Walking the Neighbourhood – Friendship, Familiarity, Foolishness – Fun and Fitness a Bonus!

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I try and factor a routine walk every day, and feel lucky to have a walking buddy for the times when I’m not with one of my daughters and Aurora, our dog.

Walking helps keep me fit. I stay connected to what’s happening in the neighbourhood. As well as the comforting silence of companionship on our walks, there can be sharing of confidences, chat, and laughter.

Jillian is a writer too and puts up with my exclamations and snapping photos, also random commentary, and imaginative ramblings on everything from unusual-shaped trees,  abandoned furniture (it’s hard rubbish collection at the moment), unsightly redevelopment, gorgeous gardens (ain’t Spring wonderful), beautiful cloud formations, and politics (where do you start or finish?).

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Last year, I volunteered for a project at the Arts Centre, where ‘The Walking Neighbourhood’ brought adults and children together to look at the importance of walking to help understand your community and society through the eyes of children.

The world, beyond community and comfort zones, is often a sad place and it takes an effort not to absorb the doom and gloom, particularly enormous tragedies like the recent shootings in Las Vegas, the massive hurricanes, earthquakes and threatened volcano eruptions, and neverending wars.

The 24-hour news cycle and the portability and pervasiveness of social media constant reminders that make switching off difficult.

But for sanity’s sake, switch off we must, and walking the neighbourhood does it for me. It’s my equivalent of meditation, helps free the mind, and encourages staying connected to a place I love, even if I do see changes that I don’t like…

I appreciate the beauty, bump into friends and acquaintances and get ideas for writing.

  • Note to self, finish that mystery novel set on Mordi Creek!
  • Thank you, Ellie, my past student who ran towards me smiling and with open arms when I met her a couple of days ago.
  • How I love the cacophony of twittering birds each night settling to nest in the palm trees lining Main Street – a signature sound of Mordialloc!

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The last few days we’ve walked down to the foreshore and along by Mordialloc Creek and experienced Melbourne’s famous ‘four seasons in a day’ – every day!

When I walk, I often automatically step over the cracks in the pavement, shortening or lengthening my stride, sometimes giving a little hop.

Why?

It’s a throwback to childhood and proof of how a combination of words, ideas and a catchy tune is effective and retained by reader, viewer or listener – ‘the audience’.

I remember following the leader or pretending to play hopscotch (called ‘beds’ in Scotland) and chanting, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Perhaps adding other rhymes like, “Step on a line, break your mother’s spine.”

(oh yes, definitely, gender stereotyping and/or misogyny at work in the 50s!) In fact, if you want to read an academic explanation of the rhyme, here is a link! 

However, it may still require you to think for yourself, do your own research and dig deeper! Maybe even question this interpretation. For many childhood rhymes, there is a host of meanings or historical reasons put forward, most still subject to debate.

The most logical for this one is that in the days of cobblestones and poorly made roads you’d get covered in mud or rubbish if you weren’t careful where you walked. This gave mothers extra washing. 

In the days of hand washing or communal laundry facilities, bending over a washing tub or river could certainly be back-breaking work. The rhyme a strong commonsense message for children not to trip and create extra dirty clothes for mothers.

Or maybe avoiding stepping on the cracks, was just another superstition like avoiding walking under a ladder. Superstition and Education, a book published in 1905 suggests stepping on a crack brings bad luck or missing out on a nice surprise at home – or even more disconcerting as superstitions go,  returning home to a nasty surprise.

After A.A. Milne published his poem “Lines and Squares,” kids decided you’d be chased by bears if you stepped on a crack, but like all childish chants, I doubt anyone in the UK ever took it seriously… 

… yet, some days I still avoid the cracks and find the rhyme from childhood is playing in a loop. Jillian admitted, she too has the occasional urge to play ‘don’t step on the cracks’ and feels a sense of achievement if she makes her destination unscathed!

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Don’t Step On The Cracks
Mairi Neil

Don’t step on the cracks
when you walk along,
Don’t step on the cracks,
I hear my childhood song…

Bad luck will come and make you feel sad,
If you step on the cracks, the Devil’ll be glad!

