Saturday 23rd October 2021

Women Of Courage Series. #61 P.M. 80/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #61. P.M. 80/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

I have met P.M. who is in her 50s and know of her story of courage from some sharing with friends. I applaud her decision to come forward and share this story of hers which, out of respect for others’ privacy, will be anonymous. P.M.  will come to read your comments which I hope you will make after reading to support this woman and her family member. And will be adding her comments for which I am very grateful.

I have  added some contact details below for helplines in New South Wales and Australia.

Thank you for sharing P.M.

This image was taken by P.M.’s daughter, then aged 14.

I thought it fitting to use today and have had permission to share. The same is for the collage: drawing by P.M.’s daughter aged 12.

 What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

 

I, and my husband, have needed to be courageous for our daughter who has experienced multiple challenges over the course of her lifetime. I have, and continue to be her advocate to ensure that she has the life she deserves.

At the age of eighteen, she was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Level 2.

  • The sadly tragic thing about this was not the diagnosis but that it took so many years to get to that diagnosis.
  • If she had been diagnosed as a baby or toddler she might not have struggled with eating (due to sensory issues that were never identified). Maybe she wouldn’t have screamed every time I tried to feed her or in the middle of the night for hours on end. Initial diagnoses – silent reflux and failure to thrive.
  • I had to be courageous then with all the guilt at not being able to give my daughter the most of basic of needs – nourishment. I had to be courageous when I was perceived to be nothing more than an over anxious older mum to keep seeking support because I just knew things weren’t right.

 

If she had been diagnosed when she started school, instead of being tested for hearing loss, she might have gotten the early support she needed to be able to focus amongst all the noise.

If she had been diagnosed at seven, she might have had help with social skills so that she made and kept friends rather than being seen as attention seeking.

Current diagnosis – language processing disorder.

If she had been diagnosed at 13, she might not have experienced significant dissociative events that took her out of school, and me away from my job, and be given another diagnosis – conversion disorder.

If any of the doctors and psychiatrists who treated her then had connected the dots, saw the value in further investigation into why this had happened then maybe she wouldn’t have missed a full term of school, lost three months of her life.

  • I had to be courageous for her then – flying with her to John Hunter Hospital when we thought she was experiencing multiple epileptic seizures and not knowing what was going to happen.
  • I had to be courageous when dealing with all the doctors who sent us home saying she needed psychological help but wouldn’t actually direct us to any supports.

If she had been diagnosed at 14 or even 15, even after all that time off school, she would have been able to achieve the grades that reflected her ability and not felt dumb as well as “odd or psycho”.

  • Maybe she wouldn’t have been bullied so mercilessly that she had a meltdown in the playground surround by students screaming and laughing at her while she ripped at her face and her hair.
  • Maybe she wouldn’t have started self-harming including the first attempt at suicide. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to pull her out of school again for her own wellbeing. More diagnoses added – depression and generalized anxiety.
  • We had to be courageous when again pleading with psychologists and psychiatrists to help her, help us help her, from believing she was worthless and broken.

We had to be courageous when we decided to leave our lives behind and head north to pull her away from the toxic hell she was in and just be a kid again, even if would mean that we would need to go back eventually.

If she had been diagnosed at 16 or even 17, after moving schools, she might have had a better chance of steering clear of the drugs and other risky behavior in an effort to fit in, to find someone, anyone who would be her friend.

  • Maybe she wouldn’t have been sexually and physically assaulted by one of her “boyfriends”. Maybe she wouldn’t have left school after one term of Year 11 or lost her traineeship because of her “odd” behaviours and perceived inability to follow instructions.
  • We had to be courageous when advocating for my daughter’s right to be safe and respected in her work place.
  • To drop everything to get to her when she was having a panic attack in the middle of street, to call 000 when she overdosed because she was done. And worse, having to be courageous in the ER to insist on further treatment when they thought it best, again, to send her home only 8 hours later.

Even after the diagnosis at 18, we have had to continue to be courageous.

  • By that time she was set in a cycle of self-destruction – drugs, risky behaviour, abusers and users, and more suicide attempts.
  • There were days we feared we would lose her for good and we felt alone and helpless. The hospital system didn’t want to admit her until she was almost 19, mental health services in our town were ill-equipped to give her the intensive sustained support she needed and there were few services that could support a complex mix of autism and mental health.

At almost 21, we can finally see that there is hope.

