My Very Dear Friend

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A very dear friend passed a few weeks ago, nine months after she was diagnosed with an inoperable terminal illness.

She firmly believed in an afterlife. She believed our soul was on a journey of learning, that we choose our life path before we come, and she also believed she would find her miracle moment and survive.

But she didn’t. She tried, but she never found it. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she didn’t want to go either. She fought it to the end. And that’s how it is for all of us. Our love of life and will to live is strong. Giving in to death is not easy, but it’s what we all must face. And if we are lucky, we get the peaceful passing that we all hope and wish for.

I knew when she was diagnosed that this was her chosen exit strategy, and deep down, so did she. I also knew the day after she passed that she was gone. I was standing in the kitchen peeling vegetables when I had the strongest feeling that she had left, and I thought, ‘so you are there and now you know’.

You see, she was fascinated by what happens after we leave this earthly plane. She had researched the subject for many years. It was, in fact, her favourite topic of conversation. She read and reread the same books. She immersed herself in every little detail of it. It was almost as if she willed herself to go there – she wanted to find out so badly.

So, my very dear friend, the friend who is part of my soul family is gone. The friend I will always love, think about and hold dear.

She was strong, bossy, very direct, and always said what she thought. Not a shrinking violet. But she was also a worrier. She worried because she cared. And she was bossy because she cared. And she was forthright because she cared. She reached out to others with a compassionate heart. She was a loyal, loving person.

A friend for over 42 years and I am going to miss her.

But it was her choice. We never pass unless it’s with the understanding and agreement on the highest level of our soul. This was her soul choice, and I understand.

We are all, every single one of us, part of All That Is – the Source Energy from which we come, and part of my soul is there with her now for we are never parted from it.

So, till we meet again on this earthly plane, I hold you in my heart, my very dear friend.

© Inara Hawley 2016

There’s No Place Like Home

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Home is my favourite place. Hubby and I have done a lot of travelling in our life together and, to be honest, I’m glad it’s over. I have wonderful memories, but the thought of getting on a plane and travelling for a day to get somewhere and see something I’ve probably seen before, is not my idea of fun anymore.

Don’t get me wrong ~ it’s great to travel. Everyone should do it if they get the opportunity. It’s exciting, and exhilarating, and broadens the mind like nothing else can. The anticipation and pleasure is fantastic, and the memories are forever. I’m glad I did it in my twenties and thirties when I had the energy to squeeze a million things into each and every day. They were great times, and I’m grateful. To eat, drink and be merry all night long with friends all over the world was no trouble at all. These days though, I would need a holiday after the holiday!

Most of our trips were business related, but even so, we made warm friendships with all our overseas business associates and had the opportunity to see and experience life in their country. The trips we made for pure pleasure, however, were the best ~ Europe, UK, Japan, NZ, Hawaii, tropical islands off Australia, cruising, and then the gem of them all ~ travelling around the world first class for four months through Canada, USA, Scandinavia and the Greek Islands. That was pretty spectacular. I’ve seen many breathtakingly beautiful places and had many happy times with wonderful friends, but I have to say, my appetite for travelling has been satiated. It really is the ‘been there done that’ feeling. I’ve seen everything I ever wanted to see and, fortunately, hubby feels exactly the same. If someone wants to see us, they’ll have to come and visit!

I have a friend who often says to me that I should go to see this garden, or that amazing place, or the interesting town a few hundred kilometres away, but honestly, why would I sit in the car for hours when looking out the window at my magnificent view does it for me every time. I love being home so much I don’t even go shopping anymore!

East Mtn ViewWe have a lovely spot. Hubby and I love the peace. We love the calm and harmony. Some would say we are lucky to have such a peaceful, harmonious environment but it’s what we chose. It’s what we want, and that’s why we have it. And it’s why we both love it.

