Wednesday, July 29, 2015

And now for something a little bit controversial

Today I’m going to touch on something a little bit controversial. As you would know by now, I try to stay away from controversial topics here, mainly because I believe that you cannot change anyone’s mind unless they are open to it. And people who have strong beliefs tend not to wish to change their mind.

So today I’m only going to touch on this topic, just to try to get one point across. Now as you would all know I love animals, I love them more than people in most instances. I believe that the worst sort of human gets pleasure out of torturing an animal, and that’s not the topic here. Here it’s more about how nothing in life is black and white, there are always shades of grey.

In a couple of months I will be travelling, something I did not intend nor expect. But it’s happening and it’s not something I can change. I will be keeping up the rent on an apartment and there will be someone living here and taking care of my cats while I am gone. It’s the only way that I feel I can be sure my cats will be happy and properly looked after. Here animal care is different to more prosperous parts of the world.

You all know that I love my cats, I adore them and if I could bring them with me I would. But I can’t so this is the best way I know for them to be cared for. A few weeks ago we had an earthquake, the first one I have been in and it started me thinking. Yes I know that seems off topic but it will come together for you in a minute. These thoughts led me to this blog post so bear with me while I set up how my train of thought went.

First, I want you to consider; if an earthquake or something similar happened to create a situation where my cats were in danger and I could rescue them, where I would be hurt but not killed, would I do it? Would you do it? For me, yes of course I would. But let’s add in something else. What if I had the choice of saving my child and my cats? Again of course I would, my child first and then my cats. Now, consider; what if I could save my child, go back to save my cats but with the high possibility that I would be killed in saving my cats. Would I do it? My answer is no, I would not take the risk of leaving my child motherless. I would not make him carry the guilt of knowing that I saved him, then tried to save my cats and died in the act.

If I didn’t have children would I try to save my cats? I think I would, but I do have children and my first responsibility is to them. This is the sensitive part of the topic, because there are people who passionately believe one should put the animals first, take any risk to save them. There are people who would say that I should die rescuing my cats, and that my son would be proud that I sacrificed myself to save them. I understand that, just the thought of having to allow my cats to die fills me with anticipatory grief. I would be devastated if that scenario actually happened, I would grieve for months, years even. I do not think I would ever be able to have another cat. But, I would still have to take that decision, because my children come first. My son may be proud that I tried to save my cats, but he would still be without a mother – and right now he would be in a strange country without a mother.

This is what I mean by shades of grey. No decision is ever straight forward, no choice is made without something being sacrificed. Here, there are dozens, hundreds of street cats and dogs. I have three cats, if I had the space and the funds I could go outside today and bring home a dozen more. And another dozen would take their place. I could take every kitten and cat that is rescued and needs a home, I could end up with hundreds of cats. I would love to be in a position where I could give a safe home to hundreds of cats. But I’m not, and I can’t. Maybe in the future I will find a way to do it, but not now. So that means when I read on one of the animal care pages about a cat needing a home I can’t take it, even if it means that cat will be put back on the street. I don’t have the space or the money to take another one and continue to give the same level of care to the ones I have now.

The people of this country, and other poor countries, are not necessarily deliberately unkind to the animals. In some cases yes, just as there are cases of cruelty to animals in any country and any society. But in others it’s a variety of reasons that leads to poor decisions – poverty, ignorance (by which I mean uneducated ignorance), unexpected circumstances. If people are never taught how to properly look after animals, how can they be expected to do so with the ones they have? If people are desperately poor then it’s natural that they will feed their families first, and the animals after. When people are trying to stay alive themselves they don’t have anything left over to give to animals. This is a generalization I know. I’ve seen desperately poor men sharing their bread with the street animals. I’ve seen acts of kindness and acts of unthinking cruelty.

I believe that education is the key, and so do most of the animal shelters. That’s why many of them encourage school visits to the shelters. That’s why many of them go into schools to teach the children how to properly care for animals. With education comes a better understanding and better treatment of the animals, and it starts with the children. But, you can only do the best you can, and sometimes you have to make decisions that others will not agree with.

A few of the shelters here are heavily criticized for not taking in every animal that is in need. They take what they can, but they have to consider the animals they already have. Animal shelters do not have unlimited funds, they have a responsibility to the animals they have already, they have a responsibility to their staff. In the same way that I would have to sacrifice my cats in order to take care of my son in my scenario, animal shelters have to sacrifice some in order to take care of the ones they have.

What can the people who love animals do? Wherever you live, chances are there is an animal shelter near you. If so there are a number of ways you can help. You can donate, or become a volunteer. You can adopt, or foster, or tell everyone you know to adopt. When you adopt an animal from a shelter you save two lives – you save the animal you take home, and you save the animal that can take its place. There are so many cute, funny, friendly, sweet, loving, beautiful animals in shelters – or in the streets in some parts of the world. A rescue animal will give you companionship, love and loyalty.  There is no animal more loving than a rescue animal, the rewards greatly outweigh the expense.

