Friday, 31 August 2012

My favourite things - this week

1.  My new piano! I bought it last Sunday and it was delivered this morning and I've already given it a thorough workout.  Playing music has always been my way of relaxing and expressing myself.  I also find the way music exercises both the left and right brain amazing.  It's not the best piano on the market, but it's the one that was affordable and would fit in my home.  I've never owned a digital piano before - it feels just like the real thing and I can plug in headphones or turn the volume down if I want to play at unsociable hours.

2. The ability to download and print music online for a fraction of the price of buying a book in a shop is magic.  When I owned a piano over twelve years ago, this capacity didn't exist.  Now, I can even choose what key I want the piece in!  Marvellous.

3. Bach and Phillip Glass.  Two of my favourite composers.  I like the repetition and steadiness of the music.  Glass is always like that.  Bach isn't.  I've dug out my book of Bach's two part inventions and have enjoyed reacquainting myself. I enjoy the symmetry of these pieces and the way both hands contribute equally to the musical conversation.

4. Melbourne!  The days are getting longer.  The weather is more erratic.  The people are still fantastic and there are lots of hidden places filled with people doing interesting things.

5. The Gratitude Card Project!  It felt really great to give my first card to the shop assistant who helped me when I bought a new pair of jeans yesterday.  It seemed like the perfect pair would never be found.  One pair was too tight here, and too baggy there.  The next pair would be too baggy here and too tight there.  The next would require me to have legs as long as stilts and not care how I looked.  The woman serving me tirelessly and happily brought me different sizes, shapes and colours until the perfect pair was found.  When I first gave her the card she looked a bit suspicious, but then her face was illuminated with a wide smile.  I felt good.

Don't forget you could be one of five lucky readers to get your very own pack of 10 gratitude cards.  All you have to do is leave a comment over at yesterday's Question Time telling us who you would like to say thank you to.  By next Friday please!   Open to all readers, wherever you live.  I really enjoy reading your comments.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Photo a day - CARD

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I got a little bit off track this month, but today, there is a marvellous confluence of circumstances.  These are the nine gratitude cards I have left after I gave one away today. I think they're beautiful.

Meet the artist, Jenny Peers, in today's Question Time.

Question Time - who is Jenny Peers?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Jenny Peers.  I'd obviously signed up to her mailing list when I saw her art somewhere.  In a moment of space, I read this email and learned about her Gratitude Card Project.  I had to speak to this woman!  The idea of creating a beautiful way to commemorate a moment of gratitude appealed immensely.  Combining it with social media to explore interconnectedness made the whole thing even more interesting.  I signed up to be an ambassador immediately.

My cards came wrapped in purple tissue paper it was like receiving a gift.  They are gorgeous and I felt a pang of regret at the thought of giving them away.  Then I realised that commemorating a moment of gratitude with something beautiful is significant and generous.  Jenny found the mandalas which are printed on the cards through ordinary sources like nature and textiles.  I can't wait to give them away and show my appreciation to people.  (I regularly thank people, but I think the significance of this can often be lost in the hurly burly of our lives.  And people often aren't very good at receiving thanks!)

We met yesterday at The Hub in Melbourne and had a lively conversation over a couple of hours.  We discovered that our lives overlap in interesting ways.  I learnt a lot!  I hope you enjoy meeting Jenny Peers as much as I did.

What inspired the Gratitude Card Project?
There's no simple answer to that.  It's a confluence of my interests.  I wear lots of hats.  I'm particularly interested in organisational culture.  To create a culture of innovation there needs to be organisational creativity, which needs collaboration, which needs trust which needs emotional maturity. I took myself on a "solo corporate retreat" to do a life review.  It was about exploring what I was put on earth to do.  I devised a set of rules for living.  Gratitude was one of these things

What do you hope to achieve with the Gratitude Card Project?
It's a combination of art, social science experiment and chaos and complexity theory.  I'm interested in the idea that one simple act can cause change.  What happens as a result of that act?  I'm also tracking where the cards go.  The cards are all numbered.  This enables us to note and remember the moment of gratitude.  The facebook page is a place to keep track and share stories.  If you're not on facebook you can still stay in touch via email.

I have this stuck on my fridge to remind me each day:  "Globally, there is a groundswell of opinion that the problems facing our planet can only be fixed in a spirit of creative collaboration, requiring a new way of interacting and being in the world.  So I am stepping up to the plate to do what I can to foster this new way of working, living and finding solutions.  My work will be with individuals, groups and organisations."

What are you grateful for?
Little things: health, my 5 faculties, living in this wonderful city, family, girlfriends, music.  Today.  At the end of each day I think about three things I am grateful for.  Even on the worst day there are always things to be grateful for.

If you were in charge for a day, what's the one thing you would do?
I'd wave my magic wand and rebalance the world's yin and yang.

What's your favourite word?

If you could script your dying words what would they be?
"That was interesting."  I'd like that as my epitaph too.

What gets your hanky in a twist?
Ignorance.  Channel 7. Prejudice.  Politicians fiddling while Rome burns.  People talking at me.

If I wasn't doing what I'm doing now I'd be...
...doing something I've already done.  I'd be living out who I am, my life's purpose.  I like to think about a poppyseed.  In that tiny seed are all the instructions to make a poppy - the hairy stem, the petals, the colour, the stamen - everything that a poppy is.  That's what a life is.

Find out more and get a set of gratitude cards at the website:
Follow and share stories on Twitter: @gratitudecards
Join the conversation on facebook:

Jenny is generously offering five packs of 10 gratitude cards to giveaway to 5 lucky readers.  To be in the running to start a ripple of your own, leave a comment on this post and tell us what you'd like to thank someone for.