West View

We’ve had a few houses over the years, and as far as I am concerned, each one has been a place of beauty and harmony. I’ve really enjoyed putting Zen into every corner of every house and garden I’ve had the pleasure of living in. In my view, it’s not about the interior design, colour, furniture, or even the feng shui. It’s about the positive intention you place within your home ~ the comfort, the warmth, the love, the memories, and the bit of yourself that welcomes everyone through the door.

They say home is where the heart is, and that’s true. My country house may need a bit of sprucing here and there, but just walking from room to room puts a smile on my face. My home is a joyful place, and it makes my heart sing. And that’s why I love it. In my world, there’s definitely no place like it.

Inara Hawley © 2015

A Stepmother’s Gift

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Before I was married, I worked for a small company in a plush office overlooking Sydney Harbour.

One day while rushing to get a boardroom lunch together, the precocious 6-year-old grandson of one of the directors came into the kitchen. Now normally I love little children, but that day I was simply too busy to give him any warm and fuzzy attention, and distinctly recall giving him the ‘go away little person’ vibe.

He stood there watching me for a bit, and then as all little children do, said exactly what was on his mind:

‘You look like a stepmother!’

He had obviously got my message loud and clear! But, as fate would have it, they were prophetic words. Only a few short years later that’s exactly what I was ~ a stepmother. At the age of 27, I married a man with three teenage daughters, the oldest of whom was only ten years younger than me.

Now that would perhaps raise a few eyebrows or even ring alarm bells for some, but being young, inexperienced, optimistic, ever positive, and very much in love, it never occurred to me that there would be any hurdles.

For me, it was simply about being happy together. After all, I was going into it with an open, welcoming heart so how could it be anything but a happy bed of roses? But, of course, there’s no such thing as a bed of roses without a thorn or two is there, even if it is planted and nurtured with love, care, and goodwill.

Children and parents deserve the best relationship possible, but divorce messes with that in a big way, as does a new spouse for one of the parents.

They are a gatecrasher, an interloper ~ a person not of the children’s choosing who steps into their lives and gets a huge chunk of their parent’s attention and affection. Jealousy and even, resentment is often inevitable and has to be handled as sensitively as possible. As does, learning to be a part of each other’s lives. That takes quite a few years I can tell you!

I did it with as much welcoming warmth, support, and loving compassion as I could.

That isn’t to say I wasn’t upfront about issues when I really needed to be. I am very straightforward when there is no other way, but, to be honest, I don’t like upsetting the apple cart if I don’t have to.

In as much as there is a lot to be said when one is working towards creating a smooth path, there is also a lot that doesn’t need to be said. Honest heartfelt words are vital, but harsh ones are not. They are never forgotten and best left unspoken.

It is when we speak truthfully with an open heart, and listen with an open heart, that we forge the right path together.

But most important of all, my husband and I were united. We were united in valuing our relationship above all else, and we were united in the care, support, and love that we gave to the girls. If that had not been the case, our marriage would not have survived as well as it has.

A Stepmothers Gift - Sunday MusingsOne thing is for sure ~ having three lively, girls in my life was never boring. There was always a lot going on.

And after our daughter was born, it got even livelier! Then we had four very lively girls!

Now, if you are a stepmother, or a stepchild, reading this, please know that a good stepmother is worth her weight in gold. She not only has Dad’s ear, she is someone you can reach out to, someone who will listen, and most importantly, someone who cares.

But as good as it gets, every stepmother will have those ‘left out’ moments ~ it’s unavoidable, particularly on special family occasions that belong to Mum and Dad. Those moments when out of politeness that you step back, and then don’t get invited back in.

That’s life. Let it go, and keep doing your best. In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. In your heart replace it with one of the many kind moments that have come your way. And remember, feeling left out goes both ways.

Now having said all of the above, I have never felt like a stepmother. Our times together were, and still are, very social ~ lunches, dinners, and overnight stays. I am more of a friend than a mother figure.

