Saturday, 28 April 2012

Should I have plastic surgery?

So what's your problem? 
I wear a ball and chain, but it’s not tied to my ankle and it sure isn’t hanging around my neck. So where is it, you ask? My ball and chain, my friends, is that flabby section around my middle that developed after having my three children and just won’t go away. It is probably the main reason my self-esteem has struggled to remain intact over all these years, mixed with past emotional baggage and the ever-flashing neon messages in the media.
Media messages
Be slim, be fit and be firm! But while you’re at it, cook this, eat this, devour this range of colourful, delightful processed items that I will shove in your face at every service station and supermarket, alongside the porn magazines slathered with pictures of perfect models with tiny waists and huge breasts. Confusing? Depressing? Stressful? Yes, all of the above.
Should I have plastic surgery?
I watched a tummy-tuck operation on You-tube and I was so disgusted that I nearly vomited. So I guess that’s not an option for me (let alone the fact that I would have to waste THOUSANDS of hard-earned dollars to get it done! I have been on diets and lost weight, but it seems that at the same time, I also seem to lose my mental health, and the weight just wants to pile back on anyway.
My weak spot
My partner knows it’s my weak spot; it’s an easy way to stab me with my vulnerability so clearly on display to the world in that area. Various comments from people asking if I’m pregnant or when the baby’s due have been hard to wave off, instead I find that I let the comments cut me to the core, I stew on them, dwell on them and find them hard to shake off. Why do I keep equating these thoughts with my sense of value as a person?
What do the experts say?
Scrolling through the net on the topic of belly fat and self-esteem, I stumble across such a wide choice of articles. Most of them are about how to lose the fat. One is particularly worrisome, a ‘what men think’ diatribe about how disgusting fat women are and how all men hate fat women, especially when they have what he calls ‘abnormal’ fat in the ‘wrong areas’, the tummy being one of them. Sadly, his article was followed with a number of very sad comments by women who really took his pathetic writing to heart. I would never give this man the credit of a link as I would not want to poison anyone else with his rubbishy words.
Helpful articles
An article on Oprah.com, ‘How much time do you waste obsessing over your body’, by Valerie Frankel (see: http://www.oprah.com/health/Stomach-Fat-Body-Dysmorphic-Disorder-and-Self-Image) was reflective and informative and helped make me feel like I’m not the only one in this position. Apparently it’s pretty common to have ‘body dysmorphia’, when we imagine a part of our body is much more hideous than it really is. So perhaps my ball and chain tummy is not the whale that I imagine it, but more like a medium sized jelly-fish.
Natural health approach
Another good article I found in my search was on ‘The natural health website for women’
(see http://www.marilynglenville.com/fat_around_the_middle.htm). The best thing about it is the way it identifies stress as one of the main factors in belly fat. How there’s an answer that rings true! Even better, her first direction is to STOP DIETING!!! How awesome! The article recommends cutting out sugar and refined products and eating plenty of fruit and whole-grain (haven't we heard that before?) as well as eating regularly throughout the day and getting up off your bottom as much as possible.
So what's the plan?
Okay, so I'm going to just boost what I've been doing already as well as try and cut down on the refined sugars. My new bike, a Giant Cypress 3 hybrid (that I finally paid off on lay-by) is ready to hit the road, big time. My ultimate aim is to get rid of that ball and chain - not so much the belly itself, but the obsessive stressing about it.
Your comments?
What is your ball and chain and how are you going to break free? I'd love to hear about your personal challenges.

Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012.


Image by David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=3062







Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Trained to kill - Elephants and War

Nelly the Elephant may have packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus, but if she thought SHE had it bad, her ancestors had a much harder time of it. For centuries, elephants have been used for their strength and resilience in many major battles, sometimes forming whole battalions of war elephants which are known as elephantry.


Image By: Nils Rinaldi
The word sounds a bit like the word “infantry” but there’s no way you called this one “light”!

Originating from India , the elephants were captured and trained by humans for combat, mainly to charge the enemy, trampling them and breaking their formations. Male elephants were favoured for their size and their innate greater aggression, but this was also because female elephants tend to run from a male – not very handy when you‘re going into battle!

A potted history of the elephant in war

The very earliest reference to the use of these brave pachyderms was made way, way back in stories from the 4th century BC, relating to ancient Indian teachings of Mahabharata and Ramayana, both Sanskrit epics. Indian kings certainly valued their part in warfare.

Alexander the Great of Persia brought elephants to the fore.  After capturing the enemy elephants into his own herd as he raged war across Persia, he accumulated more and more of them. However, the wise old Indians were prepared, and it is said that Alexander was faced with 85 to 100 trained war elephants when he arrived in India.That was peanuts next to the vast armies further east, such as the Nanda Empire, with between 3,000 and 6,000 of the beasts in their ranks!

African versus Indian

The Egyptians started getting elephants from Africa to compete with the east. In fact, the preferred species, the North African Forest Elephant, tragically became extinct because of over-exploitation. Further south, the African Savanna Elephant could be used, but they were much larger than the African Forest or the Asian Elephant and its sheer size meant that it was much harder to capture and tame.

