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Sweet cherry blossoms

In Autumn of 2010, I found myself sitting in a quaint tea house in Osaka.  I had walked from my hotel where I’d spent the better part of the day reading my best friend’s eulogy, over a wooden bridge towards the tea house.  Overhung by cherry blossom trees that were losing their flowers, the bridge seemed the perfect place to reflect on what had become my last day with my friend.

Before her passing she had often asked me to describe the trees in Japan.  ‘Tell me about the cherry blossoms in Autumn’ she’d said, and I’d tell her they were beautiful.  They were white, pink and every variation in between.

The best thing about visiting them in Autumn was the way it seemed to be snowing cherry blossoms. 

Their sweet fragrance filled the air and their small flowers and petals would be seamlessly plucked from the bony trees by the wind for them to rain down.  They’d create spectacular, coloured carpets for tourists to appreciate and locals to tiptoe across.  I’d tell her about the bridge over the lake that lead to a stone path, darkened with moss.  The path lead up to the little tea house that looked traditional from the outside but was surprisingly modern inside.  I’d tell her about how looking out the window at home seemed the same as looking out the window of the tea house, at home during the winter the snow would fall onto the windowsill and create mounds of white for us to peer through, just as the cherry blossoms would in Japan.

The only difference was instead of looking at exquisite snowflakes, you would be looking at the remarkable detail in a single blossom.  ‘If I don’t make it there,’ she’d said, ‘take me when I’m gone.’  She’d said it more as a question than a statement, but I knew it was her dying wish.  So I found myself, that particular Autumn, dripping my wet, hot tears into the lake, while I gently scattered her ashes to fall under the bridge.  Her ashes mixed with the delicate flowers and it seemed so fitting that her spirit should be left among sweet tiny pink and white florets to float along a peaceful water’s edge forever.

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Surviving toddlerhood

My little guy has only been a toddler for five months.  I saw him reach the bittersweet milestone with his first few steps.  Within a few days he was walking steadily on his pudgy little feet.  With his newfound independence came happiness, as he explored his surroundings.  Happiest in the backyard, he’d toddle around the plants and through the washing dangling from the line.  It seemed that with toddling also came his idea that he could do what he liked.  I usually let him do what he likes, but I make sure he’s safe, which of course has lead to tantrums when he can’t do what he wants.  I know tantrums are a natural part of growing up, but when they hit you don’t really expect it.

It was yesterday that I experienced our first public tantrum.  I’d been advised to make sure he’s safe and then ignore the behaviour until he’s calmed down, which is what I tried to do.  We were in our local hardware store, and my little boy was happily pushing a miniature shopping trolley through the aisles as I looked for fertiliser and lawn seed.  He was thrilled to have some items in his trolley and we made our way to the front of the store where the checkouts stood.  I helped my boy wheel his trolley into the trolley bay and took the items out to put onto the checkout conveyor belt.  Well, didn’t I make two mistakes within seconds of one another?

Apparently, the trolley didn’t need to go back and I should’ve left the lawn seed where it was.  Sigh.

The crying began, and soon I had a writhing octopus of a child in my arms.

I wanted to try and console him, but he continued and wouldn’t settle.  He arched his back and threw his head back until I could see his top teeth through his tears.  I couldn’t support his weight while  he thrashed and tore at me.  I placed him carefully on the ground.  I felt terrible.  Everyone was watching me put my child on the floor while he was distressed.  “I am a good mother, I am a good mother”, I repeated to myself while I tried my best to ignore not only his behaviour but the staring, laughing, pointing and whispered comments.  It was time to move forward in the line.  My boy was laying on his back screaming at the ceiling.

I was never going to have a child who had tantrums.  My boy was going to be happy and understanding.  My friend told me that because she’d compromised on most of the things her son wanted in order to allow him to have what he wanted, within reason, he’d never really had a tantrum.  I thought I could do the same.  I don’t think my son is spoiled.  I think I’ve tried my best to raise him in his short life to learn boundaries… the best you can teach them at 17 months of course.  But I had no such luck, yesterday anyway.  I ended up carrying him horizontally to the car and strapping him into his seat, all the while he was still screaming.  After turning the music up and singing along to try and distract him he decided to calm down.  One second on, one second off. Happy, sad, within seconds.  Such is the life of a toddler.

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Christmas in Germany

Years ago, just before Christmas, I took a flight on my own from Brisbane, Australia, to Frankfurt, Germany to see a friend of mine who was living there at the time.  One of the most memorable day trips was on one of the coldest days.  We stood at the bottom of a mountain in Schwangau with a group of other tourists, dressed in layers to keep the warmth in, me in my Russian-style hat so my ears didn’t ache.  The water that had dripped from the rooves of the small buildings that sold tickets and hot chocolates had frozen into clear stalactites.