And that’s how it should be. They have a wonderfully loving mother, and I wouldn’t for one second want to emulate that relationship. And being the nice woman that she is, a lovely thing came to pass. Because I’ve always had the girls’ best interests at heart, we developed an extremely pleasant, open rapport, and that was a definite bonus for everyone.

My aim has always been to be someone the girls could rely on and trust, and someone that they could clearly see made their father happy. My door has always been, and will always be, open.

Over the years, we have negotiated the hills and valleys of our lives together, and I would say that we have done it very successfully. We have all learned and grown from the experience. We accept each other just as we are, and we are able to speak openly and honestly without recriminations.

And here’s my ‘stepmothers’ gift. Today, not only are we bound by friendship, we are bound by the fact that we are family. My husband’s first three daughters are sisters to our daughter, and we all love and support each other, just as a family should.

A Stepmother's Gift - Sunday MusingsIf someone were to ask me who the women were that I would choose to spend an evening with, it would have to be these four fabulous women ~ my daughter and my three stepdaughters.

Why? Because we value each other, we care about each other, and we have respect for each other.

And because we have much to talk about, to laugh about, and to share. We have history and our bond is strong. We are wonderful, powerful women. We are family and we are united.

Inara Hawley © 2015

The Garden in My Heart

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There are some experiences in life which are so connected to a specific time and place that they stay alive forever. One such experience for me was gardening. I was never much of a gardener in my younger days, nor do I do a great deal of gardening today. These days I am more of a ‘plant and let it be’ than a ‘plant and nurture’ type of gardener, but there is one garden that is and will always be embedded in my heart.

For most of my married life I’ve lived on acres ~ lots of trees, paddocks, and animals. And that has suited me just fine. There is nothing I like better than being surrounded by tall leafy trees and grassy hills. So apart from indoor pot plants, I never had the desire to plant a thing. That is, until we bought a rugged 30 acre hillside nestled on the western edge of the Blue Mountains.

First Post - The Garden in My Heart

Hubby putting in the first marker for the house

It was a magnificent spot ~ the highest point in a vast valley, reported to be the second largest sunken valley in the world. With escarpment views, a hillside of majestic pines, and a resident mob of kangaroos, it was high, rocky, wild and windy, and stunningly beautiful.

House - Garden in My Heart

Our house when the gardens were completed

Entrance - Garden in My Heart

Our entrance ~ we named the property ‘Karawatha’, the Aboriginal word for ‘Place of Pines’

After, the house was built and the outbuildings were finished, it was time to tackle our sloping gravelly hillside… and our valley had just the man to do it! He was a feisty little Irishman, and a very talented landscaper. He walked around the house, up and down the slopes, and without any discussion said, “Leave it to me”. And so I did. A thousand, yes a thousand, railway sleepers later we had a 50 metre retaining wall with a 3 tiered garden and steps up through the centre, plus ten other retained garden areas, and walkways. It was fantastic!

The Garden in My Heart

Part of the garden when it was fully grown

The Garden in My Heart

The view from the front verandah

When it was all finally finished and filled with lovely rich soil, it was my turn, and for the first time in my life, I had a garden. It was definitely my time, and for the next ten years I planted, tended and nurtured every plant as if it were an extension of me. I fell in love with it. On summer evenings, my favourite thing to do was water the garden late at night to the chorus of cicadas. And in the mornings, I walked the pathways with my cup of tea, pulled a few weeds, looked at the amazing view, and with immense gratitude, felt one with the Universe. It was a wonderful garden ~ an absolute paradise.

Hubby and I both really loved it, and it was in fact what kept us sane. At the time we had a busy real estate office ~ the only one in the valley, and it was hectic. But when we got home and locked that gate behind us, we were free! We had our animals at our feet, the kangaroos grazing in our front paddock, the rabbits hopping about, the mountain birds visiting our birdfeeders, the wedge-tailed eagles soaring through the sky, and of course, the garden and the view. When we sat on our front verandah with a glass of red soaking up the magic, all was right with the world. I can still see it and feel it. We were so high up, we felt like we owned the valley. It was wonderful.

