Touching Clouds

little things“Fog,” my then three-year-old daughter explained very earnestly to me as we walked along together one day, “is a cloud you can touch.”

It’s one of the many interesting things my younger child has informed me of over the years, but I remember it particularly well because I made a note of it on my iPhone, along with the date she said it.  Every now and then, when I needed to remember to smile, I would look back at that little note and it would lift my spirits.

And if I really needed to feel better, I would listen to a voice recording I had made of her watching the film version of The Gruffalo for the first time. That audio clip captured her little girl giggle, descending into breathlessness as she laughed so hard that no sound came out.

I am feeling rather nostalgic as I write this, because those two things are gone now: my iPhone died unexpectedly last month, and while I had backed up all my photos (thank the Old Gods and the New), I had neglected to include my notes or audio files in that all-important process.

not thingsAnd so, I am left now with just the memory of those things, and of all the times they made me smile.

I am reminded, time and again, that it is these little things…tiny fragments of memory, snippets of conversation, moments in time…that are not the littlest things in our lives at all, but the biggest. And those things, it turns out, are not things at all.

That, my friends, is my little thought for the day.

And my wish is that you, during your travels through life, may also find a cloud you can touch, and know it for what it really is.

 

Tempus Fugit

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Time flies, as any wag will tell you, when you’re having fun.

But here in Sydney, as our glorious summer holidays are drawing all too swiftly to a close, my mind has turned to Virgil’s original words, written in his Georgics centuries ago.

Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.

Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour, as point to point our charmed round we trace.

VIRGIL trans. Rhoades

We have had a fortunate summer, sun-filled and surf-drenched, with barefoot days and balmy nights.

And while the clocks sometimes seemed to slow during the past six weeks, time — inescapable, irretrievable time — has slipped steadily, stealthily by.

tempus 1I mean it’s there, if I look for it.  I know I could find snippets of it between the pages of the dozen novels I’ve read since Christmas, or catch a glimpse or two between beach towels flapping in the breeze on the washing line. There’s probably a drop or two left in a wineglass on a windowsill somewhere, and a few morsels thrown in with the leftover salads in the fridge. I will no doubt discover a few more bits in with the various brightly coloured cards and plastic pieces of board games we’ve played during the heat of the day, or find some slipped into the pocket of one of my kids’ shorts with a couple of movie ticket stubs.

But now, at the end of my favourite month of the year, there is only a day or two left before school resumes for my girls — a new start for one, a familar return for the other — and I will admit feeling slightly nostalgic and a little bereft. The irreparable hour has well and truly flown, and I am reminded of my favourite childhood picture book, Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, about another summer, spent by another family comprising, as ours does, of a mother, father and two sisters, far away in Maine.

I know this feeling is universal and, ironically, timeless: Virgil wrote about it in the first century and McCloskey was still picking up the theme in the twentieth.

But I also know that there will be a certain heaviness in my heart and a lag in my step when we wend our way from point to point on our own charmed round this evening…down to the beach for one last swim as a family, and back home again for a BBQ and a quiet glass of wine.

That charmed round isn’t going anywhere — and I am well aware we are beyond lucky to live where we do — but it’s never quite the same once school has started again, and the long summer days have lost their laziness, and a perhaps a little of their loveliness.

Take a farewell look at the waves and sky. Take a farewell sniff of the salty sea. A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going. It is a time of quiet wonder — for wondering, for instance, where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?

ROBERT McCLOSKEY

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Home…

Rainy Days

Labyrinth 2

Are you ready for the holidays?

It’s finally raining here in Sydneytown, and — rumour has it — they’re even getting some of the good stuff out west where they need it most.  Not enough to break this godawful drought just yet, but all rain is good rain when there hasn’t been any for a long while.

The other thing that eventually turned up was the school holidays, which I was looking forward to beyond measure. Third term was long and full — too full, perhaps — so the combination of rain and lazy days off school has proved, so far, to be a good one.

And yet, only a week or so before the holidays began, several things occurred that filled me with dreadful trepidation rather than joyful anticipation…

The first clear sign I had that something was amiss was when I found a teaspoon in the washing machine.

No, not the dishwasher, but the washing machine.

Yep.  A metal teaspoon in the washing machine, under a load of wet clothes.

