Thursday, 27 March 2014

Koffie before the drive Home

Before sitting down today to write, I made my daily coffee. I have a little espresso machine and buy ground coffee which I store in my fridge, except for some which I keep in a small container ready for use. The last time I shopped the supermarket only had beans on special so I knew I was in for a hard road ahead.

So this morning I unearthed one of my treasures, an old 'koffie' grinder belonging to my parents. It came with them from the Netherlands when they emigrated to New Zealand in the 1950's and I recall them using it for many years. I only became a coffee drinker in the past 10 years, but maybe I kept the 'koffie' grinder for more than one reason. After a good clean, I had a great cup of coffee.

The other road traveled was south last week down the Bruce Highway. After a most fantabulous adventure in Townsville my girls and I headed home on Wednesday 19. The trip north from Yeppoon had been 8 hours plus in one day, but going home would be different.

We were tired after our full-on, happy days, but at one point considered heading straight home. Leaving Townsville at 3pm meant we would arrive around midnight. No worries, (Aussie lingo meaning that's ok) been there, done that many a time before. However, the plan was to stay in Bowen tonight, about 2 hours away. So we did.

Erica had booked accommodation weeks ago, and when we arrived at Horseshoe Bay, I remembered it immediately as a very spectacular and charming spot we'd stayed at many years ago, when the children were young, about 6, 3 and 1. What a coincidence. We'd hired a 'tinny' (Aussie dinghy), and motored about for several hours fishing and having fun.

This time the 3 of us arrived in the late afternoon and strolled along the shell and coral strewn beach, and among the granite boulders before taking in the wonderful sunset.

And after having dined like gourmets in Townsville, all we wanted for dinner was fish and chips! So that's what we had.

On Thursday morning, the Autumn Equinox, we were off by 8am. Only 6 or so hours to go now, we were new people.

An hour into the drive and we spot the Spirit of Queensland. It's travelling south, the track running parallel to the road, and in many places within stone's throw the entire length of the Bruce Highway. The Tilt Train also moves along this route, on other days, and it's faster.

Heading towards us are many green and purple Jucy, and white Wicked Campervans. Several were parked near the Strand in Townsville, with young people spilling and milling out of and around them. Ahh, I remember. Been there, done that too.

It's raining on and off now. Mist hangs low in places over the hills. We've been lucky as this is the middle of the wet season but it's been a very dry wet season. The wet season means cyclones and Cyclone Hadi has been lurking in the Coral Sea, teasing us with his indecision whether to make landfall or not.

By midday we need to make a comfort stop. Out in the middle of nowhere is a small 'servo' (Aussie slang for petrol station/roadhouse) Not being hungry, we buy coffee and a sausage roll and sit outside at the picnic table to eat. Ten minutes later we're on the road again, by 2.30pm we're home.

I silently thank my guardian angels for a safe trip as I take my bags inside, and an hour later I'm off to collect Winnie and Hunny.


Saturday, 22 March 2014

"A Most Fantabulous Week of Adventures..."

This past week has been made up of fantastic, fantabulous celebrations, adventures and ceremony. It all began early on Monday morning with a road trip up the Bruce Highway From: Yeppoon QLD To: Townsville City QLD from Yeppoon where I live, to Townsville, a journey of 741.9 km (492 mi) according to one of the many calculators available, and taking 8 hours and 1 minute, rather funny that 1 minute, it seems to me. Now, I've made this trip before and vaguely knew distance and time details, but time always varies according to how many stops you make and whether there are road works. Both are guaranteed. The Bruce Highway is the south-north National Highway in Queensland which runs 1,652 km (1,027 mi) from Brisbane to Cairns close to Australia's east coast, as you can see from the map.

My daughters Erica and Fini and I were travelling to Townsville for Erica's Ph.D Graduation Ceremony on Tuesday afternoon. We were understandably super excited about the upcoming ceremony, not so much about the forthcoming drive of 8 hours, and 1 minute, which could quite easily become 9 hours.

