Monday, 31 December 2012

Post Christmas Flab Realisation Disaster Aversion Plan – Step Two

Okay, I did it.

I got out the dusty set of Weight Watcher’s scales from the dark and gloomy back waters of my bathroom cupboard and did the deed. I stood on them.

I must say, this took a lot of very serious mental preparation, as I was completely aware that the sight of the numbers could hit the black dog button in my at times very fragile psyche. To be honest, I was reasonably prepared for what they would tell me. After all, I’ve been this size before, and probably any size between twelve and eighteen at various times of my life, and I’m quite aware of the corresponding weight that goes with this amount of excess packaging. So to avoid that sense of ‘Oh my god!’, ‘Oh, I’m so fat!’, ‘How could I let myself do this?’ and ‘I will never be able to walk out in public again’, I played a little trick. I overestimated what I thought I would see on that glass appliance with its mysterious little window of numbers. In so doing so, I was almost pleasantly surprised! I have to say almost, because to be honest, the numbers are really a lot higher than they should be for my health and happiness.

So I know where to start, but now, where to go? Thankfully I haven’t waited a couple more months and let things get totally over the top. I have to set a goal, nothing unachievable. I should try and bring my weight down about half a kilo – a kilogram a week. I have an event to look forward to in three months, my graduation and then my 40th birthday a couple of months after. I know it would be nice to feel better in my clothes, wearing undies that don’t cut me in half, and feeling confident as I walk on that dreaded stage to accept my degree. It would be also great to choose something nice to wear for my 40th and to not be worrying about what I look like too much. I’d also like to avoid having a sore back all the time, as that is pure misery!

So I now have a six month plan. Step one is now complete (the fun activities list), Step two has been conquered (the scales) and now I will write these goals down in my Little Miss Sunshine diary, which I have chosen to use for my motivation in writing and in life.

Here’s to day two of a less flabby (and more energetic) Sue!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Post Christmas Flab realisation disaster aversion plan

That feeling you get ... when everything you wear is just that bit too tight.
That feeling you get ... when even your undies cut you in half because your butt has expanded a size or two.
That feeling you get ... when you remember all the diets you’ve been on, the weight you’ve lost and gained and the hard earned crispy bank-notes you have wasted on Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers.


Is it time to panic? I can feel that black dog looming.
So what to do?
How not to fall into that reverie of regret?

Step one, is to list all the things I enjoy.

Particularly the ones that don’t involve sitting and eating or swigging down glasses full of Merlot and Baileys (as tempting as they are!) Not that this plan is going to involve eradicating those gorgeous activities, for the thought of such sacrifice is the morsel that the black dog desires. No, my first step is to list the activities which make me happy, which get me up and moving, which help me reach my goals. Here’s the list I have come up with so far:



Walking in forests

Sewing small toys


Bike riding



Walking at the beach

Walking with friends

Taking the dogs out to new places

Antique shops

Op shops



Playing scrabble

Playing with young children

Doll House

Playing the piano


Browsing nurseries

Visiting open gardens

Wow! There’s the start of a good list. I think the next step will be printing the list, putting it up on the wall, asking my partner to write his own list and choosing to do something from the list regularly … as well as adding to it as inspiration blows in. In fact, I plan to include at least three things from that list in my day - today!

Here’s to a fun and less flabby 2013 … without the pain of calorie counting! I would love to hear what activities you have chosen for your lists, looking forward to your comments,


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Very Annie Mary - go ahead, embrace your inner nerd! Film review

It’s not often I find myself totally engaged in a movie and actually enjoying the free flow of tears at the climax. That kind of movie where you relax into your own skin and feel the protagonist’s pain, frustration, desire and blends of various emotions as though those feelings were your own.

Very Annie Mary was able to do all of the above and I believe I slept with the story continuing on in my dreams, a strong sign that the characters have become part of my own flow of blood and immersed in the cilia of my lungs.

I have to admit, I often love a dorky character, someone who is not quite comfortable in their own skin. It resonates with my inner dorky child, that little soul who was chosen last for sports teams and sought refuge in the sick-bay during kick-ball sessions. I also love a wounded soul who shows strength despite adversity and Annie Mary retains her unique character which even a narcissistic Pavarotti-impersonating father and his snobby girlfriend fail to smother.

The relationship between Annie Mary and her terminally ill friend Bethany (the daughter of the fish and chip shop owners) is real and engaging. Bethan has the time and space to observe the community objectively and encourages Annie Mary to unveil her long hidden talent of singing and to pursue her dreams. The small community and its members are heart-warming and also true, showing how easily people can turn on those they think have done wrong or who haven’t met their stringent expectations and how difficult it is to break free of the role you were placed in due to circumstances.

Rachel Griffiths plays Annie-Mary to perfection and Jonathon Pryce is terrific as her father. Highly recommended by me, sit back on your couch with some good wine and nibbles and embrace your inner nerd. Love it!

Copyright Sue Oaks 2012

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Toast- the story of a boy's hunger - book review

For a near – forty woman who has spent far too many hours worrying about all things food related (think Jenny Craig, Weight-watchers, imagined food intolerances and digestive issues and a history of roller-coaster numbers on the dreaded scale), Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger by Nigel Slater would have to be a miracle-worker to engage the reader.

