Enjoying Valentine’s Day with love

Valentine’s Day is seen as a day to celebrate romance, love and devotion. It is celebrated in honour of St. Valentine, a third-century Roman Saint associated with love and togetherness.

I feel in recent times the day has become more commercial with gifts of chocolates and flowers being the main choice of couples vying for attention and acceptance.  Sales of expensive jewellery also peak at this time due to those who can afford a more lavish approach.  It is my belief that the amount expended is often based on the perceived expectations of the receiver.

Maybe, it isn’t really necessary to spend lavishly just to impress your special ‘Valentine.’ Perhaps, you could just enjoy spending quality time together in each other’s company. Being with someone you are in love with and being loved by that someone in return, would be a beautiful way of celebrating togetherness.

My favourite quote for Valentine’s Day comes from Judy Garland. She once said, “For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart.  It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul”.

Yet, it seems the universal language of love is one we Australians often tend to shy away from. For some, it just doesn’t seem to be ‘the done thing’ to be seen embracing your partner in public.

However, the simple act of walking together hand in hand can say so much for a relationship as there is an energy that unites the couple, where a word need not even be spoken.

A wise person once said, “Love is a decision, not just a feeling”. And, when you think about it, feelings can come and go like the weather, but our decision to love one another is a commitment and survives all our feelings, frustrations and anxieties. While for some, this commitment has maintained their relationship throughout the years, sadly, this is not the case for others.

Someone who is no longer with their partner, for whatever reason, special occasions like Valentines Day, birthdays and anniversaries can be sad days. We need to be aware of those in this category and if possible, just be there for them during these tough times.

As we grow in age and wisdom, each of us has a different story to relate about our individual journey.  Our stories are depicted on a canvas that tells of hardships and pain, courage and perseverance, strength and endurance, of deep sorrow as well as times of great joy.

As we travel along the pathways of our lives, it is important we reach out to those we meet who are in need.  For, as Oscar Hammerstein once said, “Love in your heart isn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.” There is no doubt there will be times when we ourselves will find the help and support we need on those occasions when others reach out to us.

Today, there are many Australians, both young and elderly doing it tough and there is precious little incentive for them to celebrate occasions such as Valentine’s Day. So, while the florists might be charging an arm and a leg for long stemmed red roses for those who can afford such luxuries, we need to be thankful if we have a loving partner, or friend with which we can share this occasion.

Perhaps we could consider maintaining our love relationship by just doing little things for each other on a daily basis, without seeking to receive anything in return. This would let us celebrate Valentine’s Day every day of the year instead of just on the 14th February.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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Men and their sheds

I am a member of a local Men’s Shed. The Men’s Shed idea is an Australian concept that has become popular in all States and even overseas. The first Men’s Shed was established in Goolwa, South Australia in 1993. The idea originated to improve the health and wellbeing of members and now more than 50,000 men attend over 1200 Australian Sheds.

In case some readers are concerned at what might seem a story about a sexist organisation, let me say from the outset that there are some sheds in locations where there are female members and these sheds are often referred to as ‘Community Sheds’. Having female members is purely a local decision. However, there are specific reasons why it is important for men that such an organisation needs to exist.

The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) is the national service provider supporting the Men’s, Women’s and Community Sheds and is recognised as one of Australia’s largest male-based community development organisations. It was established in 2007 and was founded on the principle of sharing information between sheds and those communities wishing to establish and operate a Men’s Shed. It acts as a support and central hub for information exchange.

I think most will agree men can be complicated individuals. More so, the men who have been raised and grown up during a period when the male in the family had far different expectations placed on him than what we see today.

From a young age, todays older male Aussie was given lessons on how to be ‘a man’. These started by being told big boys don’t cry. In those years, society had set views on manhood. You didn’t reach out to others when you felt vulnerable, nor did you seek help. You had to be in charge and you would use force, if necessary, to get your own way.

As these generations grew, considerable peer pressure ensured any intimate or open close relationships between males was frowned on by men. Blokes had mates they drank with or played sport with, but rarely formed any long-term friendship relationships. The results caused today’s older male to have experienced emotional periods where anger, bullying and violence came to the surface.

