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Gesso the deaf white cat does Jumpin’ Jack Flash

I awoke this morning to text message from Andrew – ‘I’ve made a video of Gesso!’

The link is below. Unfortunately the words at the front are too quick to read, so here they are:

“One year ago… on a day just like today… I went shopping with my girlfriend… Neither of us were to know that our lives would never be the same… we came home with a deaf white kitten… and although it was cute… we didn’t know that it was absolutely mental… but we love it dearly… especially that crazy fluffy tail… we have nicknamed it… the arctic  squirrel. Here is some footage. I hope you like it.”

There is a guest appearance by Pickle, the ginger ninja.

If the link doesn’t appear below, you can go directly to Andrew’s youtube page.

Postscript: The stickler in me wants to clarify we did go shopping for a cat – it wasn’t some spur of the moment adoption. I take my cat responsibilities very seriously!

Merry Christmas Everyone

A very quick post as I’ve still got to wrap presents for my brother’s family!

I felt like a photograph today and here’s one of my favourites. It is from late October 2011 of Andrew and Gesso.

An old photo from when we first adopted Gesso

An old photo from when we first adopted Gesso

Why I gave back some of my pay

My text message conversation went something like this:

Me: “I refused some of my pay today.”

Andrew: “What??? Have you gone soft in the head?”

Me: “No. I’ve just seen the end of year forecast for work. We are facing a massive shortfall. We have over 300 deaf kids to help and I’ve just seen a letter from the state government saying we are only funded for 45.”

Andrew: “Oh. Got it now. Not soft in the head at all. As you were.”

This news comes around the same time that Andrew and I finally get to drop off the car to have the wheelchair lifter fitted. 6 months ago, I rang charities asking for help to fundraise for this vital equipment. One charity said if we could prove Andrew had his neuro-muscular condition before he was 18 then they could help… but there was a 2 year waiting list. Another told me how hard it was to get funding and then sent me information about a government scheme. The scheme was only for  families and even if we had been eligible, it was a drop in the ocean compared to the real cost. I rang another charity – yes, we help with making vehicles accessible for wheelchairs – but only for children!

Despairing that our need didn’t seem to fit into anyone’s criteria, I didn’t know where to turn. I told my boss and my colleagues what was happening. They didn’t blink.

‘We’ll help.’

In the coming weeks, friends, colleagues and people who were brand new to the Organisation, and didn’t know me from a bar of soap rallied around. People gave up time after work and on the weekend. Some donated goods for the garage sale; others came to the fundraising dinner; a group of ‘cake bakers’ sprung into action; a sausage sizzle was organised along with a cheese stand. Many gave private donations. I was absolutely blown away.

Today, someone asked me how the Shepherd Centre was different to other services. It’s hard to answer – not being an employee, a recipient, or an observer of those other services. But I felt I could say one thing with confidence: it’s not in the Shepherd Centre spirit to turn people away. If help is desperately needed, help is given. The things people did for Andrew and I – on their own time – was consistent with what they do for our families. I admire their passion and dedication and think myself lucky to work with such a fantastic group of people.

My friends and colleagues at The Shepherd Centre supported Andrew and I in ways for which I can never thank them enough. Giving up a little of my pay was the least I could do right now.

If you are thinking about giving a donation to a charity this Christmas, please consider The Shepherd Centre. For more information see the following article:

Government funding cut despite record number of children at The Shepherd Centre

Disclaimer: the above is my own personal opinion. I would also like to stress that all assistance provided to Andrew and myself was on people’s own time and independent of the Organisation.

Happy birthday Bruce

This week Bruce turned 80.

I’ve never met Bruce yet I believe I have a strong sense of him. Bruce is a man who I see as – in the Australian vernacular – as a bloody determined man. Bruce and his wife Annette in the late 60s started their family. To their shock, both children were born deaf. Surveying what services were available in Australia to help children with a hearing loss communicate, Bruce wasn’t happy!

He wanted children who were deaf or hearing impaired to learn to speak, enter mainstream schools and take up mainstream jobs. As he believed there were no suitable programs in Australia for this, he started his own based on the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles.