Entries close on Friday 7 September 2012 and are open to all readers, where ever you live.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Customer service - what business are you in?

Yesterday I spent two hours on the phone to my internet service provider.  The first hour was frustrating and pointless.  The second hour actually led to my problem being solved - after I called back and spoke to someone else.  I told a friend about this and she told me she had spent hours on the phone also, organising utilities in the context of moving house.

Our experience was similar, although with different companies.  Most call centres seem to be geared towards delivering a standard line.  The ability to listen to a customer and identify their needs is mostly absent.  Lately, I've noticed that conversations start with the operator telling me information I already know.  It's a bit like the game show host who makes statements about the contestants, but pretends they are questions:  "Next up is Mary.  And Mary you were a teenage Sumo wrestling champion."   It sounds like this: "So Tanya you're on the Anytime Plan for $x per month. Your next bill is due on 17 September." Fabulous.  I know all of this and none of it has anything to do with what I said I was calling about!

My problem yesterday was that I'm caught between two companies.  My provider was bought by another company.  Over three months ago I received a letter telling me that I would be "migrated" to the new system.  Details of my new plan were also provided.  I was pretty happy.  For the same monthly outlay my monthly data allowance would go from 12GB to 200GB!  Perfect.  Because of changes to my work patterns, television habits and the acquisition of an ipod, I've been regularly reaching my limit.  When this happens my broadband is "throttled", although they now seem to prefer the term "shaped".  It really means that internet speed is slowed down to dial up speed. Excruciating and unworkable.

Clearly, I've outgrown my current plan, but I'm supposed to be getting a new one so there's no point in changing.  No one can give me a timeframe for migration and the figures about the numbers of accounts being migrated have not changed over the last three months of conversation.  The attitude of the first person I spoke to was "there's nothing I can do about it; accounts are being migrated; when you are migrated, you will be on blah blah plan."

By the end of the first hour yesterday, it wasn't just my broadband that was going to be throttled!

The fascinating thing is that when I called back and spoke to Maria, there was a whole world of possibilities she was able to suggest.  The problem has been resolved.  She even called me back this morning to finalise the transaction!  Just like she said she would!

I wonder why customer service organisations wouldn't ensure that every person who calls in encounters someone like Maria.  Maria who listens.  Maria who is able to identify and understand a customer's needs. Maria who is then able to match those needs to the various company offerings.  Maria who honestly admits when she doesn't know the answer and follows up.  Why do we more usually encounter the defensive person whose job description seems to be to deflect and distract until the customer goes away?

My friend who is moving house has a theory.  She believes that this is actually the role of call centre staff in most organisations, especially utilities.  Most people will give up and the deflection will work.  This frees the staff up to churn through more calls.  When people like me or her call and we persist, my friend believes that we are then identified and the tactics change.  This is when options are offered.  If we are offered options we feel like our needs are being addressed.  Sometimes they will be.

I really hope she's wrong, but I fear that she is correct.

This morning I was sent a survey to comment on the service I had received.  I gave a very detailed response, as I do every time, in the hope that someone, somewhere may take some notice.

I think part of the problem is how organisations see themselves.  I don't think my ISP sees itself as being in the business of customer service.  I think it sees itself as being in the business of wires and nodes and megabytes.  If that's where your mindset is, the kind of response from call centre staff makes sense.

I spent some time working in a call centre for one of the big banks a couple of years ago.  My job was to call people about their overdue credit cards.  I did very well against my targets.  The reason I believe I was so successful was that I approached my work from a customer service perspective rather than from a debt collection perspective.  It made a huge difference to the people I spoke to as well as making the work more sustainable for me.

Where is the mindset of your organisation?  Are you focussing on the right things?  What are your people thinking about?  If you asked your people to describe their job role, are you confident about what they'd answer? I'd love to know.

I love helping organisations with this kind of thing.  Start a conversation by using the email button on my "about me" page.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

To pair or not to pare pears.

A pair of pears, ready for paring.

They're gathering their pears.
When they have enough pears they'll pair them.
There will be pairs of pears ready to be pared.
It's hard to know if any can be spared.
The paring of paired pears requires skill and patience.
Pears can only be pared in pairs; that is, only paired pairs can be pared.
Paired pears will be pared.
I don't think there will be spare pears - unless there are seven.
If there are seven pears, they will have three pairs and a spare pear.
If they find one more pear, they will have eight pears which makes four pairs.
That is four pairs of pears which have been paired for paring.

So there.

How does anyone learn English?

Monday, 27 August 2012

When being one of the "best people" is dangerous.

"The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice."  

As I read this sentence from Ernest Hemingway I identified with his ideas.  These ideas align with my own aspirations.  

Then I read the next sentence:  "Ironically their virtues make them vulnerable, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed."

I felt vulnerable just reading that and then I wrestled with my feelings.  Initially I wanted to argue with Hemingway, the writer I think of when I think of "masculine".  Then I started to think and remember.

Before I was a freelancer, I worked for a trade union in a variety of capacities.  I was an elected official for many years.  I was a campaign leader, a director, a negotiator, an industrial officer.  While I was doing it, I loved it.  It was challenging and dynamic.  Some of the battles were impossible, but it felt like they really mattered.  I took my role as an advocate and representative very seriously.  I had some wonderful colleagues and delegates to work with - some of these people remain important in my life.  There were others who I didn't enjoy being around, but recognised that we all shared the same values.  

