Turnips et cetera


I’ve never grown winter vegetables, so everything they do is a surprise to me. At the veggie plot I glanced under some leaves and thought, “Who’s put a purple container in there?” I looked more closely. It was a turnip, an Actual Turnip announcing its presence above ground: “Pick me! Pick me!” There were several more, which was very exciting.

I’d planned to roast them, but when I got home and tasted a slice it was so fresh that I grated some into a salad instead, with wombok and coriander and a vaguely Thai dressing, and it was delish.

The veg garden is looking great, due mostly to being north facing and having had rain. I was reminded of Neil in The Young Ones as I worked: “We sow the seed. Nature grows the seed. We eat the seed.” That still makes me laugh.

At the community garden many people aren’t growing winter veg. They’re loading up the soil with nutrients, feeding it and letting it rest, while I’ve jumped in enthusiastically and planted everything possible. I’ll have to factor in some rest time after the current crop if I want lots of spring and summer growth.

I feel a bit like a veg patch. Lordy, I need a rest. My idea was that as soon as my work life changed I’d leap into creative projects. There’s a little bit of writing happening and a lot of thinking about how to make something that I’ve never made before, but mostly I’m pottering and reading. My plan is to re-read every book I own and fall in love with them all over again.

In the first weeks of my new life, I had a very strange feeling and couldn’t work out what it was. Part of my brain was saying, “Yippee! Four whole days out of every seven to live life!” but another part felt uneasy. I sat with it, trying to understand, until I worked out that it was guilt—specifically, guilt at giving up full-time work so that I can spend time on creative projects.

Having wanted creative freedom for so long, it’s odd to now feel guilty about getting it. I think it’s time to re-read Big Magic and Frugal Hedonism and The Artist’s Way and allow some time to get comfortable, to adjust. A quick squiz at the internet tells me that it’s a thing, this type of guilt. Have you experienced it?

I need to learn to ignore decades of indoctrination about deadlines and goals and achievements. I’d like this next phase of life to be about immersion, fully experiencing whatever’s going on and following creative ideas wherever they might lead.

On the cooking front, I’ve made two rhubarb frangipane tarts lately, thanks to an abundance of rhubarb, and Nigella’s cherry almond loaf, which is probably the cake I’d pick if I had to move to a desert island and could take only one. What would be your desert island cake? Or do I mean dessert island?

Soup’s back on the menu, with bread and cheese and much contented “Mmmmmm-ing” while I’m eating it. We’re having a chilly May. There’s frost on the ground most mornings, and the bright, clear nights are full of stars. I feel a period of hibernation coming on, of deep rest, perhaps interspersed with occasional jaunts to other towns. If I go somewhere interesting I’ll take you with me. Toodle-pip for now.

Further wisdom from the book of puppy



Daisy turns one soon. She’s a girl of strong opinions and is training me well. While I sort out my new work/life/creativity balance and process all the associated thoughts and feelings, I’m going to hand this post over to Daisy. Here‘s some advice from an almost-one-year-old labrador. She’s pretty smart.

Enjoy your food. If people forget to share, help yourself.

Keep a clean kitchen.

Be friendly to all, but don’t roll over for just anyone.

Immerse yourself in water at every opportunity. Splash, snorkel, wallow, then run around like a lunatic when you get out.

Make your needs and feelings clear. If you want something, say something. If no-one listens, keep saying it until they do.

Mud is good for the complexion.

Chase after butterflies.

When you find something interesting, explore it with all your senses. Sniff it, taste it, roll around in it and see what happens.

Be at home in your own skin. Know that you are adorable.

If people ignore you or don’t appreciate you, brush it off and move on. There are plenty more who will.

Always be comfortable. Take the best seat in the house but be willing to share.

Listen to the birds. When they sound the alarm, there’s probably something worth looking at.

Rest when you’re tired. If someone’s trying to hurry you along, get them to sit down and rest too. They’ll be glad they did.

It’s good to hang out with the pack, but ultimately trust your own instincts and follow your nose.

Play. Run and jump and tumble and roll, whatever makes you happy.

Every single thing can be new and different each day.

Make the time to be still. Watch the bee on the flower. See the leaf fall. Smell the cut grass. Feel the sun on your back.

Sleep.

Be happy when you wake up because guess what? It’s a new day, it’s breakfast time and anything can happen.

Love, Daisy xxx

Some hows

How, when someone says, “You won’t want to miss this,” you know instantly that you will.

How, when you are feeling down after a significant anniversary and want to be alone, you bump into two neighbours instead and the social interaction is lovely.

How, when you buy new slippers the dog snatches them out of your hands and chews them before you even wear them, and you think you should have just given her the money to tear up instead.

