There was an old woman

There was an old woman who was absolutely sick to death of being treated like a nice old lady.

She was sick of being treated as though she was frail.

She was tired of helpful hands helping her across the street.

She was fed up with lawn bowls and morning tea with the Ladies’ Auxillary.

The old woman decided that it was time to make a change.

To signify this change she bought her very first pair of rainbow coloured leggings. A range of multi-coloured and wildly clashing shirts. A pair of Blundstones and had a very very short haircut.

Now they treated her as though she was a slightly mad nice old lady.

This was not change enough! The old woman decided that drastic action had to be taken.

So she ran away and joined the Circus.

In the circus she learned how to be part of an human pyramid.

She learned to swing on the trapeze, juggle fire and turn somersaults.

When she returned home they no longer treated her as a nice old lady. Oh no.

Now they treated her as though she was a complete lunatic.

For not only did they respect her, they also feared her a little.

Because you see…

they were never quite sure when she would begin to juggle fire or turn somersaults, and they were frightened that she might not know when to stop.


Oral Story (C) CLHHarper 1996

My cup overfloweth


Every now and then my cup overfloweth. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Let’s see, youngest daughter starting high school, check.

Still have eldest daughter’s toddler at least one weekend a month, check.

18 year old son’s 27 year old girlfriend has moved into his bungalow with him, check.

Have six animals to care for, check.

Two elderly parents, check.

Working full time, check.

Volunteering as a Mentor for local program, check.

Hmm, something has gotta give and I would rather it not be me.

Life is for living and I have lived my life chockablock full. I abhor drama but there seems to be a never ending supply of the stuff. Oh, I know…. I won’t accredit as a foster carer this year. Whew, that’s a load off. (slightly hysterical laughter)

On the inside I may be quaking in fear and deeply distressed. Heaven forbid I show it on the outside. When I shared what my son was up to, friends commented, you’re taking it very calmly. No, I’m not, but I figure that when we are 18 and questing for challenge and acceptance, at the very least I can accept and support his choices. And be here to pick up the pieces if needs be.

My youngest daughter asked, what if they have a baby? I replied, then we pitch in and help out, just like we have with the little fella. Who’s that? He is the son of my eldest ex-foster child and I get to be his Grandma. I’ve always wanted to be a grandma just had to go the long way round to get there.

I wasn’t able to have children, so fostered and permanent cared. Permanent care is when a child who’s birth parent is unable to care for them is placed permanently with a carer. I am her legal guardian and her everyday parent. Her birth mum comes up to stay most weekends. The others were all foster placements and I love them just the same. Even if I shake my head at their folly.

Of course, my follies were far wilder and emotionally dangerous. I had no fall back position, no one to catch me when I fell. I want to be that for my little mob. Hard as it is to breathe sometimes.

I think I’m going to have ‘Inhale’ tattooed on my left wrist and ‘Exhale’ tattooed on the right. Just in case I forget. Then I think I’ll have ‘Step Up’  on my left ankle and ‘Let Go’ on my right. That way, when my head is hanging, I’ll be reminded.

Letting go. Nothing like parenthood to teach you the trouble of letting go. Letting go, letting them make their own mistakes, let them rail at you for not being on their side, let them come back and tell you that you are always there for them.

Let go.



Let me tell you a story..

Once upon a time there was a woman who was restless and longed to see the world. She was so focussed on her dream that she simply didn’t see how sad her family was or how sorrowful her friends were. They would miss her.

When the day came for her leaving, she joyfully fared them well and left without a backwards glance. They waved until they could see her no longer.

The woman had a marvelous time in her travels and met many varied and interesting people. Whenever she experienced something amazing or had a funny experience, she would turn to share it with her friends and family.

Time and time again, they were not there.

Finally her cup was full to overflowing. If she didn’t get to share her stories soon, she felt she would just burst. For all the lovely people she had met on her travels, none of them knew her, or would have laughed with her in just that moment, or remembered with her how this experienced echoed one from a shared childhood.

It was time to go home.