Well miracle worker he must be, for I could barely put the book down. For someone who has barely set foot in the kitchen except to read the labels of the packets and tins in the pantry and sweat about fructose, fat and carbohydrates, suddenly this descriptive delight of a memoir has inspired a rich and delightful chocolate cake, a caramel mud-cake ‘Mum, this is the best cake I’ve ever eaten’ and a curried chicken soup produced in the slow-cooker, all within a week of reading.
Based on Nigel’s experiences with food, this book become the ultimate ‘show don’t tell’ example (would-be writers take note), as the story emerges from between the engaging and palate enticing lines to bring the reader’s heart as close to the heart of young Nigel as a story could manage. The characters are brought to 3D life in the novel and they are all that characters should be; unique, quirky, imperfect and loveable in their humanity. Relationships emerge in scraps as scenes reveal the intricacies of the dance between human beings.

Memorable lines abound.

‘It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you … once the warm, salty butter has hit your tongue you are smitten. Putty in their hands.’

‘Mum drew the line at Mr Whippy cornets, which she considered beyond the pale … heaven knows what she would have said if she had seen me on my way to school, biting off the end and sucking the soft, grainy ice ream through the bottom.’

‘Cake holds a family together. I really believed it did. My father was a different man when there was a cake in the house. Warm. The sort of man I wanted to hug rather than shy away from.’

What a read! My taste buds are going to thank Nigel for this one forever, my hips and thighs will curse him and my family therapist will go broke, because now I have the answers! Five bloody good stars. Thanks Nigel.

Sue Oaks, copyright 2012.

Friday, 30 November 2012

New Publication - Stories on Motherhood by Sue Oaks

Short Stories on Motherhood
Sue Oaks

I am excited to announce that my new book Short Stories on Motherhood has just been published by the wonderful Metaplume. It is available through Amazon

These stories have been many years in the making and are aimed at an adult readership. They are very eclectic in style and touch upon the diverse experience of motherhood in a creative, humorous, serious and sometimes poetic way.

The book of five stories can be purchased for $4.95, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

Sue Oaks

Friday, 23 November 2012

Fancy Dress Party Ideas - Gods and Monsters (Guest Post)

It’s always a good idea to have a theme for a fancy dress party. It helps guests narrow down their options to come up with a good costume and with everyone being dressed according to the theme, it gives the event a more memorable feel.
Common themes include the Sixties, the Seventies and the Eighties; rock and pop artists; TV and film characters; and Halloween is essentially its own theme. If you’re looking for something a little different, how about having a gods and monsters party?
This seems pretty vague, but it’s good for fancy dress because there are lots of fantastical characters you can create. It is fantasy, but without the temptation to come dressed as one of the dreary heroes.

Sculpture by Holly Schmid copyright 2012

The Norse gods offer a couple of good options. Thor is an obvious example with his giant hammer, but what about Odin with his one eye and his ravens? Or what about the Ancient Egyptian gods? Anubis has the head of a jackal, while Ra has the head of a falcon. Similarly, in the Hindu religion, Lord Ganesh has the head of an elephant, while other gods can be identified by their multiple arms and the objects they carry. Another good option from Hinduism is Hanuman, who is a monkey.
Greek mythology gives rise to some good ideas as well. Poseidon is the god of the sea and always bears a trident, while Hades is god of the dead and King of the Underworld. If you’re not sure how to turn that into a costume, what about his three-headed dog, Cerberus?
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes and popular culture provides us with plenty of possibilities, from Skeletor to Frankenstein and from Godzilla to Gremlins.
It’s up to your guests how far the concept is stretched. A programme like Doctor Who gives rise to the Cybermen and the Daleks – are these monsters? It depends on your definition. If the costume is good enough, people will be happy to bend the rules a little. Similarly, Ming the Merciless is perhaps more of a villain than an out and out monster, but it’s such a good costume that you’ll doubtless be forgiven.

A fancy dress party theme is as much about giving people inspiration as it is about being prescriptive, so set the tone and then see what happens. Most of the fun is in seeing what people come up with.

Mark Stretford gets his men’s fancy dress costumes from

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Raise your glass - to endings!

I’m so close to finishing my Bachelor of Social Work degree for which I’ve been studying for three years. Now, as the days of my student placement draw to a close and all of my essays and written work are finally done and dusted, I feel a mixture of emotions, both positive and negative and everything in between.

Frank Herbert must have understood this too. He wrote ‘There is no real ending, it’s just the place where you stop the story’.  As did Emily Griffin (Love the one you’re with), as reflected in her words  ‘He nods, as if to acknowledge that endings are almost always a little sad, even when there’s something to look forward to on the other side.’ My favourite quote is this:

 ‘Though no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.’ (Carl Bard).

Journeys happen in many ways and yes, they do always have to come to an end. My studies have been intensely life-changing for me and have taken me on a journey (as clich├ęd as this sounds) of self-discovery. Before I enrolled in social work I was under the illusion that my life career was as a secondary school teacher, though many signs were showing me I was barking up the wrong tree. In fact, what I really needed to do was get to know myself – my weaknesses and my strengths.

I needed time to find out why I am like I am and who I want to be, as well as what I really have to offer the world. Entering into my new career of social work has allowed me to finally be who I really am and it’s taken a lot of tears to get here. I have had to face the truth about what I wanted, take huge risks in my personal life which still bear the scars and throw myself into life with complete abandon. My studies and my employment challenge me every day to move out of my comfort zones and into the lives of others, where I have learnt so much that I could have never learned within the confining walls of a classroom.

So though it’s ending, I’m stepping off the train as the real me – no pretence, no trying to be someone who I really am not and what a way to end! It is, too, a continuing journey, indeed the story has not yet stopped, and I plan to enter my forties with enthusiasm, passion and joy. So let’s raise a glass to endings!
Sue Oaks copyright 2012

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Top three summer reading spots - away from the beach

Everyone I have come across who actively defines herself, or himself, as a ‘reader’ has a particular spot or set-up that she or he finds most ideal. For example, picture yourself thoroughly engrossed in a novel. Where are you? Not sitting up-right in a kitchen chair I imagine. Are you a curled up on the couch kind of person? Sprawled out across your bed? Nestled in a worn-out arm chair?

