The Consolation of Shopping


I once knew an elderly gent whose house was filled with clutter. The living room had no available seats, and he had given up using his mahogany dining table. There was no room for cutlery, let alone plates. I have seen shipping containers filled with items which still had their tags attached, never used. I have seen sheds built in yards to house the surplus of a person’s shopping addiction. I have come to understand the motive behind chaotic shopping patterns.

The $100 shoes that were on sale, in a style they would never wear, in a size that doesn’t fit, represents the love they never received. It is also symbolic of ill-fitting relationships.

The designer dress is symbolic of needing a lift after a failed attempt on IVF. Having the news broken over the phone, seeing prams and pregnant women everywhere is enough to drive a woman into the closest store.

The new furniture, smart TV and rugs represent the sinking feeling that something is not quite right within a cultivated life.

The bookshelves crammed with ornaments is symbolic of the urge to hold onto the past and it’s people, even though it is time to let go.

The broken pots and detritus in the garden is symbolic of a life out of control. They looked so inviting at the garden centre! You had grand plans to make an entertaining area in the yard, but realised that everyone in your family flits in and out, and the conversations you crave aren’t to be had. Those items symbolise abandoned dreams. It is akin to telling yourself that you aren’t worth the effort and time, nor is it worth doing for your sole enjoyment.

Perhaps, people that are content in life don’t shop excessively. The items that they buy are needed, and valued. They use everything that they buy, and don’t purchase gifts to win favour. A life that is in balance doesn’t swing like a pendulum.

The endorphin kick one feels at the shops is as forgotten as the identical shorts and shirts at the back of the wardrobe once home. The sinking feeling when one surveys the damage held on receipts is not worth the fleeting rush to the brain’s reward centres.

This stuff can’t make up for the cruelty inflicted on you. It is no substitute for inclusion, nor love. It can’t make pain disappear, or a longed-for child appear. It won’t make people love you more, and it can’t vanquish illness.

I have had the sad task of clearing out several homes of friends when they died. I have seen their bedrooms crammed with makeup and skincare, shoes and clothes, and gifts hidden away in case they are needed one day. Everything still had the prices attached. I have seen beds used as repositories for shopping bags, thrown into the room as though they were a live stick of dynamite, ready to explode. I have felt desperately sad as I surveyed the magazines and kitchenware, piled high in living rooms. Not wanted nor needed, nor ever used. I have understood that such scenes have been their attempt to stockpile in case they meet with a cruel winter. It happened once, and it can happen again. This stuff is their insurance policy. Mindlessly purchased, they felt the lovely flutter in their tummies, their brain beliving that this purchase will make their life better. Heck, it will make them better. It will make them care less that their husband is a philanderer, their family is a hot mess and that they are depressed. It will eradicate all of it. The shopping culture lies. It manipulates us, deliberately and often. It knows what it’s doing, down to the displays, the lighting, the music, the colours and scents. It knows how we think, the holes we try to fill and what we are trying to make up for.

Here’s how you can beat the horrid high and low during this Christmas season.

  • Make a budget and stick to it!
  • Make a list of those whom you want to buy for, and decide what you want to gift and how much you can spend beforehand.
  • Check in with yourself before leaving home. Buying stuff is no consolation for feeling lonely and sad. Make sure anything that you purchase is for the right reasons.
  • Eat before you leave home, and carry a water bottle. That horrendous disorientated feeling brought on by shopping centres is made worse by hunger and dehydration!
  • Check in any rewards points you have accrued throughout the year. These can be used for groceries or you can opt to donate them to a charity.
  • Declutter your home. The stuff that makes you depressed has to go. The clothes you have held onto but never worn, the kitchen gadgets in boxes and books you have yet to read, need to be donated or sold. No good comes from a home without sufficient room for energy to circulate.
  • Give experiences, whether that be movie tickets, a voucher to dinner in the New Year or babysitting services. Experiences last longer than stuff.
  • You have nothing to prove to anyone. You are enough, just as you are. Put down that item you can’t afford, and bake something for your friend instead.
  • Call your friends and organise catch-ups. Go on picnics or have a coffee together. People need you, not stuff.
  • Shop local! Support your local farmers markets and shops. These people are your neighbours and possibly your friends.

