10 worthy New Year’s resolutions

  1. Be grateful. ‘The root of joy is gratefulness… It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.’ – Brother David Steindl-Rast, my inspiration (gratitude.org).
  2. Say ‘thank you’ for everything; the good and the bad. As Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) said, ‘If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.’
  3. Be generous. ‘Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else’s life forever.’- Margaret Cho, comedian.
  4. Stand up to injustice.  Martin Luther King Jr., amongst others said, ‘No one is free until we are all free.’ This quote makes us realise that we are all diminished by injustice, not just the person or people who experience it firsthand.
  5. Be aware of the deep interconnections we share. Our lives are linked at every level, from the air we breathe to the planet we inhabit as well as the way we treat each other. Olympian Hannah Teter expressed this clearly when she said, ‘The earth is one big, interconnected entity. If you hurt a piece, you hurt the whole. If you hurt the people, you hurt the environment.’
  6. Be aware of your biases; we all have them!  I quote Tara Moss, ‘We must all acknowledge our unconscious biases, and listen with less bias when women, and others who are marginalised, speak out. A lot of change is possible by just acknowledging unconscious bias – that exhaustively documented but unpleasant reality many would rather ignore – and listening with less bias and acting on what we then learn.’ Or as Oscar Wilde put it, ‘whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong.’
  7. Notice beauty. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor who went on to become a well-respected neurologist and psychiatrist said: ‘As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before.’ If people can find beauty while in the worst possible surroundings, so can we. Maya Angelou put it brilliantly, ‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.’
  8. Make time for art and play. Albert Einstein famously said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ Give it the space to bloom.
  9. Slow down. Kirsten Gillibrand (Democratic Senator) had this to say about rushing: ‘The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made are when I’ve been rushed. If I’m overwhelmed, I slow down. It’s more effective.’ It reminds me how Gandhi on a very busy day exclaimed, ‘I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.’ We would all benefit from slowing down.
  10. Find the humour amongst it all – it will stand you in good stead. The last word goes to the inimitable Joan Rivers. ‘Never be afraid to laugh at yourself; after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.’ 

Night Owl

I have always been a night owl. Always. My mother attributed this to giving birth just after midnight. According to her, my body clock never readjusted. While I don’t believe this explanation, I have often wondered what makes 20% of us who are naturally nocturnal swim against the tide in those dark and murky waters of the night. 

I secretly admire morning people. They wake up, get out of bed, and start their day. I wake up, prise open my eyes and exhaust my daily allocation of self-discipline just to haul myself out of bed. No wonder I am unable to resist any temptation after this mammoth effort; I have nothing left in the willpower tank by 8am.

Yet I can get up if I must. I spent a year in Switzerland getting up at 5:15am so I could catch the 6:03 bus to work. However, I still got my second wind at night and never went to sleep before midnight. Even then, I had to force myself to go to bed because I knew the price I’d pay in the morning. There were plenty of nights when my carriage turned into a pumpkin as I crawled into bed past any sensible bedtime. I still refer to midnight as pumpkin time and do my best to get to bed by the stroke of twelve.

The moment holidays arrive, my body clock reverts to its preferred circadian rhythm. I can happily stay up and be productive until one or two in the morning. If I am in a state of flow, I can keep working into the wee hours without feeling tired. I love the quiet of the night and the inky black view from my window. Neighbours as well as their dogs are asleep and rarely does a car disturb the peace. The only sounds I hear are the ticking of a clock, the occasional train in the distance and that damn mosquito after my blood. 

Sometimes I feel like a left-handed person in a right-handed world. Everything is geared towards morning people. Most of our jobs, schools, shops, and any admin tasks that require talking to a real person have to be done within ‘business hours’. Admittedly, I can do my banking at four in the morning, but I would find it hard to buy stationery at that time. And then, just to rub it in, there are those super-efficient, maddening people who schedule meetings at 8am. They turn up not only wide awake but are also coherent. Meanwhile, I am slumped over a cup of tea, grunting and nodding my head at what I hope are appropriate moments. As a rule, I’m monosyllabic until 10am.