  • Thanks to NDIS funding and some amazing supports who believe in our daughter as much as we do, she has started to see that she has a future.
  • She has found a welcoming and understanding workplace and is training to be a chef.
  • She has found her passion – to make art on a plate. She has distanced herself, most of the time, from the bad influences and is trying to make better choices.
  • As we say, life is a work in progress and there are always dips and turns on the road to the future.

Finally, I want to call out my daughter who is the most courageous of all of us.

  • She has had to live this and I am in awe of her resilience.
  • She has survived everything that life has thrown at her and kept going despite everything.
  • Her diagnosis of autism has helped her realise that she is not broken, she is not a mistake. She is exactly who she should be – a pun loving, true crime and space obsessed, artistic young lady who deserves a happy future.

Her autism is and never was the problem – it was the misdiagnoses, the lack of understanding of how autism presents in females, and over stretched medical systems that created the hell she lived through.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

This whole experience has changed me forever.

This fight to save our daughter, quite literally at times, has made me outspoken about the woefully underfunded mental health system, the lack of psychiatrists particularly in regional areas and the lack of supports for autistic young adults, again particularly in regional areas.

I have discovered that I never give up, particularly on my daughter, and that I will just keep pushing when things are not going well.

I have learned the value of speaking up and speaking out.

Before all this I was quite a private person who kept everything inside but I learnt early that it is not healthy or helpful to keep things bottled up, to keep the truth from the village that surrounds you.

How can we change the stigma of mental health, of autism, if we never speak openly about what we are going through? I have developed strengths I never believed I had.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

When struggling with challenges it is important to learn as much as you can.

It is harder to fight what you don’t understand the facts.

I learned early that often the medical profession did not have all the answers or the time to dedicate to one patient so that became my job after years of blindly trusting that they knew what they were doing.

I have also learned that it is important to speak up, to not hold things in and pretend everything is okay.

Living a lie helps no one in the end.

You also need to learn to accept help, to willingly ask for it when you need it so that you have strength to survive the long game.

It takes courage to do all those things.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

I am definitely more capable of being courageous when life calls for it – especially when it is to be courageous for my family.

While it doesn’t necessarily change the experiences, the challenges, being courageous gives you the determination and positivity needed to not give up, and to fight for a better outcome.

We know our advocacy for our daughter, to ensure she has a bright future even after we are gone, will not stop, cannot stop but will change as she grows and blossoms.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

No-one knows how courageous they can be until the situation arises for you to step up, step in and work through the challenges presented to you.

It won’t necessarily change the challenges you face but it allows you to keep going, to keep fighting, keep finding hope in the darkness.

Just remember, that you never have to be courageous on your own.

Having someone there who will fight with you, take the lead when your batteries are flat, to give your other perspectives makes the challenge easier and allows you to keep being courageous for as long as is needed.

I thank P.M. and her daughter for this courageous sharing of their story. I suspect, from my knowledge, that it IS indeed much harder for girls and women to be accurately diagnosed. Yes to the fact that many of us have indeed trusted the medical and helping professions and now, as we see from your sharing, there can be an inability for ‘the connecting of the dots’ as you put it in terms of diagnosis. Thank you too for the included list of places for accessing help and knowledge.

I send my best to you all.

Thank you.

Denyse.

Places for help

Autism and girls – want to know more?

https://childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/

 

https://www.autismawareness.com.au/could-it-be-autism/autism-and-girls/

 

https://www.yellowladybugs.com.au/

 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-13/how-easily-girls-can-mask-the-autism-warning-signs/10701928

 

Autism and mental health – want to know more?

 

https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/health-wellbeing/mental-health/depression-teens-with-asd

 

https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/the-deep-emotional-ties-between-depression-and-autism/

 

Mental health supports

 

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

 

https://headspace.org.au/

 

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

 

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/Pages/mental-health-line.aspx

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women Of Courage Series. #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

Women Of Courage Series.  #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

 

Introducing Tracey Breese, who  is 49, and known to me via our social media connections relating to schools and public education in New South Wales. Tracey is an innovator and a highly competent high school principal who has recently left one school where she was leader learner as school principal ….to become principal of a different type of high school, called Hunter School Of The  Performing Arts found via this link….and the students range from Year 3 to Year 12. What an interesting school and so good to read of Tracey’s updates on-line. I do hope to visit one day as well. Find Tracey here on Twitter.

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

― William Faulkner

Courage is a funny thing. In the moment, you don’t particularly recognise it as ‘courage’ per se.