He’ll steal your happiness
everything will go wrong,
Don’t step on the cracks
insists the childish song…

Not stepping on the cracks silly, I know
but my childhood memory still tells me so!

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Some days there’s a lot happening – and not all of it is cause for celebration…!

This morning I woke to the whine of a chainsaw – again – and wondered which block was being cleared for redevelopment.

Which house liveable yesterday is now transformed into a building site? I didn’t have far to walk – just around the corner into Powlett Street.

This house, probably only 20 years old. It had a wonderful garden mixture of trees, shrubs and flowers, black wrought iron fence, tiled verandah, oak doors, a gem in the street …

… reduced to rubble; to be replaced by nondescript townhouses – as many as the developer can squeeze on the corner block.

Empty for some time, it was sad to see windows deliberately smashed, roof tiles heaved into shattered lumps and doors and garden trashed – to ensure I suppose that squatters didn’t move in, or perish the thought scavengers may try to salvage some of the tiles, bricks and wooden frames.

Apparently, nowadays it costs more to recycle and reuse – bash and trash the norm.

John and I renovated our old Edwardian house with recycled and secondhand materials because that was all we could afford. Our journey valuable (and fun), teaching us to be innovative, imaginative, and thrifty. We upskilled and adapted plans to save money, lived within our means, and all the time considered the character of our home and respected our neighbours.

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On another of my walks, I met a friend in nearby Eurythmic Street. After being retrenched from her job, she and her almost-retired husband decided to ‘cash in’ on the high city house prices and move to the country.

She was astounded when the buyer said he proposed to develop her weatherboard home and ‘average’ sized block and build 7 double-storey townhouses!

Melbourne is growing and the increasing population need somewhere to live, but some suburbs (including Mordialloc) are bearing the brunt of this growth because we live in an area controlled by a council too pro-development, or other councils are refusing to play their part in the State Government’s overall plan for Melbourne.

In my opinion, the City of Kingston, in the last few years has let the residents down as certain councillors cared for their own interests or political affiliations rather than the wellbeing of the residents.

For too many years we’ve had to fight for height restrictions, a limit on backyard density – even struggled to maintain the Green Wedge and some local parks.

When John and I arrived here in 1984, the first public meeting we attended was to stop the rezoning of our street to allow 4-storey development – conflicted visions about what residents and authorities want has been around a long time!

After that meeting, the Council was forced to accept a 2-storey limit, but with various changes of government at state and local level, the area is now earmarked for high-density development.

We are within what is classed as ‘an activity node’! And 3 or 4 storeys are probably not out of the question depending on the overall height.

As evidenced by some of the ugly new buildings, the loss of heritage ‘old Mordialloc’ and the craftsmanship and quality materials of bygone days, has led to streets crowded with traffic.

We could definitely do with a planning department with a better long-term vision regarding aesthetics and quality of life for residents.

 

The big changes occurring at the other end of Albert Street have taken many people by surprise. A string of 3-storey units being built alongside the railway line where a timber yard and other light industrial sites used to be is turning out to be a huge development.

This involves the construction of huge concrete baffle walls, but I doubt that will stop the noise or vibration from the goods trains that ply the line to Hastings. The concrete walls are monstrous and ugly and can be seen from the pier as you look up from Mordialloc Creek.

Spot the irony:

The developer’s sign reads A Celebration of Mordialloc ” a suburb rich in history“!

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Do we laugh or cry at the absurdity?

A lot of Mordialloc’s history is disappearing along with houses and traditional backyard with Hill’s Hoist. Our links to horse-breeding and racing reduced to a statue and occasional sign and many don’t know about the market gardens and our fast disappearing arable land.

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Let’s hope the quality of life people expect when they move bayside doesn’t disappear too.

  • Where are all the cars going to park?
  • How long are people prepared to wait at intersections?
  • Are we ready to adjust to the increased noise levels?

I discovered this old poem I wrote when I first started Readings By The Bay on Sunday afternoons.

The Day Of The Trees (1995)
Mairi Neil

I read about trees today,
they made headlines in the newspaper.
Rainforest areas in South America
are being cleared at the rate of
a football field a minute.

