Challenging changes

It’s been a good year – filled with challenges and changes (blogged and otherwise).

Was it worth doing a year of Change Challenges? Yes!

Here’s why:

* I enjoyed dreaming up and tackling 52 changes. Some were fun, some were difficult but all were worth doing.  It got me into a change mindset and it became easier as the weeks went by. I’ve learnt that change can become a way of life (and a good one too). Of the 52 changes (see the full list below), a whopping 41 have stuck.

* Learning to blog was a challenge in itself and, in all modesty, I think my technical blogging skills improved greatly over the year. As with any new skill, it took time (about 3 hours a week to write, polish and post), practise and experimentation.

* As a private person it was, at first, confronting for me to be so visible. It felt like having my diary made public. I got used to this change and  I thought of it as writing for friends rather than anyone out there who happened to Google one of my topics and land on my blog.

* It’s been heartening beyond words to connect with so many people and to get their support and feedback. My Change Challenges have led to all sorts of interesting real world conversations and I’ve loved hearing that it inspired people to do their own change challenges.

What’s next? Lots more changes and maybe another blog………

Thank you for your support!

For  sceptics and list-lovers, here the complete list (with links – and in bold for those that have stuck) of all my 52 Change Challenges and an update for each:

Week 1 Giving up coffee  – I have a cup of coffee a day thanks to Gwen who sent me Scandanavian research showing the benefit to women of a cup a day for stroke prevention – still also drinking decaf and herbal tea

Week 2 Donating platelets – sadly, I can’t donate blood anymore because it’s considered too risky as I fainted a few hours after a donation

Week 3 Changing my neutral expression – still not a habit but working on it

Week 4 Commuting by bike – I love my bike and commute whenever I can

Week 5 Reading a best seller – I finished the trilogy, saw the movies and need another bestseller recommendation please

Week 6 Growing lettuce – I now now have a flourishing herb garden

Week 7 Becoming an Apple addict – I’m a stronger fan than ever. Go Apple!

Week 8 Holidaying somewhere new – combining the old and new travel locations will be my ongoing travel philosophy

Week 9 Doing crossword puzzles – I haven’t done one in months

Week 10 Grooming my eyebrows – the mirror reminds me to keep doing this

Week 11 Housesitting – I haven’t done this again but still like the idea

Week 12 Beating the souffle barrier – I no longer fear making souffles and am also no longer in awe of them on restaurants menus

Week 13 Trapeze – getting into the swing – probably my toughest physical challenge and not likely to do this again- but have recommended it to others for nerve wracking fun

Week 14  Relishing opera (thanks to Teddy) – haven’t been again but would (especially if Teddy was there too)

Week 15 Dragon boat paddling – for a cause – my most read blog and even though I’ve not done it again I’m hugely supportive

Week 16 Minding my language – when ‘no’ means nothing – requires ongoing vigilance

Week 17 Splurging on eBay clothes – I haven’t bought more clothes on eBay but have sold things and love it that my daughter bought an iphone and car on eBay

Week 18 Getting physical at the gym – yes, a definite in hotels when traveling

Week 19 Changing within change – a big learning is that it’s much easier to change if one’s used to change

Week 20 Adjusting my posture – another one that requires ongoing vigilance

Week 21 Baking bread (if at first you don’t succeed…..) – I make bread regularly

Week 22 Volunteering at St Vincent’s – amidst continuous change – I’ve changed to another volunteer project at St Vincent’s (writing biographies for palliative care patients)

Week 23 Braving the elements – Stanwell Park Ocean Swim Challenge  – I’m doing another ocean swim this weekend

Week 24 Going solo – due to other changes, haven’t done this again – but would be comfortable to do

Week 25 Being girly – yet not quite nailing it – my toenails remain bright and I’m about to try shellac polish for the fingernails (thanks, Lucy)

Week 26 Attending the Royal Easter Show – first time ever – and maybe the last!

Week 27 Power brushing – I love my electric toothbrush and Big Hair brush (though big hair eludes me)

Week 28 Water skiing – not drowning, waving – may be brave enough to give this another go

Week 29 Managing volunteers – practicing what I preach – I’ll be back for another stint a the Sydney Writer’s Festival in 2012

Week 30 Creating creme brulees – with a blow torch – I’ve become a dab hand with the blow torch

Week 31 Wearing fur (is vintage ok?) – I’m more comfortable wearing it encouraged by the warmth

Week 32  Learning to play bridge – on hold (after failing to progress)

Week 33 Watching thugs at play (aka State of Origin) – likely a one-off experience

Week 34 Living car-less – easy one to do again if needed and maybe permanently one day

Week 35 Lighting fires – I became better at this with practice and I’m all set for next winter

