Creating the Cat Race

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Tauriel, being the light at the end of the self-isolation tunnel…

I have been doing a lot of pondering since I wrote my last post, when I railed against returning to the rat race in the post-iso world. My words seemed to gain traction with many people who read the piece, though the most frequently asked question I received in response to my musings was quite simply: How?

How, exactly, do we do things differently now that we are experiencing life, rebooted? How do we put into context and practice what we have learned during this, the craziest of years in living memory? How do we stop ourselves from falling back into old patterns and habits when we know there are alternative ways to do so many things?

Well, one of the more outlandish suggestions I received in response to my rejection of the rat race was that we create the cat race instead — and this, folks, is something I believe I could get behind.

As an aside, I have often said if it turns out reincarnation is actually a thing, I could do a lot worse than returning to this world as a cat. More specifically, if human options were definitely off the table for me, I’m pretty sure I’d be OK with reincarnating as a domestic cat in a comfortably appointed and well-managed home.

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Living with Tauriel has reminded me of the many things I have learned from cats.

In all seriousness, however, there is a surprising amount we can learn from cats and apply to our daily lives.

For starters, cats never over-commit: they exercise occasionally, eat moderately, eschew unnecessary interaction, and resolutely stick to their own schedules. Cats say precisely what they mean to only when they need to, are masters of saying “No” without uttering a single syllable, and fastidiously ignore anything that fails to capture their interest. Even so, cats consistently present well, most probably because they — very wisely — prioritise sleep and self care, and they appreciate the comforts of home. Finally, cats whole-heartedly embrace spontaneous pleasures, even if these involve pursuits humans deem spurious or frivolous, such as speed-scampering up and down hallways at peculiar hours.

I ask you: what’s not to like about the cat race so far?

Quite simply, it’s not so different from what I am attempting to do in my life now self-isolation is over.

I am committing to being less committed. I’m working out what is important to me and my family and making room for those, and only those, things. I’m shopping only once a week, which means I’m planning more and buying less. I’m making more conscious decisions about the projects I take on, and better predicting how these will impact my week and my interactions with my family.

I am sticking to my schedule. Even though I am committed to doing less, I am scheduling more. We all knew there were 24 hours in a day before self-isolation, but I now have a better appreciation of time and how I spend it. By sticking to a routine I can accomplish what I need to and still make time for things that make my soul sing, and for much needed restorative sleep.

I am appreciating home. Yes, we all saw a lot of the same four walls during self-isolation. But I’m far more appreciative now that I have four walls around me (even if I’m also far more aware how much they need re-painting), and a roof over my head to keep the winter weather out. By extension, I’m also making sure that I am supporting businesses close to my home, such as my local beautician, bakery and bookstore.

I am embracing spontaneous outbursts of fun. It’s easier than you think to say no to things, but sometimes — particularly when you’re overcommitted — it’s harder to say yes. I have discovered that when I combine the three things I’ve mentioned above, I have far more space in my life, my head and my heart to say yes to unexpected delights. During the past week, for example, I went on a long walk with my elder daughter and in two hours learned more about how she was feeling and what she’d been doing than I had in the two months. I played a game of Scrabble with my Dad, The Professor, which — given he has dementia — is something I will cherish as I don’t know how long his ability to play will last. I bought a bunch of flowers chosen by my younger daughter and they are still brightening our kitchen today. And most days, I sat and relished the luxury of a large cup of hot coffee.

These, my friends, are the cornerstones of what I am calling the Cat Race, and anyone — I mean anyone, is welcome to join in.

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Tauriel suggests spontaneous delights can also be encountered in a bookcase (which may or may not include enticingly tasselled mala beads, as well as books).

 

 

 

First Steps on the Road to Delight

Last month I began my journey along the road to delight, and it’s having some surprising results. In a short space of time, noticing the moments, feelings, things and experiences that delight me is becoming increasingly second nature. And as I become more attuned to the delightful in my life and my world, I am discovering a corresponding increase in the gratitude I feel.

These are some of things that I have found delightful over the past couple of weeks.

The Libby App

postcard 1Anyone who follows this blog with any degree of regularity will know I am a bookworm. Nothing makes me happier than curling up with a book in my favourite armchair: a deep blue velvety wingbacked piece beside my bedroom window, which places me within easy reach of a sill to put a hot mug of tea on and in the path of the beautiful sea breezes that grace the Sydney seaboard at this time of year. And while my beloved armchair (quite obviously) qualifies as an object of delight in my life, so does the recently acquired Libby app on my iPad.

I’m not sure what size or manner of rock I have been living under, but it did not occur to me until the (recently ended) summer holidays to investigate the online borrowing prospects from my local library. What an Aladdin’s cave of treasures I have encountered since! So far I have plowed through three or four books on the iPad, borrowed in seconds and returned with equal ease from the comfort of my favourite bookreading snug spot. I’ve also read more widely than I would usually, depending on what was available to borrow at the time. Who knew an app could bring me such joy? Libby is my new best friend.