As a school leader I see many of the ‘moments’ in my career now, on reflection, have involved courage.

Many of them have evolved from my strong beliefs and convictions.

So, that idea of courage through conviction rings true for me.

The integrity of my convictions and not lying down when I need to speak up, have been pivotal to my personality and growth, as a mum, as a teacher, as a leader and as a community member.

Many of the pivotal moments of my career have changed me.

Sadly, many of the challenges harden the resolve that you have.

I have had to work harder to get some roles in my career, where, at times, simply being ‘male’ appeared to be the criteria.

When I first became a principal, I had a head teacher come to my door and say; ‘What we really needed was a strong man in this role, it’s a tough place.’ This was not in 1960: but 2016. I was speechless.

This stayed with me and drove me to be the best principal I could be.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

Yes.

I found it really difficult to believe that I have got to this point, and was still fighting some old cultural misogyny.

Even though it was only one person’s opinion, it is amazing how these things stick like velcro to your armour.

I was able to move from the moment, but I was always striving to make sure that everything achieved for students was at the level of excellence and innovation.

I was warm to all, but ferocious in my resolve to be the best person I could be.

I had exceptional role models.

Christine Cawsey has been an amazing mentor in my entire career.

It is the women in leadership like this that have forged the path and created amazing opportunities- created through their courageous and fearless watershed moments.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

Stick to your convictions and don’t let others drag you under.

Michelle Obama’s quote is up in my office: ‘When they go low, you go high.’

It’s not everyday that you need the power of resilience, but when you do: go to the mantras.

I did a mindfulness course with Gillian Coutts (you’ll want to get her on the blog!) Thank you for your recommendation, she is going to share too! 

It was life changing.

The strategies were about putting the gaps in between the work.

Knowing that you need to re-centre and revive yourself between the moments.

This has been work/life balance changing for me.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

Yes.

I feel that the emotional intelligence you gain in leadership is so important and changes all the time as you experience different situations.

Courage is also about calling in your resources and knowing the right resources you need in the moment.

This includes the fact that in all situations, you do have the power of your own response.

This is the best point in courage.

The courage to know yourself and not be forced into responses by others.

I am at all times the calm and consistent adult.

I do not have to respond in a stereotypical way to any situation.

Walking away, in some instances can save others from themselves.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Courage is standing strong to your conviction, not the overwhelming and all powerful emotions that sometimes take over others.

Be the best person.

Walk away when needed.

Don’t get in the ring if you don’t have to.

Sometimes, doing what’s right is more important that doing what is easy- that is to be truly courageous.

 

As a now-retired K-6 principal I read your story with heightened interest and even used red and italyics to show how we women in leadership roles have had to manage some people’s comments, attitudes and ignorance. I am in awe of your daily work with the many students, staff and families who are part of your new school community. What a thrill it must be to be also part of a large student population with huge talent in many area. Mind you, as I would understand from having two “OC” classes at RPS, giftedness has its many challenges too.

 

Thank you so much again for sharing.

I am sure others who read will also take something from your work, your heart and your mind as you lead your school onward.

And I wish you and your colleagues some respite from school life as you lead up to the mid-year Winter School holidays.

Denyse.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.

21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.

 

Background…from Telling My Story: Chapter Fourteen published in February 2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. I also shared this as My Woman of Courage story here.

Where was I?

OK. I know. I was a K-6  school principal.

It was in September 2002 when I could not return to my school.

I was sad, ashamed and very tired as there were different outcomes for me personally and us financially.

But I also had some good things happening in my personal life. I will get to them too.

Life is LIKE that!

Cancer. Leaving My Role as a Principal.

Doctors, Psychologists, WorkCover, Staff Welfare, Dept of Education, Psychiatrists…..

When the school principal is told by her G.P. “you are not to return to that school, nor to be in that role again”, it felt both comforting and helpful.

I had been a patient of my G.P. for decades and she had been doctor to our growing family including my husband and me so knew what else had probably impacted my life as well as school and its responsibilities.

But even before that…the night before, I was left to try to tell my acting boss – who was known then as a District Superintendent, that I would not be going into school the next day…and for sometime after that but he did not understand.

Eventually I must have made inroads into his understanding, after seeing my G.P. who immediately saw this as a work overload matter making me both depressed and anxious. The employer had not taken steps to see me better supported in my school. I told that story in the last chapter.

 

Days into Weeks into Months.

What started as ‘sick leave’ did become workers compensation leave over the next month as I took myself to appointments and interviews.

