The Next Big Thing (or Trying to Keep Up)

I remember the first time I used PowerPoint. It was 2001 (or maybe 2002) and I was teaching in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. The school I worked at had just acquired a COW (a Computer On Wheels) and our IT guru (a woman, how very forward thinking) was trying to encourage staff to use it in our classrooms. I was a willing guinea pig. I sat through a demo on PowerPoint and a lesson on how to pull together the classroom experience of a lifetime and I was on my way! I was studying the Titanic with my Year 8 History class at the time and could think of no better topic to unleash this creative technology on. The other option was ‘Jack, I’m flying’ and I didn’t have 5 lessons to give over to Kate and Leo, so PowerPoint it was. 


The students were aghast and amazed at this magic I was presenting to them (especially the GIF at the end of the Titanic hitting the iceberg and plummeting to its watery demise) but essentially this was just a new way to present the same old content (and it was all about content at the time).
It seems strange to me now, that the technology involved with PowerPoint took so long to catch on and so long to wear thin. People are STILL using it and heaven help you if you ever end up in a presentation which is ‘Death by PowerPoint’ – you can’t get those hours back. Ever. 
The sociologist in me finds the most remarkable change now to be less about the actual types of technology that are emerging and more about the speed with which they are emerging. Add to that the adaptability of our students to ‘pick up’ these new technologies as well as the rate at which they ‘grow tired’ and are replaced by the next big thing, and you have an emerging pattern of things to come. Scary and exciting all at once! 

A big part of my current work (I’m no longer a teacher – I haven’t been for 15 years) involves content creation and curation. With so much data being pumped into our lives EVERY. SINGLE. WAKING. MOMENT, the challenge for someone in a role (Comms and Marketing) like mine is to be able to create content that grabs people’s attention. Content that is fresh and new and exciting is critical to the success of any marketing plan and I am always on the look out for some current day ‘PowerPoint magic’; the tool that is going to make people look at my content and be amazed, in just the very same way my Year 8’s were in that whole other lifetime. 

Some of the tools I’m using at the moment (and no doubt, some of these are already tired and will be long gone before Christmas is here) include:

Canva is a free app (or website) that allows you to create your own graphics by using templates. Once you play around with Canva, you will be totally hooked – promise. 


Boomerang is just for fun. Take two seconds of footage and Boomerang puts it into a loop in forward and reverse. This can results in some really awesome effects. 


Ditty sings anything you text. There are character limits, but the app allows you to type lyrics and it will convert to a song (you can choose from loads of free tunes). So many possibilities with this one. I wish I’d had it when I was in Year 12 and was madly trying to memorise quotes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV.


A colleague has recently shown me iMotion and I am hooked. This is super simple technology allows you to create Stop Motion animation. Free from the App Store, you’ll find yourself creating SMA of everything! I did the untimely end of an Easter egg at one stage! 


LiveCollage, just like any other number of photo collage apps, allows you to group photos together and save them as one image.


Camera+ is a paid app (from memory less than $2 and I’m pretty sure there is a lite version) worth every cent. It gives you loads of options with filters, a photo lab, frames and adding text to images. Easy!


Piktochart is a fantastic website that allows you to build infographics. You do need to pay a subscription, but if you are in the business of content creation, it’s worth it. 

I will be interested to come back to this blog post in 12 months and see which of these I’m still using. I’m guessing I might even cringe at using some of these because they’ll be so outdated by then. In the meantime, jump on a check a few of these out if you haven’t already done so – grab a hold while they are still on the cool scale. And if you know of any other awesome apps or websites useful for content creation, I’d welcome your suggestions. 

Blogging is hard, my friends. So many ideas (but mostly uninteresting or inappropriate). 

Inspired by the amazing staff I work with, I have decided to pick up blogging again and, with an excitement about writing burning away at me, I started churning through some ideas for a topic. And the churning continued, and continued, until eventually I found myself literally scratching my head, unable to come up with anything that seemed even close to suitable for this forum. 

Could I write about my recent obsession with Vikings (the TV show that is, not the history of Scandinavia) and how much I’m digging on Ragnar Lothbrook? Probably not that interesting for most. 
Should I launch a discussion about Social Butterfly v. Lounge Lizard and how I find myself morphing from one into the other as I get older (you can figure out which way I’m moving).


