A number of years later

Yesterday I spent over an hour cutting the illustrations from a 2006 Leunig calendar and sticking them on the back of some bookshelves beside my computer table. Some might consider this a waste of time considering all the other things I don’t have time for. But actually the activity had multiple purposes:

1. When I now glance to the left, I am induced to smile.
2. The blank back of the bookshelves was wasted space.
3. The calendar was in a pile of things which required a decision from me—keep forever, or throw out. Michael Leunig is one of my heroes, so I resist throwing any of his work out.
4. The activity, in my opinion, was ‘play’—one of the essentials for a happy and creative life.
5. It is the sort of thing I always ‘intend’ to do when I have some spare time—something always in short supply.
6. And THAT is what I’ll do differently this year … spend more time on trivial things which infuse life with small joys (I’ve even made myself a Joy book in which to record these small joys).
7. For attaching the images, I used some Ultra Bond strips (purported to be removable) … the sort of thing you can never find when you’re deliberately looking for it. There was exactly enough for the project.)
I especially like one of the quotes in the calendar: “Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life, and to get started we’ll make a list of all the silly things you did yesterday.”
It is over 3 years since I last added a post to this blog. It has been a challenging time and I hardly know where to begin to tell you about it. I think I’ll leave that for another post. Meanwhile, here I still am … a small miracle really. The average survival for people with a brain tumour is about 15 months. In November 2017, I reached 6 years! So I’ve done very well. I’m ‘unusual’ my oncologist says.
More later … when I can figure out how to add photos. The WordPress interface has changed since I was last here. Curses! Change for change’s sake is often not a good thing!


A cat called Kasha


We could have missed out on sharing Kasha’s life. We’d always kept 2 cats, partly because they were great company for each other and partly because it was a joy to watch their interactions. So when Aleysha (an exquisite grey tabby Oriental) died on the road on 31 August 1997 (the day Princess Diana died), Dipity needed a new companion. She cried so much, we knew we had to find one quickly. A friend, who was a vet, asked if we’d like to adopt a young female Burmese, who was lost. We readily agreed, and she was brought to the house to meet Dipity.

Dipity was a tiny, gutsy Siamese, once described by her doting vet as “like fine porcelain” This was after he’d stayed up all night putting drops in her eye which had been clawed by a possum. She enchanted him so much that, when she refused the cat food offered, he went to a nearby chicken bar and bought her roast chicken!

The Burmese and Dipity rubbed noses, and there seemed to be no animosity. This was a surprise, because Dipity didn’t usually like ‘new’ cats. I sat on a bed with the newcomer, and she immediately jumped on my lap, snuggled her nose into my elbow and gave me a kiss. Thus I called her ‘Baci’, which in Italian means ‘kisses’.

We don’t know how she did it, but somehow Baci escaped from the house. We searched the neighbourhood, to no avail. To our distress, my husband found her on his morning walk the next day, dead by the side of a busy road. I suppose she was trying to find her way home, wherever that might have been. I felt sadder than I would have anticipated for a cat I’d known only one day. We buried her in our small rainforest garden.

So Dipity still had no companion.

Our son had a yen to have a Tonkinese, a breed he said had lovely personalities. All our previous cats had some Siamese in them, so we were happy to comply.

Enter Kasha. We bought her from a breeder of Tonkinese cats quite a distance from where we lived at the time. We put her into a carrying case, but once the car started she yelled so loudly that I decided to take her out and wrapped her in a rug on my lap. She climbed up to my chest and gazed up at me adoringly … this was to become her favourite position whenever she needed comfort.

The first evening, we thought we’d lost her too! Again we searched the neighbourhood and put posters up on posts. The following morning we found her in a drawer in my husband’s office!

Dipity did not accept her at first. In fact, for about 6 weeks she was quite antagonistic (as she had been with Aleysha in the beginning), but after that she adopted the role of obsessive foster mother. The two of them were always together, even when they went walkabout.





I suppose you could say Kasha had an ‘eventful’ life. She was allowed to be an ‘outside’ cat, but seemed to stay fairly close to our house. One evening she didn’t come home. Again we put posters around the neighbourhood, and after a couple of days received a phone call from a young man who told us he and his father had found her in the middle of the same busy road where Baci had been killed. They stopped the traffic and rescued her, then took her to a 24-hr animal hospital. When we arrived, the vet told me they usually euthanase injured animals after two days if nobody has claimed them, but when Kasha looked at him with her big blue eyes he just had to wait a bit longer.