Cabin - The Garden in My Heart

One of the two cabins we built on the property

But the day came when we decided to move on. We had sold our real estate office to a lovely local couple, and built 2 luxury accommodation cabins on the property. While that was a great business decision, at the time, what we really wanted was to downsize. I was more than happy to hand over a fully furnished house and two cabins. As it was a walk in-walk out sale we left everything, including our beds, but the garden was another matter. It held my heart.

The day we moved I was left on my own waiting for a truck to arrive, and that’s when I said goodbye to my garden. It was a heartrending moment ~ really difficult, until suddenly I knew what to do. I would leave my garden with some words of love. I found the perfect piece of wood in the shed, and with a marking pen, on its smooth surface I wrote the following:

‘Inara’s Garden 1993 ~ 2004 With Love’

I knew it wouldn’t last beyond a month or so in the weather, but as I placed it amongst the diosmas, I felt it was exactly the right thing to do. It was a symbolic gesture that embodied everything I felt about a garden which had brought me so much pleasure. I have visited since, and while the hundreds of trees we planted now majestically reach for the sky, the garden is not what it was. But it doesn’t matter, because in my heart, it will always be as beautiful as I left it, and that will always be mine.

Inara Hawley © 2014

Getting Educated

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We all know that education is important, however, getting educated is not always about academic results. School was not a happy time for me. Coming from a non-English speaking background my primary years were for the most part confusing and lonely. My one good year, the final one, did nothing to magically change how I felt about school, and after years of practising and performing all I wanted was the freedom to have fun. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the strict authoritarian system which awaited me in high school.

Now education can, and should, be fun and enjoyable, especially for school children. I know this for a fact. However, the ‘chalk and talk’ method of teaching we were subjected to in high school was mindlessly and hopelessly boring. To be honest, I can’t remember one challenging, interesting or satisfying moment ~ not one! The focus was only on results. And so I developed a healthy disregard for the system and everyone in it, and instead of applying myself, I chose the path of least resistance ~ I decided not to participate and did the bare minimum.

In my second year of high school, I really dug in. While I never got into any trouble ~ I was quiet and obedient ~ I didn’t put in an ounce of effort. My mother was called in to discuss my ‘lack of interest’, and while it was a mystery to all concerned because I refused to discuss it, a conclusion was reached. Due to my recent IQ test results ~ obviously I must have thought that was fun because I came through with flying colours ~ I would not have to repeat the grade. As I was a year younger than everyone else, it might not have been such a bad idea if encouragement and support may have been forthcoming, but as it was, I blundered on!

Needless to say after five long years, it was a relief to leave. My final results fell far short of shining ~ I failed. But I wasn’t the least bit worried. I had complete confidence in myself ~ I knew I’d be fine. My mother, while she would have loved to see me go on to university, also knew I’d be fine. She didn’t ask me what I wanted, but she didn’t berate me either. Instead, having watched me apply myself diligently in both piano and ballet over the years, and knowing my abilities as only a mother could, she pointed me in exactly the right direction ~ a short technical course which suited my skill with numbers and bookkeeping perfectly. And I breezed through it! It was easy. I was organised, had a good head for figures, and it wasn’t too many years before I was working in trusted administrative positions … and after I was married, I happily managed the family businesses.

Apart from spending a few years studying herbal medicine when I had a sick baby ~ a purpose which I was very passionate about at the time, I had no deep desire in furthering my education. Life was good, and I was very happy. But as always in this journey of ours, new paths present themselves. And when I became a school mother, that’s exactly what happened … a new passion was born. I wanted to teach. So in my early forties, I applied to university, and based purely on my determination and enthusiasm, for I didn’t have the required high school results, I was accepted.