How it got there remains a mystery to us all. Various suspects (generally of the smaller two legged variety) were questioned, but answered with blank, wide-eyed stares, shrugged shoulders and mumbled responses along the lines of nope, nup, no idea, or at best, a vague: “What teaspoon?”

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What the heck are my kids up to?!

My second tipoff was the Painting Incident, which took place on the (appallingly scheduled) staff development day which gave the kids a Friday off in the second last week of school. I was on a writing deadline and had lined up an interview I was unable to postpone early that afternoon.

“No problem!” responded my (unnaturally cheerful) children.  “We will paint on canvas outside, so we don’t make a mess of the house and it’s quieter for you.”

How lovely, I remember thinking.  How understanding and considerate…what lovely little human beings.

Needless to say, the Painting Incident did not end well.

I was on the landline, recording the interview on my iPhone, and was quite unable to chastise those so-called lovely little human beings when they traipsed into the kitchen a mere ten minutes into the conversation and began rummaging through the junk drawer for various containers of goodness knows what. The artworks were now, apparently, being transformed into mixed media pieces, and all I could do was gently wave my hands at my progeny and keep my focus fixed on my interviewee.

OK…OK…it was more like whole arm windmilling motions combined with aggressive finger pointing towards the back door, all while glaring at my offending offspring and clearly mouthing the words GET OUT.

Labyrinth 4

I may also have said this – both bits.

Twenty minutes later, interview complete, I ventured outside to survey the…artworks. To be fair, they had created some quite respectable pieces: palm trees silhouetted against a sunset, tropical islands, starry skies with actual glitter to make them more sparkly.

That, I think, was also the moment when I noticed there was an entire galaxy of glitter spread across the patio, some of it mixed in with paint in a truly alarming variety of shades. The plastic mat I had intended to protect the patio tiles was bunched up against the BBQ, and more paint was coagulating in approximately fifteen separate paint brushes. Used wet wipes were wafting around the back yard, along with the now empty packet from whence they came.

I turned back towards the house to get more wet wipes, found that one of my dear children had trodden blue footprints on the back doormat and across the living room rug, and then proceeded to discover that there were no spare wet wipes either.

What? I always have a spare packet, because…

(Well, I think by now it’s pretty obvious why I always have a spare packet of wet wipes. Some days I think I should just give up and call the house Gotham.)

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Some of this experimenting is quite perplexing.

I then remembered where I had last seen a large quantity of wet wipes, which also — naturally — reminded me of the third clue I had received indicating we were all in need of a holiday: there had been a large, curiously yellow coloured wodge of wet wipes (I believe that is the correct technical term) in the bathroom bin several days before.

Sigh.

A Science Experiment (unoffical and most definitely unsanctioned) had been conducted in the bathroom a couple of days earlier, which had involved my younger child liberating a bottle of bright yellow food colouring from the top of the pantry and attempting to make slime.  She had, to her credit, attempted to clean up the ensuing mess (hence the wodge).  However….the pale blue bathmat began to turn an unusual shade of green when wet feet were placed upon it (more food colouring on the floor, methinks?) and the toilet seat still sports a rather large yellow spot no cleaning product has yet managed to shift.

Not surprisingly, she has not yet confessed to the other indgredients with which she attempted to concoct her slime conduct her Science Experiment — which is, upon reflection, probably for the best.

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I told you the spandex was bad.

And so I am welcoming the Rainy Days these holidays, and we are filling our spring break with baking and jigsaw puzzles and long periods lounging around reading books or watching movies. The girls have marathonned their way through the extended cut of the second Lord of the Rings film and have moved on to watching Labyrinth.  I rejoice that they are are old enough to enjoy these things, and will definitely take their veneration of David Bowie (even when wearing spandex pants) as a parenting win.

Let it rain, let it pour, I say — from here to the end of the Western Plains.

As I write, the wind is currently whipping the rain against the windowpanes, so washing clothes is out of the question.

At least I won’t find any teaspoons in the washing machine today.

 

Every Single Day…

habitSome time ago, I was reading a book by Gretchen Rubin when I came across this phrase: The days are long, but the years are short.

These words resonated with me — not least because at the time that I read them, I was the mother of two pre-schoolers. My days seemed to be filled with repetitive, mindless tasks that revolved around keeping my children happy, healthy and (by obvious extension) clean, and that work — because it definitely is work — was often relentless and mind-numbing. The days were long (and the nights could be even longer), but the years were flying by with alarming rapidity.

