Celebrating Life, Lungs and Second Chances!

“If you’re reading this…
Congratulations, you’re alive.
If that’s not something to smile about,
then I don’t know what is.” 
Chad Sugg

A little while ago I received an invitation in my email. It’s for a party this weekend to celebrate something extraordinary. Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of my dear friend Carly-Jay Metcalfe‘s double lung transplant. Carly has Cystic Fibrosis. At the time of her transplant things were dire and she’d been given just a week to live. Suddenly she was gifted life again through organ donation.

So this weekend we’re celebrating her Transplanniversary with a quiet little gig for family and friends. Of course we will all be thinking about Carly’s donor and her family too, because while we are celebrating Carly’s life we are all aware that one family lost their loved one and donated organs which enabled our gorgeous girl to be saved.

Carly-Jay, or Carls as we call her in our household (Aunty Carls to our dogs – she is Godmother to Rufous!) is one of my dearest friends for so many reasons. She loves books and writing and good coffee and mugs of tea as much as I do. She has a wicked sense of humour and one of the biggest hearts I know. And she and I are both in the second-chance-at-life club and the socially unreliable club. Illness often means we break dates with one another. It’s just how it is.

That’s me on the left: almost blind, drug-bloated and rocking an eye patch and dark glasses after I lost 70% of my vision in one eye and 90% in the other as a result of life-saving medications for an acute hospital-acquired superbug bladder infection – the same infection that recurred and nearly killed me last year. Carly insisted on taking me out for breakfast AND cut up my food for me, put my coffee cup in my hand and was my human seeing-eye-dog. We were practising me being blind because it was predicted I would stay that way. Carls kept me entertained with rollicking descriptions of everyone around us and hardly bumped me into any furniture at all. What a treasure she is! (And yes, I eventually got most of my vision back, luckily!)

Carly having blood taken from her foot, because we both belong to the crappy over-used veins club!

Carls and I live with chronic and progressive degenerative illnesses (hers is Cystic Fibrosis and mine is Late Stage Lyme Disease with Lyme Carditis). We share the same kind of normal – living with often unseen aspects of disability (not that we think of ourselves as disabled – more ‘unabled’ when poor health puts limits on us) that impact us and our families. Modern and alternative medicine keep us alive, upright and functioning, but sh*t still keeps going pear-shaped for us, and our health is a very up-and-down road. Carls isn’t just a friend. She has been my live-in nurse and helper on more than one occasion after I have come home from hospital, or have struggled with treatment for one thing or another. I’ve been her cheer squad when it’s all been a bit horrendous for her too.

It’s good to have someone to talk to who gets what I am going through, and who can share a laugh with me over such awesome topics as incontinence, fatigue and crappy veins. That’s what friends are for, right?

I’m so looking forward to Carly’s party on the weekend. (I have a few catering surprises for her too, in honour of another friend we lost suddenly to illness some years ago, but stay tuned for those as they need to stay secret for now!) One of the most powerful things Carly’s taught me is to rock your scars and own your wounds, and both of us subscribe to the philosophy of celebrating the everyday, and laughing, no matter how bad things get. So we’ll be doing lots of laughing and celebrating come Saturday. With snacks. And loved ones. She’s still here. I’m still here. That’s worth celebrating!

Life is beautiful, and every breath is a gift. For all of us.
Sending all my love to you, Nicole   xx

PS: Just a little reminder. When you die you won’t need your organs anymore, but someone else might. Please consider becoming an organ donor and have that chat with your family and friends.

My beautiful friend, Carly!

Feathers for a Friend

raven crow magic dreaming talisman

Image by Sigi Dawn LoStimolo. You can find more of her beautiful work at her Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SigiDawn

“Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.”
~ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

 

 

This week I am enjoying some precious days at our farm, between rounds of city doctors and their clinical offices and dry predictions.

When you can’t see, you interface differently with the world. Right now my world is not one of darkness, but rather of indistinction. Everything is blurred, and there is not a crisp edge or a sharp detail to be found. Instead I find that clarity and meaning are coming in other ways. My senses are heightened. My awareness is crystal. Where once I saw, now I listen or turn my eyes inward. I let my soul see what my eyes cannot.

There is a large jacaranda tree in bloom to one side of the farmhouse. The tree is a favourite haunt of birds, and there is one huge limb that runs parallel to the ground. This week as I have sat quietly on my verandah a number of birds have come to visit me – strolling up and down that long limb as performers on a stage.

First came Madam Crow. I know this old bird well. She and her mate have a large platform of sticks at the back of the orchard and they return year after year to raise a new season of offspring.

She strode the tree branch, clicking and calling, regal in both her manner and mood. In some ways Madam Crow reminded me of a Shakespearian actor, aware of my presence and playing to me, but at the same time lost in her own world.