Image by Herry Lawford
Seasonal Reading
Whenever I imagine myself curled up with a good book I picture myself indoors.  If I look away from the enraptured figure on the couch to the window I notice it is autumn outside. But why? I don’t stop reading once the snow melts off the ground. Cuddling up with a good book shouldn’t mean missing out on the summer sun.
While the beach may be many people’s summer reading spot of choice, not everyone can get to one so here’s a list of the top 3 places to do your summer reading, away from the beach.
  1. 1.        Picnic
Picnics are not just for romantic couples sensually feeding each other grapes, nor are they reserved for family outings. The park is a great place for summer reading. Pack a blanket to throw on the ground, some sandwiches, a bottle of cool lemonade, the latest best seller, and you’ve got yourself a perfectly relaxing day outdoors. You won’t end up with grains of sand lodged inside your new book, and if it gets too warm just scoot on over to the shade of a nearby tree!
  1. 2.       Float Away
I realize everyone might not have access to a swimming pool, if you don’t (or it’s too far away for you to bother) skip on down to the next suggestion. However, if you do have access to a pool you may be able to enjoy my favourite summer reading spot; the floatie.
 Lazing languidly on a floatie, one leg dangling into the pool keeping you cool while you get lost in your novel. The best part of pool reading is that you can simply hop in if you get too hot. Perch on the steps into the pool or rest your arms and your book on the edge while our lower half is submerged in the refreshingly cool water.
 If your pool is a touch further away than your backyard just remember to pack a cooler with snacks and lots of water if you plan on staying a while and you’re all set!
3) Home Sweet Home
If you skipped the last suggestion, or it’s simply not warm enough to relax by the pool but the sun has re-emerged from behind those winter clouds, one of the best places to enjoy a good book is your own back yard. Grab some comfy cushions and a throw blanket and head out to the garden bench. What place could be better to admire those beautiful flowers that are finally springing up everywhere? Snuggle up, make yourself comfortable and get lost in those pages.
Estelle Page is a mother of two, an avid home decorator and a passionate reader. With help from Raw Garden she turned her garden into the perfect reading spot.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Men's fashion crimes - novelty underwear (Guest Post) by Stuart Green

This article takes a humour filled look at novelty men’s underwear, outlining why it is such a fashion crime.

Who Buys It?

It is amazing in our minds that people buy men’s novelty underwear at all, however perhaps what is more shocking is the people that buy it. Usually, novelty products are the sort of thing that you can rely on a relative who doesn’t ever see you to buy for your birthday or for Christmas. Humour is always an excellent ice-breaker like that, isn’t it. I know what I’ll do, I haven’t seen him since the same day last year, and I have no idea what he likes or would appreciate for a gift, so I’ll buy him some underwear with an elephants face so he can put his thingy in the trunk. Anyone would find that funny, obviously.
The frightening thing is, not only is that a fairly accurate reflection of attitudes towards buying men’s novelty underwear as a gift, but that men also buy this stuff for themselves! Okay, they probably don’t go to quite the ridiculous lengths that have been described above, but it is still common for allegedly grown, mature men to placate themselves with underwear that says things along the lines of “unleash the best” or “Ladies: Welcome to Heaven.”
Seriously, does anyone really take themselves even a little seriously when wearing these things. There might be a bit of irony and humour in t-shirts that say things like “You Like This” in the style of Facebook, but surely not in pants. Imagine spending the night with a new girlfriend for the first time, and while you are getting intimate she sees the message above?!

Blame the Shops

We believe the blame should be laid squarely at the foot of the selected stores that sell this stuff and think it is acceptable to do so. Of course, if there is demand for a product in a business, then they are going to continue stocking it.
At the same time, there is surely an argument that says that no-one actually hits the stores with express objective to buy novelty underwear. They might be looking to buy underwear, but are probably happy with a general pack of 3 briefs before setting their eyes on what else is on offer. Men generally don’t walk into the store and ask if they can be directed to the “I Am Legend” underwear, do they?

The Solution?

The only way forward, if there is one, is to not wear it yourself, mock your friends for doing so, and never, ever buy it, even as a humorous gift. And tell the long lost relative that it isn’t funny, too.
Stylepilot lets men discover which styles and items to purchase including mens underwear.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Who will buy ... me?

A funny writing prompt - how would you advertise yourself, got me thinking about what on earth I could offer the buyer.
Why would I buy me?
I think I'm pretty quiet most of the time, I do lots of work around the house but I'm not a perfectionist. Organised but not OCD.
Not too bad at decorating houses on minimal budgets and handy at hunting out stuff at op-shops and nifty little markets.
I can sew little elephants, if in the mood, and can write a decent essay on a range of topics.
I'm able to type really quickly, with pretty good accuracy, and can find my way around Microsoft Word and the Internet.
I have a strong connection with animals, most cats, in particular, tend to trust me and move through their normally snobby attitudes for a pat.
My piano playing has occasional flares of greatness, when I get the urge and a shot of passion.
I'm a nice person most of the time, and I have dedicated my life to working with people who many others wouldn't go near.
I'm pretty healthy and have a strong knowledge of nutrition and I'm motivated to keep fit and try new things, like the gym and bike riding.
Sex - I love it and I don't think I'm TOO bad at it, and not TOO old to enjoy it... is there such an age?
I can drive a car safely and well, and haven't had a ticket since I first got my license.
Spelling - not too drab either, I come in handy as a mobile dictionary in the office.
Face book - pretty good at it! I guess that's all I can really think of. I wonder what others would write?