Don’t get me wrong: being a parent is — without question — the single most rewarding role I have ever taken on, and this post is not about to descend into an extended diatribe about just how hard those long days and nights can be. (Besides, in my experience, even when a child has behaved absolutely diabolically while awake, that same child can somehow, miraculously, completely restore your faith in and love for them once they are soundly asleep — particularly if they stay that way for an extended period.)

No, the reason I recall that maddening yet magical part of my life is because I chose HABIT as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for August.

What now? Parenting is a habit?

Not at all. But I have been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, which tackles habits and habit formation head on, and brought to my mind the wisdom of the ancients, specifically this observation from Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Now that my children are growing up and increasingly self-sufficient, I would prefer not to think about the tasks I performed with increasing Aristotelian excellence when they were smaller, save to say — as a random example — that I reckon I could wrangle just about any kid into a five-point harness car seat while blindfolded. Possibly even one handed.

habit 2Aristotle’s adage did make me think, however, about the things that I repeatedly do now — because these, my friends, are my habits. Sure, there’s all the obvious basic personal hygiene and basic living habits like showering daily, cleaning my teeth morning and night, eating a decent breakfast, that sort of thing. But what else, I wondered, do I do every single day?

Well, I read…and I write…and…if I’m totally honest I probably check my social media accounts…

I mean, what do you do every single day?!

And that brought me to another one of Aristotle’s little gems: Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

When we know ourselves, we know what repeatedly do. We recognise our habits, good and bad, and know which of these we want to cultivate with further repetition and which we want to eliminate. One of my friends, for example, makes a habit of keeping a gratitude journal, of taking time each evening to record what she is grateful for every single day. She also encourages her children to say what they’re grateful for too, and even if they don’t yet write it down she’s hoping, by repetition, to help instil the same habit in them.

Another friend makes herself a properly brewed cup of coffee every single morning. For her, this is a good habit: not only is it something that she enjoys drinking, but she also enjoys the ritual of making it. For her, it is an important act of self care (not to mention the fact that it provides a caffienated kick-start to her day). And that’s where self-knowledge kicks in too — my friend also knows that drinking coffee all day long is not good for her (or anyone), so she relishes that morning cup all the more.

Needless to say, the same combination of repetition and self-knowledge can assist in a business setting, too. Religiously checking your business bank balance won’t improve your cashflow, for example, but billing clients regularly, offering multiple methods of payment and chasing your debtors often will all help. It’s about knowing what you need to do, and repeating the necessary actions to make those things happen.

So I ask again: what do you do every single day?

Does it match up with what you know you could be doing every day?

Because, just like when I wrote about eudaimonia and human flourishing, I think those ancient Greeks were onto something. Sure — for a modern take on it, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book (she really does unpack the whole habit bag, even if I did get slightly annoyed about her frequent references to wearing yoga pants all the time), but I think — as usual — what we’re all aiming for is what human beings have been aiming for for thousands of years. And yes, the Greeks had a word for it too:

 

habit 3

So I wish you well with all those things you do repeatedly this August, and with the habits your self-knowledge asks you to cultivate in the future.

Sophrosyne here we come!

Tabata di Casa

old ways

True, that…

Have you ever reached a point in your life when you knew that something had to change? When you know that what you’re doing is not quite working, but you’re not entirely sure how to make the necessary alterations to your life or adjustments to your headspace to bring about the transformation you desire?

Oh dear, I hear you cry…this is not an auspicious beginning…please tell me Blue Jai hasn’t completely lost the plot and started writing a self-help tome…

Relax, people — I’m not having some kind of breakdown. I’m not about to begin documenting a life-changing journey of self-discovery, and I’m not selling anything, either.

All the same, I’m betting you know the feeling I’m talking about: the one where you feel either slightly squirmy in your stomach because you know something’s off somewhere and you need to get it out of your life? Or when someone asks you a seemingly innocuous question and you find yourself unexpectedly bursting into floods of tears in response? Or when you’re just monumentally frustrated?

Well, I think I had all three of those reactions this week.

And it was all to do with…drum roll for mother-of-all first world problems, please…my gym membership.

I know, I know — really, I do.

I know that really, technically, this doesn’t even begin to count as a problem at all.