Snow had fallen onto the branches and leaves of the fir trees to make everything look majestic, as if it were a set from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  We decided to take a horse and carriage up the mountain to Neuschwanstein castle.  The seemingly easy decision was harder than we’d originally thought: walk up and stay warm from the exercise but arrive later than most people, or ride up feeling like an ice statue and arrive in time for the tour.  The dark wooden seats were cold as we sat down and the horses’ breaths were steam in the freezing air.  We huddled together and hugged our hot chocolates, watching our winter wonderland on either side of the carriage and listening to the crunch of the snow under the hooves and wheels.

As we neared the top of the mountain the castle came into view.

It was absolutely breathtaking.

Almost exactly as it is pictured above, it stood, looming over us like no building I had encountered ever before.  I almost expected Rapunzel to drop silky golden hair from the top window and Cinderella to be cleaning the fire places inside.  We were taken on a tour throughout a section of the castle.  I was enamoured by the detail in every part of each room: the wood that was turned so precisely for bed rails and table legs, gold chandeliers that lit the dim, large rooms for us to see decorative cornices, architraves and ceilings.

After a detailed tour we decided to walk back down the mountain.  The unfamiliar squeak of packed snow under my boots made for an interesting trip downhill.  We caught a bus back to our hostel and made a short snowman outside.  The castle has lived in my dreams ever since and I look forward to the day I will return.

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Growing up with a wiggly spine

I called it a wiggly spine, but the medical term is Scoliosis, meaning ‘curvature of the spine’.  When I was 12 everyone at school was taken for a screening.  Somehow, I’d missed the memo that we were supposed to come wearing our swimming costume to school so we wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of the nurses.  There were a few of us who stood awkwardly to the side and requested the nurse looked at us in private.  Everybody unzipped their dresses and lined up facing the wall.  “Touch your toes”, said the nurse and proceeded along the line.  She took three of us aside and gave us a letter.

“Give this letter to your mum or dad.”

I didn’t really have any idea what was going on, but I gave the letter to mum when I arrived home.  We visited the doctor shortly thereafter who asked me to touch my toes too.  While I stood there, half naked, wondering why doctors had a sudden fascination with me touching my toes, I wondered if there was something wrong with me.  The doctor said there was a slight curve that we should keep an eye on and sent us on our way.  I started having back pain and my mum took me to her massage therapist.  It wasn’t long before I was a year older and having weekly massage when the massage therapist told my mum to go back to the doctor.

The doctor referred us to a specialist who asked me to touch my toes in a little room he had just for toe touching.  He said my curve was an ‘S’ curve, which meant my lumbar (the bottom section) spine had grown twisted and curved and the thoracic (the upper section) had curved in the opposite direction to compensate.  He recommended the use of an underarm back brace that is made of fibreglass and strapped tightly around the body to push the spine back into the correct position.  He said Scoliosis doesn’t hurt.  I asked him whether he’d had Scoliosis.

We made our trip to the ‘braceman’, a sweet man named Gary.  He asked me to lay on what looked like a bed frame without the slats, with a seatbelt strapped down the centre from head to toe.  I had to lay on the seatbelt and hold on to the sides of the frame.  He placed a long piece of metal down the centre of my chest and stomach then pulled up a body suit.  I was cold.  Gary chatted with my mum while he washed the bandages, wetting them to activate the plaster.  He came over to me, dripping plaster on me and wrapped my body from under my arms to the tops of my legs.  As the plaster set, I warmed up.  It was hard to breathe and I wondered whether my brace would be so tight.  He cut the plaster off using a saw on the metal piece down my front and I was allowed to shower and dress.

This is what my brace looked like.  Picture courtesy: nytimes

It didn’t take long before I was wearing my brace every day, 23 hours a day.  We live in a warm climate and it was hot.  At first, I found it difficult to breathe and eat.  I would sweat and had to find a comfortable, small t-shirt to wear underneath it so the rashes I had from it rubbing on my skin didn’t worsen.  Once a day, I would take the brace off to shower and wash it.  Summer was terrible and I always felt like I smelled, but winter was also frustrating as I had come to feel better wearing my brace and it took a longer amount of time to dry after being washed.

I continued to see my doctor, with the bedside manner of the fish in the small bowl on his desk.  I had countless x-rays and extra padding added to my brace to make it work more effectively.  It didn’t seem to matter what we did – back brace, chiropractic, exercises, yoga, massage – my back still worsened.  They determined I had stopped growing when I was 16 by looking at the growth plates in my hips on an x-ray.  The doctor said that the brace doesn’t help much after someone stops growing so I could start wearing it for fewer and fewer hours a day.  My muscles were so weak that I found it really difficult to stop wearing it.  As much as I hated having to wear it, I also felt well supported.

