I am looking forward to Christmas. Not like in my younger years when we counted the days until Santa showed up leaving gifts below the tree in our family lounge, our belly’s stuffed with Christmas goodies, roast chicken and pudding. I am looking forward to spending the time with my three girls, even though it may be fleeting now they are spread across the land.
In my time away from regularly working this year I have taken time to reflect about what is important.
Is it the money?
Is it health, contentment and family?
Is it turning up to a job that might not quite align with your personal values?
Or is waking with purpose each day and focussing on work that fires your passion?
I will let you decide which answers I have chosen. But more on that in the new year.
In the lead up to this Christmas I would like to highlight opportunities for us to give, with gratitude. There are many people and issues that are asking for our help, both in our home country and across the world. I often feel our political arena is creating walls where we should be creating openness and acceptance. I am privileged, and I know that. I have little need for more ‘stuff’ – how about you? Do you think its time we spend some time making a difference to those around us that might just need a hand up?
Don’t get me wrong, there will be presents under our tree as we come together as family and we will be eating some gorgeous food but I do think there is room for some thought to others that may not be as fortunate as me, or possibly you.
So lets start this 2018 Advent Calendar of Making a Difference. Over the next 24 days I will profile charities that are close to my heart and align to my values. You may like to consider giving to one or more of them, or it may inspire you to put some effort into donating to a charity that is close to your heart and speaks to your values. You may even like to make your gift purchases from some of these charities. Its up to you.
Day 1: Share the Dignity.
This is an Australian charity that I have supported for a few years, founded by Rochelle Courtenay. Rochelle learned of homeless women going without basic sanitary items during their menstrual cycle and instead of saying ‘the government should…’ or ‘someone should…’ she asked ‘What’s stopping me from doing something’. This has become Share The Dignity.
“WE BELIEVE ALL WOMEN MATTER AND ALL WOMEN DESERVE DIGNITY AND JUSTICE.”
I have started with Share the Dignity as their current Christmas campaign, #itsinthebag finishes on December 2nd, though donations are always welcome. Up to December 2nd you can drop off a handbag at a Bunnings store that contains basic women needs like personal hygiene products, shampoo, tissues, deodorant, items to make a woman feel special. These will be distributed locally to homeless women, women at risk or women experiencing domestic violence or poverty this Christmas.
Share the Dignity, like many charities also have a shop that you can purchase gifts for your family and friends, or even yourself and in return you are giving something back to those in need. Either way you will make a difference
A friend recently opened my world to Seth Godin. His very short daily blogs provide insightful tid-bits and surprisingly seem to be appropriate for that day. I am not sure how he does it, but they ‘speak’ to me.
“A job without a boss
That’s what many freelancers want.
The ability to do your work, but without the hassle of someone telling you what to do.
The thing is, finding a well-paying job without a boss used to be a lot easier than it is now. The race to the bottom is fierce, and the only way to avoid it is to create projects, innovate on strategy and build something worth seeking out.”
So appropriate for my to-do list today.
I want to share insights from an informative 10 hours I attended last week – a Bootcamp.
Now before you go thinking I was covered in mud, face smothered with war paint and dressed in camouflage I will put your mind at ease. It was 10 hours of learning about our digital world and how we can maximise for a small business. A bootcamp about Small Business Digital Transformation.
There were quite a few ah-ha moments that might be helpful to you too.
Ah-ha moment 1 – the next Big Things. Over the course of the sessions we chatted about the next big things on the digital horizon, namely:
The world’s digital connectivity – Currently only one-third of the world is connected. What will happen to my business when the rest of the world is connected to the internet? Why do we put our own boundaries on our business just because we operate from a small country town? Take a look at Birdsnest – an online fashion business that operates from Cooma, a town similar size to Gunnedah in the Southern Highlands of NSW. It is the town’s biggest employer and is now an international online store because Jane listened to the customer and used the digital world to meet their needs.