Luckily for them, this meant their survival to this day, although of course they had to face further battles against poachers and hunters in more recent times. Great general Hannibal’s favourite elephant is thought to be the Syrian type, a gruesome beast with aggressive stance and bravery like no other. Oh, and they were massive – some 8 to 10 feet to the shoulder.

However, Sri Lankan elephants were considered fierce and better for war than its African or Indian cousins. They were even traded across the Indian Ocean to the west, and were a good little earner for the former country of Ceylon.


Image via screen capture
Spot the elephant – sightings through the ages

Throughout the 13th Century, elephants have been depicted in battles including those for Burma, Mongolia, Vietnam and India. Genghis Khan was another famous war lord who used elephants in his battalions. There is recounting of elephants used in many famous wars, such as that for the Ottoman Empire, and the Khmer Empire.

Hannibal marched his war elephants over the Pyrenees and into Italy in 218 BC! That must have been an awesome sight. There are depictions of the elephant at war in Victorian paintings and photographs exist of elephants being used to tow ammunitions in Sheffield, England, during the First World War.

World War II also featured elephants, used for their great transportation skills, in Burma, acting as big grey labourers to Sir William Slims forces building bridges over there towards the war effort. Even up to 1987, Iraq was suspected of using them to move around heavy ammunition and weaponry for use in Kirkuk!

So Nelly might want to think of her forefathers as she trumpets back to the jungle– like us, she owes the brave soldiers a debt she can never repay.

Do you know of any other animals that used to fight wars here are or abroad?

Sarah O’Neill is an animal lover and also loves history. She writes blogs for Petmeds, an online shop selling cat products and dog medication, to ensure your pets stay healthy and happy.

Keep it real, banana peel! (Writing a set of instructions)

When I was a rebellious adolescent in ninth grade English, our class were given the homework task of writing a procedural piece, or a set of instructions of how to do something, which we were to then present to the class. Bored with the task (and typically turned off school generally), I didn't bother doing any preparation, so when the day came to present, I sat listening to a range of writing pieces about fairly mundane activities, trying to stay awake. 

Finally getting to my turn, instead of making up some lame excuse, I presented ad-lib on 'how to peel a banana'. Amazingly, it came off well, and I got an A+! Now, by no means am I recommending anyone does this, however there was something about it which must have made the instructions 'work' on the day. What was the magic ingredient?

SchoolPhotoProject.com
 A Totally FREE Stock Photos Site!

In hindsight, I believe that it worked because instead of stressing over the task, I breathed life into my instructions by entering the process of peeling a banana, imagining distinctly being there doing that task as I explained each step and explaining the process in clear, precise detail.

The challenge then is to get the words on the page so expertly that someone would feel confident when attempting the task you are going to describe. Allow them to smell that banana, feel the cold rubbery peel as it slides off the fruit, see the greeny-yellow colours and the different textures of the fruit compared to the peel, hear the peel as it snaps off and shreds from the fruit. In a nutshell, bring your instructional writing piece to life!

To summarise:
  • The purpose of procedural writing is to teach someone how to do something. As you write your instructions, keep in mind that the purpose is to inform, or teach, your audience (or readers).
  • You must know your subject in and out. To bring it to life, use the active voice, choose appropriate words and write clearly.
  • Don't waffle! Keep your introduction brief, but use some creativity and imagination to gain the reader's interest.
  • Be free of jargon and technical language where possible, unless you are writing for an audience who will definitely understand the terms you are including.
  • Always keep in mind who you are writing for and shape your writing style accordingly. Illustrations or photographs can really bring your instructional piece to life.
My last guest post was a good example of procedural writing, it is clear, engaging and set out simply: http://sue-oaks.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/dogs-need-regular-pedicures-they-depend.html
For more information a good site is:
http://www.brighthubeducation.com/high-school-english-lessons/3497-teach-instructional-writing/
I'd love to hear from you with example of your instructional writing! Please leave a comment on this post with an example to share.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Guide to Canine Nail Care (Guest Post)

Dogs need regular pedicures; they depend on us to keep their paws trimmed and comfortable. While you can pay a groomer to trim your dog's nails as needed, you can save a lot of time and money doing this chore yourself. Cutting your dog's nails is not as hard as you might expect; with a little preparation and experience, the job can be pain free for both you and your pooch.

Prepare Your Dog for the Process:

If your dog is not used to having her nails trimmed, she may resist the procedure, which can lead to injuries. Things will go more smoothly if your dog is used to having her feet handled before you attempt to clip her nails. Start by massaging her paws for a few minutes every day, and then finish each massage by gently touching each of her nails. Allow her to get used to these sensations over several weeks before bringing out the clippers. Once you are ready to try a trim, start with one nail and then give her a chance to calm down before moving on to the next.

Choose the Right Tools:

Purchase and use nail tools designed for dogs; do not use your nail clippers to cut your dog's toenails. Dog nail clippers come in two styles: a scissor style and a guillotine style. Both are equally safe and effective, so choose based on personal preference. However, consider your dog's size before selecting clippers. If your dog refuses both styles of clippers, you can try a nail grinder instead. These work by sanding down the ends of your dog's nails.

