Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas balls

(c) divacultura 2012

I've been knitting these Christmas baubles for the last few weeks as gifts.  That's why there hasn't been much action on my "What I've made" page.  You'll get to see each one soon.

Have a great day!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

If the sock fits...clash the colours and the patterns!

This blog celebrated its first anniversary back in July.  To celebrate, I gave away the gifts - a pair of my handknitted socks for one reader in Australia and one overseas reader.  

Rose Wintergreen wrote and performed a whole song and was the worthy winner inside Australia.  She  sent me a photo of her wearing the socks.  I just loved all the colours and patterns together so much that I asked her permission to share the photo with you.  I'm pleased she said yes!

Great style!  Great socks!

If you missed Rose's song, you can find it over here.

And you can find out more about Rose over here.

Down town in the Country Music Capital - puppies and music.

Today I braved the Christmas shoppers in Tamworth.  It wasn't too bad actually, except for the carpark.    People lose their minds in shopping centre carparks, walking behind vehicles which have poor vision at the back, leaving shopping trolleys to partially block car spaces which are already too small for anything other than a city sized vehicle.  And we're not in the city.  Every second vehicle is a large 4WD with a bull bar on the front making it even larger.

I noticed the newsagency had more horse magazines than I would usually expect to see.  Bunnings was packed with people but the lady selling the charity Christmas cakes was not very busy.  The junior staff at the supermarket were very friendly and didn't begrudge the presence of customers.  I bought a funky skirt for $16.

In the pet store I was pleased to see no animals for sale.  There were three puppies and one cat available for adoption.  They had been surrendered to the RSPCA.  After having a health check, temperament tests and vaccinations they are desexed and microchipped and put up for adoption.  There were two Kelpie-cross puppies from the same litter: one was an extrovert, barking happily at anyone who went by and the other was shy, just sitting and looking out.  We wondered what they had been crossed with because their ears were enormous - perhaps a beagle or some kind of spaniel.  Next door was a Jack Russell pup (called Antonio) who was resting when I saw him.  Each animal has a written history and description of what their temperament is like and what kind of lifestyle they would fit with.  

I spoke with one of the staff in the store and she told me that they also do checks on potential new owners.  She has regularly refused adoption and she told me she is often abused by some breeders who are unhappy with the RSPCA.  I was very pleased to know that this responsible approach is taken to . animals and ownership and that this particular store will have nothing to do with puppy factories.

The staff member also told me that twenty-five dogs had been surrendered in the last week.  It's a timely reminder that pet ownership should be a conscious decision and shouldn't be taken lightly.  Animals are not a commodity or a product.  They are living creatures with feelings and should not be thought of as disposable.  

I didn't ask what happens to the animals which aren't adopted, but I'm sure we all know.

Want a share a bench with Smokey Dawson?
(c) divacultura 2012
At the other end of town, I came across this wonderful sculpture of country music legend Smokey Dawson.  I really like the character of the piece.  Seeing it left me in no doubt that I was in the country music capital!

If this is how Smokey looked in real life, I reckon he would have been a great storyteller.
Look at the life in his face and eyes!
(c) divacultura 2012

Friday, 21 December 2012

Change of scene, change of schedule

I'm writing this post from a desk with  different view from what is usually in front of me.  Usually I'm at my kitchen table with nothing but a wall in front of me.  Today, I'm looking out at a paddock, with hills in the distance.  There's a long green shed in the middle distance with a red container parked next to it.  Occasionally I see vehicles go by on the highway.  A little blue bird is standing in front of the window  showing me its tail.  Horses wander by and now I feel the softness of a cat as one winds its way around my ankles.  The sky is cloudy.  Some of them are black and heavy looking.  There's a faint roll of thunder in the distance.  Apart from that the only sounds are the ticking of a clock and the breathing of the air conditioner.  And the sound of my typing.

Over the summer break, my posting won't be as frequent while I relax and regroup.  I certainly won't be posting daily!  The best way to make sure you don't miss a thing is to subscribe via email - that way you'll receive an email whenever I do post something and you'll know about it straight away.  (There's a button over on the right hand side.  Yes!  Right there!  Just type in your email address, click and go.)

If you need a fix, why not visit the archives and see what you can find?  There's lots to read.  Two of my personal favourites are a response to spam email I received in October last year:Love in the letterbox and The Rejection Letter.  Another favourite is a result of an exercise in imagination: Journey to the tenth floor

There are also suggestions at the end of each post which link to other posts.  Sometimes I just follow a trail and enjoy the journey.  Or you can just look at the pictures.  The Sunday Slideshow posts have lots!  Start here.

Thank you to my readers - I just love knowing that you're out there.  I love receiving your feedback and hearing your stories too.  I've enjoyed making you smile and laugh.  I've enjoyed provoking you. I've enjoyed the ability to occasionally give you things.  I've enjoyed sharing my perspective of the world.

Walking around these days I notice more and more that people have their eyes down and are absorbed in their screens.  I've made a conscious choice to be fully present in the world with my eyes up and my attention OUT THERE.  This is why I notice so much and can share it with you.