Should I make a list of movies I want to see? Books I want to read? Places I want to travel to? Food I’d like to try to cook? Bucket list ideas?  I’m a compulsive list maker, but not sure if any of these would lead to a great blog. 

What about my long held beliefs that I will actually meet the man of my dreams one day, that I will lose thirty kilos, that I will win lotto. I’m not sure which of these is most likely! And I’ve never been great at writing fantasy… 😂

The point of all this ramble? Blogging can be hard. Creativity can be debilitating. Sharing thoughts with total strangers can be intimidating. But the reflection process is a good one and the sharing of ideas can be totally liberating. So that said: I WILL get back to blogging, I just need to find a topic. In a couple of weeks I will have completed my first term at a brand new, next generation school in north west Sydney as the Communications and Marketing Co-ordinator and I have plenty to reflect on there. I will also be getting ready to head south to beautiful Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River for an annual art retreat, which always inspires reflection and creation. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll have something with a bit more depth to it to bring you then. But in the meantime,  I’m just going to leave you with this Snapchat video of me as a rabbit. Dancing. Because I can. ​

For we are young and free and loyal to the fatherland

I am in the enormously privileged position of being a dual citizen. I hold passports for both Australia and Holland. Only fate has bestowed this privilege on me, because my Dad was never naturalised; he passed away before submitting the paperwork. See, had he been naturalised before he died he would have had to forego his Dutch citizenship. Yep. That’s right. In order to become an Australian citizen back in the day, a person had to surrender the passport of their home country. My mum, and her parents and siblings did this.   
Now you need to stop and consider the depth of this for just a moment. Such was their desire to start a new life here in Australia, to build a better future for their children, grandchildren and all the generations to follow, that they were prepared to stand up and say ‘I am no longer a citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, I am now Australian’. 

 

My Dad with his siblings seeing him off to Australia. They didn’t know then that they would never see him again.

 
Would you do it? To build a better life for your future family? They must have had amazing faith in Australia and the opportunities it offered to them. And it seems to me they were on the money!

  
Now as time marched on, laws changed, and people are now allowed to hold passports to more than one nation. I could only apply for Dutch citizenship because my father was Dutch when he died. The irony is, that little maroon booklet makes me, on paper, more Dutch than my mum – those of you who know her will know how laughable this is! I am entitled to all the privileges of being a Dutch citizen. My mum, on the other hand, when she visits Holland, and speaks the language and visits the home where she was born, is considered a tourist and would be well advised not to overstay her visa. Crazy, huh? 

  

Huize Pax in Maasland, where my mum and her siblings were all born and raised.
 
And this enormous sacrifice (and it really is that) was made for me and my sisters, for their children and grandchildren. For a better life, a safer future, more opportunities.

I cannot express the gratitude I feel, most especially for my grandparents, Piet and Lena, for their courageous and selfless decision. 

 

My maternal grandparents, Lena and Piet van Wel.
 
I am so proud to call myself Australian and I can only do so because of circumstance. I am also proud to call myself Dutch, because it is the strongest link I have to my heritage and family still in Holland. 

  
This Australia Day I am celebrating all immigrants to this most amazing country, and recognising their sacrifice and the enormous courage it takes to relocate your life, not for yourself, but for your future family. 

Counting Sleep


During the holidays the unthinkable happened: I did not win $70M in Powerball. I know, right? Who would have ever believed it? Naturally, when jackpots of this size roll around (like the extremely ridiculous $1.5B in the USA) conversations emerge about what one would do with that sort of money. Of course families, charities, homes, cars and holidays all rate a mention, but what else?
In one such conversation my mum suggested that I would be mad to quit my job – ha! She asked, in her Dutch accent (which is getting thicker as she gets older) “Would it be desirable not to work?”.

I laughed.
I explained to mum that with that much money, surely one would turn their efforts to philanthropic activities. I would ‘work’ but it would be in a different way, a more fulfilling way, allowing me the opportunity to give back. She got it.
But what else?
Just last week I returned to work after four weeks holiday. The night before I was due back at the office I woke up at 2:32am. I immediately went into panic mode: in less than 4 hours my alarm would be going off. In fact, it would be going off in 3 hours and 48 minutes. Oh wait, 2:33am, make that 3 hours and 47 minutes.