The shelter best known around here is the Bluemoon, it’s the one I’m trying to figure out how best to present in a book. The Bluemoon does as much as it can for the animals, but it is not wealthy so it is restricted in what it can do. Monique is a remarkable woman, someone who loves all animals and is sad every time she has to turn one away. But she has to, in order to look after the ones she has. She herself lives a very simple life, all that she has goes into the shelter. If you want to check out her Facebook page the link is here: Bluemoon Animal Shelter

It seems fitting that I share photos of my cats here, all Egyptian street cats. They share the DNA of the cats that were revered by the ancient Egyptians, they are almost unchanged from those days. They are magnificent animals and should all be cherished. 

Topaz when I first brought her off the streets, and now

Amadeus, the biggest cat I have ever had

Sabrina, I know you've seen her before in her book

Sabrina and Amadeus are a bonded pair

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Monday again, time for the next installment of Cassie’s story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I am enjoying writing it.

Dear me,
I’m going to dinner with Matt on Saturday, like I’ve done loads of times before. So why does it feel different now? Why am I so shy around him? Nothing has changed, he’s said nothing and done nothing to make me think we have taken a step forward from our friendship. Yet I feel awkward around him, uncomfortable and tense. All my senses are on alert so that when he touches me it’s like an electric shock against my skin.

I don’t understand why I am feeling like this, and I don’t understand why it scares me so much, or why I feel that I need to run from it. Matt is my friend, he’s seen the worst of me and he still seems to like me. Nobody else has seen me so vulnerable, only Matt has seen me at my lowest ebb, only Matt saw what Nathan did to me. And Matt doesn’t think I’m a bad person, he seems to like being around me. So why do I feel like I don’t deserve even his friendship?

Laying down my pen I stared at my words. As always, my letters to myself showed me what I really felt. I was afraid of things heating up between us, I was afraid that I didn’t deserve Matt. I believed he was too good for me. Without allowing myself any further thought I picked up my pen and started writing.

Dear you,
It’s understandable that you don’t feel good enough for Matt, not even for his friendship. You are still recovering from your years with Nathan, and all the things you felt driven to do to keep him happy. Your self-esteem is fragile, as delicate as a baby bird. It’s only natural that you doubt yourself, and worry about who you are.

So it’s time to take stock of who you are. You are Cassie Parsons, a strong woman who got out of a co-dependent relationship. You are Cassie Parsons, home owner, business owner, parent, friend, dog owner. You are kind, giving and thoughtful, even though you try to deny it to yourself. You are a great friend to Saffron, Andrew and Bev. You are a great parent to Mark and Emmerson – Julia would not allow Emmerson to come to you if she didn’t trust you with her daughter. You are a good person who made a few wrong decisions, and that makes you human, not bad.

Perhaps the change you sense is not coming from Matt, but within yourself. Perhaps you are now ready for a deeper friendship with Matt and maybe he is reacting to that. Life does not stand still, no matter how much you may wish it did. Life moves on, things change, and those changes can be good ones. It’s time you trust yourself, and trust in life, and let things happen as they are meant to. Relax, and see what happens.

I put down the pen again, and picked up the notepad without reading my words. I went out from my bedroom into the kitchen where I poured myself a glass of wine and carried it onto my small back deck. Flicking on the outside light I sat down and sipped my wine, enjoying the soft night breeze. I could smell the herbs from my garden, and the soft scent from the two rose bushes that sat on the edge of the deck like bookends. Nathan had given me those, one as a housewarming gift and the other as a conciliatory gift after one of his episodes. Sometimes I wondered why I kept them, physical reminders of the past. But they were lovely bushes, and they looked good on the deck. And besides, they were flower bushes, they were not responsible for what had happened.

Placing the pad on the table I allowed myself to read my words to myself. My alter Cassie was unfailingly supportive, much like I would be to Saffron if she came to me with similar concerns. That was the idea of course of writing to myself. I was supposed to lay out my fears, my worries, my pain, and then answer myself lovingly. It had been a tactic proposed by Sue, my therapist, and it had been the most successful method I had tried. My letters to myself allowed me to see myself clearly, and to understand my feelings in a way I had never been able to do before. Events of the past, even before Nathan, had dissociated me from my own emotions and feelings. Writing these letters had helped me to heal in ways I hadn’t even known were needed.

I read my words and turned them around in my mind. It always seemed that my alter Cassie could pinpoint something that my everyday Cassie missed. This time it was the possibility that the change was within myself. Was that it? I replayed the last time I had seen Matt over in my mind, trying to feel my reactions. Yes, Matt had given me meaningful stares, but if I was honest with myself he had been doing that for a while. The difference was in my reactions.

I was noticing how I felt around him and it was making me panic. I was panicking because I didn’t feel good enough for a man like Matt. I didn’t feel good enough because of my past with Nathan, and further back the events of my childhood. I sipped my wine, forcing my breathing to stay calm and even. I didn’t want a panic attack – I hadn’t had one for months and I didn’t want them to start again. But my mind wouldn’t let itself be distracted, my thoughts circling back to Matt and my feelings.