Whatever you do at this time of year, I hope it brings you joy or gives someone else joy.  Stay safe and happy reading!

The rain has just arrived.  The hills are still bathed in sunlight in the distance and the shrubs outside are squeaking as they scrape against the windows.  The thunder is rumbling more deeply and the birds have taken cover.

ETA:  10 minutes later:  the rain is pelting and I can't see the hills or the long green shed.  I can barely hear myself think over the sound of rain on the roof and windows.  Bliss.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Something in the air?

Christmas could be an opportunity for people to be nice to each other.  For strangers to smile at others in the street.  For people to stand aside and let someone pass.  For us to look up and see each other!  It would be a Christmas miracle.

I've had the dubious pleasure over the last couple of weeks of needing to keep conventional office hours for a particular project on which I'm working.  This has involved hitting the train and Flinders Street Station right in the middle of the morning peak.  Once I've survived that first odyssey, I then make my way to what might be the busiest tram stop in Melbourne.  On a platform that barely holds the crush, I wait for the number 1 tram to South Melbourne Beach as I am elbowed and jostled by the surge.  There's only one thing worse than this surge - the angry surge when the tram is too packed and people are left behind.  It's not a long wait between trams at that time of the morning, but why wait two extra minutes where you will endure the elbows and glares of your fellow travellers, when you could be pressed to a stranger's arm pit with one side of your face and mashed against the door with the other?

There is always a queue to exit Flinders Street Station at the top end, the end nearest the Yarra River.  That side still has old metcard gates that are slow to work with the myki card and it can take a long time to get through.  I figure everyone's in the same boat, so you just need to be patient and wait your turn.  This view is not shared by everyone in Melbourne.  I know! Shocking to discover!

I joined a queue and while I was waiting one of the staff came and switched the gate next to me so that we could use it to exit.  (Before he did this it was set so that only people wanting to come in could use it.)  As it happened, I was able to step up and be the first person in that line.  (No, I did not shoulder charge anyone, I just stepped across and that's how it worked out.)  I touched my myki to the reader and nothing at all happened.  I held it still, bearing in mind the detailed operating instructions every myki user must know - I didn't swipe, wave, jiggle, show, tap or fling.  I touched and held still.  Nothing.

Behind me I heard a woman's voice.  Apparently she'd been screaming at me for the last three seconds and I only noticed when she poked me in the back.  "GO THROUGH! Can't you just GO THROUGH?  LADY?  GO THROUGH!!!!!"

I realised she was speaking to me.  I turned and was about to explain that I needed to touch off to ensure I was charged correctly, but it was a bit hard with a fire breathing dragon behind me.  I said nothing and stood my ground and touched my myki to the reader again.  Mercifully, it worked and as I walked through, the dragon surged past still screaming at me to GO THROUGH! LADY!

I just shook my head.  For goodness' sake.

"Some people!" I looked up.  A young man had spoken.  He looked at me sympathetically.  I smiled.

"You heard that woman?" I asked.

"Yes!  Can't believe that would happen in Melbourne."

"Maybe she's not from Melbourne.  Maybe there's something in the air."

"Maybe there's something wrong with her."

"Well, there might be.  So that's her problem."


As I wished him an excellent day, we came face to face with dragon woman who had by now secured a wide perimeter around herself and was glaring at everyone.  I felt the urge to say something - or elbow her out of the way - but decided to stay out of her way.

The last I saw of her she was burrowing her way onto an over crowded tram.  Glaring at all in her path.  I wondered how long it would take before she pushed someone too far.

I arrived home and discovered my crazy neighbour arguing with the very nice man who had spent the last two days replacing the old analogue television antennae with new digital ones.  It had been a big job and Antennae Man was friendly and even-tempered.  When Gottfried accused him of microwaving us, Antennae Man just continued repeating the words "television" and "reception".  He slipped once and said "satellite" which led to a re-opening of the microwave question.  Antenna Man regrouped quickly and went back to his mantra - "television", "reception". This time I noticed he was shaking his head.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Quitting sugar - Christmas party challenge

Yesterday there was a Christmas lunch at my new workplace.  Everyone brought food, including an incredible array of desserts.  There was everything from pavlova to cheesecake, strawberry moose to cupcakes, as well as Christmas pudding and custard.  All home made by staff.

I used to love cheesecake and pavlova, but this week, I wasn't even tempted!  When I was asked why I wasn't having dessert, I patiently explained that I don't eat sugar.  I'm becoming accustomed to the reactions now - they range from the innocuous to the intense looks that suggest people think you are weird and the mocking statements.  These statements usually sound something like, "You can't give up sugar!" or "Come on! It's Christmas! A little bit won't hurt you!" or "Oh yeah...is that some strange new diet fad?"

I'm refining my reaction to this.  Sometimes a polite refusal is sufficient.  With some people this just puts more fuel on the fire.  If I've been asked a question, I usually ask the other person whether they are interested in my rationale for giving up sugar.  If they say they are, then I'll give them a quick summary of why sugar is bad.  If they're not interested in finding out I'll usually just shrug and remind them that I'm not questioning or judging their food choices.

