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.

2020 check-out

I was scanning groceries at the automated check-out when a recorded voice said, “Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

Well, ain’t that the truth? None of us, except perhaps for a handful of epidemiologists, expected what we got in this year’s shopping bag.

In thinking about how to sum up 2020, I didn’t want to do a month-by-month wrap-up like last year. Living through it once was enough.

Despite the tough times, I’m very grateful to 2020 for the clarity that it’s brought and the changes that I’m starting to put in place.

It’s been quite the ride, though, hasn’t it? I had to laugh when I heard someone say recently, “If the aliens could just wait until next year to land, it would be much appreciated.”

This is my last blog post for 2020. I’m about to spend five weeks totally immersed in a different kind of writing. Thank you, dear reader, for taking an interest and following along with my musings in this strangest of years.

I hope that the end of the year is a restful time for you. Let’s mentally and physically let go of 2020. I highly recommend walking up to the top of a hill and letting the wind blow it all away.

See you in the new (and hopefully improved) year. Take care.

Taking stock

Callistemon summer; that’s what I’m calling it. I know it’s not officially the start of summer until 1 December. Indulge me. The abundance of blooms in my street is quite a sight. The weight of the flowers is breaking branches. There are so many different colours and sizes. Who knew bottlebrush came in mauves and pinks?

Things I always forget about summer: The heat is tiring. There are lots of flies. I need to buy t-shirts before it starts. Some years I get really bad hay fever. Unfortunately, this is one of those years. So this tired, hot person in an old t-shirt is rubbing her itchy eyes and taking stock of where things are at right now. Here we go.

Wishing: That the dog would just drink her water instead of snorkelling and paddling in it. There’s a permanent pattern of muddy paw prints on the floor. A bowl of water is very fun, apparently.

Wondering: When I’ll be able to start making this beautiful shawl: https://www.anniedesigncrochet.com/2020/11/23/crochet-one-skein-lace-shawl/ Puppy+crochet hook+ball of yarn=asking for trouble.

Feeling: Sooo tired. It’s the heat. It’s the year. It’s the fact that I’ve technically resigned but will still be working full time until March. Sigh. Plod on, tired person. The end is in sight.

Reading: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Really enjoyed the first half but found the second half disappointing. Tidelands by Philippa Gregory, which was a great read and I’m excited that she’s going to continue those characters.

Also reading: A Vera book by Ann Cleeves. Can’t remember the title. I gave in and picked it from the groaning shelves of whodunnits in our little community library then surprised myself by enjoying it. My current read is Without Reservations, a travel memoir by Alice Steinbach, parts of which I really like. She quotes a great line from an Elizabeth Bishop poem:

Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?

Which is basically how I feel a lot of the time when I’m travelling overseas and can’t find anything gluten free to eat.

Eating: Mountains of slaw with a vaguely Asian dressing of fish sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, sesame oil and mayo. Chuck in some cashews and golden raisins as well. Add lots of coriander and mint. Put some protein on top and call it dinner. No cooking required. Super tasty and crunchy.

Planting: Tarragon, sage, lemon thyme, basil, coriander and salad veg. (Again.) I’m either an idiot or an optimist. The possums ate the lot last year.

Painting: The deck and the back windows. They look very smart. Haven’t quite finished but I’ve run out of paint.

Enrolling: In Beth Kempton’s free online writing course, Winter Sanctuary. We’ve only just come out of winter but I’m already having trouble imagining it. If I can just scratch something out once a day then that’ll do for now. It was nice to get positive feedback when I posted something to the group. It also showed how differently people can interpret the same piece of writing. I was blown away by that.

Walking: SO much, with the indefatigable Miss Daisy dog. I, on the other hand, am highly fatigable. There’s still lots to explore in the neighbourhood. Today we found a fabulous house, in the style of the Sydney School, flat-roofed with big cedar windows looking out into surprise courtyard and garden areas. If money falls from the sky some day soon, I’ll take it straight round and ask to buy that house.

Remembering: The bushfires that started outside Canberra last November, the smoke that covered the region till February.

Hoping: For more rain and a safe summer. May it be so.

Metamorphosis



I was having trouble with my collage. I did a painting and cut up the pieces but I couldn’t make them fit. They were too chunky and every arrangement seemed discordant. I left them for a while until I knew what to do: cut them smaller and let them jump out of the box, falling where they may.

Until recently, I didn’t paint. I had paints and paintbrushes unused in the cupboard, waiting for me. I don’t remember when I bought them.

A neighbour and I have started walking together in the afternoons, past the dam, past the big houses, across the creek and back under the old, old gum trees to our homes. She’s almost 20 years my senior but we’ve clicked.

We were talking one day about emotions, how anger is a good emotion because it’s a step up the scale from depression and powerlessness. “Come to my house and paint this weekend,” she suddenly said, which filled me with fear because I can’t paint.

We started with red, black and white. Sitting at her table, mixing colours, we found our conversation deepening naturally as red bled into pink. Paints ready, I looked at the blank page and hesitated. “Just make a mark,” she said, “any mark, then keep going.”

An hour or so later, I had two paintings and it was time to go home but I didn’t want to stop. We wrapped my leftover paint and I carried it home carefully, fed the dog, then sat in the garden using up every last drop in splodges and lines and clouds of colour. It was the happiest I’d felt in ages.

The next morning, I woke up and wanted to work with orange and yellow. The morning after that, I went into work and quit my job.

I don’t mean that I quit my job to take up painting. Painting helped me to bring forward what I’ve been thinking about for a while but didn’t have the courage to do. There was a hellish day in March when I remember thinking quite clearly, “I don’t have to do this. What if I gave myself a year off?”

It was an exciting thought, but then I put all sorts of conditions on it: “I can’t leave until such and such a time; I can’t leave till I’ve saved up X dollars; I can’t leave because it would affect other people.” Then I overlaid that with what-ifs: “What if I can’t earn enough to live on? What if I get sick? What if I waited till X date next year?”

But two days after that first painting, I listened to my gut and my heart instead and did what needed to be done. I’m not quite free yet, but the day is coming. As for the what-ifs, I’ll let them go. Whatever’s around the corner will come in its own sweet time and I’ll meet it in the best way I can.

I’m looking now at the contents of my other cupboards: material piled high, half-sewn clothes, a stash of wool, sashiko samplers finished and unfinished, inherited cameras that need to be fixed, notebooks filled with ideas unrealised. All that creative potential just sitting there patiently.

None of it has to be good or saleable or for any purpose other than the greatest purpose of all: to live a creative, fulfilled life before it’s too late.

The other morning Miss Dog and I were out walking very early when a woman jogged towards us and made a big fuss of Daisy. “What a happy puppy,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “She wakes up every morning and thinks, ‘A new day! And it’s all about me!’”

“Oh!” said the woman and clutched her chest as if she had a pain. “That’s how I’d like to be.”

Better get started then.