Archive | January, 2015

Until we meet again…

31 Jan

Well I’ve heard it said that it is impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes. Therefore it would seem inevitable that I come to a time in my life where my grandparents have all made the transition from this life to the next.

This week, on Australia Day, this world lost another Aussie. My Nan, Beryl Alicia George, left earth’s pain for heavens glory. Aged 93 and 9 days, Nan’s tired body finally gave up. The last years of her life were spent in the clutches of Alzheimer’s with moments of seeming clarity, amongst many more moments of haze. I always hope that the experience of those with Alzheimer’s is better than the family’s experience. For family it can be hard to be an unrecognised face to someone who should know you so well… to be unable to interact with someone who you’ve spent your life communicating with… I can’t claim to have experienced this with Nan as it has been some years since I saw her, due mainly to the 2000km that separated us. However, Dad and his brothers and sisters often made the trip to see her in Keith, a small town in country South Australia. I’d always ask how she was when I heard they had gone to visit, and the response fluctuated between “pretty good” and “not so good” – the latter being more common in recent trips. But Nan was a fighter, and pretty determined and it sure can’t be said that she didn’t give up without a fight. My Grandpop died in 1984 so she has been the only grandparent on my Dad’s side for pretty much as long as I can remember.

My Nan - with my Dad (his Mum) - taken a few years ago.

My Nan – with my Dad (his Mum) – taken a few years ago.

As my cousin, who is speaking on behalf of the grandchildren at Nan’s funeral on Monday, asked for our memories of Nan I started to think about memories. I have to admit I found it difficult – suddenly my whole childhood seemed to be devoid of memories… why was it I couldn’t recollect my childhood? I sent out an SOS to my brothers and sister… what do you remember, I asked… and why can’t I remember??? Eventually, I sent a couple of ideas through, but still felt like my childhood was one big void. I found myself almost looking forward to the funeral in the hope that what people will say will remind me more of our times together.

I’ve given it some more thought now, so I want to share with you a bit about my Nan. The early years of my life were spent living just up the road from Nan on a farm in Keith, South Australia. We were neighbours, geographically we couldn’t be any closer. While this meant that a trip to Nan’s to stay only ever happened when Mum and Dad had to go somewhere, I still remember staying at her place… or at least bathing at her place… Nan liked to be wise with her resources – having lived through the Great Depression in Australia in the 1930’s, I don’t think she ever took material possessions for granted. Bath time at Nan’s meant four of us bathing in a bath tub with 2cm of water in the bottom so as to not waste water (it’s hard to even get wet with that little water!) – this continued as a young adult – when we went to visit she would call out about not using too much water in the bathroom. I laugh about it now… but I never found it funny at the time… I think too she had the same mattresses and pillows for the whole of my Dad’s life. I remember being told I was sleeping on Dad’s bed as a kid and it was exciting imagining what he and his brothers got up to in that room. My memories of the bed as I got older aren’t quite as fond – I have an appreciation of what a lumpy mattress is like… I also remember the cupboard under the TV held all the free things you used to get in cereal boxes – it was always a surprise what would be in there next visit…

But I also remember my Nan as a musician – sitting at the piano, belting out tunes… sheet music filling the piano stool and piled up on top of the piano. The music I most often saw at the piano was the hymn book. I remember it always open to a page, sitting there, ready for Nan to walk past, sit and play a song before she continued on with whatever it was she was going to do next. I remember getting to see my Nan every Sunday – as we attended the same church – because there wasn’t very much that kept my Nan away from church.

As I think about this aspect of my Nan’s life I can’t help but think about all my grandparents. They are now all celebrating heaven’s banquet together. I picture them all in the same choir of angels – belting out a few of the greatest hymns around. I’m thankful to all of them for the decision to make church a priority in their lives, and therefore a priority in the lives of their children – my parents. While I wasn’t always thankful about attending church each weekend as a kid, I’m thankful now. I don’t know how I would have made it through life to date without a faith in God. It’s only His amazing grace that saved a wretch like me, and only His strength that gets me through some of life’s challenges. I’m thankful for their example of faith – a faith I can call my own that has sustained me well through this life, and will ensure I party in the next.