I have tried to readjust my body clock, I really have. I even bought two years’ worth of morning journals! As I am a self-help junkie always looking for a quick fix, I haven’t quite given up, even though I am onto my third iteration of the journal. According to conventional wisdom, it takes 66 days to start a habit, but I have been going for well over 180 days without success. I have listened to podcasts, read the Miracle Morning and other classics in the oevre, but my body refuses to yield. I am sure these books were written by the 80% who cannot fathom what the problem is in the first place.

Luckily for me, we have reached the Christmas holidays. I give my body permission to do what it does best, namely fall back into ‘bad habits’. I look out the window and see moths do-si-do on the glass pane. Like me, they are attracted to my desk lamp. It is a completely calm night, nothing stirs outside. Once more, I become aware of the clock ticking. Blissfully quiet hours have passed. And so it is Christmas. There is no better way to celebrate than to sing a hymn to honour the magic of this night.

Stille Nacht

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Silent night

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, and all is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace


The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. Umberto Eco

My lifelong love affair with books started with non-other than Noddy. I was six years old and had just learned to read. The little Noddy books were sold cheaply at newsagents and were more like tiny, stapled magazines using large print than real books. Still, I treasured my hero with his blue hat driving his red and yellow car. I read the same stories over and over under the doona when I should have been asleep. My torch was stowed under my pillow and was retrieved the moment I thought the coast was clear. There was something delicious about my clandestine reading, like sucking on a boiled sweet and making it last as long as possible.

I didn’t have many books as a child, and I treasured each one I was given. Within them, I could go to faraway places, join a heroine on her quest and experience a life completely different to my own. Movies were fun but they ended far too quickly. I liked to savour the story and let my imagination take me places. I loved that I could travel in time, forwards and back and sometimes to magical kingdoms where laws of nature didn’t apply. I could be swept away on a magic carpet, see a genie emerge from a bottle or be brought back to life by a kiss.

Even back then, I dreamt of having my own library. My first attempt to make this dream a reality came when the librarian at Elwood Central culled some books at the end of the year. She sold them at $5 a box. I scraped together my pocket money and carted my haul home. I don’t remember much about the books but there was one on African animals that had an elephant embossed on the front cover. I ran my finger over that elephant as if I were reading Braille.

In my 20s I was lucky to work in a bookshop for several years. I remember my first pay packet. Half of it went back into the till, notwithstanding the 10% staff discount. ‘Don’t worry, this happens at the beginning. You’ll become more discerning,’ my boss Margaret said, as I walked away with an armful of books. She was both right and wrong. I did become more discerning but that didn’t stop me from spending money on the books I loved.

Later, when I went to university and read German authors, I yearned to add their books to my shelves. I began to go overseas regularly and always came back with a large number of books. Back in the 1980’s, I posted them using a now defunct postal discount that applied to printed matter only. It made sending books anywhere in the world affordable. Once back in Australia, I collected parcel after parcel of books I had found in bookshops or flea markets. Opening these boxes, after a twelve-week journey by sea, was always a delight. I could barely remember what I had packed in the boxes and surprises always awaited me.

Like Umberto Eco, I haven’t read every book in my library. I often buy a book because I know, one day, I will want to read it and by then it may not be readily available. I have an eclectic taste in reading and love that I will never run out of reading material or ideas to explore. Like Umberto Eco, I value my unread books as they symbolise infinite possibilities and remind me of just how little I know.

Blue Dog

Blue Dog painting by Tracey Mackie

When parents label children, they live up to their expectations. My sister was considered artistic. She could paint and draw, and I couldn’t. In my family I was joking referred to as the Blue Dog Girl.

It all goes back to an incident in grade one. My teacher gave the following instruction, ‘I want you to draw a colourful dog.’ She walked past the desks handing out art paper. ‘You may get your pencils out once you have your sheet,’ After these scant instructions, she returned to her desk on a raised platform at the front of the class.

            I slowly slid the zipper over the interlocking teeth along the edge of my pencil case and took out three coloured pencils. I sharpened each one in turn and laid them out in a row in front of me. The lingering spicy smell of the wood mingled with lead shavings made me feel giddy. I wanted to surround myself with this luscious scent.