Virtual and Augmented Reality – it is not just for the big companies, change your mindset. How could you disrupt your customers shopping or service experience through innovation in the virtual reality world? Have you thought about it? Could a customer walk through your furniture store or try on your clothing in a virtual setting? mmm, the mind boggles.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) – the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with humans. Don’t discount it for your business.
Rather than see doom and gloom, that we cant compete with the internet we need to be thinking “What is the opportunity for me?” How can my business use these to redefine the customer experience and grow?
Ah-ha moment 2 – time and patience. Rome wasnt built in a day. Be ready to fail fast and move on. A great example was Airbnb success story. It was not an overnight success, it took time and belief. You can read more about their story here – including how the founders went from having credit cards maxed out (broke!) to a billion dollar company.
Ah-ha moment 3 – put yourself in your customers shoes. I think we can agree that we can tend to fall into the rut of thinking we know what our customers or potential customers want. Do we ask them? Do we try to understand them or do we use the digital options available to us as a scatter gun and hope to goodness one of them work?
This includes knowing what social media your customers prefer. Again – not what YOU prefer…where are your customers hanging out? If you are posting dozens of images on Facebook yet your persona is on Instagram then you will miss them…learn Instagram and hang out with them!
Have a look at your website. If you were a customer would you enjoy the experience of visiting your website? Ask your customers, check out your google analytics (which are free!) and understand how traffic is finding you, enjoying their visit or leaving.
Fun fact – it takes a split second to establish credibility, trust and interest with customers when they enter your website. What is your first impression?
Ah-ha moment 4 – have plans and review often. I hear you – you are too busy trying to run a small business to plan and strategise.
Make the time.
Build it into your calendar and stick to it. Set Goals as part of business planning, develop a digital strategy – what social media fit to your customer personas, what time are there mostly there, how can I get their attention? Prioritise actions and continually review. Its about your customer, not you.
Plan to make time to innovate. Step away from your daily routine, learn about these next big things and take innovation time out. Innovation comes from our creative side of the brain so do something creative and you might be surprised what pops into your mind. Macramé, painting, drawing, crochet, woodturning, photography…you don’t need to be Da vinci, it’s the practice not the perfection that is important.
Ah-ha moment 5 – Design thinking. This was an amazing process to work through and I highly recommend following up with attending a future bootcamp to learn how you can use design thinking to really understand your customer needs and provide targeted solutions and services.
It also includes free hours with a business advisor to help you work through your main areas of concerns for your business. I highly recommend registering for Business Connect and using the services offered for free.
Part of the tradition of the race is to dip the back wheel of your bike in the Indian Ocean as you leave Fremantle and dip the front wheel in the Pacific Ocean when you arrive. My road trip last week had some similarities…and no, it wasn’t that I was anywhere near a bike, or involved any form of exercise for that matter!
My day started at Coogee Beach, Sydney, overlooking the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. It was a work day and I was aware that not far from the beach the rapid pace of morning commute was swelling as traffic and city life had awakened. I felt a million miles way soaking the soothing holiday atmosphere of Coogee. The beach had been freshly groomed overnight with the pattern only broken by a few footprints from swimmers brave enough to test the cool winter waters.
I dipped my toes in the sand and breathed the dust free salty air.
And then turned the car west to the mountains that cosset the eastern seaboard of Australia. A stop in Bathurst for the night, visiting Daughter3 before setting on new adventures, six hours drive away.
For the best part of the next day I weaved up and down, left and right around the mountain range, slowly edging closer to my destination. From Canberra onwards the car gently climbed upwards. I had left the sea level far behind, the blue waters now replaced with winter tawny colours of the snowy mountain ranges. My temperature gauge dropping, the windows feeling colder as I travelled through Cooma and climbing higher to Jindabyne.
I had enjoyed this trip in summer a few times and was surprised at the transformation of the country in its winter glory. Jindabyne takes on a holiday vibe as visitors flock to the region for a taste of snow and winter ice. The streets are busy with people wrapped in their warmth, cars are returning from the mountains with little of mounds of white scattered across their hood and screens.
Eek! What am I doing here? My only experience with snow up until now is spotting it high on mountain tops in the distance and taking the children for a play in some really slushy ice when we had a sprinkle near home 18 odd years ago. I am no snow bunny!
