A Trip of a Lifetime

Just over three weeks ago, my husband, Tony and I returned from one of those unforgettable holidays, one that I’d truly honour with the ‘A trip of a lifetime’ tag.

I plan to blog about the highlights over the next few weeks, or for however long it takes me, because I want to relive it, to share it, and to save the memories for me to look back on in the future.

Where did we go? 

The Arctic! 

Our particular trip was with G Adventures, who offer a variety of exciting tours to places all over the world, but I chose the Arctic Highlights trip because of the places it visited.

Our Arctic Adventure didn’t truly begin until we took a flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, although I’d been excited since before we left Australia.

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The red dot marks where Longyearbyen is.

Svalbard, is a small group of islands north of Norway. 

Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost settlement with greater than 1,000 permanent residents. It was initially established as a coal mining town in 1906, but most mining operations have now moved elsewhere and the town has seen a large increase in research and tourism since the 1990s. 

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The Main Street in town.

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A replica coal mining town, which was really a collection of bars and restaurants

We spent a day exploring the small, and largely unattractive, town surrounded by magnificent, snow-capped mountains. I’m sure it would be a far prettier place with snow covering the ground, but considering it is dark for almost half the year, who would know? 

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The obligatory Santa’s Shop looking very ordinary without snow.

At the end of our second day in Longyearbyen, we boarded the MS Expedition, our G Adventures’ ship. 

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The Expedition waiting for us to board in Longyearbyen.

It’s a small ship, but  very comfortable. We were two of  the 125 passengers aboard. 

This was the moment I’d been losing sleep over. I was more excited about this holiday than I’d been about any trip I’d taken for many years. Which is odd, because the Arctic is cold, and I hate the cold.

But snow is cold, and I love snow. And ice is cold, and although ice itself doesn’t excite me, I’ve long had the desire to see an actual iceberg. 

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When I was growing up, I thought only scientists and researchers visited the Arctic and the Antarctic. They were wild and unknown places were ordinary people didn’t go. As the years passed, opportunities for wealthy people to visit these regions occurred, but it was still out of my reach, and so I never even considered it a possibility. However, my daughter’s trip to Antarctica in 2014 alerted me to the small number of companies  now offering the opportunity at more reasonable prices.

I chose the Arctic, and not the Antarctic, because I was interested in extremely cold places where communities lived, such as Longyearbyen, but the possibility of seeing a polar bear was also a big lure. I love bears, I just want to cuddle them, especially the fluffy, white polar bears with those gorgeous big soft paws. 

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So cuddly! (Photo taken by one of my fellow travellers.)

I’d be terrified if I was confronted by a bear of any sort in the wild, but that’s reality. In my dreams, I still think they’re adorable.

Another long-time dream of mine has been to see the Northern Lights, and I’d hoped that as we were going on the last voyage of the season, there might be a tiny chance we’d get to see them.

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Northern LIghts from a rocking ship. (Photo also courtesy of another passenger.)

This trip lived up to all my expectations, and then some. On any journey like this, specific animal sightings are almost impossible to guarantee, and sometimes ice or weather conditions affect where the ship can go, but I think we were very lucky. The weather was generally very kind to us and the staff knew how to make the best of a bad situation, plus, unlike a few others, we didn’t get seasick at all.

There are a number of other companies offering similar tours, but you can check out the G Adventures Arctic options here.

A Revised Look at Grandparenting

Eighteen months ago, we welcomed a stranger into our lives. Despite the fact he couldn’t speak any English, he managed to demand we give him a lot of care and attention. He wasn’t concerned about how tired or busy we were, and he certainly didn’t worry about interrupting our sleep. We became his slaves, and yet, we chose to love him.

Since then, his English has greatly improved, and although he still demands a lot of attention, he’s eager to be more independent. But the best thing is the way he has returned our love a million times over.

I blogged about his arrival here in Beginnings.

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Yes, I’m talking about my first grandson, and I’m besotted by him. The intensity of my love for him amazes me. Every new word he says, each new skill he masters, and the way he loves us all back sends sparks through every cell in my body. I often find myself gazing adoringly at him like a preteen experiencing her first big crush.

I’m not surprised about this, and yet I am. Family and friends had told me how special grand parenting was, but I couldn’t know what they meant until I experienced it for myself. On the other hand, I’m not convinced it’s the blood link that makes it special. I honestly believe I could love any baby I had frequent contact with from birth.

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I’ve always loved babies. I love their curiosity, their earnestness, and their unconditional love. I adore sharing the wonders of the world with children, and re-experiencing it all through their eyes. They truly are one of life’s biggest miracles.

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I’ve always thought of the time when my own children were young as the happiest years of my life, and caring for Jasper takes me back to those good times. I’m getting another chance to have that fun time all over again.

