Learning from Toddlers


Hopping onto a full carriage at Central station, I was cursing myself for arriving in peak hour. Tired and hungry, I stood next to an equally exhausted lady, who grimaced by way of a greeting. People left at the next few stops, and a mother with a stroller boarded. That is when everything changed. I hadn’t noticed the mother and little boy before, seated in the middle section. The little boy stood as I found a place to sit, and wandered over to the stroller, greeting the little girl with  unadulterated joy, as though they were old friends. After he introduced himself, the little girl’s mum was offered a seat by a building worker. He actually insisted. The little girl was let out of her stroller and the kids sat snuggled together. I watched as their rapport was built, sharing toys and French fries.

The lady I had been standing with smiled knowingly, when she heard the mothers describing how hard new parenthood had been, and how they had been certain they were screwing it all up. Parents of older kids chimed in, and told their own stories. We confessed all the things we vowed to never do with our kids, which we all did. We talked of our own battles and what we had learned through the years. I laughingly relayed that I had vowed to never feed my toddler chips, and stories were told about all the silly rules we had administered, pre-children. Banana sandwiches are great, but then so is the occasional bucket of chips. Pretty soon, the whole carriage was chatting, introducing ourselves to one another. The toddler’s energy and ease of friendship had contaminated us all. They alternatively sung Wiggle songs, played with toys and ate chips.

An hour passed, and it was time for the toddlers to say goodbye, and they hugged one another. I thought of the ease in which the little boy had gone up to greet the little girl. It had brought out the best in all the weary travellers. It taught us to get our noses out of our phones, and actually smile at one another. Even if you are only going to be with a group of people for one solitary hour of your life, make it count.

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Womens Wave, Sydney


Perusing the commentary on social media, there are apparently people who don’t believe that we need to march in support of women’s rights. That would be welcome news for  the thousands who marched in Sydney last weekend. If only it were true… We demanded the right to feel safe on our streets, our thoughts turning to Aiia Maasarwe, the vibrant young student killed in Melbourne. She will never be forgotten, and was certainly remembered Sunday. It could have been any one of us…We traveled into the city with a woman who had survived domestic violence. She left her marriage when pregnant with her youngest, and has been to hell, lingering to grab other’s from it’s fire. We stood spellbound, listening to Yumi Stynes, Aunty Norma, Jane Brock, Rae Johnston and Bri Lee. If you can imagine several thousand people, silent and keeping space for the speakers, the trees themselves staying as still as the air. The peace was occasionally broken by rapturous applause. As we began our march past the courts, my friend began crying. So many of us had experienced violence in the past, and being part of a collective was in direct opposition to how alone we had once felt. “Things are going to change for our girls,” I whispered, hoping I was right.

I have witnessed girls being too intimidated to play at a local park, right near their home, after boys demanded that they be their girlfriend. They refused, and the boys didn’t like it. Now, they will only go to the park accompanied. I have seen cat-calling of eleven year old’s, suggestive messages left for them in their bags. I had the displeasure of traveling on a train with two teenage boys the other day. By the looks of them, I would hazard a guess that they were sixteen years old. One was talking to the other about sending “a chick” pics of their anatomy, and demanding that she do the same. The way in which they were talking, and the phrases they used to denigrate young women, made my skin crawl, and I let them have it both barrels. Once upon a time, the defence brought up the fact that I was on the pill as an argument in court. Never mind that I was taking it for severe period pain, later diagnosed as endometriosis. Certainly never mind that it had nothing to do with my being raped. I have seen misogyny at work, and felt it’s cruel aftermath. I have met gentlemen and fabulous boys too, many of whom took part in the march. They give me renewed hope.

Do you know how hard it is to leave an abusive marriage? Even if you are the one fiscally responsible, adept at paying bills and stretching money, real estate agents prefer to have a husband’s name on the lease, particularly if you are at home with small children and he works full-time. So many things in your husband’s name, and none in yours. There are many ways to feel trapped in this world, and a lot of rabbit holes to disappear down. My daughter was asked by a reporter why she was here. She said “because my mum was hurt badly when she was a teenager, and women and girls deserve to feel safe and respected.” We sure do, sweetheart. Her friends chatted to the reporter too, adding their heartfelt sentiments. They are the daughter’s of  women who rose like the mythical phoenix, and shall be silent no more.

The call was placed for a Safe State, a list of recommendations put together by frontline workers and experts to end family and domestic violence. You can show your support here.

