Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Let's talk about passion...

No! Not that kind of passion!

I've been hearing a lot about passion recently. Well, for years really. I talk about it a lot myself, with my kids. I find myself imploring my teenagers to find their passion, and being somewhat frustrated by their seeming lack of passion for anything much other than sleeping or their laptops.

Now, if they were using their laptops to research topics they were passionate about, I wouldn't mind so much, but mostly they use them to watch content, or play games. I guess I could try to convince myself that they are passionate about movies, music, and gaming, but I know they're most or less just passionate about escape. Sleep is escape, movies, music, and games are also escape.

The other day I had one of those 'out of the corner of your eye' moments. It's a Doctor Who thing. Sometimes we don't see what is right in front of us until we look at it passively out of the corner of our eyes.

I am not passionate.

Neither is the Grumpy Old Man.

So, why are we so invested - passionate, if you will - about our boys having passions?

Why are we expecting something of them that we do not possess ourselves?

I subscribe to the understanding that we, humans, are basically 80% biologically conditioned and 20% sociologically driven. Assuming this is right (which I, personally, do) then it is somewhat preposterous of us to expect our children to be passionate when we have not, likely, passed on the passion gene, nor have we modelled being passionate about anything.

I write. I love to write. I am driven to write. I cannot not write.

However, I hardly have a passion for writing.

I am just as likely to sit down and write a shopping list as write a piece of fiction. Or a blog post. Like this one.

I've written a lot in the past year, but mostly because my supervisor cracks a whip about me handing in two flashes every friday (must get onto this week's flashes). I don't like to miss deadlines.

I guess, just as I was with swimming, I'm most a slow-burn personality than a passionate person. Maybe the kids are the same.

And what is wrong with that?

Why is it so much better to be passionate?

I think there is a place for people who operate in a slow-burn fashion.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Teens boys...

Our Lukas turned 14 yesterday. I'm feeling very aware that birthdays lose their magic a bit in your teens. When you're little birthdays seem to hold endless possibilities, but by the time you're a teenager, you know the limitations better. He received a few things he had asked for, and we had cake and ice-cream after dinner, but of course the rest of the day was just a regular school day, and in high school there aren't announcements about your special day in class. Lukas doesn't like to draw attention to himself, so that didn't bother him. But at some level I felt like I wished I could make it more magical for him. Growing up is hard when you're a mum!

With Lukas turning 14 yesterday and Erik turning 16 in ten days time, I really do feel like a 'teen mum' now. On the one had, we gave Lukas a gift card to a cool little shop call Off Ya Tree, which sells all the cool stuff . 'Cool stuff' includes things like glass bongs, tees depicting hypersexed girls toting machine guns, and body piercing service... All of which he has been told are not options for him. Ah, the joys of having teenagers.

Still, I'm quite liberal - becoming more so the older they get, it seems - so if he must have the skull tee shirt, or the zombie-eating-brains backpack, I can live with that.

Meanwhile, Mr almost 16 tried to get me to bleach his hair and colour it something 'not natural hair colour' last night. This did not happen. Not because I'm opposed to him colour his hair - it's just hair - but because he had school today and they have a strict policy about 'not natural hair colour'. To be honest with you, I think the policy is daft, myself, but a policy is a policy and if he wants to go to that cool school with all the cool things it offer, he's got to follow the rules.

My biggest reservation with the whole hair colour thing is that he has so much hair. It's going to take forever to do, and his hair is dark and fine and will definitely suffer in the bleaching process. It will going frizzy and break off and look crap. I've told him many times that if he wants to mess with his hair, he needs to cut it shorter. I guess he just needs to learn the hard way. I imagine my Saturday is spoken for...

Still working on chapter one. Trying to get it sorted by Monday afternoon so I can send it to a visiting 'Thinker in Residence' who has kindly agreed to have a chat with me about my work on Friday next week. It will be good to get another set of eyes on the chapter as well. I'm sure he'll confirm all my supervisor has already said, but still, every opportunity for a fresh perspective must be grasped with both hands.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Half Day at New School...

Bryn and Ari went off for their half day at the new primary school today.


We turned up early and waited in the foyer for the Monday morning staff meeting to conclude. Then the assistant principal walked us down to the Ari's class which was in the same building. Ari hovered around Dave's legs as he met the teacher, but seemed more or less okay, if a little shy. She took him to put his bag in a cubby, then took him into the class where he was immediately greeted by a group of girls (7 and 8 year old girls love Ari because he's so little cute). We told him we were taking Bryn to his class and would be back. In hindsight, it might have been better to take Bryn to his class first because we kind of disappeared and Ari had no idea where Bryn's class was - more on that in a minute.

