We women are amazing. Truly.
I’m not saying we’re better than men. With three sons, a grandson and a husband I adore, I don’t take sides with genders.
But in so many societies and for so long, women have been considered the ‘weaker’ sex. What a load of rubbish.
Women all over the planet are doing incredible things and showing amazing strength. Strength that many men are in awe of.
Some are famous. Others work in the background to transform lives and the planet.
You don’t have to look very far to find ordinary women doing extraordinary things.
It’s not always on a huge scale. Sometimes these women are influencing just those around them. But then, there’s that ripple effect….
You probably know some ordinary women doing the extraordinary. One may be sitting next to you right now.
I know many. I’ve known these four women for decades and am blessed to call them friends. This is part one of a two-part series that celebrates ordinary women who are doing the extraordinary
ORDINARY WOMEN – POWERING ON THROUGH POSITIVITY
Your life, plans and dreams can be turned upside down in a heartbeat. How you deal with that is up to you.
You can allow the upheaval to define and defeat you, or you can power on through positivity, setting an example of strength to all you encounter.
That’s exactly what my friend Gill is doing. One minute she was enjoying a fun getaway with her husband, Tony, and the next, she was hearing the words that would change her life forever.
Her husband, Tony, was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2017.
It all began with a sore arm. The pain became excruciating and an ambulance was called. It was the left arm, which caused concern it could be heart-related. When that was ruled out, he was taken to hospital but discharged the next day as medical staff were convinced it was an orthopaedic issue.
They couldn’t have been more wrong and interestingly Tony’s case is used for training now to demonstrate how pain like his does not always have a simple explanation.
When the pain didn’t subside, Tony went back to hospital where he had a series of tests resulting in his formal diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). He also had a Philadelphia Chromosome (a mutation of two chromosomes which meant he would not respond to just chemo).
The treatment was brutal. His particular chemo regime meant he needed to stay in hospital for it.
So began their routine of A cycle (the hospital, chemo and weight loss due to nausea) and B cycle (home with days taken up going to appointments designed to relieve his pain and prepare him for a bone marrow transplant that would save his life).
Throughout it, Gill was by his side, except for the two days per week she worked as a teacher. She was also doing a university course.
Together, this beautiful couple who had been together 26 years, raised three children, were grandparents to four and had made a bucketful of plans, managed to stay positive throughout the ordeal.
Tony was set to have a bone marrow transplant in November 2017 but it had to be postponed when he contracted a cold. Right before Christmas, they were given the news that the new transplant date was January 4, 2018.
The lead up was fierce – extra chemo and radiation treatments. The weeks after the transplant were a mixture of hope and fear as Tony’s condition went up and down.
He lost his battle on March 19 and Gill had to face her life without him.
“I never stopped believing that he was going to get better. That may be naive of me, but how could I give up?”
POWERING ON THROUGH POSITIVITY CREATIVELY
Creativity has figured largely in Gill’s recovery plan. Tony’s nurse suggested the family trace his handprints. With a different coloured paper for each member, they traced their own handprints next to Tony’s. Gill framed these for each family member and also added them to memory books she made for the family.
“To see his hand wrapped around mine is comforting – we always held hands – walking, driving, shopping, sleeping, sitting on the lounge – and it’s this simple touch that I miss so much,” she said.
Gill turned some of Tony’s anniversary, Valentine’s and birthday cards into cushions for her bedroom so she can “see his handwriting and feel his words”.
She gathered up his T-shirts and turned them into a blanket – “It’s like having a hug with him when I need it.”
Gill credits her psychologist with guiding her to start journaling. She uses a daily reflection journal to write down the day’s happy moments, what she’s grateful for, what challenged her and what she learned from it as well as goals for the next day.
She uses another just for thoughts and plans and yet another that focuses on her life’s values and how she meets them each week.
“These journals have helped tremendously – to the point where I find myself getting stressed if I don’t write/clear my head,” she said.
POWERING ON THROUGH POSITIVITY – REINVENTING LIFE
Gill began using the #insearchofgill hashtag after a confronting day when it hit her that life had turned upside down completely and her previous plans were no longer relevant. She needed to reinvent her life.
“I decided that leukaemia may have taken Tony, but it was not going to take me down too,” she said.
“So, I decided to fight and keep going. Yes, I have sad times. But I control it, not the other way around. I celebrate ‘sevensies’ every Monday night and light a candle for Tony and cheers with a wine.
“And once a week I take him new flowers, usually from our garden, with a stick of Rosemary to remember, Thyme – because we didn’t get enough, a frond from the fern he loved (that I hated), and a few of whatever is in flower.
“I am too young to roll up in a ball – and Tony would be yelling at me if I did.”
Gill realised she needed to stay busy and active, so packs her calendar with dates with friends and as well, solo adventures.
Last year she went skydiving – something she may not have done in her previous life as Tony had always said; “why jump out of a perfectly good plane?”
