Resolutions

Since our peaceful, joyful, family Christmas day, I’ve spent some uncomfortable hours with the dull ache of disappointment and embarrassment, wondering how to make amends to my sister and brother-in-law for forgetting their invitation for my husband and me to share a special meal with them and our brother on the Friday between Christmas and New Year.

I’d looked forward for weeks to spending time with my siblings, but without checking my diary I’d invited another person to our house that evening. There’s no excuse. Not only did I hurt  people I love, but John and I also missed one of the highlights of our festive Christmas season.

When my sister rang to ask where we were, I confessed that I’d forgotten. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I eventually looked in my diary I saw  that it was the birthday of one of my granddaughters. I’d bought and wrapped her present before Christmas, but I’d forgotten the day completely.

On one level, not checking my diary was a simple mistake, but not to use it or the calendar by the phone for a week? There’s something about this forgetful behaviour that disturbs me. My decision to make some changes takes effect from today.

It’s mere coincidence that it is almost the end of the year. New Year’s resolutions have never been part of my life. In the past couple of decades, each year on my birthday I have reviewed the previous year. A long time ago, a friend gave me an illustrated notebook with beautiful paper, and I’ve used that to record any past achievements and write to plans for the next twelve months.

A shelf full of old journals

A shelf full of old journals

One year, I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I began to write three pages in longhand every single morning, followed by a long walk.  That process changed my life as I allowed myself to become more creative across all dimensions.

The next year, I read Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. In 365 little essays, one for each day of the year, Breathnach writes about ‘six practical, creative, and spiritual principles – gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy’. It took some work to transpose meditations about seasons and celebrations applicable in the northern hemisphere to Australia, but the effort was worth every moment.

Much loved books

Much loved books

But over the past few years, some of the foundation elements that made up my well-ordered life have slipped. This is partly the result a dramatic change in life-style brought about by remarrying when I was almost seventy, after living alone for almost thirty-five years; and partly because I’ve become less physically robust as I’ve aged.

Since I sent the completed manuscript of a book to an agent three months ago, my life has been in the limbo of ongoing waiting for her verdict on my work. A writer of any age who isn’t writing can be very grumpy indeed, as well as disorganised and forgetful.

Diary 2014

Diary 2014

Calendar 2014

Calendar 2014

A three-pages-every-morning journal

A three-pages-every-morning journal

THREE TOOLS FOR AN ORGANISED LIFE

Now it is time to change, to return to the simple principles and practices that I love and that help to keep my life ordered, abundant and creative. I am a writer and I write! And I promise to use my diary regularly.

A desk waiting for a writer

A desk waiting for a writer

There’s a happy ending to the story of the meal with my siblings. Yesterday, our brother invited us to his place for dinner tonight. And my sister sent me a reminder message on Facebook, complete with exclamation marks. I’m loved and forgiven.

One hundred-and-one books

One hundred-and-one books make a reasonable reading list.

‘We could start a book club,’ my new friend said. ‘That way we’d get to read a lot of different books.’

‘Good idea,’ said another friend.

‘We could each invite one other person to join,’ I suggested. ‘That way we’d meet new people, too.’

That was eleven years and one hundred-and-one books ago. Continue reading

Advent

Blending two sets of family traditions in a new marriage can be tricky, even for youngsters. John and I are pleased we’ve worked out some Advent customs we both like, even though we were in our seventies when we married six years ago, and should have been more stuck in our ways. Away from the shops and the hype of television and print advertising, we’ve discovered that this season can be one of quiet reflection and hope leading up to the celebration of the coming of the Christ-Child at Christmas.

Advent begins around four weeks before Christmas Day, not always on the same date. The First Sunday of Advent occurs on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on 30 November, so that the beginning of Advent is a moveable feast.

Every year, members of my large family gather at my house to make the Christmas puddings. It’s a festive occasion. Everyone stirs the pudding mixture (and taste it!) and has the opportunity to make a wish. According to a British tradition, Christmas puddings are made on the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. This is sometimes called ‘Stir-up’ Sunday from the first words in the Collect of the day – ‘Stir up our hearts, O Lord…’

Advent wreath

Advent wreath

Our Advent wreath is made of a circle of greenery that signifies eternity. Decorated with purple flowers, it reflects the liturgical colour for the season. Inside the wreath are three purple candles and one that is rose-coloured . The rose one is known as the Gaudette or ‘joy’ candle because it is lit on the third Sunday of Advent when Christmas is near. On the first Sunday of Advent, John lit one purple candle on our wreath and we continue to light it before the evening meal as we say a short prayer. Each Sunday we will light another candle and the light from the wreath will grow brighter as we get closer to Christmas.