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Peaceful Interlude at Cape Schanck Resort

What a week!
Teenage angst and anger,
Hospital emergency department,
Wet and miserable wintery weather,
Phone calls to teachers and depressing ‘she’s failing’ emails –
Each day seemingly longer than the last.

But what a way to finish –
Quick getaway to a local resort,
Delicious dinner in a cosy restaurant,
Cuddles, intimacy,
Waking to ocean views.
Buffet breakfast, the gym to ourselves and
More cuddles, more intimacy.

Then the Peninsula Hot Springs
Pools of steaming, healing water,
Dipping our bodies in and out,
Soaking in the healing minerals,

Ah – a much needed peaceful interlude.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Bitch Olympics

If there was a Bitch Olympics, I reckon I would have won a hell of a lot of gold medals in my life-time. Okay, so that sounds like I'm not really a nice person. I don't agree. Basically, I'm a kind-hearted, open minded, generous person who has a high capacity for generosity and working with others. But every now and then, there is a bitch inside me who has to come to life.

'What about me?' is her high pitched catch cry. She takes her pointy, painted nails and grabs me from inside, behind my heart, squeezing it so hard it's about to burst out of my chest, like sauce being violently squeezed onto a hot dog.

All can be well for a day, a week, sometimes even a fortnight. I can feel mild-mannered, calm and patient. I can be clear headed, make logical decisions, give wise and sage advice. I like myself when I can do that, I feel proud of my achievements, I forgive myself for past wrong-doings. But when the gold-medal winning Bitch emerges, she smashes all that to smithereens.

'You're hopeless!', she cries, snarl painted all over her face. 'What a crappy decision! How can you ever make decisions when they turn out to be such f***** disasters?' (She loves swearing, adores it in fact, the dirtier, scummier, meaner the swear words the better). My body cringes at her command, and I retreat into my cave, angry at the world. Sometimes she wants to see the light, and I emerge into the public to emit her scathing, judgemental views on my family and friends, and anyone who dares to get in the way.

She's ugly, the Bitch Olympian. That winner of bitter wars, that wrecker of marriages, destroyer of friendships and vandal of self-confidence. I hope she doesn't win any medals this time around, but at the moment, I'm not placing any bets.


Saturday, 21 July 2012

What makes an inspiring teacher?

Which teachers have made an impact on you over your life-time?

When I reflected on this question, I didn't remember any particular teachers as being my favourites. Instead, different things they had said at certain times of my life stood out. Or some, like my piano teacher, just had a gentle presence for many years. I was surprised at the number of teachers who I had encountered. From kindergarten to university, and extra-curricular teachers as well, that's a lot of guides and mentors. So who made the list?

Miss Mac, my piano teacher

Wow, Miss Mac. You make it to first of my list. I started learning piano when I was in grade three and it soon became my passion. Miss Mac, you were there, through my childhood, like a tree that aged gently beside me. You were so patient and kind and also inspiring. I was challenged to do my best, and even though I was filled with anxiety at the thought of playing in public, you never let me run away, but at the same time you never pushed me past my limits. You always dressed simply and elegantly and your house was neat and tidy. While my world changed around me and I changed within it, you stayed who you were, solid as a rock.

The visiting student teacher in primary school

So, you stand out in my memory and I can't even remember your name! But I can tell you what you meant to me. You picked me out of all the other students to be in your poetry and writing groups. Even though you were supposed to pick different students each time, you chose me for every work-shop and you told me I was a good writer. I was shy, quiet and scared to speak aloud in the classroom. You didn't mind. You got me to open up in your little group and it made me feel like I had something of value to offer the world. I will never forget that.

Miss Spiers, the English teacher at Eaglehawk High

Hats off to you, Jane, for putting up with us unruly teenagers all those years. I know for a fact that at many times, our behaviour was particularly hideous. Thank you for putting up with us! You were a great teacher. Thorough, calm, organised and clearly spoken. You put some imaginative and creative ideas to practise and always made me feel welcome in your class. You had pretty good class-room control and had gained the respect of most of the students. Later on, you invited me to your home, and I absolutely adored the place - simple, tasteful a little bit exotic, you had an air of mystery about you. Definitely unforgettable.

Mr Pearce, the school welfare officer at Eaglehawk High

I guess we all go though stuff when we're teenagers, but I know from experience I felt like I was the only one and that no-one would ever understand what I was going through. But then I met you, Mr Pearce. They took me to meet you when I couldn't stop crying that day in year eight, and you tried to get to know me. You did it well. The problem I had at home was not going to go away quickly, but I knew you were there to talk to even at the worst times. When I danced with you at my debutante ball, the look in your eyes told me you were proud of me, of how far I'd come, and that you had faith in where I was heading.

Mr Hallpike, my year 11 literature teacher

So off I go to Bendigo Senior Secondary School, thinking I am the best writer on earth and kind of tired of being the top English student, and what happens? I get a D minus on my first essay! What, I ask, how could this have happened to me? Well it soon taught me that I had to pull my socks up and Mr Hallpike, you immersed me in literature more than anyone had before. What a teacher! Engaging, inspiring, bringing your personal stories into your lessons and encouraging me to get some life experience before aiming to become a writer. Awesome.

