Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Memories

I have been wanting to write about my favourite memories of Christmas, so have been trying to determine what memories about Christmas I like the best, and to tell you the truth, they are so diverse and so far spread internationally that I can't choose.

I loved my childhood Christmas' with the smell of turkey or baked ham roasting in the oven, and waking up before dawn and having Dad turn on the Christmas lights, before we could come downstairs, and yelling out " Oh, look what Santa brought!"  I would almost jump down the stairs three at a time, with so much excitement, barely able to contain myself. 

When I was a small child my parents didn't have a lot of money for big expensive presents, but somehow at Christmas time, it all just happened.  There she would be, a new doll for me to love and maybe sitting in a small pram, or there may have been a dollhouse, or a huge box of wooden Tinker toys  (remember those?), which Dad would turn into a ferris wheel, or a windmill!   It was always such a magical time.  I remember one year I received a cowgirl outfit complete with cowgirl boots, and Joyce was given a Pinocchio string puppet--I was fascinated by that puppet!

There are just so many happy memories, those of my teenage years, and young, innocent love, and hope, and then university and life-long friends, and then my first years in Australia. 

Maybe one of my funniest memories was one year, when Mum and Dad came for a visit to Beulah, when we lived on the farm.  Beulah was a very small rural community and very community minded.  Bronwyn was about 4 and Lauren was just 2, and as was the local small town habit--the whole community gathered at the local pub, and waited for Santa to arrive on a firetruck!  (Reindeer can't take the heat of an Australian Christmas, so sometimes Santa has to be helped by the local communities.)  Anyway the pub put on a big bbq, on the pathway, and the beer was flowing, and people were laughing and a piano had been found and brought outside where it was cooler than in the pub, and there was music and excitement. 

My parents had never seen such an uproar of anticipated excitement, and the night was buzzing.  Santa arrived in a local fire brigade truck, dressed in the full suit and regalia (poor thing) it had to be about 36' C and handed out lollies to the kids and "Ho Ho Ho'd" all over the place!  At one stage someone had to tuck his 'belly' back in again, as it came loose, but it was all good fun!

As the night progressed my new sister - in -law had convinced members of the community that we had just discovered that we were in fact real sisters, well step sisters at least, as my Dad had been in Australia during the War and lo and behold, she suddenly arrived!  (Mum knew nothing of this, as well)...It wasn't true of course..but so much fun to see the look on every one's faces! Even Mum's! Dad went along with it, and Mum kept looking at my sister-in-law suspiciously for a while--we soon filled her in though.  -- She still didn't smile a lot though, now that I think about it!

There are still so many happy memories, ones of all our girls and their surprised faces on their Christmas mornings, the ripped paper and squeals of excitement, the first Christmas I had with Chris which was also sadly, the last one we had with Lauren, but all in all -so many wonderful memories--I could go on and on, but I won't (Thank Goodness, you say!)

I just hope you have been blessed with wonderful memories at this time of year, and wish you so many more!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Having fun with the wonderful people here

I have to tell you this story.  It really sums up why I am having so much fun living here. 

Chris and I were shopping at our local grocery store, and I had disappeared to the cold deli counter to get a bit of fresh roasted beef for our home-made kebabs that night.  I was standing there at the deli counter trying to decide if I wanted what was on display, when the young girl behind the counter began to call the next number for customer service:

"Number 87.  87!  87?  OK, number 88.  88!   88?"

I smiled at her and was trying to decide quickly what I wanted to do, when the wonderful man standing next to the ticket stub giver machine, turned to me and said: "I think this may be your ticket."  I smiled at him, and realised that my indecision was solved.  "Thanks!  I appreciate this!" I replied, again smiling at him and waited my turn.

Suddenly I heard: "Number 89. Number 89!"

I quickly looked at my number stub, and seeing 89 called out: "It's me!  Wow! I'm the winner!" 

I suddenly then realised that I had said that out-loud and laughed, and then realised that the girl behind the deli counter and the kind gentleman who had handed me my winning number were also laughing - hopefully with me, not at me!!  But who could blame them!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Elsa - Our Red Dog!