And yet, it’s so very different.

Yes, I was happy as a young mother, but a lot was going on in my life. I was torn between wanting to be a full time nurse, and a full time mother. There were more bills to pay, and concerns about our future. My relationship with my husband was far more volatile, and I was often anxious about what other people thought of me/us, Plus, I constantly struggled to keep up with the demands of housework, cooking, and washing for a family of six.

At this stage of my life, most of those concerns are gone, or minimal, and perhaps this is the biggest benefit of grand-parenting. I have time to totally focus on my grandson, to sing to him, read to him, play with him, and just be with him. In the moment.

A song from the 70’s keeps running through my mind : Watching Scotty Grow by Bobby Goldsborough.

That’s what I’m doing these days, watching Jasper grow, and loving every minute of it.

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Although, right now, I wish I’d sometimes get out of the moment and take some decent photos for future moments!

A Simple Cure for Moderate Depression?

Amber's Cindy clown

Photo by Amber McCaig

I haven’t blogged for nine months. I could go on at length about busyness, holidays away, and Christmas commitments, but I suspect the reason for my absence from the blogosphere is more likely to be related to the subject of my last post, Dealing with Stress in my Forever Life.

When I wrote that post, I thought I’d found the solution to my first world problems, but apparently, I hadn’t. The stressful feeling became more consuming as time moved on.

When I moved back to Australia, I lost control over certain areas of my life. As an expat, I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, but back here, I found myself pulled in many directions by  my children, extended family, grandchildren, and old friends.

My routines were out of whack, and making time for writing and those activities I’d filled my expat life with seemed lost.

As the months passed, and I continued to struggle with what wasn’t quite right in my life, I began experiencing sleepless nights, and last November the heart palpitations arrived. Over the next three months, the palpitations became more frequent, and were accompanied by a tight knot of anxiety in my chest that made me feel physically ill.

I realised I was moderately depressed and needed help. I made an appointment with my GP, and requested a referral to a psychologist.

The advice the psychologist gave me worked like magic. At the end of the first session, she asked me to do three things:

  1. Spend ten minutes twice a day breathing to a pattern of ‘in to the count of 7, hold to the count of 5, and exhale to the count of 7’. Ten minutes is a long time to simply focus on counting the air entering and leaving my lungs, so I set a timer to do it. That was the only way I could be sure I would commit to the exercise for the allotted time, and it was important, because ten minutes was long enough to send calming hormones around my body, signalling there was no need for the exhausting flow of adrenaline.
  2. Keep a journal. I’ve kept a journal since 2007. It’s a wonderful way to solve problems, but it hadn’t solved my anxiety. The breathing exercise did that.
  3. Get back to the rewrites of my second book. I’m not ready for that, but I had an urge to return to blogging, which is why I’m here today.

I did the breathing exercises twice a day without fail, and after one week, my improved state of mind astounded me. Over the following two weeks, my palpitations and anxiety vanished. If I felt them threaten again, I didn’t worry, because I had a weapon to stop them.

It’s been three months since my appointment with the psychologist, and I’m ridiculously happy. I sleep well, and have magically gained a sense of control in my beautifully chaotic and fulfilling life.

Writing is still missing, but I’ve given myself permission to take a break from it. I’m hoping that by writing this blog, I’ve recommitted to writing in a small way which will eventually lead me back to the rewrites of book number two.

As I wasn’t seriously depressed, the thought flitted through my mind that I was wasting the psychologist’s time, but that was crazy thinking. It was the best decision I made, and I’d highly recommend the same for everyone struggling with anxiety or depression.

Are you guilty of avoiding getting help for depression? And if you’ve been depressed, did  a simple breathing exercise help you?

 

 

 

Dealing with Stress in my Forever Life

On this day, two years ago, we arrived back in Australia after living in other countries for the prior ten years. It has been exciting, wonderful, and fun to be back, but much to my amazement, it has taken me the best part of these two years for me to settle into life here.

I now see my expatriate life as a Temporary Life. Even though I made friends and a life for myself in each country we lived in, everything was done with the subconscious knowledge that I wouldn’t be staying in that life forever. My Forever Life would happen when I moved back to Australia.

So I fought against the notion that my dreamed of Forever Life was making me stressed. I touched on this in a previous post, Repatriation can be Hard.

That stress peaked a few months ago, forcing me to examine why it was happening. My life has been blessed and it shamed me to complain when I’m very aware of  how lucky I am, but shame just added to my discontent, so I asked myself three questions:

  1. How can I share my time among all the things I want to do without getting stressed?
  2. How can I replace the close friends that died while I was away.
  3. What is my purpose?

