Cousin Catch Up Part I

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I’ve got an Aussie break coming up – leaving on Friday to fly to Sydney, then Canberra, and then a road trip down to Jindabyne, the service town for the snowy mountains of Australia. Yes, you read that right. There ARE snowy mountains in Australia. I can’t wait.

Most importantly, this is the first time I have ever spent any length of time with Aussie girl cousin, since we used to visit family in our childhood. Then, they lived here in New Zealand, and we saw a bit of them as the photos below show:

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Since then, life has taken us on very different paths, and she has lived with her husband near Brisbane, Australia for decades. There was a brief visit in the late 80s, overnight, but nothing since until various family funerals brought us together again. It was at the last one that we considered how much we got on, and she generously offered to have my sister and I come visit. Helen has been already and now it is my turn. Yip yip. This was us in February, walking along Piha beach after Mum’s funeral:

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And so – expect to see some photos of snow, and mountains, and the red dirt of Australia, in the coming week or two. I’ll blog from there, and take y’all along for the ride, as much as data and wifi allow.

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Why ‘Cousin Catch Up Part I’? Because in October, there will be an even bigger Cousin Girlie Catch Up, when all four of the girl cousins in this Jeffries photo meet up for over a week in Pennsylvania, and then the jaws will really flap. THAT will be a first for us too.

 

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Approach with Gravity

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Believe it or not, that first image is indeed me, when I was hardly acquainted with Gravity. In fact, there was only a feeble connection with the Law that would come to be so dominant in my life. I skipped everywhere, I climbed trees, I was hardly ever still. When I was still, it was to contemplate very unweighty visions and flights of fancy, to do with FLYING, and FAIRIES and Floating in filmy fabric. (What a light letter ‘f’ is).

As time has passed, my flimsy connection to gravity has progressively become more solid. So much so, that now I regard gravity with – well – gravity. My childhood was spent like this:

If I was not exactly flying, I was certainly not earth-bound. My sister and I spent hours making wings and flapping around the house as fairies. At school, lacking wings, my friends and I were mermaids, floating in currents of deep green water between the trees surrounding the school.

For much of my early adult life, I managed to maintain a respectful distance from Gravity, albeit profoundly aware of its existence. It never particularly slowed me down, or stopped my plans to scale heights in my dreams. In my late thirties, I climbed up into Alpine regions, with some heavy breathing and no little effort, but it was possible.

I can’t tell you when exactly my dislike of ‘UP’ as over against ‘DOWN’ became palpable, but that tide turned gradually until now there is a deep seated part of me that is very aware of whether the path ahead is going to require ‘up’ and just how steeply that might be. The fairy has become trapped in a moon suit, bearing heavy metal shoes to ground me to the earth.

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Or so it seems.

Which is why it is SUCH a feat to contemplate Sam Heughan’s #MyPeakChallenge. I know what will happen if I don’t keep moving, keep rising, keep choosing to go up slopes. It seems that my body has a natural inclination (yeah, I see the pun) to become more and more attached to the earth as life goes by. It started off light and airy, and as time slips by draws closer and closer to the very earth from which it sprang, until eventually it is encased once more in the cool depths. I. AM. GOING. TO. RESIST. THAT. AS. LONG. AS. I. LIVE. You see, my spirit is and always has been just like this:

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My spirit is only tethered to the earth by means of my soul, and neither of them are affected by gravity. In fact, my soul is somewhat more bubbly, effervescent, and joyful than most.

Not for a moment will either soul or spirit be weighed down or finish in the ground. And so, when I have to pause before I stand up, and feel the creaking of knees – and am aware as I walk of tenderness in the lower back – I choose to endure it for the good of my soul. I earnestly attempt to eat well and with restraint (sometimes). And seeing a challenge in the weekend, as I did, of a distant notch in the forested peak, put on my shoes and pull myself – with an effort and a number of stops – up to reach that height.

Yes, many go much further and more often, and I salute them. Each of us know our own limitations, and there will always be thinner, lighter, more successful friends. And thank the Lord, they come with me and encourage me. It doesn’t worry me too much that Gravity and I are so well acquainted now (but barely talking!). In the end, he’s going to get this old body and welcome to it! Meanwhile and until then, I’m not bound by gravitas in my spirit and soul and never will be. Neither are you. Remember that.