She preened herself and kept me company. Later that day Ben found two feathers on the ground underneath where she had sat. I knew that I was a custodian of these feathers, and that they had Crow Magic to them.

Torresian Crow - this image by Peter at www.flickr.com

Torresian Crow – this image by Peter at www.flickr.com

Over the coming days more birds walked that bough stage. There was a Magpie who came back again and again to that branch. She too gave a gift of feathers.

There were multitudes of Finches, Honeyeaters and Tree Creepers. A fat Wompoo Pigeon. A usually elusive Catbird.

My hoard of feathers grew. I began to feel the messages from each animal, and how to best create some talismans to hold the energy of each message.

Finally I went to the front room and choose some waxed thread, some crystals, and some wooden beads. I chose them based on their energy – their feeling in my hands.

beads, stones and feathers

My fingers know how to wrap and knot and bead. I don’t need to see what I am doing. This is something I have done for so long that my hands can find their own way.

Taking the first two feathers – one of Crow and one of Magpie – I made a beaded feather talisman. As I worked I sang the message from the birds into the stones and wood, into the binding thread, into the feathers. I felt the energy build and lock.

The finished piece rippled energy out into the world.

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This first one was a Writing Talisman – an encouragement for someone to share their personal story. An entreatment to go deeper, to be brave in sharing truth, at gifting this story in a way that might illuminate the way for others. The feathers are supported by banded red and black agate, bone, marble, black tourmaline, rosewood and a few chakra stones that support communication and flow of words.

As I held the talisman a friend came into my head. I knew it was for her.

Just five minutes later she sent me a text asking if I was free to chat. She called me. In the course of our conversation she mentioned that out of the blue she had been thinking about her memoir today. She’d found some new ideas and a way forward.

So, dear Carly, I’m bringing this to the city for you. I know it will weave a magic into your words. I know that it will help.

Ganesha has held this in his hand yesterday and today. It is charged up and ready for you. It feels wonderful. It feels like home.

Ganesha with feathers

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Ganesha

Carly and Ben giving Ganesha his yearly coating of wax before redressing him in his finery. Ganesha lives on our verandah, looking out over the jacaranda tree.

I still have a clutch of feathers, and I have begun my second talisman. I know that it is meant to go to one of you, dear readers and friends.

I’ll be giving it away next week.

I’ll let you know more soon about what it is for. I trust that it will find its way to whomever needs it most.

Much love to you,

Nicole <3 xoxo

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Spicy Calamari Stir Fry Recipe

I find cooking to be one of the most grounding and nurturing activities in my sometimes crazy life. This is a fantastically easy and tasty recipe that works equally well for squid/calamari, firm white fish fillets, tofu, chicken or pork. Pair it with a white wine, beer or a smoky tea. And please think about where your food comes from. Organic,free-range, local and seasonal produce is always best.

This recipe will provide three generous serves, or four if you are not ravenous. It’s not a hard and fast kind of a recipe – so feel free to vary quantities and ingredients to suit yourself.

Ingredients for marinade: One big teaspoon of honey, the juice of a freshly squeezed lime or lemon, an inch of ginger knob grated or finely chopped, two cloves of garlic crushed, 1/3 of a cup of soy sauce, a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice powder (buy it ready-made or make your own with this easy recipe)  If you like chilli, feel free to add some in to your taste requirements.

Method: Mix all ingredients together in a large shallow bowl, big enough to hold the scored squid or other meat/tofu.

To prepare Calamari for marinade: Take your cleaned calamari (squid tubes) and use a knife to open them out flat, cutting into two halves along the natural seams. Score the inner surface in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut all the way through.  Lay each piece in the marinade, coating well.  Leave for one hour or more, returning to refrigerator.

***Timing Hint:  This is great served with steamed rice, so get that going before you assemble the rest of the dish.  The actual cooking time for the vegetables is ten minutes tops, and the calamari takes about two minutes on either side on the barbeque or on a heated griddle pan. So just before you add in your soft vegetables/leaves to the stir fry, make sure you’ve cooked your calamari so it’s ready to go when you need it.

To cook the Calamari:  Heat your barbeque or a heavy bottomed skillet or griddle. Oil if necessary.  Put the pieces onto the hot grill.  Don’t worry if they curl up.  After two minutes turn.  After another two minutes remove from heat.  Don’t cook too long or it will be chewy rather than tender.  If you’re unsure test a bit. Slice into rings ready to add to the vegetables.

Note – If you have a husband like mine, who is “in charge of the barbeque”, he may end up taking credit for this dish, even if his only job was heating the grill and turning the prepared product!