The answer to question one came to me when I took a step back from all the high expectations I placed on myself. My tendency towards obsessive compulsiveness means that I spend far longer on tasks than most other people. Recognising this, I gave myself permission to ignore my To Do List for a week. That helped me discover that when I didn’t stress about what I wasn’t achieving, I had more time and energy. My stress was the problem, making me too tired to manage everything. Since then, I’ve learnt to let myself off the hook when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I’m now achieving more. 

Which brings me to question two. I was seeking replacements for the friendships I had before I left. Friends that lived close to me, people I could drop in on at any time and know I’d be welcomed. I was looking for a particular kind of friend to fill the hole that wasn’t as obvious in my Temporary Life, but was a gaping wound in my Forever Life. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, my problem was that I didn’t have THOSE friends.

Then, I read something that resonated with me when I altered the words a little to this:

Instead of trying to find the perfect friend, find the perfect in the friends you have.

The close friends that died while I was away are irreplaceable, so I grieve for them when I miss them, but it’s okay because I have other wonderful friends who now fill me up and make me happy.

And it was one of those friends that guided me to question three when she told me she was reluctant to retire because she feared feeling purposeless. She’s a nurse, as I was, and thinking about what she’d said, I realised that we had both felt our lives held real purpose as mothers and nurses. We were carers and we still are, but I now care for my family, friends, and grandchildren. It’s not a purpose that engenders the same level of appreciation that caring for strangers did, but acknowledging that the role is important to me has stopped me from resenting the time it was taking from the many other things I wanted to do. Caring is my purpose.

These questions helped me to be a little more forgiving of myself, and to pay more attention to what I have rather than what is missing from my life. My stress was caused by imagined problems.

My Forever Life isn’t perfect, and it’s bound to present me with further worries from time to time, but I hope to keep these lessons in mind. 

What do you do to relieve your stress?

How Can People be so Heartless?

Two weeks ago, Anti–Islamic groups, Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, held protests in Australian capital cities, but they were met with much larger numbers of Anti-racist protesters. Unfortunately, clashes with the police resulted in an ugly outcome in Melbourne, but despite this, I was heartened to see the numbers of people taking a stand against racism was much larger than those expressing the anti-Islamic views. You can read about it here.

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The same weekend, a similar outcome occurred when the Ku Klux Klan organised a rally in South Carolina against the removal of the Confederate flag. They were also outnumbered by those objecting to their ideology.

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On a much smaller issue, recent weeks have seen a lot of publicity in Melbourne about an aboriginal football player, Adam Goodes. I don’t follow the football, and I know little about the issue, but I believe that Goodes upset people initially by his response to a young girl who racially abused him in 2013, and since then, his aboriginal antics have made many non-aboriginals feel threatened, or uncomfortable. I’m assuming this is what has led to the recent trend for the football crowds to boo him whenever he gets the ball.

There are many who believe this mass booing should stop, calling the behaviour racist. Those who support the crowd’s taunts, say their behaviour is not racist, it happens because they don’t like the man.

You can find arguments for both sides here, and here.

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As someone whose football knowledge is very limited, I’m not prepared to enter into either side’s arguments, but I am not proud of the way the Australian Football crowds are treating Goodes.  In my mind, those who claim their right to join a crowd booing a football player for any reason, are taking part in mass bullying. To hear a crowd come together to make someone aware of their dislike for him, is nasty. It’s unkind.

On a much smaller scale, I received a lovely email from a fellow blogger today. I found her blog very early in my blogging adventure and have enjoyed her posts ever since. She writes anonymously, often and well, about her life, her family, her anxiety issues, her work, and her interests, but recently her blog was discovered by a co-worker who disapproved of something she wrote and shared the information among other colleagues. It saddens me that my ‘virtual’ friend feels she needs to bring her blog to an end because she no longer knows who she can trust among her readers, or who might use her deepest thoughts to create gossip in her workplace.

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I have no idea why some of my friend’s work colleagues behaved the way they did, and I only have a vague idea as to why Adam Goodes has been targeted by many football followers, but I do understand the objection to the anti-Islamic groups.

Why do people judge so quickly? Why are some so eager to put down, hate, or hurt one another? How can people be so mean?

We are all different, not just in ethnicity, religious beliefs, or nationality, but in opinions and ideas. There’s no way everyone will agree on all issues, but does that really mean we should attack those who don’t agree with us?

Being Islamic doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does being an aborigine, or a footballer, or a blogger, but being unkind to another human doesn’t make you a good person either. Being rude or nasty to someone you dislike won’t change their behaviour, it only serves to hurt and anger them.

I choose to act with love and trust, rather than hate and fear. There is more good in the world than evil. I see kindness, love, and compassion everyday in the small actions of people everywhere, but I suspect some don’t understand the effect of their actions, good or bad, on others.

As a dyed-in-the-wool hippie (without the drugs), the words to the song Easy to be Hard (written by Ragni, Gerome/Rado, James/Mac Dermot, Galt.) keeps running through my head:

How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard, easy to be cold

You can hear the song here.