TIPS FOR POWERING ON THROUGH POSITIVITY
We can’t avoid grief and turmoil in this lifetime. But we can tap into our superpowers and not let it destroy us.
Gill’s top tips for powering on through positivity are;
- Get a good psychologist – someone whose advice you trust.
- Follow that advice
- Take care of your health and your finances
- Keep a full calendar
- Avoid negativity, especially on social media – make sure it is pushing you forward and not allowing you to wallow
- Surround yourself with positive thoughts
- Keep fighting.
ORDINARY WOMEN – HOW A TINY FOOTPRINT IS MAKING A HUGE MARK
While events can turn our lives upside down, sometimes the life change is by our own design.
Karen was a successful architect, living and working in Sydney, Australia, when she decided to make a sea change – actually a mountain change.
She started studying architecture straight from school, believing the choices she was making would determine her ‘forever’ career.
However, there was a little nagging voice inside that kept telling her the path may well change.
She ditched the corporate world and sought adventure on a road trip with her partner, Dom, who would become her husband and father of their two children.
This two–year trip gave Karen pause to reflect and reassess the direction of her life. This is also when the wonderful recipe for the well-known Gingerbread Folk creations was perfected.
THE MOUNTAIN CHANGE
When Karen and Dom returned to Sydney, it just didn’t feel right.
“We needed to live near trees,” said Karen.
Their Lower Blue Mountains home is indeed surrounded by trees.
Karen took a part-time job as a building surveyor with the Blue Mountains City Council.
After work, she worked tirelessly in a tiny professional kitchen beneath her house to bake beautiful gingerbread.
Juggling a job and the fledgeling business while pregnant with their first child was challenging for Karen, but the hard work paid off. She was finally able to resign from her job at the council and focus completely on Gingerbread Folk.
A few years later, Dom, a marine biologist, left his job at BridgeClimb to join the company.
ORDINARY WOMEN – THE TINY FOOTPRINT
What strikes me most about Karen is how seriously she takes her responsibility as a custodian of our planet.
While she endeavours to leave the tiniest footprint ever, she is making a huge mark in the example she sets for others. She does this without judging or giving unsolicited advice to others – a pretty rare quality.
Right from the start of Gingerbread Folk, Karen was determined not to use plastic packaging and went so far as to hire a UK consultant to help source compostable film.
This expensive and time-consuming process resulted in Gingerbread Folk being the first company in Australia to use Natureflex, a biodegradable film that had to be imported from the UK.
“At the time we were looking, environmentally friendly packaging was virtually unheard of in Australia. We had to look internationally, bang on a lot of doors and pay for help and guidance. It was money well spent though,” said Karen.
Other environmental considerations Gingerbread Folk embrace include not using palm oil, implementing solar at the warehouse and dedicated recycling.
Cardboard packaging is made from recyclable, chlorine free material.
Within a year of starting the business, Karen worked out a way to make her gingerbread icing egg-free.
This was no easy task. Traditional royal icing, essential for decorating and holding together gingerbread creations, is made using egg whites.
It was back to the drawing board for Karen and the research took two years and an overseas trip to complete. It resulted in the discovery of a secret ingredient that meant Karen was able to develop an egg-free royal icing recipe that is unique to Gingerbread Folk.
Karen and Dom took the business in a new direction in 2017 when they decided to make Gingerbread Folk delicacies vegan, eliminating butter and honey from the recipe.
THE BIG MARK
“I feel strongly about the concept of Conscious Capitalism – that all businesses have a greater purpose than just making money. We are able to use our business to lead by example about what we believe to be important,” said Karen.
“Hopefully others read our packaging and our website where we talk about our ‘position’. If we plant a seed of thought which flourishes in the future, then that is a win for the planet!”
Of course, Karen and Dom continue to use environmental ethics in their personal lives – avoiding animal products and unnecessary packing.
They like to lead by example, rather than force their choices onto others.
Gingerbread Folk creations include traditional and chocolate gingerbread men, as well as snowmen, mini Christmas trees and bunnies – great for Easter. They also have Kiddiewinks, which are smaller gingerbread cookies ideal for children’s lunchboxes.
I can testify to the fact they all taste delicious but perhaps my favourite is the gingerbread house kit. They are so easy to put together – talk about combining architect and baking skills – and loads of fun to make.
The houses are a big hit with community groups planning special events around Christmas time.
Gingerbread Folk use pure ingredients with no added colours, flavours or preservatives and offers gluten-free options.
Products can be purchased at fine food stores nationally or directly from the website.
ORDINARY WOMEN – KAREN’S TOP TIPS FOR THOSE STARTING A BUSINESS
“My advice is not to be impatient. Do not expect to be an overnight success. It does take hard work. Instant gratification does not equal longevity in business.
“Never say never – and never say forever – because you never ever know where inspiration will take you”.
Next week, I’ll continue my celebration of ordinary women doing the extraordinary. In the meantime, have a gleeful week, Tamuria.