It was natural that I would feel this way, I was sure of it. I had only just started to like myself, I was nowhere near to loving myself. Was it any wonder I couldn’t see why anyone else would love me? That thought caused me to choke slightly on the excellent wine. Who said anything about love? Matt liked me I knew, he wanted us to take our friendship further, I knew that too. He had mentioned being friend-zoned in a half joking half serious way once. I remembered how once, after a glass more than was wise of his cheap and cheerful wine – Matt loved to experiment with the bargain bin bottles in our local bottle shop – that he had taken my hand, stared at me with serious and half drunk eyes, and told me that he was going to wait for me to kiss him. That way, he said, I could be sure that he was not trying to manipulate me or push me into anything.

I thought about Matt, that adorable dimple that came and went in his left cheek, his warm brown eyes and the way a lock of hair kept flopping over his forehead. I thought about his sweet smile, his deep chuckle and how I felt safe when I was with him. Except that now I wasn’t feeling safe. I was feeling edgy, anxious, nervous. I was feeling excited. Wait, what was that thought? Was I really feeling excited, like a young girl in the presence of her crush? Nah, that was ridiculous. I didn’t feel like that. This was Matt, my friend, my rescuer, my sometime confidant. This was Matt who had seen me at the darkest times of my life, I didn’t have a crush on him.

I sipped some more wine, enjoying the flavour burst on my tongue and the cool liquid sliding down my throat. It had been a long day, with a trip to take a look at the new van on the way home. My mind slid to that problem, the need to hire someone to drive it. I had the second run selected, an area full of stores and light on coffee shops. I just needed the right person to do that run for me. Or maybe they should do the established run while I did the new one. I let that idea turn over in my head, feeling the rightness of it. Thinking about hiring I made a mental note to run another advertisement in Saturday’s paper.

Saturday, Matt. My mind gleefully returned to what seemed to be a favourite train of thought.  I swallowed the last of my wine and stood up a tad more forcefully than needed. Saturday would come, and we would go out to dinner. I would take my own advice and relax, stop stressing about my feelings and emotions and just enjoy the evening. I was going to drive myself crazy with over-thinking if I didn’t stop it. Decision made I flicked off the light and went inside. Now all I had to do was stick to my resolve.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cassie's world, a visual

Today I thought I would give you some visuals, to give you an idea of the world Cassie lives in. It’s easy for me, I have the pictures in my head and of course they are fictional places. But they are based on real ones, so I decided to find a few photos to share with you. The house Cassie lives in however, is an amalgamation of several houses I’ve lived in or seen, with added features I’ve always wanted, and I had no luck finding anything close to my imagination, not even a pond with a watering can water feature. Guess I’m going to have to design one of those. This pic is the closest I could find, but in my imagination the pond was smaller, and the watering can set up higher. Also a different type of watering can:

In Letters To Myself Cassie is living in the house she bought with her husband to begin with. I talked there about the sun rising over the ocean and setting over the mountains, which caused quite a few people to contact me and ask me where it was. The town Cassie lives in does not even have a name in my imagination, but it does have a blend of characteristics of Mackay in North Queensland, Australia, and Seaforth which is a village a bit further north. I’ve found photos of the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, and sunset over the mountains:

Also in Letters To Myself, Cassie and her family go to stay for a short time in the mountains. These are the mountains I had in my mind while I wrote that part. This is the Clarke Mountain Range:

In the series I’m writing every Monday Cassie is now living in her new house, which overlooks the bushland. This is a photo of mine, which I took at my old house. It didn’t overlook the bush, but this sort of thing was in my head when I described what Cassie saw on her first morning in the house:

I’ve collected a few other photos, some from Mackay and some from Seaforth, to try to give an idea of where Cassie lives and where she drives her mobile coffee van.The first two are at Seaforth and the last two are Mackay:

The idea here is to give you some mental pictures when you read Cassie’s story. Whenever I can I’ll find photos that go with the scene I post every Monday. I’m enjoying writing this little story, I had only a vague idea of what would happen with Cassie and her friends in the time frame between books so I’m having fun making it come to life.

If you read the blog about all the creatures that want to kill you in Australia, specifically in the part where I used to live - Cassie's world - perhaps these pictures will be more enjoyable for you. It is a beautiful part of the world, even with the murderous creatures that share it.

Oh and want to check out my latest gig? I'm doing a monthly column now for Maggie Elizabeth Writes and my first column has just been published. Here's the link:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What, exactly, is the muse?

Did you wonder if I'd be here? I see quite a few of you have checked in already, I'm late - but I'm here! 

So today I am going to write about the muse. Not the band Muse (did you know there was a band? I didn’t until just now), nor the nine muses of Greek/Roman mythology, although that is where the term comes from. Nor do I mean the verb, to reflect upon or to think deeply. I mean the noun, the word meaning a person who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. This is the dictionary definition, which also states that the muse is generally considered to be a woman or a force personified as a woman. I expect that is because the nine muses were the daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus. Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory, something vital for the early bards and poets who memorized everything.