So there I was, surrounded by sugar and it wasn't even difficult to resist!  It's seven weeks since I've had sugar and it's very exciting and reassuring to know that my body and my mind have adjusted and I just don't want it anymore.  Interestingly, probably the hardest thing for me to resist were the juicy fresh cherries!

It would be difficult to quit sugar just before Christmas and be in the first two weeks of withdrawal right now.  I think I may have caved in and tried a piece of cheesecake if I'd been in that situation.  I hope I wouldn't, but I think I might.  Anyway, that's not the situation I'm in and that's good.  My challenge is that I will be through the 8 week quit program and technically will be allowed to reintroduce sugar if I wish.  I aim to stick with the cherries and avoid the pavlova.

What's your Christmas sugar avoidance strategy?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Wardrobe malfunction of the intimate kind - now I understand the term "travelling pants".

This post is about underwear.  My underwear.  Specifically, my underpants,  knickers, undies, panties, grundies, pantaloons, bloomers - whatever name you prefer to give them.

I had a very unhappy relationship with them today.  Not for the whole day.  The bad behaviour specifically commenced as I arrived at the train station.  To be clear, the problems started when I was just far enough from home to make turning back and throwing the evil creatures (should that be plural or singular?) on the fire.  I don't actually have a fire to throw them on.  It would be a metaphorical fire - probably just the bin, but I would have flames of anger in my eyes as I put them there.  Alternatively they would have gone in the laundry basket, eventually been washed, and then made their way back to my underwear drawer.  From this drawer I would pull them out again in a few weeks' time and stare at them with narrowed eyes, trying to remember whether this was the badly behaved pair, or just another pair that looks like any other pair.  My memory would fail and I would put them on.

This is clearly what happened this morning.  I'm fairly certain that I've spent at least one day before doing battle with my under garments.

The morning started like any other - I woke up to the alarm, headed straight for the shower, put my pyjamas back on to eat breakfast, do my teeth, hair and makeup, before finally putting my clothes on.  Now the underpants in question looked normal in the beginning.  Even after I put them on and walked around the house, everything was fine.  There was NO SIGN of what was to come.  Kind of like a relationship where everyone's on their best behaviour in the beginning and it's all down hill from there.

Just as I reached the train station and began walking up the steps to the pedestrian overpass, the waistband started to roll.  I learned today that a rolling pantie waistband is like a snowball - it gathers momentum and there's little that can be done about it.  This was a fairly dangerous position to be in, considering the rest of my outfit comprised of a dress.  If the snowball reached the bottom of the mountain, so to speak, the potential for surprise was great.

I took the opportunity of what I characterised as the relative privacy of the pedestrian overpass to readjust.  I like to call this manoeuvre "hoiking".  For example: "Taking cover between the galvanised fencing of the pedestrian overpass, I hoiked my underpants up, once and for all."  The last part of this sentence is just wishful thinking.  I spent the day hoiking.  It was disconcerting.  And not just for me.  I should also confirm that the privacy of the pedestrian overpass is relative to thinking that when you're driving your car and picking your nose, no one can see you.

By the time I arrived at my place of work for the day, I was fairly certain that I hadn't read the instructions properly and had somehow put them on upside down.  The other possibility was that they were haunted.  I don't even want to contemplate that.

As a result of my problem, I was extremely efficient.  I spent the day glued to my desk chair and achieved quite a bit.  The only time I left my desk was for the three hour Christmas lunch function we had today.  I quickly found a chair at a table and was not going to move.  Until I discovered the Kris Kringle routine and realised that it would involve me walking to the Christmas tree in front of fifty of my new colleagues, while my underpants continued their practical joke.  I seriously contemplated removing them all together, but the combination of wearing a white dress and the presence of nuns suggested that this was not a solution.

I devised a better one.  I would grip my waist with my forearms and just hold everything up and together.  This meant it was extremely difficult to collect a gift from under the tree, but because I'm new, I think everyone was beating themselves up about not noticing the weird arm disability that I have.  Everyone was too polite to say anything.  I hope prayers are being said in the name of my healing.

I planned to rip these traitorous knickers off as soon as I arrived home, but the phone rang and I was distracted.  I'm STILL WEARING THEM.  Some hours later.  They seem to only misbehave when I go out.  Oh and the cut is totally misnamed.  On the label it says "hipsters". In my book, that means they're meant to wrap around the hips, not the knees - or worse, the ankles!  I'm pretty sure "anklets" are socks and I've never HEARD of "kneesters".  Although they sound more hip than they should.  Perhaps I should market them for the hipsters to wear with their drop crotch jeans.

And I can't believe there was a film called "The sisterhood of the travelling pants".  Who would make a movie about this?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Public transport may be a war zone, but the traffic worse.

Standing at the tram stop in the rain and the wind at 5:05pm this evening, was not the most miserable place I could have been.  Even if I was waiting for about 10 minutes.  You see, during that time, traffic coming from five directions converged and nothing moved.  There was a free tourist shuttle bus that moved about a metre in those ten minutes.