Chris and I watched RED DOG last night, a great Australian movie about a very loyal and honest red kelpie.   I have owned kelpies, and they are amazing dogs.  Very intelligent, and agile, strong, loyal, hard-working, loving, and in this case, as per the true story, loved by the whole community.  It was a beautiful movie, full of sentiment and humour, and told in a very dry, Australian humor style.  I would recommend it.

But that put me to thinking - while I have owned kelpies, who I will always speak highly of, at the same time I became the surprised owner of a red Australian terrier, who was eventually named Elsa, (like the famous Lion at the time), because by the time we were introduced and I decided to bring her home, she had a mane of blond/red hair and the most trusting and loving eyes.

I was teaching in Rainbow, Victoria - in a high school that was amazing, due to the community, the students, and the whole experience of working with them.  One particular Spring day, I was teaching my class of 8th graders, who I have written about before, and noticed that one of my 'kids' was feeling very low, sad-like, and didn't respond much in class.  It was late morning, and we would be breaking for lunch soon. 

At the end of class-time, I pulled her aside and asked her if she was troubled, and she just broke down:
 "Oh, Miss. Me Dad is gonna put down our last puppy today, if I don't find a home for her!"
"What?", I replied.  First of all I had never heard of someone deliberately putting down or killing a puppy for a reason like that, but kept calm, and replied: "But why would he do that?  Puppies are so cute!"
"Oh, Miss, she really is, she's a bit of a runt is all - not her fault, just the runt of the litter, the other 4 went to good homes quickly - this one is just not wanted."  She started to cry then.

Well you know what happened! Of course I asked her to bring the puppy to school after lunch!  This wonderful, caring student  knocked on the door of the teacher's lounge towards the end of lunch time, and had this small bundle of reddish blond fur in a box.  I sat on the veranda with her, as we lifted the puppy out of the box.  (You know what happened don't you, of course you do - I fell in love with this bundle of fur- she may have been the runt - but she was going to be my runt!)

I phoned John, my new husband and explained that I was bringing home a friend for Ivory, and then had to go to my next class.  I left my new puppy in the staff room and assigned everyone responsibilities until I could make it back there again--they begrudingly took them on, and on my return after my last class I noticed that my new pup was out of her box, and happily playing with balls of wadded up paper rolls and some staff members were sitting on the floor next to her---I just had to smile!  I knew then I had made the right decision!

On my drive home, with my new pup in her box, on the passenger seat, where I could clearly keep a good eye on her, I talked to her about her new home and told her all about Ivory, and the adventures she would have.  She just sat there and looked at me, occasionally scratching at the fleas that I knew she must have, and listened very intently.  She was showing me her best manners.  Sometimes this didn't always happen, but she tried!

I got home and proudly carried my boxed treasure into our home, and John was there to greet us.  I think he was surprised at how small she was, but she showed him that she had spunk and I explained in a whisper about the 'putting down' threat, and I think he understood straight away.  Ivory was curious and came inside to look into the box.  She curiously sniffed the puppy, and then just sat and looked at her, as I lifted Elsa out of the box.  They both just sat and stared at each other, then touched noses.  After that, I think they decided that a good friendship could be a good thing, because that is what they became - best friends! I still think to this day that Elsa was the best name she could have had! Courage like a lion, and yet loving!  That was Elsa!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why we eventually had a phone line put upstairs when I was a kid!

When I was growing up, all of my grandparents were, what my children would say today: Ancients!  They were very much older than other grandparents, probably because both of my parents were the babies of their families and separated in years from their siblings.  That was OK.  I loved my grandparents, but then, I was just a kid, and didn't have to worry about them, or carry the responsibility of care for them.  My parents did.

Well, I have to tell you this story - it's kinda sad, because it affected my Grandma (Mum's Mum) and her failing health, but in a way it was a funny story, because it was like the old Charlie Chaplin movies, only this time it was my Dad being banged about and hurt.....