Literary history is full of tales of writers and their muses: John Keats and Fanny Brawne, Dante and Beatrice, Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Yeats, who had his heart broken by Maud Gonne, and Jane Austen’s unrequited love for Tom Lefroy. These muses had a profound effect on the writers who loved them, which in turn influenced their writing. I can’t say anyone has really done that for me, not just by being there. However I have on occasion been inspired to write because of what someone has done to me, so perhaps that is the same thing, even if as a one off instance.

I consider the muse to be any source of inspiration. It may be a snippet of conversation overhead at the grocery store that sets my imagination off. Or it might be a news article that makes me wonder ‘what if?’.  Some writers use the muse as a handy euphemism for writers block – ‘the muse has deserted me’ sounds more romantic than ‘I have writers block’. Then when they find inspiration they say they were ‘visited by the muse’. That’s a nice way of putting it, and writers often being superstitious, some probably fear saying ‘writers block’ in case they consign themselves to that particular writers hell forever.

 All writers have different styles of writing; some outline, some write chapters out of sequence, some edit exhaustively (well we all do that, but we all do it in different ways), some even write the synopsis first and then fill in the book from that. It’s not surprising then that we all have different approaches to inspiration. Some writers can’t write unless they have music playing, in fact a lot are like that. Others need a particular arrangement on their desk or their favourite cup full of their preferred beverage before they can start.

So how do I get my inspiration, how do I write? As I said, I get inspiration from anywhere, sometimes it’s a couple of things that I’m turning over in my head that coalesce into the one, other times it’s a particularly vivid dream that stays with me long enough to write it down. I don’t use any of the useful gadgets some writers do. I may do if I could afford them, but my style of writing doesn’t require them. I keep my story ideas on the notes app on my phone. When they grow enough to warrant more information I start a page in Word with the idea at the top, so I’m ready to begin writing that story.

I don’t outline, except for the paranormal series. There I found that I needed a story overview so that I could segment it into each book. But it’s a very basic outline. For everything else I just sit down and write. I did try to outline when I first started writing professionally, but it doesn't work for me. I don’t write chapters out of sequence and I’m in awe of writers who do. I have no idea what future chapters will contain, so I write sequentially. What I do - and I don’t know if other writers do this as well - is spend weeks, on occasion months, turning an idea over in my head. I think about it, sometimes dream about it. It’s always in the back of my mind, gradually coalescing. Then, when I sit down to write, it flows as though already written in some dark recess of my brain.

For the paranormal series, because I have a lot of characters, I keep a notebook with their names and details. I’ve even included a little drawing of each one to remind myself of their physical attributes. I’ve written a totally different book since the first in the paranormal series, so I need to be sure I remember the characters correctly. For the sequel to Letters I’ve also got a list of characters, to keep them all straight. Now that I’m writing the little series to fill in the gap between Letters and the book about Saffron (as yet not named) those characters are living in my brain, walking around and chatting together. It makes switching gears to Zora and her crew interesting. However Zora as a character is different, although she and Cassie have in common a belief that they are not good enough for their particular story.

Is there anything that I need to set my scene so that I can write? I would have said no, but when I thought about it a bit more I do prepare to write. I mostly write in the afternoon (blame the Egyptian tendency to start late in the day) and I get all of my chores done first. I currently write on my bed, propped up against the headboard. Not having a desk, it’s the most comfortable position for me here. I also get a good sea breeze through my balcony door, and I can peek out the window and watch the boats on the Red Sea to give my eyes a break from the screen. I bring with me a cup of tea and if I have any, a couple of biscuits. I don’t have music, reason being that when I’m writing I don’t hear anything so music would be redundant. Finally, I have cats with me. I don’t prepare them, they happen to love it when I sit on the bed so they usually beat me here.

So all I need to write is a cup of tea, a seat, my laptop and some cats. And an idea. I’m a low maintenance writer!

The nine muses — CalliopeClioEuterpeEratoMelpomenePolyhymnia,Terpsichore,Thalia and Urania — on a Roman sarcophagus (2nd century AD, from the Louvre)

This is the closest I could find to my definition of muse

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cassie's story, Letters To Myself - the anti 50 Shades of Grey

Day 30: It’s really day 32 but I haven’t written a word for three days. I’ve been down in the black hole, and can say that it’s just as dark and nasty as it was last time. But I was only there for a few days which must be a good thing. It’s Monday, so time for the next instalment in Cassie’s story.

“So how was Bev last night?” It was the next day and I had dropped in to see Saffron on my way back from the morning coffee run. She was staring at me expectantly over the rim of her coffee cup and I hastened to reply.

“She was bright as a button last night, you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong. Her skin glowed, she looked healthy. We had a lovely evening.”

