under your nose

IMG_6926This weekend we had some good friends staying with us, and went looking for something fun (and outside) to do in Brisbane. In that same situation in the past we’ve often headed for Southbank, or wandered up Mt Coot-tha, or maybe a local park or playground.

This time, for some reason, Mt Glorious came to mind. It’s part of the D’Agular range, and right on the edge of Brisbane, with access through Samford Valley and then up the winding road to the village of Mt Glorious. Of course we stopped for breakfast on the way…at our friend’s cafe Delicatezza in Mitchelton (an unashamed plug for a great feed, and a great mate).

Once we made the climb to Mt Glorious, we left the car at Maiala Picnic Area and wandered the 4.something km Rainforest and Greene’s Falls trails. It was, it has to be said, an absolutely stunning Brisbane winter day, and the walk was a joy. Beautiful forest, easy walking trails, kids chattering away (apart from the odd “Dad I’m hungry” call that seems to accompany just about every family adventure). We clambered down the rocks at the Falls, balanced our way along a 30m fallen tree, played, explored and then back at the picnic area sat in the sun, enjoying lunch and good company.

IMG_6952A meander back via Mt Nebo with stops at the beautiful Westride, Jolly’s and Camp Mountain Lookouts completed the day – all without ever travelling more than an hour from home. Jolly’s Lookout is amazing…we’ll definitely be back there for a sunrise brekkie bbq one morning.

It was a lovely day.

I haven’t been up Mt Glorious for probably 20 years or more…and its right on our front door. Right under our nose, so to speak.

Why is it that we sometimes don’t see, or notice the things that are right in front of us? Maybe it’s beautiful locations, like Mt Glorious; maybe its the extraordinary blessing of family and loved ones that we sometimes don’t think about; maybe its business or professional opportunities. Sometimes we (by which I of course mean me) are so focused on the next big thing that we miss whats right there before us.

I’m left wondering how many other Mt Glorious’es are right on my doorstep, right under my nose, just waiting to be noticed, explored and enjoyed. Not for the first time (to my shame that I keep having to be reminded) I’m reminded of the value of slowing down a little and enjoying whats right in front of me.

How about you? What’s your Mt Glorious?


on yellow cars and casual, cultural sexism

We play a game, our family.

It’s a driving game, it keeps the kids occupied on long trips, gives us something fun to rib each other about along the way.

We call it “Spotto”.  Maybe you play a similar game, but in our version it’s a point for each time you see a yellow car and call out “SPOTTO!” before anybody else does.  As with any family game there are a few quirky rules, some inside understandings of what is and isn’t yellow (Brisbane City Council buses for example, don’t qualify) and for some unknown reason lost in the sands of time spotting a purple car and calling “SPURPLE!” accrues double points.

Hey, it’s fun, and its in the privacy of our own car…

There’s a problem however, and it’s a big one.

Once you start spotting yellow cars (SPOTTO!) it’s just not that easy to stop.

And so now I find myself even when on my own (that’s right…no kids to use an excuse) making a mental note of every yellow car I pass.  I swear to you I haven’t said “SPOTTO!” out loud on my own….yet….but that’s the problem. To borrow a well known advertising catch phrase…once you pop, you just can’t stop.

At the same time as I find myself thinking about yellow cars (SPOTTO!) I’m become more and more conscious of the casual (and not so casual) sexism that still seems ingrained in so many levels of our society.  Maybe that’s a strange connection to make…but go with me here.

As a father of two girls and a boy, I’m very conscious of the opportunities Sheri and I want our girls to have, of the way we want them to be treated, and of the responsibility of our son to know just how he can and should act with regards the women in his now and future life.

And in our current world….there’s a pretty ugly reality that I’m noticing more and more often (SPOTTO!).

Not with me?

Take a look at any Saturday morning “video hits” TV show, where film clip after film clip treats women as little more than scantily clad window dressing.  Men dress in suits, jeans, shirts and women (even when they’re the star attraction) may as well be in body paint.