I pushed onto Bullocks Flat, not sure what to expect. It seemed in the middle of nowhere and the weather was closing in. The commotion and busyness of the train station at Bullocks Flat is surprising for a first time visitor. Who knew this little central station chaos existed out here in the wilderness? Masses of people, dressed in their winter snow fashion pushing trolleys loaded with skis, food, and alcoholic warmers were waiting for the train to take them higher into the mountain. And then more were alighting from the ski fields, tired and exhilarated as they chatted about their day on the slopes.
The train – known as the Skitube Alpine Railway takes me higher up the mountain, running mostly underground. It is an easy way to enter Kosciuszko National Park and NSW ski fields. It transports its passengers to a white harborage where all you see is snow.
Cold, icy, white snow.
Magical, enchanting, frosted crystals.
But I still had further to climb, my days journey was not over yet. A quick hug from Daughter1 and we loaded into the Oversnow.
Just a few steps out the door and jump on up…
What? Doesn’t sound hard? I didn’t have my snow legs. I don’t think I will ever develop snow legs. The snow, while it looks magical is deviously slippery to the unqualified. A few tentative slips and lots of holding on to others I am seated up high on the Oversnow next to Dean, my trusty driver who lives for this time, year after year.
The weather had closed in and the winds were blowing another sprinkling of fresh white dust on the fields. The holiday makers were excited at the thought of fresh powder in the morning. I was fighting the images of being lost in a blizzard, to the extent I thought I could almost hear the wolves howling as we ploughed towards the top. But Australia doesn’t have wolves, I know that!
I was a mix of apprehension and wonderment as Dean steered the Oversnow higher into the snow, poles set out along the track our only guides as we traversed across frozen creeks and granite rocks to my digs for the next few days.
To those who have never been here it can just look like a group of buildings tucked in the shadows of Australia’s highest mountain Mount Kosciuszko.
The Chalet is the queen of the village. Built in 1938 the snow revives her tired bones and allows her to shine like a diamond amongst the white crystals. The holiday makers, many who have been returning to this same place for decades bring with them laughter, smiles, exhilaration and life. The staff, many who return year after year welcome with open arms as they accommodate guests every need.
I alight from the Oversnow and am propelled into a bustling village. Skiers are coming in from a day on the slopes as the groomers set out for their 6-hour shift to smooth the canvas for another day. Boards and skis are parked at the door, snow shaken off and the open fires welcoming guests to relax for the evening.
Inside the grand queen the bar cantillates with Après-Ski – the day is over, time for drinks before the village sleeps and fresh diamonds of snow silently fall to rest around us outside.
The first morning I got it. For many years I struggled to understand the lure of purposely travelling to the coldest areas of winter under the guise of a holiday.
Until that first morning. I now understood.
As the winter sun created the first light of day I was halted in my tracks as I peered out to the snow-covered terrain. It was still, it was quiet, it was fresh, it was white.
All white. Smooth white. Serene white. Magnificent white.
I understood the attraction, I grew to understand how this country can call you back year after year.
Where else can you walk a few steps from your warm and cosy Chalet, clip on your skis or board, jump on a lift and within 10 minutes be hurling down the fresh powder of the morning runs?
Where else do staff know you by your first name, where you feel like you are with family, where every meal is like one that your mum makes at home?
Where else are you are perched at 1760 metres, breathing in clear, clean air in one of the most pristine environments of the world?
I dipped my toes in the snow and acknowledged, with gratitude the treasures our land has to offer
We could feel the car climb as we navigated through the mountains, heading north on gentle winding country roads. The land is painted every shade of brown as it bunkers down for a long, dry yet mild winter. Landowners are out and about with the morning feed ritual, small clouds of dust disperse into the morning air as the hay and feed is tossed out to nourish their depleting stock.
Our car slows for the cattle grabbing precious feed along the roadsides. The herds seem to be in good condition though my heart aches for the stockman, watching over his mob and looking to the clear blue sky hoping for drought breaking relief, soon.
