Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Friends Forever

I’ve done it.

I’ve grown old.

I came to this realization the other night when I caught up with some of the coolest, most fun people I’ve known in my life.

And even though I hadn’t seen most of them in about 25 years, we were instantly comfortable with each other.

Yes, I went to a school reunion.

It was a first for me.

Now, of course I would have loved the chance to drop a few kilos, undergo some cosmetic surgery, and perhaps get a Trinny and Susannah-style makeover.

Of course, I didn’t have the time or the money for said makeover, but in the end it didn’t matter.

Because these were people who knew me way back when, at a time when we were works unfinished. There was no need to impress, the only requirement was to be there. And, just as I was in school days, to be accepted for being who I am.

These were people who knew me in simpler times. Times when we were all full of life, and hope, and dreams. We knew who we were, weren’t shy about expressing our feelings, and our friends were like family.

Oh, and don’t forget, we thought we knew it all!

We were the class of 1985 at Kingaroy State High School, and quite frankly, we rocked.

To my great delight, I’m pretty sure we still do.

Yes, the years have added or taken away, hair, kilos, and innocence.

Some of us have lost loved ones, and added them, in the form of partners, parents, and kids.

We’ve all been on amazing journeys: Good, bad, beautiful, and at times ugly.

In 2010, there was something really lovely and comforting about catching up on old times with people with whom I once shared so much.

Due to the magic of Facebook, and the enthusiasm and organisation of former-KSHS student Ros Westman (nee Dahms), a bunch of us gathered at the Kingaroy Hotel Motel for the occasion.

The pub, like Kingaroy, has had a makeover since we attended school there. (Erm, in Kingaroy, not at the pub. 'Cos it would be weird to go to school at a pub!)

Anyway. There was food, drinks, good company, and, thanks to Ros, loads of 80s music to enjoy. And who could ever have imagined that one could eat sushi at Kingaroy?

At one stage, a few of us realized we couldn’t hear each other over the music. We loved it, but we also wanted to chat without straining our vocal cords. And so, to my great embarrassment and shame, I went to the bar and asked for the unthinkeable: For the music to be turned DOWN.

“Oh my God, we’re old,” a couple of people shouted.

And so we are. Well, kind of.

Who knew, as we parted in 1985, with signed and torn school shirts, drenched in water from our very last water fight, that life would suck quite so much? Or that it would, at other times, be too wonderful for words?

That we would experience great joy and great losses, make dreams come true, and at times, experience nightmares?

In the interests of protecting the privacy of those involved, I won’t go into details.

Suffice it to say that among us, at least one of us would die, sadly, violently and at the hands of another human being. Saddened, we remembered that person with great affection, knowing how much she would have enjoyed being a part of the reunion, since her lovely mother sent a message expressing just that and wishing us well. RIP my friend.

As the years passed, some of us would marry and divorce, and either go in for a second round or swear off romance for life.

A few would escape violent and/or dysfunctional relationships; others would fall in love with wonderful partners - some sooner than others, some later.

Some peeps would stay resolutely single, others would change orientation completely.

Since graduating, a few of us have lost parents or are involved in caring for them. Others have endured terrible accidents or illnesses.

Some of us have kids of our own, while others have furry babies as well as or instead of human ones. At least one of us will soon be a groovy grandparent!

I’m proud to say, most of us have achieved and even excelled in our chosen professions.

Best of all, despite our rollercoaster-rides since high school, we are still basically the same people. Perhaps older, wiser, greyer, thinner, balder, fitter and/or wider.

That night, we giggled and gossiped about fab teachers, and crap ones; about crushes and first loves; and how we probably learned more about sex from the pages of Cosmo and Cleo than biology class.

And for one night, we remembered a side of ourselves that perhaps we’d forgotten.

In December 1985, a few of us promised we would be friends forever. I’m so glad to have reconnected with those friends, and for what it’s worth, I keep my promises.
Classmates from 1985 in 2010
 
And the way we were ... on stage in Man Of Steel
I'm the chick with red hair!
 
So readers, have you stayed in touch with school friends, and/or would you ever go to a school reunion?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And the lucky winner is ...

