I woke up to a seemingly endless loop of this song playing in my head on Friday morning.

Why would Windmills of Your Mind be bobbing around in my head at 5.30am on a random Friday? Worst than that, why would it lurck at the edge of my consciousness all day: an annoying, self-inflicted earworm that simply wouldn’t go away?

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel / Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel / Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon / Like a carousel that’s turning running rings around the moon / Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face / And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space / Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!

The lyrics popped up odd times all day. The circle in a spiral just kept on turning and by home time it was driving me nuts!

Then it occurred to me that it might just be a calling card. Could it be that my subconscious was trying to get my attention and have a chat? I’ve been ignoring her for a while now, so she perhaps she’d taken the initiative and inflicted an earworm on me to get my attention?

Once I’d considered that, I then also had to consider what she might be trying to tell me. My best guess was that she thinks I need to take a breath and step back slightly from the fever pitch of activities I’ve inflicted on myself over the past few months. It’s a pretty reasonable guess, actually, as she and I both know my tendency to get crazy-busy to the point of burn out. Juggling three jobs plus volunteering and home life has been a bit of a challenge over the past month. The pace has eased somewhat now, but probably not quite enough.

Some years ago I took part in a programme called Smart Busy to try to teach myself how to take that step back. Jane Genovese, a grad student at Murdoch University, was working on a PhD thesis focusing on creating healthy and effective mental and physical habits. Her programme involved six 2-hour workshops, covering topics such as mindful living, taking back your time, what really matters in life, keeping track of expenditure, de-cluttering, healthy eating and planning for the future.

It was surprisingly useful to most participants. It made us all reassess what we were doing and why – and to then make the necessary mental shift to be smart-busy instead of crazy-busy.

And it worked. For a while anyway.

But it turns out that maintaining (new) good habits is a whole lot trickier than conceptualising them. Unless one is mindful, priorities can get muddied. This leads to stress and fatigue undermining even the best of intentions and luring one back to that ever-spinning reel. In no time at all you’re just plain busy. Too busy ticking things off mental checklists to have fun, to spend time with people who matter, to eat properly or get enough sleep.

It can be tricky to figure out that we’re on that track. Sometimes persistent ill health is the red flag that makes us pay attention, sometimes a friend brings it to our attention… and sometimes our subconscious sends us a really annoying earworm to deliver the message!

So, thanks, subconscious-me – I’m paying attention. I have a plan (and no, it’s not just another check-list!) and will follow through on it, starting with this blogpost. Writing down some goals is a baseline, as is keeping them realistic and achievable. So here we go:

  • Accept that there need to be trade-offs to achieve better outcomes and offload some tasks. First up is getting a cleaner in to help out at home.
  • Friends and loved ones matter more than anything, so it’s essential to nurture and maintain those bonds. To do this I need to  commit to taking the time to not be too busy for the people I care about.
  • I’m a writer, even though I seem to forget that when I get crazy-busy. So it’s back to writing something – anything – every day, simply for my own pleasure.
  • My alter ego is a kitchen goddess wannabe, but she’s taken the back seat for quite a while now. It’s time to let her have her way in the kitchen at least once a week to create some magic that will encourage me to eat better. Our Tasmania food tour next month will get her on track.
  • The dogs drive me nuts, but I love them dearly and need to remember that.  I have a pup asleep on my feet as type this – so that’s a good start.

I’ll stop there for now, although I could add a whole lot more. Five items are achievable for a first pass, as long as I remain mindful of my goal. Simply put, it’s to avoid another earworm – and to enjoy life a whole lot more 🙂

A little while ago someone came through our doors asking for some help. She looked like she’d been roughed up, but was adamant that she didn’t want us to phone anyone for her or get medical help. All she wanted was to use the bathroom to clean up and, if we had any spare, some cash so that she could catch the bus.

Nothing we offered made a difference. She went to the bathroom, came out looking a little less disheveled, took the cash we offered, thanked us and left.

It freaked me out. A lot.

I felt that I should have been able to offer more, do more, help in some way – but had no idea how. It troubled me for weeks – still does, really. What also troubled me was that I had no tools to deal with how I felt about the event or how other people present at the time did. It was awkward and uncomfortable and I found it difficult to understand why I felt slightly guilty about the whole thing.