As a consequence, I have found many men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help. I believe this has led to some men silently suffering from loneliness and depression. Becoming a member of a Men’s Shed provides a safe and friendly environment which can be very supportive in maintaining men’s mental health

The shed, at which I am a member, is a place where local men meet, work and share life experiences and most importantly – talk. We have a brochure we give to prospective members that contains the following information. “Men’s sheds are fast being recognised as vital, viable places to provide relaxed, happy creative spaces for men of all ages to enjoy. They provide activity, identity and meaning for vast numbers of retired, active, creative, enthusiastic men”.

As a member, I am able to choose from many work, hobby and community support related activities and under professional guidance get to learn about and use the equipment in the workshop. We have a separate area for meetings, relaxing, chatting or getting involved in arts, crafts and computer activities. We also have a small kitchen where one of our members prepares simple, but tasty lunches.

Spending time with your mates at a men’s shed is an important way to introduce change, giving men the freedom to become more vocal, empathetic and compassionate.

Men’s sheds are good for men’s health and I can highly recommend readers might seriously consider joining one at a location near where you live.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.  

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Youth regained

The old man was prepared to accept that this was it.  This was the end.  He had been laid to rest after years of living in the garden. He didn’t mind really.  He had enjoyed his life, even though he had been battered around by the storms, survived the heat, the drought, the floods and kids climbing all around him.

As he aged, he had folded his bark coat more thickly around himself.  This gave his aging limbs protection from the elements and attacks from marauding insects. Although, at the time, he wept a little, he was proud of the heart the lovers had carved in his coat.  He had offered them protection from the onlooker’s gaze as they swapped their innermost secrets and committed themselves to each other.

As he lay within the slabs cut from his generous girth, he allowed the breezes to filter between the thick slices of his manhood.  He whiled the days away thinking of the good times in the past.  He was a daydreaming old man.

Time passed.  The timber cutter returned to survey the slabs he had cut some time ago.  As they sat on their thin wooden interlays they had dried and some of the bark had started to peel from the outer skin.  He scratched his head.  The time had come.

The old man shivered as he was gently transported from his place of rest to a place of work.  The timber cutter ran his hand over the stained and moldy slabs.  He scratched at the surface as if it was Aladdin’s lamp.  And yes! The ‘Genie’ was still inside.

The old man was born again.  His beauty was revealed to the world, as his outer coat was removed and the dirt and grime of his years sanded away.  He became a seat of rest in the park where he was surrounded by flowers and other trees. Once again, the children play around him and lovers whisper sweet nothings to each other when they sit and hold hands.  His gnarled old twisted frame has been transformed.  His inner beauty revealed.  His life has not been wasted.  He is happy again.

And so it is with us as we age. We can always be of value to society, as long as we keep the ‘Genie’ available inside us.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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What the sign says

There is an advertisement on commercial television that questions why we drink beer. It seems because it is summer, we should all drink beer. This assumption comes into question when one brave person whispers to his mate that he doesn’t like beer anymore.

It seems the whisper is heard by all the drinkers and a hush falls over the crowd because the sign on the wall tells us it is summer and we all should drink beer. One larger than life character stands up and proclaims, “Who made beer the boss of summer?”

The commercial pans to a bar and a promotion for a whisky based alcoholic drink offered as an alternative to beer.

I can’t help but re-enact this scenario when I consider how we go through life blindly following whatever those in charge of us tell us.

If I was to whisper to you that I don’t want to follow a particular political party anymore, I can’t imagine this would this send shock waves through our community?

Our maker decided to give us all ‘free will’. We have a conscience and generally are quite capable of making choices that affect our lives. Many of these choices will be influenced by our conscience and what we see to be right for us at the time.

So, how then does our conscience determine what is right for us and/or what might do us harm. Our conscience is constantly being manipulated by those around us, by our living and working environment and by what we have already experienced about life.

Sometimes as we watch our parents, those in government or those in authority, including leaders in our churches, we might see a contradiction in what they say as against what they do. Unfortunately, this can be most confusing and can often be the catalyst that affects our actions.

Let us be prepared to decide for ourselves what is right for us rather than just doing what the sign says.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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Field of dreams

I liken our schools to a field of dreams. From the movie of the same name, we learnt that ‘if we build it, they will come’.

Apart from the school infrastructure that needs to be constructed and maintained, we also need to become more aware of the importance and necessary work we expect our professional teaching staff to undertake.