@Motorbikes_Lady!
Yay!
For the Tara Moss and Kate Morton giveaway.
As mentioned earlier, oh a few posts ago.
Sorry it's taken so long, and I did announce it in comments earlier, and was going to announce it properly during my next post.
Except ... it's school holidays. I have my lovely kids. And I'm not quite getting to the blog.
But I know everyone is waiting, so I thought I'd do a quick community service announcement for you all.
So @Motorbikes_Lady just email me or DM your address, and the booklets I was given at my literary agent Selwa Anthony's recent conference will be on their way.
(For those who came in late they are sneak peeks of the upcoming novels: The Blood Countess, by Tara Moss; and The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. They cannot be bought or sold, and so are priceless).
I would love to do more giveaways, once I convince Australian companies that Mummy bloggers are a powerful force.
You can help by following and/or commenting on what goodies you wish you could win ...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ouch!

It's day 5 of my Flab To Fit challenge ... not that I'm counting or anything.
I'm eating healthily, and getting loads of exercise at my local Fernwood gym.
I'm loving rediscovering the buzz that exercising regularly gives me. No wonder I used to be a gym and fitness junkie.
The past few years I just haven't put myself first. I've always worried about money, or the fact that I should be spending any 'spare' time either working, or parenting, or catching up with housework or whatever. I'd try to exercise for free ... walking wherever I can, taking the kids to the park, doing Tai Chi or Yoga at home. But the problem was that I wasn't doing it regularly enough.
Finally, as part of my Mindfulness journey to happiness, I decided to show myself some loving kindness by making my health and fitness a priority.
I chose Fernwood because, well, it's just really nice. I used to go to a cheap and cheerful gym, where there was no air-conditioning, and any really tall women could see into the loo next door because the doors were so tiny. Or kids could climb underneath the door and announce: Surprise!
 And where there were lots of grunting, sweaty men. (No offence guys ... it's just a bit intimidating to a self-conscious girl like me). Oh, and the men weren't actually in the bathroom. They were in the main gym.
Lest you think they were grunting and sweating in the ladies' changeroom.
Anyway.
At Fernwood, the showers and loos are nice, the staff aren't intimidating, and if the mood strikes, you can always hang out for a free coffee, healthy snack, and chat before and/or after class.
The only problem is that I've overdone it a little this week.
Ironically, the class that did me in was Body Balance. That's a combination of pilates, yoga and tai chi.
Back in my fit days, yoga and the like, were easy exercises, the ones I did more for my mind and stress levels than getting fit. That's because I was so fit the poses were easy.
Oh my goodness, I struggled with Body Balance this week, and it really hurt. Because of the ankylosing spondylitis, quite a bit of my spine and hips have fused, so the poses are difficult and painful. I stuck with it though.
I hadn't realised but that day was an open day for women in the area to come in and try classes for free. There were giveaways and special deals.
At the end of the class, the instructor gave the prize to me! Me! Saying that she admired that I'd stuck with it, and done what I could, and that was the whole point of getting fit.
I suspect she gave me the prize because I was the crappest Body Balancer in the class, but I accepted it gratefully.
My prize was a couple of sauna sessions, some hair bands, and a free 'Military Miss' workout.
I like the first two, but I suspect I won't like the latter. Groan.
Meanwhile, I've managed to flare the arthritis up again, and there's quite a bit of inflammation in my body.
But I'm happy knowing I've made a start, and as I get fitter the arthritis pain should improve.
Finally, don't forget my book giveaway (see previous posts). You have until 5 pm today to follow my blog and/or comment on why you deserve a random act of kindness.
Also? Fernwood have an internet special at the moment. 14 days for $14. Go to http://www.fernwoodfitness.com.au/ to find out more.
Disclaimer: I am not being sponsored by Fernwood or receiving any payment from them. I am blogging about them because I like them. Though I am hoping to talk them into giving away some freebies to my followers, so don't forget to follow and/or leave some bloggy love so I can show them that Mummy Bloggers rule. That is all.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The F Words ....