When she returned home, she was well hailed by friends and family. She was greeted with great love and kindness. The woman shared her stories at length, knowing they would understand. They listened politely, laughing, then bidding her farewell, hurried back to their lives.

For their lives had continued on, without her. They loved her and we pleased to have her amongst them again. They were happy to listen to a tale or two but then they must return to their spouses, children, work, lives.

For a long time, she felt out of place. She hankered for the people and experiences she had while away. But a little wisdom had taken root and she knew that those people’s lives would have gone on too.

There was only one thing to do.

She lived.


and that is the end of the story.


(c) CLHarper Feb 2014

Stories Art Life © : Meditative Storytelling Process

Are you needing to sort stuff in your life?

Do you need a peaceful space and a little time out?

Do you love stories?

Then you need to join us for a meditative storytelling process.

Stories are the way in which we frame our lives. We contextualise our experiences through our stories, we share our stories and we see ourselves in other people’s stories. Stories are the way in which we interact and network. Stories are the way in which we untangle the sticky webs of trauma and sorrow. What better way to share our stories, untangle the sorrows and re-shape our tales into sparkling spirals but through storytelling?

Stories Art Life © is a reflective meditative practise that allows us to centre and rest in Story. Being told a story can carry us back to a time when snuggled down for a tale was the safest place to be. It is also the place, when we are listening to story, that we are the most receptive to the tales that need to be told from our own lives.

Stories Art Life © works like this. We welcome, acknowledge the sacredness and confidentiality of our sharing, share where we are at, settle comfortably, relax and breathe. Then I tell you a story. You are welcome to watch me tell or close your eyes. When the story is complete, reflect and respond to the story on your art pad. This is when we share each other’s stories. Whatever you share will be part of someone else’s story. This is how a Reflective Story Circle © works.

Whatever the issue you believe you need to deal with, whatever you are grappling with, whatever you think you should be dealing with, may not be what comes up through the story process. Whatever does come us is what is actually at the top of the pile and exactly where you need to be.

I use a number of different processes as an Holistic Counsellor and stories are my favourite. The next series of Stories Art Life © will be in February and March in Belgrave Victoria. You are welcome to contact me through this blog and I will respond.

When: Tuesdays, Feb 11, 18, 25 and March 4 and 11, 2014
Where: Pandora’s Healing Centre, 41 Station St, Belgrave, Victoria
Time: 7pm – 8.30pm
Bring: An art pad and your favourite, chalks, pastels, pencils, textas
Cost: $50 for 5 weeks

Yours in Story,


Tracy was seventeen when she found out that fathers were not supposed to beat the crap out of you.

She was sitting in her room, huddled at the end of her bed, listening to her father ranting at her second brother. He was always mad at him and Tracy knew that if you weren’t invisible you would get the overflow.

Her father was more careful, since the time he threw her brother against the wall and bones were broken. Tracy heard him send her brother to his room and held her breath, practising being not present.

She jumped when her door flew open and her father yelled,”What are you doing?”

“My homework.”

“That’s not your homework! You’re just reading a book.”

“It’s my English homework.”

He stared at Tracy, eyes furious, then left. Heart beating hard, Tracy pulled her knees up to her chest, her jumper sleeves down over her arms and wrapped them around her knees with school dress pulled down as far as it could go. Tracy tucked her head into her knees and waited.

He was back, strap in hand.

It was the waiting that was always the worst. Anticipation. Waiting for the strap to fall. If he used the strap on the flat Tracy would have long welts. If her used it on the edge, which cut and lifted the skin.

When Tracy was tiny, she would huddle into the wall and say, no daddy, no daddy, please daddy no. Never worked. By seventeen Tracy knew it was best to say nothing at all.

Tracy heard the strap whooshing through the air and jumped when it found the strip of skin she hadn’t been able to protect. He ripped up flesh and Tracy knew she would be marked.

Having vented his fury, he left with dire warnings for uncompleted homework.

Sobbing, Tracy dragged out anything that would look like homework even though she was up to date.

At dinner, she let tears roll silently down her cheeks, knowing that got to him. Knowing that he was always repentant. Repentant but still blaming anyone but himself.