What I didn't appreciate at the time was that "battle mode" was my default setting.  Sometimes the foe was recognisable because they were in the traditional role of employer or the conservative government.  Sometimes the enemy was less recognisable - they were the person sharing a table in the lunch room or reporting to me.  Being in battle mode meant putting armour on every day and being battle ready.  In terms of Hemingway's quote, I took risks regularly and it took courage; truth often looked different depending on who the audience was; I made enormous personal sacrifices in order to put the interest of members and working people before my own.  I still had a "feeling for beauty" but didn't have a lot of time to devote to it.  

I now know that this changed me.  I became quite hard.  Tough.  "Intimidating" was a word that was often used to describe me.  I hated that.  I didn't want to be known as that, even if it did mean I succeeded in meeting my responsibilities.  

At a music retreat about nine years ago, I had a life changing experience.  Before the celebration party, there was a ritual.  We were asked to think about what we wanted to let go of.  Then we were asked to find a natural object to represent that thing and bring it to the ritual.  I decided I wanted to give up my "hardness" and I found a stone to represent that.  

As we arrived at the door we were greeted.  The greeters held eye contact and physically "blessed" us (it wasn't a religious ceremony, more a spiritual one).   As I was being greeted, I felt a lump just under my sternum.  It moved up through my torso as I moved to the next stage of the ritual where I had my feet washed and dried.   As I was sitting there the lump was replaced by tears.  I started to weep, uncontrollably.  I held the stone and felt that I was indeed letting go of my hardness.  I placed the stone in a basket and all those objects were released into the ocean.

I was inconsolable for the next hour.  Raw emotion that had been bottled up for many years of being tough was now released.  Nobody thought I was weird, they seemed to know what was happening and I remember having my hand held by people I'd known for a mere four days, but who seemed to understand.

I felt different, refreshed.  The world looked different.  As the time to leave the retreat came, I became aware of my new found vulnerability.  I wondered how long I'd be able to stay "soft".  Would I be able to be like this and continue my work?   I was conscientious about this, but also aware of the need to protect myself.  That was not sustainable.  Spending time appreciating beauty and creating beauty helped but sometimes it was a struggle to fit it in.  Accidental opportunities did not often arise.

I'm pleased to say that I now spend a lot of time appreciating and creating beauty.  It has required a complete change in my life.  At the time, the change was traumatic and frightening, but now I know that it was the best thing.  It facilitated a way for me to live more truthfully.  

As I consider this now, I know that I am very fortunate.  I'm still drawn to work in conflict, but my mindset is completely different and my investment is different.  In a way, conflict resolution and facilitation is a way of creating beauty.  When human beings find a way to see past their differences there is beauty to be seen.

So despite the dangers, I do strive to be one of the "best people" as described by Hemingway.  Friends have told me that I'm nicer to be around too.

How about you?  Do you have balance in your life? Are you living truthfully?

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Sunday slide session

This time of year in Melbourne, the weather can be highly variable.  Walking around today with my camera, I was amazed at the different moods and seasons suggested.

Magnolia spring blooms
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Overhanging vines
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A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a painted elephant in Federation Square.  I promised to share more if I noticed them.  I can't believe I didn't notice this grey beauty, not far from the other one.

Her skin is KNITTED!  She's lovely and snuggly and the detailed wrinkles are very realistic.

Elephant eyelashes
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Giving me the eye
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Rear end
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High rise tree
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While I was waiting outside Chin Chin for my lunch companion, I looked up and noticed this tree growing up high.  It tickled my fancy.

Two days in Melbourne.

The front yard and entry to my building has been renovated over the last few months, making a big improvement to its appearance from the street.  Part of the makeover included securing the property with remote controlled security gates at the top of the driveway.  The gates were installed a while ago, but were propped open while we waited for the remote control mechanism to be activated.  It was activated on Friday afternoon.

On Saturday morning, the gates were not working.  They had been vandalised overnight: the hydraulic arms had been ripped out and the cord attached to the gates had been cut.  As a friend said to me, there sure are some dirt bags in the world.

I called my real estate agent immediately to report the damage.  (You never know whether people report these things, so I always take responsibility and make sure I do.)  I had one of those ridiculous conversations with the receptionist.  You know, the ones where they have no idea who you are, where you live.  She also seemed unfamiliar with the suburb of Yarraville.  Her first response was to tell me that there was nothing that she could personally do to resolve the problem.  No kidding!  Strange place for a receptionist to start the conversation.  

On a happier note, I've had a great weekend.  With no obligations to fulfill for a change I enjoyed visiting the local farmers markets on Saturday morning.  I stocked up on eggs (and offloaded a stash of  empty egg cartons), red gum honey, olives, grainy sourdough bread and vegetables. 

I spent the afternoon at "Chess" which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It's one of my favourite rock musical scores with some great songs for the very strong female characters.  The performances were great, the costumes wonderful and every song was a production number.  Loved it!

In the Chin Chin window...look carefully for a glimpse of me.
(c) divacultura 2012
Today I had a long lunch at Chin Chin.  We drank cocktails and shared a bottle of wine over some wonderful food and discussion about politics, computer security, corruption, films and science fiction stories.  We also pondered why our wine glasses were removed from the table the moment we ordered a pre dinner drink.  There seems to be no answer to this question.

My favourite dish was the barramundi with a green apple and coriander salad and caramelized pork belly.  It's the perfect blend of sweet, sour and hot.  YUM!  It was the perfect follow up to the gin, basil and lime cocktail I had started with and went very well with the pinot grigio.  We also had an aromatic yellow curry and a beef stir fry and shared a palm sugar, lime and caramel ice cream for dessert - too much for one person.
On my way home I bought a piano!  I sold my acoustic upright when I moved from Brisbane to Melbourne because my accommodation was too uncertain to be lugging a piano around.  Looking back, I wish I hadn't done that.  I never really got around to buying another.  The keyboard I bought as a substitute didn't really light my fire.  Then digital pianos started to really improve in their sound and feel and today I bought one for myself.  (Swooping like a vulture as the news of Allans Music going into administration circulates.)  I am so pleased that I will have a piano in my life again.  It's been too long.