How, when the sky is pale autumn blue, the light on the birch bark reminds you of Sweden.

How, every year, the trees greet autumn differently. Some years they blaze golden. Some years the leaves fall quietly, without anyone noticing.

How, when you’ve been carrying a weight for a long time, there’s a period of adjustment when you put it down. You have to learn to walk without it.

How, when you’ve spent your working life meeting deadlines, you find they’ve spilled over into your real life and you remind yourself that there’s no need to get X, Y and Z done before breakfast.

How the morning air is as cool and fizzy as a refreshing drink.

How, when you lie down to relax and read, the dog pulls a book from the shelf and eats it. So you both devour books but in a different way.

How last year people said, “This is our chance to do things differently,” but now everything seems to be going back to normal.

How some of us, though, have decided to act on that and change our normal.

How it’s time to stop watching the news. It was useful last year but it’s not anymore.

How making one big life change makes so many more things seem possible.

How, this year, plants have flowered twice or just kept on flowering. An example worth following.

Growing, making, reading

White butterflies are eating my wombok. There’s a sentence I’ve never written before. I’ve been researching what to do about it and the most fun solution seems to be: make fake butterflies and stick them in the veggie patch. Because they’re territorial, the real butterflies will move along as soon as they see the fake ones. I’ve downloaded a template and will give it a go!

There’s been exciting veggie growing progress at the community garden. Leeks, red cabbage, spinach, cos lettuce, herbs and broccoli are thriving after only four short weeks. I’ve forgotten which is the cauliflower and which are the Brussels sprouts (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!) and am wishing I’d made wooden labels, as recommended by my 1950s gardening encyclopaedia.

The legacy fruit and veg, those plants that were already in the plot, are feeding me well. I’ve made a few batches of tomato soup and a couple of rhubarb crumbles and am eating green beans for dinner every other night.

I also made some green tomato relish, loosely based on this recipe. The simmering goop was taking ages to thicken, so I turned it off and took Daisy for a long walk in the hills. At least, I thought I’d turned it off. What I actually did was turn it up. We came home to a strong smell of caramelised onion and a pan that needed to soak for a week. I still got three jars of relish out of it, though (nicely thickened) and it’s tasty!

This morning, when I was picking more produce, Margaret told me about the compost wars, Ted gave me some of his beans and Wozza popped in to get food for his chooks.* Often when I’m there to do the evening watering it’s just me and the magpies. Friday mornings and weekends are obviously the best times for mingling and getting the goss. *(Not their real names.)

Over Easter I took out the block of clay that was languishing in the cupboard and made some pendants. They looked quite sweet and I was planning to paint them in a folk artish kind of way and string them on pretty ribbons.

Unfortunately, all but five cracked when they dried. Undeterred, I tried mending them with water (cracked again), glue (peeled off) and paint (also peeled off). At that point I gave up, put them in a container and shoved them back in the cupboard. Perhaps I’ll get them out again on the next holiday weekend and find a way to mend them…or turn them back into a big blob of clay and put it back in the cupboard.

What are you reading? A friend gave me Rodham for my birthday and I devoured it: sad, funny, thought-provoking and smart. Curtis Sittenfeld is sooo clever. I’m also reading Falastin, which, like Jerusalem, is a lovely object to hold, as well as being a cookbook full of stories.

Here and Now was a relaxing Easter read, despite being about dementia. A recurring question in the book is: “What’s wrong with now?” And the answer is: “Nothing.”

I’ve been reminding myself of that this week because I’ve been dwelling too much on certain aspects of life and am quite worn out by a stubborn cough. But when I think about NOW, when I’m walking down the laneway and looking at beautiful native plants, and NOW, when I’m drinking a big mug of tea in the garden and watching the autumn light, and NOW, when a suggly puppy wants a cuddle, I know that the book is right. There’s nothing wrong with now.

Wishing you a weekend of nows.

North

Bananas on the beach. Bananas growing on the hills. Bananas in the cocktails. Banana tourist attraction with banana merchandise. Frozen bananas covered in chocolate. Can you guess where I’ve been?!

There was something comforting and familiar about the folding hills outside Coffs Harbour. When I read that it’s the only place where the Great Dividing Range meets the Pacific Ocean it all made sense. Eight hours south, where I live, we look out at the continuation of it, that great collision of the Earth’s crust.

There were stands of tall paperbarks, their feet in water, lining the road from the airport. Fig trees formed a guard of honour along the driveway to the resort. Water snaked around their buttresses and flowed over the bitumen. We picked the rainiest weekend in decades to visit the Mid North Coast but it didn’t dampen the holiday spirit. We had a lovely time.