The next day at school Tracy hoped no one would notice the cuts and rips in her legs. She had never been good at lying on the spot, hopeless at dissembling. If people asked questions, Tracy would usually answer or her expressive face would answer for her. Keeping quiet, anywhere but at home, had never been Tracy’s forte.

Tracy’s friends noticed her legs immediately. Tracy was mortified. She explained that her brother had annoyed their father and Tracy got his beating. They were horrified.

At first Tracy thought they were horrified with her, her shame that she had received her father’s attention. It took some time to understand that they were horrified for her.

After getting the full story, they explained that no parent was allowed to do that to their children. Tracy was shocked. They told her about child rights and child welfare. Tracy didn’t know what the words meant. It took the rest of a very inattentive school day for their words to sink in. They wanted her to go to the school counsellor but Tracy just couldn’t. She was too embarrassed.

When her father got home that evening, heart thumping in her chest, Tracy told him that he wasn’t to hit any of them any more. She told him the words child rights and child welfare.

He stood over her and yelled in her face, “Don’t you tell me about child rights and child welfare!”

Tracy could feel the sweat rolling down her back and her breath gasping. This time, though, she stood her ground.

He had other ways to abuse his family but he never ever hit any one of them again.

(c) CLHHarper 1999

My ducks in a row

My ducks in a row

I like to get my ducks in a row, whether I am organising an event, preparing an e news bulletin, writing my folk tales, organising my household and children, basically corralling my life.

Lately, one of my events has gone hay wire. Too many balls in the air and the ducklings need life vests. Just too much and when the life vest comes off one of the ducklings thought to have been safely corralled, well, keep swimming!

I shake my head sadly and get on with things. Must be a story that goes with this, let me see…

Let me tell you a story

There once was a woman who had so many children she really wasn’t sure where they all came from. One child begat another, or so it seemed. Surely she hadn’t had them all!

When meal times came around all the children would file in through the door and hand over their findings for the day. Greens from the roadside, veggies from helping a farmer, fruit (probably nicked) and always fish. Luckily they lived near a river and there was always plenty growing on or in it. The children would play and scavenge all day and at night their mother took their single contributions and somehow made a feast.

When they were fed, it was story time, the time they all liked best. Everyone would find somewhere or someone to curl up and snuggling, settle down to listen. Mrs Duck would tell tales of the Jumbly Man and his friends. How the children longed to meet him.

One day when the weather kept everyone inside longer than Mrs Duck could stand, there was a knock on the door. Mrs Duck had to swim through the excited, wondering children before giving up and asking the closest “dear” (what was his name?) to answer it.

Who should be there but the Jumbly Man? He was welcomed in and met every single one before every single child disappeared. Poor Mrs Duck was momentarily bewildered, then bustled Jumbly to a chair in front of the fire and made tea.

They had a lovely long chat. It had been so long since Mrs Duck had another adult to talk to that Jumbly’s jumbled talk was quite comforting. He managed to share news about new residents in the village and the river boat family stopping for a time before Mrs Duck began to think about a meal and wondered where the children were.

No sooner had she thought it but they were back. Each bedraggled, muddy child had gone to extra effort for Jumbly’s sake and a staggering feast was created. When everyone had eaten their fill, it was time to snuggle up for stories. In honour of Jumbly, Mrs Duck told a Jumbly Man tale, everybody’s favourite.

And that is the end of the story.

Ah, well, you see, if I just keep paddling, I guess everything will turn out as it does.

There was an old woman

Let me tell you a story

There was an old woman who was absolutely sick to death of being treated like a nice, old lady.

She was tired of careful hands under her elbows, helping her across the street.

She was sick of wearing Osti dresses with synthetic cardigans buttoned all the way up to the neck.

She was fed up with playing lawn bowls dressed in white.

She was really tired of morning teas with the Ladies Auxiliary.

The old woman decided that it was time for a change.

To signify this change she bought her very first pair of multi-coloured leggings. A range of wildly clashing shirts, a pair of boots and had a very very short hair cut.

