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.”

“What?”

“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.

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What is the gift that truly counts for you?

 

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.

And?

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.)

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

I started a blog.

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

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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.

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M-DAY

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And…

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….

 

Happy Birthday?

Happy Birthday

I have a birthday coming up soon. These days, I tend to approach them with some measure of dread.

It is not, as you may suppose, because I am well past forty and rapidly heading towards the next significant birthday. I have learned from previous experience that those decade celebrations can be an opportunity for growth – a chance to be a little bit braver and to venture a little bit further out of my comfort zone.

No, I awake on my birthday with the ever-present shadow of knowledge that my sister‘s birthday will come five days after mine. And less than a month after that it will be my niece’s birthday and a mere eleven days after that, we will once more live through the reminder of that awful day when they were both taken from us without warning.

By then, all the signs of Christmas approaching will surround us and we will endure the lead up knowing there will always be those empty places at the Christmas table.

am grateful to have another birthday. Truly. I am grateful to be fit and healthy and that I possess a body and mind that do what I ask of them (mostly). I have a family to love and who love me and I live a good life. There is much to be celebrated at the end of another year on this earth.

But my birthday will always be the day that signals the beginning of the hardest time of the year for me.

I’m not suggesting that you not say “Happy Birthday” if you’d like to but only that you understand why your good wishes may be greeted with a sad smile and an awkward “Thank you”.

 

 

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Exterminate! The Dalek Cake

 

Birthday Dalek

When my boys were young, I loved to throw them a birthday party at home. We would pick a theme and everything would be based around that – invitations, games, activities, food, prizes, lolly bags – the works. Cowboys, wizards, astronauts, the alphabet, Cat in the Hat – we had a lot of fun. In an era of contracted-out birthday parties at play centres and fast food joints, ours were something of a novelty.

My favourite, though, would be the year my eldest had a Knights of the Realm party. I spent months saving up the cardboard discs a local pizza restaurant used for their takeaway pizza (we also ate a lot of pizza in those months). I spray-painted them silver, attached a vinyl strap and stuck paper to the front so the kids could create their own crested shields. Dressed up and with their trusty steeds (made from shoeboxes and the inner cardboard tubes of rolls of fabric), we held a jousting competition in the front yard. The cake, of course, was a castle. The lolly bags were the pièce de résistance. I made leather pouches.

I can get carried away.

The parties were only every second year and they stopped once they hit twelve years of age, giving way to easier movie/bowling/sleepover versions. But I do still love to have a crack at a good cake.

The Eldest Son turned 18 on Friday. I am now officially a parent of an adult. Don’t give me the argument about it being 21. Here, everything hits at 18. They can drive, drink, vote, gamble, get married. You hope not all on their birthday.

A significant birthday demanded a significant cake. The theme for the party was Pop Culture and as Eldest Son was going dressed in his customary 10th Doctor costume, a Doctor Who themed cake seemed mandatory.

Enter the Dalek cake.

It took me two days to make it. One to bake the cakes (five of them) and one for construction and decoration. Being a Jack of All Trades, I was, of course, making it up as I went along with nothing but an image in my head and a half-baked (ha!) idea of how it would work.

I’ll confess I was really happy with the result. As was Eldest Son which made me even happier.

Take these and my favourite mudcake recipe and build a Dalek. No worries.

Take these and my favourite mudcake recipe and build a Dalek. No worries.

Okay. So somehow I have to turn all this into a Dalek.

Okay. So somehow I have to turn all this into a Dalek.

Stacked, glued and trimmed. (I love using mudcake - it cuts beautifully with a bread knife.)

Stacked, glued and trimmed. (I love using mudcake – it cuts beautifully with a bread knife.)

I could have saved myself a lot of work and just stopped there and called it a Cousin It cake.

I could have saved myself a lot of work and just stopped there and called it a Cousin It cake.

The finished product. This cake could actually kill you. It has 1.2kg butter, 1.2kg sugar, 1.2kg chocolate and 18 eggs in it. And that's not counting the icing and decorations.

The finished product. This cake could actually kill you. It has 1.2kg butter, 1.2kg sugar, 1.2kg chocolate and 18 eggs in it. And that’s not counting the icing and decorations.

I think I'm proudest of my inspired Wagon Wheel eye and half a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg suction cup!

I think I’m proudest of my inspired Wagon Wheel eye and half a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg suction cup!

Sparklers!

Sparklers!

The birthday boy with his cake, just to give you some perspective. We'll be eating cake for the next month.

The birthday boy with his cake, just to give you some perspective on the size of the thing. We’ll be eating cake for the next month.

 

 

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The Friends We Deserve

I had a birthday recently. Let me just say I am not the world’s most enthusiastic birthday celebrant and the older I get, the less enthusiastic I become. Friends asking “So, what are you doing for your birthday?” are inevitably met with “Nothing.”

It’s not that I’m unhappy to have a birthday. As Larry Lorenzoni pointed out, “Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.”

I’ve just always felt mildly embarrassed to invite people to celebrate my birthday with me. It seems somehow selfish and self-aggrandising. Birthdays were never lavish affairs growing up and I’ve toned them down since then. (Although, I do remember my 11th birthday when I and my friends were taken to the circus. We had whistlepops.)

This year, some of my friends decided a non-celebratory birthday was unacceptable so they kidnapped me and gave me a birthday celebration anyway. It made me wonder what I’ve done in my life to deserve them.

Do we get the friends we deserve? Is there a Friendship Karma? A Buddy Balance Sheet? Do the friends you get measure up to the friend you are? If there is a balance sheet, I think I’m in the red. I’ve been blessed with friends far in excess of what I deserve.

Some friends have come into my life when I’ve needed them and exited when I no longer did. Some have come into my life and stayed. Even the Poor Choice friends of my youth have served a purpose, showing me the lifestyle I didn’t want and pushing me towards new friends who made me feel safe instead of scared.

I’ve certainly tried to be a good friend but at times I’ve failed, as I suspect we all do at some point in our lives. Lack of contact, being unavailable and, worst of all, hurtful words spoken out of thoughtlessness have all been committed by me. Perhaps it’s the errors we make that show us which of our friends are the stayers. I feel an eternal debt to those friends who have forgiven and forgotten the mistakes I’ve made and stuck by me.

I can’t imagine a world without friendship. While your family is meant to love you, friends choose to love you. They choose to spend time with you. And they are often the ones who know the Real You, especially the Lifelong Friend. Lifelong friends have seen you at your best and at your worst, they’ve shared your growing up, your life-changes, your highlights and your lowlights. That doesn’t mean that lifelong friends only arrive in childhood. Sometimes they appear later in life but come to know you so well it’s as if they have been a part of your life forever.

I wrote this song for my friend Carolyn for her birthday a couple of years ago. The words are equally applicable to so many of my friends. Friends I continue to do my best to deserve.

 

 

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