Some lovely peeps have already commented and entered my competition for the sneak previews of Kate Morton and Tara Moss's upcoming novels.
I would love to give you all a book, so I have a problem ... Should I give both book samples away to one lucky winner, or split them so two people get a RAK?
Let me know your thoughts. Oh and entries close at 5 pm on Friday.
In other news, I am now on Day 3 of my Flab to Fit challenge inspired by Diminishing Lucy.
My arthritis has flared up so I haven't done a lot of exercise but I'm certainly watching what I eat and drink.
And today, I'm off to do zumba, followed by a stretch class at my local Fernwood  gym this afternoon.
It's funny because I have to be really careful with exercise. I have ankylosing spondylitis, which is something I was born with - I have the gene for it unfortunately. However, my condition was only diagnosed in my 30s, when the symptoms became impossible to ignore.
As a bonus, I also have fibromyalgia, which makes the pain worse.
Diagnosis probably took about six years once the stiffness and pain got really bad.  Before then the aches and pains had always been put down to other things - small bones, growing pains, gym injuries, hours spent writing or taking notes when I worked as a journalist.
Yes ironically, I have chosen one of the worst professions for someone with arthritis and back and joint pain. Writing.
At Selwa Anthony's Sassy conference recently, her personal-trainer-turned-author Grant Hyde explained how simple things like sitting hunched over a laptop, or at the wrong angle at a desktop, or cross-legged as I type,  causes aches, pains, and work-related injuries. So writing plus arthritis is probably a recipe for disaster.
Luckily, my arthritis improves with gentle exercise. So that rules out, say jogging or step classes, but I can do resistance training, pilates, yoga, stretching, walking, swimming and other fairly low impact exercises. So there is really no excuse.
I really thought that Zumba would be too ouchy, but I find it really good. Because you're constantly moving and don't need to jump or leap unless you really want to, it's low impact.
I've done a few classes so far, and they are so much fun. And yes, I get those wonderful endorphins that lift my mood immediately. Best of all, my Fernwood gym offers at least one Zumba class a week, where kids can work out with their Mums. My two adored it, and it was another fun thing we could do together.
So wish me luck on my journey, and I'll try to keep it honest by posting regularly.
And don't forget to vote: One Book Giveaway or Two?

I want to get back to the fit, fun-loving chick who was brave enough to pat a tiger! Wish me luck ...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Random Act Of Kindness

A couple of days ago, Melbourne Mumma received a lovely pack of coffee after tweeting that she was sick of only ever getting bills in the mail. You can read her post here.
But basically, the end result was that a company who follows her on twitter sent her a pack of their awesome coffee, no strings attached, with the message:
“Hi Alison, throw your bills in the bin – they’ll send them again. Sit down and have a cup of Gridlock coffee instead! From the team @ 65 Degrees & Gridlock Coffee”
Having been a recent recipient of acts of kindness from my literary agent Selwa Anthony and Virgin Blue airlines, I decided I'd like to do a Random Act Of Kindness too.
As you may know, I recently attended Selwa's Sassy conference, where we were each given a mini-manuscript version of the upcoming novels The Blood Countess, by Tara Moss; as well as Kate Morton's The Distant Hours.
These are tasting samples of the novels and are not for sale or review, because they won't be launched until November.
But if you love reading, and you'd like a sample of these novels before nearly anyone else in Australia, I'm going to give them away to my lovely followers.
To enter for the RAK, make sure you're following this blog, then leave a comment telling me why you are in need of a RAK.
Entries close at 5 pm AEST, and the winner will be announced on Monday.
Sorry peeps, for Australian residents only.




Monday, September 20, 2010

Write this way ...