By the time I was 17 I wasn’t wearing it at all.  I spent the first full year of high school brace free in my final year.  I had grand plans to go to university with my friends the following year and study Behavioural Science (Psychology).  While I was accepted along with my friends, they went on to uni and I went on to the doctor’s surgery.  Part of the deal was to keep having x-rays and be monitored to make sure my spine didn’t curve anymore than it had already.  Unfortunately, my curve had worsened again.  At 45 degrees, they recommended surgery.  I was very uncomfortable and not really surprised that it was worse.  They said I would have an anterior spinal fusion with instrumentation, which meant that they would conduct the surgery from my side (or front) and fuse the most curved section of my spine together using rods and screws through each vertebrae.

I went in for surgery on the 9th of April 2003 with a 55 degree curve.  My spine would’ve looked something like this (NB this x-ray is not of my spine):

Photo courtesy: Seton Spine & Scoliosis

It was the first time I’d been in hospital for surgery and I was anxious.  I knew I had to be brave though as this was an operation that had to happen!  I said goodbye to mum and dad and they wheeled me into theatre.  I slid across from my bed into a small operating table and before I knew it they’d put me to sleep.

I woke up and could feel my bed being wheeled somewhere, but I couldn’t open my eyes.  My mouth was so dry it felt like a desert.  I asked for water and they gave me ice chips.  The pain was a heavy ache in my lower back and I struggled to breathe against the tube that was put in my side to drain fluid away from the surgery site.  The nurses said that my lung had collapsed during surgery and I would have to do some exercises to help re-inflate it.  I spent 10 days in hospital and couldn’t wait to go home on Good Friday.  I really wanted to be home for Easter.  During the first few days I sat up in bed, my head spinning like I’d never felt before, and never have since.  I honestly thought I’d never be able to stand up again.  When I stood up on about the third day I had two people on either side of me for support while the room flung itself around me, it wasn’t long before I had to lay back down again.

After surgery, my x-ray looked like this (again… not me. I had my rods put in lower and with four screws):


Photo Courtesy: Gangahospital

I walked for the first time with my new back from my bed to the door, which was a space of about three metres.

It felt like I had run a marathon.

My legs worked well but it felt different to walk.  I didn’t limp as I used to and there wasn’t the twist in my hips I had been so familiar with.  I was very sick from the pain medication they gave me.  I was always tiny, and went in to hospital weighing 38 kilograms.  When I left, I weighed 28 kilograms.  My parents bought me a one kilogram Easter egg to enjoy and to try and help put some weight back on.  I was told to walk for one hour every day to strengthen my muscles.  I found, and still find, it very uncomfortable to sit.  My favourite position was laying down, where the weight was eased by the couch or bed.

It’s now 11 years later, and all the things I’d wanted to do I have done with my bionic spine.  I have learned dancing and ice skating, and naturally delivered my little son.  Having scoliosis was painful, despite what my doctor said.  It’s still painful for me.  Everyday I have constant pain and tension like a burning spear in my upper back as it compensates for my rigid lower spine.  Going through the treatment for scoliosis helped me learn what it was like to feel different, to be laughed at for looking weird, to live with bigger issues than those of most of my teenage friends, and to be compassionate.  Compassion was one trait that I found in some people who loved and supported me regardless of my state, and I learned the value in treating people with compassion.

If there are any parents of children or teenagers, or indeed children or teenagers themselves reading this post who would like to contact me with questions or for support please email me at

I’d like to thank my family, who supported me through the difficult years.  My parents, who were understanding and patient watching me deal with the illness, and subsequently seeing my sister need to use a back brace as well.  L<3ve you all. xo

A Hooker’s Paradise

Some may say that crochet is for an activity you take up after your 70th birthday. While I’ve always been told I’m beyond my years I don’t think I’m quite that far. Regardless, it was about four years ago that I picked up a tacky plastic hook and some wool to start my first few crochet stitches. It wasn’t long before I’d learned and practised the basic stitches and yearned for more. I couldn’t read a diagram or a pattern so I sought help from amazingly talented ‘hookers’ online instead. Through countless videos I learned how to increase and decrease stitches, change yarn (the fancy and American term for wool) and make all sorts of things. I made Christmas decorations and presents for my family, baby clothes and toys and a number of different afghans or blankets.

“This amazingly relaxing hobby has been the secret of grannies far and wide…”

But the truth is, it’s coming back into fashion. Not necessarily all the patterns that we saw years ago, but definitely new, modern, bright patterns that help make your house a home. Using beautiful variegated yarn to create an afghan was my most recent project. As the colours changed from a deep burgundy to lilac, brown to dark green to lime, then from dark blue back to purple I felt the soft yarn slide through my fingers. The texture of the yarn and the cold hardness of my new metal hook grounded me and I felt my stress seeping away. The sense of working on something that can rarely be completed in a day, or even a week is satisfying. As I became more experienced I learned how to read a diagram, then a pattern and am now experimenting with different patterns to create new amazing projects. My favourite is crocheting for Christmas and this year’s project is bound to be an Advent calendar…wish me luck!

