Monday, July 10, 2017

Port Chalmers: the charming port

There is nothing quite like the feel of a port community. I have fond memories of visitng Lyttleton (Canterbury's port town) before and after the quakes, and feeling a sense of busyness; a kind of quasi-industriousness that permeated through the quaint quirky community. Now I am here in Port Chalmers - a mere 20 km from where I live (if that) in St Clair and yet it feels an entire world away. 
I still feel that familiar quirkiness I first experienced when in Lyttleton, a sort of rustic eclectic vibe of an ageless era that held the port in surreal suspended animation. Never changing yet ever changing. Busy. Vibrant. Colourful. Port people engaged in life.

Port Chalmers hums all day but mostly at night, as the commercial area of the port itself winds into gear. 
The town echoes with the thuds, crashes and bangs of ginormous machines; shipping containers swinging momentarily in mid-air while the empty bellies of naked ships await.  Trains roll in and out from the inner harbour port; an endless clack, clack, clack as the
night goes on oblivious to an approaching day.  Nothing stops. Not for a moment. Hundreds and thousands of dismembered trees lie sideways, stacked in neat orderly piles, each numbered, tagged, a destination in wait. How they don't get lost is anyone's guess. But so far from a forest they are - that lying in wait matters no more.
Figures in fluro vests and hard hats, scuttle around hurriedly, miniaturised against the monumental machines tasked with loading ships and keeping wharehouses full. Bright lights ensure the port is seen for miles around - a cacophony of colour - no chance of a ship missing its journeys end here.
Yet the town itself holds a quaint air from decades past. Old shops spill over with second hand and vintage goods; bespoke stores lend a unique voice to the main street and cafes attract weekend wanderers from the city. Port Chalmers - "Port" - is one of those places where a day could happily be spent wandering, eating, and poking around in numerous shops. 
I am here to dog-sit for a few days. It always feels like a holiday.  Why - when I have Dunedin at my finger tips?
Port has much to offer someone who prefers a community feel away from the dominant nuances of the city. Port has numerous walking tracks to explore, a modest but quality cafe scene, a wonderful collection of heritage buildings, picturesque marinas and jettys nearby,  interesting second hand shops, a supermarket and fuel and a library. Large cruise ships berth during summer and spring,  international ships come and go, bringing with them people from all around the world. These people come to Port - it is the first part of Dunedin they see. It may be the only part they see. They may stay a few hours or a few days - but they spend money in Port and then away they go. Gone.
It is this transience which gives Port its "porty" vibe. The transience I felt in Lyttleton. It's tangible. 
But, the community is vibrant and energetic; it has an "arty" feel to it, a place where creativity could be supported and celebrated.
This is how port towns often are. Out of the industrial nature of shipping, the noisey comings and goings, a culture is born.
Port Chalmers: culture creator.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The importance of down time

People say we are "lucky", us teachers, because we get a two week break every ten weeks.  I don't think luck has anything to do with it. By the end of a ten week teaching term, teachers are exhausted, anxious and often ill, as they head into their term break.
I am.
During my two weeks "off", I know I will mark over 60 assessments. I will go to work and plan for my first week back of term three, and I will catch up on admin jobs that my normal teaching day does not allow time for.  I will sleep in a little, might drink a glass or two of wine and may even be able to escape for a few days out of town for a break. But I will always be thinking of things that I should be doing. This is the expectation that comes with being a teacher.

I will also be trying to get over this heavy chest infection I now find myself with. When I left work on Friday, many of my fellow work-mates were sick. It's what happens at the end of a high-stress, fast-paced term.  We fall flat on our faces. Teaching requires we give, give, give of ourselves constantly. Term break should be a time to pull back, relax, take in some down time, but so often it simply isn't.
Down time is vital for our body. A constant push-push elevates stress hormones in our system and we exist on a day-to-day cocktail of cortisol and adrenalin. This is not sustainable in the long term; it also carries health consequences such as increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, sleep issues, and could at its worst and with enough exposure, even lead to cancers. 
Never ever under-estimate the physiological power of stress.
So this term break, for me, is about pushing the reset button. Eating well; getting more sleep; getting some sunshine (teachers get very little of the highly important D3's available from UVB sunslight exposure as they're always indoors); doing some exercise; catching up with friends and family; experiencing things that make me happy. Getting myself well enough to go again for another frantic ten week term.

Down time is valuable for everyone - that's what weekends are for - if people are lucky enough to get one. Finding moments to take some down time in amongst a busy, frenetic lifestyle, can be challenging at best. Here's what I recommend:
  1. If you have a lunch break, find a sunny spot on a sunny day and spend 10 minutes with the sun on your face. Even more so in winter. The power of the sun is transformational. 
  2. Stretch
  3. On a weekend - leave town for the day. Find a place to walk in nature - a beach or bush track. Have a picnic; sit in the sun; just be.
  4. Get to bed earlier than usual.
  5. Practice some form of mindfulness - being in the moment. Find a quiet place and sit for 5 minutes. Take in the sounds around you - notice them.  Let thoughts come and go. Use your breath to keep you present. If your thoughts stray, just let them go but come back to the breath.
  6. Read.
  7. Connect with people who are uplifting and good for your soul. Leave the anchors in the water. 
  8. Eat well.
  9. Take up a new activity, learn a new skill, do something that forces you to focus only on that activity.
  10. Smile.
There never seems to be enough time in the day to focus a little attention on ourselves. Before we know it, our life is whizzing by, gathering momentum with each year as if clattering towards some tumultuous event. It can almost seem out of control at times like a runaway train.
Don't be that runaway train. Take control. Take ownership of down time. Claim it.