I heard about trees today,
they made the news on the radio.
Greenies stopped loggers
destroying unique species of possum
in our native forest in Gippsland

I discussed trees today with a neighbour,
they made the nightly news on television.
The Premier ordered hundreds of trees
to be chopped and cleared to make way
for a Grand Prix at Albert Park.

Trees are even in the local news.
Council workers trim the trees
along the nature strips in nearby streets.
The electricity wires must be protected
No Bushfires for Victoria!

I hear the scream of dying trees,
as cruel chainsaw teeth bite deep.
I close my eyes, but can’t close my ears.
Persistent wailing and spluttering,
grumbling, howling and whining.

The sap seeps slowly at first,
oozes thicker, spurting and sticky
covering the wicked teeth
but failing to clog and stop
the cuts slicing deeper into flesh.

Trees made the news today,
but many people didn’t notice.
These givers of life, providers of shelter,
courageous ancient sentinels
abused, and destroyed once again.

Trees grow towards the sun
while roots remain firmly planted.
An example to us all –
reach for the sky but remain
grounded. Attached to this earth.

We ignore their example and
ultimately it will be our loss.
Taken for granted, more than a news item
trees should be appreciated and valued
We can reach for the sky together.

I wake up each morning and look across the road and can see and hear the magpies and noisy miners in conversation planning their day in the giant gum trees. Depending on the season, they might be joined by wattlebirds and lorikeets or a couple of vocal r avens.

In the evening possums hitch a ride on the electricity wires and visit me.

Imagine the shock when after workers for the Level Crossing Removal Authority trimmed the trees a few days ago, private tree loppers returned today and systematically removed the remainder of the majestic gums from the garden of the house adjacent to the railway line!

We need improved public transport and I’m glad level crossings are being removed. I have no objection to Sky Rail, but the price paid can still be upsetting. Our actions impact on others – sometimes people we don’t even know!

 

By the end of the afternoon, as I walked out to meet Jillian, the trees were gone.

trees gone

I hope most of the wonderful trees I see on my walk will remain to delight for years to come – not only for me, but for the birds, and other creatures that rely on them.

I intend to enjoy and respect their presence, and continue to record their changing shape and seasonal finery.

Thank goodness I have the foreshore and over the years, we have resisted two attempts from Windows by The Bay restaurant to expand.  It is sad that vigilance is necessary. The battle over sacrificing foreshore vegetation to widen Beach Road a running sore that polarised residents and no doubt there will be other conflicts as people’s visions differ of what makes a liveable and sustainable environment.

I hope to remain healthy enough to enjoy my walks and continue to be inspired and know despite changes, I am blessed to live here. This photograph, looking back from Parkdale towards Mordialloc taken ten years ago.

The sea a constant – wild and unpredictable, calming and healing – who knows what the next wave will bring ashore?

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Writing Wellness Into Habits To Improve Health

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Last week, I attended an annual ‘exclusive briefing’ by the Commonwealth Bank for Ongoing Service customers. This is the fourth or fifth I’ve managed to make and I always choose the Grand Hyatt venue because it is the closest someone on my income will ever be to the luxurious surroundings and lovely lunch they put on – a glimpse into the world of the bank’s overpaid top executives!

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The idea of a free lunch  – especially from a bank – appeals to me.  Although I know it’s not really free – they have my superannuation!

The event always showcases inspirational speakers and if truth be known that is why I make the effort, and I’ve never been disappointed. In the past, I’ve heard Ita Buttrose on her research into nutrition to improve her ageing father’s macular degeneration and blindness, and Robert de Castella on his work with indigenous communities using marathon running to improve their health and self-esteem.

This year it was Dr Caroline West who enriched my knowledge about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how to achieve it.

Dr Caroline West

On graduating, Dr Caroline West, MBBS  was awarded the prize for most outstanding achievement in community medicine and has spent her life focusing on community wellness.  

Still a practising GP, Media Doctor, Lecturer Lifestyle Medicine (University Southern Cross) and Past President of the Australian Lifestyle Medicine Association, she is much sought-after as a speaker.

Needless to say, as a writer and teacher/presenter, I took copious notes but I also wore my hat as a consumer health representative.