Financial Abuse


I recently met up with a friend whose partner (in secret), had racked up substantial debts, which they were repaying at $550 per week. If you asked her partner what he’d bought, I don’t believe he would be able to tell you, such was the lack of value placed on the items. It has added up to a huge chunk out of their wages. Financial abuse is insidious, tied in with emotional and mental abuse, and at it’s heart, control.  Ultimately, living with someone whose goals aren’t aligned with yours, is unworkable. Being lied to, having money taken out of your account and being forced to withdraw what you have saved in order to live, is more common than most people think. It consists of regularly making up excuses when you can’t afford to go out,  whilst trying to keep the household running and school supplies bought. It is incredibly stressful.

I have seen and heard it all in my time. I have seen people I love left with nothing after sacrificing everything, in order to pay off debts that aren’t even theirs.  I have seen people trapped by ill health and other issues, rendering it harder to leave. I have seen people promised money over the Christmas period, or a partner swearing that they would pay their share, and then not do so. I have seen it all, and wept with those on the receiving end.

I have written an ebook about financial, emotional and mental abuse, available on Amazon. It is such an important subject, and my main goal was to help people feel less alone. The fact that you are still here and fighting for yourself and any children you may have is extraordinary! It takes such a massive effort (and toll), when you are locked out of your own life; financial matters and fines, debts and betrayal hidden from you. If this is you, keep going, please. I have seen lives rebuilt after suffering these particular traumas. I have seen a woman five years down the road- and now financially secure-cradling the hands of another, promising that they too shall get through it. I believe her.

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Get your copy here.

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.

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.

They held a good thought for me…


This life sure can bring you to your knees. There you are, doing everything you possibly can to improve your lot, and you still don’t feel you have gained any traction. My old laptop was falling apart (literally), last year, the keys missing and the screen jumping. I had to put up with it for a year, whilst I saved to get a new model. If I plan to finish my new book, I really need a decent ‘puter, and I put the call out for suggestions as to what to get. A particular one was recommended by a friend who is a Hollywood screen writer and best-selling author. I have had it on lay-buy for a year (remember them)?! In a month, it will be sent out to me, and I am beside myself with excitement. To be able to finish a chapter without the screen having conniptions and my words ending up where I didn’t intend them to be, will be such a thrill! I was so grateful to my friend, who researched based on my needs.

I have kept a great deal to myself, as to what this past year has consisted of, but it hasn’t been fabulous. It has been hard graft, with no breaks. Within the mental confines of which I found myself, I was humbled and astounded to have friends reach out to me, knowing without me ever having to explain that I was troubled. There was the friend that offered me a Buddhist prayer, ‘May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be well. May I be happy.’ She suggested I say it several times a day. It did fill me with peace.

There was my friend from interstate who sent me the following breathing track.  It activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It has helped me cope with the chronic pain I endure. I hope it helps you too!

I had a family invite my daughter and I for a sleepover, feeding us pizza and letting us join in their Friday night karaoke session. They then drove us into Sydney for an appointment.

A dear lady I had befriended on social media got in touch. I had only met her once, on a camp several years ago. We connected on a deep level, but still I was astounded when she messaged me the other day, offering her beautiful Airbnb for myself and my daughter to have a little break away.

All of these kindnesses keep you buoyant, and end up becoming the foundation from which you can build the future. When a friend is going through hard times, we sometimes feel impotent. What can we possibly do or say to relieve their pain? What if we barely have the resources to cover our own bills? As much as we would love to send flowers or gift them a trinket of affection, we can’t afford to. I can assure you, that you don’t need to. What your friend needs is you. They need your time; they need your thoughts. The messages I received, linking me to prayers and meditations, music and photos, meant the world.

I will never forget the time I was involved in a charity with a well-to-do couple. He owned a bus company, and his wife had diamond rings on each finger. She mentioned that she was going into hospital to have a serious operation as we bid each other goodnight. The intractable thought kept coming into my mind that I simply had to see her before she went under. I felt foolish, as I was sure her husband and extended family would be there with her in the morning. Surely, I would be in the way! The urge refused to dwindle, and so off I set, to the private hospital. I found her in pre-op, the regal lady I had known. Today, she seemed diminutive, with no rings or nail polish on her fingers. Her auburn hair flopped over her ears, not perfectly coiffed as usual. She glanced over and saw me, and burst into tears, her right arm crossing to rest on her heart. I walked over, and sat next to her in silence, my hands in hers. I sat with her until the wardsmen came to get her. It taught me to never presume that other’s lives and circumstances don’t require your presence. It taught me to listen to those urgings. The people with a million friends, are most likely to need you more than you know.