Come for Morning Walk in Te Atatu

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I thought I’d take y’all who want to come on my early morning walk around the Peninsula, here in Auckland. First off, I head down my road toward the main road, intending to cross it and head to the harbour edge.

The worst part of the walk is crossing this busy road, full of early morning traffic desperate to get into the city. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to join them until Wednesday.

I swerve left as soon as I can, and am on this quiet, neatly cared for suburban street full of relatively new housing. The noise of the traffic dies down behind me. Bliss.

Past my favourite little burgundy Magnolia tree on the corner, in full bloom right now, and then on past the park and to the entrance to the wetlands walk.

This is a lovely moment, stepping out of the suburbs and seeing this huge clean vista before me – I never get tired of it, and it is always different. The reflections of the City were quite still and solid today.

The pukeko (native birds) were all picking away at the grass. This is where the first pond is, surrounded by cabbage trees and flax and is often a feature in my photos.

Just beyond that is what I think of as ‘The Cabbage Tree Grotto’ – great silhuettes against the sky.

Then I’m up on the upper pathway, leading past the oldest brick farmhouse on the Peninsula (late 1800’s) and towards my favourite little bridge spot for photos.

I see they’ve chopped a line of pine trees down obstructing the view of the harbour. I hope they’ve replanted with natives.

The pathway splits – one going on to the little park at the end of the walkway, and the other turning up toward the new housing overlooking the whole vista. I take this one.

The views from up here are pretty spectacular too.

The drive-by coffee hut is always doing a roaring trade. We kiwis LOVE our coffee. It would be terrible to not have one within reach.

And talking of coffee – that’s where I’m going. Past this new library and community centre, and straight across the road into my favourite cafe.IMG_9990

Finally, it’s a short five minutes after coffee to cut through the back of the shops and along this road that is so quintessentially 50’s New Zealand that it is often blocked off by film crews making advertising or using it for local tv drama series.

That’s it. Feel refreshed?

The Fairness and Unfairness of Life

I’ve just got back from my weekend cycle, and spent some of the trip thinking about this post. I don’t know if I can even begin the broach the subject, but here goes.

There’s an awful lot of emphasis these days on ‘rights’. I go to my new place of work and am introduced on the first day to the idea of joining the Union, and how they will take care of my working rights. I’ve just finished a fine period drama series set in the Cotton Mills of North England (North and South) and at the heart of it was a disparity between the rights of the various levels of working society then. (Oh, yes, there was a great romance too). I picked up a newspaper during my coffee break today, at the peak of my cycle, and read a lengthy article about the taboo subject of abortion. . . all of it from the ‘enlightened’ point of view that there is only one Right way to see it – the woman’s choice and it should be a cursory decision. Truly. It got me thinking. What about the many who have gone ahead at great cost to themselves, and had that child with hydrocephalus, or downs syndrome, and found that they not only coped but something intangible was worked into them that added to their lives. None that I know of ever regretted their choice. But I’m not going further down THIS road.

. . . it got me thinking about the difference between ‘expressing and fighting for a right’ and what I think of as something much more forgiving and subtle and loving than that: ‘yielding and caring and not being worried about the cost.’

Now hear me on this. No, I have not gone through YOUR life experience, your issues, your disabilities and whatever those pressures are you have been under. I do not challenge anyone’s right to make a choice in their life. I do not challenge that there have many times been the need to assert rights on behalf of others who cannot speak as loudly for themselves.

I can only speak of my own experience of life. And those older and wiser than me have taught me that there is always a higher way. Pushing for your own rights, sits way down at the bottom of that mountain slope. Concern about whether you are getting the right level of comfort, the proper respect, a fair distribution of attention, treated with the dignity you deserve . . . well, they’re issues we can all sympathise over. They are also issues that will NEVER be resolved. The most unhappy people I know spend an inordinate amount of time concerned about these things. It is a sad fact that many of us gaze out upon the world around us and see disparity. We do all we can to make ourselves comfortable and happy, and avoid choices that take us outside that comfort zone.