I suspect Scheherazade would have approved, too.

The Ice Cream Artiste

postcard 2Ice cream — particularly, in my case, the non-dairy variety — is generally delightful.

But a beautifully crafted scoop of ice cream in a cone? That’s downright magical — especially if it’s from the artisan ice cream parlour that has miraculously opened at the end of my street. There, a man we’ll call Theo (because that’s his name) serves astonishingly delicious home made ice creams he sculpts — yes, sculpts — onto cones and into cups.

There is something truly wonderful about watching someone make something for you with such care and deliberation.

It’s also somehow humbling.

And did I mention it was delicious?

The Sound and Smell of Rain

postcard 3Summer in Australia has been marred this year by destruction and devastation on a scale so vast the word “unprecedented” has nearly been worn out. Parts of our extended family have been directly affected by the bushfires, though mercifully their homes and most of their properties have been saved.

After days and weeks of high temperatures and thick smoke smothering Sydney, however, the arrival of rain a week or so ago was more than welcome. For someone who has taken to listening to the Night Rain playlist on Spotify to get to sleep, hearing the sound of the real thing on the roof and smelling the difference in the air was unbelievably comforting. And with more of the good stuff due in the next few days, I am hopeful it will bring delight wherever it falls.

My Cat’s Response to Yoga

postcard 4Now that the kids have gone back to school, I’m turning my attention to achieving some of my goals for the year — including timetabling and prioritising regular exercise. Getting out for a walk during the cool of the early morning was something I enjoyed doing with the girls when they were on holidays (well, mostly…when they weren’t whinging), but now I have more time to myself I have been getting out my mat and doing some yoga via YouTube.

Exercise itself could be listed here as a delight — who doesn’t love an endorphin rush? But the unexpected upside of my living room yoga sessions is the way my cat responds: no matter where Tauriel has been curled up sleeping or snoozing (I’m so reincarnating as a cat in a comfortable home), by the time I find myself in savasana she is there beside me, circling around me, brushing up against me and purring loudly, no doubt drawn by the positive energy that yoga just about always brings.

So there you have it! Some postcards from my first steps along the road to delight. I’m sure there will be many more to come.

BJx

 

Rescued

noI have been saying NO to my children for a very long time.

Despite my best efforts to be a mother who phrases things positively, explaining what I want them to do rather than what I would like them to stop doing, there has been one small, though significant thing I have been saying no to repeatedly — pretty much ever since they learned how to walk and talk.

No, we are NOT getting a pet.

No, not a cat.

No, not a dog either. 

No, not even a fish.

No. 

And it’s not like I haven’t had good reasons for saying no. In fact, both my girls can quote you, chapter and verse, the many and detailed reasons I have provided to them over the past nine years (since our last pet passed on) why we would not be getting a replacement four legged friend any time soon.

There have even been occasions — usually when they have been particularly persistent in their pestering for a pet of their own — when I felt tempted to start spounting the lines from Labyrinth Sarah uses to defeat the Goblin King.  Go on, I would think to myself, try me: “My will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great…YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME!

But the thing is, as it turned out that one small creature DID have power over me.

During the Easter holidays, I softened my hardline just a smidge: I finally relented and informed the girls that they would be allowed to get a small tank and some fish. They would need to be in charge of cleaning the aquarium, feeding and caring for their new finned friends. They also needed to work out how much everything would cost and stick to a budget when making their initial purchases — gravel, tank decorations, the fish themselves, the works.

And then, while we were at the pet store, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop just happened to venture down to the far end of the shop to a couple of cages containing animals who were up for adoption. They might even have “borrowed” my phone to take pictures of said creatures…or, more accurately, of one in particular.

We went home, set up the tank, washed the gravel, positioned all the plants and the hula hut decoration, got the filter and lights going and and began treating the water so it was ready for fish.

Later that night, once the kids were in bed, I found a series of photographs on my phone. They weren’t great pictures, because many of them had the bars of a cage featuring prominently in the foreground. But beyond the bars was a small, furry feline with tabby/tortishell markings, spectacular whiskers, beautiful eyes and an elegant tail that resembled a plume.

She was one year old. Desexed, microchipped, vaccinated. And she was a stray.

Next morning, I woke up well before the kids.  Without even meaning to, or realising what I was doing, I picked up my phone off my bedside table and began scrolling through the images of the small, furry creature who was most definitely not a fish.

The Bloke rolled over, wondering what on earth had possessed me to start checking my phone at 5:00am.

Ah, he said. I thought this might happen.  I saw her too.

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So, as it turns out, we returned to the pet store that day and came home not with fish, but with a small and ever so delightful cat we have named Tauriel.

And since we got her — or since I said YES — I have made some interesting discoveries.