I tell you, every ounce of support, advice and love I have received has been tabled in my book of life and is reflected on continually. Come as you are, with what you have. All you need do for a friend is just assure them that they are seen; that you see them.  In a few week’s, I will go to this Airbnb in the Blue Mountains, with my new laptop. I will recite the Buddhist prayer, and play the breathing track I was sent. I will look out the window of the violet-hued living room, and know that my story has only just begun, propelled forth by friendship. I will return restored, and with a cup filled to brimming, ready to be these things to my friends in turn.

Time


I had such a cavalier attitude to time when I was younger, and it was little wonder. I stared up at the tiled ceiling from my spinal rotor bed, counting the dots on each square for months on end. I anxiously waited until I was old enough to make my own choices, and lead a life of my desire. Time seemed to stretch on forever, as it is want to do when pain, isolation and abuse feature. Always impatient, waiting for and recovering from surgery was agonizing, not to mention the years in physiotherapy. I had to learn to break everything down into tiny steps. Those little steps added up and became quite a hike! IVF came along, and each day stretched out. The two-week-wait to find out if I was pregnant seemed to defy time on earth. Pregnancy felt the same; endless, as I impatiently waited to meet this baby.

Since her birth, I have a new respect for time. It can be a hard taskmaster, both when you long for it to speed up, and when you yearn for it to slow down. Having a child has made me yearn for it to lean in and stretch out. If I could turn back the hand’s, I would. How can it be that I almost have a teenager, starting her last term of Year 6 after the holidays? I don’t even know how it is possible? You finally get a handle on differing ages and the milestones reached, and they are gone, replaced with the next expectation.

It is as though an editor has rushed through the movie reel, speeding it up in a race to the end. I have only fully appreciated each age by looking over videos and photographs after the events. It is true that you often don’t know you are enjoying a perfect moment in time whilst living it. As we waited to board a country train to where my daughter would be performing, I turned to her and said “we will look back on these adventures as being some of the most perfect moments in our lives.” She stopped and smiled, nodding her head, and we both ceased our hurriedness to the next destination, to fully appreciate what we had now. In silence, we looked around the small station, hearing the kookaburras and cockatoos in neighbouring gum trees, and admiring the cherry blossoms in bloom. We heard a solitary crow in the distance, and we knew that this moment was magic. Now is all we have.

I peered over at my daughter, and marvelled at how her journey is only just beginning. There is so much for her to look forward to. It won’t be as hard a trip into adulthood; I will make sure of that. I am trying to live in the moment after our sublime experience at the station. On Tuesday, we were waiting for another train, and were sitting near a young Canadian traveller. She was soon joined by a man forty years her senior, and as I heard their banter, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. He was asking her questions at a rapid-fire rate. No sooner had she answered, than he was asking her another. She did that thing where you smile and try to be friendly. So many of us have done, as we secretly hope that the stranger will leave us alone and not hurt us if we do. He asked her if he could show her around Sydney. She politely declined. He then insisted on taking her out to dinner. She stammered and tried to deflect his attention. By this stage I had heard enough, and went over. He was decidedly irritated at my intervention, whilst the traveller was grateful. Eventually he moved away, and left her in peace.

I talked to my daughter about what had transpired, and told her that she need never feel like she has to put up with a stranger being invasive. I told her that I had done it many times, frightened of angering a persistent stranger. So many times, passing women would come to my aid, some pretending to be friends who were meeting me in order to thwart advances. We talked for the whole hour into the city, and it was wondrous. My little girl is growing up and there is nothing to fear. She has this. She is growing up in a time where girls have a voice. She is growing up in a time where she doesn’t feel the pressure to conform nor accommodate everyone. She has got this.

I am planning the next term, and shall be scheduling more trips and adventures, as I know that this precious time won’t come around again; at least not in the same way. I have heard that once a child reaches high school, time seems to speed up. I pray for day trips and camps, walks and other adventures in which time stands still. Right now is perfect. This is all we are guaranteed, this moment in time. I plan to lean into it, and make a second last a day.

 

Making a Will and Planning a Funeral


I recently made a new will. It was something that had been on my mind for some time. I initially had one drawn up with the Public Trustee a decade ago. I balked, however, at the potential of huge fees charged to my estate by the government. The other day, I typed a list of  my insurance policies, as well as bank account details and passwords to my social media. It felt like an overwhelming task at first, but as I progressed, I began to feel empowered. I booked an appointment at my local legal centre for a small fee, and provided the necessary information. There were points added to help guide my daughter until she becomes an adult. It all felt rather dry, so I then began to plan for my penultimate party, my funeral.