It all started very early in the morning, or very late one night - all I know is that it was dark, and I woke up because I heard furniture crashing in the kitchen downstairs, and my Dad yelling! At first I was scared, because I thought that maybe a burglar had broken in and was going to hurt us, and that was why I heard the furniture crashing and Dad yeling. But it was only Grandma. Or rather a phone call she had made while I had been asleep.

From what I have been able to decipher from the events, the phone rang downstairs in the dining room, when all of us were upstairs in our beds, sound asleep.  Somehow either Mum or Dad woke up and heard it, and Dad jumped out of bed, and started to head towards the stairway, but slid on the throw rug at the top of the stairs, and started to fall downstairs.  He caught himself by grabbing onto the stairway railing, and once he gained his balance, ran down the stairs, with the phone ringing loudly all the time. 

In the darkened kitchen, he tried to run through to the dining room, but stubbed his toe on one of the kitchen chairs, and as it tumbled over, he stumbled and just caught himself from falling over it.  He lunged into the dining room, and nursing his sore back from his stairway incident, and his sore foot from the kitchen incident, he jumped to the phone and its incessant loud ringing.

"Hello!", he yelled into the phone.

"Come quick!  I'm dying", my Grandmother replied urgently.

"So am I!", Dad yelled into the receiver, and then yelled out for Mum to talk with her 'dying' Mother.

Apparently Grandma was dying all the time, and would often call at all sorts of times of day, to let Mum and Dad know how she was doing.  She went on to live for quite a few years after that night --but I have always loved that story--sort of made all the crazy times then more real.

The next week a phone technician arrrived to put a new phone line into my parents' bedroom on my Mum's side of the bed......

Friday, December 9, 2011

My mystery healer

My second daughter Lauren died when she was just 19.  She was driving her car, and it was a pretty bad accident - anyway--don't want to go into those details...the purpose of this story to tell you about the power of certain cats- I'm convinced they enter my life for a reason....

I had gone back to work at the university, but still had black days.  Lauren had been so special to me, and sometimes I just wasn't sure how I could still go on--but I did.  There was just a particular day at work, when I was having extreme difficulties, and was almost hyper-ventilating.  My boss gave me the office mobile and told me to take a walk around the campus and try to relax and deep breathe.  He gave me the phone just in case I got worse, and needed help...

I finally ended up sitting down at a table with a bench, under a shady tree, in a very quiet spot, and just tried to concentrate on relaxing my breathing, and concentrate as much as I could on positive things.  I was still in a lot of emotional pain, which I knew would take me a while to conquer.

I just sat with my eyes closed, and tried to breathe.  I suddenly felt a gentle, soft touch on my arm.  I opened my eyes only to see a grayish/black cat peering straight into my face.  I just sat there and looked back.  I think I started to cry then, but my heavy breathing had eased, and the mystery cat just sat there, looking at me, while she kept her paw on my arm.

After awhile, my tears went away, and my breathing pattern was normal again.  I just opened my eyes and gave my mystery cat a sort of lop-sided smile.  She just still sat looking at me intently, then layed down next to my arm, which was spread out a bit on the table, and just started purring.  We both just sat there.  Eventually I rubbed her back, and I spoke quietly to her, and then we just sat.  For some time. Just the two of us. 

Mystery Cat then got up from the table, looked me straight in the face, paused, and then jumped down from the table and ran across the lawn.  Her job here was done.

It was a fascinating experience, and my turning point. In her own magical way, she helped me to heal!


As I mentioned in my previous story about Champs and her unfortunate poo accident, I had, before then, been allowed to be in the company of Ivory.  I use the term 'own' a cat loosely, because I really don't think one ever can. They are so independent, and they will eventually decide whether they want to waste their time with you, or decide if it is really worth it all!  Anyway, that is the way I have always viewed their world.  (I don't think I'm too much off track there!)
So to go on with the real beginning of my story, I was newly married, and was still teaching at the local high school, a job I loved.  I was home that night, deciding I had better start thinking about food for dinner, when John arrived with a small, white kitten/cat in his arms.  He had been as his parent's neighbouring property, and noticed this poor scrawny, white farm cat with the sunburned ears, and a  the scared look on her face, as she tried to evade the sheep dogs who ruled there.  Feeling sorry for her, he thought instantly of me, and knew that I would nurse her back to good health, and love her company, so ... I became a cat/kitten carer/possible owner.  This was from the man who disliked cats!!  He also forgot to run the cat issue past Elsa, my Australian terrier - lucky for all of us that Elsa was a free thinker and easy going!

