meets the Tweed River.

And since my house is just a short drive from Mt Warning and Tumbulgum, I guess you can see why I love living in Murwillumbah.

If you are up for a real challenge – visit our neighbour, New Zealand. And especially the town of Whakatane (/fɑːkɑːˈtɑːnə/).

I’ll say no more…..

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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 4 comments

Capital F For Failure!

I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.

Tony Robbins

If Tony Robbins is right – this month I’ve laid some massive foundations for the future.

The January Blog Challenge was going well – for a while. And then it all went pear-shaped. I don’t know why, when or even how. It just happened.

We’re halfway through the month but I am nowhere near halfway through the number of blogs I should have posted. A quarter, maybe?

It all happened when I decided to be super-creative and write a blog about one of my favourite places – Murwillumbah. Oh don’t worry, you haven’t missed it – it didn’t actually get to the Published stage. It’s still sitting in my Drafts folder.

I slaved over that blog day and night. It had fantastic photos, facts and most of my SEO ducks even lined up. But the blog was a failure.

I missed the deadline!

And the next one!

By the time I’d missed two deadlines, panic crept up from somewhere in my writing-feet and threatened to strangle me at any minute.

But that blog remained well-and-truly stuck. It was flat, contrived and downright boring. Even I found it hard to read – and I wrote it!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The frustration that Robbins spoke about weighed heavily on me – kind of like dancing in cement shoes.

And still my unfinished Murwillumbah blog just stared blankly back at me. Stark, unimaginative, and totally unresponsive. There wasn’t a spark of life in it.

Oddly enough, the motive behind writing about Murwillumbah should have provided me with immunity against failure.

Write about something you’re passionate about – they say….

Murwillumbah is where I live. I am passionate about it.

That blog failure stopped me in my tracks…

The urge to abandon it grew in intensity. But the hours of work I’d put into it stopped me from hitting the Delete key.

I was caught in a Limbo between flushing two days work down the drain and the thought of starting again. Should I try once more to resurrect the dead blog, or simply count my blessings and move onto a new one?

Both ideas won – sort of. For two days I found a million things to do that had nothing to do with writing.

But the long-fingers of the Blog Challenge found their way into my conscience. Guilt and the fear of losing the war and not just the battle made me fire up the iPad and start again. But the pain of my abandoned post about Murwillumbah lingered.

One night, more deadlines, and three-hundred words later, another draft sits idly in the Draft Folder. In all my cleverness I decided to write a blog about how I had found my niche by not finding my niche. But that didn’t work any better than not finding my niche in the first place.

But at least now I know what the problem is. Yes, I was passionate about the topic, but my style of writing changed. I had moved away from the conversational tone I usually use and was trying to write something (seriously) factual.

It just didn’t work

So here I am, writing a brand new blog about nothing in particular, in my usual casual manner.

Have I learned from failure?

You bet I have!

And the lessons learned will form the basis of another blog, in another time.

Sorry to rush off – but I’ve got a whole lot of blogging to do to catch up!
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Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 4 comments