O is for It’s OK to tip the WORK/LIFE balance scales in favour of LIFE.

Really? Nearly 2 years? Not a word? I don’t phone, I don’t write. I have no excuse. But here is something that got my muse moving. I wrote this after coming across a link sent to me by a friend. It’s a topic I’ve been musing on since I found myself in a new work environment that has made an enormous positive impact on my teaching career yet has also meant that I am working harder than I have ever done.

Heavily inspired by an article written by KATIE BERLIN DVM (March 28, 2016 For Pet Lovers)

I have a confession to make:
Teaching English to high schoolers is not my favourite thing to do.

It’s hard sometimes, being surrounded by people who say things like “It’s my calling” and “I’ve never wanted to do anything else” and “I can’t imagine my life if I were not a teacher.” I don’t feel that way at all. I was a “non-traditional” education student with a certificate in vet nursing, some work as a vet nurse and a few years of post-University life under my belt. I did everything from studying industrial furniture design, mobile dog washing, to fish and chip short order cooking, to just playing around with an English Literature degree that had Japanese as it’s minor (unsuccessful). I needed to find a profession that would keep me interested and challenged for the rest of my working life. I loved English and reading and writing and I enjoyed gaining my teaching degree and have been largely very lucky in the jobs I’ve had as a high school teaching practitioner. I enjoy my work, feel I’m reasonably good at it, and have a very strong drive to get better, learn more, and be the best I can be at what I’m expected to do every day.

But I’m that way with pretty much everything I do. It’s still just a job to me.

It’s a good job. I love the feeling when things go well. I like to see kids light up about words. I like seeing teenagers and young children grow and learn and think critically about their world. I love our motivated, compassionate teaching colleagues and admin staff and the parents who have more than one child come through my classes because they can’t imagine having their child learn in any other school. But if something happened where I couldn’t be a teacher anymore, I’d be sad for a while, but I have no doubt that I’d find something else to do and have a similar drive to be good at that too.

There are about a million things I’m interested in. I can’t remember ever being bored – ever. There is never enough time to do everything I want to do. But for several years I was really unhappy. Work burned me out, and I started to become a person I didn’t like very much. I was making decisions that didn’t reflect the person I really was. I threw myself into this sport that I just did as a hobby on weekends. I started travelling to learn from international masters of the sport. I read and read and read some more. I emailed and conversed about the intricate details of the art of agility and training dogs. I competed locally, nationally and eventually internationally. I saw how the sport was run in four different countries overseas.

I went to a gym to get stronger and faster, and stayed there learning to do things like Turkish squats and rowing. I discovered I can leg press a significant amount of weight. I rode a bike, taught my dogs to run with me. I got certified to teach other teachers how to teach in my profession and it just kind of trickled and seeped down into my sport. Now I teach agility to individuals, small groups and I have a regular Tuesday night class that nothing at work that day can keep me from. I read – everything from novels to history to social psychology. I love podcasts and Ted Ex videos and listen ALL the time – I’m constantly inspired.

I’ve become an agility junkie and a sponge for all the different approaches and strategies to get the most positive response from my dogs and my students. I’ve turned out to be one of our English department’s biggest advocates for any and all methods (conventional or otherwise) that gets reluctant readers reading and kids engaged with being inquisitive about their world. I’m supportive of any innovative ideas that create spaces where kids feel safe to take risks and speak their minds, where teachers feel safe to try things out and can expand the world views of their students and blow their minds with the amazing things that go on in this world. I’m all for reducing compassion fatigue (teacher burn out is a very real and unpleasant fact of this profession), and using social media to encourage more collegiality, real support and a sense of school being our community. My actual job, teaching proper grammar, expanding vocabularies, marking and commenting on papers, reporting, talking to parents, promoting reading and critical thinking, is fine. I like it. In fact I love it. Most of the time. I get positive feelings from doing it well. But it’s not who I am. It’s not what lights my fire and gets me out of bed in the morning. Four furry black and white faces who are thrilled their human is up and about to take them somewhere on a magical adventure to sniff and run and pee and do fantastically exciting things with them like agility is what that spark is all about. All the other stuff is what does that. And because that fire is lit, I am happier and better at work.