Make the Process Painless:

To prevent accidentally hurting your dog, make certain your dog is calm or restrained before cutting her nails. Hold each toe firmly when trimming and talk to your dog during the process to keep her calm. Insert a very small bit of nail into the opening on your clippers, and then cut from top to bottom (not side to side). Make as many small cuts as necessary to obtain the desired length, but be very careful not to cut the quick, which is the pinkish area inside each nail that holds blood vessels and nerves. Cutting the quick is painful.

Only Trim When Necessary:

Trim your dog's nails when they touch the ground. This may mean weekly cuts for dogs that remain inside or confined to grassy yards, and it may mean monthly or never for urban dogs that walk on rough roads or concrete sidewalks. Trimming too often can stress your dog and make it more likely you’ll cut the quick during pedicures; waiting too long between trims can lead to foot pain for your dog and scratches on your floors and furniture.

Seek Outside Help When Needed:

If your dog responds to nail trimming with panting, trembling, cowering, growling, snapping, tail tucking, or other fearful or aggressive behavior, consult your veterinarian. Do not attempt to clip your dog's nails at home. Your veterinarian can do the trimming for you and may recommend a trainer or behaviorist to deal with any underlying issues that may be causing your dog's extreme reaction.

Article provided by VetDepot, leading retailer of canine supplements including GlycoFlex and Cosequin.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Fat and Skinny! (Just for a laugh)

Have you ever heard of fat and skinny jokes? I sometimes think I really never grew up, because for some reason I still find these jokes very funny! (They also come in handy for filling in boring moments on long car trips.) Try them out and see how you go, but please, I take no responsibility for the political incorrectness of this form of humour!


Fat and Skinny were in the bed
Fat rolled over and Skinny was dead

Fat and Skinny were in the garden
Fat blew off and Skinny said pardon

Fat and Skinny fell out of a tree
Fat landed hard and broke Skinny's knee

Fat and Skinny sat down to dinner
Fat ate Skinny's and now shes much thinner

Fat and Skinny bought a cat
Fat sat on it and made Skinny a hat

Fat and Skinny went to the loo
Fat had a wee and Skinny a poo

Fat and Skinny went to war
Fat killed Skinny with an apple core.

How about adding your own Fat and Skinny jokes?
Sue Oaks

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The healing power of touch



Why is touch so important?

There is something so special about human touch. Skin to skin connection seems to have a magical element to it that makes it so much more amazing than something that sounds at first so simple. I guess it starts when we are babies, for those lucky enough to experience that skin to skin contact with their mums after just emerging from the womb. Imagine how comforting such touch would feel after a riveting journey into the outside world. Nursing at the breast continues this experience of closeness, the comfort and security of being held, and as children grow up, they continue to thrive in cuddles, with their little hands enclosed in big hands, little bodies surrounded by the security of loving arms.

Sadly as we grow, our experience of human touch often dwindles, especially as we reach the teenage years. How many diagnoses of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and mental health problems such as Depression and Anxiety could be avoided or improved with a return to regular, safe, loving human touch?

For further reading on the health benefits of touch: http://www.beliefnet.com/healthandhealing/getcontent.aspx?cid=13623

First experience of massage.

When I was about fourteen, I began to be a sad little soul, spending way too much time in my bedroom where I would compare my appearance unfavourably to models in Dolly and Cleo magazine and memorise the words of melancholy pop songs. I was desperate for touch, subconsciously seeking the cuddles I wasn't getting at home from boyfriends but becoming increasingly unhappy in the process.

I had begun to have some lower back problems around that time, which I believe were a combination of sitting for hours studying and playing the piano combined with anxiety and stress that was stemming from my unhappy home situation (conflict with my step-father, to be specific). One day something happened that would be the start of something very healing. My mum had been to visit a local massage therapist, who also did Chinese cupping, and she suggested I go for an appointment. I was somewhat skeptical at the time, having no idea what I would experience, but decided to give it a try.

The massage clinic was far from clinical, being tucked away behind a fertile garden, with a little brass bell which tinkled as I stepped inside the scented rooms. I was welcomed in by the therapist who sat me in a cosy old chair and asked me some questions about what was ailing me. She led me to her massage table and left the room to allow me to undress down to my underwear. I then lay on the padded, rectangular table, face down, and she soon returned quietly to drape me in thick, warm towels.

I shut my eyes, not sure what to expect and the most heavenly experience followed! By the time I stepped out of that little room I felt like a different person - a much happier, more relaxed person with a whole new perspective on the world. That was the start of many future experiences of massage, with me as both the giver and receiver of therapeutic touch.

Learning the art of massage.