The lecturer who lit the candle at the uni

Isn't exam time supposed to be stressful? Studying as a mature age student, with three kids at home, one still a baby, and living in a new, unknown town with very little money had been taking its toll. I was really starting to wonder why on earth I had chosen this particular path. Was it really worth it? Would it really get me anywhere? All it seemed to be doing was putting stress and pressure on the family. How was I supposed to remember all these things to pass an exam? Once again, I have forgotten your name, but I remember you as a peaceful, happy woman who was generous in spirit and made what could have been the driest topic on earth (biblical history) actually interesting! When I entered that big exam hall to see you lighting the candle and saying a prayer for us before it, it taught me that it is okay to do things differently. It taught me that it is important to include the spiritual element in our day to day life and that taking the time to do the little things can make a huge difference.


Well, that's it. A pretty small list, I know. I'm not saying that other teachers didn't do a great job, or that they didn't stand out at various times. But at this moment, on reflection, these are the ones who I remember. I wonder, as a teacher, if I would make it to any of my past students' lists? I hope so. So who were your inspirational teachers? I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Fighting a lack-lustre spirit.

Some days I wake up and think 'this is just not going to happen'. I follow my normal routine, but my body feels heavy and my spirit lacks lustre to the extreme. Today started like that. I took the dogs for a walk at the leash-free park, and it was so muddy we nearly sank. I couldn't get joy out of the walk no matter how hard I tried, even though the dogs were obviously happy and having a great time. I came home and felt that black cloud threatening to come over me.

But did I succumb to it? I read a quote on Facebook that said 'If we don't walk on the rainy days we will never reach our destination.' This was what I needed to read. I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and made a cuppa. I ate a bit of choccy. I turned on a Cyndi Lauper CD and cleaned out the bedroom wardrobe, a job well over-due. The believe it or not, the most amazing creative spurt took over me, and I have had creative, awesomely delicious energy all afternoon!!!!

So, on those days, when you feel like a rock trying to float on a pond, just put one foot in front of the other, and trust that the feeling will eventually lift.

Enjoy each moment, they are all precious.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Moving into the unknown - a reflection

A reflective piece on my perceptions on disability, family and community attitudes and where I stand as an adult.

Childhood attitudes

As children, we were often told not to complain with the response from my Mum, ‘Just be glad you haven’t got a hare lip and a cleft palate’. This was generally ineffective, because neither my sister or I had any idea what a hare lip or a cleft palate was and my mum certainly didn’t seem to be in a hurry to explain. What we did learn from that was that to have such a thing (obviously so disastrous that you couldn’t talk about it openly) was to be unlovable, or at least that is how it came across.

My mother was employed as a primary school teacher throughout most of my childhood and teenage years, and inevitably we heard quite a lot about the goings –on of her days at school. Usually she appeared to enjoy her job and it kept her very busy. Sometimes though, it was very stressful for her. In particular, we would hear complaints about the children or child who was ‘creating’ this stress with their behaviour. One child, whom I cannot remember his real name, was described as ‘an out of control garden hose’ and my mother spent many hours debating with my old-school principal step-father about how ‘those sorts of children shouldn’t be placed in regular schools’, because it was too stressful for the teachers.

I also heard occasionally heard my mother, sadly, saying that these children with a disability ‘should have been pillowed at birth’ such was her attitude at the time. I find this really sad to think about now and as a child, such attitudes confused me. I felt in myself that I would have to be perfect to be accepted by my mother, and indeed, at times I came across illness or deformity of any kind (such as cold-sores or a problem I had with my toe growing the wrong way), I felt I had failed her. Luckily I was an avid reader, and my journeys into the worlds in the books enabled me to see the world from the perspective of others, helping me develop a high degree of empathy. A book about the life of Helen Keller, for example, enabled me to get into the mind of a person with blindness, to some extent.

My grandma was a character. She had a zest for life and an active brain, which unfortunately had to compete with the frustrating of a body that was failing her, riddled with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. Her hands folded into themselves, with knuckles inflamed and knees as swollen as soccer balls. She used a walking frame on which she hung her ‘dilly bag’, that she would make jokes about. The most sad thing was that she refused to accept her worsening condition, mainly because of pride. She didn’t want people down the street (she lived in the small Victorian town of Kyneton for most of her life) to see her ‘like this’. She even refused to come to my wedding, as she was too embarrassed. I believe she also had depression, though this was never diagnosed.

Schooling in a small country town

I grew up the small town of Eaglehawk, an outer suburb of Bendigo in Central Victoria. During my school years (1978 – 1990) this town was a mainly Anglo-Saxon, hetero-sexual community with little tolerance for ‘difference’. People who didn’t fit into the ‘norm’ were ridiculed. I did not have any experience of studying side by side with students from other cultures, or with a disability that was ‘noticeable’. At high school, we had a boy with a disability, called Ross, enrol and it was a major effort for the school to accommodate him. I remember the ‘fuss’ when they installed ramps for his wheel-chair and we even had a special assembly before he arrived. My friends and I took little notice of Ross, except to quietly make fun of his speech impediment, and call him (only to ourselves), ‘Roth’. I feel ashamed of this now, but at the time it was what I knew and what I had been exposed to. Interestingly, a few years later I made friends with an Aboriginal family across the road, and soon experienced my first example of the racism and lack of tolerance for diversity, when other students called me racist names and began a stream of hurtful comments and jokes about aboriginals, all aimed at me for being friends with an Aboriginal boy.

