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: 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.


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.


The anemones are making me happy.

The mug I never liked seems perfect now for the dawn cuppa.
I’ve seen every dawn since 2 August. Thanks, Miss Puppy.

Is the Chinese pistachio all right? Did the leaves do that last year?

Lightly salted almonds from the markets are quietly delicious.

Snails can’t live without their shells.
I wish the dog would stop eating them.

In my dream there were Brussels sprouts, lightly steamed, glistening in butter and black pepper.

There are coral bells and white daisies aplenty in the front garden.
Thanks to the rain and the mild winter.

Monday was awful, but on Tuesday three seemingly insurmountables were surmounted.

Some wisdom I stumbled across: Just because someone carries it well doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.

It took nine months to get a quote for the roof then two roofers showed up on the same day. Roofers are like buses.

I’ve failed the horticulture test twice.
Just when I’ve decided to let go of perfection I’m expected to get 100 per cent.

Breakfast is the best meal of the day. Discuss. Especially when you’re working from home.

The Macquarie Dictionary blog has a list of beautiful words and one of them is ‘Machiavellian’.

What’s your most beautiful word? I can’t go past mariposa.

The jasmine smells divine.
If it flowered all year, would we get sick of it?

I’m haunted by a German film I watched: In the Fade. There are no words.

There’s a pobblebonk in the pond.

The hills are covered in Paterson’s curse.
I know it’s a weed, but the purple carpets sing to me of heather on the North York Moors.
Who’s Paterson?

Something and nothing

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. The puppy gnaws away at the bone. I go inside to make a cuppa. Puppy and bone follow me. “Out! Take it outside!” I say. She looks at me, ears up, head on one side, not understanding a word. On our walk at the lake she sits and poses beautifully when a girl takes her photo, this dog who grumbles and barks whenever I try to do that.

I look at her toys—sprawled with an air of bewilderment—and know how they feel. It’s that kind of year, isn’t it?

At the shops a souped-up Mini convertible in metallic blue hoons into the car park. The driver has a semi-shaven head and her flop-over pink hair clashes with her red glasses. Her loud yellow shirt clashes with everything. White, lumpy legs poke out from her shorts. She dresses to please herself. “Good on you,” I think, me all dressed in black and wearing a scarf to hide the imperfections.

I open the car window and call out, “I just voted for you!” I can’t help it. She’s a local politician and she doesn’t give a toss how she looks or what people think of her. In her speeches she spills her guts. I know almost everything about her. On her birthday she wore a yellow patterned jumpsuit and huge green furry coat. She looked like a cross between a Play School presenter and a Wookie and she did not care.

The days seem quiet. Some days it feels as though nothing has happened, yet when I tot up the activities and observations there are a lot: a possum still in the tree at daybreak who’d gone when we got back from our walk. Walked twice, made the bed, did the washing, worked, studied, went to the shops, played with the dog, tidied up, prepared and ate three meals, wrote for a bit, watched TV, took photos of an iris, knitted, looked at my phone too much, messaged a friend, read, inhaled the scent of jasmine (and thought about the jasmine blooming last year, when life was different and so was I), did Qigong twice while looking at the hills, noticed the birds, appreciated the new spring leaves.

At night, though, I lie awake for hours with an aching back and a racing mind that won’t be stopped and all seems dire and insurmountable.

Two friends and I wanted to start a regular video chat. We’re at the same stage of life and feeling all the strangeness of it. A general blah session seemed a good idea. I set up a meeting then found I couldn’t let them into it. “Hello? Hello?” I said to the only participant, me, while they sat in an inaccessible waiting room in cyberspace.

Eventually one of us worked out a different way to see each other and there we were, live, across the continents, talking face to face for the first time in 14 years. It was lovely and sad at the same time. “Why didn’t we do this years ago?” we said.

Last weekend the hills were covered in snow. This weekend I’m going swimming in an outdoor pool and I feel like eating salad again. I pick out some yellow fabric from my stash and start to sew. Something and nothing. Everything changes eventually. We’ll get there.

Books, cake and a bit of chat

Cucumbers must be stopped, apparently. Were you aware of this? I wasn’t. It’s one of many tips to be found in the “new” (circa 1950s) encyclopaedia of gardening that I picked up last weekend. The book makes me sneeze (who knows when it was last opened?) but each time I flick through it, a new fact catches my eye.

We were helping Mum pack up the house. Forty boxes done; probably 140 to go. For her, each book or piece of china had a story that needed to be told. We kept packing while she talked. “I don’t have that much stuff,” she said. My sister’s eyebrows shot up.

Some books, like The Life Cycle of the Kangaroo, were obvious candidates for the charity bin. It was given to my parents as a joke when we emigrated 40 years ago and they’ve lugged it around ever since.

As well as the charming gardening encyclopaedia, I came home with a 1950s book of French grammar and a German phrase book from the same era. The difference between them is very funny.