Over 40 years later, I have the pleasure of working for The Shepherd Centre, the Organisation he and his late wife Annette founded. While they may have started using the John Tracy Clinic as a base, I suspect The Shepherd Centre has grown organically into a place founded on those principles but with a distinctly Australian bent.

Dr Bruce Shepherd

My road to the Shepherd Centre has been a little odd. Unlike many colleagues who knew they wanted to work with children who have a hearing loss, my only career specification was to remain with the not for profit sector. When I first started there and people talked about the cochlea, auditory nerves and sensory neural losses, I used to say I’ve been working for 10 years with eyes, not ears!

Despite my initial bamboozlement – should that be a word – it wasn’t long before I found my feet and I must say a fascination and deep respect  for what many of my colleagues do. Last week I got to join a group of masters students (soon to be speech pathologists) in observing an Auditory Verbal Therapy sessions with a 2 1/2 year old girl and her mum. While I know that both mum and Shepherd Centre staff member were working very hard trying to teach the little girl, at times, it was hysterical and just looked like loads of fun – not to mention mess! (My brave colleague thinks nothing of giving 2 1/2 year old children a tub of yoghurt or a bottle of food colouring). At one point I laughed so hard, I had tears running down my face.

My encounters with the children are brief – usually in the lobby, outside, or in the kitchen. (Although, the other day I was having a discussion with my boss when a little boy walked in unexpectedly asking for his pirate hat to be repaired!)

It was in the kitchen one day that I had a funny little encounters. I walked in to make myself a cup of tea to discover that a ‘therapy session’ was taking place in the kitchen. There was mum, two kids – a boy and a girl – and one of my colleagues. ‘We’re baking!’ the little girl excitedly announced as I walked into the room. Baking mini cupcakes actually. At this point I wasn’t sure if it was the boy or girl who had a hearing loss. About half an hour later, a host of other kids had arrived for a weekly group session. We were a bit short on staff, so I went outside to help ‘supervise’. (Yes, I know – me with children. I still feel more at ease with the furry variety!) There was the little girl and my colleague Jen icing the cupcakes. Spotting the aids this time, I knew it was the girl who had a hearing loss. (Many of the kids speak so well, that it’s hard to tell!)

‘Can I have a cupcake?’

She was engrossed in icing them, so Jen prompted her:

‘Are you going to make one for Lysh?’


And with that I was given a mini iced cupcake. I looked at the little girl’s hands. She had icing all over them.

Jen said to her ‘what do we do when our hands get dirty?’

Her response:  ‘LICK THEM!’

Canberra Shepherd Centre’s 10th anniversary

Over the years The Shepherd Centre has helped more than 1,000 children develop spoken language. (Yes, you can see who the database person is! Unlike the pictures, I didn’t steal the number from their website.)

I have no doubt that Bruce ticked more than a few people off over the years in his dogged determination to establish a program which taught only speech, not sign. As for the people he annoyed, I daresay he wouldn’t care! Bruce and his late wife Annette, added another choice of service for parents and that can only be a good thing.

This week on facebook there have been a collection of stories about some of the children the Shepherd Centre has helped in celebration of Bruce’s birthday.  There have also been a number of comments from Bruce’s family as well as past and current parents. I thought I’d finish this blog post with just one of them from a mum. (See The Shepherd Centre’s facebook page for more).

Happy Birthday Bruce 🙂 The Shepherd Centre is amazing.  We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didnt have it….everytime i get a comment like “wow you would never know she is deaf” and my daughters latest public speaking award, we owe it all to you and the staff. Without you none of this would be possible.

Disclaimer: The above blog post contains my personal views and opinions and should not be attributed in any way to my employer. (It’s sad that we have to write such disclaimers in social media… but that’s a whole other blog post!)

Our deaf cat’s wheelchair riding skills

Apparently some cats are afraid of wheelchairs. I’ve certainly seen some dogs be very wary of the man with the wheels.
Gesso, our deaf white cat, is anything but spooked. Here’s a short video of him sitting while Andrew moves around freely. Even when Andrew does a wheelstand he shows no sign of getting off.