She had a broken hip and damaged kidney. We took her to our usual vet, who was able to repair the hip, but could not save the kidney. It was predicted her life would probably be shortened as a result … but she lived nearly 17 years!

Dipity died when Kasha was 4 years old. Shortly afterwards we acquired Paddington, a Siamese-Birman cross, also 4 years old. You can read his story here: https://melisanda.wordpress.com/2009/09/06/in-memory-of-paddington/

After Paddington died we decided not to get another cat. As Paddington had not been a cuddle-cat, Kasha had become more indpendent, as well as inserting herself more into her people’s lives. With Paddington gone, I have to say she became more demanding and more vocal about it. At first this was annoying, but gradually we realised she wasn’t just complaining, she was ‘communicating’ This became more obvious when we moved from Brisbane to our present home at Woody Point.

One day my husband, son and I all went out together, leaving Kasha alone for the first time since the move. We were gone most of the day. When we returned she met us on the front path. Her body language accusing, and she ‘dressed us down’ in no uncertain terms. This went on for so long that the 3 of us burst out laughing. She didn’t like that, so of course we had to console her.

She didn’t just talk to us either. On a walk one day, we came across her sitting inside a neighbour’s property. At first we didn’t see her but a magpie was on the fence and we spoke to it. To our amazement Kasha appeared and answered. She and the magpie then carried on a conversation. Later we heard her doing the same with other birds in our garden. She never threatened them, nor they her. We came to realise that our ‘nuisance cat’ was highly intelligent.


I could go on with Kasha stories, but this is a blog post, not a book.

During 2013, the broken hip began to affect her. At first it was just sensitive, then she started having spasms, which grew worse as the year went on. One morning we found she could barely walk … dragging her right hind leg, while the right front paw bent under. We took her to the vet with heavy hearts, thinking he would recommend putting her to sleep. He didn’t. He watched her ‘walking’ and said, “She’s going to learn to manage that”.  She was otherwise in good condition.

She improved every day and very soon was able to walk with just a wobble. It was inspirational to watch her as she practised different ways of doing everything she used to be able to do … or, if she couldn’t, asking for our help. She was no longer able to do a standing jump, which made getting onto my lap difficult. She compensated this by gathering her resources and doing a running leap. This continued for about 6 months, then she started to weaken. The day came when the running leap failed and she crashed to the floor. She was devastated. I picked her up and comforted her, but she sank miserably on my lap, and it seemed afterwards that her spirit was broken.

We knew the end was coming. To my great sadness she died (naturally) when I was in hospital. My son sat with her on his lap for 3 hours and stroked her till she took her last breath.

There’ll never be another cat like Kasha. But then, one thing we’ve learned is that all cats are different, just as, I suppose, all animals are different.

Farewell, little Kasha. I hope you meet Paddington and Dipity again in cat heaven.


Tastes of Life

The CAN Company’s achievement in 2013 was little short of miraculous. Despite 2 of the 4 members being overseas for several months, and my ongoing health challenges, we managed to compile a book and calendar on the theme Tastes of Life, and stage a fabulous launch on 10 November. I say ‘fabulous’ because the feedback was fabulous.

It all started when I made the comment that, as a result of the side-effect of the medication I was taking, I had lost, not only my appetite for food, but my appetite for life as well. Lyn suggested that we explore what makes individual taste ‘tick’. For food, we have taste buds. Do we have the equivalent of taste buds for other areas of our lives—music, clothes, art, movies, literature, humour, people? Why do different people have different tastes? Do our tastes change over a lifetime? Do we gravitate towards people who share our tastes?

A fascinating topic, though I’m not sure we found any answers. Another of life’s mysteries.

My personal challenge became one of tempting my appetite back into life by offering myself choice titbits in all these areas.

We chose an art deco visual theme for the book and launch, simply because Lyn expressed a liking for a particular font to use for the titles. Being a designer, I declared that the book’s design would need to be in accord. We extended this theme to the clothing we wore to the launch—which delighted the audience.


About 60 friends and relations attended the launch and they appeared to enjoy themselves immensely, especially the ‘performance’ part of the event. At our launches we always sing a selection of songs which echo the theme of the book. In this case our selection ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime:

We’re Happy Little Vegemites  and I Like Aeroplane Jelly (to honour weird Aussie tastes)
Rum by Gum (anon?)
Bottle o’ Wine (Tom Paxton)
The Aussie Barbecue Song (more weird Aussie tastes) (Eric Bogle)
The Honor of Your Company (Tom Paxton) … not on ‘taste’ but a tribute to all the people who have shared our journey with us.