I have yelled less. We have all been calmer, and made an effort to get along with each other better. We have tried to make Tauriel feel at home, and she was rewarded us with her madcap toy mouse-capades and her speed scampering up and down the hallway, with purrs and playful bites and with the joy only an animal can bring.

The many and varied reasons why we should not have got a four-legged friend remain, and will continue to do so, but after eight or nine years of saying NO, Tauriel appeared at precisely the right time for me to change my formerly made-up mind.

A rescue cat, is Tauriel. And even though we may have rescued her from an uncertain future, I suspect we all feel she has rescued us, too, and that we are as lucky to have her as she is to have us.

And the fish? Well…we finally got them too — and Tauriel takes great delight in watching Mahalo, Taco, Nacho and Mrs Norris swimming around in their tank. So do we.

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At the Going Down of the Sun…

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There was once a man who loved to sail…

It’s Anzac Day here in Australia today — the day we commemorate the continued service and sacrifice of our armed forces, the day we remember those who gave their lives to make this country the safe haven it is today.

For me, Anzac Day is a solemn occasion. It brings to mind of the sharp scent of rosemary, the sound of harbourbound fighter planes overhead, and the comforting feel and weight of the two brass buttons from my grandfather’s naval dress uniform that I took into every exam at the end of high school and throughout university.

I have no memories of my grandfather speaking to me of his war service: not of surviving the bombing of Darwin, not of the time he spent at sea during the war in the Pacific, not of being one of the first Australians to set foot on Japanese soil after the signing of the surrender in Toyko Bay. And yet, the photograph I have of him on top of my piano is one that was taken at sea during that awful time, and it is of a slim young man leaning casually against the ship’s rail, immaculately dressed (as always) and smiling — and reminding me of my younger brother more than I’d like to admit.

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…he was my Grandfather…

Somehow, the sight of that photograph often prompts me to imagine what he and his mates went through — a bunch of blokes thrown together as the crew of a small ship on a vast ocean, facing a determined enemy. In all honesty, however, I know I can’t really imagine what it was like. Not the exhaustion. Or the feeling of being constantly threatened. Or the battles at sea. Or the kamikazes. And even though I will always be proud of his service, my overwhelmingly emotion is one of relief that he came home.

That he had a family.

That I got to know him and love him.

And as I write this, I am acutely aware that in a matter of days it will be the 25th anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

Anniversaries are strange things. At first they often feel so raw we wonder whether we will make it through them, and worry that the sorrow and anguish will never go away. Because loss literally makes our hearts ache — and I suspect Queen Elizabeth II was absolutely right when she once told her young grandsons, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

But even as time goes on, anniversaries can fill us with a welter of conflicting emotions, and can sometimes surprise us with the  intensity of our residual grief. Only two years ago, I used this space to write about my grandfather when those feelings crept up on me once again. And, perhaps because I am at heart a reader and writer, then as now I tend to draw comfort from the words of fictional characters whenever grief rears its shaggy head. In the Harry Potter series, for example, Albus Dumbledore offers these comforting words:

Ddore dead do not

…and he’s never really left me….

To have been loved deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.

Elsewhere, Dumbledore also reminds us that the ones who love us never truly leave us, and that even when they have the continue to influence us in our everyday lives — in the thoughts we think, the decisions we make, even in the turns of phrase we use.

I try to pass those funny little things that my grandparents said on to my own children.  My Welsh grandmother, for example, used to say “Golly Gosh!”, which my kids, for reasons known only to them, find utterly delightful. My globetrotting gypsy grandmother was famous for asking, “Where’s Beulah?” every time she hosted a dinner party — referring to an imaginary kitchen maid who supposedly shot through every time guests arrived, leaving Grandma with all the work. And my grandfather? Well, any success, no matter how big or small, was always celebrated by him as being a “true triumph”.

I am grateful I can refer my children to the words of their ancestors as well as those of Albus Dumbledore when they are in need of comfort, though there is one other thing I told them when they were small that they have latched onto: that when someone we love dies, we see them again every night because they are up with the twinkling stars. They reminded me of this only recently when, after we finished reading The Hobbit together, we sat down as a family and watched all three Hobbit movies. Not surprisingly, both my girls have become particularly fond of Tauriel, the Sylvan Elf who does not appear in the book, but who has a minor role in the movies.

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…and he never ever will.

When Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves have been imprisoned by Thranduil, The Elvenking of Mirkwood, Tauriel has a discussion with Kili, one of the younger dwarves about Mereth Nuin Giliath, the Feast of Starlight.

“All light is sacred to the Eldar, but the Wood Elves love best the light of the stars,” Tauriel tells Kili, who says he always thought starlight was cold, remote and far away.

But Tauriel, it seems, has a similar view of the stars to mine:

It is memory, precious and pure…I have walked there sometimes, beyond the forest and out into the night. I have seen the world fall away and the white light of forever fill the air.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

At the going down of the sun, the twinkling stars shine.