Upwards we climb in search of the little settlement tucked between the Nandewar Ranges and the Horton Valley in the upper reaches of the Manilla River. The place that sits on the Peel Fault, granite country to the east and folded sedimentary to the west. The town that flourished from the 1850s with gold mining, and now the centre of prime grazing and cropping country. Country Australia.
Barraba. A word that appropriately means meeting place.
Especially appropriate in July as, each year crowds descend on the town to enjoy art and craft, reconnect with old friends and make new acquaintances, encompassed by the history and culture captured in its buildings and people.
Frost Over Barraba.A celebration of painting, photography, pottery, jewellery and music that creates a glowing warmth even to the most boreal winters day.
As we approached the town centre the final autumn leaves seem to herald our arrival, fluttering like natures flags in the wisp of an icy breeze. The main street was a buzz with placards and people, the atmosphere almost bohemian as travellers mix with locals, joining together to celebrate all that Frost Over Barraba promises.
Historic shops, once standing idle and forgotten are bought to life for the weekend as exhibitors dust away the forgotten and grime to create a unique atmosphere of new wares in old frames.
A quick recharge of coffee and the most lemoniest lemon meringue tart at the Polka Dot café is welcomed before we start our expedition along Queen Street. The street is blanketed with the last of the autumn leaves, the almost bare trees brightened with decorative childrens art creating a pictorial backdrop to the artistic avenue.
I met Merlene at Merlene’s Fine Fibre Studio, sitting in the back of her store, spinning. The wheel turns at a mesmerising pace as she draws and twists her home grown raw wool into yarn. Four local women show their wares in the store where they frequently come together to share knowledge, stories and support each other. They make yarn from their own alpaca, wool and cashmere, dye it a rainbow of colours using native plants and turn into garments from booties to jumpers. We laugh when Merlene tells us she is almost considered a local – she has lived in Barraba for 34 years!
The array of unique goods on show at the Barraba Potters and Craft Guild is wicked. We browsed for ages, warmed by the open fire as it crackled amongst the laughter of friends, appreciating the work to create felt scarves to woollen beanies, woven wall hangings to photographs, earrings, necklaces and other clay adornments.
We viewed the stylish pottery works of Anna Henderson on display at Andy’s Guesthouse, feeling right at home in the comfortable surroundings warmed by another woodfire to break the chill of the winter air.
I fell in love with encaustic paintings of Liz Priestly, the lino prints of Sharyn Jones and the aboriginal cultural reflections of Jodie Herden who can paint so much meaning and detail onto a tiny gum leaf.
I chatted with Annette, who had travelled from Coolah, about her studies to become a gemologist and was drawn to her exquisite jewellery display. It was too good an opportunity to add to my own jewellery collection as well!
We wandered into the Playhouse Hotel where more fine artisan jewellery was displayed, this time by Elisabeth Cox. We almost gate crashed a jewellery making class as we freely wandered around the displays.
I stared with mouth agape as I discerned the amazing talents of a photographer I have followed for some time, Andrew Pearson who had his best works on display at the Playhouse Hotel. It was one of the many highlights of the day to then meet him in person a bit later and express how much I enjoy his sensational works.
All these magnificent exhibits – what more could there be?
The pinnacle to the festival is the Frost Over Barraba Art Exhibition at the top of Queen Street.
The memorial hall was packed with displays that showcased infants art, primary and secondary school artworks, watercolour and oil paintings as well as sculptures of numerous shapes, sizes and subjects professionally laid out for visitors to enjoy and judge as connoisseurs of fine arts. I do have to mention a friend of mine won the Watercolur section – congrats Maree Kelly with her interpretation of the Namoi River.
It was then time for us to head home, though there was some regret we didn’t take time to plan to stay for the lantern parade and fireworks, or attend the range of art lessons on offer, but there is always next year.
Congratulations Barraba – you warm a winters weekend with the pride and hospitality that is a symbol of regional Australia.
Broken ankle physical – helplessness a state of mind.
See where I am going? They went together to make me.
