The thankyous

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Thank you to the rock and the view. Just sitting on a rock is enough, sometimes.

Thank you to our excellent health services, and to nurses with a sense of humour. “I’m supposed to be at a surprise birthday dinner,” I said to the man inserting a probe into my nose. “Surprise! I bring you a virus!” he said.

Thank you that I don’t have THE virus.

Thank you to THE virus for forcing flexibility where previously there was none. Thank you that now, when we are sick, we don’t have to “soldier on” like we used to.

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Thank you to the back garden, framing the view and the ever changing light.

Thank you to the front garden, flowering and flourishing despite my lack of attention.

Thank you to the new morning ritual of unlocking the front door and stepping out to smell the air, to listen to the magpies.

Thank you to flannelette sheets for keeping toes warm.

Thank you to pets for your adorable furry faces and for being smarter than we are.

Thank you to the people who make my life hard and teach me to be different. When you demand, I no longer jump. When you resist, I change course and flow elsewhere.

Thank you to ideas, the good ones and the crazy ones, and the trails you lead us along.

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Thank you to the makers of music, all music, anywhere, for tapping into that part of us we can never quite express in words.

Thank you to the body for being able to dance and lift the spirit even when the head doesn’t want to.

Thank you to toast and butter for your uncomplicated perfection.

Thank you to tea. Really, there aren’t enough ways to thank you.

Thank you to the blank page and the good pen.

Thank you to Qigong for mesmerising flow.

Thank you to the needle pulling the thread, slowly, decoratively.

Thank you to the hook winding and looping the wool.

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Thank you to the moon, sinking into the mountains, bright as day, ending the night.

Thank you to sleep, more precious than diamonds.

Thank you to the new day for showing up. Always.

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Motley

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This is one of those themeless posts, a collection of thoughts skipping about. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Jonquils have been flowering in the garden since the end of May. They are pretty and I love them, but it’s all wrong. They’re spring flowers and we’ve barely started winter. I was so surprised to see them that I emailed someone at the Climate Institute. There was no reply, perhaps because they’re busy monitoring glacier melt, but this citizen scientist thought it was a small yet important sign of Something that Someone should look into.

Then I found out that jonquils are flowering in Melbourne too, which made me accept the oddness of it. We’re having a topsy-turvy year anyway. Who knows what’s normal anymore?

On a Zoom call last week, in which people I would never socialise with were suddenly looking into my lounge room, someone said to me crossly, “I can’t see your face very well.” I was flabbergasted. Stage lighting has now been added to all the other things we’re required to be expert in. “This is my lounge room, not a movie set,” was what I wanted to say but of course didn’t.

I went outside at dusk to watch the cockatoos (flockatoos) fly in. I was taking a photo of an interesting cloud when two neighbours, Jerry and Suzanne, walked into shot. I’m very fond of these two. Jerry is Czech and has a healthy disregard for authority. Suzanne, in her 70s, has decided to sell up and move on. When I asked where to, she said she didn’t know. Her acceptance of uncertainty is something I admire very much.

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The pomegranate appreciation society has  arrived. King parrots are so beautiful it’s hard to be cross. To be honest, I prefer pomegranate molasses to the fruit, so they’re welcome to it. Excuse the blurry photo. I wasn’t allowed to get very close.

I noticed last week that I have come to accept the monotony of my days: work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep…yaaaawwwn. To no longer be mentally at war with my job is a good thing, given that we’re all a bit stuck at the moment. BUT I do want to keep some of that fire that I felt in the first weeks of isolation.

When everything else was suddenly taken away, I came face to face with the long-term compromises I’d been making and found them unacceptable. I felt enormous grief and anger. It was like waking up. So when, last week, I realised that I’d slipped back into dull compliance I almost shouted out loud: “No! STAY AWAKE!”

People talked a lot at the start of lockdown about how different things will be afterwards, how this is our chance to change things. Will they be? Will we? It’s very, very easy to slip back into old patterns—much easier than forging ahead with something new. What was it that we wanted to change/do/be? Let’s keep our eyes fixed on that. Note to self.

I bought another cookbook. Okay, I saw that eye roll. If you think I have a lot of cookbooks, you should go and visit my friends S and J. They have half a wall full. I think I was secretly hoping that Giorgio Locatelli would deliver Made at Home in person. It did come in an awfully big box, but he wasn’t in it.

I’m making eggplant parmigiana first, in memory of a little restaurant in Glebe (name now forgotten) that used to serve an excellent version. When I was a uni student and lived down the road, it was a treat to go there for dinner. The restaurant was in a converted terrace and diners had to go upstairs to the serving hatch to collect their meals. There was always a risk, as you walked back down the steep stairs to your table, that the eggplant parmigiana would slide off the plate onto the person in front of you.

In the past fortnight I’ve been to someone’s house for dinner and to someone else’s house for lunch. How strange that this is noteworthy. At the lunch, a couple of people were talking a lot, butting in or starting side conversations when I was trying to listen to someone else. At first I was annoyed, but then I realised that they were extroverts and hadn’t been out much. They couldn’t help it.

It was tiring to be in the company of several people at once. I’m out of practice.  With the isolation and now the colder weather, I’ve started to go into hibernation. What about you? Have you been out and about again, now that restrictions have eased a bit?

If you do go out and about, be careful what you wear. A letter written in 1927 and reprinted in the recent NRMA Open Road magazine made me smile, so I thought I’d share it here. Bestockinged gals, take note:

I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t safe for girls to wear any but light-coloured stockings. My headlights failed to pick out fair pedestrians who were wearing dark stockings, and on several occasions I missed them by inches. Those who favoured light stockings could be seen 100 yards away.