In our profession, as in many others, it often seems understood that we are to live and breathe our jobs and that we took them on because we felt we barely had a choice.

We were MEANT to do what we do. Maybe that’s the case for some people, but I don’t envy them. I love that I have so many passions and have made peace with the fact that dealing with the joys of adolescents, assessing, marking and reporting is not one of them. It does not lessen my skill or my compassion, or make me any less a teacher than the person who hasn’t considered another career since she was 6 years old.

So, to the prac student- teachers, new grads, recent grads in the 5-year slump, and veterans who keep thinking, “Is this all there is? When do I get a break?” – I’m telling you. It’s OK to do other things, and to love them, and to love them more than your job. At the end of your life you will not wish you were more obsessed with work. You will wonder what you could have done if you had been less obsessed, or if you had let go of the expectation of obsession. Life is short. Choose joy. Live what you love – whatever that is.


P is for Photography Passions

One of my favourite hobbies that I don’t get to do enough of is photography. I love taking photos of my favourite dogs, actors, landscapes, food, toys, books and random moments during travelling times. Here’s a few I took at a recent convention held for Supernatural in Australia.

Jensen Ackles aka Dean Winchester



Tim Omundson aka Cain


Mark Sheppard aka Crowley

But I also love it when people take great pictures of my dogs in action…

Colt aka Winpara Weapon Ov Choice – so named after the Colt gun used in my favourite Television show.



Savvy aka Winpara Stay Frosty (named for the hope that I’d have a clever little girl on my hands and her fancy name came about after watching the fantastic HBO series Generation Kill).

It’s tricky to take photos of your own dogs in action, but it’s great when other people can do the job quite well!
rockingham17-1-15-1654RS rockingham17-1-15-1678RS rockingham17-1-15-1689RS

So after participating in my very first agility trial back in 1995 I decided perhaps it was time to help support our dwindling pool of available ANKC Agility judges and threw my hat into the ring for trainee agility judges course towards the last half of 2014. Seven of us started and five of us finished the course in February/March and today was my first official judging experience. It was quite brief, apparently all the Novice dogs have recently just qualified out and up to Excellent! At least in the jumping so I only had 4 dogs in. However I did get a qualifier with a lovely clean run on my Novice Jumping course. I’m going to post my course maps here. As part of my requirements to attain elevation to be able to judge at all levels I have to design and scribe at least three times at the Excellent, Masters and Open level – so today I got my Masters requirement done by designing and scribing for ANKC judge Anne in the JDM ring.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 12.53.06 am
My Novice Jumping measured out to 107m and I gave dogs a run rate of between 2.1 and 2.2mps. This worked out to a SCT of 49 seconds. I had 2 dogs in 400 and 2 Dobes in 600 compete and my one winner and clear round was the Finnish Lapphund in 400.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 12.52.47 am
My Masters Jumping course which I designed, set and scribed for had about 60 dogs of all heights (200/300/400/500/600) competing on it. SCT was set for 500/600 dogs at 49 seconds (run rate 3.4mps as it was quite wet) and 55 seconds for 200/300/400. Ended up with 8 qualifiers across all heights except 600. I did have to tweak it a little from the above map to satisfy my own intentions. The number 14 was moved to the number 3 tunnel entry which made it more challenging and then jump 20 was moved further down to sit on the 12 grid line. I was pleased with the way it ran and so was the judge, a number of NQ runs simply had some bad luck management of 20 to 21 or at 12 to 13 (some dogs swung wide to the broad causing off course DQs) and some handlers didn’t quite execute a front cross from 10 to 11 nicely causing a push to the back of 11 instead. Some dogs did indeed take the wrong end of 14 as well. Happy to see my own Savvy run the course with very competent handler Karen to get a clear too. First place I think did it in 32 point something seconds.

I think I’m going to enjoy designing the puzzles of creating flowing yet challenging and unique agility courses. I’m looking forward to my next appointment in September but hopefully I’ll be designing some courses before then!