I took some interesting photos as well.  I'll post them separately.

How was your weekend?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Fish eye view - working the new gadgets

Walking across to the Arts this afternoon on my way to see "Chess", I noticed something up on the roof.  It was an "environmental art installation", called KAERU.  I'm not sure what it all means, but it was very intricate and pretty.

I took the opportunity to try out my new lens on my iphone camera.  The fish eye is great fun.  Here's a sample.
Pointing the way to Kaeru
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This photo  of the path to Kaeru (above) was taken using the wide angle lens.

This is planet earth
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Fish eye view
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These photos (above & right) was taken using the fish eye.  The overcast sky (and filters I've applied using Instagram) makes this look like the moon is looming very full.  Otherworldly.
With the instagram filter applied (right) I like the way the foreground is in colour, superimposed against a black and white background.

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 Close up of some of the structures.  I used the macro lens for this one (above).
Caught in the spider web
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The photo above looks like it is taken from the silk of a giant spider web, strung between city buildings.

I'll experiment with the Holga tomorrow.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Photo a day - catch up

Long days travelling and working have meant that I've fallen a bit behind in this month's photo a day challenge.  Here are a few to fill in the missing days.

19 August - HOLE

It's quite difficult to photograph a hole.  This one was a sunken in the road.  It looks much deeper in the photo than it actually is.  Not very pretty.

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23 August - PAIR

What else for this photo, than knitting needles?  These are short and great for knitting things that aren't very wide, like scarves.
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24 August - PATH
Sometimes this pathway is very overgrown and narrow.  Today it is wide enough to walk through.  I think it looks inviting.
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My favourite things - this week

1. Public transport that runs on time and is cost effective.  I've been working way across the other side of Melbourne over the last two weeks.  I've been catching the train to a station near where my colleague lives and he drives from there.  After a fairly frustrating week last week, this week reminded me how great catching public transport can be.  My trains ran on time.  Connections were so smooth that often I didn't have to change trains at Flinders Street.  I've read several books this week.  Travel of about 120 per day has cost me less than $33.  I've minimised my contribution to pollution and congestion in Melbourne.  None of these things would be possible if I was driving every day.

2. Camera accessories for my iphone.  I haven't had a lot of time to play with these as I only picked them up from the post office yesterday, but I've been fiddling and familiarising myself with the various bits of hardware.  I bought an Olloclip lens, a Holga lens turret and a very portable tripod on ebay.  Very impressed with all of them.  I'm looking forward to the creative flexibility that these will offer.  Stay tuned for some shots.

3. Discovering that I can be up and out of the house in 45 fewer minutes than I think I need.  This is my silver lining moment.  In a tired haze on Tuesday night, I forgot to set my alarm for the following morning.  I've been waking up at 5:30am so that I can wake up properly, have a shower, eat breakfast, make lunch, do my make up, be dressed and at the station ready to catch a 7:04am train.  On Wednesday morning, I woke up at 6:17am marvelling at the fact I'd woken up before the alarm went off.  I was about to roll over and keep sleeping when I had a sense that it felt later than usual.  I was right!  I showered, dressed, did my make up and hair and caught the train.  I managed to buy a sandwich and coffee at Flinders Street on the way through.  Phew!

4. Working with excellent people.  One of the things I really like about freelancing is that I have the opportunity to work in diverse settings with some excellent people.  I learn lots of things about their world and also lots of things about myself.  This week I've had some wonderful and challenging conversations about the role of empathy in healthcare.  The work has been intense, but the relationships with the key people I work with have made it possible to sustain.

5. A dear friend taking my hand as we crossed the road, dodging trams and cars in heavy rain.  That's more of a moment, than a thing.  Definitely a favourite.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Question time - who is Shelly Hughes?

Today's Question Time guest is the wonderful Shelly Hughes.  Shelly and I met at Summersong Music Camp a few years ago.  It was the first time for both of us.  We helped each other:  I could remember everyone's name and Shelly gave me joy just by being near her!  It seemed like a fair exchange.

Shelly is an incredible singer who puts her heart and soul into her performance.  See her if you have the chance.  She's just released an album which is on high rotation on my playlist.  I'm sure you'll enjoy meeting her.

1.    Who is Shelly Hughes?
Sheesh. Hard one’s first eh? Just a girl. One of the millions of girls. A very blessed and thankful girl, given a loving family, found wonderful friends, with a self proclaimed foot-in-mouth disease and general thirst for water… and lemonade.
A singer, and a songwriter, a singing teacher and a brain-stormer. I’m also pretty good at napping.

2. Where do you get your inspiration for your music?
 In everything and in nothing; but mainly in talking or thinking to myself to find myself traipsing across a delicate bunch of words that form a space in my mind of which I can’t let go. So I try to create its story further.
I had a million imaginary friends as a child, not just the one, but a school and a bus ride of them. My playful chitchats with them still play in my mind today as talking out things, issues, problems, wishes and dreams.
I take these musings press record on something and sit beside an instrument, a guitar or a piano or the bass player I think I am in my mind. I imagine singing my little family of words, as I’d want to sing them to a listener, considering emphasis, accent, tone and melody. And I go forth and hope I can find the music to sit around this skeleton perfectly.