Moving towards diversity

As an older teenager, I worked with elderly people, running sing-alongs at an aged-care facility and then moving onto some care aspects such as showering. I volunteered as a visitor for community service in Year 11 and I remember having to work with my feelings of discomfort to be able to do it. I found the smells particularly offensive, though tried to keep this to myself. I also later helped out at a day-centre for adults with disabilities, I didn’t stay long as once again I found it very uncomfortable, especially where language and communication barriers were an issue.
A few years ago, I came across some information about a very rare genetic disease, Epidermolysis Bullosa. I read some books written by the parents of a child who has this disease. These children are often called ‘butterfly children’, because their skin is as fragile as butterflies. I think this was the first time I really put myself in the shoes of someone with a disability. As a social worker, I have come to know a number of children with disabilities, though these have been moderately mild, including autism and intellectual disabilities. I also did some casual teaching at a special school, in both the younger and older age groups, which I found very challenging. I felt a strong connection to the children but found the behaviour management too difficult as an untrained worker. My ex-husband taught in special schools for a few years, and I had some limited exposure on the occasional visits to the schools. He didn’t talk to me much about his experiences.

Where am I now?

So, where do I sit now, in attitude and perspective?

I feel like I have a big gap in my knowledge base about the various disabilities that people have. I also feel that I have had very limited exposure and have not had a chance to get to know people who have a disability. There is still some degree of fear of what to expect, of what to say where there are language and communication difficulties. This could be a big barrier to me being successful when working with clients who have a disability. The fear could get in the way of me conducting thorough assessments, as I might have a tendency to rush them or to get all the information from the carer, rather than allowing the client to be part of the decision making process. It might put me off working in this area, indeed, I think I have been deliberately avoiding this area of work since I began social work.

So how will I address this?

Well, this time I want to face my fears head on. I want to learn more about the various disabilities. I want to get to know the story of people with a disability. What is it like to live with each of the disabilities? What is their experience of discrimination and what has this meant for them? What are their strengths?

I want to get a stronger sense of the ethics behind working with people with a disability too, and move away from my mother’s attitudes, by gaining knowledge, understanding and empathy. To get the most out of my student placement in this area, that is what I aim to do.

What plant am I?

What plant am I? 

1. I often wear a dress of bouncy green hearts.

2. Wild swine like to dig at me.

3. My most delicate and beautiful feature (my petals) are bent outwards or up, are sometimes twisted and connect at the base in a cup-like shape.

4. I have been known to help the healing process of cataracts, sunburn and gout.

5. I often begin flowering in autumn, and have a dormant period over the summer.

6. I am a native of Europe and the Mediterranean region east of Iran.

7. Symbolically I have been associated with resignation and goodbye.

8. I am a popular house-plant and my petals grow in red, pink and white.

Answer: I am a cyclamen!
Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Stolen - a prayer

Dear God,
Please forgive me for stealing.
Over my life I have stolen a number of things, some big, some little.
I will list them below:

·         My book –club money (I spent it on lollies from the corner shop instead)
·         Some toilet paper from an old lady’s house, when I ran away (I didn’t know she would miss it that much until she started bashing my legs with a broom as I tried to get away under her fence)
·         A handful of shells from that tourist shop at Apollo Bay (my friends were so embarrassed they didn’t speak to me for the rest of the camp)
·         That stretchy belt I nicked in the 80s…. it was too easy to walk out of the shop wearing it, the perfect match for that cute ra-ra skirt I had in my wardrobe.
·         The black-mailing photos … was it our fault our photography teacher had some photos of the spunky male P.E. teacher having a shower tucked away in her filing cabinet? We felt morally obliged to remove them.
·         Collywobbles … you came to my door, ate the food we gave you and I thought it right that you were to be de-sexed. It only crossed my mind later that I had probably stolen someone else’s cat.
·         Okay, the wine was in the cupboard, right? Pretty accessible for a teenager, and how was I to know it was a bottle of Santenay 1972 Jean Jacques Castel Magnum that would now be worth over four hundred dollars? I didn't really taste it after we smashed the top off the bottle.
So God, I have been pretty naughty on the theft front over the years. I might have omitted a couple of things, but nothing that I can recall right at this moment.  Could’ve been a lot worse, I think, so do you think you could forgive me? I think it’s time I forgave myself, that’s for sure, and you know I sure don’t plan to do it again.
Thanks God, you’re a ripper!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Understanding what your dog is telling you - Guest Post

Your dog doesn't speak English, but he can still tell you how he is feeling. His language is his facial expressions, his body posture and his tail position. Many of his body movements are subtle and barely noticeable to us, but others of his species will recognize them. With practice, you too can learn to work out what he is trying to communicate to you.
Your Dog's Head
The first thing you should do when you are trying to understand what your dog is thinking and feeling is to look at his head. Erect ears held forward indicate that he's interested in what's going on around him. That's easy to see in prick eared dogs, but if your four legged family member has floppy ears, look at the position of the base of his ears. A confident alert dog will also have a direct stare and he will often hold his mouth closed.
If he holds his ears low and back, he is feeling anxious and a little bit frightened. Wide eyes, perhaps with a little of white showing, are also a sign of nervousness in dogs.
It's easy to decipher your dog's intent when his lips are curled and his teeth are bared. Watch out! Loose lips with a gently lolling tongue indicate he is relaxed and comfortable, while tension at the corners of his mouth suggest he is keeping an eye on things.
Your Dog's Body
A confident dog that watchful and alert is will hold his body stiffly, while a nervous pet will stay close to the ground and may even roll onto his back.
The hair along your dog's back is worth watching, as when he is excited, it will stand on end. This is known as having his "hackles raised"
Your Dog's Tail
A wagging tail is purely an indication that a dog wants to interact with you in some way. That interaction could be fun, or it could be unpleasant. A tail held high is an indication of a confident assertive dog. On the other hand, if his tail is held tightly between his legs, he is showing submissive behavior.
It's important that you become skilled at recognizing dogs' body language. It may save you from injury, as a dog will rarely bite without giving plenty of warning. If you can't identify those warning signals, then you are at greater risk of being bitten.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a friendly dog that wants to meet you will have a wagging tail, his mouth will be open and his tongue will often be lolling out of the side of his mouth. He may look almost like he is smiling. His ears will be held forward, and his body will be relaxed.
Don't forget the play bow - when your dog lowers himself onto his elbows and holds his rump in the air, with his tail wagging, he is inviting you to start a game with him.
Take some time regularly to watch your dog's posture and work out what he is feeling. It's a great way of improving your communication and therefore your relationship.