Saffron took a sip of her coffee, her expression sombre. “You know Cassie, people sometimes rally just before the end. I saw it with my nan, and I’ve had friends say it.”

I could feel tears rising and fought them down again. We all knew the inevitable outcome, and false hope would only make it worse. “I know Saffie, but it’s hard to believe she is so sick at times like that, when she looks so well.”

Saffron took my hand and squeezed it. “I know, and it must be difficult for Andrew. I believe the good days are a gift, a special memory to be filed away and pulled out again in the future. How did Andrew seem?”

I smiled as I recalled the previous evening. “He was in fine form, telling his terrible jokes and teasing the kids. It was a lovely night, no sadness or worry. The room was filled with light.” I was explaining the mood, yet the room really did seem to be full of light. Again I wished things were different, that there was some sort of magic I could perform to make Bev well again.

Saffie read my expression correctly. “You know you can’t do any more than you are, and you and the kids have made such a difference to their lives. I know Andrew and Bev love those kids, and they love you too. Life doesn’t make sense a lot of the time, but we just have to believe there is a master plan. When we can’t change things we should accept them with grace, just as Bev is doing.”  Before I could reply she changed the subject. “How’s Matt?”

To my mortification a blush swept up my face, faster than I could find an excuse to lean down to fish around in my bag. Saffron of course jumped on it.

“Cassie? Want to tell me why you’re blushing? Did something happen? Did he finally kiss you?”

I could feel my eyes widen in shock. “No of course not!” Really she needed to stop reading those romance novels. “Nothing has happened. Well, we are going to dinner Saturday night, to that new restaurant where the art gallery used to be.” Inspiration struck. “Would you and Ben like to come?”

Saffron snorted. “I’m pretty sure Matt doesn’t want us along, and besides which Ben has a thing on this weekend.” Her shrug was offhand, but I knew she was hiding her true feelings. Ben was very much an AWOL husband, and while Saffron seemed ok with that I knew that she was growing tired of feeling like a single mother.

“Matt wouldn’t mind. Hey, why don’t you come? Your mum would look after the girls wouldn’t she?”

Saffron put down the piece of chocolate cake she was about to eat and fixed me with her most penetrating stare. I shifted uncomfortably under that gaze, I knew from experience I would not appreciate what she was about to say.

“Seems to me that you’re trying to weasel out of spending the evening alone with Matt. What gives?”

“I’m not! I just thought it would be nice if you could come too. We haven’t been out for ages.”

“No we haven’t, but this isn’t about us. This is about you and Matt. Why don’t you want to be alone with him?”

“I don’t feel like that, I’m not worried about being alone with him. I just, I feel…” My words trailed off as I stared at her. She was right - I didn’t want to be alone with him, but why? Matt was a good friend, I owed him more than I could ever repay. He knew the worst about me and still liked me. Why was I feeling so shy to be alone with him now? “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Her expression softened and again she took my hand in hers. “Cassie, I know it hasn’t been that long since the Nathan thing. You’ve come so far since then, but I’m guessing you still don’t trust yourself or your feelings. Are you afraid things will go wrong with Matt like they did with Nathan?”

Was I? Was I afraid to trust my own judgement? I had made a monumental error in judgement with Nathan, and paid for it for years. I met her gentle gaze. “Maybe. I mean, I sure didn’t know what I was getting into with Nathan. “

“Do you trust Matt?”

“Of course I do.” My reply was immediate. I would trust Matt with my life and with my children’s.

“So there’s more to this than you worrying about your judgement.” Saffron released my hand and drank some more of her coffee. “Do you enjoy his company?”

I nodded.

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to kiss him?”

I blushed, and nodded again. “But that won’t happen Saffie, Matt deserves someone better than me.”

Her gaze sharpened and she put her cup down with such a decisive thump that I instinctively checked it for cracks. “So that’s it.”

“That’s what? I’m not following you Saffie.”

“Cassie, you still think you’re not good enough for good things to happen to you. I think you’re still punishing yourself for what happened with Nathan. Oh,” as I opened my mouth to rebut her, “I know that intellectually you understand that it was not your fault. And intellectually you know that you deserve good things in life, and a good man. But Cassie, emotionally I think you’re still not sure. When do you go to see Sue again?”

“On Friday.” Sue is my therapist, and I owe most of my hard won peace to her.

“So, on Friday, talk to Sue about this, and tonight write in your notebook.” Her voice wobbled a bit as she continued and I looked at her in alarm. “Cassie, sweetie, you of all people deserve good things in your life. You deserve good friends, a good life, a good man. Don’t tell yourself any different, don’t put yourself down. You’re done with all that remember?”

I smiled, a weak smile for sure, but a smile. “I was done with men too. I’m not sure I want the complication.”

Saffron grinned at me, a wicked grin. “Well you’re both young and healthy. It may or may not happen. Just, Cassie, don’t wall yourself off from the possibility. Some marriages are magical. Look at Andrew and Bev.”

