We’re once again in the throes of a re-training regime for both our dogs. This is mostly because one of them recently developed a liking for adventuring when off lead at the park. No biggie in and of itself, except that she sometimes chooses not to come back. Apparently it’s much more fun to turn the whole exercise into a game. Much sigh.

Fortunately we know some great people at the local Dobermann Club. They all know MissMolly (she has something of a reputation as a super bouncy Dobe) and one of them kindly agreed to help out with some one-on-one. This new training regime started a few weeks ago and we’ve had some great results with MissM (aka the runawaydog) so far. It’s involved going back to basics with recalls, impulse inhibition and so forth.

Cassie’s been having some fun with training as well. But since most of it’s really aimed at the runawaydog, she needs to be kept occupied whilst the high intensity focused training sessions take place.

Enter the snuffle mat. This is essentially a rubber door mat that has had a whole lot of fleece fabric strips tied to it to create a densely packed, soft and fluffy adventure mat. The idea is that it acts like a puzzle for the dog, allowing it to sniff out and hunt around for little treats in a fun way. This provides mental stimulation, slows down their eating, encourages natural foraging instincts and works to decrease their stress levels.

It was a really simple rainy day craft project to undertake and very rewarding, although it used a good deal more fabric than I expected. It also involved a lot of knot tying! My reward was to see Cassie take to it with great gusto during training time this week. She hunted and foraged, snuffled and searched for her morning kibble in amongst the fleece-forrest, tail going like crazy. Very cute. And afterwards? A delightfully calm pup – which was a real bonus as she’s usually hyper if separated from her buddy for any reason.

Snuffle mat - Cassie

If you think you’d like to make one yourself, the instructions are on my craft page. Enjoy!

ps. For heaps of other good ideas to keep your dogs occupied, you might like to have a look at this canine enrichment site.

Just recently I received a fan email about Girdle of Bones. Yes, I know! Me – fan mail!? Wowser! It was a delightful surprise, particularly since it’s over two years since I (self)published the epic tome. But reading the email reminded me of just why I wrote the book in the first place.

Hey Nicky, I hadn’t realised you wrote a book. I think that would be my opening line when introducing myself to all people, in all settings, at all times.

What a journey! I won’t fanboy too much, but I really did enjoy it. Your resilience is, of course, the highlight of Girdle of Bones, and as I read I could feel it providing some much-needed perspective for myself… Medically, your advice about autologous blood deposits is such an important piece of knowledge I will take with me going forward. Questioning your doctors/performing your own research, something I am guilty of not doing, is something that will now remain front of mind when I have extended dealings with them. … I’ve already recommended your book to an aunt of my wife’s as she is possibly going down the path of a hip replacement. I know it will be of great use if she takes up the offer.

Anywayyss.. I did just wanted to pop in to say I really enjoyed it and hope you are spending your increased spare time working on more pieces so I can read on in the future. T.C.

Rather lovely, really. Thank you, TC. You made my day 🙂

So there I was, later the same day, feeling all shiny and pleased, when I bumped into someone from the local writing group. Much like most acquaintances when they bump into each other unexpectedly, we did the usual slightly awkward hello-how-are-you things for a couple of moments. Then, just as I was turning away, feeling reprieved, she popped in ‘‘So… you’re not writing anymore, are you?’

Ouch. Not an unreasonable comment, I guess, considering I have been AWOL from writing group for quite a while, but still… It felt like I’d been slapped by a wet fish… and my shiny writerly bubble was thoroughly burst.

All it took was seven words, delivered in a perfectly pleasant tone of voice, to supply a surprisingly effective dose of negative mental realignment. Perhaps I was feeling a little defensive about being absent from the group and not making contact with them?

No matter. Taking a deep breath, I let one of my mantras play inside my head – the equivalent of counting to 10: You’ve donned your big girl panties perfectly well when faced with far more confronting situations than this one, girl…

That allowed me to step back from what was, no doubt, just a passing comment. Then I just smiled. I smiled and told Patsy that I write when I can. She smiled too, said she hoped to see me back at the group sometime soon, and we parted ways.

