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It took three years of wrangling and some fighting with authorities to start our build on the block of land we purchased just outside of Dungog. I didn’t imagine for a minute that it was going to take that long. Our dream is to create an off grid, self-sufficient farm along biodynamic principles and spend the next twenty years developing that idea.

We have 160 acres of beautiful hilly land with amazing views and I’m itching to get started. We put in a new driveway, and the day after that was created, it started raining and pretty much hasn’t stopped since. We needed the rain, to be sure, but we need to build too. The three-year process has tested my patience and now the weather is just teasing me. 

We are building a very modest eco sensitive dwelling. Council rules require us to build without the view and dumb, inflexible state planning rules required us to tick so many stupid preparatory boxes it was just crazy. I understand that some of those rules are about to be relaxed, which will help people trying to do this in the future. It killed me to keep shelling out money to experts to write reports that were a complete waste of time and money. Anyhow, that part is history now.

The next few years will be filled with challenges for both Anna and I as we learn to be self-sufficient. I have zero skills with nothing other than a passion to learn and appreciation of the void I am about to try to cross. We will both continue to work part-time which relaxes the financial pressure substantially. 

The build completion is probably 8 months away. So lets say its May 2019 that we are aiming at having our first meal and sleepover. In the meantime then I have about 30 weekends in which I can plant things, compost things, mow things, dig things and generally be a nuisance to mother nature.

I let myself go

I will admit, I let myself go a little. A combination of getting close to sixty, not sleeping well and a dicky back, a constantly sore ankle along with a fair share of general laziness with a hefty dash of self loathing. I had given up glancing at myself in the mirror and certainly never side on. One day I just got too revolted. 

I needed some sort of plan. A podiatrist could probably fix my ankle, some exercise could probably strengthen my back and then maybe some regular exercise program would work away at my burgeoning girth. I quickly discounted the idea of a diet.

Eight months down the track, I have had two people tell me how healthy I look. No cash for comment or anything. I joined a small group of people four mornings a week with a local trainer. My bride had been going for a year and was looking great. Brad is quite incredible in his generosity and inclusiveness. He tailors every exercise in a way that makes me feel like I’m working hard, though I am often not doing what others in the group are doing. Two mornings of boot camp and two mornings of strength training.

I feel better than I have felt for a decade. In raw numbers, I haven’t said goodbye to too much of me, but I’m definitely a better shape, Im sleeping better and feel so much happier with every part of my day. I could probably lose more weight if I gave up drinking wine, but I have no desire to do that. If you are feeling like you don’t want to see yourself in the mirror, or you can’t see anything else in the mirror, then made its time you too broke it down into bite sized pieces and made a change.

It is so empowering to wake up in the morning, feeling like you really can do it.

I will look like a nong

I’m going to the doctors on Tuesday to get a mole removed, its sort of more like a weird freckle on my face that wasn’t there 6 months ago. It’s probably nothing, and I will spend a week with a band-aid on my face and look like a complete nong, but that’s OK isn’t it?

The truth is though, that I am worried about it. I’m not apoplectic or inconsolable, but I am not treating it like it’s a torn finger nail either. This mole appeared only recently and that is not a good thing in a person my age. Chances are, its nothing. I have said, in the past to people, “worrying doesn’t help” but that is not completely true is it. If worrying just a little, motivates you to actually do something about the situation then it is not a waste at all.

In my case, I have taken the opportunity to update my letters to my children. Because I know if I get shitty news, I’m not going to be in the right head space to write to them appropriately. I have checked and rechecked the building plans for our new house, so that all goes ahead without a hitch.

I have consulted with Dr Google briefly (not extensively) about the other options for my new mole. I have gone back to wearing my lovely hat, even thought its winter. Truth is I prefer to wear my hat, so now I have a legitimate excuse. I have invested in some SPF30 lip balm. I should be wearing this stuff every day but haven’t because I got lazy. These are all good positive things. 

Tuesday will come and go, most likely, like every other Tuesday in my life. But I’m not looking forward to it.

Living with purpose

It seems that we are happiest when we are living our lives with purpose. To some, that sounds incredibly obvious, but not to everyone. If you take a minute to look around you, many people are working toward the day when they have no purpose. That is their life plan. It would be my guess that if or when they get there, they will discover it is not as they had planned at all.

Purpose comes in all manner of shape and size. For some people, purpose is their job or their business, for some others it is their family, their children or their church. It could come in the shape of a task or a project or perhaps a journey. Without it though, people often feel lost or worse, some start to feel worthless. I see it all the time in people who have recently retired having worked with purpose all their lives. Suddenly they find themselves directionless, and often quite sad, maybe even depressed.

