Festivities & Finish Lines

xmas 2Choosing my Word of the Month for December was an absolute no-brainer: it is, and could only be, CELEBRATE!

We seem to have a special investment in Christmas (particularly) and the Festive Season (more generally) here in the Southern Hemisphere.  Our Christmases may not be white, fur-lined or fir-filled as they are in all the traditional carols, but here they are blue-skied, sunny and trimmed with sand and surf.

More importantly, they represent completion as much as they do birth. There is a real sense of “we made it“… the school year is over, workplaces tend to shut down, and everyone gets swept up in a whirl of carol nights and Christmas parties celebrating the end of another year.

We all watch Love Actually for the umpteenth time, despite the fact our winter coats have long been stashed away.  Summer arrives, in all its splendour.

Stone fruits are in season — mangoes and plums, peaches and nectarines — and seafood and salads seem the obvious choice for dinner, particularly when paired with prosecco or a crisp sav blanc.

xmas 1And even though several people have commented to me recently that everyone seems so stressed at this time of year, but my own experience has been quite the opposite.  When I went to the grocery store the other day to do the last Big Shop before the Big Day, I was amazed by the number of strangers who smiled at each other and engaged each me and others in conversation — there was a palpable sense of Christmas cheer in the air.

So I wish you, and anyone who has followed the Blue Jai Creative journey this year, a Christmas worth celebrating this year. May it be filled with the things that warm your heart and nourish your soul, wherever you find yourself.

And me? I’ll be with my family, making Christmas last as long as we can until New Years Eve rolls around, enjoying long sultry days and balmy summer nights until we welcome 2019 with glorious starbursts of fireworks above Sydney Harbour.

We’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.

xmas 3

Mandala People

Mandala 1November, it seems to me, is something of a forgotten month.

Not that it means to be, of course. Here in the Great Southern Land, November kicks off in style and ceremony, with all the pageantry (and absurdity) associated with the Race That Stops the Nation.   But once the Melbourne Cup has been run, all the celebratory elements somehow disperse, disappearing into the seven week slog towards the summer holidays and Christmas.

November, however, is not a month to be underestimated.

I have learned this, the hard way, in years gone by — and that’s why it seemed apt to made Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for November the most challenging I’ve selected all year: INTEGRATE.

Because it’s time, people.

It’s time to put all the pieces together.

At the year’s outset I wished my nearest and dearest (and anyone who happened to stumble across this small patch of cyberspace I call my own) strength and ease. And as time went one, we explored a different theme together each month, focusing on a specific concept. I invited you to connect and reimagine. To set your intention and find momentum. To seek alignment and focus. To know and understand your habits. To appreciate the value of honesty and perseverance.

Now don’t panic…I’m not about to start spouting stuff about “journeys” or “spiritual awakening” or “discovering your destiny”.

And please — feel free to insert an eye roll or three here. Seriously.

Mandala 3If you’ve read any of my posts during the year, you’ll know that’s not really my style.  Life is far too full of unexpected twists and turns (of both the totally awesome and not-so-crash-hot variety) for me to seek refuge in fluff and bunkum.

That said, nothing’s going to stop me from having the temerity to add the Mandala as a Symbol of the Month for November.

The mandala, despite its recent and frequent appearance between the pages of apparently calming colouring books, is an ancient symbol with its roots in Buddhism.  For Buddhists, the mandala represents nothing less than the whole universe — and if you’ve ever seen Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala, you will know how well this symbol fits with the concept of integration. It is incredibly beautiful (not to mention meditative and downright humbling) to watch as the monks use grains of coloured sand to form intricate patterns and pictures, working harmoniously together and producing a single unified whole out of many intricate and interconnected pieces.

Mandala 5If you haven’t had the privilege to see a sand mandala being made, you can watch one being created here. For me, it’s almost like watching a life unfold, which is why I believe it to be such an appropriate symbol for integration: it’s what we do, all our lives.  We take the pieces we have within our reach and we arrange and rearrange them until they fit in a way that looks and feels right for us.

In Jungian psychology, dreaming of a mandala represents the dreamer’s search for completeness and unity — those important, intangible things we are all searching for. We are all familiar with the niggling sensation when the pieces aren’t quite fitting together properly, or that the colours are somehow clashing. But we also know the feeling — the utterly glorious feeling — when they do fit, perfectly, and the colours seem to sing.

We are Mandala People.

All of us.

Anyone who is running a business or raising a family or generally trying to succeed in life is a Mandala Person. We are all trying to bring together — to integrate — all the separate parts of our existence and striving. We are all working on our own internal mandalas, making the picture as whole and complete as we can.

mandala 4It’s worth remembering, at this point, that the word integration comes from the Latin word integrus, meaning renew or restore. Each day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to bring all the pieces together, to restore our faith in the knowledge that every last grain of sand we add to our own internal mandalas counts.

Each day is a new beginning until, of course, we reach the end of our days. And once again, the sand mandala provides us with an exquisite reminder of our own impermanence: in the Buddhist tradition, as soon as the final grains of sand are added to complete the mandala, a lama takes his dorje and runs it through the sand. The bright colours fade into grey, resembling ashes or dust, and the sand is swept into an urn. The sand is then poured into running water, so that the healing powers generated by the mandala’s creation flow on and are extended to the whole world, so that it may be re-energised and healed.