Ok Nicky, stop looking at the clock. Close your eyes and just go back to sleep; 3 hours and 47 minutes is still a decent amount of time. 3 hours and 46, no 45 minutes. My stress about not getting enough sleep was preventing me from sleeping. Blind Freddie could see that I was in something of a bind over this.
The thing is, NOT ONCE during the previous four weeks while I was was on holidays had this thought ever entered my head. If I woke in the middle of he night I would happily lie there wide awake, knowing that eventually I would be snoring again. Ironically, this usually saw me drifting off sooner rather than later. Knowing that I could sleep in the following morning completely eliminated the need for panic. The beauty of not setting an alarm.
One of the side effects of Multiple Sclerosis is fatigue and I have found that while no amount of sleep can fix fatigue (because it’s different to being tired), a lack of sleep can certainly make it worse. I think that’s why I panic if I feel I’m not getting enough shut eye, because that God-awful feeling of fatigue is something I want to avoid at all costs.
And so, if I did win $70M in lotto, what would I do? I would stop counting sleep. Sweet dreams xx

What is Art? 

Google the question ‘what is art?’ and be prepared to be bombarded with a gazillion results that are as diverse as anything you can imagine. One definition that comes from ‘The Art of the Renaissance’ gives us:

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Others focus on a much broader reference to different fields of art and (rightfully) include reference to dance, music, theatre and literature. 

When you google ‘What is art?’ and search images, you will find countless pictures of different forms of art, some even questioning whether it in itself qualifies as art.

  
And then add just three little letters ‘F’, ‘O’ and ‘R’ and Google ‘What is art for?’ and you’ve opened up another whole can of worms – I really don’t think the question can be answered. 

Is art a gallery full of the old masters? A child’s first painting at preschool?  Is it a cup of coffee, a piece of furniture or a giant dog made from plants? 

 

 According to one of my favourite artists, Sebastien Millon, “Art is fat, fluffy baby ducks flying around on jet packs”. Why of course it is!  

 

When I look at the art I have hanging in my home, it all holds some special relevance to me, but some may not consider it to be art at all. Take my Dad’s old carpentry tools for example. I had them framed and hung them on the wall. I love them. They evoke a strong emotional response in me and I think they are beautiful. But is it art? 

  
One of my most prized possessions is my Michael Leunig original. I watched Michael draw this and the socks are representative of a personal joke we shared. Does Michael being one of Australia’s most well known artists automatically qualify these pen marks on a graduation program as art? 

  
This piece of laquer work by a Vietnamese artist named Phong is not only beautiful, but also reminds me of a wonderful holiday with my dear friend, Joy. The teacups look somewhat clumsy, but when you look closely you’ll see that they are made from cracked egg shells and are rather intricate. Art? 

  
Aged 9, my grandmother stitched this sampler. Somehow it made its way from Holland to Australia and about 10 or maybe 15 years ago, I scored it for Christmas in a random draw (not sure my sisters were too happy about this!). I had it framed and 2 years ago celebrated its 100th birthday. Does its age make it art? Or the fact that it is the work of a 9 year old who ended up being my grandmother? Is it just an old piece of fabric, complete with aged stains, and some stitches made by a (quite possibly reluctant) young girl who’d rather be ice skating? 

  

And then there’s the Street Sign Project, photographs of each of the streets I’ve ever called home, which I’m sure many would not classify as art but maybe just a cool thing to do…

  

In 2013 I began my biggest art project: Starry Night in Found Objects (or The Plonked Goat). It was a collaboration as I relied on so many people to ‘find’ things for inclusion and it took me some 6 months or more to complete. I am thrilled with the finished product but is sticking little bits of plastic onto a board in a particular shape considered art? Or is it just knowing how to use some resources, like an overhead projector (they still have value Greg!) and a hot glue gun? 

  

What ever the case may be, I think art is so personal, so distinctly unique to the taste of each individual person, that the question, “What is art?” can never be truly answered. What is your definition of art? What art evokes some sort of response in you and why? What, for you, is art?

How do you measure a year? 

My favourite song in the musical ‘Rent’ is ‘Seasons of Love’. 525 600 minutes… 2016, being a leap year will actually have 527 040 minutes – ha! It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? 
In 2012 I completed (amazingly) a 365 project. I took 1 photo every day of the year and posted it on to Facebook. 