So, then we walked Bryn over to his class. He got to put his bag in, and the teacher told us she had books and pens etc. for him but he would need a pencil case. She asked if he had a book with him. Bryn is the kind of kid who never leaves for school without his personal library of books in tow, but Dave had taken them all out of his bag this morning. The teacher said she could lend him a book, so all was well and we left Bryn with his teacher to meet the classroom dog and the other kids.

We walked back to Ari's class where the teacher was sitting with him at the table, with the group of girls standing around them. The teacher moved to the reader boxes and Ari followed and this is when we realised he'd gotten a little teary after we left. He was brushing away tears with his jacket sleeve while his teacher talked to him and showed him the books in the reader boxes. He didn't see us for a few minutes, but when he did, he just gave a brave smile through his tears and kept paying attention to the teacher. More kids came into the class and everyone gravitated toward the mat in the corner of the room, Ari went with the other kids and as the bell rang, we left.

Poor Dave, I could see he wanted to go to Ari, but I was holding him back because I thought it might undermine Ari's resolve to be brave. Dave was transferring more than me over 'being the new kid'. I've done it many times more than Dave, but I think that means he feels it more keenly.

Of course, now, sitting here at my desk, I feel so for the boys. It really is hard to leave an environment you know, and leave your friends, and start again. I really hope the boys find people to get along with today, even though they're only there until 1.30pm.

Intellectually, I know this is probably the best move for Ari. Still, it's hard not to be aware of the damage caused by disruption to their social circle. They will, hopefully, settle in nicely and make friends, but the disruption is a wound which, when healed will always leave it's mark. While that mark will be, hopefully, a big part resilience - the knowledge that they were okay even though it was scary -, it will also be that knowledge of loss. It's hard to be the instigator of loss.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Recognition and Data Entry...

The university's disability resource centre is working to get me a more time to complete my PhD. The liaison officer I met before I started this degree, the one who has been on extended leave (and was replaced by a bunch of toothless tigers) is BACK! This DLO is more of a can-do person. As far as I am concern ALL disability liaison officers should be can-do people. If you did a Google Search for Disability Liaison Officer and you came across this blog, then hear this, if you don't have a can-do attitude, if you aren't burning on the inside to ADVOCATE for people who are marginalised in society, then don't become a DLO because you'll just be letting people down.

So, anyway, the DLO working on my case now is actually doing her job, which is both refreshing and reassuring!

So, we're seeking either that I can go part time for the rest of my degree, but retain a work station which is usually only allocated to full time candidates. Alternatively, that due to the constraints of my low vision, I be afford an extra 12 months to complete my degree. Hopefully, one or the other solution will be found. The upshot being that I would only be half way through my degree right now, instead of two-thirds through.

I'll admit right now, I have not been working as hard as I needed to be. I plead ignorance. Ignorance that my sight would deteriorate this quickly. Ignorance of what research at a PhD level actually entails. If I could talk to the me who started this PhD two years ago, I'd tell her what's what. She needed to be at her desk a lot more. She needed to really get to grips with her contention a lot earlier. She needed to be much more methodical in everything she did...

She needed to organise her data!

This is something I'm playing catch up with now. It's not that I hadn't heard 'organise your data, keep a database of resources, bibliographies, work notes' before, I had, but somehow I felt I didn't have that much stuff that it needed formal organising.

When doing a PhD, don't live in the moment, live in the future... Plan!

Sources are like bunnies. At first they're just cute and small and innocuous, but those buggers BREED. You start with 10 sources, and then you suddenly have 100, and then 1000. I kid you not.

For my thesis I needed to start tagging my sources with common themes from the get-go, but I didn't. I thought tagging was only for interviews and I wasn't doing interviews. I was wrong. Tagging is extremely useful for people, like me, who read sources and retain a lot of what they read, except probably the most important bit of information; WHERE THEY READ IT!

With a good tagging set up (in excel or in a program like Nvivo), you can search a tag, and it will bring up all the sources where you read about that topic. You can even tag quotes so you can find them again without having to do what I've been doing for weeks now... Looking to every. single. document. for each tag.

It's the 6 Ps: Perfect Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!

I'm still working on chapter one. Man I'm sick of chapter one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bring on November!

I'm wishing my life away again!