On the home front there’s quite a lot of progress afoot! We will, fingers crossed, so long as everything goes well, be moving in around August or September so not long to go now. It’s getting quite exciting thinking about moving into a brand new house but also a bit daunting with the amount of stuff we need to do between now and then. I’ve been reflecting a lot on how much stuff, material things we actually have but don’t ever actually use or need. When you whittle it down to the bare essentials leaving room of course for the sentimental memories and truly meaningful mementos we really shouldn’t be quite as surrounded as we are. I feel a trip to the Swap meet is soon in the cards.

My next biggest excitement though will be San Diego Comic Con 2015. Two weeks in July school holidays! I’m hoping to have much to report on then!

O is for Odious Behaviour

A  thirteen year old girl who I had met for all of three hours decided it was okay to walk up to my desk and swipe my phone whilst I was busy helping other students at the end of session 4 last Monday, just before lunch break. A phone that I use as teaching tool. A phone that is quite distinctly mine, the only Samsung S3 in Australia that is both blue and white, has AT&T etched on the back and had a unique Supernatural cover that I had ordered from the US.

She promptly told her best friend (who is also a student in that same class) to meet her in the toilets so she could show her what she had. She pulled the phone out, friend realized it belonged to the teacher and told her to hand it back. The thief said nah, that she is gonna use it herself. We promptly did a bag search with the whole group after lunch. She had by that stage tucked the phone into her pants and sat there as brazen as anything whilst the entire class had their bags searched to no avail.

I wasn’t able to be at school the next day as my female border collie needed an emergency caesarian and I was at the vets most of the day. It’s a shame because I had that class the next day – the friend might have approached me then. I stayed home Wednesday too, however I don’t see that class Wednesday or Thursday, but still an opportunity passed by for the friend to make contact with me. On Friday her friend came to me within minutes of the class starting. The thief had decided to truant that day, her home was phoned and grandmother insisted that the thief had left the house in full school uniform, making her way to school. The friend informed me that “X” had taken the phone and had shown it to her in the toilets that Monday at lunch time. “X” informed her friend later on that she had reset the phone to factory settings and could now use it. She had her new number and had told her mother that a “friend at school had given her the phone”. I assumed at this point my SIM card was gone. I also was told by the friend that “X” had actually been caught using MY phone in the class during the last session on Thursday. The teacher had confiscated the phone off her, in front of the whole class, for the rest of that lesson. But at the end of the day he handed the phone back to her. He didn’t realise that it was my stolen phone. Despite the fact that I had put out an all staff email describing in detail this very unique phone.  It was THIS close.

It was highly frustrating on Friday to not know where “x” was. And her family didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that she had not made it to school.  What kind of family, parents or grandparents or otherwise doesn’t care if they don’t know where their 13 year old girl is? Clearly one that raises a kid to think it’s okay to steal off their teacher. Her friend has tried to reason with her and had come to school Friday hoping to deceive “X” into giving her the phone to “play with” and she would then hand the phone to me. I, as her teacher, of course have access to her home address. We briefly considered a home visit but it would be unlikely that she was there.

I blocked my SIM card on Tuesday so that the thief couldn’t use it. I figured it would be pulled out and chucked away anyway. However I had to order a new one which I duly did on Wednesday night – whether I got this phone back or not I would need a new SIM. Apparently when the most helpful Iinet guy ordered me a new one – stating that Iinet would kindly credit me back the 20$ fee since we had been such loyal customers and that the SIM would take 3 to 5 business days to arrive – it then UNLOCKED that original SIM card. We only found that out because today (Saturday) we just received an email from Iinet to say that I was almost at my limit of calls and texts for the month. What??? We go online and check out my number’s records and sure enough my original SIM card is now being used for calls, data and texts. Awesome. So now we were waiting on Iinet to call us back so we can block the SIM again.