Stir Fried Vegetable Ingredients: If you are on a low carb diet use around six to eight cups of chopped/sliced mixed vegetables. Four will be fine if you intend to eat this with rice.  Sticking with my personal philosophy of fresh and seasonal, I am using a little over 2 cups of fresh button mushrooms, (knowing that I will eat some while they are cooking!), 2 large bok choi and some fresh spinach straight from my garden, and two sticks of celery. You also need a knob of butter, a teaspoon of sesame oil if you have it, a teaspoon of cornflour, two cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped, an inch or so of peeled ginger root sliced finely, some water, pepper, a handful of cashew nuts, and a slurp of soy sauce.

Method:  In a large fry pan, heat the butter with a quarter cup or so of water, then dump in the mushrooms, garlic and ginger.  Use a high heat and stir often. Don’t be afraid to add more water if the pan dries out. Use the picture below as a guide to the liquid levels you need. You want to saute the mushrooms until they take on the flavours of the garlic and ginger. Feel free to eat a few as you go! Grind a little pepper over the top to taste.  (Sadly, after this pic was taken I had to add another large cup of mushrooms because I had already eaten so many!)  I must also add that this particular dinner tasted extra good because my friend Carly-Jay Metcalfe, our visiting poet, did most of the stirring in this stir fry!

Now add any firm vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower that will take a little longer to cook.  Lastly add the vegetables that will cook in a flash, like Asian greens, snow peas, asparagus etc. as well as your sesame oil. Stir well over a high heat. Check the liquid in the pan.  Add the cornflour to a 1/2 cup of water, mix well and then stir through to thicken the pan juices. Add a slurp of soy sauce for some saltiness, and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.

Dump in your calamari and the cashews and stir to combine.  Remove from heat. Serve with rice or on its own.

Garnish:   A wedge of lemon or lime is a nice touch.  I would have added some chopped coriander (cilantro) on top as a garnish, but our resident wild mumma wallaby and her baby ate it all! (see picture to left)  As fast as it shoots back they mow it to the ground.

Herb Thieves: The wallabies are too cute for me ever to be mad at them, no matter how much of my garden they nibble.  Enjoy!

Everyone has a story to tell…

In these days of emails, tweets and text messages we can spend our days constantly communicating, but not really sharing at that deeper level of connection.

One of my favourite forms of communication is a fairly old-fashioned one.  It involves conversation and cups of tea. Yesterday, my dear friend Carly-Jay Metcalfe, a poet and writer, came visiting with me as we sat in the kitchen of my neighbour, Gordon Greber, and heard some of his story.

Gordon is 85, nearing 86. He’s lived what he considers to be an ordinary life but as times change, what he has done and how he has lived is no longer ordinary. He has been a timber cutter, and cut sugar cane by hand and hauled it on his shoulder before the time of mechanical harvesters.  He’s been a fencer, a truck driver, a dairy man, a farmer.

As a young boy he left primary school when war broke out to work on a family banana farm, thus cutting dramatically short his formal education.

But Gordon, like many old bushies I have known, has a keen interest in the world around him.  Life has been his teacher. As we sit drinking strong tea and nibbling at the scones I have brought he gently unfolds his life before us.

There was plenty of hardship and cruelty in his childhood, followed by unending years of brutal physical labour in a range of jobs that took him far from where he was born, before he came full circle in 1954 and bought the farm he lives on today, not so far from his birthplace. That was the beginning of even more work, as he took a run-down and overgrown dairy farm and turned it into a home, and a productive enterprise.  He often worked several jobs, starting before sun-up and finishing well after sun-down in order to pay the bills. It took a huge toll on his health, but Gordon is uncomplaining. That was how life was back then, he said.  You had to work hard to get ahead. If you wanted a different life for your own family, that was just what you did.

I love watching Carly’s face as Gordon regales her with yarns about battles with brown snakes, friends killed in trucking accidents, crippling droughts and floods that tore families and farms apart. Gordon is so modest; his amazing stories told with humility and self- deprecation.

Carly’s drinking it in, and I see the writer in her storing it away.  Fodder for the mill. I know I will see echoes of this man’s life in her poetry, her novella, her fiction.

They part as firm friends, and I take one last photograph of them, Carly’s small hand pressed up against Gordon’s large one.  Both of them are battlers – with courage and grace by the bucketful. (More about Carly’s life-long journey with cystic fibrosis and a double lung transplant here) They have met life head on, and not given an inch. I wipe away a tear as they hug. Both cut from the same fabric, although they are not related and are generations apart.

Each of us has a story to tell, something to share, something to teach.  I hope that you can find some time to sit down with someone soon, and get to know each other a little better over a cuppa or a cold drink.  We are a tribe of storytellers – we need to hear them and share them.  It connects us.  It makes us whole. ♥