When I was twenty-four and pregnant with my second daughter, I decided to complete a massage course, and I enrolled in the Central School of Tactile Therapies. What an amazing experience! The practical elements of the course were fantastic, especially the first half of the course, which was spent giving each other delicious oil massages on backs, legs, arms, hands, scalps and feet – bliss! We learned about using essential oils too, as aromatherapy is an important part of the practice. I spent my days floating in the delicious aromas of oils in every scent; basil, bergamot, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, eucalyptus, fennel, frankincense, geranium, ginger, jasmine, lavender, lemon balm, mandarin, orange, peppermint, clary sage, spearmint, vanilla, Ylang ylang. That was just a sample! My daughter’s birth was fantastic, as I enlisted my friend to give me massages during the labour and later on my daughter became the baby-massage model, helping me demonstrate the technique around local mother’s groups. She didn’t seem to mind!

Paid massage positions.

My massage skills came in handy when I decided to pick up from my Bachelor of Arts Degree and enrol in a grad dip of teaching, as I was able to work part time. We moved to Creswick, a little town outside Ballarat where the puddles would freeze in winter and I would drive the curly roads to the Hepburn Spa every weekend.

Massaging at a spa was a whole new and rather exhausting experience. It sounds like bliss to be paid to work in such an amazing setting, with relaxation music piped through the building all hours and my hands in essential oils all day long. However, faced with my eighth client at the end of a long day of study and work I would begin to wish it was me lying on that massage bench. I even became a bit angry, after all how dare they get a massage when it was me who really needed one?

The last day at the spa was memorable and a poignant finish to my employment there. As I came out to welcome the final client on my typically massive list, I was confronted with a couple who had dread-locks to their knees and whose bodies were literally covered in mud. My nose could have detected them from all the way back home in Creswick! It was a joint massage session, where couples come in together and two therapists massage them at the same time. My partner that day and I tried to stifle our disgust as I discreetly opened windows and poured on a whole bottle of oil, using a collection of towels just to clean my client before I even began the massage. I can’t remember that being in my job description! That was one of the longest forty-five minutes of my life and I drove home in relief, knowing I would never be working there again.

I was happy when a position became available close to home at the John Curtin Hostel, where I massaged elderly clients who were thoroughly grateful for the skin-to-skin contact. One of my patients was a man in his nineties, whose skin was like rice-paper, so translucent he was almost see-through. I preferred this work, as I was able to build relationships with the people I massaged, something that wasn’t possible at the Spa.

Massage in my life today.

Although I no longer massage for money, I still have my massage table and my family enjoy the occasional massage if I’m in a really good mood I and not too tired. I am a full believer in its powerful healing benefits, and would encourage anyone who has never tired it out to make an appointment. Choose your therapist with care, making sure they are qualified, and your money will be well spent. If you can’t afford to go to a massage therapist, there are some easy guides on the internet and a great range of massage technique books in the shops. Try out your discount bookshop, as these types of books often turn up on bargain tables. You can buy almond oil from the supermarket or just use olive oil, and your basic eucalyptus and lavender oils are cheaply available at supermarkets too, they work just as well as the more expensive and exotic varieties, in my opinion. Do take care when using essential oils, as some of them are not safe for those with certain conditions or for expectant or breast-feeding mothers and there are a few contra-indications, such as bruising and varicose veins, for which special care should be taken.

For further information: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/treatments-therapies/sports-massage/contraindications-massage


Your comments?

I’d love to hear your stories about your own experiences with therapeutic touch! Please leave a comment below.

Sue Oaks, copyright 2012.



Sunday, 15 April 2012

Fire on one end, sucker on the other!

Smoking jokes? Maybe an oxymoron, but I find some when I search the 'net:
"You know, lady, you don't actually smoke. The cigarette does all the smoking, you are just the sucker!"
CIGARETTE: A pinch of tobacco rolled in paper with fire at one end and a fool at the other!
http://smokeforwhat.com/quit-smoking-jokes.php


The Marlboro Man Died of Lung Cancer

I was conceived by a smoker, grew in the womb of a smoker, grew up in the home of a smoker, where cigarette smoke filled every crevice and I couldn't even go to the toilet without breathing in the foul excuse for air!

I breathed in my Grandma's smoke too and when she and mum were smoking together in the car there was no escape from that billowing, tar-filled substance.

Bored one afternoon, I lured my school friend into the garden shed, where we rolled pretend cigarettes and lit them. My step-father was horrified when he found the burnt matches - we had been sitting right near a couple of full petrol tanks! Needless to say, I was not in the good books.
When I was a teenager,  my boyfriend and I pinched a pack of Mum's Alpine Lights and hid behind the grand-stand at the local footy oval, where we smoked about three each and then spent an hour vomiting violently and fainting. I wasn't going to try that trick again!

I used to take a packet of smokes to school to be 'cool',  one of my old school friends accused me a few years ago of being the one who got her addicted. I didn't actually smoke the things though, so I must have been a good actor! It's always easier to blame someone else for your own problems.

Winston Tastes Good, Like a Carcinogen Should

My mum still smokes and now when we visit, my partner sits out in her patio and they chat and pollute their lungs together, making it impossible for anyone else to sit outside with them without choking on the stale, toxic air.