We duly did so. By late Saturday night the number was blocked again. I counted the 3 – 5 business days before my SIM should arrive.  It should be here Thursday at the latest. On Monday I expected “X” would show up and we would have the phone back in our possession. No such luck – she truanted Monday and her grandmother informed us that they had tried to drive her to school however she refused and insisted on walking. Grandmother was completely aware that “X” was truanting again. We told her that we had tried contacting her father but there was no reply, his mobile just kept ringing out. I emailed Tim about this and we decided to visit  “X’s” home that evening. I remained in the car. Tim walked up and knocked on the door. He spoke to the father of “X” and also the grandmother who came to the door. He explained that he was the husband of a teacher at the school who had had her phone stolen by “X”. The father didn’t seem surprised. He explained that “X” was becoming uncontrollable and they were having huge difficulties with her. Tim went on to ask if “X” was there and the father said no, they had no idea where she had gone. Tim asked him to let “X” know when he next saw her that she had until the end of school Tuesday to produce this phone otherwise charges will be filed against her with the police. Father promised to do so and duly apologized on behalf of his daughter.

Tuesday morning and I am up in my classroom getting ready for the day. Unbeknownst to me, as a message had failed to be communicated, the Father and his daughter in full school uniform were at the front desk reception and had asked to see me. At this stage I was 3 minutes away from having a class full of 8th graders and also to be blunt I had no desire to talk to either of them, I was just that disgusted and disillusioned with the whole situation. So I asked the message deliverer if “X” had handed my phone over and was told that the Father had explained that “X” had actually lost the phone over the weekend. He also stated that he was aware that “X” had stolen the phone, had contacted the police and they had questioned his daughter that morning. I believe this was a bid to prevent me from going to the police as it turned out, after some investigation, that this “report” and “questioning” had never even taken place. I relayed the message that I was unable to meet with him as I had class. He left “X” at school who promptly went off to meet with her friends and go to her first class. I was to have her in session 2.  Fortunately a Student Services teacher came and removed “X” from my sight when she rather brazenly walked up to my door as if I was going to teach her. This blew my mind somewhat and not in any good way. Thirteen year old, openly admitting to stealing a $650 phone off me, does not return it and she thinks I will ever have her in my classroom again? I felt for a moment I had stepped into some bizarre alternate universe where perhaps we are just communal sharers and I just hadn’t been told. Regardless she was removed from my room and my 8th graders were pretty subdued for a Tuesday morning session I must say. I think they picked up on my possibly just below the surface seething vibes. I was on duty at recess that morning and several students approached me asking if my phone had been returned. I stated that it had not. By now they also knew how they had taken it and they were pretty disgusted by it as well as they felt it definitely reflected very badly on their particular cultural group. I was relieved by another teacher with five minutes to go and scooted over to Student Services where “X” was currently writing her statement and being questioned by the staff there. She was told to empty her school bag and any pockets. She admitted freely to stealing the phone but claimed she “lost it in the city on Saturday night”. This is after using the phone the entire week. She did not show an ounce of remorse, no apologies, no tears, just utter disinterest. She was informed she would now be known at this school as a thief. That after her suspension she would come back and have no recess or lunchtime privileges, as she could not be trusted. All staff would be informed of her thievery.

I don’t believe she has “lost” it. I don’t believe she will not steal again. Straight after school Tuesday, “X” had been given a 3 day suspension by the school (too little in my opinion) and I chose to take my situation to my local police station. Over an hour and half later I had given my statement – a 6 page epic written very competently by the Constable who dealt with me. He explained that he and an Officer would visit “X’s” house and ask to speak with her. They would inform her that she needed to produce the phone or they may have to arrest her. Wednesday afternoon Tim receives a call from the Constable to say that they had indeed done a house visit but “X” unsurprisingly was not there. They had done a room search of her bedroom to try and locate the phone. They told the Father that they still needed to question “X” and based on that questioning she may be arrested and face the Juvenile Justice courts. The Constable explained that he would now hand the case over to the jurisdiction of the local police in “X’s” region but that they would continue to look for “X” in order to bring her in for questioning.

