my Granny Vik – for her birthday.

the kiss and stick of cold dark clay

  – I scrub the earth from my hands.

the prick of her pin at the back of my kitchen drawer

  – I push it to the dark.

the lowing of the black cow

 – out in the farthest field,

the smell of gardenias.

– Her things

keep finding me,

my old Granny Vik, she was

soft to touch, she had

an iron grip and

a sharp tongue.

So many stories.

When she was a girl, growing up in a Siberian gulag, a man came to the door on Christmas Eve. He wanted some bread and a place out of the cold. But there was no bread and no room for a strange man in the hut of four little children and their widowed mother.

The next day, Granny opened the door, and there he was, sitting on the step.

Dead.

Merry Christmas!

When we were kids she worked two jobs so she could fly us to Sydney in our holidays.

She took us swimming to the Bronte Beach.

She took us to the Luna Park and Taronga zoo.

We caught ferries from the Circular Key and visited the Opera House and walked all the way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It was bloody tiring, but we managed to keep up.

She wore a silky scarf over her dark hair and beautiful dark red lipstick and a camel overcoat, stockings and fawn high heels. Once someone asked her for her autograph because they thought she was Greta Garbo.

Imagine!

My Poppy was in the Czech Resistance. He would wake up screaming in the night. The ceiling above his chair was stained orange-brown from his cigarettes. He often smelled of whiskey. He was warm and witty and bitter. Once he got drunk after work and thought he was Jesus and gave away his pay packet. Sometimes he would not come home and Granny would get in a taxi and drive around till she found him crumpled under a tree somewhere, beat up, wallet gone.

Her favourite sayings:

  1. Marriage is a dark forest.
  2. All men are unfaithful. Some with women. Others with drink or horses.

Her own father died on the way to join his wife and children in Siberia. He was trying to sell their farm. He fell off his horse in blizzard. He died in the snow.

She really loved my Poppy; she always spoke fondly of him and his terrible suffering.

When I was 20 and single and pregnant and scared and everyone was ashamed of me my mum made me ring her and tell her and Granny Vik laughed a gentle laugh and said, Ah it is so. Well if anyone will do this, you will. You have this baby and go back to the university and study and have a good life. That is it.

And somehow, it was.

She always grew gardenias. In her backyard in Sydney and later in Brisbane. And little ones in pots on the balcony of her South Bank apartment. She loved gardenia talcum powder and gardenia soap.

When she worked as a forced labourer in a Bavarian factory for Mr Hitler, the girls slept in straw together. With no sanitation things often smelled a bit ordinary.

The day after Granny’s funeral, my mother’s gardenias flowered for the first time.

Those two often argued, but now Mum has a little shrine in her sewing room. Two photos of Granny, and a little vase of flowers on a doily, arranged on their own little table.

I’m thinking that it’s the most wog thing my mother has ever done.

Overcome Evil with Good — Exploring Colour

My heart is heavy because of the tragic killings and carnage at the mosques in Christchurch yesterday. Shock, disbelief, horror were my initial reactions. Then acceptance of the truth of the reports followed by frequent checking of updates. It seems the death toll will be around 49 lives lost, as well as many injured. In […]

Overcome Evil with Good — Exploring Colour

Review: Caring Science Mindful Practice — free online course

For those interested in transpersonal human caring, or in relating to self and others with compassion, the Caring Science, Mindful Practice course will begin on January 9, 2019. This is a free, online course and those who fully participate in the course activities will be emailed a Certificate of Completion. You can register for the course here.

This review is based on my memory of the January 2018 iteration of the course. I wrote the review in appreciation of the course and of caring science.

About the course

The course was developed to help people integrate Jean Watson’s Caritas into daily life. Jean Watson is a nurse educator and founder of the Watson’s Caring Science Institute. The Caritas are principles for relating to self and others with compassion.

The course provides one or two short video tutorials each week. These tutorials address the Caritas and other elements of human caring. There is a weekly opportunity to reflect on the tutorials in writing or by creating an image that illustrates your response. Narrative reflections often took the form of a little story told – something that happened – with a comment on how a particular Caritas was in play, or how that Caritas would have made a difference to the outcome. If you wish to receive the certificate, you are also invited to provide affirmative responses to the reflections of other students. I found this took me about two to three pleasant hours per week.

Although the course was originally developed for nurses, I was welcomed as an academic librarian. I believe anyone who cares for others in any capacity and is willing to share their experiences will be welcomed into the course.

Positive aspects of the course

There are many positives to talk about, here are a few that have stuck in my mind.

  • The course is moderated by experienced volunteer tutors. Tutors play an active part in discussions and answer any questions.
  • The course practised what it taught: The tutors and participants created an inclusive, caring environment. The occasional raw story (nurses deal with a lot) was met with compassion and consideration.
  • The course provided a welcome opportunity to slow down and consider the Caritas and other teachings in the context of my life as an teacher, librarian, mum, sister, and partner.
  • The course seemed to accommodate people who speak English as an additional language. No one was precious about the technicalities of the English language, students were all free to express themselves in the various Forums. The videos were clear and could be re-watched if needed. (I am being circumspect here: I don’t want to speak for these students.)
  • It is a free course that provided genuine interaction and opportunities to communicate with other students and a Certificate of Completion. You do not need to pay for the Certificate (many online course charge extra for this).
  • The course is run annually: if you missed this year’s registration you can pop a note in your diary for next year.

Negative aspects of the course

There is only one negative I can think of. There was little opportunity for students to meet outside the course and continue their practice, online or face-to-face. I believe nurse participants are able to join another program for a reduced fee, and this may provide that continuity of practice.

Should you do the course?