You don’t have to like or accept those with different opinions to yours, but leading by example is generally a far better way than using anger or rudeness to change someone’s views.

Let’s stop bullying and hurting one another.

Day 5: Solitude

Cape Shank windsurfer

Cape Shank kite surfer.

I took this photograph on one of my blissful days out with my daughters.

As part of Day five’s task, we were meant to take the rule of thirds into consideration. This photo was the closest I could find to fit both the solitude theme, and the rule of thirds. I’m not sure it hits the thirds mark.

What do you think?

Lack of time has forced me to use old photos for my Day four and five’s photos, although the purpose of this exercise was to make me use my camera every day, it just doesn’t seem to be working out that easily. Things can only look up.

Day 4: Bliss

McCrae sunset

McCrae sunset

Bliss is what I feel when I’m extremely happy, and I find it often in my life. Little things like a flower I love growing where I didn’t expect it, or the warmth of the summer sun on my skin, or a clear starry night are all blissful experiences for me. and big things like my grandson’s face when he’s sleeping, or spending time with my children, or the magnificent sunsets we often see from our home.

I struggled to choose what to photograph for this task, and I was running very late, so I pulled out this image from February.

Day 3, Water

I love water! I like to immerse myself in it, soak in it, paddle, play, and swim in it. I like it as rain, mist, steam, or frozen. I like to look at it in the sea, the rivers, creek beds, puddles, and ponds, and I love to drink it, especially when it’s Melbourne water.

This image combines two of my watery loves,  our wonderful drinking water and the faint view of the sea behind it.

This image combines two of my watery loves, our wonderful drinking water and the faint view of the sea behind it.

I also love the way it reflects, and the distortion of the reflection when looking through it in different shaped glass containers.

When I change the orientation of the image, there’s a third watery image – the pond below our deck.

Fresh drinking water, the sea, the pond, and the reflections.

Fresh drinking water, the sea, the pond, and the reflections.

I’m running a day late, but hope to catch up over the weekend.

Day 2: Street.

I live in Australia, near the seaside town of Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It’s approximately 75 km southeast of the City of Melbourne.

One of the wooden figures on the main seaside thoroughfare in Rosebud, Victoria, Australia

One of the wooden figures on the main seaside thoroughfare in Rosebud, Victoria, Australia

It comes to life every summer when the holiday makers invade to enjoy the beautiful beaches, but yesterday when this photograph was taken, it was a cold, windy, and rainy day and the streets were almost deserted.

In a cruel twist of fate, we learnt yesterday that our cruise to the Arctic region has been cancelled. The boat is undergoing engine repairs and apparently it won’t be ready in time for our trip, so the adventure has been rescheduled for the same time next year.

It was a shock and a disappointment, but on the bright side, I now have a lot more time to hone my photography skills!

Photo101 Day 1 Home

Today is day one of Photo 101, and this is our assignment:

Home is elusive. When we think about this word, we might picture different physical locations. And while home is often found on a map, it can also be less tangible: a loved one, a state of mind.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for some time knows what home means to me. It is Australia, and for some reason, the first thing I think of is the gum trees.

Gum Tree

Gum Tree

They come in many varieties and I love them all. Some have stunning blooms, some have flowers that infuse the surrounding air with the scent of honey, some have thin leaves, some have fat leaves. Generally, they are messy and drop twigs, bark, and branches often, but still, I love them.

Gumnuts

Gumnuts

The gum tree that frames most of my sunset photos.

The gum tree that frames most of my sunset photos.

They provide a home to many of Australia’s unique birds and animals, species that can’t be found elsewhere in the world; cockatoos, kookaburras, rosellas, and koalas.

On the rare occurrences that I found a gum tree when I was living in Florida and Scotland, I’d always pick a leaf, scrunch it up, and hold it to my nose to inhale the eucalyptus scent. I’ve always loved it, and in my time away, it was my favourite reminder of what ‘Home’ was to me.

Gum leaves

Gum leaves

One of my goals for this year was to brush up on my photography skills before I leave on my next big adventure, so I jumped at the opportunity to do the WordPress Photo 101 course.

Since returning to Australia nineteen months ago, I’ve been reluctant to leave again. My husband loves to travel and thankfully, he likes to take me with him most of the time, which was great until we moved back home. I guess I’ve been feeling a little guilty about not travelling with him, which was why I told him I’d found the one trip that would induce me to leave the country again – an arctic cruise.

The trip is now booked, our departure date is September 2nd, and I’m excited. I’m hoping that taking a photo a day for Photo 101 will force me to learn more about my camera, perhaps become a little more creative with my photos, and help prepare me for the stunning images I hope to take on my arctic cruise.