Life is predictably hectic right now. Bryn and Ari are finishing up at their old primary school on Thursday next week, Bryn's teacher has arranged a farewell party for him; a pj party with a pg movie, which is lovely. This teacher was his teacher for prep, grade 1, grade 2 and now grade 4. On Monday next week Bryn and Ari are spending half a day at the new school. Lukas' birthday is also on that last Thursday.

I'm desperately trying to get this first chapter of the thesis finished, but I seem to be missing the mark. It's back to square one in the meeting with my supervisor tomorrow where we will, once again, go over the contention for my thesis, the contention for the first chapter, and the supporting arguments for that first chapter. I probably have 80% of the chapter written, but I really need to clean it all up so it runs smoothly. As well as this, in July I need to fix the back fence of our property so the dog is secure, set up all the accounts so Dave can access them if he needs to, as well as arranging and printing off cooking schedules and shopping lists (imagine a folder, like the one you get from a property manager or new school with all the relevant information, contact numbers, requirements etc. inside, I'm making one of those). Then in August there's mum's birthday, dad's birthday, Bryn's birthday. In early September there is Father's day... All this must be organised.

I'm feeling a bit panicked only because I'd really have preferred to have all three chapters on paper, at least in first draft before I went to Iceland. With only 9 weeks remaining until I leave, that seems unlikely at this stage. This is the point in my thesis when I'm totally kicking myself for letting so much time slip by - I didn't realise it could take me FOUR MONTHS to write the first chapter!

In other news... Mum went into hospital two and half weeks ago, and should be coming home today. She finally knows what has been ailing her all this time and she has a treatment plan which includes plasma exchange and chemo once a month for the next three to six months. Luckily for mum, her vasculitis has been caught early, which means a far better prognosis (vasculitis can be a killer). Mum is feeling a lot better than she was just three weeks ago and is very optimistic about how this diagnosis will improve her quality of life.

So, for the next nine weeks it'll be write, write, write, with me getting to uni at 9am most days and heading home at 6pm (no, I won't be writing for nine hours straight, I'm not that good). Then four weeks of field trip, during which I plan to write 28 new flashes. Then home for 10 days, before three weeks at guide dog training.

So, by the time all of this ends it'll be the end of October.

From that point onward, I really just want to concentrate on my thesis.

So, bring on November!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

I've lost 50lbs so far this year!


That's right folks!

Since the first of January, I've lost 50lbs! I don't usually mark my weight in pounds, I'm definitely a kilo person, but 22.7kg just doesn't have the same ring to, hahaha!

I realised the other day I haven't been updating the weightless journey on the first of each month. It's not that I had given up on the whole shebang, certainly not. I think it's more that I just haven't been preoccupied by losing weight the way I have in previous attempts.

I had a look back at 2006 when I lost a whole lot of weight, mostly through exercise and a low fat diet. I started on the 1st of January that year as well (this seems to work well for me, despite it being a bit of a social joke that people start weightless attempts as a new years resolution). By the 15th of June, 2006 I'd lost 16.8kg - which, by the way, I think is pretty awesome. By that stage of that year I was also walking 5-10km a day. This time around, I've lost, as I said, 22.7kg and I expect that will clock over 23kg by the 15th. I have to tell you, I don't do any exercise at all. I only doing whatever incidental walking is required to get me about during the day and on a good day that might come close to 5km.

I am also eating a high fat diet.

The think I'm doing differently this time is eating low amounts of carbohydrates. I've cut out all added sugar, all refined sugar, and most starchy foods - all grains, though I still eat root veggies about once a week.

Occasionally, I'll eat something, such as Chinese food at a restaurant or dessert on special occasions, but 90% of the time I stick to low carb.

I hardly ever have back pain now, I used to have it daily.

I hardly ever have trouble swallowing, or the feeling of thick mucous at the back of my throat. I used to get that regularly.

I never have reflux anymore. I used to have reflux every day.

I've had maybe 4 migraines in the past 5.5 months. I was getting migraines weekly.

I don't get bloated or cramp or windy anymore except when I occasionally eat grains and then I suffer these symptoms from about an hour after eating and for the next 12-24 hours. It's very specific.

I now suspect that what I used to think was lactose intolerance, was actually grain intolerance.

I still crave chips and coke and chocolate when I'm very stressed, and this last week I was so aware of how I have used these foods to reward myself for not having a cushy life every moment of every day. With the clarity of hindsight I can see that I was not doing myself any favours back in the day by comfort eating.