3. You've just released an album.  What was the best thing about producing it?
 Having achieved it. Knowing I set a goal, worked towards it, and achieved it. And being proud of the result. I don’t know if it’s egotistical to say I like it, but I do. I’m glad I didn’t put all that energy into it to only hide it away on a back shelf… which I’ve done before. Of this album, I am proud. (Ed: I don't think it's egotistical.  There's nothing wrong with being happy with your work!)
4. What's your favourite word?
Penchant or ginger.
5. If you could play any musical instrument in the world what would you choose?  Why?
The drums.  The sheer perfect posture, ambidextrous, multi limbed, endless possibility groove of it all.

6. If you could script your dying words, what would they be?
I love you whumpet.
7. What gets your hanky in a twist?
Nuclear reactors, Coal Seam Gas, dickheads, people who are cruel to their pets, the cotton bag of plastic bags hanging in my pantry that I don’t know what to do with, and people who steal your thongs off the beach.
8. What's your musical ambition?
 To record an awesome album that I’m proud of, release it with a cool Record Label, tour and travel, live and love and spread a bit of happiness in the world.

9. What are you reading? 
“Sea Otters Gambolling in the wild, wild surf” by John Bennett.
I’m trying to find the bit that made me drool with laughter on a train somewhere in Europe years ago.

10. Finish this sentence, "If I wasn't making music I'd be...."
… probably a lot better at my day job.
11.  Where can readers buy your album? See you perform?
Head yourself over to and fill your cart up with an array of amazing music.
Of course, put my album “Where The Owl Was” in there first and then maybe pop in a touch of ‘Harry Manx’, ‘Kingfisha’, definitely ‘Kooii’, possibly a ‘Sara Tindley’, some ‘FyahWalk’ for your Sunday afternoons and maybe a little ‘Nano Stern’ for something different. There’s too many to name, they’re all so good.
You’ll get all your birthday and Christmas shopping done for the year and probably be the coolest person in your town.
You can see my band and I perform at the Mullumbimby Music Festival in November 2012, as well as around the Brisbane – Byron Bay area most of the time by checking out the Gigs page on my website at
We’re planning a little mosey down Sydney/Melbourne way in September 2012 so hop on my mailing list via my website and I’ll send you the nicest spam you can receive.
Thanks divacultura :)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Supermarket credo - a question for living

At the supermarket yesterday, I noticed a woman walking in front of me.  I noticed her because of what was written on the back of the hoodie she was wearing.  It said:

"If you could have what you need and live happily without causing harm to others, why wouldn't you?"

As I was reading it, she turned around.  I must have looked like I was staring at her.  She had something written on the front of her shirt.

I asked her to stop so I could read it.  I told her I'd read what was written on the back of her top and really liked it.

She gave me a wide, sincere smile, touched me on the arm and said, "thank you".

I've been thinking about her and her message all day.  Why wouldn't you, indeed?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Murderous intent - I will win! I must win!

I wasn't going to tell you this story.  I have to now, given what happened at the supermarket tonight.

It's well documented that the long drought followed by a wet season has led to a mouse plague.  I always thought that living on the second floor of a double brick building would leave me safe from these invaders, but I now know that I am wrong.  They are getting in somewhere and it's doing my head in.

I'd been fighting a war of attrition with one over about a month.  Traps laced with delicious peanut butter did nothing to lure the mouse.  I'm sure he was parading by regularly, leading a tour group past the various sites and stopping to pose for photos.

I won that war a couple of weeks ago in a way too horrible to recount here.  I'm an animal lover and can not deal with killing animals myself.  Even if I do have murderous intent when it comes to mice.  Anyway, that mouse was dispatched and I breathed easy in the knowledge that my house guest was gone.

A week later, the unthinkable happened.  I heard a rustling, scratching, munching  sound that suggested the next shift had moved in.  Last night, I heard scurrying and caught site of a brown body, fast as lightning, disappearing into a gap.  Silly mouse.  It was the site of the last mouse's demise.  I knew exactly what to do.  I set my last remaining trap (the last one died a horrible death, along with the mouse it executed) in the same, prime spot.  Ah-ha!  The perfect plan.

During the night I thought I heard the snap of the trap and tiptoed out this morning feeling something halfway between hope and dread as I looked to see whether I'd caught anything.  The trap had gone off, but was lying broken in two, with no sign of a mouse.  Visions of a gigantic devil mouse, snapping the trap with a cavalier flick of its tail, started to take shape in my mind.  Further steps would need to be taken.  I had no traps left.

When my day finished I headed straight to the supermarket.  I searched the aisles for pest control.  The signs were not helpful.  I found what I needed at the end of the aisle marked "baby".  I found that confusing.

Two other women were gathered around the shelves debating the merits of ratsack poison and baits.  Me, being me, I said hello and said it was great to see I wasn't the only person with a mouse problem.

Well, we bonded as we swapped tips on how to get rid of the mice.  One of the women asked me what I use and I showed her the traps.  When I mentioned that I also sprinkle peppermint oil over everything (apparently the mice hate it) she looked at me as if I was some freaking hippy.  She pursed her lips and shook her head.  She then gave me a five minute survey of where to look for "gaps" (pipes coming in, pipes going out, behind the laundry tub, in the bathroom cupboard where the pipes get the idea).  Once I locate these gaps I must pack them tightly with steel wool.

"My whole house is stuffed with steel wool," she proudly proclaimed as she nodded her head.

She then advised me on the merits of poison compared to baits including detailed information on how the various poisons work and how one of the agents is actually a blood thinner given to humans.  That made me squirm.  Don't get the doses wrong.

I left armed with new traps, a packet of bait and a new found determination.  The woman I'd been talking to said it was the best conversation she'd had all day.  As we turned away she asked me what the best thing to use in the traps is.

"Peanut butter," I called.

"Crunchy or smooth," she asked.