I've just enjoyed the most amazing weekend at my literary agent Selwa Anthony's annual Sassy event.
As far as I know, Selwa is the only agent who holds a yearly conference and awards night for her family of authors.
I say 'family', because once Selwa takes you under your wing, you are part of a family, not just a name or number.
Each year, as many of Selwa's authors as possible get together with publishers, editors, writers, and other amazingly talented people in the book industry.
It's a time for encouragement, inspiration and motivation. The environment is supportive as authors share their journeys towards publication, and also form life-long friendships. Amazingly, Selwa has been doing this for 16 years, and each year just gets better.
I love it.
I missed last year's Sassy event, because I was living in New Zealand. Although the airfares were good, the extra time needing to be factored in for customs etc, just made it unworkable.
This year, after a massive lifestyle change and marriage breakdown, I wasn't going to attend because I couldn't afford it. And also, I felt I'd be a fraud to take a place at Sassy, when I hadn't yet followed up on my previous book Happily Ever Parted. (Yes, there's a bit of irony in that, isn't there?)
Anyway, in stepped Selwa, who said that my reasons for not attending, were exactly the reasons I should go.
And not only that, because of my rather delicate financial position, she would cover the cost of attending the conference and dinner.
And that is where Selwa is so different from any other agent in Australia. She is an extremely generous soul, who is always supportive of her writers. Some writers at Sassy talked about how long it had taken to get their books to publication (ten years in some cases), but Selwa had stuck with them, guiding, motivating, suggesting changes, and getting them fantastic book deals.
I've been motivated by her faith in me, and I've been inspired by the lovely, talented people I met and/or reconnected with over the weekend.
With my conference costs covered, I still had to shell out for airfares and accommodation, so attending Sassy was still going to be tricky.
First, I contacted VirginBlue, who, to my surprise, agreed to sponsor my flights. I've always been a VirginBlue fan, and even wrote for their in-flight magazine Voyeur several times during my travel writing years. The fact that VirginBlue so quickly agreed to help get me to Sydney is just another example of a company which takes its role as a good corporate citizen extremely seriously.
That left accommodation. Unfortunately, the Sassy venue, Swissotel in Sydney declined to sponsor me, which is fair enough. So I got out the credit card and charged it, looking at it as an investment in my career. (I may have closed my eyes, covered my ears, and gone "lalalalalala" as I paid the bill.)
So along with taxis, hotel, and airport parking charges, it was a still an expensive weekend, but I believe it was worth every cent.
Because I'm worth it.
Thanks Selwa and your wonderful team, and also to Virgin Blue. Love you long time!
Virgin Blue took me to and from Sydney in style.

One view from my room at the Swissotel Sydney

Nice, huh? No one leaping off at regular intervals like at the Auckland Sky Tower though!
It was kind of a water view

My room, before I had a chance to mess it up!

My favourite part, the big bath. And see? There are two nozzles so you can actually wash your hair in the bath. We need one of these for bath-loving Miss 7.
So, has anyone else invested in their future and/or careers? And how did it turn out?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Survival of the fittest

It's no secret: I'm not the girl I used to be.
Over the years, I've grown older and wider.
Even though my kids insist I'm the "most beautiful Mummy in the world"! I know it's not true.
I never quite lost all the baby fat, and over the years, my weight has gone up and down, depending on my motivation when it comes to diet and fitness. An early menopause didn't help, and then a change of medication renowned for packing on weight, did exactly that. I'm off one of the really nasty meds, which is a start, but the old metabolism still needs a bit of help.
I know you can lose weight for free, by pounding the pavements or even working out at home.
But let's be honest: I rarely do that. There's always some other 'chore', some other distraction, to take care of. And it's all too easy to quit when I get tired.
So I've finally done it: I've joined a gym.
I was a gym junkie for most of my adult life, but somehow kids, work, life, lack of funds, and other priorities inched it out of my life.
This week, I decided: It's Time.
I've done a few casual classes around the place, including pilates, zumba and tai-chi, but have realised it would be more cost-effective to join a gym. And to go regularly, rather than sporadically.
So yesterday, I joined our local Fernwood gym. Yep, I'm officially a Fox.
And although it's for women, they do have classes for kids, including boys, as long as Mums work out with them.
So yesterday we did our first Mum and Kids Zumba class. Turned out I wasn't quite as unfit as I feared and we all had a ball.
The kids can't wait to go back, and I can't wait to get back into regular exercise.
Anyway, inspired by Lucy I'm going to post about my progress here from time to time, by joining the Fat to Fit challenge.
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We're fully sick!