So Nan, Grandpop, Nanna and Pa – I hope you’re all having a ball up there together. I look forward to joining you in the choir one day – save me a space in the tenor section! Thanks for loving us well. Thanks for the memories. xo

GEORGE, Beryl Alicia. Only daughter of John James and Annie Amelia (Milly) Mullen Passed away January 26, 2015 at Keith, aged 93. Beloved wife of Lou (deceased). Loved mother of Ronald (deceased), Dot and Ron, Lou and Kathy, Ashley and Ruth, Greg and Kerry, Sandy and Lyndall. Nan to Beverley, Alix and Jessica; Sam, Luke and Sally; David, Jennifer, Helen and Peter. Great Nan to Evie, Noah, Tim and Joshua, Isabelle and Annika, Josiah. Mum, we found your teeth! Enjoy the heavenly banquet!

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The Lord hath promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

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The Tour Down Underdogs

27 Jan

The 2015 Bupa Challenge Tour is an event which provides riders with the opportunity to ride the Stage 4 of the Santos Tour Down Under, the same route that the world’s elite riders will ride later that same day. Earlier in the year I gamely committed to join a team (The Tour Down Underdogs) with a crew of guys from my old church in Adelaide – including my Dad, brother Peter, and brother-in-law Scott. I signed up for the 150km ride from Glenelg to Mt Barker, wondering why the ride had to start at the beach and finish in the Adelaide Hills (why not the other way around??). The 150km ride included in excess of 1500m of vertical climbing. The closer I got to the event, the more I realised I had over committed.

That was my first challenge. To date, I’ve not signed up for an event that I’ve not been able to complete. For weeks I struggled knowing in my head that I had over committed, but not being able to admit it out loud. A week from the event, I finally succumbed and notified the organisers that I would be commencing from the second starting point – Willunga. Initially I felt like a failure, but the more I considered it, the more I decided that this would still be an achievement. The ride would be just shy of 120km and include some 1300m of vertical climbing. To achieve both in isolation would be personal bests for me; to combine them would therefore be quite a personal achievement. I’m also the only girl in the crew… so I figured that had to count for something…

My bike was the second challenge. I’d decided I wanted to take it, however I was concerned about the gearing. When at home at Christmas I rode Mum’s mountain bike some of the route and found that the gears enabled me to get up hills (albeit slowly). My bike wasn’t geared as low and I found I literally ran out of leg strength on some climbs around my area. After discussions with the cyclists in the family, we contacted our bike shop and arranged to have a chain ring and cassette replaced. They were ordered in, and at the eleventh hour arrived and were fitted (the mechanic coming in to work on his day off to fit it for me knowing I was on a 0600hrs flight the next morning). Dave and I boxed my bike (with much frustration) and I was set to go… hoping the changes made some difference to my ride.

On arrival in Adelaide Dad, Mum and Tim picked me up from the airport. We drove the ride route so that I could have a feel for what I was in for. It may have been a mistake. While I was able to see that for many uphills there was a following downhill the sheer volume of uphills, and the length of time we sat in the car had me a little more anxious. The closer I got, the more I worried that I just wouldn’t make it. I reassembled my bike with Dad, took it for a quick 10km to make sure it was all in working order and hoped for the best…

Ride morning dawned. I was nervous. Really nervous. We had arranged to pick up one of the Tour Down Underdogs riders – Kerry. Kerry is a busy man and had decided, like me, that due to suboptimal preparation Willunga was a better start option. In the car I made sure Kerry knew that although we were taking him to the start line, he was free to ride the route without me holding him back. I had met Kerry only briefly before and everyone I had spoken to had, without prompting, told me what an incredible bloke he was. I have to agree. Kerry decided to ride with me. I very rarely ride with others (often due to riding at odd times because of shift work – Kerry is in the same position). It sure made the ride easier.

10km into the ride we hit the “King of the Mountain” – Sellicks Hill. This was the first opportunity for me to try out my new gears – I was very happy. Not only did I make it up to the top of the hill, but I still had a gear to go when I got there! I had also beaten the rest of the family to the top – While the others started from further away, they also started earlier. First challenge – accomplished!