‘Stop making a mess on your desk,’ the teacher called from her seat as she looked over her glasses that had slipped down her nose. I sunk into my chair. When I felt the danger had passed, I let a breath escape slowly. I then looked at my three pencils and, on a whim, chose the blue one.  Heads down, we were completely absorbed in the task. The only sound was an occasional rustle and the high-pitched legato scrape of pencils on paper. 

            I have always loved dogs but wasn’t allowed to keep one in our small flat. To be asked to draw a dog in class was treat. I loved the freedom my teacher gave us to choose the colours for ourselves. I liked that I had coloured the head blue. I decided to add blue ears and, for good measure, a blue body. After that, the legs were also coloured blue and when I came to the tail, I let my pencil glide in long strokes to give the dog the bushiest blue tail ever. I leaned back to admire my creation from a distance. I smiled at the crazy creature that peered back at me with one eye. 

‘What’s this?’ the teacher’s voice boomed. ‘What were you thinking? Well? Have you ever seen a blue dog in your life?’ I opened my mouth to answer but no words came out.  ‘What is going on in that head of yours? Tell your mother I want to see her!’ She shook her head, turned on her heels to clippety clop her way back to her desk. 

            At home, through tears, I tried to explain. ‘But she said to draw a colourful dog and I did. Besides, I like blue.’  My mother laughed and laughed. I couldn’t see what was so funny. ‘Our Blue Dog Girl, you’ll never be an artist,’ she said. This story has been retold many times over and has passed, embellished, into family lore. I had become the Blue Dog Girl who couldn’t draw.

            On the wall of my current study, I have a picture of a blue dog. It was painted for me by Tracey Mackie, a local artist who lives in the Central West of New South Wales. It is one of my favourite paintings. I love the way Blue Dog looks at me quizzically, flaunting his red bandana. This dog commands attention and won’t let anyone mess with him. Best of all, I finally wear the mantle of Blue Dog Girl with pride.

Advent Calendar

I don’t remember ever having an Advent Calendar as a child, but I always loved the countdown to Christmas. The days were short in Europe, and winter had set in. Every house looked festive and there was a sense of expectancy in the air. The best day by far was the Feast Day of St Nicholas on December 6 with its promise of good things to come. Well-behaved children could look forward to St Nicholas to fill up their boots with delicacies such as chocolate, nuts, Spekulatius biscuits and oranges. Oranges all the way from Jaffa – a delicacy in the middle of winter! Of course, naughty children would not be rewarded. They were threatened with St Nicholas’ offsider, Krampus, a devil like figure dressed in black who carried a carpet beater to give them a thrashing. Krampus would also stuff coal into the boots of these naughty children.

Every child in Austria looked forward to St Nicholas Day but at the same time feared the arrival of Krampus. Nobody could make it through the whole year without getting into trouble. All one could hope for was that St Nicholas would turn a blind eye to small misdemeanours. My boots were filled with nuts and sweets but there was always one piece of coal to remind me of my failings.

When my daughter was born, I continued the tradition. I made my own Advent calendar with pockets for each day and found little treats for each one. When she was four, I gave her a wooden railway track and train, with each piece of track tucked into a pocket all the way to December 24. By Christmas she could build the complete track and run the train. Of course, I also made her polish her boots and put them outside on the eve of St Nicholas Day to be filled to the brim with delicacies I knew she loved. I never told her about Krampus though. I had no desire to make her fear a mythical figure and emotionally scar yet another generation.

I continued this tradition with the Advent calendar right through her teenage years. Some of the pockets were filled with hair ties, lip gloss or a pair of socks. When she went to university and moved to another city, I tried to see her before the first of December to stuff her Advent calendar. Then, when I could no longer guarantee to get there in time, I came up with an innovative way of continuing the tradition. I embraced the twenty-first century and went virtual. Each day in December, I now transfer her $5. For one month of the year, her morning coffee is paid. It’s ingenious. I get to hold on to our family tradition and she gets to enjoy her adult version of Advent.

This year, she will be with me for St Nicholas. I won’t have to remind her, I’m sure of that. Her boots will be polished and left outside for Mother Nicholas to fill. My daughter is twenty-five now, a young woman living her own life, making her own decisions, right or wrong. So, I wonder. Is this the year to learn the lesson of the piece of coal? After all, none of us can claim to be perfect.

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