So, yes, I did nurse her back to good health, and her ears healed with special lotions, and I discovered she loved bubble baths! I know - you're saying: 'What! Cats don't like water!' But you are mistaken! She loved them! In fact, so did Elsa and they would jump around in the bubbles and smile a lot! You're now saying:

'What you talkin' about girl', aren't you:
'Dogs and cats don't have baths together! They are supposed to hate each other!' 

Well- we didn't face those issues in our home - maybe they just felt the concern and love and after such rough beginnings, loved any sort of attention!  Remind me to tell you about how Elsa entered our lives and home!

Anyway, I had certain towels for them and would gently lift them out of the tub and wrap them in their towels and then take them out onto the front veranda to dry them off, and brush them.  It was always special time for the 3 of us!  Elsa never did the doggy roll and throw of water, until I had her on the veranda and took off her towel - I always appreciated that, and told her so.

Ivory and Elsa were best friends and slept together at night in the small back room, and shared their food, often deciding to eat and swap food, each preferring the other's choice that had been offered.
But the one thing that stood out in my mind about Ivory, and set her apart from any other cat I had ever known, was her ability to zone in and understand, I mean really understand my emotions.

As I was a new permanent resident recruit to Australia, I didn't realise how homesick I could become.  And believe me, I got pretty homesick.  I mean for the first year, while I was just teaching and travelling, it was a breeze!  My family was back in the US, and I could always go home!  But during my second year, when I actually decided to get married and move to Australia permanently, it really didn't hit me until later.  Like a few months later, and then.....well.....I was here, and my family was there!  It was difficult.

One particularly bad afternoon for me occurred at a busy time in our lives.  I think John may have been involved in harvesting, and I was alone in the house except for Ivory and Elsa.  In order for me to call my parents, just to connect and say hello, I had to book the call through the local exchange operator, (who didn't provide this service on Sundays except for dire emergencies) and wait for the local exchange operator to phone me at the selected time and make the physical phone connection to the US.  My home phone didn't have numbers--it had a turning knob--I don't even know if that makes sense to you, in today's world of mobiles---but I really had to plan ahead to be homesick. This particular day, homesickness attacked me, before I could plan for it!!

I started crying, and ended up sprawled across my just freshly made bed, and cried a lot.  Knowing that I couldn't do a thing about how I felt, and knowing that the decision to live overseas at the time, was solely my own decision.  I couldn't even blame anyone!  It was a bad day for me. 

As I lay there crying, and wondering how I could pull myself together, I suddenly felt a quiet thump on the bed.  A very slight movement.  I opened my eyes and Ivory was staring into my face.  I looked at her as I dabbed my eyes with a tissue, and then just layed there.  She just kept looking at me --intently.  She eventually layed down next to me, and just put her paw on my arm, and started purring.  I still felt pretty miserable, but I just layed still and listened to her purring.  It was almost like a vibration as she breathed against me, and kept a soft tone purring away.  After a while, I started to realise that I was just being silly, and that I needed to 'Buck up!' as they say, and opening my eyes, noticed that Ivory had sat up and was looking intensely at me again.  We both just stared at each other, in a very quiet house, and then I reached out and rubbed her back and said a quiet 'Thank you' to her, and she just as quietly hopped down off the bed, and went outside through the doggie door.

I felt better.  Much more calm, and gave myself a good talking to.  I never had a dark day like that again.

That must be why cats are so important in our lives!  At least Ivory was!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Apparently you can't take cats for walks!!