My 2011 in photographs

It’s only natural to reflect on the year as it comes to a close. So here’s some highlights – and lowlights – of 2011.

New Cats

It’s hard to believe that Andrew has only had Pickle a year! He arrived in mid-January 2011 and was a playful and bitey kitten.

Bitey pickle

Now look at him… all grown up!

I can see you!

Then came Gesso! Much smaller than Pickle had ever been and far more sooky from day one.

His deafness has brought a few new challenges. Getting Pickle to steer clear of walksticks and wheelchairs was difficult enough. Gesso has taken ‘challenge’ to a whole new dimension; culminating on Christmas Day when he got too close to Andrew while he was standing and ended up being trod on. He sunk his teeth in to Andrew’s foot in protest. Fortunately, Gesso was unharmed and although left with a nasty bite, Andrew’s foot is healing. I’m hoping that after that experience, Gesso will learn to dodge feet, walking sticks and wheelchairs as well as Pickle does.

My girls, Licorice and Saffron, continued to be good company; for me and for each other:

Licorice and Saffron kisses

The learnt how to get food from their new three-tiered cat toy; how to get nibbles from the treat ball; plus basic targeting skills using clicker training. (Short videos hyperlinked)

New Art

There were few surprises in the artistic area. I continued my pattern of putting things in paintings and then removing them. (The daschund below first had a skateboard; later replaced by stilts.)

Daschund issues

I rediscovered an old canvas and turned it from this:

textured background

to this:

Self portrait (unfinished) 23.5.2011

Andrew started art school (of which I am more than a little jealous). I don’t have many photographs of his work… I wish I had more. Here’s just three from this year:

These two oil paintings are still in progress:

New Sewing projects

Some things never change. Saffron continued her dressmaking assistance into 2011. Her favourite habit is sitting on the fabric one is trying to sew!

Saffron doesn't want me to sew

I embarked on some heirloom work for a white cotton sateen slip:

Heirloom work

and completed a thoroughly indulgent silk slip.

Silk bias cut slip

Somehow I quickly forgot how difficult it is working with slippery and lightweight fabrics, for I moved on to this 1940 pattern:

2 dresses in one

which, as at the time of writing, remains incomplete (needs sleeves, facings and a hem!)

1940 dress in progress

New places

I explored some other parts of Sydney in 2011 and we ventured a little further afield. First to Fitzroy Falls (reasonable disabled access):

2011-02-25 Fitzroy Falls Gardens

then to Mogo Zoo: (access was a bit dodgy due to uneven and steep paths combined with recent rain!)

2011-02-26 Mogo Zoo Giraffe

Tiger eats his chop!

To Balls Point Reserve in Sydney: (inaccessible!)

View from Balls Point Reserve of Sydney

Of course, I couldn’t forget the Dubbo trip! (Dubbo Zoo is wonderfully accessible and we had such great experiences photographing countryside on the way there and back).

Between Wellington & Orange

Near Dubbo

La Perouse was not new but offered up some beautiful sunsets for us.

2011-01-29 Kite Ship and Sun

New Wheelchair

Looking back on this, I have to laugh. Below is a cake I made to celebrate receiving news that Andrew would get a new wheelchair.

Celebratory cake!

We received confirmation we would get a chair back in April. Naively, I made this cake in May thinking the chair would arrive any day! We finally took delivery in September!

For anyone wondering why the mm’s on this cake are lime green and orange… well that was the colour choice being debated. The triffid, as I like to call it, brought much needed relief in the form of a more lightweight chair. It also caused a crisis by being too wide to fit through the bathroom door.

New home

Once it became clear that the bathroom door could not be widened, after much drama, it was time to move house! Now I can only be thankful that Andrew has nowhere near as much crap in his place as I do in mine. Even so, packing was not easy. Pickle helped by packing himself in a crate.

PIckle packed himself

New family

Not content with expanding our feline family, my brother and sister-in-law, gave me a niece as well!