I remember in living colour, the sadness I felt as I surveyed dusty shelves piled high with items still in their original packets. The hope that this product would be a game-changer had long perished, and all that was left was a prison built of  discarded aspirations for a better life. Sit with pain, befriend and understand it. Shopping won’t help what needs fixing. Self-love can.

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Christmas in Sydney


As we near Christmas, the scramble to wrap up the year has begun. It has been a whirlwind for us all. I am not ready for Christmas. I was not ready for all that transpired this year. Yet, here we are. We always go to see the Martin Place Christmas Tree, on its maiden lighting, my daughter and I. We had a lovely surprise two years back when another family joined us on the train to Sydney, and we have shared this occasion with them ever since. My daughter had been unwell, and our friends assumed that we wouldn’t be going in this year. Not a chance! My girl bounded in and announced  she was feeling better, insisting we go. We met up with our friends, and amused the other passengers with our musical elf and reindeer ears. We walked through Martin Place, noting the food van and the grateful punters lining up for a meal.

When the tree was lit, I screamed with excitement! It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is a thrill!

 

Life can suck, sure, but when thousands of people go ‘wow,’ and people either side are smiling at you, all is forgotten in that moment, even the light rail debacle. It was made pretty with lights and choirs.

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There were performers on every corner, and as the choir sang a request for peace, I felt it reach inside my soul. We stared into each other, these choristers and I.

 

We greeted strangers in the Pitt St Mall, admired the Swarovski Christmas Tree in the Queen Victoria Building, and pressed our faces against the David Jones Christmas windows. For a few precious hours, we were as enthralled and excited as young children. For a few precious hours, there was beauty. May it continue throughout the new year, this hope, this energy.

Christmas Decorations are up, and hope is cutting through


I lost a friend the other day. Joan was 102 years of age. She still lived in her own home, and had a special interest in social justice, regularly attending meetings and hearing speakers talk on homelessness, refugees and domestic violence. I met Joan when I was handed a card addressed to ‘the lady with the long blonde hair who has a little dog.’  I was pregnant, and opened the card to find a letter containing the most sublime writing. So began a decade of correspondence; heartfelt, searing and thrilling. I would smile when I saw her cursive on an envelope, knowing that she had poured out her heart to me. Her life hadn’t been easy, but then again, no great heroine’s is. She adored Christmas, and I thought of her as my daughter and I put up our tree.

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When I was going through IVF, a group of us would put our trees up early, to lift our spirits. It is such a difficult season to deal with infertility. As we looped the decorations onto the tree, we paused. Each bauble contained a memory, and we talked of who had given us each one, and where we had purchased the rest. We reminisced as I told my daughter what age she had been when she had made the paper angels and ceramic bells.

This year has felt like a battering rod has crashed through my life, leaving little more than debris. Fortunately, I am skilled at building decent shelters from remnants. What a strange time it is to be alive in this world. Can you believe that our Government wanted to cut funding to Foodbank, an essential service for some of the most vulnerable in our society? I am pleased to report that after public backlash,  they changed their minds. I am astounded that they attempted to pick up chump change in this manner!

The house is ready for Christmas, as my daughter rehearses for end-of-year plays and concerts. We are ready for hope, for light and for miracles. We are preparing for 2019, and the start of a new dawn. Having the tree and decorations up has brought fresh energy into the house. It is a statement, saying that in spite of everything, we are ready to celebrate. In spite of everything, we are looking forward. The twinkling lights represent every dream we hold in our hearts. Those dreams are ready to burst forth.

