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.

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.

Reflections

Sunset Reflection

We celebrated Christmas early this year because a few family members will be away on the day. Two weekends ago, my siblings and their families came to our home for our usual Christmas get together. It was a beautiful day, very relaxed, with an abundance of delicious food, lots of chatter, children, and presents.

The gang with the oldies hidden at the back where they belong.

The gang with the oldies hidden at the back where they belong. Photo by Cindy Townsend

This weekend, we enjoyed an early family Christmas dinner with our children. Once again, the weather was perfect, the food plentiful, and the company great.

IMG_6013

Christmas Dinner Photo by Cindy Townsend

I don’t belong to any religious group, so for me, Christmas is about traditions, and giving, and the love that seems to infuse the atmosphere at this time of the year – people shopping, looking for the perfect gift for their children, friends, and family, strangers wishing you a Merry Christmas with a smile, the decorations, and the cheery Christmas songs ever present in the background. It all makes me happy.

Over the years, as my children grew up, we established some family traditions that have become an important part of our our Christmas dinner – Bon Bons which require us to wear silly paper hats, the pudding cooked in the cloth and served with brandy custard, the candle in the centre of the table, glace fruit, and Cadbury’s fruit and nut mix with added bullets, M & Ms (red and green), and the obligatory ‘guess the colour’ clinkers. This year, the clinker colours were used to predict the sex of our soon-to-arrive grandbaby – I think a boy won. Not long now until we discover if clinkers have super-predictive powers.

Clinkers - Green for a boy, pink for a girl

Clinkers – Green for a boy, pink for a girl

Another important tradition we include in our Christmas gatherings is to play John Lennon’s song, Happy Christmas (War is over), with the volume turned up so we can all sing along.

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one begun.”

The end of a year prompts me to reflect on the past twelve months, and although I don’t blog often, I do enjoy being able to look back over the year’s posts to be reminded of some of the small things I may have forgotten if I relied on memory alone.

However, today I found an interesting post in Anushka’s blog, Into Mind, suggesting we reflect on the past year by answering the fifty questions she’s posted. I liked the fact that they weren’t questions about what I did, or where I went, who I was with, or what I got. They were questions about how I felt. It was insightful to look at my year this way and sometimes challenging, but generally satisfying. And it was useful to seriously think about my answers and what I’d like to address differently next year.

The best question was no. 21 –

  • What was your most common mental state this year (e.g. excited, curious, stressed)?

The answer to that one was easy, because the repeating underlying theme in my life is elation. I’m thrilled each time the fact that I’m here in Australia is reinforced. The time spent with my family, the friends I’ve reconnected with, the wildlife in my garden, the magnificent sunsets, and my home, are among the many reasons I get a buzz these days – I dreamed of this for so long when I was in Scotland, and now it is real, but the best part is that the reality is so much better than what I imagined.

I feel blessed.

However, reflecting on the year has also helped me see a way forward, because in all the busyness of my life here in Australia, I’m not making enough time to write, and that doesn’t feel right. I want to amend that in 2015, but I don’t want to lose the positives that this year has brought me. It won’t be easy, because my life already feels full, and there’s the added bonus of an expected new member to the family – my first grandchild – to consider, but it’s important to try.

Maybe I’ll discover that I don’t need to write anymore, or perhaps I’ll find a way to have it all. Why not?

What I know is that my life is living proof that dreams do come true.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with family and/or friends. Soak up the love and enjoy.

Merry Christmas Photo by Cindy Townsend

Merry Christmas
Photo by Cindy Townsend

Two Years

There are exciting plans afoot in my world. When we bought this house, the garden looked like someone had dumped a mass of plants in one section, and then never moved forward with the plan they had for those plants. It certainly wasn’t what I had in mind for our garden, and so I looked at it as a blank canvas I could use to create a garden I wanted, one that would attract the local birds, bees and butterflies.

The basic clearing and landscaping has now been done, but I’m restraining myself from planting until my studio is built. We’ve been waiting a long time for this, and today, the builders are here – so that’s exciting.