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Brush with celebrity – me with Dr Caroline West

In fact, Dr Caroline West is a dynamo. A director of her medical practice for over 25 years, she’s mother to three teenage children, and her CV includes an extensive media career as a TV presenter and producer:

Beyond Tomorrow ( enjoyed by a global audience of 50 million through the discovery channel ) Good Medicine, Beyond 2000, 60 minutes , Sex/Life, Living Longer, Everybody , George Negus Tonight , The Midday Show, Tonight Live, Guide to the Good Life. Rural health channel (Foxtel) and Mornings with Sonia Kruger and David Campbell. She is a regular Wellness Blogger ,is the GP expert for Ninemsn and has written regularly for the Sun Herald and Australian Doctor.

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I was sitting in the front row listening to the introduction for the keynote speaker. Distracted by a movement beside me, I felt Caroline sit down. When I turned, she gave  such a friendly, moonbeam smile I thought she knew me!

Oozing beauty and energy, she proved to be a consummate speaker and performer.  Bouncing up to her signature tune and slideshow,  strutting the stage with another wide smile to include everyone in the room.

For the next 45 minutes, the audience of retirees and bank employees remained enthralled. Afterwards, she listened patiently as impressed guest after guest, queued to chat and ask questions (free consultations?) and ensured her lunch delayed.

Yet, her lovely smile and enthusiasm never waned.

An Interesting Intro

Dr West bought her first practice at 25 years old. It was above a King’s Cross bottleshop. Arriving at work she’d find a body on the doorstep, people overdosing in the toilets and having seizures in the waiting room.

One of her patients who turned his life around couldn’t appear in an advert for her program because he was wanted in three states!

King’s Cross in the 1980s was, and some people say still is, the epicentre of drugs, alcohol, and violence in Sydney. However, like Melbourne’s St Kilda (pics below) there has been a transformation.

Families and retirees have moved in. A gentrification and softening resulting in the biggest change in Caroline’s 25 years. New housing developments and apartments and the changing nature of work the reasons for the transformation.

It is still a diverse community and her practice, which has grown (now employing 40 people) continues to be fascinating.

What hasn’t changed is that 70% of the health issues on her patients’ lists are directly linked to lifestyle – drugs and alcohol certainly, but also bad diet, lack of sleep and not exercising.

Caroline’s mantra:

The three major factors that affect wellness are exercise, nutrition and your mindset.

Caroline’s simple philosophy: A healthy lifestyle anchors wellness, boosts energy, longevity and peak performance.

She practices what she preaches with surfboard riding, cycling to work, walking the dog and kayaking. Her outdoor activities balanced by her love of art and music and a passion for the ukelele!

WE HAD TO STAND UP AND MOVE.  

Caroline told us to shake and do a little dance. The importance of this evident as her presentation proceeded.

We had been sitting listening to the Bank’s financial keynote speaker and would be sitting listening to her. Her demonstration of swivelling hip and hand moves proved motivational dance should be added to her CV!

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Caroline’s areas of expertise include nutrition, healthy lifestyle behavioural changes, weight management ,shared care for pregnancy, sleep, exercise, mental health, sexual health, hypnosis and preventative medicine.

She is an S100 prescriber for HIV and remains committed to the latest developments in lifestyle medicine: prevention is the key for better health. A leader in this field she communicates the latest in medical advances not only to patients but also a broader audience through her media work as health broadcaster, corporate speaker and consultant.

Universal Themes For Good Health

  • something to do
  • someone to love
  • something to look forward to

Although her speech was aimed at the audience of retirees, her advice made sense for everyone and spoke to me as a writer – especially as a middle-aged writer!

Not just examining her word choice, and how she presented, but her advice on setting goals, persistence, specific detail, planning and many other points I often talk about in writing classes.

A thought flitted through my mind – ‘physician heal thyself’ – when was I going to take my own advice?

Inspiring People To Live Well

Healthy lifestyle changes are possible. Little changes sustained day after day make a difference.

Unlock the secrets and be inspired to make those changes. Too many of us spend time thinking rather than doing

a goal without a plan is just a wish

We Took A Lifestyle Health Quiz

Q: Who gets less that 7 hours sleep a night?

  • A goodnight’s sleep important because it affects your mood.
  • Lack of sleep contributes to weight gain and diabetes.