A task which brings me great joy is coaching coaches. Training them to be effective in their roles. One of the tasks I give them to do is work out their purpose. What drives them, what scares them, worries them and what brings them most joy. They find the task challenging but feedback tells me they also find this part of the training more useful than just about anything else they learn.

I have from time to time in my life lived without purpose and I have not enjoyed it one bit. Working a job that was meaningless to me, and not involved in anything else that gave me joy or a sense of fulfilment. Finding something that gives you purpose can be easier said then done though. By that I don’t mean something like your life’s purpose, not like “why am I here?” “who am I?” type purpose, though lets not rule that out entirely. I’m talking more about something smaller, more tangible, easier to grasp.

Having interviewed hundreds of people I am of the opinion that most people find some purpose as a by-product of their personal strengths. Is that too obvious? If someone is a super strong visualiser and a strong facilitator type, they get pleasure from and find purpose in visualising and helping others to do the same. If someone is good at building or wood-turning, they get a sense of purpose making things for other people. So what are your strengths? Do you know them? A lot of people have no idea, and some have a little bit of an idea without really knowing.

If you are feeling a bit lost, living your life without purpose, find someone capable of doing a strengths finder with you, or something similar. There are some free online versions which are worth doing but in my experience you are much better off seeking something a little more psychologically rigorous. Leadership trainers, or workplace councillors, or similar may be able to help.

Not the scarecrow

I have proof positive that I have a brain. I mean, I was always confident I actually had one, but there is something very reassuring about being able to see it in black and white. This picture was produced as part of an MRI I had earlier this week, which was part of a study into pain.

I volunteered to be a part of this great study as one of those “without chronic pain” which will help the clever scientists work out what the brain is actually doing to those poor people suffering chronic limb pain. Chronic pain is just so dreadful, so debilitating. I suffered a little nine years ago with nerve pain in my back, my leg and foot which resulted in surgery to relieve it. I was one of the lucky ones, pain-free the morning after surgery.

It is little wonder that so many people who suffer from chronic pain get themselves to a point where life is just too difficult and everything is completely coloured by their condition. Sensation discrimination is a little different for left-handers than right handers which is interesting. Lets face it, it’s all interesting isn’t it? We know so little about what pain actually is, and what the brain does in the process of convoluting those impulses, so it was really exciting to be a part of the study.

My amazingly strong bride can abseil down thirty storey buildings and walk the Kakoda Track, neither of which I could do, so it was cool to be able to do something she could not. Sticking your head into an MRI tunnel for thirty minutes is not for everyone. I am so glad we have brilliant researchers looking into this stuff. This sort of study will truly change lives.

 

Code words I should have understood

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My council has a little catch phrase they attach to all correspondence, you know the type “Serving our community” or the like. I suspect when they were creating it, they were conscious of the need to fit it on one line, and therefore it is in ant writing. So tiny, that when i first saw it, I simply wrote it off as nonsense. This one is a little word heavy and it fooled me so I thought I would share my stupidity with you. It reads “A vibrant united community with a sustainable economy. An area where rural character, community safety and lifestyle are preserved.”

Now clearly this is written in code! I should have seen this from the start. The economy is not sustainable, the council’s current single biggest focus is in raising the rates to incredible levels, reportedly somewhere between 70% and 100%, because it is currently not sustainable. With the empty shops in their main street, I can clearly see the economy is not thriving. This beautiful little town nestled in the hinterland could only be viewed as vibrant if you were the wee hermit in the mountains and came to town once a month to do your shopping. Sleepy would be a more apt description. I like sleepy, but lets call it for what it is.

It is the second sentence that should have sent the message to me. Anytime a council is preserving anything it is clearly code for resistance to change, slippery pole politics and any other nonsense they can speak of to reduce new thinking. Let alone the terms rural character and safety.  So if they can’t get you by citing preservation of lifestyle then surely safety and preservation of rural character are cover-all statements that are irrefutable arguments against everything.

New building is not going to work, new thinking, experimenting, new ideas, no, none of that is going to be possible under this catch-all. How dare you even suggest they might be restricting their own horizons, limiting their capacity for growth, stymying input, committing economic vandalism. How could you even suggest such a thing. Oh wait, that’s right, you’re from the city aren’t you.

People from the city wouldn’t understand. People from the city don’t know beauty, or quiet. People from the city don’t know what its like. Whatever it is. People from the city it would seem, are hell-bent on ruining everything. Out out damn spot.

You just have to know the code.

My first field day

I am getting excited. Our Development Application is very close to being finalised which means the end (or the beginning) is in sight. New driveways and new buildings are not too far away now. This weekend there is a field day local to our property. I have never been to one and I can’t wait.

Farm machinery, animals, people, dust and country air, are all just one more sleep away. The last six months have been an emotional roller-coaster watching the local council waft from one position to the next on every facet of this very modest construction. Rightly or wrongly they hold the view that no new building should be able to be seen in profile, which is difficult when we own what is effectively the top of a mountain.

