The Gift That Counts

Last year I celebrated a significant birthday. As much as I tried to bury it in a marathon effort and fundraising for refugees, there were friends and family who still snuck in some gift-giving.

I received some wonderful presents from people who clearly know me well. The generosity of my work colleagues blew me away and also their perspicacity in choosing a gift that happened to be on my bucket list – a session in a flotation tank.

Birthday gifts that also made me happy were the many friends and members of the family who generously supported my bid to raise money for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Surely the best birthday presents help someone else in need.

ASRC Fundraising

However, the birthday gift that touched me most deeply and for which I was most grateful did not come wrapped in colourful paper.

A few weeks before my birthday, a friend asked if I could babysit their baby son so she and her partner could go out for a date night. I eagerly agreed. With three now-grown sons, time with baby boys is always a joy. With an arrival time set on 6pm, my friend insisted that she provide me with a meal. I argued that it was ridiculous to be going out for dinner and still have to provide a meal and I was more than happy to provide for myself. She insisted again and stated she already had it planned. I reluctantly agreed.

I arrived at the appointed time and was surprised to see her mother and brother there but then inwardly shrugged and decided it must be a family dinner out.

As I stood there, waiting for them to leave, my friend looked at me, smiled and said, “You’re not babysitting.”

“What?” I said.

“You’re not babysitting. My brother is babysitting and we are taking you out for dinner.”


“We’re taking you out for an early birthday dinner.”

I stared at each of them trying to comprehend. Then it dawned on me. And then the tears welled up.

In a year when my trust in friendship had been badly shaken…

In a year when I wondered if my worth lies only in what I can do and not in who I am…

In a year when I felt so confused about how to read people’s motives that I have become increasingly socially reclusive…

…Such a gift was unexpected.

More was in store as I arrived at the restaurant to find other friends part of the secret. More emotion. More confusion and joy.

I received some wonderful gifts from people who took time to think carefully about what I would like and I will treasure them always.

But, in the end, all any of us really wants is to know we are loved and wanted for who we are and for others to want to spend time with us. That is a gift that truly counts.


What is the gift that truly counts for you?


You’re A Shitty Human

An Ode to PMS

“You’re a shitty human”

Say the voices in my head

They often make me wonder

If I’d be better dead


Men don’t understand

And neither do the boys

They sigh and roll their eyes

And then return to all their toys


They’ll never understand

The monthly torment that I feel

The anger and depression

How nothing feels for real


“Wow, you really screwed that up!”

“You’ll never have real friends.”

“They all find you annoying.”

“You’ll never make amends.”


They mutter and they scream at me

From when I wake til bed

So often I just want some peace

From voices in my head


Supplements and therapy

Have helped just now and then

But mostly I just stagger on

In search of something Zen


I wonder how long will this last?

How long until the change?

How long ’til I stop feeling like

They all think I am strange?


But then I can’t help wondering

If what I’ll really see

Is not that it was PMS

But really it’s just me




In My Forties

I turned 50 recently. Crikey, even writing that phrase feels weird. I’m still 23 in my head.

Yep. I reached the half ton (if you’re a cricketer), the half century (if you’re an historian) and I can no longer deny that I am middle aged (if you’re an anthropologist).

So I have used this somewhat significant milestone to do a bit of an analysis of the previous decade.


I’ve just been through possibly the most life-altering time of my life since puberty.

In my forties… (in no particular order)

I had my nose pierced. (Since given up.)

I travelled with my husband and three boys to 15 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

I coloured my hair for the first time and proceeded to dye it a rainbow hue of various colours over the next ten years.

I went back to theatre and found lifelong friends.

Bearded Outlaw

The wickedest (and funniest) outlaws ever to appear in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

I found a new community singing group and a musical home and family in the process.

I took up running and ran in three half marathons and the Scotland Run in Central Park in New York City. And I got to train with Olympic marathon runner, Steve Moneghetti.

I began writing my own songs. (You can check out some on my Songs page.)

I completed two community projects with World Expeditions, building a bridge in Peru and a school in Nepal.

I bought and learned to play a banjo and ukulele.

I took up crochet for the first time since my mother taught me how when I was a kid.

I became a special education teacher, a job for which I was not previously qualified or experienced but that I found I was good at. And I love it with a passion.