People who sleep less, eat more. This is because of decreased levels of the hormone ‘leptin’, which regulates the appetite and helps well-rested people control their cravings for food.

  • Levels of light play a big part in establishing sleeping rhythms  
  • darkness encourages the body to fall asleep and light encourages the body to wake up.

The light emitted from devices like your TV, computer (guilty as charged), phone or even alarm clock will trigger a drop in the levels of a brain chemical that promotes sleep.

Blind people often have trouble with their sleeping rhythms because of their inability to perceive light.

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Q: Who volunteers in the community?

Volunteer participation is proven to improve your quality of life and well-being.

SURVEY ON RETIREMENT

Men are concerned about loneliness, they lose friendship groups when they retire, don’t handle the transition from work well – the Men’s Shed Movement a powerful tool to combat depression.

For women the major worry is health. Go to pilates, yoga, a new strain of Tai chi, dance classes – whatever.

Writing classes are also great (personal plug here!) for learning a new skill, therapy, staving off dementia and keeping connected to a community, making friends, as well as maybe starting a new career writing or completing a family history.

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Giving back to the community is proven to extend and improve the quality of life – volunteers live longer.

A study of grandparents health revealed those who helped out at local schools encouraging reluctant readers and helping in the library program.

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased brain function
  • Reignited pathways in brain
  • Removed cobwebs and improved ability

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Q: Who exercises regularly?

  • What is good for the heart is good for the brain.

Don’t underestimate the transforming power of exercise. It reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s by 45% !

Therefore, exercise 3 times a week for the elixir of youth because 3 times a week for an hour improves your mood, your looks, and your memory.

  • Fitness makes you feel energetic, positive and confident.

Walk more. Look for movement at every opportunity – innovate – take stairs, walk or dance when doing housework – 30 minutes a day is all it takes.

  • Make it specific and get started.

Caroline illustrated that good health does not happen by chance – you need a plan. (Just like good writing needs to be planned and worked at!)

Creating Rituals To Anchor Our Health

Caroline shared her daily ritual – as the sun rises she walks the dog – he seeks his sustenance by sniffing and snuffling, connecting with other dogs, she ends the walk with a coffee in a favourite cafe after chatting with other regular dog walkers.

Early Morning
Mairi Neil (1992)

I love walking in the early morning
That time when the moon and sun
Don’t quite agree whose turn it is
To light the world.

The air smells fresh and clean
The grass soft and moist with dew
The birds have deep, throaty chirps
Proclaiming the new day.

There is a quietness in the streets
Households awaken behind closed doors
Lights glow through drawn curtains
Water burbles in drains.

Cats return home from a night of prowling
Padding softly along pavements
Up driveways, or lie curled in doorways
Awaiting breakfast.

Dogs eager for morning walks
Sit expectantly behind locked gates
Imprisoned and impatient
They growl or bark.

A jogger runs past sweating
Although stripped to the waist
Determination and single-mindedness
Etched on his face

The whistle of a train triggers
The level crossing bells
Signalling rumbling on the rails
Peak hour has begun.

Time to return to rouse sleepy children
Prepare for a new school day
Crumbs on the table
A welcome sign of family life.

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Whether you go to the sea and discover what kind of day it will be, or to the park and meet other dog walkers who talk to each other, it is a positive way to start the day.

Walking a dog brings many important lifestyle features together – encouraging you to walk, connect with nature and people, explore paths and nature walks, learning something new.

Walk after work, or in the early evening to relieve stress.

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If no dog, maybe sign up for dance lessons, Tai Chi, volunteering – humans need to be connected to improve our health and wellness.

Walking In The Evening
Mairi Neil (1992)

Walking the dog each evening
Should reduce any excess fat
Because Goldie really walks me
Pulling this-a-way and that!

We trot briskly up MacDonald Street
To the footie oval and surrounds
Goldie snuffles, runs, lopes and sniffs
Her restless energy knows no bounds.

Following this endless exuberance
I allow my thoughts to roam free
Aware of damp grass, the rustling trees
Clouds altering above a distant sea.

One night clouds are mashed potatoes
Bursting amidst a jaded dinner plate
Another night perhaps creamed cheese
Ricotta – the type you never  grate!