Now they treated her as though she was a slightly mad, nice old lady.

This was not improvement enough. The old woman decided that drastic action had to be taken.

So she ran away and joined the circus.

In the circus she learned how to be part of an human pyramid.

She learned to swing on a trapeze, juggle fire and turn summersaults.

When she returned home they no longer treated her like a nice old lady. Oh no!

Now they treated her as a complete lunatic.

This was a decided improvement.

For not only did they respect her, they also feared her a little bit. They were no longer certain when she would begin to juggle fire or turn summersaults and they were frightened that she may not know when to stop!

That is the end of the story.

© CLHarper 2000

It’s time for stories…


It’s time for stories and time to tell, dreams weird and wonderful, weaving in and out words, images and thoughts wafting slowly by.

It’s time, it’s time, holding fast as mind slides slowly into sleep and sleep to dreams.

Dreams spin and turn and threads cross over, so what seems straight forward jumps and jars, disjointed.

Track it back and you will find a thread of dream spun so fine, so silver glittery and gold, that it tags you into story and there you find… time.

It’s time, it’s time, as wind whips hard through trees and birds flail and huddle. Dogs quail and cats curl warm.

It’s time, it’s time, it’s time for stories. Come and tell with me.

This is my space! or Kathleen’s Grandmother’s Magic Shawl.

This is my space! or Kathleen's Grandmother's Magic Shawl.

I fondly imagine that there will come a time when I am not at anyone’s beck and call. When I can suit myself. I turned 50 this year and I am suitably impressed with myself. I am now considering what I might be doing in (da-dah!) 15 years and whether this will involve leisure.

It’s quite difficult to imagine a time when I will not be working, have care of children, be looking after animals or an house. If I wasn’t doing all that, what would I be doing? Hmm, gardening, craft, more gardening, more craft, visiting friends, wandering about. I have absolutely no idea and with the state of my super (lack) I will not be retiring any time soon.

Maybe I’ll just write stories.

These thoughts remind me of one of my favourite stories that I created to hold my grandmother’s words. This then is Kathleen’s Tale.

Let me tell you a story

Every Friday afternoon after school, seven year old Kathleen would come screaming from the playground, swing around the gate, pound up the pathway, fling open the garden gate, thud onto the verandah and bang, on the fly wire door of her grandmother’s house.

Then she waited, until she heard the soft shuff-shuffle of her grandmother’s footsteps. Kathleen opened the fly wire door just as her grandmother opened the other.
“It’s you, it’s you, I’ve been waiting for you!” and Kathleen would be enfolded into warm and wobbly arms and pulled inside her grandmother’s house.

Kathleen’s grandmother’s house was warm and smelled of homey things like lavender and cooking. Entwined they would match steps down the hallway to the sitting room where lived Kathleen’s grandmother’s magic shawl. Kathleen knew the shawl was magic because in her grandmother’s magic shawl, Kathleen could be anyone at all.

When Kathleen was small that shawl had been fairy wings to flitter about, then a cape for a good witch brewing potions, a veil for a visitor from far off lands, a coat for a wizard concocting wicked plans and a simply gorgeous gown. As she got bigger her favourite was to be Red Riding Hood, but not the wussy Red who had to be saved, she was the Red who saved herself!

You know the part in the story where Red says, “Oh Grandma, what big teeth you have!” and the wolf growls, “All the better to eat you with!”? Red screams and runs out of the bedroom, down the hallway, into the kitchen, through the bathroom, back into the bedroom. She charges out of the room and down the hallway, looks over her shoulder and there’s the wolf right behind her! Arrgh! She dashes into the kitchen, sees a great big frying pan on the wall, grabs it down, holds it out and the wolf runs straight into it. Red saves the day and is Grandma’s hero. That version of Red Riding Hood.

So Kathleen knew that in her grandmother’s magic shawl, she could be anyone at all.

One Friday afternoon after school, Kathleen came screaming from the playground only to come to a screeching halt. For there, sitting in their car, with all their things packed in it, was Kathleen’s mother. Kathleen’s mother got out of the car and packed Kathleen into it.