So when the opportunity arose for me to sign up for a course that would provide an overview of mental health issues and how a non-mental health professional can respond, I jumped at it.

The course is called Mental Health First Aid and it’s effectively the mental health equivalent of a standard first aid course. It was run over two days by the WA Association of Mental Health (WAAMH), who offered it at a significantly reduced cost – which was also a great incentive.

The course objective is to equip participants with the skills and resources to recognise and respond appropriately to someone experiencing a mental health crisis – at least until professional help arrives!

We covered a lot of ground, including:

  • Understanding Mental Health, including diagnoses, prevalence and common misconceptions
  • Symptoms and causes of depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance misuse.
  • How to provide initial support to adults who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • Crisis First Aid for: suicidal behaviour, panic attacks, aggressive behaviour, self harm, acute psychosis
  • Responding to the effects of substance misuse

Some of it was heavy going, but it was made very real for all of us by the lived experience stories of people who came in to share those with us. Then there was the added dimension of about 60% of the course participants also having their own lived experiences of mental health issues, many of them still raw and relatively easily triggered. It made for some difficult situations and complicated conversations – but all of those served to inform each of us in different ways about how mental health can and does impact people’s lives.

I hadn’t realised that one in five Australians experience mental health issues, or that anxiety and depression are major players. And yet people don’t talk about it, don’t allow mental health to be just another health issue that can be managed. Why is that? 

Perhaps part of it is fear. But if we don’t talk about the size and shape of the black dog (and his friend the elephant in the room), we won’t ever learn how to recognise it and learn how to manage it.

Having completed this very basic mental health first aid course, I feel slightly better equipped to answer some of the questions. I have facts, stats, a manual, an action plan and a certificate. These all make me feel safer. But what really made a difference was talking to people, understanding a little better how to really listen, how best respond, what sort of help to offer,  and where to find resources that can make a difference in a crisis situation.

I very much hope that if that young woman came back asking for our help again, I might just be able to do something useful for her without being quite so terrified that I’d be doing the wrong thing. And if she still only wanted to use the bathroom and get some bus fare… well, that’s okay too. 

We recently had some surplus equipment at work that I didn’t know what to do with. Someone suggested that I post it up on the local Buy Nothing group to see if we could find a home for it. My look of ‘Eh?‘ made it clear that I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

So she explained that the Buy Nothing Project  is a gift economy – there’s no bartering and no buying/selling. The system is based on random acts of kindness, providing a way for people to give away items they no longer want or use.

This enables you to declutter without wasting perfectly serviceable items / sending them to landfill. Instead they go to someone who actually does want them.

There’s no obligation attached to any of the items shared or given away – they’re a gift. And there’s the add-on benefit of being able to connect with people in your local community if you choose to.

I loved the idea – but since you can only join one group and I don’t work in my own suburb, someone who belongs to that group advertised the office equipment and found a home for it. Good outcome.

In dues course I got around to signing up to my local group (on social media) and this weekend finally had something to offer.

Although we’ve been picking grapefruit and limes and giving them away for a few weeks, yesterday we pruned the trees. This meant picking all the remaining fruit. We filled box after box, ending up with over 200 pink grapefruit and at least 100 limes surplus to our requirements.

So I posted the following picture and message on the my BN site late yesterday afternoon: Pink grapefruit galore and a whole lot of limes: pm me if you’re interested 

By lunchtime today all the fruit was gone. Four people responded to my message and they all turned up at our house this afternoon. Some people took just a few of each, others took a whole box – it was great! A couple of people even climbed the ladder I’d left out and picked themselves some cumquats – which was a bonus both for them and for me. One person brought me a dozen oranges because he has too many of those. A win all round.

The follow up messages were lovely too:

Thank you so much, Nik, for the beautiful fresh fruit you shared with us today and also for showing us your lovely garden & your good advice for my friend’s little dog o nice to meet you!

 Thank you very much for sharing! My kids loved the cumquats!

It was my pleasure folks. There was way too much fruit for us to use – and this is SO not a jam-making year! I’m really glad to have been able to share our surplus and look forward to doing so again the next time we have laden trees.