Predictably for Queensland, Monday morning was bright, clear and warm, and the further north we went the warmer it would be, so we had packed lightly for the 4 days we would be away. We were taking Fini's car, so she drove, Erica was the front seat passenger and I had the back seat to myself. I was grateful for this as I'd only slept 2 to 3 hours the night before due to excitement and anticipation, funny that. I don't get away much, so when I do, it's a big, beautiful deal! I could relax, close my eyes and tune out in the back seat and regain some lost energy for the days ahead.

"Our" stretch of the Bruce Highway - Rockhampton to Townsville - would take us through Marlborough, Sarina, Mackay, Proserpine, Bowen, Home Hill, and Ayr. Mackay is a city about half way, 4 hours or so, otherwise most other places are small towns with an occasional settlement interspersed like Ilbilbie or Gumlu.

There's not much to see for the first several hours before Sarina other than cattle country where there are white Brahman cattle  in their fields of light green grass (not the photo above) sprinkled with Eucalypts and Wattles.  Paperbark trees with their soft, peeling, paper-like sheets of bark flourish near rivers and creeks. At this time of year, most of the vegetation is green after the (unfortunately not enough) wet season.

As we near Mackay we pass into sugar cane country, established in the 1860's shortly after the founding of the then town. Kilometres and kilometres and hectares and hectares of sugar cane plantations spread out in almost continuous rows on either side of the highway, sometimes as far as the eye can see. Harvesting time approaches and most of the tall, lush green cane stalks look to be 3 to 4m tall as we rush by. In fact some of the cane is already being processed as evidenced by the occasional brown, stubbly field, and smoke rising from the stacks of local mills. The unique cane trains are nowhere in sight, but there are many empty bins waiting along tramways which frequently cross the road, bins to be shortly filled and hauled to the mills for round the clock sugar processing.

We'd made lunch and coffee and bought fruit and snacks for the journey, but nature called so we make a quick stop on the outskirts of Mackay, just beyond the turn off north. It's around 11.30 am and Erica takes over driving. About an hour in, Fini changes our entertainment from music to Deepak Chopra's "The Book of Secrets". I settle in for a session of deep learning, ahhh, excellent.

I listen, but also notice changes beyond the car. Traffic volume has increased, particularly heavy traffic like freight haulers. Small settlements and towns are more numerous. There are older types of houses here, Queenslanders,Abandoned farm house (image Abandoned Queenslander farm house in sugar can fields by teejaybee) square shaped timber dwellings of often only 2 bedrooms, set high with wide verandas all round to catch the breeze as much as possible during the long, hot summers in the days before air conditioning. I imagine the women 'glowing' in their long dresses and the men, dust covered, tanned and sweat stained, at the end of their day from the labour of hand cutting the cane...
Eventually the countyside becomes less flat, there are hills and ranges of hills to pass over or through, and the more hills, the less cane, until there is no more. Deepak's words are still sinking deep into my subconscious as we reach the outskirts of Townsville.  Don't ask how long the trip took, I'm not interested. All 3 of us are too happy to be out of the car. Needless to say, we'll have an early night, for tomorrow will be a double day of celebration. Ethan, my oldest grandson is turning 3. We'll phone him at some point in Yeppoon.

Wreck Point, Yeppoon, looking towards Byfield.

Tuesday, and first things first; breakfast. Erica knows all the good spots as she has lived here for nigh on 4 years until December. Her apartment was close to the northern area of "The Strand", Townsville's fabulous foreshore recreation and dining precinct. Her favourite brekky spot had been Odyssey, so we head there. After Bircher muesli and coffee, the day is ready for me and we stroll back to our motel. The girls need some last minute supplies for the ceremony later so go shopping then swimming. I simply rest.