I’ve always enjoyed gardening, loved spending time with dirt and plants, but I really have little knowledge about it. I want to change that. I plan to learn as I go, and as part of that process, I’d like to use this blog to post photos of the changes, so I can check back from time to time to see what was happening at a certain month or season in the years to come.

Today is a good day to mark this change, because it is the two year anniversary of my very first post.

Yes, it is now two years since this humble overview of my transition from living overseas for ten years to moving back to my homeland began.

I planned to blog about my feelings in my last year in Scotland and my first year in Australia, and I guess that’s more or less what I’ve done. I’m glad I did it, pleased I have this record of that period in time, but it’s over now and I’m ready to move on to establishing the rest of my life here without those reflections.

September sunset

September sunset

I understand that gardening in Australia will be of little interest to you if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, and many of you might not be interested in gardening at all, or my feeble attempts at mastering it, so I completely understand and honestly won’t mind if you unsubscribe.

Your visits and comments to my blog have made me happy, but most of all I’ve enjoyed ‘meeting’ many of you and learning about your lives in different parts of the world, and I imagine I will still do that.

Thank you flower

I have no idea how often I’ll be posting, but it may be sporadic – posts could be months apart, or daily – depending on what’s happening in my life, and in my garden.

The last two years have been fantastic, with a lots of ups, downs, and big life changes. I anticipate the next two years will be less dramatic, but who knows…

Life is a series of changes, and a lot can happen in two years. It will be fun to watch them unfold.

Room for One More?

White Night Crowd

White Night Crowd

One could easily be led to believe their are too many people in the world today, with people fighting over borders, land, and who belongs to what in all corners of the globe.  And yet, our planet is large and I believe that if we invested our resources in positive ventures rather than war, we’d discover there is enough for all.

I wanted to write about all the good things that have been happening in my corner of the world lately, but the greater world news almost makes me feel guilty about my happiness. Many countries are caught up in wars, and too many innocent victims are injured or dying as a result of grown-ups acting like children – battling over possessions.

My deepest sympathy goes out to all those families in the midst of the worst war torn areas, and those caught unexpectedly with loved ones who have been hurt, or killed as a side effect of the mayhem.  I don’t want to take away from the magnitude of their pain, but I can’t change the killing and damaging behaviours of others, so I simply choose to do what I believe is the loving action in any situation.

Caring for our earth and being kind to others are loving actions. Killing and harming people are actions based on fear.

A friend of mine who is married to an Israeli with many family members living close to the Gaza border, wrote to me about a minor problem in her life that left her feeling disgruntled and sad.  In the midst of the bad news of the last few weeks, she realised the pointlessness of her sadness and wrote to me, saying –

The least I can do is add to the positive vibrations in the world and smile – Patti Daboosh.

I wholeheartedly agree!

And on that note, please indulge me as I share some of the things that have made me smile recently.

In my May post, I told you that The Pull, the film our youngest daughter wrote, directed, and starred in had been accepted by the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto. Jenni and her editor/producer friend, Christa Markley, attended the film festival in June. They had a wonderful time and met some great people who made them feel welcome and special. The icing on the Film Festival cake was when she received the award for Best Foreign Feature. We were so happy for her.

See Jen’s Q & A after the screening of her film in Toronto by clicking here.

Best Foreign Feature Award

Best Foreign Feature Award

Jenni, Christa, and The Award. June 2014

Jenni, Christa, and The Award.

This month, I was thrilled to be invited to the premiere of another indie film, Pretty Good Friends, which Jenni starred in. This movie was directed by another young girl, Sophie Townsend – no relation – and Tony and I got a wonderful buzz sitting in a small theatre and seeing Jen on the big screen.

You can see the Pretty Good Friends trailer by clicking here.

Sophie Townsend introducing her film, Pretty Good Friends, starring Jenni Townsend.