I discovered I can draw. (There’s a whole gallery here.)

I broke six ribs and punctured a lung falling off a wooden box after trying to kill a tiny moth. (That story never gets old.)

I completed the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km challenge twice – in 2012 and 2014. And raised thousands of dollars for Oxfam in the process. (That’s what it’s really all about.)

I took up rowing and then dropped it again.

I lost my father to mesothelioma.

I learnt that I can sing. No, like, really sing.

I became a Great Aunt. (Not that I wasn’t already one but now it has capital letters.)


Joy and sadness. My late sister’s first grandchild.

I started a blog.


I’ve already started building a bucket list for the next decade because I know anything is possible.


Related posts about some of the things in this list that may be of interest:

(Re)Living The Italian Life

Living The Dream

Hope is a Beautiful Dream

When A Bad Day Turns Good

Getting a Grip 2: A Dose of Perspective in the Third World

It Takes A Village

Master of the Speaking Circuit

Move Over Etsy….

Is This The Real Life?

Delay In Service

A Popup Nomadic Community – Oxfam Trailwalker 2014

When A Night Owl Meets The Dawn

How To Get Better At It

My Dad Died Today

Saying Goodbye

Run Forrest, Run!

The Flying Beetroot: Scotland The Brave And The Fast

The Flying Beetroot: Crossing The Finish Line

(Plus any post starring the Flying Beetroot. Use the Search function.)

A Sister Lost – Remembering Keryn

Nothing ventured…




The MWMW Project

I’ve been conspicuously absent (or inconspicuously depending on how much you missed me) from the blogosphere this past year. Some of that is due to gaining a part time teaching contract and having my brain preoccupied with how to teach a subject of which I have no real knowledge (Physical Education – wot a laff!). Mostly, though, it is due to a special project I decided to undertake this year that somewhat consumed me not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

The Mad Wannabe Marathon Woman Project

Since I was reaching a big UH-OH birthday this year, I decided the best way to celebrate it would be to take on a massive physical challenge. Because that’s more fun than a party, right?

Yeah, well, anyway…

Some time last year, I mused to a friend (my Spreadsheet Enforcer of earlier years) that I was thinking maybe of trying a marathon for my 50th birthday. And then I forgot about it. Until January this year when an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Are you really sure???” (three question marks would seem to indicate that the Spreadsheet Enforcer certainly wasn’t) and a training spreadsheet attached.

A part of me was not sure. The rational part. Luckily (or unluckily depending on your view of marathons) most of me is completely irrational so I wrote back “Let’s do this!”

And thus began nine months of training.

There were good times – like gaining back the fitness I’d lost after the GMI (Great Moth Incident).

There were bad times – like the times I would run and cry at the same time as the Inner Critic stuck the boot in telling me I was not a real runner and I had no hope of running a marathon.

There were the highs – like shaving 10 minutes off my previous time for a hilly trail half-marathon I took on as one of my training runs.

There were the lows – like the foot injury that people took an unseemly delight in telling me they hoped wasn’t plantar fasciitis but that it probably was and in which case my running career was over. (It wasn’t and it was fixed with a new pair of shoes.)

Number One Training Moment

Through the wonders of Facebook, I was convinced by a couple of friends to attend a running retreat weekend they were organising on Magnetic Island. Gosh, a weekend in Queensland away from the freezing September weather in Victoria so I could run with Olympian marathon runner Steven Moneghetti? Tough. Tough, tough choice.

It changed my life. Literally. You can read about the impact here.

Running for…

To add incentive to my completion of the marathon, I signed up as a member of the Run 4 Refugees Team, raising money for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. It was something I’d wanted to do last year but realised that if I could save it for a full marathon, I’d be likely to raise more money.

I’ve always found it more motivational to complete a challenge for someone other than myself.



Thinking an early drive to Melbourne with the whole family sounded like not much fun, we booked into a hotel apartment not too far from the start line the night before. It also had the advantage of being able to walk some of the course before the day to determine the best vantage points for the family to cheer on their mad wife and mother.

Marathon Day started early and alone. Seriously, it was less stressful to leave a husband and three boys in bed and get only myself to the start line than have them accompany me. Besides, there was something peaceful about hopping on that tram in the early dawn light with only other runners (and the occasional party-goer just heading home).