Christmas and Stress


I recently lost a young friend, unexpectedly and in the most shocking of ways. It shook everyone to their core, including those whom never had the pleasure of knowing her. There seemed to be a collective sigh as masks fell, revealing the truth behind the smiling Instagram pics and depictions of lives filled to the brim. Life is part joy, and part sorrow. Social media accounts don’t necessarily lie, but rather they tell the polished version of lives. We don’t want to burden others with the challenges and pain. Throughout the past month, I have had many people apologize for telling me that they are doing it tough, and I have insisted that ‘burden’ be reframed as ‘sharing.’ We have to share. Spells are broken when we speak aloud, and we hear our voice speaking that which was hidden. I came into December feeling that I knew more about my friends. Even strangers on the bus have become more than acquaintances through the act of sharing. What people had once kept hidden astounded me. No wonder the smile slipped on occasion, and indications of anxiety peeped through!

People have told of the challenges of having two separate Christmas celebrations for children, of estranged family members whom they have to see separately. They have told of poverty and housing stress, ill-health and exhaustion. Trying to hold it together when inside, everything is falling apart. I was diagnosed with a neurological condition a short while ago, an extraordinarily painful chronic illness. I can’t even pretend to have it together at the moment, and the relief is palpable! My daughter is in WA with dear friends of mine. The mum and I did IVF together, and we ended up with daughters, who have been best friends since they were babes. I minded this little girl earlier this year, and I had tears when I heard the girls discussing how they knew they were wanted because their mums went through so much to have them. The understanding of how we longed for them shall hold them in good stead, even when the world tries to beat them down. It is a wondrous foundation to have!

My little girl has climbed the tallest tree in Australia; she has been snorkelling and visited Quokkas. In case you don’t know what a quokka is, here is a picture.

Cute, aren’t they?!

I am trying to manage my pain, in the midst of writing a book and organizing Christmas. There is much I have had to let go of for the sake of my sanity. I have ordered a few gifts online, but for the most part, have had to go easy on myself. I won’t be up until midnight, writing out cards for everyone, as much as I would love to. I simply can’t. Events have been planned in advance, and preparations for everything from travel to what I need to bring have been arranged into bullet points on a notepad. Christmas to me is all about connections rather than gifts, and I am hoping to be up to visiting people next week to check in on them. I had been planning to catch up with a group of ladies whom I haven’t managed to see all year, and invited them around for afternoon tea. I bought some fresh fruit and a little platter of cheeses and mineral water. We had a lovely time, and it cost less than $20. Christmas doesn’t have to mean expense and maxed-out credit cards. I have known many homeless folks, and those without family connections, and believe me, being invited to a Christmas lunch is worth more than gold. The best gift is being seen and heard.

One lady apologized for how harried she felt, for complaining about the stress leading up to the main event, and felt bad for her anger. I told her to stop apologizing! “Anger; unadulterated rage, kept me going in the early years after my fall,” I told her. “It can be a way of saying that a situation isn’t right, nor is it fair. It spurred me on, to work hard on my rehabilitation.” We are allowed to be angry, particularly when too much is expected of us. I love the saying, ‘If you present as strong and together all the time, much is expected of you, and then you have nowhere to go.’ People assume you will say yes to their demands, not realizing that you too have a breaking point.  We may want to retreat and that is okay too. I know many folks who take themselves away at Christmas time, to avoid unnecessary stress.  We have this notion that the Christmas season should see us morph into someone larger than life; a version of us on steroids, where we need to find more money, time and energy than in the other eleven months of the year. Not only is this unrealistic, but impossible, without burning ourselves out.

My daughter and I have a tradition of going into Sydney on the last day of November. We walk around, taking in the decorations and sights. We hardly spend anything, just take festive pictures, talk to strangers and listen to pianist’s play on the Grand Piano in the Queen Victoria Building. We come home feeling as though the veil has been lifted between the hum drum of the rest of the year and the heralding of the festive season. We walk around neighbourhoods admiring light shows at night. We sing along to Christmas carols and watch Christmas movies. It is a wonderful season, when you turn down the volume on expectations and what you should do and feel. Open calls to the beach and swimming pools, taking along a picnic hamper and catching up with friends. Reviewing the year past and planning for the fresh year ahead. Allow yourself to feel what is brewing inside your mind and soul. Allow yourself at least five minutes of peace each day. If we are open and honest with one another, we will find it easier to cope. Look for the beauty around at Christmas time. It costs nothing, and brings such joy.