Week 36 Cooking online…..(are cookbooks obsolete?) – a new habit with only a couple of lapses with tearing out irresistible recipes

Week 37 Saying thank you – via snail mail – done regularly onw

Week 38 Breaking my broadsheet habit – I’ve almost totally broken this habit apart from the weekend papers which now feel quite cumbersome to read

Week 39 Perfecting poached eggs (naked-style) – thanks to lots of practice, I can now produce poached eggs in a flash

Week 40 Overcoming a mental block – without pressure – not that I check the tyres that often, at least I can

Week 41 Saving while spending – forget it…..coupons (apart from my beloved Entertainment book) are not worth the time and money

Week 42 Channeling Cadel – fit or not? – knowing I’m fit is good but I haven’t kept up my training program because (here’s my excuse) I prefer walking, swimming and cycling outdoors

Week 43 Shedding skin – exfoliation frenzy – definitely a regular habit now

Week 44 Kicking my breakfast habit – I’m continuing to eat variable breakfasts

Week 45 Conquering the mountain on skis (almost) – I’ll try this one more time before giving up

Week 46 Making yogurt the easy way – I make it at least weekly

Week 47 Wearing a ponytail – I’m striving for more length and looking forward to the ponytail travel challenge

Week 48 Enjoying the moment – practising mindfulness – an ongoing challenge

Week 49 Walking with poles (instead of pole dancing)  – I wouldn’t do a big walk without them

Week 50 Finding a bed in a booked out city – a good experience which I’ll repeat

Week 51 Having a regular dose of bliss – an easy new habit

Week 52 Tackling a challenging chore – worth the hassle and will do again

Change always comes bearing gifts.  ~Price Pritchett


As I reached my last challenge in my year of changes, I considered my options.  What have I thought of doing but not done?  In optimistic moments, I’ve contemplated, and cowardly rejected, some extreme challenges. Giving up red wine, jumping out of a plane (with parachute), eating brains, wearing any colour but black, moving to Paris or Bali……all got flicked into the too hard basket.

For my final challenge of the year, I opted to tip the outsourcing scale back to insourcing. Carpet cleaning is one of those nitty gritty household maintenance tasks I’ve always outsourced. Every 6 months or so I call a carpet cleaning company and an Irish backpacker arrives with a machine and does a variable job.  Oh, the convenience!

I made a fundamental mistake of choosing light coloured carpets and the wear and tear from dirty footed teenagers really shows up. I once paid a premium price for an ‘Executive Clean’. What was I thinking? I deserved the ordinary result. And I’m always mystified when the advertising flyer touts an attractive ‘4 rooms for $60’ price and the on-site quote is nothing like that because ‘ the rooms are large’ or ‘$60 is for a basic clean – the only clean that works is a deep clean’ or ‘deodorising is an essential extra’.

Have you ever stood in the supermarket queue and wondered about those blue portable carpet cleaning machines which stand banked up and looking unused near the cigarette counter? I decided to try insourcing carpet cleaning when I heard our Aussie Queen of Clean, Shannon Lush, talk about how do it yourself by hiring one of these machines.

I pondered the weighty logistics: wheeling the machine to the car, loading it, unloading it, using it and returning it all within the time frame of a few hours.

Queen Shannon made it sound easy. For the cleanest carpets in the neighbourhood she had the magic formula of hired carpet machine plus topping up the commercial cleaning solution with eucalyptis oil, bicarbonate soda and white vinegar. Worth a try.




‘My idea of superwoman is someone who scrubs her own floor’ Bette Midler

The challenge here was to get it done and what got me over the line was curiosity and potential cost saving. After some fiddly paperwork at the supermarket, I hauled the cumbersome machine into and out of my car. Back home, I got the hang of it and in a couple of hours my carpets looked (and smelt) new. It was quite hard work but certainly cheaper (about $40). Notwithstanding the effort and time, the results were fine and I’ll definitely be bothered do it again.


What’s challenging about bliss you may well be wondering? Not much, of course!  For me, bliss = massage and my challenge is to have these regularly rather than randomly.






On trips to Asia I relish daily massages. I once greedily pampered myself with two massages in a day which turned out to be overdoing it: I got bored and restless during the second one. Lesson learnt.

I love the hurly-burly of a hectic Thai massage as much as the contrasting gentleness of a Balinese massage. I enjoy my trip massages to such an extent that I always return home with the intention of having regular massages.  Somehow life gets in the way and I never get around to it. Partly this is because they’re expensive  and partly because massages back home don’t feel as good as they do in Asia. Notwithstanding my ultimate massage experience – 3 hours with Mardi – I’ve had my share of mediocre massages in Sydney. I received a gift of a massage at a fancy Day Spa which I nearly terminated halfway through because the masseur was a tentative novice resulting in the massage being irritatingly jerky and ticklish. Another time, I went to a sports masseur who used 15 minutes of my hour for history taking so I ended up getting (and paying a lot for) a bland 45 minute rub down.