I was finishing my second day of my new project and I am still gaining familiarity with the rhythms of a different part of town.  There are some magnificent eucalypts in the street and their leaves had dropped to the ground in the wind and rain.  As I stepped on them, I was blessed with the heavenly smell of eucalyptus.  For a moment, I believed that I was deep in the bush.  Then I looked up and saw the traffic snarl.  Despite the central location which is extremely well served by public transport, I was advised that there was parking space for me if I wished to drive.  Looking at the gridlock, I wondered why anyone would.

A woman in the tea room yesterday was talking about the fact that she had had to catch public transport to work that day.  I congratulated her.  She looked at me as though I was someone who had escaped from a secure facility and when I added that I am an advocate of public transport I swear I could see her fumbling for the speed dial on her phone.  She looked at me as though I was Satan.  She muttered something under her breath which sounded like, "You're doomed.  Get thee back Satan" but given the Christian values of the organisation was probably something like "it's okay when it works".  I agree.

(I also made new friends by revealing my membership of the myki customer experience panel.  This means I give feedback about the system each week.  I was able to educate a couple of people about the benefits of registering their myki so that any balance on the card is protected if the card is lost or stolen.  Anyway, when you're the new kid on the block, everyone's a potential new friend.  Then you realise who's in what faction and where the power lies a few weeks later and wish you hadn't been so eager.)

Anyway, there I am in the traffic, in the rain and the wind at the tramstop.  I did have an umbrella, so that kept my earlobes dry at least, but in the rain and the wind the rest of me was a lost cause.

As our eagerly anticipated tram turned the corner, it was like the hero appearing on the horizon at sunset to rescue the people.  I swear I heard music and everything.  Symphonic, with trumpets I think, but definitely symphonic.  And the tram arrived and it was packed.  Only the most desperate would clamber aboard and inhale the air, thick with the scent of wet dog and risk being turned into a wet shiskabab by some idiot with a golf umbrella the size of a circus tent.

I sighed.  I was no desperadao.  I lifted my head and squinted towards the horizon (I probably didn't squint.  It wasn't sunny.  If it was sunny I would have had my sunglasses on, thus removing any need to squint.  Plus, I'm opposed to squinting from a cosmetic point of view.  Although, maybe I squinted because I was shielding my eyeballs from the needle-like shards of rain.) Another had appeared. Tram that is, in case I distracted you. In the tradition of Melbourne trams, its only passenger seemed to be the driver and a couple of damp tumbleweeds and the guy up the back who smelt really bad, but not like a wet dog.  Compared to that smell, I would happily buy an atomiser of Eau de Wet Dog and spray it all over. That might be why the tram was empty.

We piled on.  I was made into a wet shiskabab by an idiot with a backpack and a golf umbrella the size of a parachute.  There was so much water I managed to wash my hands and refresh my face. If I had my toothbrush in my handbag I probably would have whipped it out.

I stepped off the tram at Flinders Street station a few minutes later and expected to be home within 20 minutes.  I failed to consider that trains apparently don't like working in the rain. Police operations in some outlying suburb on the other side of town compound the problem.  I found a seat on the platform out of the wind and the rain and tried to concentrate on my book while listening to announcements about delayed trains which seemed to suggest that the Mayans may have been right about the end of the world.

I hope not.  I really want to finish the book I'm reading.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

First day on the job - & some things I noticed.

I started a new job today.  It's a part time project management role to develop a simulated learning environment in the mental health context - all subjects I'm very interested in.  I'm still doing everything else too!

On one hand it's been a while since I had a first day at work; on the other hand, everytime I turn up to work with a new client or a new group of people, it's almost like the first day at work.

My welcome was warm and people were expecting me.  They even knew what I was there to do.  The organisation I'm working with has a very strong sense of purpose and clarity about it's culture and values.  It's wonderful to step into such a strong culture.

The setting is great - right near two intersecting tram routes about five stops from the CBD. And there's this:

Courtyard garden at my new workplace - complete with tables, umbrellas and general loveliness.
(c) divacultura 2012
On my way to work, the old steam puffer that was en route to St Vincent's Hospital with a cargo of Christmas gifts went past.  I was at the tram stop on St Kilda Road between Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.  It was travelling very slowly and had slowed traffic coming over the Westgate Bridge during the morning peak.  (I catch public transport, so wasn't affected, but it had been all over the radio.)

There is a sign on the back proclaiming this as a :slow moving vehicle".
Very accurate
(c) divacultura 2012

After dinner in Chinatown last night, I discovered the water dragon sculpture which adorns the facade of the Chinese Museum.  It is made from recycled plastic bottles.  Its body ripples up about three storeys.  i think it's wonderful.

Water dragon
(c) divacultura 2012

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Queuing at the post office

Yesterday I went on my pilgrimage to collect my mail from my post office box.  I've had the same box since I moved to Melbourne almost thirteen years ago.  The staff know me and I know the staff.  If there's time, we often stop to have a chat.  