Sophie Townsend introducing her film, Pretty Good Friends, starring Jenni Townsend. Photo by Tony Townsend

Tonight, we are attending a Wakakirri competition that our eldest daughter, Cindy’s primary school students are performing in. Cindy created, and has been heavily involved in almost every aspect of this production, and it’s something that the school children love to take part in. We’re really looking forward to seeing it for the first time.

The other big news is that our youngest son Ben, and his partner are expecting a baby. Another little person for this world, which brings me back to the title of this post. Is there room for one more on our troubled planet?

Absolutely! This baby is already loved, and there’s always room for more love, it’s infinite.

It’s fear we need less of.

If I was still living in Scotland, I would have enjoyed the fun Commonwealth games, but I’d be desperately sad to be missing out on sharing the celebrations of my children’s achievements.

Fortunately, I’m not living in Scotland. I am here, in Australia, and that makes me smile.

This was a happiness whose other name was home. —  Roger Cohen

Do I Need a Coat?

It’s cold!

July 12, 2014

July 12, 2014

Until about two weeks ago, I could be heard saying that winter in Melbourne is just like summer in Scotland.

Overall, I still believe this to be true, apart from those periods when the extremes happen in either city — like now.

Currently, we are having a cold snap. And Glasgow is having a warm spell.

July 12, 2014

July 12, 2014

This is my first winter in Australia for nine or ten years, and I’ve been making comparisons between the cities. The greatest difference between a Glasgow winter and a Melbourne winter is in the plant behaviour.

Gardens shut down in Glasgow’s winter.  The worms hibernated, the weeds died, the gardeners put their tools away, and nothing flowered. This has been normal for me for the last five years, so I was surprised by the abundance of native flowering plants I see on my walks around my neighbourhood.

Red Hot Pokers

Red Hot Pokers

Winter flowers 013

Although, there was one special kind of winter ‘flower’ in Glasgow — snow blossoms.

Snow Blossoms

Snow Blossoms

I loved the snow and hoar frosts  that transformed the city on rare occasions.  They totally made up for the general drabness of Glasgow’s winter, but weren’t something you could count on.

Queens Park

Queens Park

It would be most unlikely to see snow blossoms where I now live, but I’ll settle for the Australian wattle trees which are currently bursting into bloom, and spreading a splash of bright yellow across the land.

Wattle

Wattle

My biggest problem with the Melbourne winter, is the inconsistency of the weather.

Winter flowers 012

The forecast can be wet, windy and cold, but then the sun will shine, the wind dies down, and I have to peel off the layers of clothing to be comfortable.

Winter flowers 011

Donning hats, coats, scarves, and gloves in Scotland was commen sense, but if I venture out here rugged up like that, it’s just as likely to suddenly warm up, and I’ll end up carrying the extra layers.

Winter flowers 010

I wish there was a reliable way of knowing whether I’ll need a coat today.

A Walk into History

I like to explore my local environment, and now my life has settled into a less hectic pace, I’m spending more time walking around my new neighbourhood.

There are many miniscule moments that give me a buzz of pleasure because they remind me that I’m really here, living in Australia again. I planned to list some of those magic moments in this post, but then, another blogger I follow – An American in Norway – blogged about a walk she took one day (Click here to read her blog), and it inspired me to head off on one of my walks armed with my camera.

We live close to the Arthurs Seat National Park, and I often walk along it’s bush tracks to explore. The very first time I ventured into the park, I was rewarded with laughing kookaburras, cockatoos nesting in a hollowed out old gum tree, and an abundance of small birds in the densely wooded gully.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

On another walk, I came across a kangaroo and an echidna.

And always, there are the gum trees, – or eucalypts as they are known in America – the she oaks, and wattles.

I love that when I wander through this park, it is blatantly obvious that I am in Australia.

Our bush is unique.

Southern Australian Coastal Bush

Southern Australian Coastal Bush

This time, I took a turn along a different path in search of something new to photograph and was rewarded with a pleasant, but unexpected discovery – a cairn which was built to commemorate the place where Matthew Flinders stood and surveyed Port Phillip Bay way back in 1802, over thirty years before Melbourne was first settled.