Take a look at my favourite sport of motor racing, where start grids filled with heroic male drivers have the decoration of a grid girl in Lycra close at hand (or maybe your favourite athletes are footballers and the grid girls come in the form of cheerleaders).  Ridiculously, sadly, even in my chosen hobby of R/C car racing (that’s right…I race toy cars) we sometimes have the stupidity of “trophy girls” at major events.  How do I introduce my daughters to this hobby when basically this is the image of women perpetuated in even this obscure hobby?

Take a look at any number of magazines aimed at women and perpetuating the stereotypes of make-up, fashion and appearance as underlying all self worth.  Even the recent “no make-up selfie” trend that whilst ostensibly has a cancer awareness message (and at best even cancer fund-raising) at heart underneath seems to be implying “no make-up = courageous”.

No man has to put up with such nonsense.

Women continue to be under-represented in leadership in nearly every corner of our society (Federal parliament?) and even where they are present are treated differently (can I say Julia Gillard as just one very visible example without getting into political point-scoring debates?).

They’re underpaid, misrepresented, rejected. Women are subject to totally degrading treatment on the basis of appearance and they are sexualised relentlessly.  Then there’s violence against women prevalent even in mainstream Australian society.

The more I think of it, the more I see it (SPOTTO!). It’s everywhere.  Even though there’s clearly been structural progress in recent decades, there’s still a lot of pretty ugly cultural sexism.

To be fair, there’s plenty of pretty rough male stereotypes as well (cue the witless, useless, clueless father figure than inhabits so many TV commercials and sitcoms), and there are some pretty serious issues around boys in education or even church models that seem more shaped in a way to which girls respond more readily…..but to my eyes (SPOTTO!) the girls have a much tougher road to walk.

And our daughters are growing up in this culture, and will be victim to it. They’ll face pressure to conform. They’ll face expectations about sex and sexuality. They’ll have to abide by different standards than the boys around them.

The more I see it (SPOTTO!) the more I am conscious of just how far we have to go, and of the fact that I’m only just starting to work this out, see what’s in front of me, and can only wonder at the times I’ve probably been complicit.

And more aware of just how much I want both our girls, and our boy to see through the surface of our culture, to find a different way, to live to a different standard.

The fact is our girls (and our boy) are awesome. They’re smart, funny, committed, compassionate, imaginative, creative and talented.  One is intense and motivated, the other non-stop joyful and social.  That’s the basis on which they should progress in life….not on gender, appearance, make-up, short skirts and photo-shop.

The thing is…while I hope I gradually stop seeing yellow cars (SPOTTO!) because to be honest, it’s an annoying game, I sincerely hope the only reason I stop spotting ingrained, cultural, casual sexism is because bit by bit we find a better way.

Bit by bit.


have you had a busy week?

A couple of days ago I was in the corner store picking up some bits and pieces. As I wandered up to the counter I asked the assistant “have you had a busy day?”

She answered in the affirmative and we got into a pretty typical shop-counter conversation about how busy life is.

I bet you recognise that conversation.  Lots of us have it, nearly every day.

Sometime over the last couple of years something has changed in our society.  It’s subtle, but I wonder if it’s important.

We used to start conversations with something like “how are you?” or “are you well?”…..but now it’s “have you been busy?” or “do you have a busy weekend coming up?”.

Busyness is the new in thing.

The expectation when we ask that question is that we’ll hear back “yep, flat out”.

Busyness is the new fashion accessory…the “new black” if you like.

We pride ourselves on how busy we are. The one with the most full diary is the most worthy. The one with the most evening commitments, the busiest social calendar for the weekend, with the most extra-curricular activities for the kids….the busiest wins.

There’s very little in our society today (apart from our treatment of the vulnerable, or the ongoing ingrained sexism in our world….but they’re stories for another day) that are more damaging I think to families, and to individuals than this perpetual obsession with busyness.

The costs of busyness are high.

Physical tiredness, mental exhaustion, emotional strain, spiritual flat-ness, relational distance.