I am honest about the challenges I face regarding this season. There is grief for those lost, sorrow for what has come to pass, and pain for expectations unfulfilled. There is also light; a belief that the best is yet to come. There are friendships and invitations to sit at people’s tables. There is tinsel and pool parties, hugs and carols. There is reflection and gratitude. I own each in equal measure. My fervent wish is that you have a blessed Christmas, and please, be kind to yourself!

Christmas starts early here…


I once rejected the idea of putting up the Christmas tree and decorations before December 1st. That was until I met a group of ladies in an IVF support group twelve years ago. We went through it all, from pregnancy loss, and losing much-loved babies to enduring cycle after cycle with no result. Christmas felt like a mockery, a sneering group event that we weren’t invited to, and we dreaded the lead-in to the festive season. Somebody suggested emblazoning our environments early (starting in October), as a way of cheering ourselves and also to state that we were all still here, surviving. To ensure we did as promised, we sent pictures to the group. The joy was contagious, and a tradition was born. Through the ensuing years, some have had a bub, others have adopted and some have reimagined their lives, bringing new dreams forth. We  still all put our trees up early. My daughter loves hearing about my friends, and how we supported one another. She also loves this tradition! Hey, the earlier we start celebrating the better to a kid! Each decoration is symbolic of a time and place. Some baubles were made for us, and hold a special place in our hearts. We played Christmas carols and did karaoke. As we switched on the lights, it felt like Christmas had really begun. The frenetic energy of shopping centres and the demands and exhaustion (only adults feel), was replaced with the truth that life is to be celebrated, here and now. No matter what my friend’s endured, they made sure those trees were up, and the house wrapped in tinsel and fairy lights. I think of each and every one as we fulfil this tradition, and I still post photos as evidence that we are celebrating early.

Your Worth…


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I hope that 2017 has been treating you kindly, thus far! After sharing scores of conversations with friends over the holidays, I have realized that a central theme is finances. Time off work (with or without holiday pay), Christmas, birthdays and having money for activities over the school break can be stressful. The bills have a way of arriving straight after Christmas, and demand attention! Some of my loved ones have confided that they feel judged as they balance their commitments. Instead of being given a pat on the back, encouraged that they are doing good by keeping afloat, they have been looked down on. Nobody knows what goes on behind the scenes in other’s lives. Nobody gets to see the sacrifices. Forgoing a script so that your child can have fruit. Forgoing a dental visit so that your child can see a movie with friends. Commendable sacrifices that nobody but you know of.

I wish that we would give each other a break, and listen to the subtle nuances in another’s speech. If they hesitate to make plans, suggest something that doesn’t require expenditure. Set up a tent in the back yard for the kids to camp out in. Set up a sprinkler so they can cool off. Have a sleepover, go for walks, offer dinner at your place. The relief will be palpable! Often, people want to connect, but don’t have the money for dinners and other expenses. It is summer, and we all want to be outdoors, enjoying it. It doesn’t require money.

Being aware of other’s commitments is a kindness on your part. Your worth and theirs isn’t reliant on how much free cash they have in January. It is the integrity of their heart, their capacity for love and sacrifice. Their warmth and their friendship. I had the privilege of going to see a young couple with two kids. The children don’t want for anything and have sturdy role models. The dad can look at a varied assortment of food in their kitchen, and put together an incredible meal. They grow their own vegetables and rarely go out to restaurants. They sacrifice and have made a joyful life for their little family. One of the happiest nights of my life was shared in their company, over a simple meal. I listened to their plans and hopes, and am sure that they will accomplish them all.