The wild seas left the beaches covered in beige froth that quivered like a Dr Who monster. At Sawtell, kids were running through it and coming out with hands and feet covered in foam gloves and boots. I loved the laidback villagey feel of Sawtell.

At Woolgoolga, affectionately known as Woopi, we ate The Best Fish and Chips in Australia. Fact. No correspondence will be entered into. White Salt at Woopi wins the fish ‘n’ chip competition hands down. We had beautiful grilled fish on a mountain of salad with (sob of delight) gluten free chips and it was the first time a salad has almost beaten me.

Three hundred millimetres of rain fell in 3.5 days. We couldn’t walk around the harbour, go to the botanic gardens or drive to the scenic lookout. Floodwaters cut the highway to the south and the roads into the hills. So we went to the tourist attractions instead.

At the Big Banana we bought banana socks, banana bags and really good cheese (not banana flavoured). Another woman in the shop said, “I don’t like cheese. I’ve just come in because it’s raining.” I wonder why she didn’t shelter in the jewellery shop instead.

At the Clog Barn we went a bit bananas over all the Dutch souvenirs. My mum and sister bought enormous clog slippers with tulips on, while I bought a Delft patterned cheese knife and…a cuckoo clock.

What do cuckoo clocks have to do with Holland, you ask? Absolutely nothing, as far as I’m aware, but mine is so cute that I had to have it. I’ve turned the cuckoo off, though, because it makes Daisy run around the house madly looking for a bird.

Did I mention the miniature village outside? Hand-made over 30 years by the blushingly humble man in the shop, it had replicas of striking architecture from around the country. I’ve been wanting to go to Rotterdam to see the cube houses. No need now!

My neighbours in Canberra, who’d lived in Coffs, told me about a cafe that we had to go to, only they couldn’t remember the name. “It’s a bird,” said L. “Petrel,” said N. “Albatross,” I said. We went through several seabirds until they remembered: Shearwater. “You can watch the fish swimming below you,” said L.

We went to Shearwater twice for the coffee and the view but not once did we see a fish. Coffs Creek was wide as a river, brown and fast-flowing in the incessant rain. But it was still lovely to sit out over the water and watch it swirling past.

On our last night we splash-paddled up to the hotel restaurant in white plastic ponchos that billowed in the wind, making us look like a family of Teletubbies. My feet turned blue as the colour leached out of my shoes. There were buckets all over the hotel, catching drips from the ceiling and windows.

I ate fresh fish and drank a banana cocktail and wished I could stay longer, perhaps forever, to grow a subtropical garden and walk on the beach and drive up into the hills. A few days later, I found that a surprisingly common internet search question is: “Is Coffs Harbour worth visiting?” Yes, it really is. Even in the pouring rain. I can’t wait to go north again.

New moon Saturday

O, the time, it did get away. Busy is the enemy of creativity. Many hours have been spent chained to a computer lately, but I did manage a quick visit to the coast to learn random weaving, as well as a drive inland, where I saw a camel in someone’s garden. Also, remember all my plans from a few weeks ago? Turns out the universe had something else in mind.

I went to Wollongong to do a random weaving workshop with Zimmi Forest. Four of us at the workshop were at school together and three of us hadn’t seen each other for…gulp…40 years. Who would have known that we’d all meet up again and Zimmi would teach us to make baskets?

We wove with Bangalow palm inflorescence, which was inspiring and surprising. I realised that, although I haven’t danced for a year, dancing has taught me not to go in a straight line. I loved weaving in loops and turning the stems back on themselves. The randomness was deeply satisfying.

On the way home I stopped off at Kiama, where palm trees line the harbour and the grass stretches out to the edge of the silvery sea and pelicans glide impossibly gracefully overhead.

Kiama is one of those places that connects a lot of people and periods of my life. As I walked around, I remembered people who’d moved there and people who’d come from there. I remembered day trips from Sydney when we’d swim in the ocean pool and watch dolphins leaping across the bay.

The memories will always be bittersweet now because I went there often with Mum and Dad. The final time, we went to the markets, where the honey man bailed Mum up and told her in minute detail all about the reproductive habits of bees while Dad and I sidled off, sniggering.

There’s that camel. Where do you even buy a camel? He/she was in the front yard and a horse was in the back. I hope they get along. This was in Young, in the Hilltops region, where I went to look at a 100-year-old cottage. It was very cute but subsiding and had “money pit” written all over it. Also, I just didn’t get the town and couldn’t imagine living there.