The most calm, satisfied, and joyful people I know, are not the richest, nor the ones who have the least burdens. Neither are they the ones who have received the attention and love that they rightfully deserve. They’re the ones who have received the same disproportionate amount of fairness from the world in terms of ability, or health, or poverty, or family, and have chosen to keep giving, to keep loving, to offer themselves again and again. The times in my own life where I was helpless to do anything about a situation that felt crushing to me, and I faced a clear choice. . . if I chose not to fight for my own comfort first, and just to yield, I always came out of it with a greater well of compassion inside me than I would have otherwise.

Having a sense of entitlement is the downfall of many relationships. And it is a joyless endeavour. Suffering can either bring bitterness, or it can make strong, (especially if it is received and never spoken of.) This post is not about looking back at the past and feeling regret or despair, it is about reminding myself and anyone else who has bothered to read this far, that there is hope, and we hold it in our own hands to make our own lives richer and more fulfilling.

 

A bit of a thoughtful ramble

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This was a couple of years ago – in The Shire, Hobbiton (aka Matamata). It’s an ideal photo for this post because it is about making the most of Life, ‘Finding your Passion’ or simply, ‘Work-Life balance’.

I had a conversation with my sis yesterday, over coffee on our bike ride. I’m well into my life now, in fact, I could be a good 3/4 through it. It’s put me into a great place in my thinking and experience. Yes, I know it’s nice to be young, but there’s a terrible lot of attention given to trying to attain the look of being young, and very little attention given to the wisdom and freedom of being older. I care a lot less about how I look and a lot more about taking care of myself, so I can last to fulfil the passions, hopes, dreams that I still have. Being naturally curious, I’ve seen a fair few things, learnt a lot of lessons, made mistakes I won’t make again (I hope), and honed my skills to the ones I take most pleasure in. These things I didn’t have or know at 20 or even 30. Now don’t mistake me – I haven’t experienced a HUGE range of things in life, nor do I want to. I’ve been careful and selective and sometimes the choice has just not been there for me. Yes, I’d have loved to discover the great joys of a good marriage and children, but I never did (for reasons I’m not going into on a blogsite!) It has not hindered me from living life to the full. 

For decades, since I was 20, I’ve devoted a large part of my time to earning money, and I’ve been pretty dedicated to earning it in ways I enjoy. I haven’t really hesitated to leave and try something else if I feel bored or unfulfilled. So it’s been mostly graphic art in my own studios.

I won’t say working for myself has made me rich, and sometimes it was a huge relief to do some mundane well-paid work in administration to pay the bills and feel the joy of a regular pay check. But that was always a fluid arrangement in my working history. I’ve had stints of unemployment and I know the sense of uncertainty and rising doubt that comes with that state.

Helen and I were talking about our plans and intentions for the future yesterday, and it solidified some of my wandering thoughts on the issue. I’m feeling the most free, the most excited, the most anticipatory than I have ever felt before. Why? Because I have a clear idea of what I want to do in the short term, am less worried and affected by other people’s expectations, don’t HAVE to do what someone else pressures me to do, or have responsibilities that force me to a regime from which I cannot escape. And then we found my beloved Dad had more saved up than any of us expected, and so there’s been a bit of a financial boost.

The more people I talk to who are my own age, the more there’s a regular theme in our conversation: “I don’t want to work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day any more.” “What is it you really see yourself doing in the next few years?” “How can we earn a little money doing what we love doing?” It has been inspiring to talk about our dreams. I’ve been encouraging my friends who feel a bit stuck in their job, to rethink it. We only get one life, and we should be living that life as well as we can. I know that everyone has different limitations, but I would encourage anyone to dream, and to put some of those possibilities down, and quietly see if they might be outworked. For myself, it will be travel while I can, and then some writing, and being open to adventures.

There have been so many who have inspired me in the past: The two older ladies who live in a villa in Whangarei and opened up their garden and front living room and verandah in the summer time and weekends for ‘Devon Teas’ – making their own lives more interesting and adding something to their town. The potter who lives in Coromandel town, who wanted to share his love of the bush where he lived and the studio, so he opened up a narrow gauge railway to bring people to his studio and up the mountainside for views at the top. There is so much you could do, if you are determined enough, and spend time in researching and planning and enlarging your perspective.

Well, this is rambling now, and it’s not really all I wanted to say, and I’m not sure I said it at all well, but it’s a start. Maybe I’ll put it better next time. Please watch this space.