Pure pleasure aside, massages are known to be beneficial for pain relief, stress and have many other physiological advantages. I wanted to make a new habit of having a monthly massage. This was made more viable by a few Thai Massage places recently opening nearby.  They’re so authentic, with incense smells, music and Thai decor, you could easily be in Koh Samui. Traditional Thai massage originated in India and is based on ayurveda and yoga. The technique combines massage with yoga-like positions during the course of the massage; the northern style emphasizes stretching while the southern style emphasizes acupressure. It’s a vigourous massage involving pressure from the masseur’s elbows, knees and feet.


‘To me luxury is to be at home with my daughter, and the occasional massage doesn’t hurt’ Olivia Newton John

At the Blooming Day Spa and Thai Massage I’m instantly transported to Thailand for a blissful hour and, to ensure a new habit, I have added regular appointments to my diary. The combination of the stretching and acupressure Thai massage styles and the soothing ginger and honey tea afterwards is revitalising. As I reluctantly leave my massage cocoon and return to the stark world outside, I vow to maintain my new feel-good-all-over monthly habit.

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Admittedly, I’m fussy about a few things. One of these, mentioned in a previous blog, is as basic as bread. Another is accommodation when traveling. Whilst I relish 5-star comfort and ambience, that, of course, is not always affordable or appropriate.  So, what I look for is value for money – and, thanks to Tripadvisor, search I do.

When arranging a trip to New Zealand early this year, little did I know that the 7am return flight from Auckland to Sydney on Sunday would present problems in addition to the ungodly early departure time. Where to stay in a city that’s booked to capacity by teams and fans visiting for a World Cup rugby game? Available accommodation was outrageously expensive. Hotels and B and B’s were charging 4 times their usual rates.  Selective as I am about accommodation, I could not bring myself to pay hundreds of dollars for a mediocre motel room.

What I needed, but didn’t have, was a friend in Auckland to stay with for a night. Thinking along these lines, I remembered my daughter’s experience of using Airbnb for accommodation in New York. Here was an opportunity to try something new. Could their service include far flung New Zealand, I wondered? A quick internet search revealed that they have an extensive global offering with many Auckland listings. I selected one and secured an immediate booking for a reasonable rate.

Airbnb lists accommodation available in private homes – either with or without the owner present. There is global coverage of properties in 8000 cities and 170 countries (1300 rooms in Australia). There is a huge range of types of accommodation, priced accordingly.  Certainly something for everyone. Before booking you can read reviews which give you a good idea of what to expect. The booking is made through the San Francisco based company and, to provide security in case in case things aren’t as advertised, the rental fee is only forwarded by them to the owner after the stay. I was intrigued to read of one owner’s ghastly experience with her tenants…..but was impressed with the way Airbnb appears to operate the business.


“Don’t take tomorrow to bed with you” Norman Vincent Peale

This turned out to be the perfect solution to the Auckland accommodation crisis.  The room, in an apartment occupied by the owner, was great for one night.  The apartment was perfectly located in central Auckland and the hostess was delightful. She even insisted on getting up to serve us breakfast at 530 am. It was, in fact, like staying with a friend which was exactly what was need in Auckland at this time. This very weekend, there was an article in the Australian about this growing accommodation option. It works. Bursting at the seams destination or not, I’d certainly use Airbnb again.

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Wendy challenged me to learn pole-dancing. Daunted by the thought of signing up for 8 lessons (not to mention the thought of actually twirling around a pole), I deftly side-stepped pole-dancing and took on the tamer challenge of walking with poles.

Not me!

Last year, I completed a 4 day solo walk of the magnificent 71 km Queen Charlotte Track in New Zealand. On the track I met people who extolled the virtues of walking with poles: better balance, using their upper body as well as legs, and less strain on their knees especially walking downhill. However, I have resisted using poles because it looks a tad geriatric. I expect this impression came from noticing the vast majority of older European walkers I encountered on a Cinque Terre walk in Italy who were using poles whereas the younger walkers stepped out unaided.

I bought my poles on eBay and they came with a perfect pedigree – used only once by a very fit young man on the 100 km Oxfam challenge walk. Who said walking poles were for older walkers? By the way, should I ever need a stick for every day use I’d certainly get one of the terrific SwitchSticks I spied recently.

Trekking poles resemble ski poles. Mine are light aluminium and telescope for height adjustment. They have a spring loaded anti-shock mechanism to relieve stress to arm, wrist and hand joints and carbide flex tips to give stability on hard surfaces.