How do you keep your kids entertained when they are sick?
Back in my day, I usually had to stay in bed, or spend time at home doing school work the school would send home.
These days, with DVDs, DS's, Computers and not to forgot that really great invention called BOOKS, my kids expect a little more.
So on a sick day - or a rainy one for that matter - I usually let them bunker down with a couple of books, the cat, and DVDs. They do have to catch up on homework, but only once they are feeling up to it. Then there's that period between when, for example, they are still infectious but are feeling better and getting bored. Like today.
And that's when I bring out the big guns!
There's a craft and 'useful box' stashed away in the cupboard. (Yeah, I stole the name from Play School!) It's got bits and bobs, different materials, glue, paints and ice-cream sticks. That usually grabs their attention and keeps them quiet for a while.
I usually have a couple of colouring or art books on hand too.

But for Mr 9, nothing beats what he calls 'tech'. It's short for technology. C. has Aspergers Syndrome, and this is one of his interests. He loves to pull things apart and find out how they work, but because he often has trouble putting them back together again, the practice has been banned!
However, when we moved back to Australia from New Zealand, a heap of things inexplicably came back broken. These I have stashed away in case of emergency, when I can actually bring them out and let C. go to town.
Yes, broken DVDs and microwaves and whatever else are always recycled here!
This tech is from our old microwave after the kids got sick of using it as a tea party table, and decided to take it apart instead.

For Miss 7, nothing beats Beados. I hate them, fiddly little things that end up all over the place. Anyway, H. can't get enough of them, but she's only allowed them when she's sick or it's rainy/cold outside. Because, quite frankly, keeping the place clean and tidy is hard enough as it is without hundreds of tiny balls covering the floor. (Yes, I AM a mean mother).


And of course, there are foreign coins. Mr 9 has started collecting them. I once had a huge collection of various money from my travels, but they seem to have gone missing when we moved. However, I still occasionally get the odd coin in change when it goes straight to Mr 9's collection. Currently we are doing a tick-chart for him to work towards his goal of buying a coin book to store them in.

How do you entertain your kids when they are sick enough not to go to school but not quite sick enough for bed?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's all in the mind ...

This year, has been a year of challenges and changes.
I can't begin to describe my year so far, though my friends, family and followers, have a pretty good idea.
The great thing is that I've learned a lot about myself - and others. And that every single day, there are things in my life that I am grateful for. That is the great gift of Mindfulness.
Now I'm constantly being asked about Mindfulness.
Usually when I try to describe it, people look at me like I have two heads and suddenly understand why I've spent so much time in therapy!
No truly, Mindfulness is a practise that is difficult to explain or even teach unless you've done it yourself.
My instructors describe it as being like Buddhism without the religion. And they have said themselves, that they couldn't teach it, if they hadn't experienced it too. And these are traditional mental health professionals, who have gone beyond their original training, done their research, practised the exercises, and discovered that Mindfulness works.
Mindfulness is about embracing life; the good and the bad; and dealing with and accepting it.
In psychological terms it's part of ACT - Acceptance Commitment Therapy. It doesn't replace Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is better-known in the western world, but for me, Mindfulness has changed my life.
Instead of avoiding the crap that brings us down, Mindfulness is about accepting it and sitting with it ... and then changing what you can, and accepting what you can't!
It is about trusting in the process, particularly in the early days. But the good news is that whether or not you feel Mindfulness exercises are benefitting you, they are still clinically proven to reduce stress, blood pressure, heart rates, and more.
It is about building new pathways in the brain. Truly. No matter what your age, no matter what you've done to yourself in previous times, you can stimulate a part of a brain that most people in the western world rarely use!
And it's an explanation as to why so many Mindfulness students are exhausted at the end of a day of learning/practising.
I remember sitting in day one of my class, where the psychologist running the program urged us to give it six weeks, and then if we still wanted to walk away, we could.
I wrestled with my mind that day, wanting to leave, but staying anyway. And that night, I was mentally exhausted! Drained. With no real benefit to be detected yet. Thank goodness it was my kids' week with their Dad, because I basically fell into bed at 7.30 pm ... but the great thing was I slept like a baby. Actually better than a baby, because they tend to wake up a few times either hungry or wet or worse!
My second week was just as difficult, and I mentioned this to my very up-front, non-touchy-feely psychiatrist. Even though it wasn't his thing personally, he urged me to continue, saying he had seen dramatic, inexplicable changes in patients who had completed the course.
Now this guy isn't one to waste anyone's time. He's very into traditional modes of treatment, yet he recommended I continue with the program. That was impossible to ignore.
I took the leap of faith and returned.
By week 3 I had my first 'A-Ha!' moment. And since then, I've had many more.
I've gone on to experience loads more crap in my life, but Mindfulness helps me to accept it and deal with it, rather than avoiding or ignoring it, as I may once have. It's incredibly empowering.
Even when my world appears to be falling down around me, I have relaxation and/or breathing exercises to call on, which immediately calm me and help me focus.
And when my world is running beautifully, I appreciate every single moment.
I find myself appreciating the beauty in my world, and even better, coping well when things get ugly. I givie myself permission to show myself the same 'loving kindness' I show others. It doesn't have to be anything big. It can be a hot, relaxing bubble bath when my arthritis is making my bones ache. It may be buying myself a cupcake, and enjoying every single bite, no guilt allowed.
It can be cracking up with my kids as I did last night, when my attempt at baking gluten-free French sticks turned out something akin to individual batons. So it was another Mummy Baking Failure, but did it really matter? "We can use them as weapons," giggled My 9, placing one breadstick at each door, in case of intruders.
Or when Miss 7 comes home upset she's torn a new pair of tights by falling over at school, I tell her it's no problem. They're just tights. We can get new tights, we can't get a new Miss 7!
It's a cliche but I get so much more out of life now that I live it mindfully. My relationship with my kids has improved ... and we were already extremely close.  We do a lot of enjoying the moments together. When they are tense, I help them do a body scan or guide them in a relaxation exercise. They respond to it beautifully.
It's something kids kind of do naturally but have beaten out of them (hopefully not literally) by life as they grow older.
Best of all, my relationship with ME has improved. After all these years I finally get myself. I no longer let my old friend anxiety do my head in ... oh we still see each other, but a lot more on my terms now.
Finally, I have faith in myself as a good, worthwhile person who may stuff up at times, but who gets a lot of things right.
I can't recommend Mindfulness highly enough.