I love my partner, but I have to watch him light up hour after hour, minute after minute, and when I kiss and cuddle him I know I am inhaling dangerous, toxic chemicals. It makes me angry. He has had a cough for two weeks straight, and with heart problems in his family history, he shouldn't be touching the horrible mongrels. Listening to him cough makes me sad.

I hate the government for not doing more to help people quit and for filling their coffers with taxes they make from encouraging the addiction around the country. Such hypocrisy! Such a powerful, addictive drug which rips apart people's bodies and bank accounts, not to mention the damage done to the environment. There's no doubt about it,

smoking is no joke.  

Too much inhaling leads to life bailing

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Contemporary Book Review No. 1 - Vanessa Diffenbaugh 'The Language of Flowers'.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's 'The language of Flowers', a Christmas gift from my partner's mother (aptly named after an aromatic flowering herb), took me a couple of reading spurts to complete. This was not because it wasn't captivating, but because it was very rich in emotional language and evoked such a mixed bag of memories and feelings that to read it in full would have been like eating a whole box of chocolates at once.
One of my close friends used to live on a flower farm in Central Victoria, and I was honoured to accompany her on one of those 3am runs that Victoria (the novel's protagonist) eludes to having to be desperate to go through with. Getting up at that hour is not easy, Victoria is quite right, and I certainly wasn't prepared for the other-worldliness of entering the Melbourne Flower Markets to set up shop with my friend. I am sure that I was more a hindrance than a help, because the lack of sleep mixed with the disorientation that comes from trying something new meant I was really only capable of carrying out basic tasks. I had deliberately put the occasion in the back of my memory bank, only to be fished out by the reading of this book, accompanied by a myriad of adjacent life experiences and their accompanying emotions. 
The many allusions to flower markets, individual blooms and florist stores, as well as the bouquets Victoria creates, were a natural link to my relationship with my friend, who a few years ago decided to purchase a floristry business, stepping out boldly and managing the store by herself while her husband and children remained at the farm. The friendship she and I had spanned the length of our children's childhoods, having met in a mother's group when our oldest were babies. Life throws up many challenges, not least my own experience of depression and having to raise three children with little family support and attempting to develop some kind of a career at same time (one of the side-effects of having children at a very young age, as Victoria found in the novel).  Eventually my marriage was cracking at the seams but I didn't have the strength to do something about it until just a couple of years ago. At the time, I felt disinclined to share too much with my flower loving friend, as her own separation from her family (a weekly occurence) appeared to be taking a heavy toll, and my divorce (perhaps seeming to come out of the blue) seemed to put our friendship on hold for some time.

In the novel, Victoria's sense of isolation from the rest of the world and her feelings of foreboding as she entered any relationship created massive emotional trellises for her to climb. For me the strongest narratives related to her experience of childbirth and those all-engulfing hours alone with her newborn daughter, where despite well-meaning intentions she found herself abandoned. Mother Ruby, the life-wizened mid-wife, could well have known better than to assume everything was going okay for Victoria and her dreadful, heart rendering isolation (so damaging for the baby and to Victoria) made me so angry I had to put the book down and have a break on many occasions. Quality writing does this to you, draws you so deeply into the text you can't detach it from your own experiences, being given the gift of sharing parts of your own life with those of the novel's characters.

The use of flower language or symbolism throughout the novel was captivating and original, however I did feel that it became a bit tiresome towards the second half and I occasionally found myself skipping some passages through flower overload. However, overall the novel was an amazing read; one of those special books I would like to keep to share with those who I know would enjoy it. Highly recommended!

Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012.

Monday, 9 April 2012

So who did invent the Freddo Frog? Steps of writing a non-fiction article.

Non-fiction articles can be fun! They take a bit of work (as I found out, having sat down with my net-book expecting to run one up in a couple of minutes) and can be a little daunting. As with most things, having a framework can be very helpful. To demonstrate the process, I have chosen a website (Instructables - Share What You Make) and I will provide a bit of a commentary of the process.

http://www.instructables.com/id/Write-a-creative-non-fiction-article-in-ten-diffic/?ALLSTEPS

'Step 1 - Get the material.'


First up, I need to choose a topic. As I am not writing to any specific instructions, guidelines or commissions, I take the very boring and easy road of choosing what I first see, Cherry Ripe chocolate, based on a carton of Easter chocolate that is sitting in my line of sight from the reclining couch in my mother's lounge room.


'Step 2- figure out the emotional core.'


What sort of emotions can be evoked by a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar? Envy and greed come to my mind, spurred on by the season in which I am writing, Easter, time of gluttony and over-indulence, mixed with the tension of anticipation and the discomfort of finding yourself cooped up with family members for lengthy periods of time.


'Step 3 - define the story arc.'


What is a story arc? I choose to focus on the history of the sweet and find some information about the inventor of Cadbury Freddo Frogs, Harry Melbourne (and yes, if that's his real name, it is a definite reader hook!) Apparently Harry gave the idea to his boss, Macpherson Robertson (the owner of McRobertson's chocolates) remaining loyal to his company but never making any money from his idea. Macpherson Robertson, on the other hand, more than likely made plenty of money, and with the continuing popularity of the product, someone must be getting plenty of regular refills into their coffers! Hmmm, quite a whiff of unfairness and inequality - that seems like a bit of a story sparker to me!