Kookaburras and cairns March 2014 023

Kookaburras and cairns March 2014 024

I stood where he stood, looked over our beautiful bay, and wondered how difficult it was for him to reach this spot.

There would have been no cleared tracks for him to follow. I imagine he needed tools to help hack his way though the thick undergrowth, and large rocky outcrops would have made his climb even more difficult.

Perhaps the local aborigines guided him to this place with the great view?

What wildlife did he see? Snakes, wombats, koalas?

What were his thoughts?

Was he missing his cold and green land? Or the new wife he’d left behind against his wishes?

My Australian history lessons have faded from memory, but Flinders is commemorated with many statues and cairns around the country, and there are many places (towns, islands) and streets named after him.

Despite knowing some of these places well, I’m ashamed to admit I’d forgotten his significance to our country, so when I returned to my home, I Googled him.

He was born in England in 1774.

When he was a young boy, he read Daniel DeFoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe and was inspired by the story to live a life of exploration, so at fifteen, he joined the Navy.

Here is a list of the facts I found most st interesting:

  • He made three journey’s to Australia, each lasting longer than the previous one.
  • On his final trip, he circumnavigated the continent, successfully proving that Australia was also an island.
  • It was also on his final voyage that he went ashore in the newly discovered Port Phillip Bay, and climbed to the top of Arthurs Seat, on April 27th, 1802.
  • Drawing on an old British custom of marking historical points with a cairn, he left a scroll with his ship’s name on it in a small pile of stones at the the peak.
  • He later reported back to Governor King that the land had ‘a pleasing and, in many parts, fertile appearance.’
  • He campaigned to have our country called Terra Australis (the Great South Land)and eventually he referred to it as Australia.
Three ships in the shipping lane in Port Phillip Bay

Three ships in the shipping lane in Port Phillip Bay

My walk was very different to Cindi’s stroll through the Norwegian woods, but I was well pleased with where it led me, none-the-less.

I was impressed by what I read about Flinders, his diligence, intelligence and high morals. He had reputation as a man who treated his crew and the local aborigines well.

We should be proud to have such a man in our history.

I think that, like me,  he enjoyed Australia.

Kookaburras and cairns March 2014 034

Kookaburras and cairns March 2014 032

Thank you Cindi, for leading me to a history lesson.

Repatriation Can be Hard

It is now over five months since we arrived back in Australia, an event I looked forward to immensely, especially after my sister Helen died in January, 2011. Her death was like a reality check that made the world feel larger and the time and distance between those near and dear to me became magnified into scary proportions.

As a daughter, sister, friend, daughter-in-law and nurse, I have observed first-hand how the dying lose interest in worldly affairs and possessions, but what does become important to them is their family and close friends.

We don’t know how many years we have on this planet. It’s remotely possible I could live for another thirty-plus years, but as Helen’s death so clearly demonstrated, I can’t count on that, so it suddenly seemed insane to be spending most of my time so far from my children and other family members.

Five months ago, I righted all those concerns. I am here and all is well with my world.

Or is it?                      

Perhaps not! I am often stressed, overwhelmed and befuddled.

I expected certain stresses on my return to Australia, there are legal and financial issues to deal with as well as the usual considerations needed when you move anywhere.  However, I coped well with my move to America, and later Scotland, so I expected this move to be a breeze.

Instead, it appears to have turned my brain to mush,

I’m having trouble remembering the things I should be doing, and that lovely sensation of feeling as if I have oodles of time is like a distant memory that I’m beginning to doubt was real.  There have been moments when I’ve convinced myself that I have early Alzheimer’s.

I asked other people I know who repatriated before me about their experiences and their responses have varied. It seems the shorter the time overseas, the less stressful the return, but some of them, like me, found the move back more difficult than they expected. An American friend used the word ‘grief’ in her explanation of how she felt when she moved home after a few years living in a foreign country. Initially, I rejected the possibility I could be grieving for my expat life. This is where I want to be, I love it here.