But it made me think. In fact I thought about Patsy’s question far more than it actually warranted before eventually realising that it was irrelevant. I do write – I write when, where and what I feel in the mood for. Sometimes it’s just a brief note about something that catches my attention; at other times it’s as though my pencil is an extension of my hand.

But no matter which end of that writing scale I’m on at any given time, writing is part of who I am – whether others see me do it or not. (If I was five years old, I’d add: so there!) 🙂

It’s not what (or when or why) you do it, it’s whether you have fun on the journey.
Thanks for the reminder, TC.

Over the weekend I was having a chat with someone who’s been having a bit of a hard time coming to terms with some changes in their life. She spent a fair while telling me in some detail about the negatives, the unhappy-making things, and the things that cause her dissatisfaction. The list was long, with most of the issues carried forward over many years and none of them seeming to have any clear pathway to resolution.

It took me back to my mental first aid training last year. At the time the instructor stressed that, as often as not, people just need someone to hear them. That talking through an issue can make a huge difference in terms of coping and moving forward. So I listened.

When the conversation moved on, I found myself asking what sorts of things make her happy. Just simple, everyday things. Her response was, ‘I’ve never really thought about life that way.’ That made me sad.

But here’s the thing: life’s full of potentially unhappy-making events and experiences. They’re there, right in front of us or lying in wait around unexpected corners or concealed in the strangest of places. Every day. But so are happy-making things.

Happy-things don’t have to be epic happies, like successfully completing a project, or finding a solution to global warming, or resolving a relationship issue. They can be things as seemingly-trivial as taking a moment’s pleasure in sunshine on your shoulders, or someone smiling at you on the train, or seeing a dog chasing a ball in the park. It can be anything that, in that moment, makes you smile. That smile – that moment when your face softens and your eyes sparkle – that can be your positive for the day. If you let it.

It may sound a bit self-help and twee, but I’ve found that outlook makes an enormous difference to coping with all the weird stuff that life throws my way. Actively choosing to be receptive to the joy in the small stuff, making a conscious decision to look for happy things, changed how I looked at the bigger issues as well.

So, perhaps, dear friend, since the big issues are so very big and have no endgame in sight, perhaps try changing how you think about life. See if it helps to make a conscious decision to try to take pleasure each day in the small things, in the everyday things – and let’s catch up again next week and see how you’re travelling.

Autumn roses: my smile for today.

As part of my on-going commitment to not sending ‘stuff’ to landfill unless absolutely necessary, I recently got moderately creative. This was largely inspired by the over abundance (!) of decidedly past their best t-shirts lurking about in the back of my wardrobe.  To be honest, I’m really not at all sure how some of them got there. I suspect that there may have been a bit of a t-shirt breeding program going on in the dark recesses of wardrobe-land…

Anyhow, sorting through the epic pile of accumulated shirts, I ended up with four piles:

  1. Well-loved and even more well-worn shirts that I hadn’t been able to part with, a prime example being my first year uni t-shirt from 1979 – paint stains and all
  2. Those that seemed to have been kept ‘just in case’ – after all, you never know when you might need a less-than-perfect shirt for grubby projects such as painting, grouting mosaics, gardening, etc.
  3. The mystery shirts from a parallel universe (or other unknown source/s)
  4. and – the smallest pile by far – the ones I still want to wear.

A quick re-sort of piles one, two and three created a fifth pile: those suitable to donate to a goodwill/thrift shop.

Once pile number five was disposed of, and I’d combined what remained of pile one (can’t bear to part with them) with pile four (will actually wear them), I was still left with a very large pile of shirts to recycle or repurpose in some way.

Hunting around on the magical internets-of-ideas (aka Pinterest) I discovered instructions to turn unwanted t-shirts into t-shirt yarn. This could then be knitted or crocheted into useful and/or decorative household items, such as bathmats or baskets. A most cunning plan!