There was a card for a registered letter in my box so I needed to go to the window and sign for it.  There were about four people in the queue ahead of me.  Jessica, the manager, was cheerfully and efficiently serving - gathering signatures, checking identification and handing over parcels and letters.

I was two people from the front when the man at the front was asked what he was expecting as Jessica tried to find the parcel.  He said he had no idea.  A few minutes later Jessica appeared with an enormous box on a trolley.  

"Are you sure that's for me?" he asked.  "Who could it be from?"

"Santa!" I piped up from the back.  He thought that was hilarious as did Jessica.  The person standing behind him and in front of me in the queue was strangely silent and clearly thought I was weird.  

"Is it from Europe?" he asked as he tried to interpret the labels.

The paperwork was signed, the identification checked and the parcel was his.  He picked it up and felt its heft.  He shook it a little bit and listened.  

He looked around at his audience.

"Should I open it now? I should open it, shouldn't I!"  

I love a bit of public spectacle, but I thought it could easily end in tears.  Personally, I never publicly open a parcel that's arrived in the mail unless I know exactly what it is.  The potential for deep embarrassment is large.

"Yes!  Go on!  Open it!" I urged.

He thought better of it and left with his mysterious package.

Jessica greeted me by name as she always does and told me she was feeling jealous with all the people receiving parcels.

"I never get any presents working here," she said with a sparkle in her eye as she went to retrieve my letter.

I pulled out one of my gratitude cards and when she returned, I gave it to her and thanked her for her cheerful service throughout the year.  She was thrilled.  I told her about the project and she thought it was great.  She sincerely thanked me.  

I asked her about her Christmas plans and she said they have a big one every second year (some of her family is overseas).  This year was to be a small one and they were thinking about lovely things to do or give to each other that wouldn't cost a lot of money.  This year's plan was to write a letter to a member of the family which they would then read to each other over Christmas lunch.  The letter would speak about all the wonderful things about the person and their relationship.  I thought that was a brilliant idea.  

After thinking about it for a while, my wicked humour kicked in and I thought of all the ways it could go hilariously wrong and end in chaos.  I hope it doesn't for Jessica's family.

Thanks to all the Australia Post staff who make sure I receive my mail and wish me happy birthday and merry Christmas as they see the parcels come through.  And it's great to know that Santa uses Australia Post as his preferred delivery partner.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas lights - Am I the Grinch?

Going around my neighbourhood at night I've been both delighted and confounded by the Christmas lights decorating houses.  Delighted because some of them are pretty and imaginative; confounded because I can't imagine what the electricity bill must be like.  Against the backdrop of continuing bad news about what human activity is doing to our planet, I start to be grumpy.

When I've had this conversation about whether we can really afford electricity consumption (sourced from the burning of brown coal in Victoria) with some people, they accuse me of being anti-Christmas, a Grinch even, and tell me to lighten up. "It's Christmas!" they exclaim.

I know it's Christmas.  I love the ideas that Christmas can represent - family, giving, love, music. I don't love the ideas that it often does represent - consumption, selfishness, debt, over-indulgence.

There are competitions run in the local press that encourage whole streets to light up and go on display.  Not only does this consume (unnecessary) electricity but people often drive around in their petrol fuelled cars to look.  It's an environmental problem even before we look at the manufacture, transport and packaging of all the lights.

What I'd really love to see is someone on the roof pedaling a bicycle to power the lights.  Now wouldn't that be something?  Dressed as Santa or not, it would be amazing to see the true spirit of Christmas represented by people lighting up the world in a way that minimises harm to the planet.  Imagine a whole neighbourhood participating!  Every household taking shifts on a line up of bikes that powers the lights.  Visitors would be asked to donate some time on the bikes as their contribution to the pretty Christmas display.  The lights could even be dimmed for effect by pedaling slower.

I know that this is just a flight of fancy.  Probably.  But I do like to imagine ways to make the world better.  I don't do Christmas lights.  I light a candle every evening and I keep doing this even at Christmas time.  I also like to provoke people to think differently about things that we may not spend time thinking about.

Do you do Christmas lights?  What do you think...am I the Grinch?

With Christmas upon us, you may like to read last year's post about gift wrapping and ways to be environmentally considerate.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

My favourite things this week

1.  I know that the death of someone is not usually something that would turn up in a post like this, but jazz musician Dave Brubeck's death caused me to dust the cobwebs off the playlist and rediscover his music.  It's been a while.  From that exploration, I went for a wander around iTunes into Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk territory and have been feeling mellow and groovy ever since.  I even took some jazz for a wander around the piano keyboard myself.  I did it for hours this evening and it made me feel happy.  Oh and when will we be able to get the soundtrack to the television series Homeland?  I'm in the mood.

2.  Brief encounters have been a theme this week: a coffee here, a lunch there, a truncated work assigment, a few lines in an email.  They've all been good and left me wanting more.  Ah the freedom of freelance.