Now to the universe. The woman whose van I was going to buy decided not to sell. The next day my boss rang and asked whether, instead of doing the odd bit of casual work, I’d consider working part-time on a project which, incredibly, combines what I’ve been doing for 20 years with what I used to do in the decade before that. My gut said yes instantly. Then I rang the man who wanted to buy my house, to tell him I’m not moving yet, and found he’s been offered work elsewhere but is still interested if I sell next year.

As if to underline the staying putness, I then scored a plot at the community garden, where I’ve had my name down for ages. So I think what’s going to happen is that I’ll live in the small, quiet, pretty house for another year, work part time in a different but related job and grow my own vegetables. But don’t quote me on that. What do I know?!

I’ll tell you what I know for sure. The season is changing, the leaves yellowing on the silver birches. This morning the Murrumbidgee wore a cloak of cloud and we walked among ghost trees in the mist. It’s a new moon tonight and rain is on the way.

Busy gives way to balance eventually. Thank goodness.

Differently

Colin asked, “What new habits have you developed thanks to Covid?” Quite a few, is my answer. Possibly enough for a blog post. Let’s see…

I eat a hot breakfast every day and take my time over it instead of inhaling cereal and rushing out the door. On weekdays it’s usually scromelette: not-quite-scrambled-eggs-but-not-quite-omelette. Add wilted spinach, baby roma tomatoes, feta, herbs and perhaps ham. Serve on toasted olive bread with good butter.

Making and eating this breakfast means I start the day feeling as though I’ve had a special treat.

At weekends I might have gluten-free croissants, which are a thing of wonder. Before I discovered them, I’d lived 17 years sans croissant. That’s a loooong time to go without that buttery, crispy yet soft sensation that is the croissant.

I make coffee in an AeroPress. A friend gave me one and I stuck it in the cupboard until last year, when my stovetop coffeemaker died. (I left it on the hotplate and burnt a hole in it.) This was in the depths of early COVID, when the shops had been stripped by panic buyers. I felt mild panic too, then. Life without freedom AND coffee? Unthinkable. Then I remembered the AeroPress. I’m a convert now. It makes good, strong coffee in an instant (pardon the pun).

I walk less in the hills and more around the neighbourhood. I know all the alleyways and cut-throughs in my suburb now. I get up very early and go walking and I walk in the late afternoon too. Some days I have three walks. I also go to the Arboretum a lot. Miss Daisy pup, acquired to help lessen the COVID loneliness, says it’s non-negotiable. She’s the boss.

I cut my own fringe. Sometimes it’s a success and sometimes it’s hilarious. I cut it wonkily recently and had to go too short to fix my mistake. Two weeks later, it’s grown in fine. The rest of my hair hasn’t been cut. March 2020 was the last time I went to a hairdresser. I like having long hair.

I stopped wearing mascara when we started working from home. I go into the office now, several times a week, but I haven’t bothered to restart the mascara-wearing habit. Possibly my eyes look smaller and my lashes shorter but in this socially distanced world no-one gets close enough to notice. Also, I don’t care.

I’ve gone back to wearing colourful clothes. Twenty years ago, when I started working in government jobs, I wore a lot of red. Over the years, I learned to conform and dress in black. This week we had a staff photo taken. Forty or so people gathered for the photo and only five of us were wearing bright colours. Everyone else was in black or navy.

I talk to my neighbours often—a proper chat, not just a wave and a smile. We’ve all been at home so much. We see each other most days. We look out for each other. It comforts me greatly.

I guard my time more. Work takes up a lot of time. So does having a puppy. Anything left over is precious. I used to say yes to everything, try to be there for everyone. Now I’m more selective. I do less, deliberately.

I’m sure there are other new habits, things I now do differently, but these are the everyday ones that spring to mind. Eating a proper breakfast, savouring my coffee, walking a lot, hanging out with the dog, caring less about how I look, connecting with my community and valuing my time. I can’t help thinking that, actually, they add up to a more authentic life.

How about you? (P.S. Thanks, Colin!)

Things, great and small

Suppose you had only one leg and someone tried to sell you a pair of shoes, arguing with you that both would fit. That’s the kind of day I’ve had. All the stubbornness in the world won’t make a left shoe fit a right foot. It’s tiring being on the receiving end of such zeal.

Anyway, how are you? While all seems humdrum here, there’s much going on under the surface at small, quiet, pretty HQ.

I’m nine weeks away from getting off the hamster wheel that is full-time work. I have absolutely no angst about it. None. I feel like Alice about to step into Wonderland. Many people have told me they’d like to do the same. “Dear person, please do it,” is what I think.

A man put an ad on the notice board saying that he’d like to buy a house in my complex. When I rang, he came straight round and said that mine fits his needs perfectly. I’ll get it painted and valued and we’ll see what happens after that.