The French grammar reads like a thriller:

I was twenty, I was in love, I was loved.
She hit me in the knees with a hammer. That is not a nice deed. I threw it out of the window. For fear of being captured, we ran away

The German phrase book is haughty. “Please” doesn’t make much of an appearance. Neither does “thank you”:

I am British. What do you charge for servants’ board and lodgings? Bring some more toast. I should like some marmalade. Have some sandwiches packed for my journey. I want to see all that is worth seeing. I shall not have time for museums. That does not interest me.

I don’t know what happened to this week. I blinked and it was over. There were double rainbows two mornings in a row. That much I remember. Yesterday I went to visit a friend near Lake George and it snowed, big flakes falling like wet petals.

Having not checked the weather report, this week I gave in to a long-held wish and bought a jaunty yellow and white banana lounge to loll on when the heat hits. I didn’t know whether such 1970s icons were still being made, then I saw it while I was in a shop looking for something else. There’s no outdoor lounging right now, though. Instead, the pup and I are snoozing in front of the fire and one of us has a lot of jumpers on.

I won’t miss my parents’ house. I’m glad for Mum that she can move on. There’s been a noticeable absence for the past two years and I’ve dreaded going to visit. Too many memories. But I will miss the garden very much. With the warmer coastal climate and regular rain, it always looks glorious.

Daisy dog is now 10.5 kilos, has graduated from puppy school without disgrace and still does not consent to having her photo taken. She can get on to the sofa if she takes a flying leap. This is bad news for me, as I’m the one being flying leapt onto. My house is never clean and tidy now. Most of my clothes have teeth marks, and let’s not talk about shoes. I have to negotiate to go into the bathroom without her, and someone’s dug a crater in the backyard. But I wouldn’t change any of it. As a wise friend said, “Life with dog is better.”

Last but not least (because cake is one of the fundamentals of life) here’s that pineapple boiled fruitcake recipe I mentioned the other week. My obsession with this cake started when a friend came to visit. She brought a pineapple boiled fruitcake that she’d bought at a country market. I thought the addition of pineapple was genius and was determined to recreate it. I also wanted to be the person baking and selling at a country market. That’s the life!

This recipe is a hybrid of several others, plus is gluten free out of necessity. I’ve made it three times now and it’s the perfect accompaniment to a pot of tea beside the fire. (Excuse the layout. I couldn’t work out how to finesse it.)

Pineapple boiled fruitcake

Grease a loaf tin and line it with baking paper. Heat the oven to 160 Celsius.

250g mixed fruit (I used a version with figs and cranberries. Much nicer than the bog standard mix.) 227g tin of pineapple.
1/2 cup soft brown sugar. 1 1/4 cups SR flour (mine was gluten free). 75g butter. 2 medium eggs, beaten. 1/4 tsp bicarb. 2 tsps vanilla. 2 tsps mixed spice.

Put the mixed fruit, pineapple (plus juice), sugar and butter into a saucepan. Bring it to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Take it off the heat, add the bicarb and enjoy the chemical reaction. Then leave it to cool for 10 minutes.

Add the flour, mixed spice and vanilla, mixing in well, then add the beaten eggs and give it several good beatings with a wooden spoon before tipping it into the lined loaf tin. Bake for about 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. If you overbake it and it becomes a little dry, nuke each slice in the microwave for 10 seconds then daub it with butter and all will be well.

Bon appétit and bon weekend!

Holiday at home

Sitting in the garden, watching blossom fall, I wondered if there was a word for petal snow storm. Of course the Japanese have one: hanafubuki. That led me to this blog and a video of petals falling at night. I’ve been staring at blossom under the moonlight, wishing I could capture it, and someone has!

Holidays go too quickly, don’t they? There is still one day left but already I’m mourning the end. I’ve cooked some delicious food: Pooji’s sublime chicken (lives up to its name), from Vicky Bhogal’s Cooking Like Mummiji; sabzi polow (Persian herby rice); an excellent fruitcake with pineapple (will post recipe soonish); and biscuits.

The biscuits were little lemony shortbreads with lemon buttercream filling, from Graziher. When I first discovered that magazine, on a work trip to deepest darkest Deniliquin, I thought it was hilarious. Several years later, the joke’s on me. Here I am in suburbia, reading it along with Country Style, Grass Roots, Pip (permaculture mag) and English Country Living and wishing I lived on the land. It’s still my ambition to join the Country Women’s Association one day.

I picked up a copy of The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul from our community bookshelves. Everything else on there is a whodunnit. A review on the front cover said, “As if Maeve Binchy had written The Kite Runner,” which is accurate and not as odd as it sounds. While it’s written in a lighthearted way, the difficulties of living there are starkly apparent. I enjoyed the fictional trip to Afghanistan.

Since March, apart from food, the only things I’ve bought are a painting, a puppy and books. My next book purchases are likely to be based on recommendations from Anna, who’s started a sea library in her town in Latvia. You can read about it on her blog. It’s such a lovely idea.

A couple of non-sea-related books arrived yesterday: Isabella Tree’s Wilding and Mark Boyle’s The Way Home. I’m supposed to be doing horticulture assignments, and I am but slowly. I’d rather read or walk or cook. It’s funny, isn’t it, that we rebel against even the things we’ve chosen to do when there are deadlines involved. There’s also an element of not wanting to get it wrong, fear of failure, which makes me put it off. I’ll have to address that or I’ll drive myself a bit nuts. The course goes for a year.