I twirled my spoon around in my coffee – for no reason at all except to give my hands something to do. Saffron was right, Andrew and Bev did have something special and magical. Perhaps there was something like that for me too. I just needed to believe in myself enough. I made a mental note to write to myself after the kids were in bed that night, and take it to Sue on Friday.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's a pity party!

Day twenty-nine:
I’m bit low today. There’s a dog in the villa next door that chose to spend the night barking, which caused all the neighbourhood dogs to join in. So I’ve had very little sleep and that no doubt is contributing to my mood.

I was lying in bed just now thinking about where my life is going, as once again I have to make changes. Necessary changes, but nonetheless change again. You all know how much I hate change.

I counted up the number of houses I have lived in over my life, and it’s seventeen. Seventeen homes for someone who has always just wanted to find a place to fit in. Of those seventeen homes the last four I thought were going to be that mystical forever home, but they weren’t.

I see people everywhere, happy and settled in their homes. I wonder why I can’t do that, why this simplest of things seems to be the hardest for me. Being analytical, and even though a lot of my life changes were not of my choice, the common factor is me. Being analytical that must mean that the problem is me.

So I have been lying awake wondering what it is about me that makes it seemingly impossible to have that anchor, that place that will always be home. The most recent change that is about to happen is supposed to be temporary, a break in the timeline before I return to this life I have been carving out. I hope that is so, I am starting to put down roots and I am feeling too jaded, too tired, too empty to start again, again.

I know that life is change, I know that nothing is forever. And yet I see people who seem to have forever. I know that everyone has a story and nothing is as it appears to be on the outside. But still…I weary of this. I have a phoenix tattooed onto my back, as a reminder that I have started my life over more than once and I can do it again. But this time, I’m feeling that I can’t.

I know that there is a lot about this new development that will be positive. I can use some of this time to further my writing career, I can make use of opportunities that I won’t get here. So it will on the whole be a good change that will take me further along the path of successful independent author. That will make my life here easier and so this change is a positive change. But I wish that it was more certain, that I knew exactly how long it would be, where I will be for this break, how I will manage everything, that my cats will be ok while I am away, on and on my thoughts circle.

Why is humankind so intent on finding a place to call home? I know I’m generalizing, there are many people who relish a nomadic lifestyle and would feel trapped being in the same place for too long. But in the main people seem driven to find a home, somewhere they feel comfortable and safe. Is it a herd mentality, safety in numbers? Is it an understanding on the most basic level that we are surrounded by chaos on a universal scale, and so we try to create a little bit of stability within that chaos? I don’t know. I love to travel, I love to see different lifestyles and cultures. I love to experience different things. But I wish that I had that anchor, that invisible line that attaches me to something permanent, a home. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Celebrate life

Day twenty-eight: Today I learned that an old friend of mine finally succumbed to the cancer she had been fighting for years. I’ve known her for a long time, we were friends even though we were never that close - we talked a lot but never went to each other’s houses. But I cared for her and I was saddened, deeply saddened, to hear of her passing.

Life gives no promises, every day is a gift. This woman lived every day like that from the moment she was first diagnosed. She was always upbeat, always cheerful (almost always anyway), always positive. She lived with regular chemotherapy for years, facing each challenge one step at a time. She was sunshine, every single time I saw her.

People battling life threatening illnesses do so with a stoicism and fortitude that humbles me. I knew another woman living with ovarian cancer. She refused to give up, right to the very end. I saw her one day at the local shopping centre. Her face grey with pain she was leaning on a shopping trolley as though it was the only thing stopping her from falling – I have no doubt that it was. But when she saw me she straightened up and walked towards me as though every step was not causing her pain, a lovely and genuine smile lighting up her face. She died not long after and I will never forget that smile.

When we are young life stretches out ahead of us, we never think of it ending. The invulnerability of youth - death happens but not to us. Yet so many people do not finish their journey of life, they fall off the rainbow road. Unlike Mario Karts, they don’t get another life to try again. Old age is a blessing given to few, it should not be something we try to hide with cosmetic surgery and various potions, it should be celebrated.  

I used to dread growing old, while at the same time never considering that I may not be given a chance to hate my aging body. The stigma placed on the aging and elderly is another indication that this world has its priorities all wrong. Older people should be considered national treasures and treated as such. Everyone has a story, and the older you become the more stories you have. Older people have the wisdom of having learned from their mistakes. They have the wisdom of accumulated years. We should honour our aged, and look after them.

Life has many twists and turns and nothing stays the same. And, nobody gets out alive. We all have something to learn from the people staring down the barrel of death and refusing to surrender. We should all live with grace, strength, humour, and gratitude for each and every day. I say this over and over – life is not what you have, it’s not your bank account or your shoe collection. Life is what you experience - being with loved ones, watching the sunrise and sunset. Life is smelling something wonderful cooking for dinner, the loving head boop of a cat, the adoring eyes of a dog, the hug of a child, the gentle kiss of a spouse. Life is for living and experiencing, it is to be celebrated with all of our senses. We are blessed if we do not suffer from life threatening illnesses and we should all be grateful, every single day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Paleo schmaleo

Day twenty-seven (I think): Today is mild rant day, after reading about Therese Kerr, the mother of model Miranda Kerr, and her eating regime. Even conceding that she is motivated to take good care of her health (she suffered from tumours on her spleen 14 years ago), her daily eating regime is definitely one for the wealthy and pretentious.