Want to try it? I did my Mindfulness training at the Pine Rivers Private Hospital in Brisbane. Then I went on to complete Advanced Mindfulness, which is really exploring certain concepts in detail. Most private health insurance companies will cover the expense, though you may have an excess to pay. Luckily - or maybe not - I no longer have any excesses to pay this year, so it was all covered for me. It's one day a week, from around 9 am- 3pm, with lunch and morning tea included. Parking and TLC is free.
My killer breadsticks ... LOL

Friday, September 3, 2010

I made it!

This week, I made it in the wonderful world of blogs.
Did I finally earn money from advertising, you ask? Or maybe I was featured in the national media? Or perhaps I made the shortlist for Australia's Top Bloggers?
No my friends, it was a far greater honour than any of these.
This week the lovely Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella featured one of my favourite childhood treats on her wonderful blog.
I've followed NQN for ages now, way before she got famous and began to be feted by top restaurants, travel companies, chefs, and airlines.
I love her writing, her photos and her passion for everything that is food, and goodness, and travel.
Sometimes I even try her recipes rather than just salivating over them.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, NQN tweeted the arrival of 8 delicious pineapples and her conundrum of what to do with them all.
Quick as a flash, I tweeted back that my Mum used to make a fantastic pineapple meringue pie when I was a kid.
NQN was intrigued, and I offered to ask Mum for the recipe.
Mum's a good country cook and rarely uses recipes, cooking by taste, memory, and from the heart. So I took down her instructions as best I could, and passed them on to NQN.
I was thrilled when she let me know the meringue turned out well, and even more delighted when she shared her new-improved recipe with her readers.
I love the way NQN tweaked the recipe and improved on perfection. Even better, she provided a link to my other blog NowhereLikeQueensland.
So that's why this week I feel I made it. Well actually Lorraine made it ... but you know what I mean!
Make sure you pop across for the recipe!

And just because I can, here are some photos from my week ...
Naughty kitten Hannah
 
My loving kindness exercise towards myself - my first ever foray into acrylic nails. Even better they cost a big $0 because a lovely student from the local training college did them for me.

My gorgeous young man, C.

And his sister with her furry 'little sister'