Except that it does…

What I have been struggling with is that even though there are parts of going to the gym that I truly love (particularly my weekly yoga class, the brilliance of which I’ve written about before), I was faced this week with the realisation that there are other aspects of going to the gym that are driving me absolutely nuts — and, if I’m perfectly honest, they have been sending me round the twist for quite some time.

When I was working out, for example, I felt like I was trapped on a treadmill (which was, quite literally, going nowhere) in front of screen upon screen of soul-destroying daytime television. And when I was planning to do a class, it seemed that (more often than not) I was staring blankly at the weekly timetable trying to figure out when I could actually fit myself into one of those tiny little time-constrained boxes.

Where, exactly, is the soul in all of this, people?

Since when did we have to spend our days fitting ourselves into tiny boxes?

And so, this week, I snapped. (And cried…and lay awake until the small hours of the morning…and various other things…)  

I knew something needed to change.

So, on Tuesday afternoon, I came home from work and got a big piece of paper and wrote out a Tabata Challenge for the kids and I to do in the back yard. They were slightly bemused at first, watching me doing sets of burpees and triceps dips and woodchoppers and all manner of other things, but then they started joining in, too. We called it “Tabata di Casa”, and we laughed a lot, and they learned a lot, and it was fun.

Imagine that?

IMG_3027

An actual, real, soul-filled photo from my walk. Breathe in…breathe out…ahhhhhhh….

Then, on Thursday morning, I decided to take a walk — outdoors, in the glorious sunshine, no less — from my house down to the beach. Now, I’m beyond blessed to live where I do, but it felt like an absolute revelation to bung my runners on and my earphones in, and to take off towards the beautiful blue of the ocean and walk beside it, hearing the sound of the surf, feeling the sun shining on my face and the wind blowing through my hair. And, underneath it all, I could also feel my heart swelling and hear my soul singing.

They’re such simple pleasures, aren’t they? But they are precious, too.

So, from now on, I’m not going to force myself into tiny boxes any more. I’m not going to do things that don’t nourish my spirit or feed my soul. And, bizarrely enough, I’m not going to give up my gym membership either — because there are certain things I can’t control, and I know that I want to have the option of exercising whenever I want — even if it’s raining or blowing a gale.

What I am doing is choosing to change it up.

And that, my friends, feels good.

Night Moves

NIGHT -Cahill_expressway_loop

Upwards to the The Bridge…

Saturday, 10:08pm

I’m driving home through the city at night.  One of my dearest friends is riding in the car beside me, and we’re basking in the afterglow of an evening of revellery: good food, even better wine, a classical music concert with a brilliant soloist.  Crossing over Circular Quay, we get the giggles, cracking each other up with increasingly ridiculous remarks about the man we’ve just seen perform.

He’s a violin virtuoso, he sings like an veritable angel, he has such shiny hair he should be in a L’Oreal commercial…no doubt he is the world’s greatest lover, too…

We make the long loop up onto the Harbour Bridge, our laughter sprialling skywards through the arching steel and up into the night.

Monday, 5:45pm

There’s a dance off happening in the kitchen.

In this house we celebrate good news by busting out moves, and today we’ve had plenty. Ugg-booted and stocking-footed we rollick around the room, each of us attempting to outdo the others with displays of increasingly questionable choreography, while outside in the gathering darkness the real stars appear.

Tuesday, 6:13pm

Tonight I’m dealing with Arsenic hour — the fraught and fractious time of day when you’re wondering whether you might poison your kids or yourself — when mid-meltdown from Miss Malaprop I get a text from The Bloke asking whether he can catch up with the Other Blokes for a beer or three.  I flick back a quick, “If you want”, resisting the urge to scream obscentities or engage in a vicious game of compare and contrast.

There is no point in declaring marital war over the differences between our Tuesday evenings.

Wednesday, 3:36am

The Bloke and I are at the top of a ruined high rise, and he is about to be hauled through a dilapidated door behind him to face a firing squad.  I can hear bullets spraying, drilling into the the other side of the wall, and he’s pleading with me to leave, telling me everything will be OK (which it clearly won’t be) as I get progressively more agitated and distraught.

In desperation I wake up, wrenching myself from the drama of the dream into the quiet of the night, and draw enormous comfort from the sound of the The Bloke’s breathing, deep and even, beside me in the dark.