She eats everything organic of course, and this itself is not a bad thing considering the additives to food. However she doesn’t eat homegrown organic vegetables but homemade kefir (I’ll bet not made by her), a green smoothie, and various other pretentious git foods. Then you get to where she drinks ‘reverse osmosis water’. This means that the water is pushed through a thin membrane to wash away contaminants, wasting up to 85% of the water. In a country where the water is heavily contaminated this would be necessary, but this woman is Australian. The tap water in Australia is clean and drinkable. If she wants to remove the fluoride and other chemicals she can use a specialized filter that does not waste so much of a precious resource.

It’s privileged thinking, it’s ‘me’ thinking. Pete Evans, one of the presenters on the Australian television show ‘My Kitchen Rules’ is an advocate of the fad Paleo diet. This diet is supposed to be the same as that eaten by our ancient ancestors, and therefore healthier. Pete of course is pushing the diet because he is making bucket loads of money from selling it to a public who would be better off simply eating sensibly. He made headlines not long ago by talking about activated almonds. Apparently you can only get the full benefit of the vitamins in almonds by activating them first, which requires soaking them for 12 hours and then drying them. Call me cynical but I can’t see our ancestors diligently collecting and soaking almonds before sitting down to enjoy the enhanced nutritional value – if indeed almonds were even around then.

There is little scientific evidence to show that the paleo diet is even accurate. It is generally agreed that humankind back then simply ate whatever they could find (which makes complete sense to me). All of these fad diets and foods are just the modern version of snake oil. While some of them have some nutritional value, on the whole it’s just marketing designed to fleece you of your money. Companies rush to sell merchandise and food branded to fit in with the latest fad. Paleo snacks, paleo water filters, paleo flour - really? Ancient man made flour like this? Seriously, if you want to have real paleo flour you’d be eating flat bread filled with grit, husks and bits of hair.

The general public will always be gullible about products or diets that will make you look younger/beautiful/wrinkle free/live longer/get thinner/look like a supermodel. What bugs me the most about this fake health industry is the amount of money it generates. I buy large bottles of water here for my everyday use, because the tap water is full of chemicals and contaminants and is bad for the stomach and kidneys. However the poor can’t afford bottled water. They have to drink the tap water, or the water delivered by trucks, or straight from the Nile. They aren’t worried about reverse osmosis water – even though they are the very people who should be drinking it. Not Therese Kerr.

The poor aren’t precious about their diet either. Like paleo man, they eat what they can find. They eat what is available and what they can afford. They aren’t worried about activating their almonds, they probably don’t get any almonds. The imbalance between the poor of the world and the wealthy pretentious gits with too much time on their hands infuriates me. My grandmother used to tell me to stop worrying about myself and think of others. If these twits spent even half the time thinking about others that they spend staring into a mirror or their bank accounts, imagine the difference to the world.

Imagine a world where the wealthy and privileged give back. Imagine a world where, instead of looking for ways to fleece the population of their money, the wealthy looked for ways to help the poor and destitute improve their lives. Imagine a world where instead of coming up with ridiculous fad diets, ways were found to feed the starving. It wouldn’t take much to change the world, just a rethink. If we all stopped thinking only of ourselves, and started thinking of others, humankind would become what we’ve always had the potential to become. We would care for others, be compassionate and giving. We would know that an obsession with looks and possessions leads to a sad empty life. This world would be unrecognizable to any passing alien that has in the past shaken its head at our greed and selfishness. The older I get, the more foolishness I see, the more I empathise with the John Lennon song Imagine.

Rant over.

Cassie's story, Letters To Myself - the anti 50 Shades of Grey

Day twenty-six and it’s Monday, so time for the next installment in Cassie’s story. For anyone new to the blog, this is a weekly post of a slice of Cassie's life from when the last book ended to when the next book will begin:

I slid a couple of pieces of the raspberry slice onto a plate and handed it to Matt with his coffee. He thanked me through a mouthful of muffin, before adding, “These taste a bit different, what did you add?”

“A little bit of chile powder. Is it too spicy?” I had worried about that, since these muffins were a tryout for the lunchtime coffee run in the van tomorrow. That meant that they had to appeal to a wide range of tastebuds.

“No, just a little bit of bite to make them interesting.” Matt waggled his eyebrows at me suggestively, and I turned to pack the rest of the muffins into a container so that he didn’t see me blush – again. While I worked he continued, “What’s the plan for this afternoon?”

My wayward skin under control I poured myself some coffee and came to sit at the table across from him. “Emmerson comes later on, and we are going to have supper with Andrew and Bev.” Emmerson is my step-daughter from my ex-marriage – it’s complicated.