This morning I attended a short course about Mental Health. In 90 minutes Kate from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program provided a clear and for me, a different perspective about mental health.
She spoke about mental wellbeing (note I didn’t use mental health!) as a scale or continuum from not coping to coping well. All of us move along this scale, its normal. Where we are on the scale depends on our physical well-being, our ability to manage and juggle what is happening in our life and how much we are carrying the load of someone else, those around us whether family, friends or work colleagues.
The session also included some snippets about how to ask the right questions to help others, where to go to get more help either for self or those we are concerned about.
And then some gobsmacking realities –
25% of what our GPs see in a day is mental health.
8 people a day die of suicide in Australia…eight. 6 of these are men. That is 2.5 times more than people die on our roads. I am still digesting this one.
The more rural and remote we get the greater the number of suicides and risk factors. There is also a greater lack of help and support opportunities. Gosh.
My take home I want to share with you is this:
Don’t wait for special awareness days to ask those close to you R U OK?
Don’t dismiss their physical symptoms with a light hearted “I’ve got a Panadol”.
Don’t say “have a few wines or a beer and it will be alright, it will pass”.
Take time to listen. Ask. Show you care.
E V E R Y D A Y.
And make the effort to learn more about mental wellbeing and how to help others. It could save someone’s life. It might save your own. We are all part of the same village, we should look out for each other.
If you are an employer, big or small, make mental well being part of your Work Health and Safety program.
She stands at the sink overlooking the rice fields as the panicle, packed with grain sweep in a cooler morning breeze. The sun starts to colour the sky.
It had been a long night for her.
Her youngest had twisted in pain, his arms wrapped across his stomach, his eyes as big as saucers brimming with tears begged her to make it stop. Yet another night of little sleep for the family as his cries perforated the night in between short moments of fitful sleep.
The number of sleepless nights were becoming too many. Her family could not survive much longer. Her husband could not continue to work long hours in the field with little sleep.
She spied the pamphlet on the floor. It was stained with mud that had been carried into the house on little feet as they had darted outside in the rain to go to the toilet. She hoped they went a distance from the house, but she could hardly reprimand given the amount of rain that fell last night. She will check that later.
For now, she just needed to recharge.
As her tea brews she can hear the thump of coconuts falling outside. Husband is picking a few for her to take into the market. She wipes the pamphlet and slowly turns it over in her hands, looking with envy at the picture of a woman standing outside a freshly finished brick building. She recalls what the man from SAMIC told them.
“We can offer you a loan to build an outside toilet and install a water filter to give you clean water as well. It would cost you about $30-50 US dollars a month to repay. It will be a declining loan. The money is offered under the WASH program, to help provide water and sanitation. You could be the first in your village.”
Could they earn enough from the sale of the coconuts and rice to repay this and keep the family? She could take the buggy and find rubbish to sell if they needed more money. Her eldest was nearly old enough to help too.
Her breath stops suddenly as she contemplates her children getting sicker. Too many in the district had died already from stomach complaints. They say it’s the bad water and no toilets that is doing it. They had no money for hospitals, yet it seemed only a matter of time before one of her brood fell too sick to recover.
There is yelling from below as the chickens scatter. The cow is off its chain again. She puts her dreaming aside and heads downstairs to save the animals from her husband. The lack of sleep is showing itself already. Its going to be a long day. Not the day to try to talk about a new toilet.
6 weeks later:
It is so shiny! The water so clean you can see the bottom of the tub. There was even enough money to install a path so there will be no mud being tramped across the rugs inside.
She is now running late to market as the neighbours called in to view this new building, quiz husband on the cost. Some even wanted to give it try, it has created quite an interest. The people from SAMIC have become quite busy now.
Her smile is one of relief. Her children are better, she sleeps at night. They all have renewed energy to face each day.
A small building can make a big difference to a family in Cambodia.
She climbs on the bike beside her husband. Today she is making her first repayment at the SAMIC office. As her children run ahead on the path, with energy levels tripled she knows she has made the right decision.