I have had to purchase a new phone in the meantime. Insurance says they will cover some of it. I would like to send the parent’s the bill. I have asked my Principal if I can do this. “X” has been removed from my roll and is now being taught by a different English teacher. Most of the kids I teach have figured out who stole my phone. I have always loved where I teach. This is my 13th year of teaching at this school. The kids, for the most part, are genuinely friendly and nice kids and if not for them I probably would have moved on several years ago.  These last two weeks have been the first time I have truly questioned my choice to stay at this school. I know this will pass. I would never let one student, no matter how repulsive in behaviour, to shift me from a job I really enjoy over 90% of the time. It will make me much more wary though. Perhaps I can’t use expensive teaching tools in class for a while. I’m not sure where “X” will end up in life, her Father made noises about sending her “back home” but I don’t really credit his words with much sincerity. I do know that “X” should probably avoid being in my path for the rest of the time she attends this school. Not for a long time at least. Ultimately there is this huge feeling of disappointment and some sadness that clearly the parenting of this child has failed. I hope society doesn’t continue to bare the brunt of such failure.

However to finish on a much happier note – here’s a pic of young Skech who is now 11 days old and growing on strong 🙂

N is for New Acquaintances

It’s been one week now on my sugar free lifestyle change and I’ve noticed some things. When I get hungry and I make something to eat I usually can’t eat all of it. When I get hungry I am usually VERY hungry so I tend to make the usual amount of food or dish my usual portions up – and I can’t get through it all. I am feeling full a half or 3/4 of the way through. Now this was to be expected, it was definitely one of the mentioned effects of quitting sugar but what did surprise me was how rapidly that change happened. It has, after all, only been seven days.

Pepsi Max, which is my favoured soft drink, has not been difficult to cut back on. Usually one can a day or two cans at the most. But when I do drink it now it’s sweetness tastes like the nectar of gods to me it is just that deliciously sweet.

I have not found it difficult to stick to (I know – it’s only been a week) in terms of avoiding the high sugar items. The ability to still be able to eat bread, butter, any and all veggies and have milk certainly helps. I had only one unknown factor meal this week and that was lunch provided by work in the form of Subway sandwiches. The bread and the mayo were likely not to be in the permitted sugar level foods – so I chose the multigrain and still ate lunch and made sure nothing else that day gave me any further sugar hits.

Dinner has been a variety of things – steak and veggies, salt and pepper squid salad, burritos with salad, refried beans and zero sugar taco seasoning, broccoli frittatas  and chicken etc. I have missed the desserts. Ice cream and chocolate the most. I will make the plunge into ice cream making one day but only once I’ve missed desserts long enough to motivate me to learn it.

I’ve only had one day of headaches (and that may also be due to the whole going back to work after holidays syndrome) and have upped the water intake. Here are some items that have helped me make the change quite painlessly:

Plus cheeses, potato crisps, pasta (no processed tomato sauces though), crackers and the odd half a banana. I’m not one of those people who can train their palates to like something if it doesn’t. So all those foods or substitutes up there taste pretty good to me!

Next week school is back in full swing after a couple of days of the usual Teacher PD days last Thursday and Friday – it’s going to be hectic from day one I imagine on Monday. I’m always excited about the first day of school and meeting all my new classes. I enjoy being around kids and one of the best things in this job is being able to meet and make connections with a whole new group of human beings who I get to know. I have a list of things to do that is a little daunting to say the least and I’m hoping it won’t take me too long to work out that fine balance between getting my food sorted, teaching planned and prepared for, dogs trained, whelping room set up for Spryte whilst still managing to enjoy the socialising times of seeing a play, going to a Bruce Springsteen concert and attending trials and dog shows. Looking at the year’s planner it’s going to be a busy and hopefully satisfyingly productive year with puppies, house to build, trips interstate and overseas and a celebration of a milestone year with my 40th birthday. I’m still a little shell shocked by that number when I say it or write it and I keep looking behind me to see if it’s some kind of cosmic joke – me turning 40….blinks….Nahhhh….think I’m always just gonna be a big kid instead.

M is for Making a Change

Around October last year I caught this linking (somehow I don’t know where) to a segment on the ABC Show Catalyst about the real dietary villians.

Here’s the link: Catalyst: Heart of the Matter Part 1 – Dietary Villains – ABC TV Science.

After watching this and reading up on it I started looking into the story about sugar. I read through this book here after a friend on facebook recommended it when I posted about the Catalyst segment.