   
    
 What I thought was going to be a creative challenge turned out to be so much more. The 365 photography challenge gathered quite a following on Facebook. I felt compelled to post a great pic for those who were so loyally following my progress. And what I discovered (although I didn’t realise it at the time) was that my state of mindfulness was tuned in and the volume was on high! I became so aware of my surroundings, always keeping an eye out for a great shot. I was permanently mindful of where I was, what I was doing and the things around me. 

   
   

 
 I’ve not experienced that sustained level of mindfulness since (not even with colouring in!) so I have decided that 2016 is time for another 365 project. Ironically, 2016 is another leap year so my 365 will again be a 366. 

 I have purchased a 365 journal which doesn’t have dates, just numbers of days and I am going to use it to write a gratitude statement each day. Now this type of 365 gives us a double whammy – I first have to be MINDFUL of the things that happen during the day and then I will have to practice GRATITUDE for those things. 

   
 I am really looking forward to measuring 2016 in gratitude. And now I am going to throw out the challenge to you: will you consider doing a 365 project of your own in 2016? 

  
There are heaps of things you could do. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • take a photo every day
  • write a gratitude statement each day
  • compliment someone every day (and write it in a journal – accountability!)
  • increase your vocabulary by learning a new word every day, and writing it, and it’s definition in a journal.
  • save some money every day for a year – set an amount per day. 
  • do a kind act for someone each day (and journal it!) 
  • watch a new TED talk every day and journal what it was about.
  • go for a half hour walk each day and journal where you went and what you saw. 
  • write (and send) a postcard or letter to someone each day. (I think I might do this in 2017)

Please consider doing a 365 in 2016. There is nothing to lose, I promise you, only much to gain. Give it a go, you’ll be glad you did! 

The most wonderful time of the year…?

  
For the most part, I love Christmas. I love the busyness of town and the general feeling of energy that is around. Kids are excited and rightfully too, so are some adults. There is thought that goes into finding gifts for the special people in our lives and then there are the carols, Little Drummer Boy is by far and away my favourite.Little Drummer Boy by Pentatonix
  
Come Christmas Day there is gift giving and family and food and good lord somebody stop from having three serves of pav please. And leftovers! Leftovers for days! 

  
But this year there’s a little nagging in me that says that maybe this isn’t the most wonderful time of the year, not for everyone anyway. Some people, by their nature or circumstances, or by the nature of others, are excluded from the Christmas festivities and somehow, the true spirit of Christmas just passes them by. They may be disengaged from family and friends, they may be under enormous financial strain, they may be sick, but I’m pretty sure there is a whole portion of the population for whom Christmas can be really tough. 

Now this is nothing new but I have had cause to reflect on the wellbeing of others of late and I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with the gluttony of Christmas. I saw the most horrid interview on the television this morning. Four year old twins (in LA) had been ‘marketed’ by their parents as fashionistas and had amassed a huge Instagram following. When asked what they would like for Christmas they started with the ‘I want…’ statements and when their parents tried to continue to talk to the interviewers, both girls interjected with ‘I’m not done yet’. Their wish list included a Hermes bag and a Chanel bag – I kid you not! Can I just remind you at this point in time that they were four years old. Four! Of course one would hope that these girls are a rarity, and I’m sure they are, but the expectations and competition that surrounds Christmas for some seems to be more and more commonplace. 

In my family, we have moved away from the presents this year and are doing a simple book draw. I’m looking forward to it! Today, I was given a bowl of homemade truffles by a lovely friend, and yesterday some homemade biscuits by another. Of course I still participate in gift exchanges with some dear friends – it is what we do. I love finding special things for them and they always manage to find special things for me and that is very cool. 

One way to double the giving and support those in need is to shop through the charities. The Hamlin Fistula Foundation is my favourite. They have beautiful things available and your spend goes towards the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, established and run by Australia’s very own Dr Catherine Hamlin. You can check them out on Facebook or visit their website

Hamlin Fistula Foundation
  
At my workplace, many staff chose to forego the traditional KK gift giving, and instead donated to an local organisation that works to support kids in Cambodia. Together we raised enough money to buy 18 bikes which will allow 18 kids to get to school each day – hooray! 

  
I am making a pledge to try to soak up that true Christmas spirit this year, and in the years to follow. I will try to remove myself as much as possible from the consumerism and overindulgence of Christmas (although I may still have seconds when it comes to the pav). I will try, in whatever way I can, to support those who need something extra, most especially at this time of year. Because if you get it right, Christmas really can be the most wonderful time of the year.