As I pay my bills this month, I will give thanks that I am able to do so. There may be trips to the beach and local swimming pool, but there will be more time at home, having friends over and getting back to basics. I will acknowledge the friends who sacrificed to give their family a good Christmas, and who forgoes personal necessities in order to give to their child. These are the sort of people you want in your life. As with everything in this whirlwind life, a tightened belt doesn’t last forever, but the fond memories of how one coped and had fun doing so, will remain.

I met my daughter’s Embryologist!


Softly spoken, her voice redolent with kindness. An English lady whom I only saw in scrubs and cap, highlighting her beautiful skin and soft eyes. We had three frozen sperm and one follicle, that is all. It was my last chance. I woke from egg pickup with ‘2’ written on my hand. There was a chance this follicle may contain nothing; two was beyond all expectation! This lady watched them grow and divide, and I held my breath. One divided too rapidly, and perished within days. The other burst into a blastocyst; which was terrific news! This lady wished me luck during the embryo transfer, and gave me the dish my embryo had grown in.

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Eleven months later, I brought my miracle back to meet her, and she held my child in her arms. Years passed, and the scientist moved far away. We became reacquainted on social media. She sent a message that she would be staying nearby this Christmas, and another IVF mum and I planned to meet her with our girls. When I walked in and saw her, I squeeled with joy. My daughter was overwhelmed, meeting the lady whose picture is on our fridge; who carefully watched her as a little embryo. We hugged and looked at each other in wonder. Such a long road from where we started to having a ten year old child! I showed her the dish, and she noted the ‘2’ on the plastic. We had a moment of silence and I appreciated that the women present understood the heartache behind the second number. We talked ‘IVF speak,’ and I laughed that nobody else would understand our conversation!

Our girls both love science, and this lady set up a microscope the other miracle had been gifted for Christmas. We saw extraordinary images of cross-sections of hair, blood and many other wonders. Life-when broken down into tiny segments- really is the most amazing thing! Our girls had to battle for life, and their strength is displayed in their lives today, and shall carry them into their future. We swam in the pool on this hot summer day, the girls playing together as though they are soul sisters. I know that they are. Hours passed as we hurridly relayed what we have been up to; what the girls dreams are for their wild and precious lives.

The odds were mightily against this other mum and I, but this lady helped to see us through, changing our lives forever. How can you begin to thank her for the precious gift she handed us? Humble and kind, I pray that 2017 blesses this lady beyond her wildest imaginings. I hope the same for you all. x

Christmas 2016


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I love Christmas; I always have. I love the pageantry, the carols, the celebration, the decorations and the message of hope and renewal. I remember Christmas at my grandmother’s house, and wish my daughter had experienced it. Grandma would be up at dawn, baking. Chocolates lined the beautifully decorated table, and the TV would be playing Christmas movies. Now it is up to me to set the standard for Christmas. I usually try to keep busy, to find joyous activities for my daughter. I also keep busy to escape my own mind, crammed with lamentations and grief. I try not to give it freedom to ride roughshod over Christmas, but it makes me aware of its presence. Dear friends popped in during the week leading up to Christmas, and I was so grateful. People reaching out makes all the difference.

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We decided to go into the city Christmas Eve, to soak up the atmosphere and a lovely family joined us. We went to the Bodhi Restaurant near St Mary’s Cathedral, and listened to a spectacular choir as we drank Chinese Fairy cocktails and chatted to people at nearby tables. The light show was spectacular The Nutcracker was the theme this year-and we sang opera as we made our way home afterward. My daughter had left carrots out for the Reindeer, and had sprinkled Reindeer food outside. Santa had cookies and milk left on the kitchen bench. Wouldn’t you know that in our absence, the Santa sack had been filled! My daughter was delighted to find a punching bag (bought from an op shop) with boxing gloves, and a virtual-reality Viewfinder with National Geographic discs so she could see planets, stars and animals up close. There was also a telescope and microscope, which caused squeals of joy.