Lilac TortieIn what I refer to as my former life, when I lived in Emerald, and I was married to John, (who is now deceased), I owned a cat.  A Burmese to be exact!  I named her Champers, as she was just a blush colour of champagne!

 I had never really 'owned' a cat before - I had co-habited with two cats when we lived in our first home, a rented farm house in Kenmare, a very small settlement of 1,000 to 5,000 acre properties.  Ivory, named for obvious reasons, was brought home to me by John as she needed to be rescued as a kitten, she had been beaten up by property sheep dogs and had severely sunburnt ears. And then there was Charky--a cat of many dark colours who had a lot of bushy and furry family ties, and had just decided to live with us. I learned early on that you never reason with a cat--they are who they are, and they do what they do. Enough said. Don't question it! (To be honest, my Australian terrier, Elsa, was a puppy and just as confused--she loved cat food, and tried very hard to climb trees, and Ivory adored dog food - I guess they swapped roles for a while - Charky soon sorted them out!)

Ivory and Charky so deserve their own story, so I am just moving now into a further moment, in which Ivory and Charky were left behind us.

 As time went on, we moved to Emerald, Queensland, and one magical day I was introduced to a Burmese kitten, and Hello!  She had me at her first roll of her blue eyes and her soft purr.  I was instantly in love with a cat - even I couldn't believe it!  I brought her home as soon as she able to be mine.  At the time I also still had my Australian terrier, Elsa--who deserves to have her own story - so just concentrate on the cat mainly in this one - but Elsa plays a part - probably the cause of why I almost wet myself from laughing so hard in public--but hang on---I'm not there yet in my story!  Believe me--it will be worth it!

 It was a Sunday, and John and I had taken the girls to church, and were just relaxing, when I came up with the absolutely great idea of taking Elsa and Champers for a walk with the family!  Now it was mid afternoon in a sleepy town, and we were all still dressed in our Sunday 'best' and we had Elsa on one leash and Champs on another leash. It seemed really quite normal.  We walked around the block and stopped and said hello to friends, and just as you see in the movies, it really was all very idyllic.  Except, for Champs, who appeared to suffering bowel problems. She would only do the poo deed in her box. And her tummy had been rumbling for about 10 minutes when we thought we had better head home.

 I had Elsa happily running along on her leash, and John had taken over Champ's leash from Bronwyn, who couldn't keep this uncomfortable cat in check.  ( I have to interrupt this story to explain to you that John, deep down, hated cats.  He loved dogs, and would never see any animal injured, but to be actively associated with a cat went beyond his comprehension, his understanding of life, and now his sense of smell!)

 Anyway, we were about two blocks from home, and John, who by this stage was now carrying Champs to speed up the process to get home, for her bowel release, walked ahead of us.  Remember - he really DOES NOT like cats.  Elsa and the girls and I sped up our walking pace to help him, when suddenly there was this unusual cat yowl, and unfortunately, Champers pooed all over the front of John's good church shirt!  As we were behind them, all we heard was Champs wailing, and John yelling and holding her out from him--we  later arrived to the ugly scene.  I started laughing then!

 I know I shouldn't have - it was disgusting!  It smelled really awful, and Champs was all beside herself, poor thing--she didn't mean to do it!  But the look on John's face- priceless!  He smelled so bad!!  He just looked at me, and left Champs with me and the girls.  I did mention that he doesn't like cats? Well- This clinched it.

 No--what really clinched it was when, as she was pooing on him and he kept running for home,  suddenly the neighbourhood dogs caught up on the scent I guess and there was a whole parade of dogs after him!  It was so funny! 

 Anyway, John didn't know what to do--and we arrived shortly afterwards, followed by the neighbourhood dogs.  Bron chased them away, and I did what any good wife would do.  I grabbed the garden hose and hosed the cat poo off the front of my husband's shirt!  In the backyard, amidst the laughter and the pants wetting and the swearing and the smell.

 By this stage, Champers had settled into her zone and was calm again, and after some time, cleaned herself and got back to normal.  Elsa just layed on the back lawn and smiled most of the afternoon.  I think she even smiled in her sleep.