I had to share my story (see the recent two chapters here & here) and my employer’s representative agreed that yes, there was a case for me to be compensated under Work Cover. In other words, I was paid via that scheme and did not lose sick leave.

But….

I could not and would not attend a school.

It was suggested at meetings that I could transition back to schools but did nothing to improve my mental wellbeing. In fact they made me even more anxious. Then I was offered, later in the year, the chance to ‘work in district office.’ Noooo. I felt such shame and was so anxious about seeing any of my colleagues that I could not envisage any kind of “return to work.”

And…it did not let up.

My mental illness, as it was defined later by a treating psychiatrist, was a reactionary one based on my personality and my role in the school.

It would, over time, resolve but there was medical agreement with my G.P., the employer’s rep and that of work cover, that I could return to “a school” for some days a week but never in the role of a school executive.

In 2003 all that felt like for me was:

F A I L U R E.

 

How I Was Affected By Schools.

Before I continue.

I lived about (then) 40 minutes from the school. I love schools! It had been my life…as a kid and then becoming a teacher and of course, having our children and grandchildren attend schools.

But, I was so scared, worried, ashamed and threatened by “schools” I could not even drive on the road (Windsor Road) that would have been my way to my school without feeling ill.

I was a proud (still am) Grandma but my first foray into the grounds of the school where our daughter was a teacher and our granddaughter in an Infants’ class made me highly alert.

I still felt I was the principal within that school, watching children running everywhere and wanting to tell them to stop. It was not fun. At all.

But, I was also not a victim….and I refuse to play that role any time.

I did know though that I was ill from the stress of my role in a school and so I took the chance to get the help of professionals and did a lot of work for myself. This involved seeing a friend each week for a coffee and over time, driving on the road that went to my school…and one holiday time, I went back and drove around the perimeter. I was sad and it felt wrong that I had to leave it as I did but I also know my health was paramount.

3 amazing grandkids who love me unconditionally and their presence in my lives helped me in this awful time.

 

Giving Up The Role For the Greater Good. 

Despite the urging of my bosses, the meetings with the work cover people and my professionals who agreed I would choose to do what I had to, I could not return to school. Or any school.

What then?

To ensure the school was able to progress into 2003 from my day of departure in September 2002 I relinquished my role.

It could then be advertised for a replacement principal. I was visited at home sometime after that by my then school office assistant who had brought me any personal items from my office and some cards and I recall getting flowers.

I was a sad but relieved person that not everyone ‘hated me’ there.

Photos remind me of my literal ups and downs re weight. Far right, 2003,I was ‘looking good’ but feeling awful inside.

 

But, How Will We Survive Financially?

At this stage of our lives as a couple, we had a mortgage on the house, my husband was in part-time work and I brought in a good salary as a school principal. Work cover continued to pay that but over time, as I stood my ground about not returning to the Department of Education  because of my health things got tricky for us financially.

 

Don’t Give Up Your Superannuation People!

I married my husband (teacher in NSW Dept of Education) in 1971 and in 1972, as I returned to work after maternity leave we made a short-term financial decision that would (still does!) affect us negatively. Back then as both of us was paying into the then BEST ever Super Fund “I” could opt out and save us some much needed dollars. We spoke to my accountant father about this who, it seems, saw this as a win….and over time, agrees “NOT right”.

The reason is this. None of us knew then that  by 1980 my husband’s health would deteriorate to the point that he was medically retired and was placed on a pension from the Super Fund. I was working then and continued to do so, but still had no super. At all.

It was in around 1985 again, my father who advised I try to get back into superannuation. Made sense but nope, I could not.

Once opted out, I was not allowed in….but wait “we have a new fund and you can join that”.

I did. The new fund was different but I did pay into it. I had a sizeable lump sum there in 2003 when I was making up my mind how to access it. Aged 52.

 

Getting Paid Out. Not Easy. At All.

By the beginning of 2003 and into the first few months, I was being harrassed strongly encouraged by my employer and work cover to ‘get back to work’.

Let me tell you now, it was worse in some ways than how I had to leave my job.

Phone calls, meetings…doctors’ appointments, psychological testing…so, with the agreement of my G.P. I decided to “medically retire”.

Um. No. There is no such thing now.

The new and subsequent super funds that took the money from  NSW Dept of Education teaching staff only ever paid out a lump sum IF you were declared NOT FIT TO WORK and you have to RESIGN first.