So, there you have it! In another 800gs' time, I'll hit the half way mark to my overall desired weight loss goal. I don't have a time goal for losing that weight and don't expect to lose it all this year simply because when I go to Iceland for four weeks, I absolutely plan to eat all the things I can get there that I can't get here - and Icelanders like their sugar.

Today I'm having my final guide dog assessment after which I will, hopefully, go on the waiting list for a guide dog! I really hope I qualify because I feel it will make a huge difference to me getting out on my own and getting my independent life back.

Friday, June 05, 2015


It's been a big week. 

On Monday morning, I was picked up at 8.30am and driven to the Guide Dogs Victoria campus in Kew for a three day introduction to guide dog handling. It was intense. On the first day I remember being shocked at about 11am when I realised we hadn't even had lunch yet, we'd already done so much!

I didn't walk the dog on the first day. That day was all about meeting my temp dog, Ziggy. I waited in my room and he was brought to me, and then we were left alone for about half an hour so he could get used to me. Ziggy was quite aloof and that was a bit hard for me because I'm something of an animal magnet. Dogs and cats love me and usually I get an enthusiastic greeting right off the mark even from animals who have never met me. Ziggy was not going to be won over that easily. So my first lesson was, 'Don't take it personally, I just don't know you.'

Still and all, he was very willing to please and quickly to follow all my commands. I learned to have him sit and stay while I opened doors, and heel as I went through them. I learned to asked him to be 'steady' if he walked too fast for me, or to 'huphup' if I needed him to pick up his pace. We trained together with the commands to 'stay', 'down stay' (lying on the ground) and did recall training, where he was expected to come to me on the command 'come' and to touch my closed fist with his cold, wet nose, and sit, so I could grab his collar and reattach his lead - he loved that game because as soon as he came and sat, he was rewarded with a treat. He never missed a beat!
He wasn't as keen on doing 'down' when it came to meal times. Sitting under my chair took the entire three days to establish, but finally at the final meal before I left, he went down on the first command and allowed me to slide him under my chair.
On the third day, he also greeted me with enthusiasm after spending an hour in the office while I went to Station street in Fairfield for cane training without him. We were good mates by the end.

He never did warm up to being groomed though. Again, I think it came down to the 'We don't know each other THAT well, woman!' factor. Grooming is a pretty, um, intimate activity, but it has to be done.

Thankfully, toileting is not an intimate activity. Guide dogs poop in bags! This has to be the best thing ever invented, I have to say. I dreaded the idea of poop hunting with a bag on my hand, but had nothing to worry about. The handler puts a harness on the dog's rear end and the poop goes right in the bag. Brilliant!

The cane training was an eye opener as well. I was taken by my mobility instructor, Joi, first to High street, Kew, and the next day to Station street, Fairfield, for some cane work because I was finding the cane very annoying. It felt like it was vibrating in my hand when I swiped it across the ground. It turned out there was a cracked ball bearing in the tip of the cane. Replacing the tip didn't entirely remove the vibration - because the ground is obviously not always smooth. In the end, while talking to Joi about how different sensations affect me, I realised this was a sensory integration issue probably related to my synesthesia. The synesthesia is probably as a result of my overall condition and brain structure, so tangentially related to my vision impairment.

Speaking of vision impairment, I discovered something else. Walking in two places I didn't know, I realised just how much I use me memory and recognition to orient myself, as opposed to actually seeing objects clearly, I tend to recognise familiar. I'm thinking over the past year and a half I've lost about fifty percent of the vision I've had most of my life. I am very aware now that I can't see anything clearly, there are no sharp edges any more, and most of the time I feel like I'm looking through gloom, with little black spots flickering in front of my eyes constantly. At the same time, my eyes are becoming ever more sensitive to bright lights. But the hardest part is not being able to focus at all now.

While all this has been going on, mum has been in hospital. About six weeks ago she came down with what we thought was laryngitis, but instead of going away after a week, it persisted and became a chesty cough, which became bronchitis, and eventually pneumonia. Mum went into hospital on Sunday, had to lungs drained on Wednesday, and today they've diagnosed her with vasculitis and she is going on dialysis over the next few days to clear her blood and relieve the symptoms, particularly in her kidneys. Argh, fun and games, but we're all relieved to finally have some sort of diagnosis for what has been ailing her for months (even before the laryngitis), and to find it is something that can be treated and has a good prognosis if caught early (which it has been).

It's been a week of clarity in many ways.