There’s A LOT of information in this book. It certainly bares reading multiple times. It’s easy to read but because of the the density of the detail you find yourself rereading several chapters and paragraphs. But what it does do is take what is potentially highly scientific terminology and jargon completely understandable. He steps things out and progresses logically through the explanations. I did feel like I was back in high school science class and that was okay because I really do regret not paying more attention in those classes. I will undoubtedly go back to re-read parts of it over the next year or so.

So that led me to the next book:

And I’ve been steadily reading through this since about the last couple of weeks of December. Again much to take in and this will form a reference guide probably for the next year or so.

The change we’re making is breaking the addiction to sugar. I’ll be honest and confess that my addiction to sugar is probably much stronger than Tim’s but since going through the food choices quite a lot of them already coincide with his likes and preferences. You think that it sounds not too bad – I mean you can have your bread still (obviously the lowest sugar kind) butter, all your meats, cheeses, potatoes, rice, of course all the veggies and the fruit. To be more specific – it’s an addiction to fructose that causes the issues. The constant stream of fructose that goes into our bodies actually messes with the body’s appetite regulation control and this is why portions have grown to ridiculous levels. And why we continue eating since we don’t feel full. So breaking the sugar fructose addiction actually kicks your appetite regulator into functionality again.

The drinks are limited – milk, water, Pepsi Max, tea (no sugar) and that’s it. Not a problem really since we don’t drink alcohol (except the odd cocktail or mixer on special occasions) and juice is usually not in the fridge.

There are sugar replacements you can use and I’m still looking into them because there are some out there that simply metabolise straight into fructose once it’s consumed and there seems to be plenty of recipes out there that replace them. I’ve even purchased a “chocolate” bar that’s sugar free. We’ll see. I’m not optimistic that way I might be pleasantly surprised.

I have gone through the pantry and boxed up all the items that don’t fit the 3% sugar content ie 3gms or less and ended up with quite a few items 😉

I will be doing a blood test tomorrow then the withdrawal process begins and we’ll go cold turkey. I don’t need to go through all the benefits of course but I am looking forward to seeing the effect of the changes once the withdrawal period is over (apparently you feel like crap when breaking the addiction which is understandable). I may even venture into homemade ice cream making at desperate moments.

The changes I want to make happen?

– Get rid of this plantar fasciitis which is strongly related to weight- I want to see less of me
– Feel less back pain
– A return to fitness and running faster in agility
– Less obsessing about food

David Gillespie the author, makes no bones about it – quitting sugar is hard. I’ll be following his 5 step plan to break addiction to the letter. I will probably get cranky. I’ll have headaches and will feel like crap. Hopefully those around me will understand and if not I’m sure they can just give me a wide berth anyway (I’ve never really done the whole PMS thing – maybe this can be my version of it).



L is for Last Days

Today was our last day in New Zealand – for the time being. The second trip, whenever that is, is already looking like a full itinerary. Aoteraroa is the original name of this land and it’s where the phrase Land of the Long White Cloud comes from. I’ve liked how bilingual many things are in this country. The Maori culture and language certainly seems to be far more embedded into everyday use than the equivalent back home, I’m not sure why that is but I have some speculations.

We’ve driven the length of the North Island since arriving last Friday and of the three places we’ve stayed – Wellington was definitely my favourite. It also gets referred to as Welly Wood thanks to the massive influence of one Wellingtonian – Peter Jackson. It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many lives that one man has changed. He’s spent millions in Wellington and all over New Zealand. He’s restored many locations back to former glory even in a better state than they were prior to the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit movies. Whole career paths have been forged and entire families have seen the benefits of his vision and passion. Doing the tours in Wellington and then in Matamata has certainly captured my imagination and had me thinking about that whole process of bringing such a classic story to life. I have always had and will continue to have a huge passion for good story telling and that’s why the movies and the tv shows will always have a huge place in my life. A well told, well written, well produced story always leaves me feeling like I’ve just been given a special gift. Like the person (or in the case of shows and movies – people) who brought me that story has kindly shared a piece of themselves with me in the form of a story. It’s like an enthusiastic tour guide, passionate about their guiding showing you their special places on the earth.