The ride continued in an unremarkable fashion. Light showers at the start of the ride didn’t hinder us too much. Kerry was fabulous at providing me with feedback about traffic conditions – notifying me of cars and passing groups of bikes as I became more comfortable on the road. At Myponga we saw the first of the Glenelg riders start to appear. Not far behind those at the front came Peter and Brad – tucked neatly into a large pack of riders and absolutely cruising past us! Scott was shortly behind him, taking the lead in the front of another pack of riders. As we cycled on past, it would appear Peter, Brad and Scott stopped for refreshments at Nangkita… as at Mt Compass we were overtaken again – with a surprised look on my brother’s face “hey – how did you get in front of me!?”.

As we approached Strathalbyn (90km) I was feeling okay. It certainly pays to cycle with someone – the chatter, laughter and joking is a wonderful distraction. It was here that we saw our first cheer squad – Dave and Mum were roadside to cheer us on. From Strathalbyn there was 16km of climbing. While it wasn’t steep it was constant. I’d forgotten it from the drive. I soldiered on. Just keep pedalling, just keep pedalling became my motto. Kerry was better on the hills, and was able to make it up them with better speed than I, though graciously waited at the top for me each time. As we approached the end we descended into Echunga. From here my memory was vivid – there was a steep ascent – while it wasn’t long (about 1km) the gradient was around 7% – which for me is quite the mountain. I was cycling on my own at that time and the mind was starting to get the better of me. I was over 100km in and I was fading. My mind was telling me I was done. I really didn’t think I could go any further. As I turned the corner, and was confronted with the hill, I was also confronted with something else – or should I say someone else… David, Tim and Josh were roadside chatting with Kerry. Cries of “You’re going great Auntie Jen”, “You’re awesome Sis”, “You can do it Auntie Jen” filled my ears. I stopped for a rest (and a few precious cuddles), took on some more drink, accepted their confidence in me and set off with Kerry. But here is where I have to stop and thank my new riding buddy. Not only did Kerry provide verbal encouragement as we commenced the ascent but he backed that up with a little (lot) of physical assistance. He put his hand in my back. I wish I could explain the effectiveness of this… explain how much difference it made to have that hand there but I think you need to experience it to understand it. The strength he showed to not only get himself up that gradient, but doing it one handed, whilst helping me leaves me shaking my head still. I had made it up all the other hills in my own strength without walking (which was amazing), but as half of those on route with us got off and pushed, Kerry and I (well Kerry with me attached) overtook cyclists as we climbed the final ascent of the journey. As we approached the crest I assured him I’d be okay and I finished the climb in my own strength.

Finished! One relieved and happy Jen :)

Finished! One relieved and happy Jen 🙂

The final few kilometres, and the associated descent, were the icing on the cake. I admit to a few tears in my eyes (thank you for the cover sunglasses) as we cycled down the finishing chute and saw a reassembled cheer squad – Dave, my Mum (and Dad who had finished 150km about 30 minutes before me – I never saw him overtake me!), My brother and his boys, My sister and her girls, the Letcher’s, the Wilson’s, and the Mountford’s were all there cheering us in. What a welcome. I’m so grateful for Kerry riding with me – together we chatted and laughed our way through 119km. I’m not sure I would have made the distance if I did it alone – would my mind have defeated me far earlier? It’s hard to know – but I do know that together we achieved it. We finished – 5hrs 50 minutes of moving time (6:30hrs from event commencement) – average speed of 20km/hr. One tired, but happy Jen.

So… I guess next year I’ll have to shoot for the full distance ride…

For those that are interested, here are the team’s efforts. I applaud them all – their courage, determination and distances and vertical climbing totals were phenomenal!

  •  Scott: 243km, 2200m (average speed of 30km/hr!)
  • Peter: 240km, 2300m (average speed of 30km/hr!)
  • James: 162km, 1800m
  • Matt: 153km, 1700m
  • Dad: 152km, 1700m
  • Jen and Kerry: 119km, 1300m

Some photos from the day:

Dad

Dad… 150km of riding… 60 this year and recovering from open abdominal surgery – he’s amazing!