'Step 4 - Do nauseating amounts of research.'


Well haven't got time for this stage, about half an hour of reading on the Internet will do today... and maybe a bit of Shakespeare from an old book on my mum's bookshelf. If you're passionate about your subject, this part will come a lot easier, and no matter how much you think you know about a subject, there's always more to learn! So go for your life.


'Step 5 - you get to start your story - yeah!'


My fingers hit the keys, and off I go. Throughout this stage, I hit step 6 - 'describe a plot point in the story arc', step 7 - ' lather, rinse, repeat' and step 8 - 'close this motherf***er!' and finish up with step 9 - 'try to make it readable'.


Here's what I come up with...

So who did invent the Freddo Frog?
 







When Envy breeds unkind division:
There comes the ruin, there begins confusion.
1 Henry VI 4.1.195-6, Exeter - Shakespeare

When Harry Melbourne took his last breath in 2007 aged 94, there was little pomp and ceremony. For the inventor of one of Australia's most well known and loved icons, the Freddo Frog, this seems suprising. A brief mention in the Sydney Morning Herald marked his passing, and to all appearances he died having lived a satisfying life.

But I'm a writer and my imagination has a tendency to go exploring. I start to wonder, what if there was another story behind the headlines, one tinged with the green mold of envy and poisoned with the bull-headed bombasticity of ambition? Well let's try out the idea and see what it looks like on paper.

*Disclaimer:  The following is mere speculation, and by no means a true representation, used for the purposes of this writing exercise only. It is not recommended or accepted in many writing circles to steer too far from the truth in a non-fiction piece. However, playing around with ideas can help shape your article into something much more exciting, and that's what the following process aims to demonstrate. But if you are intending to publish your final piece, please take care!

Harry Melbourne was grateful to have a job, after all, Melbourne was in the midst of a depression and all of his friends were out of work. He knew he was lucky. But he couldn't help feeling frustrated that his boss, Mr Robertson, seemed very quick to take up his ideas but very slow to give him a decent pay.
'Obviously a pay rise is impossible in these current economic times, Harry', was his catch-cry phrase. That was easy enough to believe inside the factory walls, but as Harry set off on his thirty mile walk home, he couldn't help gazing at his boss, Robertson, as he haughtily drove off in his Rolls Royce, and it did tend to stir him up inside.

Harry had been working for Robertson for five years now, having taken a job after finishing  high school. He was grateful for his wage, couldn't complain really, especially as he walked past the lines of men in the dole queues on his way to work. My god, what a down and out bunch! He'd heard about those dreadful happenings they tried to keep quiet in the papers, it seemed that everyone knew someone who'd done it,
hung themselves down the back shed or aimed a shot-gun bullet at their head down the back of the farm.

When Harry first came in, he'd been more than happy to share his ideas and his boss seemed to take quite an interest, listening to his suggestions and changing his products to suit on many occasions. The Cherry Ripe, in particular, had gone off with a bang, Harry had given his boss the hint and now it was one of their best sellers. It was Harry's favourite chocolate too, even  all these years he still liked the taste of the juicy chocolate covered cherries.

He also advised his boss on many other matters. When Macpherson had wanted to make the chocolate mice, for instance, Harry knew they wouldn't sell, after all mice were considered vermin  right now, and they were pretty unpopular, spreading disease all over the city doesn't usually bide for great appeal. But frogs, they were different. Kids loved frogs. Most kids would have raised tadpoles for pets at some stage and he'd raised plenty of them over his own child-hood. He'd mentioned the idea to Roberston during one of their smokos, and the Freddo Frog went on to become even bigger than the Cherry Ripe.

But unfortunately, Harry wasn't seeing any of the benefits of his great ideas. His wage stayed put while everything else around him got more and more expensive, especially as the boys grew older and needed more and more. Home life was becoming strained, his wife Edna just couldn't make the dollars stretch and they often went without a decent meal. Plus Harry's hours just got longer and longer, until it felt like he may as well live at the bloody chocolate factory.

The crunch came in the winter of '34. Harry arrived home late, to find his wife in tears, the house stripped of furniture, the house cold and a sense of gloom thicker than the gooey vat of caramel that he'd been stirring all afternoon. The last payments at the store had not gone through and the bastards had come over to re-posess every last chair and every last bed. Harry knew it was only days until he would be handing over the keys of the house. It would come at a loss, with all the drama of having strangers come in and take what you've been working hard for for years, without the slightest twitch of remorse. With more tears and that look of disappointment from Edna, added to the confusion in his son's faces, Harry had to take action. That night he didn't sleep for a second and it wasn't because of the hard floor he was sleeping on. It was a drastic plan that he concocted in great detail, and he knew it wasn't going to be pretty.  As the image of his haughty boss in the shiny Rolls Royce mixed in with the tears and despair of his family, Harry felt had no other choice.