The audience listened with wrapt attention or joined in with gusto as appropriate.

Books and calendars sold well, along with a selection of ‘taste’ cards and other gift items. With the proceeds we were able to treat ourselves to a splendid Christmas lunch, while having enough over in ‘kitty’ to buy equipment, books etc. throughout the coming year.


The CAN Company itself is one of life’s miracles. In December 2014 we will celebrate our 20th anniversary. Since December 1994 we have been meeting at least once a month. Although we are all very different, and not slow to express our views, we have never had a serious disagreement. While I am considered the ‘leader’ the group operates by consensus. When there is work to be done, everyone pitches in without any need for direction.

In 2014 we will adopt a retrospective approach … details to be decided.

Bringing 2013 to a close

My very wise GP keeps encouraging me to live in the ‘timeless zone’ which means, in the present moment. I have a bit of a problem with ‘present moment’ though, because as soon as you even say the words that present moment has gone into the past. You can’t grasp hold of it. So the way I handle it is to imagine myself hovering above my timeline, where everything—past, present and future—exists simultaneously. I can then look forward and back at will, while acknowledging that any action can only be taken right now.

Writing this blog seems, from that higher vantage point, to need an account of some stuff from 2013 (in timezone speak) for the sake of completion … to make way for what is to come.

The year was probably my most challenging to date, with ongoing health problems, the deaths of 6 people who had played a significant part in my life (only one of whom I expected to die before me), continuing financial issues, and the death of our precious, nearly-17-year-old cat Kasha.

Firstly the health issues

Although an MRI scan earlier in the year indicated my brain tumour had gone completely, another scan six months later showed three new ones, in inaccessible places. At the moment they’re very small and unlikely to cause problems in the near future. About the same time, it was discovered I had fluid in the pleural cavity around the left lung. Two drainage sessions later it was also found there was cancer in the pleural cavity. A number of small nodules, apparently. My doctor recommended pleurodesis (look it up if you want to know what that means). I expected this to be painful during the procedure and afterwards. Not so (you can’t believe everything you read or are told). A month later, I’m still suffering no after-effects.

It was while I was in hospital for the above procedures that my cat died … the day before I was supposed to go home. However, by this time it was the weekend and the relief doctor didn’t feel she had the authority to discharge me. In the end I threw a tantrum and discharged myself, after signing the appropriate form. I felt good taking charge of my own welfare. Intuitively, I knew I was in no immediate danger and that I’d be better off at home. In the hospital I was bored silly, couldn’t eat the awful hospital food, and I really really needed private space to grieve for my cat.

In summary, on paper I’m in really bad shape, but in the ‘present moment’ I feel fine, my only ‘symptom’ being intermittent fatigue, which is probably largely caused by the medication I’m on.  Fortunately I’ve found some effective ways of counteracting that.

I would have said 2013 was my worst year ever, except that there were a number of good things too, one of which was the launch of Tastes of Life, The CAN Company’s latest book. But I’ll talk about that in my next post.


Attachments & letting go : Part 1

I haven’t felt inspired to write for the past month. There have been too many things to think about, make decisions about, worry about (pointless though that may be), all the while contending with ongoing health problems. At the same time, I knew that probably the best medicine was engaging in creative projects … writing, taking photographs, making books. None of this seemed possible, as I felt constantly tired.

All areas of my life need decluttering. I decided to make a start by decluttering my computer. This led me to look back through ancient files and I found a folder titled  ‘Carmel’s art and writings’. Some of these dated back ten years. I’m not a person who can just throw everything out without looking at it, and I’m glad of that because some of this work is possibly the best I’ve ever done. I was surprised at the quality and the insights … if I had acted on these, my life might have taken a different (and better) path. But maybe not.

I realised that much of the work had never seen the light of day (outside CAN Company meetings) and an intuitive voice told me “now is the time”.

One year, The CAN Company chose  ‘Attachments’  as its theme. My explorations on the subject led me to ruminate on trees …

“A tree is in a constant state of change … and movement. Before I spent time musing about the matter, I had consciously thought only about a tree’s habit of letting go of leaves, and I’d considered how some leaves become more beautiful after they fall from the tree (a fascinating metaphor to follow). Then I thought of the way a tree drops small twigs and the occasional branch on a continuous basis, always replacing them with others. Further consideration told me that even the tree’s roots are constantly dying and others taking their place … not the main root, maybe, but the subsidiary ones (another metaphor worth following).