Each grain of sand ultimately becomes part of something much larger, just as we are all small — but important, and individual — parts of a much larger whole.

So this month, and every month, I invite you to embrace the spirit of integration. Know that you, like everyone else, are a work in progress. That the only person who knows how the pieces really fit together for you, is you. That it’s perfectly fine to take your time — indeed, to take a lifetime — with the process of putting it all together. That every day is an opportunity to restore and renew.

We are Mandala People.

Mandala 6

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Drinking White Wine in the Sun…

I…really like Christmas…it’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it…

I’m one of those people who really gets into Christmas. I look forward to it — can’t get enough of decorating the tree, wrapping presents, creating table centrepieces and playing carols.

Every year we pick a different colour theme to use throughout the house, from the wreath on the door to the baubles on the tree, not to mention the wrapping on the presents beneath it. Somehow it seems to make Christmas fresh and shiny and new each year, and we know from the colours exactly which year it was whenever we look back at the photographs.

But yesterday I got a text from a very dear friend proclaiming that she is already over Christmas — that she can’t wait for it to be through.

And I realised, not for the first time this Christmas, that I’m one of the lucky ones.

Every single one of my living blood relatives resides in the same city as me. Just about all of our marriages are all still intact, some of them after more than forty years. And while I wouldn’t describe the vast majority of my family members as normal (whatever that means), we still all speak to each other…well, most of the time, anyway.

I do know just how lucky I am. I’ve celebrated Christmas thousands of miles from home and family members, and spent my childhood celebrating it twice as a result of my grandparents’ divorce — or three times if we made the long trek up the Pacific Highway to do it all again with my relatives in Queensland too.

Looking around at my circle of friends I see so many dear ones who have made Australia their home, and who still have family elsewhere. I know that at Christmas their thoughts will inevitably turn to England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Poland, Austria, Brazil…and I also know that however much we love it, Australia is a long way from most other places.

Wherever you are and whatever you face, these are the people who make you feel safe in this world…

I can’t take away the distance, or whatever dysfunction might affect your family situation this Christmas. But it is my fervent hope that you get to celebrate with the people you love, who mean something to you, regardless of whether they are related to you or not.

What I can do is share with you my favourite Christmas song.  It’s not a carol — but a beautiful, irreverent, heartfelt piece by the inimitable Tim Minchin. For me, it captures the spirit of Christmas in Australia, and sums up the way my family celebrates each year.

I can’t watch it through without tearing up.

But if you’re on your own this Christmas, or if your family situation is fractured or somehow faulty, or if you’re nine thousand miles from the people who dared to bring you into this world and gave you the courage to roam it, or if you are lucky enough celebrate Christmas surrounded by the people you love, or whatever your circumstances are — this is for you.

And me? The Bloke? Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop?

We’ll be seeing my Dad, my brother and sister-in-law, my nieces and Mum…we’ll be drinking white wine in the sun…

Sprechen Sie Liebe?

Darth Christmas

‘Tis the season, people…

‘Tis the season…so they say.

The season of attending a seemingly endless whirl of Christmas parties and festive functions involving various degrees of fun, stress, inebriation and/or sugar.

The season of juggling multiple (not to mention competing) schedules to ensure that everyone gets to their ballet concerts, client drinks, end of year school assemblies and only Rudolph knows what else — and woe betide you if you forgot to charge your phone and failed to video your offspring’s rousing rendition of Jingle Bells for the grandparents to watch later.

And the season of wondering just how Marvel Girl’s school managed to schedule a swimming carnival and a carols night on the same date…and of trying to remember to smile (rather than grin fixedly or simply scream) when Santa Claus turns up on a trailer with a sack filled with brightly coloured lollipops to hand to your already delirious preschooler a full hour after her bedtime…

Elves

One for my bookclub lovelies…

It really is the season, the silliest of seasons, perhaps…but in amongst all the absurdity and there’s still a lot to be thankful for:

I remain (eternally) grateful, for example, that the lovely ladies in my book club are all firmly of the view that licensed premises are the best place to convene our meetings — particularly if there’s a courtesy bus to take us home.  Every last one of us will put up with our husbands’ japes about our reading glasses having stems rather than lenses if we can be left to talk about our…er, um, chosen book — yes, I’m sure it was a book we were discussing —  every six weeks or so, no matter what time of year it is.

Nov-Dec 2015 020

Nobody likes a half-assed jingler…part of my Christmas wall in my kitchen.

 

I am equally glad that Christmas gives me a brilliant excuse to indulge my love of cheap and tacky decorations and to bedeck my home with banners, candles, baubles, wreaths and whatever else we have to hand.  I love that my little Miss Malaprop reminds me most days in December that “there’s no such thing as too much tinsel!”, but I am also quite relieved that Marvel Girl was prepared to change the tone of her letter to Santa so it didn’t bear quite so much resemblance to a solicitor’s letter of demand.