Oh, for goodness sake.  "Whichever one you've got.  I don't think the mice care and if they do, I don't!"

The new design scheme is minimalist with the occasion decorative accent fashioned from steel wool.  I'll need to buy more.  Anyone know how to cut it?  At the moment, one corner of my kitchen is looking like I've dropped the steel wool on the floor; there's too much to stuff in the gap and I need to cut it into a smaller portion.

Can't they just leave?  I don't like the feeling of focussing on the destruction of another living creature, but I can not coexist with mice.  Today I completed the empathy quotient (EQ) test.  One of the questions asked how I felt about the suffering of animals.  I hesitated before I ticked a box.

Now I'm plagued - not just by a mouse (mice?) but by the sounds of mice.  God help me.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Photo a day - TODAY

TODAY I was facilitating more empathy workshops at Monash University.  I noticed some interesting characters hanging out at the back of the room for the day.

(c) divacultura 2012
I hope they're learning something!

These mannequins are very expensive and quite amazing.  They have skin, pulse, tongue, moveable jaw, blood that can flow and more.  Some can even be made to sweat and have their pupils dilate.  What a great learning tool!

And the winners are...!

What a pleasure it has been to read your comments as a result of the giveaways I've been conducting.  I hope you're all excited, because I'm about to announce the winners!

Firstly, seven people responded in relation to tickets to see The Sapphires, courtesy of Hopscotch Films.  To enter, you were asked to share your thoughts on your favourite musical film.

The Sound of Music is still the One for a lot of people, although Sue B's story about spontaneously breaking into "I am sixteen going on 17" is almost as good!  Little Shop of Horrors, Cabaret, Guys and Dolls and Hot Mikado also scored a mention.  You can read all the comments here.

But KB took the cake with her flattering answer.  Her favourite musical is anything that I (divacultura) am in!  She is clearly very discerning.

My money goes to Chicago, but I'll also quietly admit to be partial to a cheesy Elvis movie!  I love listening to Elvis sing, even if many of the movies were pretty silly.  It was never long to wait for the next song.  When I was a teenager my favourite musical film was The Pirate Movie, mainly because of the presence of Christopher Atkins.  This embarrassing fact did help my trivia team win an important round when I was the only person in the whole room who recognised one of the songs.  So there!  Apart from that, my all time favourite musical has never been made into a film, but will be on stage in Melbourne soon - Chess.

KB, Cat Black, Merry, Kim, Mousicles, Sue B and Paul S, you've won a ticket.  Please visit the "about me" page and use the email link to send me your mailing address so I can send your tickets.e!

The other giveaway is my birthday present to readers to celebrate divacultura turning one.  I have enjoyed reading comments about why you read.  Thank you!  This blog started as a writing exercise for me but is enriched by the community of dedicated readers.  I love reading your feedback here and on facebook and twitter.

I said I would give away two pairs of my hand knitted socks, one to a local reader and one to an overseas reader, based on whose comments I liked best!

It has been hard to decide.  There are many quotes I could use on the "cover" of the blog (or book, when I write it).  Here's what I liked...

"I'm impressed you see details that we often don't have time to appreciate." Mousicles.

"You're like the Oprah of blogging." John B. Cahill.

"I love reading Diva." Danielle.

"Bravo & kudos to you for your massive creative exercise that has honed many of your talents and been a pleasure for us to share in. Very generous of you." Cat Black.

"You continue to ablaze me with your dedication, wit, passion, vocabulary and all round delightfulness." Warwick.

"I love your enthusiasm for the everyday and your sense of humour. Also, I see some qualities in your personality similar to those I most admire in my mum (optimism, interest in politics, common sense, sharp feminine wit)." Tracey Dundon.  

I feel all tingly now!

The local prize goes to Rose Wintergreen.  She wrote a song! Here are the lyrics to read along while you listen.  Thank you Rose! And congratulations.  I'll be in touch to organise your socks.  (In case you missed it, find out more about Rose on Question Time.)

I wanna read Divacultura
I wanna be Divacultura

She's there almost every day
Writing things I wouldn't know how to say
Seeing things differently
Sprinkling colour on everything

I wanna read Divacultura
I wanna be Divacultura

She turns spam into entertainment
Shows that creativity's all how you frame it
Seeing things differently
Sprinkling colour on everything

I wanna read Divacultura
I wanna be Divacultura

She digs deep with her juicy questions
Shining light on things people wouldn't otherwise mention
Seeing things differently
Sprinkling colour on everything

I wanna read Divacultura
I wanna be Divacultura
I wanna read Divacultura
I wanna be Divacultura

The overseas prize goes to Corenne who has also featured on Question Time.  As Corenne said, she's been here for most of it.  Corenne, let me know your mailing address and I'll send you your socks.

I've decided to give away the remaining three passes for The Sapphires.  After a random draw, conducted out of a  cake tin in my kitchen (without government regulators) Danielle, Tracey Dundon and Warwick have all won a pass.  Please contact me via the "email me" button on the "about me" page with your mailing address.

I hope that you continue to enjoy divacultura over the next year.  I'm already looking forward to the second birthday!  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Photo a day - INSIDE

On my way to choir rehearsal, I had to buy a capsicum.  On my way to buy that capsicum, I went past one of my favourite clothing shops.  It was too early for it to be open, but the window display was gorgeous.  There was a dress that I knew would suit me and that I wanted to try on.  I decided to come back for that dress in the afternoon.

When I arrived, I discovered that the shop was closed.  It's only tiny and there is only ever one person staffing it, so I was happy to forgive the "back in 5 minutes" sign on the door.  These signs always make me laugh as I wonder when the five minutes started.

As I was waiting outside the shop, I took this photo.  All I wanted to do was be "inside".