Other times clouds could be steam
Escaping bubbling cauldron or pot
Perhaps a mist rising on stage
In some tricky theatrical plot.

The sky may have rainbow streaks
Stretched yawns of a retiring sun
Mauves, golds, apricots and pinks
Vibrant colours every brilliant one.

But most evenings the clouds meander
To drift lazily across the wondrous sky
During the day they may have raced,
Crashing together and spinning by.

Like Goldie, they barely pause before
Merging to fade and move away
Darkness falls, Goldie pulls at her lead
We head homewards at the close of day.

Little Steps Rather Than A Grand Gesture

Q. Why do New Year Resolutions fail?

The number one  new near resolution is to lose weight, especially after the indulgences and over-eating at Christmas.

However, Caroline suggests a resolution like this is too big and won’t succeed. Whereas small changes make a profound difference to your health.

If implemented, small changes can be highly effective. They have a knock-on effect for self and others.

Writers know the value of learning the  craft, writing consistently – maybe only 100 words a day and building up to thousands. Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird an excellent example of this.

Emotional eaters often pile on extra kilos so make a decision to be more active –

  • perhaps as few as 600 – 1000 extra steps a day.
  • Choose smaller dinners (but make sure half your plate is always fruit and vegetables)
  • avoid alcohol at night (no ‘self-medication’, going straight home from work, skipping the gym because you’re too tired, but walking in the door and having a big glass or two of wine.)
  • aim for more sleep.(Anyone who has been sleep-deprived with a young child will know how that in itself can lead to a low mood and grumpiness!)

Studies asking what people want as they age revealed:

  • a safe place to live,
  • financial security,
  • to prevent cancer,
  • have no aches or pains
  • enjoy time with grandchildren.

 

CAROLINE’S CASE STUDY:

Steve 65 was overweight, an ex-heavy smoker, and diabetic at 50.

When he was 62 he was walking down the street and experienced intense indigestion, went clammy and felt severely ill.

  • He was having a heart attack.
  • He realised he had a lot to live for – his grandkids keep him buoyant.
  • He turned his life around because his health is about energy to cope with grandkids –and he wants a girlfriend.

Waiting for a crisis like Steve is a high-risk strategy.

Imagine where you want to be in 5 years time.

Money and security are important but health and capacity to enjoy life more important.

Caroline showed a picture of her grandfather in Royal Navy garb looking healthy on the deck of a ship.

He was born in 1903, a period where one in seven children died.

A time of no antibiotics and lots of viruses. The average lifespan for men was 47 years old, women 49 – (the audience including me shuddered).

The biggest killers were diseases such as gastroenteritis, pneumonia, and flu. Spanish flu devastated that generation.

In 1918, 42% of the planet was affected. 50 million people died – three times the number killed in WW1.

Flu Vaccination is important today. Remember that Spanish flu took out young healthy adults.

Today we live longer because of:

  • antibiotics,
  • vaccinations,
  • surgery,
  • transplants
  • better knowledge of benefits of nutrition

There has been an incredible change in medicine and medical practice.

Technology has changed too – the first mobile phone referred to as a brick. Today a mobile can do everything and fit into your pocket.

In the western world, we are a complicated highly connected society.

However, not all inventions have been good for our health. Caroline picked on the elastic waistband as one because it ensures we don’t know if we are gaining weight – makes our clothes too comfortable! (Oops – guilty as charged!)

  • We are supersize now – food and everything else.
  • We are living longer but living with chronic conditions.
  • Almost everyone 50 plus is managing a form of arthritis.

We’re living longer, but with more years of poor health

POSITIVES:

  • Smoking rate has reduced
  • Heart attack rate reduced
  • Lifespans improved.

NEGATIVES:

Chronic disease is affected by lifestyle factors:

  • cancers 71%

  • stroke 70%

  • heart attack 87%

  • diabetes 91%

CAROLINE’S TAKEAWAY:

Lifestyle equals medicine. Daily walking, even slowly, helps.

Think of 3Fs:

  • feet,
  • fork,
  • foregoing

Cut down on what you put on the fork,  eat and drink less of the unhealthy foods, and use your feet to walk/run/dance – move.