“where are we going mum? is it a surprise mum? are we going to grandma’s mum? we’re not going to grandma’s, no. are we going to daddy’s work mum? it’s that way to daddy’s work mum! we’re not going there. where are we going mum? is it far mum? this is a very long way mum. mummy i’m hungry. mummy i need to go to the toilet. mummy … mummy i’m tired.”

In the morning a very tired and grumpy Kathleen was unpacked from the car, fed and put to bed in her aunty’s house. When she awoke her mother explained that they would be staying with her aunty for a little while. It was a very long little while. Then Kathleen got a new school uniform and went to her cousins’ school. After another long little while, Kathleen and her mother got their own place.

Kathleen grew, got older, finished school and got a job (this was in the days when you could finish school and get a job).

One Friday afternoon after work, Kathleen came home to find her mother sitting in her car with all her things packed in it. She wanted to pack Kathleen in the car but this time Kathleen was too big to pack easily. Kathleen stood in the drive and waved to her mother’s car until she could see it no longer. Then Kathleen turned and went inside her own house.

Kathleen’s house was cold and smelled of nothing.

Then Kathleen packed her own things into her own car and drove out of her driveway, down her street onto the highway. She drove through the town. She drove all night. In the morning she drove into a very familiar town and soon passed a very familiar primary school and pulled up in front of a very familiar house.

Kathleen got out of her car and closed the door. She stepped onto the footpath and walked to the garden gate. She creaked open the garden gate and trod up the pathway. Kathleen stepped onto the verandah and knocked on the fly wire door of her grandmother’s house. Then she waited until she heard the soft shuff-shuffle of her grandmother’s footsteps.

Kathleen opened her grandmother’s fly wire door just as her grandmother opened the other.

“Oh! It’s you, it’s you! I’ve been wondering and worrying about you!” and Kathleen was enfolded into warm and wobbly arms and pulled inside her grandmother’s house. Kathleen’s grandmother’s house was warm and smelled of homey things like lavender and cooking. Entwined they matched shuffles down the hallway to the sitting room, where still lived her grandmother’s magic shawl.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

And Kathleen knew that she could be anyone, anyone at all.

and that is the end of the story.

(C) CLHarper 2000

Clockwork Faery Song


(This post was inspired by a photograph of a tiny clockwork faery created by Susan Beatrice, All Natural Arts)

Once upon a time there was a clockwork faery.
Beautiful and gold she was intricately tiny.
She would dance down among the flowers,
dance and dance for hours and hours.

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

Every morning the spiders would wind her
set her spinning through the shining
dancing out, out among the flowers
dance and dance for hours and hours.

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

There came a time when she got slower
All the spiders came to see her
They wrapped her up in a sparkling bower
and waited for her hours and hours

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

The spiders spun so very gorgeous
webs of light and just adored her
She danced again, out among the flowers
dance and dance for hours and hours

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

(c) CL H Harper 26 Aug 2013

Tricky Tricksters

My son has autism.

He came to live with me when he was 9 years old. He was small for his age and the two years that he had been in and out of foster care had frozen him. At the age of three he contracted pneumococcal meningitis and lost his hearing. At four he received a cochlear implant. At six his primary carer (grandmother) died and he went into care.

Like most children in care in Australia, he was in and out of care as the department tried for reunification with his alcoholic mother. She tried, she really did, but the lure of the bottle  was too strong. The impact on children like my boy though is traumatic.

By the time he was brought to me, he was frozen. There were often times when he stood still, nothing going on in his head, waiting for someone to tell him what to do. At seven he said that he was saving all his hugs for his mum, so the carers stopped hugging him.

His first night at my house I said the rule was that you had to have a big squashy cuddle goodnight. That little boy could not get into my arms fast enough. All sticks and bones and desperation. His case manager took him home after the weekend and asked if he thought he might like to live with us. “Oh yes,” he replied, “they just love me!” We do.