Susan Wright, DMV has dedicated her professional life to caring for domestic animals as a veterinarian, author and dog training collar expert.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tribute to an old friend - rest gently.

When I heard the news I couldn’t believe it.
It didn’t seem real
How could it be that you were just here,
But now you’ve gone?

Soon I felt numb,
Tried to get on with my day to day work,
But I couldn’t stop thinking of you.

I tried to explain it,
But there was no explanation.
I tried to find a reason.
But there was no reason.

I cried.

Then I remembered
The fun we used to have
Your cheeky grin,
Your quirky sense of humour.

I smiled.

When I last spoke to you
You had hopes and plans.
I was going to come and hear you play,
And have a chat again, like old times.

It wasn’t to be.
I guess you had a lot more pain
Than I would have ever known.
Pain that can’t be explained,

Like a rubber-band around your heart that can’t be unwound.

No-one should have to feel like that.

You were our friend,
An amazing person,
Talented, gentle and generous.

May you rest gently in the knowledge that you are loved.

Sue Oaks, 2012.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


Walking on the beach path, umbrella braced against the wind,

The pretty umbrella with the silvery-blue butterflies,

Designed to brighten up the wintery months.

I juggle many things – umbrella, dog leads, the thoughts in my head

That haven’t quite cleared from the dream

I was pulled from when I rose.


The dogs’ fur is sleek; they don’t seem to mind the cold wet slashings

That batter their eager faces in the wind,

Their tails still wag and they pull their leads

To sniff the stories that other dogs have left behind.

I remember singing in the Geelong West Town Hall

As part of the choir in a winter concert,

Dressed in rain-coats and donning a range

Of colourful gum-boots;

Singing wintery songs about rain-drops and snowflakes

To an audience sipping bowls of steaming hot soup,

Brewing mulled wine with wafts of cinnamon

That filled the old high ceilings;

Tickling the nostrils of past mayors –

Imprisoned in heavy frames.


Rug up! Rug up! Enjoy the chilly excuse

To cosy up in blankets and warm the soul,

Or go outside and feel your every cell come to life.


Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

The woes of licking between your toes!

The herbal concoction is bitter, making my tongue curl and I wash it down quickly with freshly squeezed juice ... phew!

After battling with my tummy for about a year (cramps, bloating, indigestion) I think I might be finally on the right track. I have come to the following conclusions about why my digestive system has gone crazy:

  1. The six months I spent on Jenny Craig (frozen food, processed foods and becoming disassociated with food preparation)
  2. Going from a vegetarian diet to eating a lot of meat
  3. Eating every 5.2 minutes
  4. Drinking 362 coffees daily
  5. Inhaling helium and other strange substances
  6. Eating my dogs' meals
  7. Chewing non-edible surfaces e.g. my table, chairs, pillows
  8. Drinking from the toilet bowl
  9. Pulling my hair out in tufts and eating it
  10. Licking between my toes
  11. Having sips of petrol when getting fuel from the servo
  12. Eating from the rubbish bin
  13. Accidentally swallowing a lot of makeup when attempting to wear it on my face
  14. Licking my floor clean instead of mopping to save water
Okay... this started well but sadly, was hacked! So I will summarise it as having changed my diet too radically too quickly, not eating enough nutrients, eating too much sugar (especially chocolate) and not dealing with stress very well.

And the plan? Cutting out caffeine, dropping the sugar levels, eating heaps of fruit and veges and fresh juices, snacking on nuts and sultanas instead of lollies and using some stress-reduction techniques. Boring? Not if it means a happy tummy! My lovely naturopath also prescribed me digestive enzymes and pro-biotics. So maybe I can keep licking between my toes after all!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

I’m not a perfect mother

On the day before Mother’s Day, I just want so say
I’m not a perfect mother.
I’ve changed nappies by the thousands
I’ve breast-fed for 42 months
I’ve lost hundreds of hours of sleep.

Because I was a young mum, I didn’t totally dedicate my life to my children
I kept on studying and trying to find a job that I enjoy.
I never really felt like I fitted in with the older mums,
Who seemed to have it all together.
I couldn’t relate to their conversations about house decorations, new cars and shopping sprees.

I had depression.
I probably had depression before I had my babies
I definitely had it after
On and off.

I’ve been an okay mother for some of the time.
I bought them nice toys and set up play areas
I took them for walks and to the play-ground
I read lots of books to them and gave them massages and cuddles
And tickled them to sleep.

I tried to do it all with little support.
Their dad was good at playing with them
But didn’t really do much of the practical things.
My emotional tank was empty to start with
I think sometimes I got it to a quarter full
But it would usually empty pretty quickly.

So I studied.
I worked.
I worked and studied and gave what emotional resources I still had left.
I tried to keep my marriage alive, offering to go to courses, begging to have time together, setting up motel stays that were simply rejected because he had other more exciting things to do and he made me feel guilty for ‘making him’ marry too young.