Kerry and Jen

Kerry and I make it to the finish – only about 200m to go here 🙂

TDU

Half of the Tour Down Underdogs team (L-R – Matt, Jen, Dad and Kerry). All extremely happy to have finished!

Happy New Year???

3 Jan

Well just like last year it has taken me a couple of days to get around to pondering the fact that another year has ended and a new one just begun… right now a few things are centre in my mind:

  • As I write I am aware of significant fires burning out of control in my home town, only a couple of kilometres from where
    The view from my sister's driveway... water bombing planes

    The view from my sister’s driveway… water bombing planes (Photo: Scott Olver)

    I spent much of my life. Family and friends evacuated overnight, or are packed ready to enact bushfire survival plans. Others are a safe distance but breathing smoke filled air…

  • Dave flies out tonight for another journey overseas… and in light of recent plane tragedies my dislike of flying is increasing… I’m conscious of those whose lives have been drastically altered as a result of plane disasters, as I see news of recovering bodies and plane wreckage retrieval…
  • Members of my family are sick – most with the kind that will get better on their own, gastroenteritis is always fun… but at the same time my younger brother’s diagnosis of motor neurone disease has not changed, and my older brother is continuing to have hassles with his leg…
  • As one patient today reminded me (again and again actually…) the news is filled with horrible stories…
  • And then of course work today included a trip to the morgue…

Sometimes I’m reminded of just how fragile life is.

But then I also think that I need to sometimes refocus my attention:

  • The fires are horrible but I’m thankful to all those who are currently fighting them – by land or by air (some at risk of losing their own homes as they defend others). I’m thankful that as far as I’m aware right now, my family and friends are safe. I’m thankful that there are places of refuge for those who need it, and many offers of assistance from across the nation
  • I’m thankful that Dave has the opportunity to pursue challenging employment and research opportunities, even if that does take him overseas.

    IMG_6109

    This crazy bunch are my family

  • I’m thankful that I have my family. I realise just how blessed I’ve been. Other than my Grandparents, the entire family on my Mum’s side could have gathered together – and most did – there were 49 of us present! Other than my Grandfather, my Dad’s side of the family is also still intact (although we didn’t gather this year). It’s really quite amazing when I think about it.
  • This year I finish my graduate year and commence my career as an Intensive Care Nurse – I can’t wait!

So I guess what I’m thinking as I consider what 2015 might hold, I’m reminding myself to think about where I put my focus.

The world will forever give me plenty of opportunity to focus on the negatives in life. Headlines will continue to scream bad news, I can’t change that fact. I can however, change my attitude. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (after I had a particularly bad attitude day… just ask Dave 😉 ). I don’t want to be a person who focuses on the negatives. I want to be a person who focuses on the positive. I want to be a person who looks beyond faults and sees good. I want to be a person who others want to be around, one who is joyful, enthusiastic, peaceful and positive.

I’m not claiming it’s going to be easy. In fact, if past experience is anything to go by, some days it will be downright hard. But you have permission to remind me at those times to refocus my attitude, to look for the good, and to embrace life – whatever may come my way in 2015.

So, given that New Year’s Resolutions never seem all that successful (although on that note, I plan to continue trying to be healthy…. BUPA Tour Down Under ride and the Noosa Triathlon are on my list for this year for those who’ve been asking), this year I’m just going to do what I think is the best thing… take each day as it comes and focus on the positives. If need be I’ll take each hour as it comes… or maybe some days it will be each minute… but regardless in each minute, of each day I’m going to endeavour to look at the good – in life, in people, in circumstances. I acknowledge though that this task is probably some days just not going to be possible in my own strength – and I’m thankful again that each minute of each day I walk with someone who gives me reason to be positive, thankful and peaceful – a Saviour who sacrificed His life so I could live – in this life and the next.

So this year – hold me to this:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 The Message (MSG) – Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

As 2015 kicks off, my prayer for you and for me is that we can find reason to be joyful, even if some days we have to look REALLY hard.

Be Joyful