But on further reflection, it occurred to me that maybe I am suffering from a degree of grief.

I’m grieving for my lost, peaceful, and self-indulgent expat life.

When I moved to Florida and later, Glasgow, I didn’t know anyone. There were no friends, no relatives, no former work colleagues, and for the first time in many years, I didn’t have a job to go to. My husband and daughter were pretty much all I had to worry about. I couldn’t remember a time in my adult life when I’d felt so time-rich.

I focussed on finding and setting up a home for us, and exploring my new environments at leisure.

Since I’ve been back in Australia, as well as finding and setting up a new home, I’ve been busy catching up with former co-workers, friends, family – even cousins I haven’t seen for years – and of course I’ve spent large chunks of time with our children. We’ve celebrated four family birthdays, Christmas and New Year, made changes to our new home, I’ve been the driver for an injured son and my frequent-flyer husband, and I’ve helped three of my children move house.

It appears that the main reason I was desperate to come home – to be physically closer to family and friends – is largely responsible for the increased stress levels I’ve felt since I’ve been here.

I’m not complaining, I’m truly happy to be surrounded by these people, but I thought it may be of interest to those of you who still have this experience in your future. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to my own advice when I was champing at the bit to get here, but you might be smarter than me, so here’s my advice to you for when you move back to your homeland —

  1. Expect to be busier.
  2. Don’t plan to write a book, like I did! Unless you’re better at time-management than I am.
  3. Go easy on yourself and enjoy the process.
  4. Don’t try to do everything at once.
  5. Go with the flow.

I’m working on taking my own advice, but it can be difficult.

Fire

Fire Jan 2014

Photo by Cindy Townsend

I’ve often wondered how I would react if I lost my home in some natural disaster – hurricane, tornado, or fire. It’s one of those questions which fortunately, most people will never know the answer to, but whenever I’ve watched news reports of people who have been evacuated because of a natural event, I’ve always been able to relate to how frustrating it must be for them to be unable to get to their home and discover if it is still standing.

Yesterday, I found myself in that position.

It was the first of four days of predicted high temperatures, and true to form, there were many fires scattered around the state and country. One was very close to our home, but I was not home at the time and the first I knew about it was when my brother called me to ask if it was near me.

By that stage, all access roads to the area were closed as there were multiple spot fires resulting from the main one. I was stuck at my daughter’s home, wondering how big the fire was and if I should be concerned. My niece alerted me to the Country Fire Association’s great Fire Ready App where warnings and alerts are posted. It advised that residents around the area should evacuate.

For a couple of hours, I kept checking the site, as well as Facebook where locals were updating us on what they could see of the fires, until eventually, the CFA site informed us that all the fires were contained and the roads would open within the hour.

Getting home was slower than usual, as some local roads were still blocked, but I’m very glad I had a home to get to. I knew when we moved into our lovely home, nestled on the side of a hill and backed by a national park, that the fire risk would be greater than it has been in any other home I’ve lived in. I was, and still am willing to take that risk because it is a beautiful place to live.

Unfortunately, the initial blaze sparked another large fire in the wonderful restaurant at the historic Heronswood Property a little further down the hill from us. The Thatched Cafe was destroyed, but thankfully the Homestead is okay.

I hate to think how their magnificent heritage gardens fared.

Today, I packed a bag with my old non-digital photos and a few other documents to keep in the car so I don’t have to worry about being caught off-guard like that again. I also wandered around the streets near where the main fires were and have to add that I’m incredibly impressed that the firefighters managed to save the houses that were right next to the flames. They do an incredible job and I’m very grateful for their service, along with the constant updates I received on the  CFA Fire Ready App. I’d highly recommend everyone living in a fire risk area to download it.

Today, throughout Australia, there are still many fires burning. My thoughts go out to the hardworking firemen fighting them, as well as those who have lost their homes and those who wait for news, unsure of the fate that awaits them.

I’m very aware how lucky I am.