 If you start your morning with a breakfast muffin and a coffee, you are essentially having the same amount of calories as a Big Mac and a small Coke – that’s 530 calories!

Improved lifestyle helps with the big health issues older people face:

  • prevention of dementia
  • prevention of heart disease
  • prevention of diabetes

Caroline’s father died of dementia at 75. (My father died of dementia at 83)

When you’ve witnessed a parent struggling, deteriorating and ultimately dying of dementia you live with the fear that one day it may be you.

Pharmaceutical companies are going gangbusters to find a cure for Alzheimer’s – the next big drug breakthrough for them.

But Caroline’s presentation wasn’t about drugs, rather it was about personal effort and control of your own health by improving lifestyle.

Activity trackers

It is usually safe to get your heart rate up (check with your doctor if you are concerned), because exercise is protective,and aerobic fitness important.

Think of exercise as an opportunity, not an inconvenience

Exercise must be specific to get started on the journey to better health choices.

  • Most people agree there is a 50% gap between recall (memory) and reality.
  • Use it as a motivational tool to walk anywhere between 600 – 1000, 6,000 – 12,000 steps daily (the higher number facilitates weight loss)
  • Start low, go slow, build up
  • Strength training builds muscles – do resistance training once a week.

Better to get your progress monitored if you can’t focus at home so join a club, gym, or class.

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THE BUS EXPERIMENT

In England they did an experiment with workers:

They monitored driver and conductor’s health on the double decker buses.
Drivers had a much higher rate of heart attacks.

Conclusion:

You need to move – every 30 minutes – important more than ever in sedentary jobs and for those (like writers!) sitting in front of computers.

  • Sit for 20, stand for 8 and move for 2. Put music on and wiggle, walk around the office or the house.
  • Exercise and movement part of treatment for chronic pain.
  • If you get up to move around at regular intervals it will increase concentration, mood and the ability to remember information.

Sitting is the new smoking

Remember! Make exercise specific – write a note and put it somewhere prominent (writers should be good at this!):

I will this week do (activity)  At this (time) and (place)  With (my friend/dog/alone)

Technology provides lots of Apps now to improve the performance of activity trackers (even on your mobile phone) and to help with lifestyle – Caroline smiled when she gave the example of one called Spreadsheets – a tracker for sex – the ins and outs, the sounds – sex is a great exercise! (Let’s hope Steve has some luck looking for a girlfriend.)

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HOW DOES AUSTRALIA COMPARE WITH OTHER COUNTRIES?

Healthy zones have been studied in countries like Japan and Greece to discover why some populations are more healthy.

  • They eat well – mostly plants and small portions of fish.
  • They move – they integrate activities in their daily life
  • They connect – friends and family come first – this proves to be an incredibly powerful tool for health, fostering resilience and improving mental health.

Caroline finished with a gardening metaphor – focus on getting the lawnmower out regularly, then do the weeding.

Develop a clear vision – and then take the first step. And remember medicine is not just about medication and surgery!

As a writer/teacher,  Caroline’s keynote address was a reminder to look after my own health, curb bad habits like sitting too long without moving but also apply her motivation advice to writing practice:

  • tackle writing projects in little steps,
  • be consistent and write every day
  • keep the final goal in mind and have a plan!
  • And value our health above all else

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No dark fate determines the future – we do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and recreate our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet.

DALAI LAMA & DESMOND TUTU

 

A Little Moderation Goes A Long way

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When pre-accredited writing classes are funded in community houses the teachers are moderated to gauge how effectively the course develops employability skills.

The moderation process allows teachers to think about what they are teaching and how they can improve. How they can deliver the course better, and improve the content. Moderation involves showing a lesson plan example, discussing how a session is organised, and hearing any feedback from students.

Students are asked what skills they have learned, where else they can use those skills and if the course meets their needs. If not, what can change to ensure their needs are met.

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Governments, regardless of what level (Federal, State or local Council) want accountability for their investment in education. Community wellbeing and life skills are important, but it is the economic value, aka employability skills and the bottom line decision makers (read bean counters) consider when spending taxpayers’ dollars.