Christmas tree tucked into a corner of the living room

Christmas tree tucked into a corner of the living room

John and I put up the Christmas tree on the Feast of St Nicholas (perhaps the first Santa Claus) on 6th December. There are many traditions surrounding Christmas trees. The one I prefer says that during medieval morality plays, an ever-green tree was used to represent the Garden of Eden. Trees later became associated with Christmas, and were hung with apples and nuts. The apples stood for the fruit of the tree of good and evil.

Our tree is laden with golden baubles; it is very different from the trees my six children and I decorated when they were young and I was an impoverished single parent. In those days, our tree was a branch from one that grew in the garden. Everyone helped to make the decorations from cardboard, painted pine cones and crepe paper. This year’s tree’s a bit lop-sided, but I love it anyway. Soon, we’ll put the wrapped presents underneath.

Preparing for Christmas

Preparing for Christmas

A decorated wreath adorns the front door, announcing to visitors and passers-by that this household is preparing for Christmas.

Christmas Crib

Christmas Crib

We’ve assembled  a crib on the hall stand. It’s a simple depiction of the first Christmas in Bethlehem and far from perfect. After a mishap a couple of decades ago when St Joseph was dropped on the tiles, he has a tendency to lose his head; and there are only two wise men now, instead of three. No one remembers what happened to the man with the gift of gold.

Mary and Joseph and some animals are waiting, but there is no manger yet. After Mass on Christmas  Eve, we’ll take the Infant Jesus out of hiding and place Him in the middle of the stable.

Too often in the past, my preparation for Christmas has  been fraught with too much to do and too many places to go. But these days, for this old couple, Advent is a peaceful, gentle time. Old age has many benefits.

Advent and Christmas reading

Advent and Christmas reading

 

Ageing with style

Jpeg

 

My sister-in-law, Lois Hunt, is planning a trip from Perth to Launceston to spend Christmas with one of her sons, her daughter-in-law and three grandsons. She’s just come back from a week’s holiday at the beach in Busselton.

‘I’m ready to go,’ she says. ‘My plane fare is booked. I’ve bought and wrapped Christmas presents for my four sons and their wives, twelve grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.’

Nothing remarkable about that,  you may ask?

Nothing, except that Lois is eighty-four and has impaired vision. As well as that, a cerebro-vascular accident (stroke) seven years ago left her almost completely paralysed on her left side. Oh, and she lives in an aged care facility – in a place we used to call a nursing home.

Sign on a resident's locker

Sign on a resident’s locker

In all my years as an aged-care nurse and later as an advocate for residents in aged care facilities, I never encountered anyone like this woman. She is a model of ageing gracefully, and sometimes not so gracefully, in extremely adverse circumstances.

Enjoying her retirement and holidaying in Sydney, Lois was unconscious when she was found, slumped across the bed in her hotel room. Had her plight been discovered earlier so that she could have received more urgent treatment, she may have made a better recovery. (See below for signs of a stroke.)

Although initially devastated,, when she was sufficiently recovered, she decided not to let a stroke beat her. Always a determined, woman, she made up her mind to live fully, in spite of her disability. Fortunately, she has retained her mental acumen and her speech is unaffected.

A large circle of friends and family (including her grandchildren who adore her) take her to dinner in restaurants and their homes; to the theatre; on shopping excursions and to football games. She organises holidays at the beach and has become an inveterate phone shopper.

Lois and brother David Fleming at Karratha Airport

Lois and brother David Fleming at Karratha Airport

Happy days!

Happy days!

 

 

 

 

 

Every week Lois attends a church service in the chapel of the facility; another day she has her hair done by a visiting hairdresser. When she’s home, she joins the other residents in the dining room for meals and the activities room for whatever is planned by the occupational therapist for the day.

Our visits to the facility are interrupted. Women in wheelchairs stop by Lois’s room to exchange local neighbourly gossip. Other people, visiting relatives, come to say hello and greet Lois and her visitors like friends. Staff members on errands stop to chat.

Room with a view

Room with a view

Seated in a wheelchair, this remarkable woman presides over a pleasant, homely room full of family photos, mementos and flowers.  Residents of aged care facilities have tenure over their room for life. In practice there are restraints relating to housekeeping and safety which dictate what furnishings and belongings are acceptable. But Lois cheerfully ignores requests to tidy her room.

‘This is my home,’ she says. ‘This is where I live.’

 

SIGNS OF A STROKE REQURE URGENT ACTION

Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the   person to smile. Is their smile uneven?
Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both   arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak   or hard to understand? Ask them to repeat a simple sentence, like “The   sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
Time to call 000 – If someone shows any of these signs, even if the   symptoms go away, call 000 and get the person to the hospital immediately.   Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.