Lemon Curd Square and other delights

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This is worth a picture all of its own. Yes, that little plate of deliciousness is long gone but it was a marvel while it existed. Shortcakey base, rich lemon curd centre, and a raspberry popped in now and then, and meringue on the top lightly toasted. It was a moment of bliss as I sat in the car at Huia beach yesterday, about to have a meeting with friends, and savouring the wild weather, the water, and most of all, this wee morsel. Paradise.

Today, I’ve tried to make up for that lapse of dietary judgement by getting on my cycle. It was a cold, cold day though, and I’m still not warmed up. I set off along the usual pathway by the motorway, intent upon the cafe at the further end which offers a decent coffee, and for once I declined any accompanying bakery item. My sister came along later and I waited for her, and we progressed along together.

It’s a beautiful afternoon outside so I’m going to make this a short blog, and head out there in my car to discover new pathways and dream, make plans, and plot the coming week. For a change, you have a break from my philosophising and just a glimpse of my more active world. ROLL ON SUMMER.

 

Helen – the best of sisters!

Three and a half years after my feet landed on the planet, my sis was born. Thus began a lifelong friendship and adventure partnership. I was given the indescribable gift of one who would share this journey with me, support me, often follow in my footsteps, and that rarest of gifts: be honest with me. Some folks have sisters but don’t get the sort I got, and I didn’t discover that until much later in life. You see, I’ve always thought sisters were kindred hearts, standing with you as friendships came and went, there to share the excitement of opening a stocking on Christmas morning, or searching the garden for hidden eggs.JenandHelensmall We shared a bedroom growing up, and argued over whose turn it was to clean the wardrobe or the dressing table. But for the most part, we were happy to hang out together. With two brothers as well, it was a perfect divisible number for teamwork: Boys against girls or oldest against youngest. And Helen and I have always shared a love of similar things: Stories, books, movies, creative arts.

She’s the introvert, I’m the extravert. That meant that I generally lead the charge, and she was the (relatively) willing follower. I was chief fairy, she was underling.

There’s been a lifetime of readjustment of that scenario.

I had to realise that she needed her own space, and that she didn’t necessarily want to always have the decision made for her. She needed time to think and come through with what it was she found important or wanted to do.

And when I look at her now, at the grand age that I’ve reached now, I look and see her as an amazing woman! There’s so much she can show me and teach me, and I am in awe of her. Unlike me, she doesn’t blow her own trumpet, or put it out there for everyone to see. Unlike me, she’s not much for social media, and prefers realtime encounters with one or two and LOTS OF her own space. In that space, she has done her own research, and wandered her own paths, and suddenly I am shown a new way of looking at something or am exposed to skills and culinary experiments that I had no idea existed. I drink her kombucha because ‘the fermentation process provides bacteria that are good for digestion’. Likewise, her homemade sourdough bread. These are things I never investigated while I was busy making people laugh on Facebook because I do silly memes. I LOVE making people laugh, and devote a lot of time to my interaction on twitter and Facebook, and probably will continue. Helen, however, is unfolding some territory before me that I have not encountered, and it’s been a joy to be shown these things.

So that’s my sister: funny, supportive, quiet-ish, clever, and a very good nurse to boot. She introduced me to cycling – and the thing with me is, once I get the hang of something and passionate about it, I REALLY let people know. So while she was quietly wheeling around the local cycleways discovering new paths, I was setting up a blogsite for Handlebra EasyRiders, and drawing my friends in to join us.

She told me about Outlander books (and so did my friend Beverley) long before I actually decided to pick them up. But when I did – everything exploded and I was doing memes, and writing to people, and making t-shirts, and running a FB page. You see where this is going, don’t you? Anyone looking on sometimes thinks I came up with the original idea, because I make the most noise about it, (and I’m a big Influencer,) but my little sister is (and you’ll recognise the quote!) ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’.

So that’s what this blog is about: what an immeasurable PLUS it was for me (and all who know her), when Helen was born. My heart goes out to anyone who has NOT got a sister like this – they really make a difference to life. The best advice I can offer, is to make sisters of your girlfriends if you can. (I’ve got some of those too!)

I’m raising my glass to you, Helen Iris, aka Bugskin, aka Mmmmmbelele, Mother of Jemma, Ash and Liam, Nurse extraordinaire, Cyclist, Reader, fellow movie watcher, Discoverer of Worlds – and best of all, MY SISTER!!!