I am definitely appreciative of the fact that my children are learning to verbalise what they are feeling at this time of year: from the dizzying, wondrous, joyfilled, frequently candy-cane fuelled heights, right down to the despairing depths of the massively over-tired, over-excited, and over-just about everything.

fabulous

It’s easy to run out of steam, riding the Christmas Crazy Train…

I will admit that my heart did break a little bit this morning when a pair of mournful greeny-blue eyes looked up at mine and Miss Malaprop confessed that “her love tank was not very full”: it seems that riding the Christmas Crazy Train isn’t always easy, especially for small people desperately counting down the days until the arrival of one S Claus.

But I am also grateful that she spoke up, so I was able to surprise her with a love-tank filling visit to The Kitchen Nook, her favourite cafe to hang out in before preschool, and that upon arriving there we simply sat down and were presented with our regular order (one life-preserving long black, one not-so-hot chocolate) with a smile and a nod — without even having to ask for it.

It’s the little things, people…they don’t go unnoticed, and they count — regardless of the season.

Because that’s all it took, really: it may not seem like much, but a few minutes spent sitting together in a welcoming cafe, sipping our drinks and having a bit of a chat was all that was required to help us rediscover our Christmas spirit.

Tinsel

Spend time, speak love…

And when you strip away all the parties and presents, the baubles and the bling, and even the tinsel, that’s what this season is really about: spending time with people you love, and making sure that you’re speaking the same language.

So — sprechen sie liebe?

Parlez-vous l’amour?

Do you? Go on…’tis the season.

 

 

 

The Healing Power of Disco

Disco ball

Disco, kids’ tantrums and crime drama? It’ll all make sense soon…

So I’ve discovered a new phenomenon this week: the healing power of disco. It has been a two phase discovery — partly inspired by a mega-meltdown from Miss Malaprop, and the rest by Stellan Skarsgård’s mesmerising performance of a police officer grappling with mental illness and the murder of his partner in River.

Yeah, I know: disco, a child’s tantrum and a crime drama are not usually things that get mentioned in the same sentence, but bear with me here — even if it’s only because the silly season officially starts today.

To be honest, it was watching River that came first, and provided me with the inspiration for dealing slightly differently with Miss Malaprop’s apocalyptic outburst yesterday morning (OK, it probably wasn’t quite that bad…it just felt like it at the time).

River is definitely not your average police procedural — it’s far too psychological and, dare I say it, Shakespearian for that. And despite the fact that Swedish Skarsgård plays the lead (and is in virtually every scene of the series’ six episodes), it’s not a Scandinavian crime drama either. Brilliantly and elegantly written by Abi Morgan, it’s a BBC production that follows the increasingly unstable detective John River (Skarsgård, obviously), who is — quite literally — haunted by his partner, Stevie (Nicola Walker), as he attempts to unravel who was responsible for her murder, a traumatic event he had the misfortune to witness.

River

Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker at their brilliant best in River: “Madness can bring its own kind of clarity”, but a bit of Disco helps…

It’s compelling viewing, as dark and disturbed as River’s own mental state, yet punctuated with moments of startling insight into the beauty and fragility of humanity. And over the top of it all? A sparkling soundtrack full of the disco hits Stevie loved.

Oh I love to love…but my baby just loves to dance, he wants to dance, he loves to dance, he’s got to dance…

I’m not going to say any more about what happens to River, other than to say that I think the series is so good it probably deserves multiple viewings, that I am in total agreement with Michael Hogan’s assessment of Skarsgård’s handling of the final episode:

Skarsgård delivered a powerhouse performance: sad and soulful in one scene, sardonically spiky and manically energetic in the next. With his craggy face and crumpled demeanour, the haunted detective has prowled the streets of east London like a wounded bear, pawing at thin air as he pursued his prey.

Oh — I should probably also mention that since watching River, The Bloke and I have been humming disco anthems for at least a week now. And smiling at each other when we do. Not just because we know that we’re both remembering how Stevie made River smile when she sang along to disco songs while they drove around East London, but because it’s really hard to be grumpy when there’s disco in the house.

And that, of course, brings me to the god-awful Gotham morning I had with Miss Malaprop: what do you do when your younger child, sleep-deprived and still sugar-high after her very first camping trip, completely loses it before preschool?

Disco kitchen

Disco: my new remedy for counteracting meltdowns.

You dig out the Greatest Hits of Boney M, that’s what you do. Because it really is hard to be grumpy when there’s disco in the house.

Admittedly, it did take a little while, a whole lot of hugs (plus a hot chocolate with big AND small marshmallows), but before too long, Boney M were working their disco magic in my kitchen. And before long, there were smiles all around.

So this silly season, if the need arises, give it a spin at your house and embrace the healing power of disco…you may even discover yourself asking Santa to bring you a mirror ball to add some extra sparkle to your kitchen this Christmas.

Oh I love to love…but my baby just loves to dance, he wants to dance, he loves to dance, he’s got to dance…

Best wishes for surviving the silly season from Blue Jai.

And good luck trying to get that song out of your head now, too…