Anyway, I’ve plunged into Mark Boyle’s book and can’t put it down. As someone who’s been questioning their lifestyle for the past couple of years, this sentence really spoke to me:

The question concerning each of us then, the one we all too seldom ask ourselves, is what are we prepared to lose, and what do we want to gain, as we fumble our way through our short, precious lives?

It’s a good reminder that no lifestyle offers perfection. There are many things I’d happily forgo to live a more contemplative life, in touch with everything that’s happening outdoors. But it would also mean giving up other things (having friends close by, for example) and I’m still thinking about how to do that. Hmm.

The recent puppy school lessons have been about impulse control and not being scared of new things. I’m learning a lot!

We went for a walk the other day in some horse paddocks next to a chain of hills. An older woman in a sensible hat came striding down the hills, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. Not knowing that area well, I asked her about the walks. She used lovely words like spur and lee and saddle to describe the landscape. “Basically,” she said, “you could walk forever.”

In the gardens hereabouts the hardenbergia is blooming a royal purple and the dainty eriostemon flowers are peeping out. It’s been a cool week and I’m longing for warmth. I’m also wishing for a longer break. The next few months feel like time that needs to be got through before I can start the next part of The Plan. There’s no fast-forwarding it. I just hope I can hang on to some of that holiday feeling and spend the occasional afternoon on the verandah with a good book, a sleeping puppy and the scent of flowers on the breeze.

Made it

In March, August seemed SO FAR AWAY that I didn’t know how I was going to stay sane in the meantime. I saw five months of too much pressure ahead. Many times since March, the thought that’s been front of mind is: “This is the second hardest year of my life.”

Ooh, that sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?

I called on all sorts of tactics to get through it, most of which I can’t remember now. Looking back through this blog reminds me of some of them. Anyway, they worked and here we are, at the end of August. Made it.

Writing this blog cheers me up or changes my focus or gets me out of a funk. When your blog is called small, quiet, pretty there’s an expectation about what it will deliver. However awful or tired I feel, starting to write something here lights a creative spark and always lifts the mood.

Earlier this week, when I was out of my tree with tiredness and work stress, I thought I’d write a quick post. When I opened the blog and found that WordPress had “improved” the template, I nearly cried. It was another change to cope with when I craved familiarity. I don’t really know how to use it now, but I’m figuring it out as I go along. A bit like life, I guess.

The one tactic that I do remember from the blur of the past five months, the one remedy for all that ails ye, is this: going outside is still the best option.

Last weekend Daisy doglet and I walked up the hill to see the snow on the mountains. It was a blue-sky morning and the snow sparkled. Most of it has melted now, but the memory of striding up to the ridge and breathing in lungfuls of cold, clean air stayed with me through the week.

This weekend we found tree-lined paths that meandered past a community vegetable garden (How do I get a plot there? Must find out.) and down to the lake. We didn’t reach the lake because even short walks are sensory overload for a puppy, but we will eventually. She walked for quite some way with a huge piece of foraged orange peel in her mouth and was very pleased with herself.

I’ve been inspecting the plum trees daily for blossom. I think some popped open just as I wrote that.

I’m learning to look at plants in a new way. Part 2 of The Plan was to study something I’ve always wanted to learn about but have never been able to. Thanks to COVID, pretty much every course can be studied online, which meant I could enrol in horticulture without having to beg work for time off. Starting a course at the busiest time at work while also getting a puppy has made for an interesting month.

The course has changed the way I see the world. I used to walk around appreciating the beauty of nature in a general way. Now I know that there’s a whole new language to learn and I’m bowled over by the detail.

I used to walk around naming plants in my head. Now I walk around looking at leaves and flowers and thinking, “Monocot, dicot, parallel venation, calyx, pericole.” These are words I didn’t use a month ago. When I’m driving along the street I look at tree shapes and think, “Broad dome, narrow dome. Is that fastigiate?” To look at the plant world with new eyes is wonderful, and this is only the beginning.

Puppy school started this week. I reckon we were top of the class. It helps that labradors will do anything for food. A cavoodle called Simba was terrified of everything. A retriever called Bill barked all.the.time and I was very glad that he didn’t live at my house. Winnie the tiny French bulldog was my favourite (and Daisy’s) for her snuffliness and silly noises. We were all exhausted at the end, pups and owners alike.

Someone at work thanked me this week for making life easier for them over this crazy time. While it was nice to be thanked, I’ve been thinking a lot about the cost. To me, I mean. After the intensity of these months, I’m pretty burnt out. Was it worth it? What drives us to keep the ship afloat when it’s a ship we don’t much care to be on anymore?

I had planned a week’s holiday in Tasmania soon. Obviously that’s not happening. It’s become a week off at home instead. I don’t really mind. Rest and home comforts are in order. I could sleep for a hundred years. There won’t be any of the usual spring cleaning or sorting out happening. The aim is to do less and just sit in the warm air, watching the garden wake up.

I’m so glad to have made it.