Heavy-hearted and eyes parched from the sleepless night, Harry stood at the door of Roberton's office, hands shaking and heart all twisted in his chest. He knocked three times then pushed open the door and stormed into the office, ready to fire the final blow. But as he did, he was met by Robertson, who was walking towards him, his large frame soon overshadowing Harry's, forcing Harry to look towards the ceiling and he felt himself shrinking before his boss like a Fruit and Nut bar melting on the carpeted floor. 

'Harry, look at me', said Robertson, in a voice full of unexpected warmth, large hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry looked up, his neck straining.
'It's time you were rewarded for your years of hard work.'
Harry couldn't believe his ears. Was this a joke? Robertson was picking up something from his desk - his cheque book! The fountain pen scratched out a long row of numbers.  'For you', he said. 'To repay the money you owe on your house.  I've also paid for the furniture, and I don't want to hear a word about paying me back.'
'But, why?', Harry asked, mouth open in amazement.
'The frog.', said Robertson, smiling, pointing towards the giant framed image of Freddo Frog on his wall. 'He was your idea all along, and for goodness sake, young man, how can I watch you go under when it was you who came up with the idea in the first place?'
 
***

Well, it's only an idea about what could have happened, of course!
Next time I bite into a Cherry Ripe or a Freddo Frog, I'll be thinking about where they came from. Or maybe I'll be enjoying the taste of that sweet, thick chocolate too much to care. I finally reach the last step, step 10 -' avoid screaming subjects and death threats on blogs and try to get paid for it.' This bit sounds interesting, but because this is merely an experiment, I'm just popping it on my own blog! Let me know how you go with your own articles, I'd love to read some!

Happy writing!

Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012.



Thursday, 5 April 2012

Once a mother, always a mother!

The questions have begun
With that earnest little face of yours
I’ve stopped waiting for that magazine child
I’ve started to look at the real you
Who looks at me with a hunger
To know it all
And I know I’ve found
The real beauty.

It didn’t take you long to
Work me out
You seem to know me
All the way, well
I guess you knew my inside parts
You knew the beating of my heart
Like no-one else knew
We must remember
Somewhere
Where we knitted together in
Our mother’s warmth.

Your little hand in mine
Is soft, it squeezes, pats and
Molds the dirt into hills and food
To offer me.
I get cross at your mud-stained arms
You wait patiently for me to
Realise it’s not the end
Of the world
And the tap runs to calm us
It washes away some of your creativity.

You’ve been three and a half
For a few months now
Or so I parrot when people ask,
Remarking on your clever ways.
We fill the day,
The three of us,
Our pets
Our friends
Our music
Our drawings
Our dolls and your love for your teddies

And things
I love to watch
It all comes back to me,
It is me,
You are me,
Playing again,
Teaching me things I never knew
About myself before,
Or I’d forgotten.

We lie in your bed
You are warmth and solid
I love that you let me
Cuddle you
Trust
Implicit trust
And the comfort we give
One another.

Your little voice
Is embedding in my heart
Where all the valuables of my life
Have space reserved.



Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Un-zonk your inspiration with writing prompts!

How do you get ideas when you sit down to write a creative piece, be it a blog post, assignment, journal article, letter - whatever? The page is blank, your inspiration is zonked.

One way is to use the great range of writing prompt sites on the Internet, they're really handy!
I'm going to demonstrate the process, so here goes.

1: I find this site : http://creativewritingprompts.com/

(This is just randomly chosen due to it coming up first on a Google search, as it turns out its a great site, easy to use, but there are heaps of good ones out there, have a go of them all for fun.)

2: Choose a prompt:

Prompt number 101 - 'open a magazine or newspaper and find 3 pictures of people. Then write a 300-500 word profile of each individual.' Hmmm, I like the sound of that! Not too sure about the word count part, so for demonstration I'll give you a mini-version instead. I grab the nearest magazine, 'That's Life', randomly open to a Dettol ad, and choose a photo of a little girl washing her hands in the sink. I start to write...

'This is Chloe. Chloe is four years old, a beautiful looking girl with shoulder length blonde curls, smooth soft skin, and delicately shaped features. She is wearing a soft-pink shirt with ruffled sleeves, and she's home today because its the Easter break. Chloe has a sore toe - her nail is bleeding, she wanted her mum to put on the smiley-face band-aid before but her mum was too busy, she was rushing around with her baby brother and trying to clean up the house and putting all these papers together. Chloe tried to help her, but her mum got cross and started yelling at her, 'just shut up, Chloe, can't you just shut up for five minutes so I can get something done?!' Chloe felt the tears come, but she wiped them away and let her angry self come instead. 'No!', she screamed, stomping her feet, 'No, mummy, I want a smiley band-aid!'. Chloe wasn't prepared for what came next, a slap across the face that made her lose her balance and she found herself on the dirty floor-boards. But then mummy came over and wrapped her in her arms, saying 'I'm so sorry, sweet-heart, I don't know why I did that, come here and have a cuddle'. Chloe shut her eyes and breathed in her mummy's scent. That was what she wanted.'