Jets and balloons over the finish line at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

At the start line (after a successful last minute visit to the portaloo – only other long distance runners will understand the significance of this achievement), I heard the starter chat to Steve Moneghetti. It was somehow comforting to know he was there. ‘I must make sure I find him at the finish’, I thought.

I stood in the marathon runner crowd towards the back. It was a tactic to ensure I started slowly and didn’t get over-excited and run too hard at the beginning.


So far back it took me 3 minutes to cross the start line

The start gun went and we were off. Which meant walking for those of us at the back. I think I got up a jog just after I crossed the start line. Just as well I wasn’t trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.

For the first kilometre, I was struggling not to cry. I know this would be normal for the last kilometre, but for me it was the start of the race that reduced me to tears. I was finally here.

I settled into a steady pace, telling myself regularly ‘Slow down. Don’t go too fast early.’ At the 3km point I passed the hotel where we were staying. I looked up at the windows of our apartment, half expecting to see some familiar faces and an encouraging wave. Half expecting because, really, it was only 7.20am. Sure enough, not a sign. Waaaay too early for my male household to be stirring. 🙄

They did make an appearance eventually. Conveniently at the 22km mark at a bit over halfway, just when I needed a bit of a boost. A wave and a cheer and I was off along the waterfront for the next down-and-back leg.


It was on this leg that I met a man attempting the same feat but in his case he was celebrating an UH-OH birthday ten years more than mine. This was an aspect I loved about the marathon – meeting new people, having a chat, mutual support.

The family appeared again around the 30km mark, another point at which a boost was appreciated. I called out, “Feeling pretty good!” and I was. Then. A couple of kilometres down the road, things changed.

My calves started cramping. I ran for a bit and then thought, maybe it would help if I stopped for a minute and stretched. So I did. Big mistake. As soon as I stopped, my whole thigh cramped badly. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought. ‘Nope, just gotta keep moving.’ I hobbled off and once I was moving the cramp in my thigh eased although my calves and feet were still cramping.

For the last 10km of the race, I ran with my calves and feet cramping on and off. I had an interesting running style when the calf cramp would set in but I kept moving, even running up the ‘hills’ they threw into the mix in the last 5 kilometres. I was in pain but still managed something of a grimacing smile for the photographers.


The finish line for the Melbourne Marathon is on the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It would be almost impossible not to feel uplifted and excited entering the ground and running a lap of the oval to the finish line. And I did feel it. But I was also tired and I was hurting so my pace remained mostly steady. Until I hit the final straight to the finish line and then could not ignore the Need for Speed. I moved onto the grass and shot past the man running in front of me to fly over the finish line. I suspect I may have spoiled his expected finish line photo but a girl’s gotta do….

Remember how I thought, ‘Oh, Steve’s here! I must go find him after I finish to thank him for helping me complete my first marathon!’?

Yeah. I forgot.

I was so emotional about actually finishing my first marathon, all I really wanted was to collect my finisher’s medal and find my family which is exactly what I did. (Well, after a little incident on the staircase outside the MCG while I was on the phone to my husband to work out where they were. My legs cramped up and I was hanging onto the rail trying not to swear. People were wonderful. Someone gave me salt tablets, another gave me water, another offered himself for me to lean on while his friends spoke to my husband on my phone and then they helped me up the stairs and waited until my family found me. Runners are lovely people…)

And that was it. I’d done it. My nine-month-long Mad Wannabe Marathon Woman Project was completed.

And I was no longer a Wannabe.



I finished the marathon in 4:27:37. Since my main aim was to finish and then secondly to do it in under 5 hours, to have finished just under 4 1/2 hours was more than I could ever have dreamed.

I raised $2384 for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, by far so much more meaningful to me than the race result.

I met another Run 4 Refugees runner at a 10km a few weeks later (we were both wearing our shirts). I will always feel part of a special community.

I discovered Steve Moneghetti at a trail run recently and was finally able to say ‘Thank you’ for his part in my finishing the marathon.

And Finally…

I spent nine months saying, “This is my one and only marathon. I just want to do one and cross it off my bucket list.”

I’ve just signed up to do the Gold Coast Marathon next July.

Some people are hopeless….