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Beheading Islamic State: Are we finally doing it right?

With recent reports that Islamic State have released a third video of a beheading, this time of a British aide worker, David Haines, the United States has ordered another series of air strikes against the group.

Not surprisingly, the United States has asked Australia to be involved in the operation to fight the deplorable actions of ISIL.  President Obama has been successful in establishing a coalition to support the United States in the humanitarian effort.  It is believed that 600 Australian personnel will be deployed to assist the Middle East in preparation for military action in Iraq.  While it is currently a ‘no boots’ operation, meaning no ground forces to be deployed from Australia, it is inevitable that the US will deploy ground forces.

Sixty-three per cent of Australians are said to support the mission, although the leader of The Australian Greens Party, Christine Milne raises doubt, saying that Australia should accept advice from ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation).  Further, Milne states that Australians can’t ignore the impact any military involvement in Iraq or the Middle East might have on the risk of a terrorist act or security incident in Australia.

President Obama states that ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) is not a state, despite the radical group calling itself the Islamic State.

“ISIL was formerly Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq.”

It is also not Islamic and the vast majority of its victims have been Muslim.  So, my question for you is: are we finally engaging in a ‘war effort’ the right way?  In the past we have sent our own soldiers to fight in what has largely been deemed as another Nation’s war.  Now, we are stepping in to support the United States against a terrorist organisation that is threatening the Western world by providing strategic military support to soldiers in the area.  There may be no ‘right’ way to fight against any group, let alone a group of this nature.

Obama states that the coalition will fight to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL’ through a counter-terrorism strategy… will it work?  Are we fighting the right way?  Does it depend on our definition of success?

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Natural paradise

When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by a smiling band of locals playing ukuleles and presenting us with flowers and bottles of water.  It was hot and steamy as we stepped off the plane, not unlike our home town, but Vanuatu was different.  I was excited and jumped into our minibus with an air of expectation, when the air around me was so relaxed it was almost impossible to breathe.  Arriving at our beautiful Breakas Beach Resort, I found myself relaxing and enjoying the polite but care-free attitude of the locals.  As I stepped into the reception area my breath was taken away from me.  I looked out onto the wide line of private beach that sat behind a large pool inhabiting floating tourists.

My husband and I unpacked in our comfortable thatched-roof villa and went straight down to the beach.  We found ourselves walking in the habitat of tropical sealife.  Bright blue starfish bigger than our hands were scattered on the reef, black and white curious sea snakes avoided us, sea cucumbers dotted the floor and colourful fish swam around our ankles.  We supported the locals by buying their produce and tasting the beautiful coconut milk.  We bought shells, carvings and so many different types of bananas.

Dinner was best found at local restaurants with the best seafood we’ve ever tasted.  Our day trips throughout the country showed us the simple state in which some locals lived.  We visited their villages and watched them weave and fish.  I had my long hair braided into the thinnest of braids, attached so tightly to my head.  On our last night, we experienced a loud, deep storm that thundered overhead and dumped rain on our roof.  We were protected and comfortable inside, though, listening to the pitter-patter of rain and watching the flashes of lightening over the bay.  Our return found us relaxed and renewed, ready to return to our lives in the rat race.

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Neighbourhood Heroes

This morning on our long daily walk, my son, who was travelling in his pram, suddenly sat up.  The dog, tied to the pram, kept plodding along, as did I.  “What is it, Harrison?” I asked when I noticed him sitting forward and pointing.  What I’d taken for granted was… well everything.  I took the trees, the houses, the birds, the cars and the kids on their way to school for granted.  Harrison marvelled in all of them.  I’d heard the sirens but hadn’t acknowledged the vehicle.  As I saw the lights approaching the roundabout I said, “Harrison, look at the ambulance!” He turned around in his pram and pointed, wanting me to see the lights that he’d never seen before even though I had seen them countless times.

“Hang on a minute, I think it’s a fire engine!”

We rarely see fire trucks on the streets, even though there is a fire station nearby.  We live close to a hospital though, so we often see ambulances.  As the big, red engine lumbered towards us as fast as it was allowed, I knelt down next to Harrison.  The lights flashed and the sirens screamed, demanding attention.  In the front seat I saw three fluro-legged men, their wide shoulders squashed next to one another.  Harrison pointed and I waved, I didn’t expect anything in return.  What we received was three smiling men waving through the large front window of the truck as they sped by.  I was astounded.  On the way to an emergency, the men who’d been called to yet another dangerous situation, would acknowledge a baby and his mother on the street.  When every day is the same for so many parents, this is the kind of action that makes a difference.  Our true neighbourhood heroes made my day.  Thank you Queensland Fire & Rescue Service.

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