Maybe she will ask her husband if she can learn to read soon. A better world awaits her and the children, with a little help. She nods at the Spirits as the bike weaves to market, her smile beaming in the midday sun.
**Inspired by experiences while travelling in Cambodia with Good Return and Xplore. If you wish to know more, especially the WASH program also see SAMIC.
It took me some time to decide. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone every now and then but not sure this was for me. I had visions of being thrown in a foreign jail, not able to tell family and friends where I was. But maybe I just watched way too many movies.
The country had been a war zone in my lifetime. I have small recollections of learning about the events of the 1970s at school, even raising money to help the poor of the region.
But I said OK, lets do this!
YOLO … (and I can feel my daughter rolling her eyes…50 year olds should not use YOLO she would be saying)
Off I go – to gain the fourth passport stamp of my life.
As the waters of Singapore came into view from the airplane window I contemplated the Australian bloodshed that had occurred decades before as World War 2 knocked on our door and annihilated the land now beneath me.
As a teenager I was fascinated by the World Wars. I watched countless TV series about prisoners in Changi Prisoner of War camp, of women who were captured by the Japanese in 1942 and of course Pearl Harbour and Gallipoli.
As the plane makes it final flight into the modern Singapore I’m taken back to a school assignment interview with a friend of my father who has been a prisoner in Changi and survived. He didn’t tell me much at the time and at 14 I was a little naïve to ask for the detail. As none of my family have a history of service in the wars, these were my only experiences of the bloody battles that ravaged southern Asia last century.
The city beneath me and modern airport, complete with indoor gardens was a stark contrast to what my imagination conjured of Singapore. I celebrated my first footsteps in Asia with a Singapore Sling – it seemed fitting and absolutely glorious after the eight-hour flight.
And then onto our destination, Cambodia.
My senses exploded as we exited the airport at Phomn Penh.
Lights from a herd of motorbikes galloped towards us, another line jostled beside trying to sneak past. The air was filled with a peal of horn blasts swirling in with the dust of the evening skyline.
The streets were a coalescent of old with new. A stooped woman slowly wipes the street dirt from a table covered in a plastic faded cloth, beckoning diners to take a seat while next door an elderly man sat on a broken chair minding bric-a-brac that covers every available corner of the shop in the hope a shopper sees a bargain or a necessity.
Youngsters kick an empty drink bottle dispersing other litter and discarded food across the street. A toddler wearing only baggy torn shorts watches, his face a flummox of his day with specks of food, tears and mucus staining his cheeks and running down his bare chest.
A car tries to reverse from an American clothing store, the security guard holding up traffic to allow the driver to enter the continual flow. A troupe of tuk tuks hang near a club, ready to barter for a ride in the hope of making a meagre wage from Saturday night tourists to finish early and maybe rest tomorrow.
Overhead I spy 3 storey buildings inclining on each other, seemingly built as an afterthought for family expansion. Spirit houses protect the occupants, the ornate gold coating catching the last of the sunlight, the fruit offerings keeping the spirits peaceful.
The streets are framed by a spaghetti of electrical wires looping around leaning poles and mixing with neon lights and dilapidated signage, a mix of local chirography and western advertising.
Our driver paints the political and social landscape for us as we bump and thrust through the city traffic. The herd continues to stream by, some laden with 3 or 4 passengers, even a baby slumped asleep over the handle bars. Others tow a small trailer packed with goods from vegetables, building materials to sorted rubbish. We learn there is a market for the rubbish – one person’s trash another’s treasure that can put food on the family table.
We hear the story of our driver’s family, a story we will hear retold by many we meet. The loss of family members in the 1970s, a country pillaged and ravaged through history, a people exploited with their spirit tattered yet unbroken.
Unfinished highways funded by other countries loom in the twilight, while displaced sleep in hovels in its shadows. Our car bounces along unloved roads and past the contrasting grandeur of others.
The grit of this city is smattering on us, our eyes seeing what our minds are not comprehending.
Our ears are hearing the chaos of existence yet our hearts will listen to the silence of oppression.
We steel ourselves for the days ahead. We step into the night, into the city.