Moderation is usually done by managers or high level trainers, but in pre-accredited courses it can be peer to peer collaborative appraisal. There is examination of quality indicators and employability skills to ensure consistency of teaching and outcomes, and there’s been good use of the money government has invested.

Moderation is about:

  • standards and values – improving where necessary
  • accountability
  • demonstrating an outcome
  • preserving the courses so they are relevant

Teachers share their

  • passion
  • faith in their methods
  • clarity of purpose
  • desire for continued professional development

After moderation, if necessary a new improved session plan is submitted along with the old plan e.g.. increased time for computer skills, more time in computer room, or excursions – maybe introduction of guest speakers, short films; learning outcomes may be revised; different employability skills may be introduced  like written English for a specific job, writing a monologue or short play…

Reflection by the teacher and moderator focuses on:

How effective were the strategies used to achieve the desired outcomes
eg. Did role play improve written dialogue? Did a specific project develop team work?

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The sessions I teach cover all types of writing with some focusing on specifics (Writing for Pleasure and Publication, Life Stories and Legacies, Memoir to Manuscript, Writing and Editing, Creatively Writing Towards the Future)

Skills developed include:

  • Written and spoken English – constant communication with each other, in class and beyond.
  • Planning and organising – whether an ‘outliner or pantser’ – planning a short story or organising a poem takes a variety of skills
  • Problem solving – working out plots in creative writing, character biographies and developing their place in story
  • Team work – in class we often work in pairs, but every session we listen and give feedback on each other’s writing as we workshop various pieces
  • Research skills – using traditional means from books in libraries to online ‘Googling’
  • Interview techniques – particularly relevant for those writing life stories, family histories and biographies

Some of the techniques we use to improve our creative writing and our creative non-fiction are:

  • Character questionnaires – this may involve personality tests on self, other classmates, online tests
  • Clever use of the computer – the functions of word processing software and search engines
  • Typing skills are invariably developed – the world of writing in the 21st century necessitates computer skills
  • Each session we splurge – writing in class to a prompt to trigger memory or ideas. This encourages ‘thinking on your feet’ plus use of imagination and digging deep for memories
  • Sometimes we do role play to improve dialogue skills – this encourages conversational skills and public speaking
  • Reflection activities – for editing, feedback to others and self, clarity of vision

The collaboration in class involves listening carefully to other students, sharing stories and expertise – an important aspect of learning, but also because observation and attention to detail imperative for writers.

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Students learn differently. The lesson plans and any supporting information is photocopied and given to each student – this saves copious note taking and avoids lapses in memory or misunderstanding regarding what the class covered and the homework.

Sessions are tackled differently too – prompts not always written, some are visual, others tactile, or involve listening to a CD.

Some classes like to write with classical music playing in the background, others prefer silence. Objects may be brought in to act as story starters, short videos watched, photographic or word prompts distributed, often a combination of all of these.

Exercises to improve grammar or spelling, the understanding of metaphors and similes, the crossover of poetry and prose, and various other hints and techniques regarding the craft of writing incorporated as the sessions progress.

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Explanations and discussions about E-books and the fast changing digital technology introduced, the ability to insert graphics, the portability of equipment available to write and save work.

Session plans must be altered to suit various groups, but at all times quality indicators and employability skills are addressed. Each year, it is not so much ‘reinventing the wheel’ but ensuring what I teach reflects the changing face of creative writing and publishing and my teaching is effective and relevant. Both student and teacher must be clear about their purpose.

One of the gifts I give my students is to collate class work in an anthology so they have a record of their achievements in edited, polished pieces. The book also serves as an historical record of their time in class, the friends they have made; writing and socialisation skills learned.

These anthologies are evidence that students not only attend classes, but have produced a piece, or several pieces of writing and understand the most important tenet I teach – writers write!

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Several years ago there used to be bumper stickers declaring “If you can read this, thank a primary school teacher.”

I know there have been many debates about the value of writing courses, but as one writer observed, some of the most famous painters we know studied under a master painter or attended art classes, so why should writers expect to learn their craft in isolation.

I believe writing classes are here to stay and I’m happy a moderation process exists to always encourage improvement from teachers and courses.

Have you had a good or bad experience as a writing student? How do you think courses could be improved?