***

Okay, so that was pretty quick, took me about ten minutes and now I have a character I can work with. I like that one, she's coming to life in my imagination.

Prompt number 115: 'Here's a ninety second drill -list items you can find in a hospital, when the ninety seconds are up, write a story that includes all the items in the list, but don't set it near a hospital.' Okay, that's a pretty challenging one. Here goes my list for 90 seconds...

bed

nurse

thermometer

window

oxygen mask

nappies

clear plastic cot

antiseptic

Okay, pretty boring list, what can I do?

I write...

'How the hell did I end up here?', thought Rachel as she scrambled through the box, picking through random items, a thermometor, an oxygen mask, a packet of disposable nappies. The smell of antiseptic was strong, reminding her of where she'd been yesterday, St. Michaels Hospital in Ward 55, post-operative recovery. The road was bumpy and Rachel had to hold herself steady, her knees growing sore from the pressure of the metal floor. It was starting to get dark, the small gaps in the curtains of the panel van were letting in less and less light and she began looking with more and more desperation for the items she would need when they got to their destination.

'You right there sister?'. Rachel looked up to see his broad shoulders and the outline of his large, bear-like head. Should she answer him, she wondered? Or should she just stay quiet, pretending that everything was as it should be. The sound of a baby crying woke her from the fantasy, and she hurried to settle the little bundle she had tucked up inside the carrier tied to her chest. 'I'm fine', she called out, smelling the little soft head and feeling the silky hair nestling against her cheek. That baby powder smell, mixing with the antiseptic and the smell of dirt and oil in the back of the van. Only an hour ago this baby was snuggly resting in the plastic hospital cot, lying next to its mother as she slept. But now it was in Rachel's arms. Rachel wondered if the baby was a boy or a girl.'

***

Okay, so there's two prompts and what they turned into on this one occasion. Of course, everyone's response to the same prompt will be completely different, and even the same prompt when used again would evoke different moods, ideas and inspiration in the same writer.

Give it a try! I'd love to read some of your inspirational pieces, please add your comments to my post and let me know how you went.

Sue Oaks

Copyright 2012

 





Painted-egg statue on Sydney Rd

We waited, apart, away from the church
That sacred building, its solid mass
Reaching towards the heavy Melbourne sky.
The songs floated out,
Clear despite the taunting breeze which was busy blowing leaves
into disarray
across the icy gutters.
We huddled together,
A striking sight in our suits
Of black and red,
Silver instruments clutched in our arms
Feeling rather out of place
Just there to do a job.

With chattering teeth we waited
As the service continued,
On and on as toes grew stiff inside black leather shoes.
We talked trivialities and gazed at the road,
Watching as locals went in and out of shops near-by
For their morning paper and coffee.
Then, with sudden flurry,
'Band, fall in!', we are summoned!
The doors of the church swing open,
spewing out a reverent group of excited worshippers,
Holy statue held proudly in strong young arms,
Ranks becoming one as we all move forward together.
The Blessed Virgin Mary,
Eye-catching pink like a child's painted egg,
Teetered precariously through the streets
Narrowly missing bowing branches,
bravely navigating the busy path before us
to a cacophony of joyous families.

The band played on,
Notes scattering and merging with the
Car horns blaring on Sydney road,
The people sang and raised their arms,
As trombone slides narrowly avoided disaster,
Slippery soles sliding on tram-lines
But lips still managing to hold a tune.
Finally she reached her destination,
Proud young men delivering the statue
In one piece to the Bishop up the road,
Music has turned to mush
in the craziness of the city streets
and we barely hear the drum-major's
'Band, fall out!',
Just in time to
Swivel right, feet together, step off and disperse.
Mission accomplished.

Sue Oaks copyright 2012


http://www.everystockphoto.com/photographer.php?photographer_id=19731

Monday, 2 April 2012

Vintage Book Review no 1: The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend

Adrian Mole returns in the sequel to the classic, http://www.suetownsend.co.uk/adrian-mole
‘The Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ ’.

First published in 1984, the book remains popular and is well worth a read , especially if you agree that a laugh a day keeps the doctor away. The diary format works well, inviting you as a reader to step in the shoes of a British teenager in the 1980’s. I found it difficult to put the book down, having begun it again after an earlier craze when the book first came out. It is a highly readable book, suitable for older children through to older adults.


Adrian is a nerdy, self-proposed intellectual teenager, who sees himself as a poet. His parents have moved back together after a lengthy separation, and Adrian provides a commentary to their antics, which include some surprise events on the maternal front. Although Adrian remains typically obsessed with his skin problems and inner desires, he gains a certain maturity as the novel progresses and we start to read less about the size of his personal parts and more about his relationships with those around him, including his parents, his girlfriend Pandora and the old-age pensioner, Bert Baxter, who becomes almost part of the family.

Relevant social themes are woven into the text, including struggles with poverty and living in mixed families, dealing with the aged and their unpredictable temperaments, as well as touching on larger fields of politics and economics in a humanised way.

A captivating book, entertaining and uplifting, and hard to put down. Great Vintage read!