(c) divacultura 2012

I had been waiting for about three when the shopkeeper came back.  The window display had been changed during the course of the day, but she knew exactly which dress I was talking about.  I tried it on and it looked fabulous and so I bought it.

It was an expensive day.  The capsicum cost $3, the dress a bit more than that!

I'm all heart - and it's beating!

On Friday I was hooked up to an ECG machine and being attended to by several paramedics.  It was an interesting day and there was nothing at all wrong with my heart.

I was playing a role and providing feedback about communication* to postgraduate paramedic students. The character I was playing was complaining of tightness in the chest, but didn't know the paramedics had been called.  It took a lot of convincing before I would let the paramedics attend to me.  Apparently this does happen.

This resistance was the hardest part of the role.  If I really had something wrong with my heart, you wouldn't need to convince me to do something about it.

During the first scenario with the first student, I had this sudden worry as he was taking my blood pressure and pulse - I hope he doesn't find anything wrong!  I may have been playing the role of someone else, but it was MY pulse, blood pressure and heart he was assessing!

I waited, a little nervously, for the results.

The last time I had my blood pressure taken it was a little on the high side and my doctor sent me for some investigations to rule out things like kidney problems before seeing if adjustments to lifestyle**could bring it down.  My blood pressure was very good.  (The bottom number was 70, last time it was 85.)  I was amazed and pleased.  Within the scenario when my blood pressure was being taken, I was highly agitated and very stressed, but this didn't show up in my blood pressure.  Yet another of the mysteries of acting.

Being hooked up to an ECG machine is a little freaky.  It's a fairly intimidating piece of equipment.  Suddenly you can see your heart rhythms and hear your heartbeat.  I was curious to know what all the different sensors were measuring, but didn't have the opportunity to find out.  The main thing is that my heart is great!  I thought my mini health checks were a great perk for this job.

Coming at the end of a week where I've been running workshops on empathy for undergraduate paramedic students (and other health care disciplines) it was really interesting to be in these encounters.  I've learned so much about paramedics.  As I approach another week of empathy workshops, having the context of my (fictional) encounters on Friday will surely enrich my facilitation.

DID YOU KNOW the machine which measures blood pressure is called a sphygmomanometer.  Try saying that five times, fast!

*The main communication issues came down to really simple things and are useful for everyone in all settings:
1. Use the name of the person you're talking to.  Many people ask for a name and then fail to use it.  Using a person's name creates intimacy and connection within the conversation, whatever its purpose or situation.
2. Don't use jargon.  It is alienating.  Listen for the words the other person uses and reflect their language.
3. Think about where you are positioned in relation to the person you're talking to. You can change the dynamics of the conversation by changing your "level" eg standing, sitting, stepping back.
4. Focus on the needs of the other person.  If someone is resisting doing what you need them to do, find out what matters to them and think about how doing what you need will actually help them meet their own needs.

** The main lifestyle factor that's different is actually my work.  I'm self employed now and while there are stresses, I feel that I'm living in a way that is more true to who I am.  I think this is the single biggest thing that has helped with my blood pressure.  (No medication required.)

There's still time to win a 2-for-1 pass to see The Sapphires.  Entries close today, Sunday 19 August.  There are still a few left!  Details on how to enter are here.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Photo a day - READY

I'm a little overdue posting this photograph, based on Wednesday's theme of READY.  I've been ready for anything the world can throw at me this week!

(c) divacultura 2012

Blank paper and coloured pencils.  I'm ready.

Photo a day - FACES

I knew exactly what I would photograph for today's photo a day theme of "faces".

(c) divacultura 2012

If you're in Melbourne, you can find these three "businessmen" waiting to cross Swanston Street at the corner of Bourke Street.  They always make me smile with their inquisitive looks and jaunty suits.

My favourite things - this week.

(c) divacultura 2012
1. My delivery of yarn, all the way from Germany is top of my list - I just picked it up from the post office.  Check out these amazing colours! They are Wollmeise and quite hard to get.  I'm quite taken with orange at the moment.  This is a new thing and when I saw "Clementine" on offer, I snapped it up.  It will vibrate really well with a vibrant fuschia I have in my stash.

2. My phone has been running hot this week!  All the connections I've been making are waking up and the work is flowing in.  Some people call it luck.  I call it being curious and strategic.  Many of my best opportunities have arisen because I asked the right question and have discovered something even better just waiting to be uncovered.  People love to talk about themselves and what they are doing.  We generally love anyone who shows an interest in these things, so why not be one of the people in the world who does this?  You never know what you will discover.

3.   The Whiffenpoofs!  The Whiffen-what's? The Whiffenpoofs are fourteen Yale men in their senior year who form this very special a capella vocal group. You may have seen them in Season 4, Episode 11of The West Wing.  I was fortunate to catch them at St Michael's Uniting Church in Collins Street on Tuesday night for a mere $20.

The Whiffenpoofs - it's a bit wobbly - I had to lean around a pole and not use any flash.
But I think they look very dashing, right down to their white gloves.
(c) divacultura 2012
This group provided the perfect mix of spine tingling harmonies and high-spirited banter to keep the program moving along.

I almost didn't go.  I'd been up since 5:30am that morning and had facilitated three workshops during the day.  As I travelled back into the city on the train, the rain fell down and I felt  like just going home.  When I arrived at Flinders Street station, I discovered when I stepped off the train, that I only had to step right back on and I'd be on my way home.  I kept walking, thinking that I'd buy an umbrella at the pharmacy upstairs.  If they weren't open I'd go home.  They were open and I added a lovely red, frilly umbrella to my collection.  (My friends mocked my "parasol" mercilessly.)  The prospect of a glass of red wine and a quick Italian meal with some new friends kept me going.  I'm so glad I went.  Their second encore summoned the tears - "I'll be Seeing You".  It never fails!