What Is Left?

What is left?

When the things you want to do are hampered or denied

by injury

by lack of time

by lack of space

by lack of money.

What is left?

When those you love are absent

the one who remarries and moves away

the one who lives on the other side of the world

the one who moves away in search of work

the one who would have understood you best but is gone forever.

What is left?

When the friends you had have been driven away

by hurtful words

by thoughtless actions

by irrational emotion

by a lack of attention and time spent.

What is left?

When the structures that held you up and held you steady

the community of faith

the community of theatre

the community of song

the community of writers

are damaged or gone from your life.

What is left?

When you see yourself failing

as a partner

as a parent

as a child to an ageing parent.

What is left?

What is left?

Not much.

Only to try and remember

you have a roof over your head and bombs will not fall on it

you have food in the cupboard that will not vanish with the next drought or flood

you have a home and a place to belong instead of languishing in a refugee camp

you have education, healthcare and technology readily available.

What is left?

Gratitude. Wherever you can find it.

Grateful for the sunrise each day

The Best of Friends


What makes the best of friends?

The best of friends stick with you through the good times and the bad.

The best of friends do not abandon you when life changes.

The best of friends forgive your mistakes, thoughtless words and careless actions. Time and time again.

The best of friends are there for you when you need them even if you haven’t spoken in a year.

The best of friends receive an offer of help with joy and not a sense of obligation because they know that helping them makes you happy.

The best of friends can pick up where you left off no matter how much time has passed.

The best of friends let you know where you stand and tell you to your face when you’re being a pain.

The best of friends celebrate your successes and mourn your losses.

The best of friends never leave you hanging.

The best of friends take a genuine interest in your passions even when they are not their own.

The best of friends can live close or far, see you every day or only once a year but are always your friend.

The best of friends can read between the lines and respond to what has not been said.

The best of friends know the worst sides of you but love you anyway.

The best of friends are a rare and precious gift.


What makes the best of friends for you?




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Empty Chairs

There were empty chairs at the Christmas table. Some temporary, some permanent. Some have been empty a long time. Some we are still getting used to.

Others might think thirteen around the table to be a grand-sized party. The table was full and crowded. But the empty chairs were obvious to me.

I sat in my father’s chair. It made sense, as the only one of his children present. But the burden of taking that place felt heavy.

The party was congenial but I missed my natural allies.

Little things were difficult. A discussion of family likenesses to those not there. The bottle of wine my father always bought for Christmas. Traditions replaced by new alternatives.

The grief has been hard this year.

Things were wrong and there was no way to make them right.

I went to the ocean. I felt the cold water on my body, the sting of salt in my eyes and I let the ebb and flow of the pounding waves carry away some of the pain.

But still next year there will be empty chairs at the Christmas table.





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The Emotional Memory of Music

You’re standing in a shop and a song comes on the radio that makes your heart do a little dance and you smile. Perhaps it reminds you of a happy wedding, a joyous celebration or a ridiculously fun weekend with friends.


“No Life Without Wife” from the movie “Bride and Prejudice”, once performed (with costumes) at a raucous girls’ weekend away. Still makes me laugh.

You’re sitting in the car and a song comes on the radio that makes your heart skip a beat and tears appear in your eyes. Perhaps it reminds you of a significant loss, a painful goodbye or difficult time in your life.


“Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds, played and movingly danced to at the funeral of my sister and niece.

Music has memories. The most potent of these are emotional memories.


“Deep Peace” by Bill Douglas from the album “Celtic Twilight”. I compiled a playlist of Celtic music as a ‘birthing tape’ for when my boys were born. This song always makes me think of them. (Unfortunately, I actually forgot I had the tape when I gave birth to my first child. With the second one, he arrived so fast the tape didn’t make it out of the bag. It was only with the third child, who took his sweet time coming, that I got to enjoy the whole playlist. Many, many times…..)

Songs can be the most likely to bring up memories, as we connect not only to the music but also to the lyrics. Words can have power.


Sometimes it may even take you a while to realise why a song or piece of music is making you feel the way it is because the emotional memory of it remains strong while the mental memory has faded with time.