If you are interested in compassion or nonviolence and would like an opportunity to explore these concepts with others – yes I would recommend it.

If you are a nurse, counsellor, teacher, or anyone who works with people and would like to try some additional tools to keep compassion alive in your work — you should definitely register 🙂

About the photo

This photo: Lighthouse represents the light of compassion, shining calm and steady over the people all night long.

Lighthouse was kindly shared by photographer John Curley on Flickr with the Creative Commons License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Thank you John!

taking the dogs out

the best part of the day was taking the dogs out.

Gemma is small and brown. She is part Corgi (her legs) and part Joy. She loves to run around and around in great circles over the grassy hill and back again.

Dooley is my Mum’s fool of a poodle. He is tall and thin and black and he chases after Gemma, barking. She runs around him, leaping at his throat when he gets too close.

After the chasey game, they lie in the cool grass and I sit with them as the stars start to come out. There is slobber on my leg and my foot, but Gemma is lying on her back in the grass with her tongue lolling out, smiling up at me.

And all is well in my world.

yin yoga

Here

in seal pose on my kitchen floor I’m waiting for my own birth and I’m gently reflecting on how all my little worries were resolved and I’m in all moments in-between

our sun unborn and the final marvelous aria of the opera of the planets and the tins to be unpacked from yesterday’s shopping – all  happenings all time in this moment

Now

inspiration

I experienced this during one of Melissa West’s new yin yoga series (free on YouTube): Melissa WestIntermediate Yin Yoga for sleep

for Mum on her 70th birthday

When I was little, I found a dead toad and took it to Mum and she said wow! and took it from me and put it in a brown paper bag and we buried it at the foot of a tree and a while later (almost forever) she let me dig it up and inside the bag was a beautiful creamy white toad skeleton and some bits of brown crusty stuff and a little gore stuck to the bag and mum said see the ants ate the rest and she let me take the skeleton to school to show my teacher and all the kids.

Once, I had been waiting in the car a long long time at the Karana Downs Country Club and I finally got out and walked around the back and peered into the doorway and there was Mum, leaning on the bar and she said something and all the worker men started laughing and she started laughing and I was shocked because my Mum had like actual friends.

Long ago we used to drive to Sydney to visit my grandparents. Road trips were the best and there were many best parts. Driving through the night following a big truck emblazoned with lights because Mum said he has a birds eye view and it’s safer to follow behind him. And she would tell me her growing up stories. Having breakfast at a road stop and Mum laughing with the truckies as if she was one of them as she ordered our breakfasts: a miniature box of cereal and if we were hungry bacon and eggs on toast with real butter. Driving under the New England mountains as the sun rose, luminous green looming above us as we sped on past.

Perhaps her growing up stories were the best – about Newcastle and the Indigenous shanty that grew up beside it because the Indigenous people were not allowed into the town at night. About running free through the bush, climbing trees, playing in the creek. About taking her brother on the bus on a Saturday and going to the movies and having enough change from a penny (or whatever the money was back then) to get some yummy treat and the bus home. About the times my Granny Vik (Mum’s mum) was in hospital with TB and she and Poppy were sad but at least they got to eat their favourite food: tinned braised steak and onion!

One time we were driving home and got pulled over at Warwick for speeding and the copper discovered Mum’s license was a few years out of date and Mum was really mad but she calmed down and waited for Dad to come and he didn’t even bring someone to drive his car so she ended up driving home anyway.

Mum used to help out at school. We had a big station wagon as there were so damn many of us and she would arrive at the school, pile a dozen kids in, including many of us loose in the boot, and take us to the pool or local sports ground, museum or wherever. And she did reading help and was grossed out by one boy’s wrist to elbow snail trails of glistening green. Not that she told us about that back then. And she’d cook really cool nut loaves in a cylindrical tin for the school fete. Till she compared the cost of ingredients to the profit made and started donating money instead.

And the kids at school were jealous because now and then Mum would pick me and my sisters and brothers up from school on a Friday lunchtime and the car would be packed for camping and we’d get dad and the whole family would go camping at Christmas Creek and get to hang out in the water making and unmaking dams and later sitting around a campfire watching the smoke go past the treetops and join the stars.

And her crying one evening because she was all ready to go to her basket weaving course and dad hadn’t come home from work (again!) and it was one more thing that she had to put aside for his work, for all us kids. Which was why she snorted when he got nominated for Senior Australian of the Year, though she went with him to the various ceremonies, and the trip to Canberra and loves going with him every year out to some country town that everyone always means to go to one day but never does. And they have a good old time together.

Mum loves her garden. When I was a teenager and she had blessed me with seven younger sisters and brothers I said to her hey you never talk to me and she said well I’m not going to sit around inside all day come out to the garden with me. And I put on one of her straw hats and a pair of stiff gloves and she set me to work pulling out cobblers’ pegs and packed up her wheelbarrow and took off to a different acre.

Mum loves her craft too. Despite dad’s early lack of respect for her creative time, she has learned to make quilts, beautiful quilts and leaves dad behind from time to time to travel far away and buy exotic fabrics or learn a new skill and takes the time to see the world a bit while she is at it. Once we went to a quilt show together at the Ekka and marvelled at the artistry. And then we went to look at the chooks and Mum whispered loud enough for everyone around to hear that the roosters wattles look like balls and suddenly we were surrounded by bright red wobbling, twitching testicles and we were laughing raucously and had to get out of there.

Well, Happy Birthday Mum. It’s been quite the ride, and I’m sure there are many adventures to come!
Rowena.

Some other posts about Mum and her family

from my mother’s childhood
under Wivenhoe
mum|dream
farewell granny vik

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