So I embarked on phase one: create the yarn. A fair bit of trial and error ensued, until I came across set of simple  instructions that I could work from, even though most of my shirts had side seams and not all of them were 100% cotton (which does work best).

By this stage I’d promised to run a series of community workshops on how create very cute t-shirt yarn baskets. This meant that my learning curve suddenly had to take a speedy uphill climb so that I could stay a step or two ahead of the game!

More trial and error ensued, with me using the biggest crochet hook I’d ever seen to create baskets of various shapes and sizes. In the process I learned that:

  • the softer the t-shirt fabric, the kinder it is to your hands
  • a slightly looser tension is required when using a big hook and fabric yarn
  • one t-shirt provides not quite enough yarn to make a small basket.

By the end of the workshops, everyone had conquered the process and completed at least one basket. As to what they’ll be used for… suggestions ranged from storing toys, bathroom essentials or other household items, through to planters (around houseplants) or turning them into Easter baskets full of chocolate eggs.

At the end of the day, whatever the baskets are used for, they’re definitely more useful than a pile of daggy old t-shirts going to landfill.

A question’s been bumping around in my head for a while now and I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out the answer. Or, more accurately, whether there is actually any one simple answer.

I recently attended an annual general meeting of a group that boasts almost 500 members. It saddened me to see just how hard it appeared to be to get just seven of those people (the minimum for quorum) to put their hands up for the volunteer management committee.

It’s not a particularly arduous role and all of the people involved with the organisation believe in it and enjoy what it has to offer. So my question is: Why do people volunteer – or not volunteer – their time? 

In this world of busy-busy-busy, it seems to me that when people are asked to volunteer, their response is more and more likely to be a version of ‘what’s in it for me?’, rather than ‘how can I help out?’

I’m lucky enough to be involved with four quite different community organisations. Despite their differences, what each of these groups has in common is a strong reliance on volunteer involvement. These volunteers make it possible for the groups to continue to provide the activities or services that their members enjoy, which is a very clear return on investment.

When I’ve asked those people who do volunteer for those groups why they do so, motivation seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. Some simply have a vested interest in the outcomes of the organisation, so they’re happy pitch in and get things done. Others say they’ve reached a stage where they want to ‘give back’ to their community, perhaps to discharge some sense of social obligation. Some want try to make a difference by sharing their skills, or to learn something new or to develop their professional standing – volunteering does look good on a CV, after all.

But, by and large, they all said they want to make a contribution, get to know people and to have some fun along the way. And I get it, since most of those points have been what has motivated me to volunteer in various capacities over the years myself.So what about the people who choose not to get involved, either by active or passive avoidance? I’ve talked to many people to try to figure out why they don’t step forward, rather than back or sideways. And they usually provide surprisingly simple answers, most including one or more of the following:

  • I don’t have time / too busy / etc
  • I’ve never found anything that really interests me
  • Tried it once, didn’t work for me
  • Nobody’s ever asked me

Any of that sound familiar? I’m sure it does.

So, what’s the solution? I wish I knew.

What I do know is that

  • some of the busiest people I know are also the ones that do the most for others.
  • there’s always something that interests people – they just need to look outwards, rather than inwards.
  • not all groups work for all people – so if something doesn’t work for you, then you could simply view like any other choice in life and pick an alternative — there are certainly enough options out there.
  • if you’ve never been asked, then perhaps it’s time to offer… sometimes it’s difficult for groups to know who to ask, so stepping forward can solve both sides of that equation.

People who volunteer are great – no matter how much or how little they do. Not everyone has capacity to do the same things or commit to the same amount of time, but there are plenty of groups out there who could do with whatever help you have to offer.

Your reward? Sharing in the enthusiasm of community building with people who have interests in common – or who may want to explore new ones. And you’ll also have that little glow inside, the one that says ‘Hey, I did a good thing today – just because I can.’ It’s a pretty good feeling 🙂

(Btw, Volunteering WA is a good a place to start if you’re interested in stepping up. Or you could try your own local volunteering body if you’re not in Western Australia.)