Sadly my bride wont be coming along as she has some HUGE work commitments on the day and she doesn’t want to miss her football team playing the next day, so I’m travelling solo. I will let you know how it goes!

Be good at it, or stop doing it!

I am so glad I am sitting here writing. For that matter, I’m glad I am still breathing. I came so close to having it all end in a nasty accident today, it’s a gut wrenching struggle to recount it. Riding my scooter back from Sydney’s western suburbs I was in the right hand lane doing 80kms as the left lane was doing 60 or maybe even 50. I was in a line of traffic, having left enough room in front in case I needed to react quickly.

The car in the left lane, without indicator, decided he urgently needed to be in my lane. He didn’t give himself enough time to look, didn’t look into his mirror or turn his head. He just came out. No time to give him a polite toot, only time to hit the anchors and turn toward the concrete dividing wall. He saw me when my front tyre was 4 inches from his front door and swerved back left.

He put up his hand to indicate that he hadn’t seen me and was sorry. Of course he hadn’t seen me, he hadn’t bother looking!!!! Then, just as many car drivers do when they get yelled at, he got all indignant and decided to tailgate me for the next 5 kms. You just have to love that sort of pig ignorant behaviour. I honestly wanted to kick his car doors in and stomp on his head.

Now that I have calmed down and had a little think, I can now lift my spirit out off the motorway, and be thankful I am alive. For goodness sakes team, if you are driving on the road, drive well. Be good at it, or stop doing it.

Help I’m in a rut!!!

Getting in a rut is easy to do. You find yourself sitting on the lounge watching rubbish on TV or at the dining table eating boring food or worse still, catch yourself talking rubbish. It’s easy enough to do. Here are a few things you might want to consider doing to help jolt yourself out of that rut.

Listen to ‘Common at the Whitehouse’. Just type that into YouTube. This extraordinary performer will give you an insight into his world in a gentle explorative music genre. Just four songs performed at the Whitehouse in the last few weeks of the Obama’s term in the House. NPR recorded this.

NPR also do an amazing series of music samplers called Tiny Desk. I hope you have heard some of these. Depending where you up to in your music journey, you could try The Crossrhodes or go old school with The Blueman or Randy Newman (sublime four songs) or if western swing is more your thing try Lyle Lovett. Perhaps something pretty and intimate like the extraordinary  Laura Mvula will work for you. (The only person I have seen play a Rhodes electric piano and sing, standing up.)

The story behind this show is to take musicians and ask them to play in an office with very little technology. They just roll back a desk, throw a couple of microphones into the mix. Some artists cope wonderfully, others really struggle. Think about it for a moment. Imagine standing up at your workplace and belting out a couple of tunes. If you can’t find something on NPR Tiny Desk that speaks to you and lifts you out of the rut, you are not trying. The diversity is staggering. The depth and richness of the musical offering is unequalled.

If the visual is more your thing, you could try Omeletto a YouTube station that presents short films. There is some very disturbing stuff, it will jolt you out of your rut. I have deliberately stayed away from book here, I could list a hundred for you. But if you are a reader already, you are probably not in a rut.

A dinner guest gets me thinking

We have a guest coming for dinner tonight.  He is the nephew of a highly regarded friend of mine and we have not met him. Pretty much all I know about him is the family tie and that he is an opera singer. It is this last piece of information, scant though it is, which sent me down the path of pondering the things in the world that I just don’t get.

Quite clearly that could indeed be a long list, but before my coffee arrived at my table I had it down to three major items. I don’t get the hate that is part and parcel of every major non asian based religion. It seems to me that each of these religious groups for one reason or another breeds hate. I just don’t get it. On one hand they give lip service to love and acceptance while they perpetuate or even feed hatred of anyone who thinks differently or who worships differently. I don’t get that.

I don’t get opera. I am a music lover. I had a music radio show for more than a decade devoted to an array of music styles that embraced country, jazz, bluegrass, contemporary, choral, hiphop and singer songwriters. I grew up and have an appreciation for the clever ditties of Gilbert and Sullivan, that whacky English form of comic opera from the Victorian era that was clearly the precursor for the rock operas of the 1970’s. But I just don’t opera. Even the well-known, well-worn pieces like Puccini’s Nessun Dorma which instantly have me comparing this version with the last version I heard, which clearly was not the intention of the composer. I just don’t get opera.

I don’t get rollmops. Those vinegary vegetables wrapped in pickled herring, huddled together in glass jars. Even more gobsmackingly out of my world of understanding is the fact they are eaten at breakfast time in some baltic countries.

Thank goodness my coffee has arrived and I can put a halt to that nasty salivating thing my mouth does before throwing up. There you go, my world of things I don’t get.