Our guide in Wellington for the full day tour was named Laura. She was in high school when the first LoTR movie hit the screens in 1999…and she has now been guiding people on location tours for the last seven years in a van she has fondly dubbed Aragorn with a level of fervor that is quite infectious. She really did know the answer to 99.9 percent of questions about LoTR. She could tell you where a single 30 second scene took place (for just about every scene in the films), broken down into five different locations, at what angles the cameras were, what the actors had eaten for breakfast on that day and how many takes it took. I find that kind of attention to detail nothing but inspiring and fascinating.

The great River Anduin

She took us out to several locations and gave detailed behind the scenes recounts of the kinds of challenges the cast and crew faced – who knew Boromir played by Sean Bean was so absolutely useless at rowing a boat up river? Or that the little people who portrayed the hobbits for the capturing of forced perspective had such an aversion to being in a boat on water? Or that Aragorn’s anguished scream of despair for the supposed death of two of the fellowship was actually the result of Viggo Mortensen’s pain when he quite literally broke two of his toes kicking a helmet of armour across a scene? I never would have known that whenever we see Gandalf on a horse it’s actually his stunt double as Ian McKellan had a close friend be killed whilst riding a horse and made a vow never to sit on one again. He was apparently an accomplished rider prior to this. Liv Tyler who played Aragorn’s love interest and Elf Arwen was apparently so nervous around the horses she was banned from going within 20 feet of any of them as she made them skittish. David Wenham discovered that the horses get very attuned to the verbal cues to the point where they could no longer yell Action! because the horses would just bolt as they had quickly come to associate that word with the riders being in a bit of a hurry. They had to replace the word Action! with something innocuous such as Christmas Trees! No one had apprised poor David of this slight alteration and when one of his horses was around someone talking rather excitedly with the word Action interspersed his horse bolted for hundreds of meters. Luckily Viggo Mortensen – a talented rider – was able to chase his horse down and save the day. Go Aragorn! We traipsed over the paths of the Elves of Rivendell, stood in Frodo’s bedroom and beheld the very tree that Gandalf and Saruman walked beneath during their conversation. I found out that Christopher Lee had actually been given permission by Tolkein himself to play the role of Gandalf should the movie ever be made. Peter Jackson decided against that and now I can’t imagine anyone other than Christopher Lee in the role of Saruman. In Rivendell it was meant to be Autumn so Peter Jackson had 250 thousand yellow and red leaves imported in from Thailand and each one of these leaves was individually wired to all the trees that were, or might possibly be, in the scenes shot there. The attention and extreme lengths that were gone to in order to make the story come alive and be as close as possible to the picture created in Tolkein’s books are quite astounding. Now I’d like to go back and rewatch these movies all over again with my new found knowledge and much better appreciation of the cinematography and the settings.

A rather unhelpful Uruk-Hai shop assistant

The woods on the path to Bree where the Nazgul chase the Hobbits

Panoramic shot of Wellington – last stop of the tour

The next day we drove off to Rotorua – the biggest natural thermal city in the world apparently. Well the fairly repugnant scent of sulphur that hit us as we drove in certainly attested to this claim to fame. We didn’t get to the Mineral spring baths sadly but perhaps that can be added to the list. However we did have some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted and you can probably see the pictures for that on Tim’s blog. Rotorua for the most part was our base for the night as a stepping stone to Matamata and the Hobbiton tour we had booked. More Lord of The Rings and now The Hobbit movies sets to explore. Once again the attention and efforts blew me away. It takes about 3 months to create one of these Hobbit holes and that usually just the front door and exterior! There were 12 acres of Hobbiton full of around 42 Hobbit holes, a lake, a massive tree and a party field. The Green Dragon pub also took up some of that room and that was a fully functioning beautifully laid out tavern complete with the round doors and archways and dark wood finish. The tours are incredibly popular. Leaving in big groups of 20 to 40 people EVERY 15 minutes from 9.30am to 3.30pm. The Alexanders who bought the farm in 1978 must think their dreams have come true!

“I’m going on an adventure!”

That same spot on our tour.

It was raining and pretty overcast as we went on our tour but that actually worked in our favour in terms of the fact that we didn’t have many people in our group (16) and also the lighting was great for photo taking. Tim took lots of lovely shots.