Also known as Nordic walking, poles provide improved balance, reduce the amount of stress on knees and hips, move overgrown vegetation out of the way and even increase calorie burning. Little did I know that, far from being the lazy option, when you use trekking poles, your oxygen demands and heart rate increase which leads to potentially burning up to 46% more calories. I learned that, even though walking poles increases your heart rate, you don’t feel as if you are working harder. Sounds like better walking to me!


“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow”. Henry David Thoreau

Last week, I took my poles on a walking trip to the Coromandel area of New Zealand. Apart from the difficulty of getting them through security (tip: pack them in your luggage), they were a hit.  I liked the way they helped me get into almost a marching rhythm on flat stretches and so made me walk faster.  On the eight hour Kaueranga Kauri trail they were almost essential on the many steep up and down sections. Walking poles rule!

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The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”  Thich Nhat Hanh – The Path of Mindfulness

I’m addicted to multi-tasking: watch TV and read, talk on the phone and email, listen to the radio and garden. I live in my ‘head’ thinking about what to do next or worrying about a past or future issue.

After attending a course in Mindfulness Meditation at the Buddhist Library, I tried to meditating regularly. However, the concept of mindfulness extends beyond meditation: it’s about continually staying in the present moment. For someone like me who naturally thinks too much this is a genuine challenge. Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly used in Western health and psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions such as anxiety and drug addiction.

During the course, it was recommended we start practicing mindfulness when doing everyday tasks (like showering or brushing our teeth) by slowly focusing on what we’re doing and not ‘mindlessly’ thinking about something else. I also learnt ‘walking meditation’ which involves walking deliberately and concentrating on feeling the physical movements and enjoying the experience. I found this easier than sitting meditation.

Mindfulness is akin to the wonderful concept of flow. Formulated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is is the mental state of being fully absorbed in doing something.    Flow is completely focused, energised concentration –  a single-minded immersion representing perhaps the ultimate satisfying state of consciousness. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy while doing something. In flow, the emotions are positive, energized, and aligned with performing the task at hand. It was encouraging to hear a yoga expert talk of any activity that really absorbs you (like for me, swimming, writing, gardening and cycling) as meditation. And so…. there’s a clear link between meditation, mindfulness and flow.


“Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  And today?  Today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.”  Babatunde Olatunji

I spent the week consciously pulling myself back into the present moment: when eating, driving, walking, swimming. Although it was tough for me to live in the moment I started to experience some of the benefits: seeing things afresh and in detail and experiencing the ‘stillness’ of not being flooded with other thoughts and distractions. It made me feel calmer and more appreciative of the world around me. Now I just need to focus on making mindfulness a habit.

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Week 47 Wearing a ponytail

My biggest hair challenge in recent years was going grey. It took more than a little courage to decide to move into the realm of grey-haired people. This considerable transition was, it turned out, quite easy especially with the help of books and blogs. Like most who’ve taken this leap, I’d never go back to the palaver of dyeing.





photo - Deborah Feingold

Ready for a new hair challenge, I decided to grow my hair long enough to be able to wear a ponytail – even though common wisdom is that long hair doesn’t work for women over fifty, let alone the grey-haired. So, why this change? Firstly, simply for the change. I wanted to be able to vary my daily ‘look’. And, importantly, I’m also regularly defeated by bad hair days when traveling and when doing sporty things like swimming and cycling. I was inspired by my sister Mary who stepped off a 24 hour flight earlier this year looking fresh faced and chic with her hair in a ponytail. Could ponytail-length-hair be the solution to my messy hair problem?

This challenge, of course, took longer than a week. In fact, it required perseverance over many months. As any woman who has tried to grow her hair knows, you get to the in-between stage where it is tempting to chop it off and go back to a cropped style. With the help of an encouraging hairdresser, I continued until at last, this week, the ends met at the back in a neat, albeit teeny, ponytail. Long hair at last.

Maggie Alderson usually has a lot to say about hair and in her recent blog raised the issue of hair length. Referring to Madonna, she commented that, when the hair is also dyed to a beach-babe blonde, the length thing is troubling. I laughed out loud at her concept of this ‘laying a woman open to the 1666 nightmare – when you look 16 from the back but you’re 66 from the front’. I guess this explains the notion that long hair on older women can be a vexed combination.


‘Hair style is the final tip-off whether or not a woman really knows herself’.  Hubert de Givenchy, Vogue, July 1985

I like having hair to play with but I’ve yet to take my ponytail traveling – though I’m confident it will pass this road test. Having achieved hair length, I have two new challenges: mastering some styles (other than ponytails) and having a low maintenance cut that looks good when I let my hair down. I’m pleased to hand the latter challenge over to Angela, my hairdresser.

I wish

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