3.  Lying down on the job.  Today I was doing some simulation work that required me to lie on a hospital bed for the day.  I had my vital signs taken several times.  It was very relaxing - so relaxing that I had trouble staying awake.  Playing with the buttons on the adjustable bed is fun and provided some amusement in between students.  If they didn't look so hospitally, I'd get one of those beds for home.  My scientific observation for the day: my resting heart rate for most of the day was around 60 beats per minute and my temperature was about 36.8 degrees Celsius.  I had a styrofoam cup of instant coffee (bleh) to try and stay awake and immediately after my pulse was 74 beats per minute and my temperature had risen to 37.1 degrees Celsius.  I can only imagine what a good quality short black would do.  Or an encounter with George Clooney.

4.  Work offers that are exactly what you want, what you need and at the right time for everyone.  There's nothing else to say about that.

5.  This website:  The World Needs More Love Letters.  Sign up, why dontcha?  I have.  (Thanks to my friend Sue who put this in front of me.)

I'm nearly on holiday!  Only a couple more pieces of work for the year and I'll be onto my summer holiday reading list and crazy nail polish colours and plotting my novel.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The deal went down at 9:45am.

I had an assignation with a stranger on a street corner this morning.  We confirmed our arrangements over the internet.  Text messages confirming our whereabouts were exchanged on the day.  We met.  We exchanged paper packages. We went our separate ways.  I felt satisfied.  I only got the first name.

What springs to mind?

A drug deal?

A lost property found scenario?

Some kind of new age, web based treasure hunt?

Paying my hit man?

Receiving payment for something shady?  A bribe perhaps.

The blind date?  (But what was in the packages?)

It all hinges on what was in the package.

Here's what was in the one I handed over:

Raku Regenbogen
(c) divacultura 2012

Here's what was in the one I received:

(c) divacultura 2012
It's my favourite German sock yarn, Wollmeise.  I received the rainbow in a mystery bag.  The red and pink dornroschen has been on my list for a while.  The universe provided when a local, fellow member of Ravelry expressed her desire for my skein.  I went hunting in her stash (online) and boldly proposed a swap.

If anyone saw us, they may be writing about the two unlikely looking women engaged in a brazen drug deal in the legal precinct of the Melbourne CBD before morning smoko.

Now, what to make with my lovely, vibrating red and pink?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Quitting Sugar - 5 weeks down

So, three weeks have passed since I wrote my first post about quitting sugar.  I'm now in the fifth week and I'm going very well.  In the first eight week period, I'm not having ANY fructose - so that means no fruit for now.

The main thing I've noticed is how different my mindset is.  I'm actually not interested in cake or biscuits or icecream or chocolate.  That's a pretty big change as I'm a baker with a sweet tooth.  I would always look for something sweet after a meal.  I had already discovered the value of liquorice tea as a naturally sweet after dinner drink and I still like to have it after a meal.  If it's not available, it's okay.  I'm not craving something sweet to finish.

The biggest challenge is still the catering provided by clients.  They often cater for a lot of different dietary requirements, but "sugar free" still seems to raise an eyebrow.  Last week the food on arrival consisted of soft drinks and juice, along with chocolate bars.  Lunch was delicious, consisting of salads and fish.  The dressing was on the side, so that was excellent.  Afternoon tea was chocolate cake, brownies or beautiful looking mini vanilla slices.  I resisted them all, but was quite hungry and very pleased I had packed my own snacks.  Activated nuts and sesame crackers are now a fixture in my handbag.

My eating patterns have also changed.  I'm hungry earlier, wanting lunch before 12 noon and ready for dinner at about 5pm.  Interesting.  If I can, I do eat when I'm hungry rather than waiting for some artificial notion of meal time to arrive.

Breakfast is completely different from what it was before I quit sugar.  I was a muesli and yogurt girl in summer and porridge in winter.  On my porridge I would sprinkle some brown sugar.  Gone is the muesli (I put it in a ziplock bag and gave it to a friend who loves muesli.  He also took my stock of muesli bars) and natural yogurt makes a great accompaniment to a curry, but I just can't do it for breakfast.  Vitabrits with milk and nothing else or porridge made from oats and spelt with milk and nothing else feature regularly. I've just bought a jar of toasted cereal topping to add some interest.  It contains sesame seeds, linseed, buckwheat kernels, sunflower kernels, sliced almonds and cinnamon.  I like it with everything, including salads and sprinkled on vegetables.

If I'm home during the morning, I'll have toast with a scrape of butter and sometimes vegemite or toast with an avocado and pepper.  Again, if I'm at home, I'll eat my main meal during the day and be satisfied with a light salad at night.  Gone is the balsamic vinegar which I loved on salad greens.  I've replaced it with red wine vinegar and am still deciding what I think of a sugar free mayonnaise I have found.  The currants have also gone from my favourite brown rice salad.  I've replaced them with more seeds, nuts and finely chopped parsley and mint.  It's still delicious.

I do miss sweet chilli sauce.  I would have it on everything from scrambled eggs to cheese on toast to steak.  It's gone.

The other thing I'm missing is the ginger cordial I loved to have with lime and mineral water, or even as a mixer with gin (Hendrick's is the best).

Commercial baked beans are also banned, which is a shame as I enjoyed them as a light snack to have in a hurry.  I'll have to get back into the habit of making my own, but even that will require some adjustment as brown sugar was a feature of them in the past.