A while ago, I decided that the best way to search New South Wales for my block of land would be to just keep travelling—put everything in storage and head off out in a van.

I had no clue that people are doing that all over the world, young and old alike. Now I’m overwhelmed by the hashtag vanlife information that’s out there.

I don’t need a van with a subway tiled kitchen, mood lighting and a place to put a drone. There are a lot of those about. Minimalism is more attractive.

I rang someone this week about their van, which was apparently 10 hours’ drive away. As it turns out, they’re driving south and will soon be three hours away, so I’ll go and have a look at it.

We had a run of really hot days and a superhot night that resulted in all the dog walkers being grumpy the next morning. Then someone remembered that this time last year the temperature was over 40 and the bushfire smoke made it dangerous to go outside. We laughed at ourselves for forgetting so quickly.

Similarly, driving to work the other day, I heard the newsreader report the number of COVID cases worldwide. It was such a huge number that I repeated it out loud, twice, in astonishment. Two hours later, I’d forgotten it. This is what’s wrong with human beings. Or maybe it’s a self-protection mechanism, not goldfish brain after all.

I started this post feeling irritated by marketing and that’s where I’ll end it. I read on a packet of biscuits recently that they “pack the perfect punch of blissfulness”. I’m not sure I’d like to be punched by bliss. Surely wafting into it would be better?

Toodle-pip. (Predictive text just tried to correct that to “noodle pup”. My noodle pup is currently snoring on a chair.)

Slow but colourful

We’re camping in the lounge room. While people in other places are in COVID lockdown, here in small, quiet, pretty land we’re in injury lockdown. One of us can’t walk properly and one of us has a large plastic cone on her head.

I am now familiar with the excruciating pain that is plantar fasciitis, probably brought on by excessive walking of the ever enthusiastic Miss Daisy. Suddenly not being able to walk is odd. How to get dressed without putting weight on one leg? How to get in and out of the shower-over-bathtub arrangement? How to even get downstairs to the bathroom in the first place?

I’ve been thinking a lot about a colleague who lives with chronic pain. I don’t know how she does it.

Miss Daisy, feeling suddenly underwalked, decided to turn the house into a bomb site. Unfortunately, this happened on the same day that a painter came to give me a quote. He picked his way through the chewed sticks and egg carton fragments downstairs without comment, but I believe there was a hint of disgust when he saw the crushed snail on the bedroom carpet.

The next day I could put some weight on my foot. Daisy was at the vet, being spayed, so I hobbled around picking up detritus and did many loads of washing. Cyclone Daisy thinks washing line is a fun game, the aim of which is to get everything down into the dirt, so while she was under anaesthetic I stealthily washed and dried pretty much everything. She’ll never know.

The first 24 hours of lounge room camping featured a crying, pacing puppy. We’ve both been very tired since. Thankfully, there’s now a fair bit of napping happening. Our days involve moving from the lounge room to the garden and back again. She sleeps or watches dog TV (the view from the back fence). I read, snooze and enjoy the moment by moment pace of each day.

The highlight of this week was a hypnosis session. On a friend’s recommendation I booked in with a professional counsellor and hypnotherapist from Victoria.

In our preliminary chat she really nailed how I was feeling and what I wanted to address. She was funny as well as perceptive. “This is not stage hypnosis,” she said. “I won’t make you cluck like a chicken…although I could!”

Most of what we did in the first session felt like guided meditation in glorious, opulent colour. When she asked me to imagine being in a long corridor with many doors, I found myself in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, which was sparklingly wonderful.

At times my brain heard what she was saying and thought, “That’s an interesting word arrangement/repetition.” I tried to remember it afterwards but couldn’t. My subconscious did, though. Since then I’ve noticed significant positive change in my self-talk.

I’ve also experienced very welcome and exciting “unstuckness” in a particular area of life where I previously couldn’t get out of a thought loop. That’s a whole blog post in itself, and I will write about it, but for now I’m so delighted with the options it’s opened up. There’s lots of research, planning and exploration on the horizon.

Right at this moment, though, enforced rest at Camp Lounge Room is our only option. That’s fine by me. Daisy may have a different opinion.


Day one


This soft-footed year arrived quietly.
I woke up smiling, raised triumphant fists. Yes! Here it is! The invisible line is crossed. Each moment already slower, rounder, more fully inhabited.

We walked out into stillness, a sense of relief. The clouds hung low over the hills. The cool, grey morning felt kind.

In the mellow afternoon I examined the gentle start. “It’s a yin year,” said my thoughts. “Oh, thank goodness,” said my heart.