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My little girl handed me my gifts. I burst into tears when I saw the little jar filled with affirmative messages “for when you feel sad,” she said. There was also a collage of pictures and a hand-drawn medal from our City to Surf walk. “I loved that you challenged me to do it, and I walked all that way!” she smiled. I hadn’t realized that it had made such an impact on her. Her gifts were so very precious to me.

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We got up early Christmas Day, and went to Ashfield Uniting Church to hear the purveyor of the real and gritty, Rev Bill Crews. The atmosphere was joyous beyond measure, volunteers ready to serve thousands of people at the free Christmas lunch.

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Our plans for Christmas Day lunch had fallen through, and I thought we may instead go to lunch with friends after church. It was a hot day in Sydney, and my daughter had a headache. I asked if she wanted to go home and she nodded. I have always wanted a big family Christmas, like the ones you see in movies (and on Facebook), and felt sad that I was taking her back to an empty house, with no special lunch prepared. I got the familiar, lost, sinking feeling that I have come to know and loathe. Fortunately, I had a little girl here, who wanted me to set up her Christmas gifts, and we spent the afternoon playing. I baked some veggies for dinner, and we toasted Christmas with pink lemonade in cut crystal glasses.

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Friendly enjoyed opening the gifts too!

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We then watched Christmas movies, snuggled up on the couch. My daughter told me it had been the best Christmas ever, and I had a massive revelation. I was enough for her! Boxing Day, I rested and read a book, something I had longed to do all year. We have a beautiful week ahead, filled with wonder and fun, but for now we rest.

Leading into Christmas…


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We attended an extraordinary home school Christmas party last week! There were craft tables, snow, disco lights, food and even Santa made an appearance! The kids wrapped up some hapless dads in Christmas paper and decorated them. We had to remind them to provide air holes so they could breathe!

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I met some dear friends at Luna Park, and we waited patiently in line at the gift shop. There were a bunch of school kids in the shop, and one asked to see the contents of a show bag. The friendly assistant held up each item separately, and gave the kid a blow-by-blow description of each piece. Five minutes passed, and he grabbed another showbag and did the same! We were in hysterics, my mind wandering to the infamous scene from Love Actually with Rowan Atkinson. Fifteen minutes later, we were served! It was kind of nice to be in a situation where the assistant had all the time in the world to help a kid make the best choice of showbag. You are meant to be on Island time during the holidays!

I coerced my friend into reclining on the moon seat, and then fell about laughing when the germ-a-phobe came across something unidentifiable and sticky with her hand!

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My daughter and I went to a friend’s house for a playdate. Now this friend is fighting a health battle, and yet had gone to so much trouble. There were red tablecloths, crackers and decorations on the tables. There was a feast prepared, and carols playing. Her gorgeous daughter had made all the kids a gift; a precious decoration for the tree. Another friend (who had endured a tough year), remarked that it really felt like Christmas now. How gracious and kind was this lady, to go to so much trouble. It is a day I will never forget.

I was having a gin with another friend, and when she excused herself to go to the bathroom, two older men-gigantic in stature came and sat down next to us. When she came back, she was alarmed to find one of the fellows had sat himself within an inch of her seat! We both shrugged and talked about how some people have no concept of space. She moved her seat around when they began to argue. Finally, the fellow who had taken over that side of the table apologized. “We are Glaswegian, and tryin’ to sort out an argument; excuse our bad language. We are very sorry.” We started giggling and couldn’t stop. Their tiff sorted, they left. I have missed this friend, and love that I’m now able to catch up with those I haven’t been able to see all year.

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This is a friend’s dog. Isn’t she beautiful?!

I have had to have a few days at home, after the spinal pain became unmanageable. Circumstances saw me having to postpone my visits to specialists and a pain clinic during 2016, something I will have to do during 2017.

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One more thought, posted by a glorious friend yesterday.

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