The emotional memory of music can also linger for much longer than the situation that created the emotion. A song may have triggered a strong reaction because of the space you found yourself in at the time and the connection you made to the lyrics. Years later, you may no longer be in that space in your life but hearing the song can still elicit the same reaction as the first time you heard it.


“Here We Are” by Belinda McArdle. This is written and sung by the amazing woman who runs the community singing group I attend. When she first introduced this song, I was at a stage in my life when I didn’t know what I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing or where I was going with my life and I felt I was wasting the gifts I’d been given. This song made me cry. That was four years ago and until very recently, if it came on my playlist in the car, it would still make me teary. This despite the fact that I have now found my way and I am happy and fulfilled in my life. I am no longer in the place I was but the emotional memory holds tight.

I do believe it’s possible to change the emotional memory of music. If the new connection is stronger than the previous, it is possible to change one type of memory for another.

I recently attended a vocal workshop facilitated by Belinda and it was an amazing experience of finding newfound confidence and trust in my own voice. After the workshop, we sang the chorus of Here We Are together and it was a powerfully emotional experience for me. And thus, the emotional memory of this song rewrites itself to a new one. This song now reminds me of what my voice can do if only I trust in it.


What song or piece of music holds strong emotional memories for you?



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(Re)Living The Italian Life

Last night I went to Tuscany. San Gimignano to be precise. Oh, the food, the wine….

Yeah, okay, so I didn’t really go there. Well, not on an aeroplane in actual person. What do you think I am, a movie star?

I did, however, buy a bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimignano and make homemade ravioli. And I listened to Italian music while I wrestled with the pasta machine. (There may or may not have also been some choice Italian swear words in action.)


I knew you were busting to ask that.

Two lovely friends are currently living the Tuscan life on the trip of a lifetime in Italy. They’ve been posting photos and stories on Facebook and I’ve been reminiscing.

Yes, we did once fair dinkum go to San Gimignano.


On a seven-week European odyssey with three small boys in tow (ages 11, 8 and 5), we had wisely booked a week in a small Tuscan town at about the halfway point. We didn’t know it was wise at the time. The wisdom only became apparent when we got there after our previous stop in Nice included the line “I’m over it! I want to go home!” That was me. As chief travel agent, tour guide, purchaser, cook, washer and seemingly font of all travel wisdom, the pressure was building. The opportunity to stop and breathe in one place for a week brought sanity back to us all.

Sometimes the significant travel memories that stay with you are not about awe-inspiring art or impressive structures or spectacular landscapes. Sometimes they are about living the life, feeling a part of a community of which you are a part for just a tiny moment. That was Certaldo for us. I’d managed to book a three bedroom apartment in a former 13th century palace with a tower where you could sit and see the towers of San Gimignano in the distance for only AU$800 a week.

Of course, first impressions count when you travel and the fact that we arrived on the weekend of their annual food and wine festival may have had some impact on our positive experiences. We didn’t know it was on when we booked. Another of those serendipitous moments that make a holiday special.


Boccaccesca Wine and Food Festival, Certaldo Alto

It was like it was all meant to be.

We relaxed, shopped at the market, read books, ate a lot of good Italian bread and cheese and made day trip forays into neighbouring tourist centres such as Sienna and San Gimignano. We didn’t have a car so these were accessed by public transport. There’s nothing quite like squeezing onto a crowded local bus to make you feel a part of the community.

It was a favourite moment in our holiday and I can’t help thinking that its impact was greater because it came at just the right time. We headed off after our week-long stay with renewed energy and patience.

I’d love to go back but I suspect that it wouldn’t be the same.

In the meantime, I’ll find the odd bottle of Tuscan wine in the local Dan Murphy’s, drag out the pasta machine and relive la dolce vita at home.


Certaldo Alto, Tuscany




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Further Life Lessons From The Doctor


It’s time for some more wisdom from everybody’s favourite Time Lord.

Things got very philosophical and deep for a while there…. (And for my blogging friend Bun and his boys, I finally found a quote from the Tenth Doctor I could tolerate.)

But you can always trust the Eleventh Doctor to come in swinging with the optimism:


Truths were told:


And my favourite fashion choices were upheld:


Relevant observations were made about the state of the world and its politics:

We’ve definitely all had moments like this (I feel like this right now with only one more week of term before the holidays):


And to finish, the Eleventh Doctor swings again:




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