Getting Educated

Graduation Day with my family

And I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. I loved, loved, loved, being a university student. I used to stand in the middle of the campus and just drink it all in. The challenge, the effort, the satisfaction and the accomplishment were all thrilling to me. It was hard work, but every second was worth it. While I am, and always will be a product of the school of life, getting a degree was the biggest gift I have ever given myself because I followed a dream, believed in it and succeeded. But while getting educated is important ~ it gives us choices, and that’s a wonderful thing ~ success and happiness in life does not depend on academic results or higher education. It depends on love, passion, determination, belief and confidence, and the joyful enjoyment of the journey. That I know for sure.

And so, I write this blog post for two reasons, both of which are based on my personal experience. Firstly, to say, don’t pressure your children. Take the focus off results and performance. Ask them what they want and listen to what they have to say ~ you may be surprised. They have a lifetime to get educated, and when they are ready, they will do it. In fact, some life experience before they go off to higher education is a very good thing. They may even make a different choice while they are out there getting that life experience, and that’s OK too! Let them choose, and then, even though it may not be your choice, support it.

And secondly, be an example for your children. Show them that they can follow their dreams. My daughter watched me follow mine. She watched me succeed in my chosen work, and then succeed in following a passion. And I did it all for my personal pleasure, in my own time, when I was ready. And she is doing exactly the same.

Inara Hawley © 2014

The Magic of Christmas

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I don’t bake, I really don’t. But Christmas is coming and this year I have decided to do some baking. And as I haven’t done it for years, it requires some pre-Christmas testing. So this week I’ve whipped up a few treats in preparation for the oncoming food festivities.

Christmas CakeHubby, who would almost walk over hot coals for fruit cake is my tester, and he is loving every minute of it! He was brought up on homemade cakes, biscuits, and all manner of delectable preserves and desserts made by his mother. Sadly, he has had no such luck living with me! I have however, created my own special food traditions over the years, and Christmas is part of those special memories.

Being European, my family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, which during my childhood was always a magical night. Our Christmas tree with its pine needles touching the ceiling sparkled with tinsel, shiny baubles, and dangling bags of chocolate money. And our little house, readied for the evening’s celebration, was filled with the glorious sounds and smells of Christmas. For my brother and me, it was the most exciting night of the year for without fail, every Christmas Eve Santa knocked on our door. We were always beside ourselves with anticipation, bouncing from room to room and peeking through the windows. And just as darkness fell, there he was on our porch with an enormous bag of presents over his shoulder.

And such is the magic of Christmas, that as he jollied his way through the front door everyone’s eyes lit up. The adults welcomed him as if he was a long lost friend, and we children looked on with wide-eyed excitement. Then he would take a seat, declare what a wonderful night it was, and turn to us children. For the tradition was that before we received our presents, we performed for Santa. My brother recited the same poem each year, and I tinkled a tune on the piano. That done he reached into his bag and gave everyone a present, and then with a great flourish was on his way. It never occurred to us children to put two and two together when shortly after Santa left, a favourite uncle arrived!

Then it was time for food ~ our table was laden, and I mean truly laden, with gastronomic delights. No English Christmas dinner with pudding for us! We began with freshly baked Latvian pirags followed by homemade rollmops, devilled eggs, marinated cucumbers, sour cream, and smoked ham. Then came my mother’s European potato salad, her German ‘kommen morgen wieder’ ~ a delicious savoury pancake, and the yummiest sauerkraut with succulent crumbed pork chops you ever tasted. And for dessert, Mum’s special dried fruit compote served with homemade custard. All of it wonderful!

Pirags

Latvian Pirags – delicious little buns filled with bacon and onion

Rollmops

Rollmops ~ pickled herring with dill cucumber

My parents’ house was ‘the’ Christmas house for many years. My mother was a wonderful cook and my father loved a party, so naturally everybody came. After I was married the mantel to create the merriment on Christmas Eve was passed to me, and for a number of years everyone came to our house. My mother brought her sauerkraut and potato salad, a trifle arrived with my brother’s family, and everyone else brought their good cheer. And not only did our Christmas Eves sparkle with tinsel, baubles, wonderful food and the same magical goodwill and love of childhood days, Santa always arrived as well!