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I stayed up until the early hours, selecting songs, writing a eulogy, copying photos to a USB. I laughed when I thought of my daughter cringing when goofy pictures played. There was too much material to cram into an hour, and so I planned for my wake as well. There will be much laughter, I can guarantee! I didn’t have an 18th, 21st, nor 30th. I am determined to have a joyous party, at least once in my life. To have everyone I love together; to have strangers hug and share stories. To hopefully raise money for selected charities. It will not so much be about me, but to honour my daughter, and show her that she is surrounded by love.

I looked at my drafted plans, and smiled. It has been a painful, lonely, bewildering, scary and ferocious life, thus far. It has also been a life filled with laughter, smiling, swimming, floating, singing, whimsy and love. I have had dear friend’s pass away at a young age, unfortunately not leaving a will. I have seen the intended wishes for their children and possessions be dishonoured. My heart broke a decade ago, and it propelled me to have my initial will drawn up.

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We leave this world with no earthly possessions, but what a relief it is to know that it will all end up with those it was intended for. If it’s something you have thought of doing, my advice is to not put it off any longer. It is a relief to not have it on your intended to-do list, and in the back of your mind. Drawing up a will and planning your funeral can assist you in living, funnily enough. Do you want your ashes to become a diamond, or would you want to be buried in a pod, and grow into a mighty tree? The possibilities are endless, and your loved ones won’t have to guess what you would have wanted. As I selected photos and music, I felt content. It has been a good life, despite the storms. It has been a good life because of the people whom have walked alongside me.

When life sucks, add some whimsy


 

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Definition of whimsy on http://www.vocabulary.com

We have a new Prime Minister in Australia. It is truly embarrassing. I was at a class when I received the breaking news on my phone, and announced to everyone that Peter Morrison had landed the top job! I had been under the mistaken belief that Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were interchangeable. Perhaps, I was mislead in thinking that it was a shared role? With life feeling heavy, grey and frankly, ludicrous, it was time to escalate the whimsy factor.

 

I found some elf ears, much to my delight, and proceeded to wear them on public transport. Now, if you are a Sydney person, and have taken trains the past couple of weekends, you will know what a shambles it has been. Trips that would usually take 40 minutes were suddenly taking four hours, and that is if your train was running at all. Solution, elf ears! When I put these on, everyone started smiling, if not laughing. Conversations were started, and whimsy ruled supreme. There were even people stopped in heavy traffic gawping, as I waited for a bus.

That’s the thing about whimsy, it takes us out of our every day ho-hum lives. It is surprising, startling and without ego. It contains humour and frivolity, with no goal in sight, other than to delight. I was amazed at how a pair of elf ears could pick up the energy in a dreary space with tired and annoyed passengers.

Here are some other recent whimsical episodes of note:

 

We had a rainbow lorikeet feasting on jam left at our table and attended a mad hatter’s high tea at the Westin, Sydney. We fell in love with greenery draped over light fittings and up the walls at a bistro, and we ran through a water feature.

We admired the meticulous costumes of Cos Play characters on their way to some marvellous expo, and congratulated the raucous Kiwi’s on winning the Rugby. We listened to melodic buskers strumming their guitars and danced in the streets of Sydney. We were at the Body Shop, and nearly jumped out of our skin’s when one of the sales people let out a shrill scream. She jovially explained it was, in fact, a hiccup, and that it always alarmed people. She continued screaming, every minute or so, the poor darling.

I bought a solitary violet cream chocolate from Haigh’s, after unknowingly jumping the queue (which  snaked out the door). I was mortified upon turning around and seeing the people patiently waiting, and was greeted with bemused smiles, bless them! I watched my daughter soar through the sky on an outside trapeze. Why did she want to partake of this class? It was to feel the sensation of flying; the sensation of being free of all incumbencies.

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These are the moments we live for. The moments of unexpected beauty, the sublime and the ridiculous. If a pair of elf ears can make a carriage full of irate passengers smile, I may have to add an entire elf outfit to my repertoire. Life isn’t meant to be a series of annoyances and trials. The harder life gets, the more whimsy must be added. Whether that be in the form of a coffee mug or some novelty to make everyone smile. The moments of whimsy make life worth living.