Today I had coffee with a friend and two gorgeous looking macarons arrived along with the coffee.  He didn't know that I've given up sugar and I didn't want to offend him.  I thanked him and gently explained my sugar free quest.  He did say something about it being Christmas, but I'm proud to say that I held firm.

The fuzzy headed feeling is gone and I'm sleeping very well.  Friends have told me they can see I have lost weight and I'm having trouble keeping my jeans up without a belt.

Christmas will be the next challenge and I'm really glad that my new eating habits will be well entrenched by the time it's in full swing.  I'm exploring sugar free Christmas menus to find ways of satisfying everyone. I'm confident that I won't be tempted - I'm just not interested anymore. Sarah Wilson has a handy Christmas menu planner on her website.

I regularly check David Gillespie's Sweet Poison quit plan and it goes with me to the supermarket.

What's your favourite sugar free snack or breakfast?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Ouch! When the "care" is missing from healthcare

This year I've been focussing on communication and empathy in health care.  Working with undergraduate students in a range of health care professions, I was heartened and optimistic about their views towards patients/clients and thrilled that they seemed to want to work with patients and their families in an empathetic way.  It was hard to reconcile their attitudes with the studies done by Monash University that show empathy declines during the course of study and falls off a cliff in the first year of work in most health professions.

This week, I've been face to face with the health system in New South Wales and I am completely disheartened and appalled.

My Dad required emergency treatment for a potentially life threatening condition.  He lives in rural NSW near a large regional city and another smaller country town.  He was admitted to hospital in the large regional city, but required a surgical procedure which could only be done at the nearest "tertiary hospital" which is the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.  After four days he was transported by air ambulance to Newcastle.  He was treated yesterday and seems to be on the road to recovery.

He's also on the road to nowhere.

We needed to get him back home after his treatment, about four hours or so away by road.  All family members who live nearby are unable to drive and the rest of us live in different states at opposite ends of the country.  We would need assistance to get him home, but were being told by the Doctor he could not travel by bus or train and then by a very cranky nurse that the Doctor didn't know what she was talking about and that of course he'd be fine to travel on the train.  Who should I listen to - the cardiologist or the nurse?

I swung into action, calling my contacts in ambulance and health to find out how to solve this problem.  All the advice I was receiving was that he should be transported home in the non-emergency patient transport provided by the ambulance service.  As a paid up member of the ambulance there would be no cost to him and there would be no cost to the hospital, but a Doctor needed to authorise the booking.

Hospitals are impenetrable.  They are lumbering institutions that require insider knowledge to get what you need and find who you need.  I took a deep breath and called the one number listed on the website.  I was put through to information.  Information put me through to a lovely Doctor who was in the intensive care unit and had not met Dad and knew nothing about his case.  Dad wasn't in the ICU.  I explained the situation to the Doctor and he agreed that suitable transport should be arranged.

No one called me back, so I called again and was put through to the Registered Nurse on Dad's ward. This nurse had the tone and attitude of someone who has forgotten what their job is all about.  She spoke to me like a naughty child, talked over the top of me, was impatient when I asked her to listen to me and dismissive of my concerns for my father.  She said she would talk to the social worker and hung up the phone while I was in the middle of explaining the family situation, including the fact that Dad had no clothes with him, only his pyjamas.

After 20 minutes, I called again.  I asked her why she had hung up on me.  Her response was that she told me she was going to speak to the social worker and she already knew what I was going to say.  Again, her tone was horrible.  I told her that I wanted to have a conversation with someone about my father's situation to get a better resolution than putting him on the train to a town he doesn't live in.  She then argued the point with me about where my father's home is, interrupting me again to confirm with my father where he lives.  As if I don't know where my father resides! I asked her to change her tone and speak to me with some respect and empathy for the situation and she told me that wasn't possible.  Apparently I had offended her when I said she was wrong about where Dad lives.  I asked to speak to someone who was interested in helping us, she said that wasn't possible either.

She then proceeded to shrilly tell me that I shouldn't be concerned.  He'd had his procedure and lots of people have the same procedure and he's fine! What's the big deal?  She said - in the most condescending tone possible - that Dad was sick when he came in and that's why he needed an ambulance.  The hospital had made him better, so he wasn't sick anymore and now he just had to go home.

Here was a blinding lack of empathy for me to confront.  I heard myself echoing something I said in the empathy workshops I facilitated during the year:  "This might be routine for you, but this is the most serious health concern my father has ever had.  It's the first time we've dealt with something like this and it is not routine for us.  I'm a long way away and trying to be supportive and organise everything on the phone from Melbourne, I need your help!"

She then advised me that normally the family would collect a patient.  Just what I needed - judgement.  I'd had no impact at all.  She had become institutionalised and part of a system that obviously sees the people who are meant to be served as an annoying inconvenience.

I asked to speak to the social worker.  "That's not possible," came the reply.

"Why not?"

"She's gone home for the day."

"What's the social worker's name?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why not?"

"I don't know her name."

"How many social workers are there?"