And a messy house…though maybe that’s just my house…I can’t be sure.

I wonder too – and I worry – about the kind of example we’re setting for our kids with this perpetual busyness.

I wonder if we should be striving really hard to keep lots of empty space in our home diaries, make sure there are afternoons when we just go for a walk around the neighbourhood then come home for a simple dinner and hang out.  I wonder if we should prioritise the preservation of down-time on weekends rather than back-to-back-to-back social, sporting and other engagements.

I’m a big fan of couch time, or hammock time, or “promenade time” (as we used to call the kind of relaxed afternoon walk that we seem to preserve for holidays only) but it’s rare.  I don’t even really like being busy…but it’s such a point of pride I can’t help getting sucked into it, and filling any empty moment with something planned.

What might happen if the next time someone asks “are you free Tuesday night?” I answer “No, I’m having some relax time with my family”?

And will it be weird if I ask the shop assistant when I next stop by “have you got a quiet afternoon ahead”?

So how about you?

Had a busy day?

the life of the international athlete ;)

Have you heard the one about the lawyer, the architect, the social worker, the restaurateur and the minister?

Sounds like it would be a terrible joke to me!  But that’s the mob with which I travelled to New Zealand recently for my first tilt at being an international athlete.

We were making the trip to NZ to ride in the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge  – a weekend cycling festival that draws in over 8000 entries for a variety of events. The majority, like the five of us, were there for the “Solo” – a 154km circumnavigation of the stunning Lake Taupo.

In the field of somewhere between 4000 and 5000 “Solo” riders is everything from semi-professional to barely prepared, from bikes with price tags that would make your eyes water, to K-Mart quality mountain bikes.  It’s not a race, but a challenge (yeah….right!).

For some the challenge is to beat a personal best time, for others to beat their mates.

For some it’s an endurance event. A very small group go out to complete 2, 4 or a staggering 8 laps of the 154km course.  There are shorter (family friendly) rides too, along with relays and some spectacular mountain bike events.

For many, and for most of our group this is true, the challenge was to complete the Solo course and enjoy the experience.

We were at the ride as a celebration of my brother Paul’s 40th birthday.  Rather than a giant party, it’s becoming more and more common these days (at least in our circle of friends/family) to mark the momentous birthday with a special experience – and because there’s no fun doing something like the Taupo ride with a bunch of strangers (and to make sure he got home in one piece), a few of us joined the expedition.

As our trip to NZ was all about the ride it was a pretty short one – but we did manage to pack in a round of golf at Taupo Golf Club (where the rough was unbelievable, and the golf not much better!) the day before the ride.  And then a hilariously out of control encounter with the concrete luge racing track at Rotorua Skyline the day after. Less said about that the better in case word gets back to them of our shenanigans and we get blacklisted!

The ride, of course, was the main event.  It was hilly (somewhere around 2000m of climbing over the course) and made all the more difficult by what started as a stiff breeze and got steadily stronger as the day went on.

Most frustratingly, the wind backed around over the course of the day, meaning that for 90% of the ride we either had a headwind, or a nasty cross-wind. Neither is much fun to ride in! A little rain occasionally wasn’t too much to worry about and temperatures were pretty nice for cycling all day – hovering between 15 and 20 C.

Weather aside, it was a wonderful experience to ride with more than 4000 other cyclists, to find groups in which to draft, hide, lead and chat, to meet and talk with so many cyclists from every corner of NZ and a few other places further afield (about 300 Aussies for example).

We tried to set a realistic pace and all got through the ride pretty comfortably in the end. Paul suffered a couple of punctures which slowed him a little, and Tony some drive-train issues on the downhill sections – but otherwise we were trouble free.

The scenery was beautiful, our loop taking us through lush green pastures, rolling hills, lovely forest and the stunning lake-side drive along the southern edge of the lake.