After the tour and a second breakfast at the cafe we headed off to Auckland. Auckland…Auckland is a lot like Perth. Which is to say when people come visit us in Western Australia – I would say the majority of time would be spent outside of Perth. However the food choices are fantastic and the walking very good for the legs given it’s mostly up and down hills. We had a fabulously delicious meal last night at Tony’s Lord Nelson restaurant, everything there was pretty much flawless. So now it’s home again. We’ve been there and now to do the back again part. I’m looking forward to getting home to the puppies, my own bed and bracing myself for the acclimatisation that is going to be needed when we hit the Perth heat. Goodbye New Zealand – you’ve reached my top 3 of favourite places in the world and we will definitely, without a doubt, be back!



K is for Kindness

Ellen always ends her shows with one last entreaty to her audience, both studio and worldwide. Be kind to one another. I’ve always liked Ellen…she comes across as an honest, savvy, forthright, sassy and intelligent human being. Not to mention she can be pretty funny. Lots of people who have the world’s ear, in some form or another, have appealed for us to do the same. And we don’t have to agree with every single person we meet, see, read or hear about in order to be kind to them. That is what makes this seemingly simple request so tough sometimes. The guy who just shot his two young children dead in a home in Dunedin, the person who donated 350 thousand dollars to shoot a black rhino, the guy who chooses to fight dogs for money, the teenage superstar who behaves like an entitled douchebag. Can I possibly be kind to them? In a way my kindness might just be to not jump on the bandwagon of condemnation.

It’s weird how humanity is wired so that wisdom and an appreciation of life doesn’t really hit till we are well into our relatively short life spans. I almost feel a vague sense of being cheated. Childhood is a wondrous thing of course (although over way too quick) but once we start becoming young adults (essentially once we hit adolescence) our sense of self becomes the complete be all and end all of our existence. Now I know there are teenagers out there who you would declare devoid of this self absorption, indeed I know of quite a few, I would argue that I was probably one of them. But not due to any worldly wise appreciation of life, or some sage understanding – simply because I was brought up to think that it was the right thing to do, the right way to behave. Use your manners, treat your parents and adults with respect and do the right thing. I did all those things – not because I understood the true value of kindness but because that was how I was raised. Many kids behave the way they do because their parents have taught them that way. It took me till my 30s to really start to see how special human life was, it’s not something any one person can impress on you, it doesn’t matter who talks to you about it. Took me till my 30s before I could step outside of my own very cosy and little self perspective on things and begin to ponder just how small and insignificant our lives are in the big scheme of the universe. Before I realised that our time is short and we should find joy every day if we can. Before I realised what it meant by the concept that everything is temporary. I began to see all around me more and more examples of depravity and abject poverty and the depths that humanity could sink to. But at the same time I saw more and more examples of the strength of the human condition, acts of unthinking selflessness, of our propensity for kindness and compassion. It filled me (and continues to fill me) with both absolute despair and absolute wonder.

And now I try to remember every day – to be kind to each other. It doesn’t eliminate or even discard my quick fire reactions to things. I’ll hear stuff or read stuff or see stuff and be just as incensed, outraged, horrified, angry or just plain despairing. And if it is involving people (funny, invariably humans are always involved) then I try to step out of my immediate reaction for a moment. I let myself feel the way I feel about the action, or the words and then I think wait a minute, this is a human being and they deserve kindness. What do I want to achieve here? Is it to change them? Is it to condemn them? Is it to denigrate them? Is it to antagonise them? Perhaps I show kindness by not voicing any of my concerns or feelings, especially if I cannot think of a single thing to say or do that will achieve any kind of productive change. I remove myself from the situation. Perhaps I think about my use of words more carefully and bring something to their attention they may not be aware of, in a way that is nothing but amicable and cordial. Maybe I should make an effort to find what is likeable about this person, get to know them more, figure out if we have common ground.

I’m not sure I’ve got this whole being kind to each other thing completely in hand as yet. I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t have to step outside your own viewpoint to “get it.” But I’m going to keep on working at it because at the end of the day if all they can write on my gravestone is “Here lies Simone, she was kind” then I’ve done okay as far as being a human being taking up air on this planet can do.