“This is just the lesson I need to learn. I accumulate too much. My house is full of books I’ll never read, fabrics I’ll never sew, art materials, recipes, etc. I’ll never use, decades-worth of letters I’ll never look at again, unusual objects of all kinds which ‘might come in handy one of these days’… yeah, sure, provided I remember I’ve got the stuff, and can find it when needed. Each time I take on something new, I should let something else go. Preferably, I should take the initiative in letting go of what no longer nurtures me (or the reverse), IN ORDER to make way for new things … like the tree.”


This is not, strictly speaking, a ‘tree’ but a wisteria vine which grew beside the verandah at our house in Brisbane. It was a constant source of delight to me—one of the few things in our garden that changed with the seasons. 
(To be continued)

Picnic at Sandgate

The Redcliffe Peninsula has been a glorious place to live for the past few months … clear blue days, gentle breezes, sparkling tranquil sea. On just such an idyllic day, in early August, we met with friends for a picnic at nearby Sandgate. These are friends we’ve known for 30-plus years, since our children were babies. Life is so busy nowadays that we rarely see them, so the occasion itself was bound to be memorable.

And so it was.

It was also, if I remember rightly, my first hatless/scarfless/beanieless outing with my post-radiation hair. I don’t think it’s ever going to grow any longer. Some people say they like it (people are polite), but I hate it. Just look at that receding hairline! It looks worse from the front—the high forehead is too much contrast to a now-narrow jaw. For most of my life I’ve worn a fringe, which looks like it will never be possible again. If the hair were on someone else I probably would think it’s alright, but it’s just not me! I suppose I should consider this the least of my problems … at least it will save me money on haircare.Image

We whiled away several hours chatting about nothing in particular and fondly watching the ‘young ones’ enjoying themselves on the beach.ImageImage

Adding to the magic, a surprise visitor arrived in the form of a butterfly (I think it was an angel), which hovered with apparent curiosity around just one person then settled in front of her. We suggested she extend her finger to see if it would land on it. Instead, it did this …Image

It stayed on her sunglasses for a couple of minutes, then fluttered to a nearby wine glass and sipped on the rim.

We felt blessed.

Why I gave up housework

(I’ve been slow getting back to this blog because I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about. Then I remembered that I used to be able to write lots about absolutely nothing, so decided to give it a whirl. I won’t be offended if you decide to skip it.)

In the early years of my marriage I acknowledged that I would never be a good housekeeper. I mentioned this in a letter to a good friend in the USA. She replied, “Well, I’ve never heard any of my friends say they loved their mother because she was a good housekeeper.” That was good enough for me. I passed the comment on to a friend whose husband had been complaining about her poor housekeeping habits. I also suggested she challenge him to name one fascinating woman who had a tidy house. He couldn’t. I’m sure there are some fascinating women with tidy houses, but I doubt there are many … especially if you turn up unannounced. If you think you’ve found an exception, check for the possibility of paid housekeeping help lurking in the background.

I blame my mother for my poor housekeeping habits. She was a meticulous housekeeper, and my sister and I had to help with the housework. The two of us always did the dishes , made our beds and kept the room we shared tidy, swept floors, and I’m sure there were other tasks I’ve now forgotten, Our two brothers were exempt from all this, which I thought grossly unfair. (I can’t recall their helping Dad with outside work either, but perhaps I just didn’t notice.)

My ‘special’ job was to dust the ledges once a week. This was extraordinarily boring because there was never enough dust to make it worthwhile. Once a month would have been more than often enough.

Some children emulate their parents, others take the opposite path as soon as they are able, which for me was as soon as I left home. During my single years I was fortunate in sharing with other girls who weren’t fussy housekeepers either.

(Aside: I also blame my father for my becoming a ‘late person’. He always caused us to arrive at destinations so early that we had to twiddle our thumbs with boredom for ages.)

I don’t want you to think that I have a disgustingly untidy, dirty house (though A-class housekeepers would probably disagree). I’m pretty good when it comes to bathroom and kitchen where cleanliness is important. It’s not that I don’t like clean, tidy houses either, but I’d rather someone else kept them that way.

So that things don’t get completely out of control, we make sure we invite visitors now and again, to give us an incentive to do a general cleanup.