Leaving the marriage wasn’t easy. I didn’t take it lightly.
It looked like I left it for another man but really the marriage had been long over and the other man became the motivation I needed to make the move.
But I didn’t think about how to make it work for the children.
How can it ever work for them, really?

So I’m not a perfect mother.
I’m trying to create a warm and welcoming space
In a house that’s too small, in a relationship that’s still insecure
In many ways
While I try and finish my studies and make a living,
To pay for their school fees, their clothes, their activities and the foods they like to eat. And I keep loving them, whether they believe me or not.

I’m not a perfect mother. But who is?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

9 Easy Steps to Writing an Article on a Common Title or Theme

Can't get any writing inspiration? Try this trick - choose a title from any article on the internet or find a catchy headline in today's newspaper or a magazine, and have a go of writing your own article on the same title. Avoid reading the article first but instead, try the following steps to create original, captivating material!

  1. Choose a title, for example in a recent post I chose 'Fragile Life - Diseases in the world today', which is a very general topic area.
  2. Gather your thoughts and ideas to work out what you already know about the topic - use a range of brain-storming techniques such as the ones found on Persistence Unlimited 
  3. Research - use Google to find some relevant and up-to-date information on your topic. Be sure to write down your source and include as a reference in your article.
  4. Divide into sub-headings. From the information you have gathered, choose 4 - 6 sub-headings. For my article on deady diseases I was able to divide a very general subject into a number of distinct areas which then guided the direction of the piece.
  5. Write your paragraphs. Keep them short, around five-six lines is a good average measure.
  6. Add an introduction to capture the attention of your audience, and finish off with a couple of lines which leave the reader thinking. Asking a question can be a good way to invite some reader comments.
  7. Illustrate - choose one or two photos or illustrations which you think will highlight the information in your article. You can use your own gallery of photos, take new ones or use a photo-site from the Internet such as istockphoto where you can purchase photos for around $1.00.
  8. Proof-read and edit your article! Grab a friend to read through, use spell-check and make sure your article is formatted in a simple, readable style.
  9. Share your article - on your own blog, on someone elses blog (try  for example), or offer to a publisher! There's a world out there of readers looking for new material, so get it out there!
If you have used these steps and written an article, I'd love to hear about it, so please leave your comment on the blog. Happy Writing!

Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012

Fragile Life - Disease in the world today

Human life is precious and most people would agree that we should value each and every human life. Sadly, human life can also be fragile and our world is full of diseases which threaten our health and sometimes our very existence. So what are our most deadly diseases, and can we do anything to treat and prevent them?

Definition of a Deadly Disease

The Oxford Dictionary defines disease as ‘a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury and deadly as ‘causing or able to cause death’. What this means, in simple terms, is that a deadly disease is the worst type of disease you can get – one you aren’t likely to survive.

Developed vs. Developing or Less-developed Countries

Identifying the most deadly diseases in the world is difficult, because despite the growth of globalism and the wonders of modern technology, the world is not an equal place. The prevalence of disease differs depending on where you live. If you live in a developed country such as Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Germany, Japan, the UK and the United States, the diseases which are likely to be most deadly to you are going to differ from the diseases you may face in a developing, or less developed, country.

Deadliest Diseases in Developed Countries

Among the main causes of death in developed countries that fit the definition of disease, there are some which have proven to be the most deadly. These include Ischemic heart disease; Cerebrovascular disease (disease of the brain); Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (disease of the lungs); Lower respiratory infections (e.g. bronchitis, pneumonia, lung abscess); Lung Cancer; Stomach Cancer; Hypertensive heart disease (heart problems caused by high blood pressure) and Tuberculosis (a contagious bacterial infection involving the lungs but which may spread other organs).

The Most Deadly Disease in Developing or Less-developed Countries – HIV-AIDS

Not surprisingly the most deadly disease of the less-developed countries is listed as HIV-AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), which is by far most common in African countries. In these countries, there are around 24.5 million people affected, which makes up more than 60% of people infected with the deadly disease world-wide. Of these countries, South Africa is the worst affected, followed by Nigeria and then India coming in as the third most highly impacted.

Other Deadly Diseases in Developing Countries

Apart from AIDS, diseases most prominent in less developed (or developing countries) begin with similarities to the developed countries and include lower respiratory infections and Ischemic heart disease as the next two most deadly. Following these comes Diarrhea, then Cerebrovasular disease (once again similar to the developed countries list), then Malaria; Tuberculosis; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Measles.

Preventing Deadly Diseases

Thinking about the grim realities of diseases can be disheartening but it can also be a wake-up call to reality. That’s when people start to think about how to address these problems and think of ways to prevent the occurrence of the diseases to start with. This involves thinking about disease in both a small, localised way and a larger, globalised way. AIDS-HIV, for example, has raised many challenges for professionals around the globe as they strive to find ways of preventing the spread of the disease and face difficulties in educating people in culturally sensitive ways. Heart Disease, on the other hand, is the most common cause of death in most Western countries and can be more simply prevented with a healthy diet and readily available medication for diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Disease in the future

The human organism seems fragile when we look at the prevalence of disease. Consideration of how to stay healthy raises a number of ethical questions. Who should be prioritised when it comes to health care? Is it fair that developed countries have millions of dollars poured into their health system to treat diseases which are quite easily preventable? Whatever questions may be aroused and whatever ethical dilemmas the problem raises, the reality is evident – that disease is part of human existence and if we want to live healthy, productive lives, there will always be room to improve the way we deal with it.

Copyright Sue Oaks 2012