Mark’s expression sobered at the mention of Bev. “How is she doing? She was so frail last time I saw her.”

I shrugged. “She’s kind of translucent these days, like one day she will just disappear. But you know what they’re like, every time I ask if I can do anything Andrew just smiles and says they’re fine.”

Matt reached across the table and took my hand in his. “Buying the business off them when you did gave them this time together without any stress. And you bring them meals all the time too so Andrew doesn’t have to cook so often. They’ve lived with Bev’s cancer for a long time, the best gift for them now is whatever time they have left together without having to worry about anything else.”

I sighed, I knew he was right but I still wished I could do more. “She’s so lovely, they both are. It seems so unfair that this has happened.”

Matt squeezed my hand, making me realise that he was still holding it. “I know, it’s not fair, they should have years together yet. But Andrew said something to me last time I was there. He said that before Bev was diagnosed they were so busy with the coffee van and their lives that they were drifting apart. They didn’t spend much time together or talk much. After Bev’s diagnosis they both realised nothing else mattered but each other. He told me that even though their time together was shorter because of the cancer, it was more precious to them than it would have been if Bev had stayed healthy.”

I sat staring at Matt, digesting what he had just said. He stared back at me, still holding my hand. There was a message in his eyes that I was afraid to read, so that when Mark came barreling into the kitchen I was relieved to have an excuse to break free of his gaze.

“Emmie’s here,” he said unnecessarily since Emmerson had followed him in. She waved a hand in the general direction of us all before grabbing a muffin.

“How are you Emmie?” I asked as I got up from the table to pour her and Mark some apple juice.

“I’m good, mum says hello and hopes you didn’t get another dog. I told her it was Matt’s dog and I thought she was going to drive into the fence!” She grinned at me cheerfully.

“Why would she do that?” Matt seemed genuinely bewildered.

“I think she thought Matt was staying here for the weekend.” Emmerson smiled at me, her angelic expression reminding me of her brother’s when he had teased me earlier on about Matt.

“I hope you told her he didn’t.” I really did hope so, I didn’t want any word about Matt getting back to Nathan, even though I knew Julia rarely spoke to him.

“Oh I told her that Barney probably escaped again. He did, right?” Her expression an odd mix between hopeful and expectant she waited for my reply.

“That he did, he probably smelled Cassie’s muffins.” Matt held out his plate to me with a wistful expression and I took it and placed another muffin on it, before handing it back.

“Would you like to come with us for supper?” I asked the question casually, inwardly hoping that he would accept. I enjoyed his company, and more I knew that Bev loved seeing him.

“Oh I wish I could, but I’m rostered on this evening.” Swallowing the last of the muffin he stood up and carried his cup and plate to the sink. He brushed past me where I was standing and the fine hairs on my arms rose in response. “Say hi to them both from me, and tell them I’ll be over to see them soon. I’d better get going or I’ll be late.”

“I’ll walk you out.” I led the way to the front door and opened it. Barney came rushing up and flopped at Matt’s feet, tongue lolling as he panted. “Looks like he’s worn out,” I observed, seeing my two lying in the grass next to the pond and showing no inclination to rise.

“That’s good, he’ll sleep while I’m at work.” Matt hesitated, before adding in a diffident tone, “The kids will be going to Nathan’s next weekend?”

“Yes, unless he changes the plans.”

“Maybe we could go out to dinner next Saturday night? There’s a new restaurant opened up where the old art gallery used to be.”

We often went out to dinner when the kids were at Nathan’s, and we often went to each other’s houses for dinner too. It wasn’t always when the kids were away, they got on well with Matt so there were plenty of occasions that were almost like a family outing. It was always a relaxed and enjoyable evening, but there was something about his tone this time that made me feel nervous.

Swallowing to ease a throat that had gone dry I said, “Sure, sounds good.”

A casual, offhand acceptance, meant to put the mood back to the usual friendly style. Matt met and held my gaze for several long seconds and I found myself blushing again. I dropped my eyes, unable to meet the intense expression in his any longer.

“Ok, well I’m sure we’ll see each other before then, right Barney?” Barney jumped to his feet when he heard his name and leaned against Matt. Matt patted him affectionately, then grinned at me. “See you later, thanks for the food and coffee.”

I smiled back and murmured, “You’re welcome.”

I watched them both as they went down my path and out the gate, turning towards Matt’s house. Then I went back inside, wondering if I had imagined the turn our relationship seemed to have taken this afternoon. Deciding to forget about it, I went back into the kitchen where Emmerson and Mark were arguing about a movie they had recently watched. I clapped my hands to get their attention.

“Right, remember we’re going to see Andrew and Bev tonight, so early showers for both of you.”

They headed off to get ready without complaint. They both loved Bev, Mark in particular had formed a close relationship with her. I worried about he would cope when the inevitable happened, but knew I couldn’t shield him from grief. Death is a part of life, no matter how much we wish it wasn’t so.