"And you don't know her name."


"Not even her first name?"


If this nurse had been empathetic to our situation she would have just told me that the social worker had gone home for the day and that she wasn't sure of her name but would leave a message for her to call me in the morning.  It didn't need to be that hard.

Even when I explicitly said I wasn't looking for a fight, she expressed frustration that she had become the meat in the sandwich.

"Why? What's the sandwich? Aren't we all working for the same thing?"

"What do you mean?"

"To look after my Dad and make sure he travels home safely."

She had no answer.  She was clearly viewing us as a battle to be fought and won.

It appears that the clinical care has been great.  Hopefully the procedure will make a big difference to Dad's health and well being.  Clinical care is not the whole picture though and I'm surprised at just how lacking the broader care has been.  In regional Australia, in this hospital, it must be common for people to be admitted to a hospital far from home and need to get back to where they came from after they've been treated.  I hate to think of all the other people facing the same dilemmas.  To be a patient subject to the a nurse who is a bully is a significant power imbalance - all at the time when you're trying to recover from surgery.  How can you advocate for yourself in this situation?

I've been researching about the hospital.  Like most big organisations these days they have a statement of rights and responsibilities for patients, including values.  Sadly, there is a big gap between the big statements of values and the lived reality for one patient and his family.

I really hope the awareness of the need for an empathetic approach to care will make a difference in the future.

Now, I'm off to research the complaints process.

You might like to read this earlier post about empathy.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Winners - 2 Days in New York

The chance to win tickets to see "2 Days in New York", Julie Delphy's new film certainly generated a lot of interest.  Thanks everyone who entered and shared your ideas of where you'd most like to spend two days.

Hopscotch Films generously provided me with three double passes to give away, plus one for me to use.  A friend shared her pass to see the film with me the other day, so I don't need the extra pass - I now have four to give to divacultura readers.

I loved reading your contributions and have chosen four winners on the basis of originality and creativity.  Congratulations to:

  • Tania C who would like to spend her two days visiting the afterlife
  • lukeod who wrote a little rhyme identifying Budapest as his destination of choice
  • Cazbar would like to go to Antarctica and thinks two days might be all she could take
  • Sue R says two days in a five star hotel being pampered like a Queen would suit her just fine!
I can't make any of those dreams come true, but I can send you some movie tickets.  Winners will need to contact me via the email link on my profile page with your mailing address so that I can send you your tickets.

You can review all the entries in the comments at the end of this post.

Enjoy the film and don't forget to stop by and let us know what you thought.  If you weren't a winner this time, stay tuned!  Or go make your two day wish actually happen!

If I could spend two days anywhere, I'd love to go to Easter Island.  It would probably take me two days to get there, but the trip would be worth it!

Thank you Hopscotch Films!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Tram travelling beast

I had to go to a rehearsal today, just on the other side of the city.  As is my custom, I took public transport.  The train arrived just as I was coming down the pedestrian overpass and I ran the last few metres - thankful that the myki reader worked swiftly.  Just as I touched on I heard the telltale buzz that says the doors have been locked.  I went towards the train anyway.  The doors were released and I was able to board the train.  I gave a wave to the driver in appreciation.  It's not often a train waits and I really appreciated it.

From the city I needed to catch a tram.  As I approached the tram stop a man wearing nothing but tattoos and a low slung backpack on his torso cut across my path, yelling at someone for not listening to him.  He continued his tirade to anyone and no one cutting a furious path through the Saturday afternoon crowd.  I lost sight of him and then he was back on the tram stop.  He jumped onto the tracks and kicked one of the little sparrows high into the air and into traffic.  I was shocked at his random cruelty.  The people at the stop took a collective breath and withdrew into themselves.  It seemed best not to be noticed by this man.

My tram arrived and I was disappointed to see him board.  He roamed around the train screaming about "real heroin dealers",  his $700 a day habit and the fact he had wanted to attend his parents' funeral.  He was certain that if he'd been from overseas he would have been allowed to attend, but now he couldn't go because "they" had taken all his money.

There was no pause.

The security guards at an unspecified shop were his next target.  They were gutless and "won't fight you one on one", but that's okay because "I'll find out where he lives and blow his house up".  He then sat down in front of one of the doors and proceeded to investigate a wound on his leg.  He exclaimed about the fact that he seemed to be living on top of a mosquito nest and counted the bites on his legs.

His anger never subsided.  His invective became more ferocious.  People boarding the tram quickly moved to another door.  Grandmothers clutched toddlers to them, old men looked on in disgust and puzzlement and the rest of us desperately avoided eye contact.

At one stop a man who looked like he might have similar problems boarded and came face to face with the shirtless man.  They both looked at each other, said nothing and retreated to opposite ends of the tram.  There was another collective breath.

I was very pleased when my the tram arrived at my stop.  I was still thinking about that poor, innocent little sparrow which had been brutalised and hopped that was the end of his work today.  With the lack of conductors on Melbourne trams there is no one to deal with people like this and it makes the trip unpleasant for everyone else.  On top of that, he didn't appear to have a ticket.