I heartily recommend that people connect with their local Buy Nothing groups. And if it turns out that there isn’t one in your area: start one!

 

I can’t remember exactly when I was introduced to the works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Looking back, it seems like they were always part of the landscape of my life. My mother had a complete set of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s recordings of the G&S comic operas and these were played often enough to be seem like an always-already-there family tradition.

By the time I actually saw my first live production, the patter-songs were an accepted part of life. We all got to know the words and my older brother in particular could reel them off with remarkable accuracy and speed. One of the outcomes is that  ‘I am the very model of a modern major general…’ was where I first hear of quadratic equations and also where I learned the difference between a mauser and a javelin! 

Our family habit of making reference to G&S with comments such as ‘..a policeman’s lot is not a happy one...’ sometimes got us funny looks from more mundane individuals. This eventually alerted me to the fact that not all families sat around listening to – and singing along with – light opera 🙂

Much to my delight the G&S Society of WA  scheduled two productions for this year. The first of these was The Gondoliers – and  what a hoot it was! Although I’d heard a recording of the Gondoliers many times, I’d never seen it performed – and the two simply don’t compare. The costuming was spectacular (I want a dress like that!), the orchestra outstanding and the interplay between the characters hilarious – particularly the Trumpesque Duke of Plaza-Toro 🙂

All round it was a most entertaining evening and we’re all looking forward to the September production of Patience. Bookings open in June – don’t miss it!

I’ve been interested in composting for some time, mostly so that we can recycle our kitchen/garden waste rather than send it to landfill. Last week I was lucky enough to attend a great workshop presented by Peg Davies and Anne Pettit from Mindarie Regional Council. They had a host of useful information to share about worm farms, composting and recycling.

For years we’ve used a two compost bin system at home. The one on the right is currently our active bin. Into that I dump kitchen scraps (no meat), garden clippings, shredded newspaper and, when I think of it, some straw. The one on the left is the ‘inactive’ bin. We filled that last year, but stopped using it at the end of winter and left the contents to their own devices. Soon I’ll be emptying out the fabulous compost it’s created and spreading that around our garden.  Then that bin will become the active bin.. and so on.

This system works really well, although I have had some rather surprising compost adventures along the way. These have included unusual (and very creepy) maggots, an abundance of cockroaches, an infestation by a bees and a surprise mouse. Not surprisingly at all, I rapidly learned to wear gloves and boots every time I play with the compost!

The reason I went along to this workshop was to try to find out how to deal with the compost cockroaches: do I need to zap them? Are they a problem… or just creepy?

I came away with an answer to that quandry and whole lot of other info too, including Anne’s recipe for the delicious pear cake she brought along for morning tea 🙂

  • Apparently compost cockroaches aren’t a big deal. It turns out that the big critters break down the food scraps and make it easier for the littler critters to do their jobs. So, basically, just fortify-the-hell-up and cope. If the cockroach numbers get a tad epic, then add more carbon (shredded newspaper, etc) or, in extreme cases, a chicken. Yup, a live chicken. That’ll sort the little darlings out in no time, they assured us. I may have to borrow one from DaughterDearest sometime soon…
  • Doggy-do worm farms are a thing – who knew?! Totally going to give that a go under our fig tree when we plant it out the back. This will reduce our plastic bag use considerably and hopefully make the fig tree happy.

  • I hadn’t realised that soft or flexible plastics shouldn’t go in the verge side bins. This includes any plastic that can easily scrumpled into a ball – like bread packets, biscuit packs, cereal bags and the like. They get caught in the sorting machines and jam up the works. And there I was thinking I was doing the right thing. Sigh. Upside is that redcycle (soft plastic) bins are now in place at various shopping centres, so I’ll be able to drop ours off each week when I shop.

  • Did you know that expanded polystyrene also can’t go into verge side recycling bins? I didn’t. Fortunately companies like Claw Environmental will accept it for processing, so next time we get a large appliance we’ll definitely be heading out to drop the packaging off there.

Overall it was a really informative morning. Peg and Anne had many more tips to share – and lots of resources to offer. Check out the MRC website for heaps of downloadable info sheets. And, if you get the opportunity, definitely attend one of their (free!) workshops.