Barbeque chicken on fresh rolls with salad is for lunch, then it's suddenly it's 1pm. Yikes! How did that happen? The mad rush is on to be ready for arrival at the Townsville Entertainment Centre by 2pm. Unlikely methinks, 2.30 probably. Erica needs to collect her gown, hood and bonnet by 3, for the ceremony at 3.30.
Finally, dressed "to the nines", we make our way, in bright sunshine under palms, over sole-deep, carefully tended grass and concrete paths to the entrance area of the Centre. Erica disappears, to return a glorious sight in royal blue bonnet trimmed with gold cord and tassel, royal blue gown lined with red, and a royal blue hood also lined in red which is draped over her arm. WOW, WOW, WOW! My daughter looks so deeply happy, and beautiful. Someone told me once that doing a Ph.D is one of the most stressful times of your life. Erica can vouch for that, but oh so very shortly she will be duly awarded her prize and rewarded for her focus and persistence. And when her turn comes, the hood she's been carrying is placed around her neck and the bonnet reset on her head. Doctoral Degree in hand, she can now say the 8 years it has taken to get here have been worth it. And I am a very, very proud parent :).

By the time we've taken photos it's 6.30pm. We'd made reservations in the morning for 7pm at A Touch of Salt, a great restaurant with delicious food situated on the Ross River. We have a table outside on the terrace right next to the river. The sun is down and the balmy evening breeze blows gently, just perfect. We order mojitos, a martini and a whiskey sour, all with a twist, then wonderful mains consisting of Duck, Moreton Bay Bugs and Aubergine Lasagne. We're even brave enough to have chocolate dessert and port after. Yum, YUM. Whist at dinner we ring Ethan and sing him Happy Birthday. Nearing 3, all he wanted was Ninja Turtles, so that's what he got. At a "non party" event for him on Saturday afternoon, he was showered with all things NT, including a TMNT cake to round off the day. We too are well rounded off this day.

Wednesday morning breakfast found us at the C Bar, also on The Strand, and another round of Bircher muesli and coffee for me. I don't vary my breakfast menu often, even when away from home, preferring a light start to the day. The C Bar sits right on the water's edge, with rocky foundations keeping it steady from whatever weather events come ashore, and cyclones regularly do. In February 2011 Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi crossed the coast at Mission Beach, about 250 km to the north, and still left Townsville and surrounds battered, bruised, snapped and exfoliated. Erica was here then and and was evacuated from her apartment to higher, safer ground. Even Yeppoon, 980 km's to the south experienced strong winds from that storm.

Back to our motel after breakfast to pack up before 10am and begin the journey home. We're not travelling the full 741.9 km today, but only going a few hours down the coast where we'll spend 1 night, then continue home on Thursday.

Before setting off, Erica goes out to the uni to say goodbye to some friends and Fini and I relax on the foreshore of The Strand. Before us not more than several km's offshore is Magnetic Island, and behind us are joggers and walkers, grandparents with their grandchildren and fur babies with their mums and dads, and in the background stands Castle Hill.

This is quite likely the last visit I shall make to Townsville, and indeed up this stretch of the Bruce Highway. Driving long distance is not my thing, I prefer to fly. Tomorrow afternoon I'll see Hunny and Winnie again hooray! They've been boarding in kennels, and even though I explained everything clearly to them, I couldn't help but feel sad to leave them, hoping they would be happy.

(They had a ball).

Now for the return.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

"Staying Strong": 2.

Wednesday 12th of March marked the 16th anniversary of the breakdown I experienced, the subject of my memoir "Staying Strong". It's not an anniversary I usually notice, but since revving up the writing of this story, it is one that's in front of me much of the time. Two weeks back I posted a snippet from my upcoming "Staying Strong", and this week and next I shall post further insight.

In 1998 I went through 9 long months that were dark, painful, frightening and full of despair. There are no fancy words or lively phrases to describe those months because there was nothing in my life then that came close to fancy or lively. There was only pain, fear and despair. That was it. NOTHING else existed, everything else was too difficult to cope with since my mind and body overloaded on the 12th March from staying strong for too long.

Now I was paying the price for what I previously thought utterly necessary. If only, if only...If only I had been able to de-stress sooner, or feel less guilty, or not be studying and working or, or.......It went on and on.

Prolonged severe stress for too long has a way of breaking the mind and the body. It does so to stop the prolonged severe stress, and it does so in dramatic style, one way or another. I slam-dunked into a breakdown and shut down.