View from the 92km rest stop looking over Lake Taupo

There was plenty of climbing to do, most of it in the first 90km, but nothing too serious. Grades were moderate and the pace comfortable enough. The notorious Hatepe Hill at the 130km mark turned out to be pretty manageable – with our only tailwind of the day helping us up the long grind.

Tucking into a group and blasting along the rare flats at around 40kmh was definitely a highlight, along with some very fast descending. My speedo registered a top of 70km/h during the ride. For a proper cyclist that’s unremarkable, but for me….let’s just say I knew I was alive!

Our group split up a little over the course of the day. Dug is much faster than the rest of us so set off early in one of the fast groups. The rest started together but splintered a little on the first 12km (pretty much all uphill!) section.  And then Paul’s second puncture split us again so we all came in solo. Dug hit the 154km in around 4hrs 48 mins, myself 6.26, Simon 6.29, Paul 6.34 and Tony 7.04.

I couldn’t have been happier with my own ride. I felt good all day and did plenty of leading as well as some following and hiding out of the wind. There were some fast groups that we couldn’t quite hang on to, but not for want of trying!

I hadn’t cranked out huge rides in training (my longest training ride went around 90km) but I spend plenty of time lapping Mt Cootha and a couple of trips over to Mt Gravatt…and that really helped. I had no trouble with the hills and felt very strong on the flats.  Maybe it helps that I do most of my training rides solo, with no group to tuck in behind…who knows.  A freshen up of the bike (Giant Defy 3) with some new light/fast tyres definitely sped things along as well.

It should be said that the last 20 km was awful.  Gusty, nasty side winds, narrow road, lots of traffic and then a turn into a blunt headwind for most of the last 3-4 km just plain hurt.  It would have been nice to ride in with the sun shining and a gentle breeze at our backs for that last half-hour…but not to be!

So the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 154km Solo ride is done and dusted.

Would we do it again?  Absolutely.

Will we actually do it again? Who knows.

If you’re a cyclist, put this ride on your list as a fantastic experience and a very well organised event.

And besides, there’s nothing quite like being an international athlete.

PS: Paul, in case you read this. There is no way, not now, not in 2015 that I am riding the Victorian Three Peaks ride.  4000m of climbing over 210km in a single day? I hope you enjoy it!

“who wants to be awesome?”

IMAG1540 smallI was reminded recently of a great story about my son.

We had a bunch of family friends over at our house one afternoon, and the kids were all playing up a storm – inside where the toys are. Mitchell was about 4 years old at the time, and desperate to get his friends to go outside to play.

The way I remember it, he tried everything:

“Who wants to go play on the trampoline?”

“Who wants to go on the swings?”

“Who wants to play cricket?”

“Who wants to play footy?”

And nothing worked. I don’t remember what game the kids were playing, but it must have been good because they weren’t budging.

Mitch went away a little sad, but determined to figure out how to get his mates to play outside. A few minutes later he burst into the room, all excited in the way only a four year old can be and called out over the din:

“Who wants to be AWESOME?”

Naturally all the four-year old hands shot up and the kids vanished outside in the blink of an eye, following Mitch into a state of awesomeness (and thankfully leaving behind blissful silence!).

It’s a priceless family story, and one I look forward to telling at his 21st (yep, I’m that kind of dad, gathering ammunition ideas already), but what it’s got me to be thinking about this week is whether in life we ask the right questions.

Try as he might, those initial questions just didn’t have the desired effect, but as soon as he stumbled on the right question, the response was instantaneous:

“Who wants to be AWESOME?”

It’s a little like the oft-quoted phrase of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who is said to have written:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

In so much of our world today, I think we make the mistake of organising wood gathering, ship building plans, work orders, inviting people to jump on the trampoline or play soccer.  It’s there in our political environment, our media, and even our churches when we go all missional and try to invite people to contemplate the place of God in their lives.  I think maybe we ask the wrong questions.

Leadership has to be about asking the right question, building the right yearning, the right atmosphere and vision.

It has to be about teaching people to yearn for the sea.

In the language of a four year old, it has to be about asking “who wants to be awesome?”