Such an occasion occurred about a week ago. Guests were coming the following day and I suddenly noticed the kitchen floor was decidedly grotty. My husband, who has taken on a number of household chores (bless him) washes it intermittently, and fairly ineffectively (but it would be petty of me to complain). It’s one of those vinyl floors I’ve only encountered in rented houses—the kind that has a sort of indented textured surface, which (I suppose) is intended to make it unslippery, but which captures grease and dust in such a way that it is completely resistant to normal cleaning. In the olden days a woman would have got down on her knees with a scrubbing brush. That was out of the question, of course, but I found some heavy duty cleaner, spread it on the floor, and attacked it with a hard-bristled broom. This worked, but only with great effort. And then I had to mop the floor 3 times with clean water to remove all the soapy scum. Hours later, exhausted, I had a clean floor.

For a few moments I regarded it with pride. Then I realised that, if I were to die the following day, I’d be really annoyed to have spent so much of my last day house-cleaning.

The guests, needless to say, didn’t notice. And my son didn’t give me a big hug and tell me I was a wonderful mother. He has told me on a number of occasions, however, that he’s glad he has such an interesting mother.

Probably I should have just gone to the beach …

Lovely, typical winter sea at Scotts Point

Palm fronds continued

There’s not much point taking a hundred photos of a palm frond if you don’t do something with them. The easiest option was to make cards and bookmarks. One day I might even try to sell them, though I daresay I’d have more success with cute cats. 

Oh well, I enjoyed experimenting with different combinations of photos:

A little Photoshop manipulation.

The first cards were done in landscape format, with 3 images on each as shown. I then tried a portrait format, with a palm tree silhouetted behind, but I wasn’t too sure if I liked those. The image below shows the full card, which would then be folded in two. A bookmark is pictured on the right.
ImageI have so many cards now … I’ll never have to buy one again!


God is in the details

In the absence of any new work, I decided to look back over past stuff and see what I could find (and perhaps learn). When we lived in Brisbane, we were blessed with a sheltered verandah which was a constant source of inspiration because of the surrounding foliage, animal visitors, and the continually changing light and shade. In our present house, unfortunately, the surroundings are not nearly so conducive to creativity. So, when The CAN Company decided to do a photographic exercise which entailed taking 100 shots of just one item, I was at first completely bereft of ideas.

Then, as so often happens, a subject presented itself—on this occasion by making itself impossible to be overlooked.

We have several tall palm trees in our yard, and quite often the dead fronds fall off. My husband always thinks they’re going to fall on someone, but I think they purposely fall when they can’t hurt anyone. I’ve often thought it a shame I couldn’t think of anything to do with the sturdy sheaths which held the fronds to the palm’s trunk (I’ve just learned that these ‘sheaths’ are actually part of the ‘leaves’). I suppose, if you were staging a banquet, you could use them to hold a splendid array of fruits and flowers and stuff. But staging banquets is not one of my activities.

One day, when we returned home from a shopping trip, we came across a frond which had fallen across the path near our entrance door. We were both astonished by the colours on the sheath, especially a most unusual mauve … unusual because we’d never seen such a colour on a palm before.

“Ah,” thought I, “here’s my 100-shots subject.”

The mauve hue didn’t show up very well in my first shots, so I had to move in closer:


Then I started noticing other wonders—textures and patterns and a huge variety of colours and shapes that you can’t see when the frond is attached to the palm’s stem.

Soon I was totally absorbed by the frond and could probably have taken another hundred shots. I moved the frond around onto different backgrounds, and into different lighting conditions, and then became entranced by the shadows it cast.

I haven’t yet tried taking a hundred shots of something more challengingly ‘mundane’  (and maybe never will).

Stepping outside the circle

I mentioned a few posts ago a workshop series in which I’m currently involved, called Stepping Outside the Circle, presented by Amanda Moffatt of Bowerbird Creative Programs. Amanda works within the remarkable Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurshop group. My husband and I did a business course with Edgeware at the beginning of 2012. It ranks among the best courses I’ve ever attended. If I’d actually applied the principles afterwards, I’m sure I’d now be wildly successful. But then, as now, I was very unclear what direction I wanted to take.

When Amanda invited us to attend her workshop series, we readily accepted.

One of the exercises in the first session is very relevant within my self-searching journey. It involved a visualisation where we were encouraged to go within and see our reflection. As so often happens when I try this sort of exercise, I saw only changing patterns … no sign of a ‘reflective me’. To the question “What qualities does this reflection resemble or embody?” I had no answer.  

When I told the group I could not see my qualities, they said, “We can.”

I realised immediately the lesson taught by the Cello Story and the Healing Doll was being reinforced. No doubt I’m not unique in not recognising in myself the qualities that make me ‘special’ to others. And maybe the way to appreciate these qualities is to look for my reflection in those around me.

Better start looking sideways.