No pension…and YOU need to prove you are not fit for work.

  1. For someone like me, a dedicated and loyal employee from 27.1.1970 to HAVE to resign was C for crazy but we were P for poor when my salary was being slowly stopped
  2. I filled out the form. It was awful. I also added, though, that I wanted “approval to teach”. I did not want any issues in case I wanted to ever have a day as a casual teacher. I would be pleased I did.
  3. It was accepted. Leave paid out.
  4. I was now free of the dreaded work cover requirements
  5. Got all the forms from the State Super People and completed them…along with the documentation from my G.P. and others.
  6. Attended one of the most stressful appointments ever with a psychologist from State Super and was obliged to complete a 500 question survey to assess my mental health and ability to work.
  7. Found out my application to access my funds  was “Rejected” after that horrid experience.
  8. You are still fit to work according to our rules.
  9. “Dejected” and now time, finally, for me to get some legal help.
  10. My union, N.S.W. Teachers Federation, were wonderful once I got to outline to a welfare officer what had happened.
  11. She arranged a meeting (free) with their lawyers and they heard the rejection story and saw the documentation from the State Super Board.
  12. The lawyer took my information, along with the State Super letters and my reports and so on and sent off the missives that….eventually allowed me to:
  13. Access all of the funds as a lump sum
  14. And retain my right to return to part-time teaching work if I chose.

We paid off this house….

 

Relieved. Getting Better. Breaking My Ankle. Retirement Means This. 

From paying out the mortgage there was a big sigh of relief.

There was also a relatively good amount of money from leave entitlements and by June we decided to “splurge” on a Far North Queensland holiday for 2. We even got a car to drive us to the airport. That was cool. But I must say, for my poor husband whose spine is very damaged from surgeries and more, the flight in economy for over 3 hours was not a good one at all. I was OK but he was not. We picked up the hire car and I drove via the Captain Cook Highway on that most beautiful trip: from Cairns to Port Douglass. Disappointingly though the apartment was accessed by a series of flights of stairs and by the time we got inside, my husband admitted “I cannot fly back like that”. My pain is too much. I agreed. So, the luxury of a return trip by business class meant comfort but took a huge amount of money to obtain so the holiday’s effect was negated! His health was worsening from the load of high school teaching which he took on after the business was liquidated in 1996 so, retirement was his plan too.

We were OK financially without a mortgage but by the time I had a few months at home I sought an art class (it was great) and became a volunteer with the Smith Family. It was around November after I had been answering the phones for them for people requesting Christmas Hampers that I had an accident. At home.

It was a rainy afternoon, I parked on the sloping driveway and as I got out of the car, one foot slipped, and the rest of me came with it, twisting my right ankle badly. I tried to call to my husband – from the letterbox…on the driveway and he did not hear, so I crawled up and made it inside.

Not wanting to over-dramatise it..but I should have actually…I waited for my husband to have a cuppa and we drove to the local medical centre.

Rooky error. I literally had to hop from the car with my good foot as the very sore foot could not weight bear. Oh. The G.P. agreed that X-rays were needed and they had that facility there. After the X-ray showed broken bones, it was “off to local private hospital” because this needs specialist attention.

Long story short: back slab applied, in-hospital stay, saw preferred orthopaedic specialist, “we will operate tomorrow and pin the fibula and tibia”. He did. I came home needing a wheelchair around the house as I couldn’t use crutches (hands needed surgeries for carpal tunnel etc) and I was stuck. The best part was shortly before Christmas at a check up I got a fibreglass cast and then could shower and even get in our pool but getting out was too hard.

Oh, and about that fibula of mine…I did get the screws out sometime in 2004 and in 2017…guess where that fibula went….HERE: The upside down U shape. My fibula cut into 3 with abutments added.

New Jaw is seen here

This sure was a year, 2003.

We did have a lot on our plate between us. But we also had a great family supporting us with care and love and three grandchildren to bring joy. The next year 2004 would prove to be significant too but with some great stories that helped re-build me in many ways.

Grandkids helping me, newly without plaster, to stand up!

Just after my cast came off, a celebration for my Dad’s 80th birthday.

Let’s see what Chapter Sixteen will bring!

Thank you for reading my story started over 3 years ago.

I do print the blog pages out and have them in a folder for future readers.

What were you doing in 2003?

It seems not that long ago, but of course it is 17 years ago!

Denyse.

 

Link Up #190.

Life This Week. Link Up #190.

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