      Santa Claus    Family Christmas

Our family is now spread far and wide, but as many of us as can still gather on Christmas Eve, which these days is once again held at my mother’s. And as I bake and taste, and bake some more, my reminiscing fills me with joyous memories. And as only childhood memories can, awakens within me once again the magic of Christmas and the happy anticipation of sharing it with my family.

Inara Hawley © 2013

Lunch in Paris

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I was just married and in Paris for the first time. It was Hubby’s favourite city, and he wanted very much to show me why he loved it, and so on the few days that we had there, we walked until we almost had holes in our shoes. But our time was short. This was our honeymoon and we had the rest of Europe to see, so on our last day we decided to do a late morning bus tour to see the parts of Paris that our feet had not yet discovered.

After about half an hour of winding through narrow streets we were negotiating the traffic in the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt when our tour guide said, “And on ze left we have one of ze top ten restaurants of ze vorld”.  Without a word, we looked at each other and in unison rose from our seats, pressed the stop button on the bus and got off! And in our jeans and joggers, we walked through the front door of the Lasserre.

The LaserreWith great aplomb we were ushered to our table. Not an eyebrow was raised as to our casual attire, especially given every table was occupied by very fashionable gentlemen in business suits. My eyes took in everything at once ~ huge windows with sumptuous drapes, high ornate ceiling, beautifully set tables, silver service on crisp white tablecloths, crystal glasses, and three levels of waiters in waistcoats and bow ties. It was elegance personified!

The menu was outstanding, and because we simply couldn’t help ourselves, we ordered the Pheasant Under Glass, and it was magnificent! Every course was brought to us for approval and then went back to the kitchen for plating. And between each course, sorbet cleansed our pallet to prepare us for the next delight, and the junior waiter brushed down the tablecloth and changed the cutlery. The service was outstanding, and we were basking in the ambience. It was pure indulgent pleasure, and of course we lingered over every course with enjoyment. We were making a memory, and loving every second of it.

When it came time to use the restroom, it was an experience in itself! I was escorted to and from the ladies. Yes, that’s right! A waiter walked me all the way to the ladies, waited and then walked me back. It was slightly disconcerting ~ my first thought was, I can do this on my own, but then I thought, hey, give in and go with the flow!

Now I haven’t mentioned the wine because we left the choices up to the Sommelier, who outdid himself ~ even the port was perfect. As we were raising the last glass of nectar to our lips, we noticed the room was getting a touch hazy ~ all the French gents were puffing on their after lunch cigars … well it was 1976! And then suddenly, the ceiling parted, and we were looking at the sky … and all the smoke dissipated! It was absolutely astonishing!

When it came time to pay the bill we confidently flashed the Diners Card, but amazingly, it was politely refused … “No sir, ve onlee accept ze cash or ze personal cheque”. Well we had no cash, but as luck would have it, I had my personal cheque book. What a relief that was! For a second there we thought we’d have to wash dishes! So with the same aplomb as we were seated, they accepted my cheque. It was such a class act given I was on holiday from another country. I was then given a long-stemmed rose and giddy with good food, good wine, and French gallantry, we floated back to the streets of Paris, and back to our hotel to pack for the next leg of our honeymoon.

In the years following we had the opportunity to visit a few more on the top ten list of best restaurants of the world, but our experience at the Lasserre was by far the most impressive. And thirty six years later, while we remember the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, the amazing Louvre, our trip down the Seine, the spectacular Lido, the elegance of the Parisians and the fabulous street artists, it was our impromptu lunch at the Lasserre which remains the most memorable memory of Paris, a city we both fell in love with.

Inara Hawley © 2013