4.  I recently discovered Striking Truths and their Daily Manifesto.  Have you?  This week, Make Room for Bravery really struck a chord.  You can have your daily manifesto sent direct to you in box.  It takes 30 seconds to read and is often provocative.  The idea of making room for bravery spoke directly to me!

5.  The trouble I've had travelling all over Melbourne on Metro Trains could have made me very unhappy if it wasn't for the wonderful follow up with Andre in Customer Service.  Several trains were cancelled, drivers were confused, connections were missed, colleagues were left waiting, it was raining and I literally walked into a workshop I was facilitating with two minutes to spare.  I had a very informative conversation and gained some new insight into various aspects of our train system.  It didn't change the inconvenience (and stress) I suffered, but I felt appreciated for bothering to let them know about what was happening.  Apparently, I was caught up in some interesting and unusual chains of events.  Lucky me!

What rocked your world this week?


As I contemplate renewing my commitment to divacultura for another year, I feel excitement and affection.  Thank you for sharing some of your time with me. As a thank you gift - and so I can gain a better sense of who's out there - I'll be giving away a pair of my hand knitted socks to two very lucky readers, where ever you are in the world (ie two readers will receive a pair of socks each).  To be in the running, leave a comment on this post by Friday 17 August 2012, stating why you like reading divacultura. My favourite responses will receive the prize (my decision is final).  Why not take the opportunity to sign up and follow too! 

And there are still passes to see The Sapphires available here for Australian-based readers.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Question Time - who is Annemarie Lloyd?

This week's guest is a woman I've never met, but whom I feel I know.  We met over the virtual Scrabble board on facebook over a year ago and she's been beating me regularly since then!  As we started chatting, we discovered we shared quite a few passions - music being one of them.  

I'm yet to see her perform, but it's on my list of "must do's"!  

Lately, we've been pondering the popularity of the Shades of Grey books (we don't really get it) and talking about the appeal that the city of Darwin holds.

1. Who is Annemarie Lloyd?

Annemarie Lloyd as herself
Annemarie Lloyd is a complex individual. While I think I’m hilarious (and am not shy to admit as much), I’m also a quiet corner dweller when it suits the mood. I am at once creative and analytical, and this can cause some internal arguments. I am a capitalist and a hippy all at once. Confused? Try it inside my head.

2. What inspires you to perform?

I love to sing. I love to make people smile and laugh. I am inspired by great songs, great sound and a room full of people waiting to see what you have in store for them. Using my voice in as many different ways as possible is a real turn on for me. If I had to sing the same style/genre every day I would have stopped performing years ago.

3. What's your work routine?

I have two jobs. One a vocalist/entertainer, the other being Remedial Massage. The early/middle part of the week belongs to remedial massage and the business side of my endeavours. So apart from a couple of days a week in my massage rooms, there’s cleaning massage towels (along with costumes and wigs), computer work – accounting, BAS etc along with learning new songs, invoicing and marketing for the months ahead in the music industry. Also reminding/re-reminding people about their massage appointments (via SMS) and then changing and re-arranging according to their responses ….

…. Sorry, just had to take a call about another appointment change …

Later in the week (generally) are the gigs/shows. If it’s a show, the whole day leading up to it might be in preparation – packing costumes, arranging charts for musicians, early setup/soundcheck etc. If I can, I get a rest in the afternoon prior, even if it is in my car. If it’s a simple duo/solo gig, there’s not much prep, just packing, driving & setting up.

4. What's your favourite word?

Cumbersome. A high school English teacher used to use it all the time. I never knew what it meant when she started, it was just this word that rolled around the classroom and has a satisfying amount of consonants and syllables.

5. If you could script your dying words, what would they be?

Ok, that was interesting … what’s next?

6. What gets your hanky in a twist?

People who walk behind reversing cars in shopping centre car parks.

7. What do you want to be when you grow up? Is the answer the same as it would have been when you were 8 years old?

Hmmm..."grow up". There’s a notion. I often wonder why people who are the same age as me seem older. Does it mean I haven’t grown up? I don’t know. I guess I want to be a singer and I did when I was 8 so that worked out ok. As I actually do (kind of) grow up though, I realise that what you do is not who you are.

8. What are you reading?

I’m reading a trilogy that I stumbled upon when I first did a Kindle search for “50 Shades of Grey”. More adventure than dominant/submissive with a lot more wearing of clothes. Definitely a light-weight series, but fun. Entitled the Alexis Stanton Chronicles, the books are called: Colour Me Grey, Shades of Grey and Reflections of Grey.

These books came up on the same page at Amazon Kindle when I first typed in 50 Shades of Grey and have held my interest more. Mind you, I have a healthy sex life so do not feel the need to live vicariously through a submissive to “save my marriage” or various other justifications that I’ve heard on the radio about this fascinatingly dull series of books.

9. Finish this sentence, "If I wasn't singing I'd be a lot wealthier!"

As I contemplate renewing my commitment to divacultura for another year, I feel excitement and affection.  Thank you for sharing some of your time with me. As a thank you gift - and so I can gain a better sense of who's out there - I'll be giving away a pair of my hand knitted socks to two very lucky readers, where ever you are in the world (ie two readers will receive a pair of socks each).  To be in the running, leave a comment on this post by Friday 17 August 2012, stating why you like reading divacultura. My favourite responses will receive the prize (my decision is final).  Why not take the opportunity to sign up and follow too! 

And there are still passes to see The Sapphires available here for Australian-based readers.