Thursday, 5:40am

The flying foxes are at it again.

Those manic marsupials were squawking and carrying on as I drifted off to sleep, and now their raucous predawn party in the top of the tree next door has me wide awake.

I get up and stalk down the long hallway of my house, surefooted and keeneyed as a cat. They say the darkest part of night is just before the dawn, but this is my territory and I have no need for light in the place I call home.

A large part of me is nocturnal, too.

The Old Tin of Worms…

Radiohead minute

It’s easy to get lost in the tin of worms.

My head is going around like a tin of worms.

Not because I’m having a Squirrel Week, but because I have been absent from this small patch of cyberspace for more than a month and my brain is overloaded with partially constructed blog posts, bizarrely random thoughts and more than a few reminiscences.

I was struck last week, for example, that on 16 June 1997, Radiohead released their OK Computer album, followed ten days later, on 26 June 1997, by J K Rowling first publishing Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone.

HP 20 yrs

Two decades of brilliance!

Can we all just take a moment, please, to appreciate the fact that it has been twenty years since these two marvellous creations found their way into the wider world — and in the same month, no less?

I know this happy coincidence may not be considered particulary newsworthy in many circles, but in this weird and wacky era of Fake News and Alternative Facts, I think I would prefer to have my attention drawn to the fact that two of my favourite things in the whole world are celebrating two decades of existence rather than having to acknowledge the things that actually make the papers these days…except we don’t actually read newspapers any more now, do we?

See? That’s what my head is doing — leaping from one thought to the next, much like an Alaskan salmon struggling determinedly yet somehow dementedly upstream to spawn…something…

I mean, this is the time of year that all those Sockeyes and Chinooks and Ketas run, but given that I live more than half a world away from the Kenai Peninsula and haven’t set foot in Alaska for over ten years, I don’t think I can reliably claim to be having a Salmon Week?!

Perhaps it’s because we have finally found ourselves at the beginning of the Winter School Holidays here in the Antipodes that I am thinking such thoughts. Or maybe it’s because I’ve watched a few too many episodes of Life Below Zero on Netflix recently?

I freely admit that Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have beeng pushing every last one of my buttons lately — including buttons I didn’t even know I had — but I can’t really make my children scapegoats for my scattered headspace, particularly when I know that in addition to being more than usually annoying (because end of term and upcoming birthdays) they have also been responsible for some moments of actual joy I have experienced in the past weeks.

Take Miss Malaprop, for instance. Miss Malaprop was blowing up (and believe me, she possesses explosive power and matches it with unbelievable volume) because she couldn’t find anything to wear when I asked her to get dressed before a dinner out with her grandparents. Resisting the urge to retaliate in kind — a feat I managed only because I knew I would probably be poured a cold glass of Sav Blanc at some point in the not so distant future — I ventured into the demon’s lair Miss Malaprop’s bedroom and proceeded to extricate every last piece of clothing from her overstuffed drawers and wardrobe, removing anything that was too small or seasonally inappropriate, then carefully refolded and rehung what remained, all while speaking in soothing tones and encouraging the fiend my dear daughter to get dressed.

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To keep or not to keep…

Three bags full of charity later (more mine than hers, I thought at the time), Miss Malaprop was suitably attired.  She also behaved impeccably when dining with The Bloke’s parents. And then, a couple of days later, when I asked her whether she really wanted to give away a favourite top that had made its way into the hand-me-down pile (a dark blue t-shirt with a glow in the dark picture of the Millenium Falcon on it) she surprised me — no, she actually humbled me — by saying that even though she really loved that top she would rather pass it on than keep it, because that way someone else would get to enjoy wearing it, too.

Who knew?  Who actually knew that Sunday evening’s shrieking banshee could turn into Wednesday afternoon’s wunderkind?

Because now I feel completely and utterly torn between wanting to keep the top even more, so I can present it to her in twenty years or when her teenaged self most needs it, as a reminder of that beautiful moment when she showed such generosity of spirit — and yet knowing that to keep it would be completely contrary to her own wishes and the selflessness she so willingly displayed.

And so the worms turn yet again, and my mind remains a squirming mess, until my thoughts eventually happen upon Marcel Proust’s musings, and I am reminded that:

We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. 

Much like Harry Potter, really.

For a minute there, I lost myself…but I’m OKNOTOK now.

JKR

More words of wisdom…