Io I

Lysh & Io I

New job

A minor little thing that happened this year!

New ‘disabilities’

This is one ‘new’ thing 2011 brought that my family could have done without. However, we don’t get to choose these things, so I went about learning what I could about MS and being as supportive as possible.


Well, put like that, it was one hell of a year. Here’s to 2012.

Gesso’s Christmas Toy

Sleeping ornaments

Gesso and Pickle playAndrew has a new theory. Cats bounce off the walls for the first year of life before they become sleeping ornaments for the next 19.

I remind Andrew that when Pickle was little, he told me frequently how he couldn’t wait for him to grow up so he’d settle down! How quickly he forgets that we adopted Gesso, in part, to wear Pickle out. It has evidently worked. Pickle either sleeps far more than he did before, or we just needed a kitten to make us realise Pickle had lost some of his kittenhood. Now that Pickle has matured to ‘sleeping ornament’ status, he has the pleasure of added cat hair to numerous surfaces in the house. Previously, he didn’t sit still long enough to leave a ginger carpet trail wherever he went.

At the moment he is the only ornament adorning the house. We have no tree or decorations and I have managed to keep them out of my office (unlike last year when I was working at a different Organisation and they had compulsory desk decorating… oh yes, I remember I had to make ‘crocodile’ eyeballs from table tennis balls for the ‘aussie’ Christmas theme). This year there has been no ‘slowing’ in the Christmas lead up. Rather, we are all running for the end of the week, at which point we will all collapse and not from drinking too much Christmas brandy.

Just today there was a flurry of activity in the office with a news crew filming a cochlear implant ‘switch-on’. It was something to do with media activity aimed at increasing the awareness of pregnant women about CMV. Like toxoplasmosis, this is one of those conditions which have little effect on mum – perhaps a slight ‘cold’. Yet CMV can have a lasting impact on the child including, hearing loss, vision loss or development delay. A link was sent around the office this afternoon with one woman’s story. She makes a very good point. Most pregnant women these days are aware of risks associated with soft cheeses and some meats. Iron levels, alcohol intake and diet – all frequently discussed topics – but how often do you hear people talk about CMV? My bet would be not often enough. Hats off to her for trying to raise awareness. If I had 1 year old twins, a 3 year old and a 5 year old I think I’d be too exhausted to do anything!


Black Gesso Art by White Gesso

Gesso and his pink paws

Yesterday I got a text message.
It read:

White gesso + black gesso = grey wet sorry looking gesso

Gesso's not so pink paws

Upon receiving that photo I replied.

Prints eh? What’s he under arrest for?

The answer came back:

Trespassing Belgian Linen

Gesso's art work

Not the nine o’clock fireworks

We set out to take photos of the 9 o’clock Darling Harbour fireworks show. We returned with this snapshot instead.

Louis Vuitton Paparazzi King St Sydney

5 men all taking photos with their phones of louis vuitton window

What was so fascinating about Louis Vuitton’s King St Sydney window, I’ll never know. The sight of 5 men snapping photos with their phones of whatever was in the window was a little bizzare indeed. Louis Vuitton worshippers perhaps? I thought their silhouettes against the red window made for a great photo in itself.

While I’m sharing photos, I have to include this one of Gesso. I was very pleased as I took it using the manual mode my camera (Canon 550d).

Gesso sleeps

[70-300mm lens at 70mm, f/5 for 1/10 sec.]

Yes, he’s beautiful when he’s quiet.

The broken crockery we found on the floor when arriving at Andrew’s place last night was nothing to do with this little sweetheart. I think I jinxed myself by thinking it would be nice to go home to my peaceful – ADULT – girls. That’s why I heard a thump during the night and woke to find my Wii on the floor. Unlike Gesso, Licorice and Saffron are smart enough not to sit next to the evidence. Indeed – PLAY with the evidence. Andrew yelling at the [deaf] cat to stop playing in the ceramic shards was hilarious – after the fact. For a girl who hates domestic duties I’m getting pretty good at cleaning up at Andrew’s place, thanks to this little devil.