There are lots of analogies for something like this. Anyone who has ever been through major trauma knows the same. There's the incident itself, the trauma, the realisation of what this means, then the road beyond. It's the road beyond where things become interesting because it's here where reality of the situation kicks in. Do I cope or don't I? Can I cope? There are physical, mental and emotional sides to trauma which become very raw and remain so for a long time, not just a day or so.

A breakdown is COMPLETELY OVERWHELMING. I was b r o k e n  d o w n. I wouldn't start, couldn't. Parts of me were so worn from over use I malfunctioned and simply stopped on March 12th 1998. I slowly repaired and 9 months later I was able to go again, slowly.

"...Bone weary, I headed to my bedroom, so happy I was still at home and able to lie down. I thought for a moment that I may be coming down with the flu as I did have some of the symptoms.

I lay on my back, closed my eyes and tried to relax.
“If I give myself 5 minutes I’ll be OK”, I thought. I was expecting the light headedness and queasiness to pass, but they didn’t. Instead, my legs began to tingle. It was as if I had pins and needles, so I flexed and relaxed my feet, thinking that would help. It didn’t. I began to feel very hot and started sweating profusely, even though it was cool in my room from the fan. I was very restless, moving my legs and now my arms because they too were tingling. It was if a change of position would relieve the weird sensations. But there was no relief, no matter what I did.

By now I was becoming scared. This, whatever it was, was escalating and I couldn’t stop it. Extreme nausea took over so I began breathing deeply, hoping it would improve my situation and cause the sensations and feelings to subside. I was also breathing deeply to try and get more air. I just couldn’t get enough air! Seemingly immense pressure was bearing down on my chest as well as building from within. My heart was pounding wildly, my head felt about to burst. Nothing I was doing to calm myself was working.

“I must be having a heart attack! I’m going to die” I thought, which was a reasonable conclusion given my situation. “What the hell is happening here? Why can’t I control this, and what is it anyway?”

Everything hurt so much. It seemed as if every fibre of my entire being was in pain. I was terrified. Petrified! NOTHING like this had ever happened to me. I was always a calm, cool and collected person. This was off the planet stuff and that scared me even more..." 
from "Staying Strong"

Next week I will be travelling but should be home in time for Friday's post. 

Have a great weekend everyone,


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Crafter's Graft: The Labour of Love.

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I've always crafted, but only recently started writing again on a regular basis. Over the years I've crafted many things, clothing, jewellery, gardens, poetry, nik-naks. I've sewn 'till the cows came home and crocheted 'till the chickens came in to roost.

The 'work' we do as craftspeople is a labour of love. I loved every stitch I sewed, loop I crocheted and word I wrote and write. I love it when the Pantster in me takes over and I'm off and flying with the sheer joy and freedom of my project when it's fresh and new. I'm like the kid in the candy shop, forever young with no constraints on my imagination and all the potential fun I can have.

It's true! This to me, is what crafting is all about. We are the lucky ones. We are writers able to craft and create whatever we want. Only crafters can do that. Our 'work', our labour, is what we love to do.

Yet 'labour' and 'graft' denote hard work. And let's get real here ha ha, crafting, be it writing, crocheting, woodworking or whatever beautiful we create, can be long, arduous and frustrating, and not worth the time and effort we put into it. All the same, ALL the craft I have ever done HAS been worth while. I have never made much money from my craft, it has always been because I loved what I was doing.

Likewise writing. It's a long and frustrating road at times. There are days and days, weeks even of sunshine and roses when inspiration flows and everything goes right. Then follows, for some odd reason no-one can ever explain, those brick wall days and weeks when there is no end of problems - no flow to the story, the computer dies, the perfect book you worked on for so long is actually crap etc, etc.

Many years ago I crocheted a beautiful but intricate round tablecloth for my mum. I can't recall how many times I had to undo it because at some point I went wrong. There was no option but to undo it to the mistake and start again, and again...but because I loved the 'work' so much, I finished it. It was truly a work of art and worth all the graft.

So it is with writing. It is a beautiful work of art, a craft, a labour of love. At some time we are all apprentices, like I am now. We do our time, learn our trade, always keep learning and never give up.

Through this process do we become Master Crafters.