In bygone years students existed under a threat of sometimes severe retribution should they not pay attention or perform according to the strict instructions of their teachers.

Fortunately, that concept doesn’t exist in the same form today. However, discipline is still a problem and can cause our educators considerable concern, energy and time either in the classroom or out in the playground.

Teachers are required to strictly adhere to Education Department subject curriculum from which the students will be assessed. Comprehensive written assessments for each student are required progressively throughout the year, enabling parents to be fully aware of their child’s progress in each subject.

Apart from the teacher’s physical presence in the classroom, the preparation and documentation of lessons for students and individually challenged students, is an on-going daily requirement. Other areas in which our educators are involved, and often in their own time, include discussions with individual students concerning their curriculum plans, the preparation of students for school sporting teams, and academic and community representation.  

Teachers are often required to provide support to students when breakdowns occur in friendship groups, or at times when they wish to discuss general difficulties being experienced in their lives outside the classroom. Generally, in their own time, our educators attend staff meetings and parent/teacher interviews, subject selection nights and prepare work for sick or injured students to complete at home.

Our teachers need to maintain their own professional standards through study and course attendances. To say teachers get more holidays than the average worker, is grossly unfair. They are only paid for 25 hours work per week and spend many hours of their normal, private and holiday time doing unpaid school work.

In essence, teachers generally are a dedicated group. They become very aware of how each of their students see their own individual ‘field of dreams’ and are most conscious of their role in educating our young people to be productive future citizens.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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Christmas in Australia

The concept of a white Christmas, snowmen and blazing fireplaces, is really quite foreign to Australians. Yet, in maintaining a tradition, Santa Claus and his helpers still swelter in heavy clobber and must come complete with boots, beard and padded midriff bulges.

The birth of a baby in a stable outside a little town called Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, is the real reason for Christmas. The peace surrounding the stable on that historic night is still felt by many throughout the world.

However, the message, “Peace on earth, good will to all people”, isn’t accepted universally. There are those around our world suffering in strife torn areas. There are the homeless, the hungry and the poor. Also, among us, are those whose greed for power and possessions, leave a trail of broken people in their wake.

Even though we might celebrate Christmas a little differently in this ‘lucky country’, we should find time to spare a thought for those less fortunate in other parts of the world.

Maybe we can share some of our own ‘peace and goodwill’ with Aussie battlers in our own towns and cities who are reaching out, just as the baby in the stable reached out on that first Christmas, seeking to be recognised and longing to be loved.

Let’s try and spread our greetings a little wider this year.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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Some would see success as merely the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. However, many tend to see success as only attainable if we become rich or famous.

The ability to raise our social status by openly displaying our affluence is often seen in the luxury and opulence with which we surround ourselves. Successful people motivate and inspire others. For some, hard work and dedication usually over a lengthy period, enable them to be recognised as earning their success and associated benefits.

Bob Dylan said we are successful if we get up in the morning and go to bed at night and in between we do what we want to do. He was fortunate that doing what he wanted to do made him sufficient money to enjoy life in his own way.

To quote Ralph Emerson, an American poet and writer, when asked to define success, his response was: “To laugh often; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To appreciate beauty and find the best in others.”

He also suggested “We should leave the world a bit better, by knowing even one life has breathed easier because we have lived.” This, he said, “is to have succeeded.”

To me, Emerson’s suggestions seem a very effective gauge of success which, if we adopted, would enable us to help each other make a success of our lives.                                                                                          

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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Spectator parents

It sometimes takes considerable planning and time management to ensure parents are present at their children’s various sporting events. It is usually obvious from our kid’s attitudes that they expect you, not only arrange their transport to and from their sporting venues, but that you are there to watch and encourage them.

While this process can take up a major chunk of your time, it is important parents watch with interest how their children perform. There is no doubt parents will need to be attentative, to be involved in the after-the-event discussions.

Our children’s involvement in sports is a healthy exercise for them and needs to be encouraged. How, we as parents, provide that encouragement can be vital to the effectiveness of their participation.

The more recent concept of giving each competitor a reward for their involvement, in my opinion, takes away the need for children to strive to perform at their best. This, consequently reduces the value of the reward for the victors.  Given the right encouragement, hopefully, those who fail to achieve an award will try to improve and thus gain more benefit, both mentally and physically from the exercise.