The combination of deafness with artificial processing of sound, autism, a short term memory disorder and a language disorder combined to cocoon him in his own world. Even today he will speak his mind (yes, he is very opinionated), asking questions and answering himself. On one occasion, when he was still small, he was chatting away to himself in his room and his case worker dropped in for a visit. “Oh, has he got friends over?” “No, that’s just him,” I smiled. “Goodness, it sounds like an entire basketball team!” Sure did.

As he thawed, he began to release a lot of anger. I had no idea so many things could get broken. The only thing that really upset me was my ceramic frog in the front garden. This large frog had many adventures as my bush garden was used for hide and seek by the neighbourhood children. I was never sure where it would end up, it was always moving around. One morning I came out to find it smashed to pieces. I burst into tears and my boy looked at me in bewilderment. It has taken many years for him to grow empathy and understand that actions have impact.

Growing empathy. His response when people hurt themselves was to point and laugh, sometimes when it was scary, not funny at all. Step by tiny step I took him through appropriate responses. When he was ten he would play with my Scruffy dog, who being a little old and grumpy, would growl at him when he had had enough. My son would storm off into his bedroom and draw pictures of die scruffy die. I explained over and over that using your feet to ‘play’ with an animal was not appropriate and hurt him. “He should know,” my boy cried in frustration, “he should know I didn’t mean to hurt him!” Two years ago my little Scruffy mate died. I was bereft. The neighbours brought the children to the vet, where Scruf and I were waiting, to say goodbye. All the way there he patted the back of his younger sister and said, “It’s alright, it’ll be okay. He knows we love him.” My boy dug a beautiful hole in the garden for our dog and we sung Scruffy into sleep, all crying. My son cried too. He understood and had grown in empathy.

We love to laugh. It’s one of my favourite occupations and I often play tricks on the children. My son loves it when the trick is on him. One time we were visiting friends in Port Macquarie and walked along the river esplanade. There was a large sign for the caravan park and on top was a matching set of pelicans. “Look!” I called to my son, “Check out the pelican statues! They move too!” He watched in amazement as the pelicans turned their heads at the same moment to look out to sea. Then one flapped it’s wings. I was doubled over from laughing. “Oh Mum! That was good, I really thought they were mechanical statues!” He often asks me to tell that story and has it on his list for his 21st.

There was the time I hired a Hyundai Getz as my Mitsubishi Lancer was having panels repaired. I opened the door to my son and as he hustled in out of the rain, I pointed to the little Getz and remarked “Look what all the rain has done. It shrunk the car!” He turned in astonishment, then grinned and shook his head, “Oh, Mum! That’s funny.” He’s always been a good sport about my tricks although other people can be critical. He is often reluctant to change the batteries for his cochlear implant, just because he can’t be bothered. When it is obvious to me that he hasn’t changed them, I talk intermittently as if sound is cutting out. He just rolls his eyes and gets the batteries out of his pocket. I’ve had other people take exception to this joke but if it works for us, it works.

Last year my boy’s mum died. She died of her alcoholism and it was so sad. The best Christmas had been two years previously when we had all been at my place and we have the loveliest photo of the mums and kids from that time. He spoke at her memorial service. He speaks really well. When I met him he spoke in a staccato monotone. She would have been so proud of him, he spoke beautifully. We all cried.

He’s eighteen now and getting his driving licence, finishing school and getting ready to head out into the world of work. We were fortunate to receive a bungalow from Kids Under Cover so he has his own little unit in the back yard. Feeling very grown up.

How does autism come into all this? You know what, it does and it doesn’t. Understanding the disorder gave me a place to teach and helped me understand how he learnt things. He finds it difficult to keep his opinions to himself and shares them volubly. He finds it difficult to understand others’ behaviours and is not very tolerant of differences (yes, that is ironic as he is the boy who walks through our small town talking to himself out loud and gesturing). He deals with depressive and anxious thoughts and has me to remind him how many people care for him and to count his blessings.

He also has a very big heart and cares passionately about many things. He cares passionately for us, his family and justice. He is almost ready to step out and find his place in the world. He is beginning to understand how I taught him by watching his little nephew who has autism and seeing the step by step process.

My son has autism. I couldn’t be more proud.