How we go about encouraging our children in improving their participation in the sport of their choice is of great importance. The first question we must ask ourselves is whether the choice of the particular sport was theirs or ours.

Sometimes, because we played a particular sport when we were younger, we assume our children will follow in our footsteps. This can often lead to outbursts of anger from the side lines if parents see in their children what they would deem as failed performances, based on their own adult standards.

This negative form of attack on our children is far from encouragement and could be said to cause the child considerable anxiety and mental stress. Positive suggestions and helpful encouraging advice will help our children aim to perform at their best while competing.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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Polling day

His election day started badly because, upon arrival at the polling booth, he was unable to find a space in the car park area adjacent to the local hall.

He was heard to be muttering as he reversed out and had to park some 50 metres up the road. During his short walk back to the hall he was blaming the staff at the booth who he claimed must have taken up all the parking spots.

As he walked up the pathway to the front door he was offered How-to-Vote cards by the ever smiling voluntary party representatives. He snatched a card off each as they stepped out from under their candidate emblazoned colourful umbrellas and he stormed towards the entrance.

He found he had to join a short queue waiting to enter the voting area and this caused an outburst from him which enabled others in the queue to be well aware that ‘this whole show was a waste of time’ and that he ’would rather be out fishing’.

When it came his turn to proceed to the registration table, he barged forward and placed his two palms on the table surface. He then belched a concoction of last night’s beer and this morning’s bacon, eggs and after brecky fag.

Before the young male Poll Clerk had a chance to offer a greeting, the disgruntled voter blurted out a surname that sounded like ‘Johnson’ and then added, Michael John.

This was the Poll Clerk’s first election and although he had been trained on what he should ask, the sight (and smell) of the person in front of him took him off guard. He fumbled with his list and looked up JOHNSON, but failed to find a Michael John.

The man in front of him was obviously getting agitated so he courageously asked how to spell the name. The reply, J.O.H.N.S.T.O.N.E. was spat out, the letters coming in quick succession.

At last Michael John Johnstone was given a voting paper and as he marched off to the nearest vacant booth, he informed the Clerk and others around him that he was only doing this so he ‘wouldn’t be fined’.

He cast his vote and threw the How-to-Vote sheets on the floor. He made sure as many people as possible saw him place his folded voting paper in the box and then he stormed towards the exit still mumbling about the stupidity of the process and how ‘you couldn’t trust politicians anyway’.

Later that night as the votes were being counted, the Poll Clerks and the scrutineers wondered why a person would just put a large cross over the whole voting paper and render it informal. Perhaps, they thought, such a person did not deserve to live in a democratic country.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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Forward thinking

We all tend to get excited prior to the start of each new year and think seriously about what New Year’s resolutions we will make. New Year comes and New Year goes and we often find our resolutions tend to fall by the wayside. Some just prove to be impractical, others get relegated to the too hard basket and occasionally we persist with one until it seems to lose its relevance.

Perhaps, rather than wait for the new year to come around, we might take the time to stop and have a stocktake of our life to date and consider what has occurred in our past and what might become part of our future.  The word ‘hindsight’ is always associated with any review we might do of our past.

Perhaps we might regret some things that we have done in the past and don’t really want to rake over these old coals. With hindsight we know we certainly would have acted differently or made entirely different decisions and often we kick ourselves for the errors of the past.

Mentally, we need to tell ourselves that in the past, when we acted in such a way, this was what we felt was right at the time. Nothing can now change that decision, irrespective of what current wisdom hindsight might uncover. So, let’s not dwell too long on the past.

By giving ourselves the chance to look at our past we also give ourselves the opportunity to learn from previous decisions we might have made, so we might react differently should a similar situation arise today.

So, what of the future? Are we brave enough to consider doing or achieving something that has only ever been a distant dream in our subconscious? Perhaps it has never even rated a mention in any of our New Year’s resolutions lists. There will always be numerous reasons that confront us as to why our dream can never become a reality. If we were to put aside the negative reaction and force ourselves to strive towards achieving our dream, it may give us a whole new purpose in our life.

It is my opinion our past and our future can be compared to the inside of our car. That’s the reason why our rear vision mirror is so small compared to what we can see through the windscreen.

I’m Peter Mack and that’s life.

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