The only other thing of note that’s happened in the last little while is that I went to buy some looseleaf tea (inferior teabags now finished) and was temperature checked by a person wearing a mask AND full face visor before I was allowed into the shop. 2020: the science fiction novel that keeps getting weirder.

Bye for now.

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Riverina road trip

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Old houses are pretty. They are also very, very cold and require the wearing of gloves to bed. The minty green cottage was adorable. There was not a straight wall or level floor in the place. The verandah was the perfect spot to soak up the afternoon rays. But once the sun went down, the house was freezing.

The first night I burrowed under two bedrooms worth of blankets and quilts and was still cold. “Pretend you’re in an ice hotel in Sweden,” I thought, which was distracting for about 30 seconds until the sound of my own teeth chattering broke through the reverie. The second night I made a cocoon and swaddled myself in a huge throw before piling on the bedding again. That worked better, but it was never exactly balmy.

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Sheep are impossible to photograph. On our drive through a corner of the Riverina we saw many sheep. Some were like woolly lions with soft, bulky fleeces, making the others with shorter fleeces look as though they’d forgotten to get dressed.

Twice we stopped the car so that I could take a photo. I walked towards the fence line slowly and quietly, but each time those woolly bottomed alarmists turned and ran before I’d even stepped off the road.

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There was a federation style house that I’d been stalking online and just had to go and see. Perhaps, I thought, it could help me make the transition from one life to another. Perhaps I could live there part of the time while I stepped from one career path to the next.

But when I walked in, despite its 12-foot ceilings and beautiful doors and floorboards, I knew I would never live there. It wasn’t just that it needed renovation. It was the lack of light and warmth. The house was facing the wrong way.

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I currently live in a house that faces the wrong way, but I chose to overlook that when I bought it. I was charmed by the quirky layout, the architect’s signature style and the gorgeous view. But at the height of summer, when I’m forced to sleep on the lounge room floor to escape the heat, and for all of June to August, when being cold is inevitable, I give myself a stern talking-to about falling for a south-west facing house.

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As much as this trip was an escape from lockdown and a chance to visit an old friend, it was also a fact-finding mission. The older I get, the more I yearn for the villagey life of my childhood or the small-town camaraderie that my parents discovered in retirement.

They moved to a place that happened to have all the right ingredients for a fulfilling life: a big enough population but not too big, interesting activities to get involved in, beautiful country and affordable houses (alas, not any more).

Every day, my dad walked down the road for a coffee, a paper and a chat. Many people knew him by name, some people just knew him as the man with the hat, but always there was acknowledgement and a friendly exchange. That’s what I’m looking for, I think, rather than the anonymity of suburban life.

I thought I had my next move pretty well planned, but when bushfires destroyed 58 per cent of the Bega Valley this summer and burned for 74 days in the Shoalhaven, I decided to widen my search. No point moving to paradise if you can’t relax. So this was, in part, a try before you buy expedition.

I’ve talked before about listening to your gut, but on this trip it was still surprising how quickly places revealed themselves. In one town there was an instant “Ah!” of recognition and comfort, while another produced mixed feelings. Sometimes it was the way a town sat in the landscape that gave it the wrong atmosphere.

One hamlet, despite its grand Edwardian pub and gleaming Art Deco memorial hall, couldn’t shake its sleepiness. It was trying so hard to attract visitors, but no amount of street beautification seemed to work. It is, though, possibly the only place in Australia with a window display like this. Yes, that is a petrol bowser behind the tea table.

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It was so wonderful to be out and about, to watch sheep paddocks and ploughed fields roll by. I forgot to be anxious. Sitting in the sun, out on the verandah on that first afternoon, I experienced one of those rare but lovely feelings of being at peace.

COVID world still existed, though. Many shops and cafes were shut or required us to queue and wait our turn. Our temperature was checked when we went out for dinner.

On the drive home, we stopped at Jugiong in the hope of finding lunch but instead found that half of Victoria had stopped there too, so we hopped back into the car and kept going. Luckily, we had chocolate-covered freeze-dried strawberries from the Junee chocolate factory with us. (A highly recommended snack.)

We’re planning to visit the Hilltops region next, including the appealingly named village of Wombat. After that, there’s more of the Riverina to explore. And let’s not forget the Snowy Valleys. Then I might start heading north for a look-see. Which road to take? I haven’t decided yet.

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Ordinary comfort

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There was soft scratching in the eaves. It was a butcherbird having insects for breakfast. When I flung open the curtains, he flew down and observed me from the verandah rail. “Hello you,” I said. Butcherbirds are a pleasant shape. I like their markings and the confident way they look at you. It’s comforting to commune, just for a few moments, with a wild and free thing.

It occurs to me that we are wild and free things too, and the oddness of being human is that we often forget it. Or we remember it at times when we feel trapped, and our frustration makes an even bigger trap for us.

I’ve been feeling the narrowness of life lately and have spent a lot of time worrying away at questions in my mind. Of course, the best thing to do is to step back and leave them alone for a while. The jigsaw pieces will, I think, slot into place, given time. It doesn’t help to force them.

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I’ve just finished reading Any Ordinary Day, by Leigh Sales. I avoided it when it first came out, couldn’t read about other people’s grief when I was deep in my own. It’s a good read, though, if a tad matter of fact, but she is a journalist so I suppose that’s to be expected.

Something she said about the value of ordinary days stayed with me. I’ve been wondering this fortnight whether I’d write a blog post. All I’ve done is work a lot, eat (also a lot), exercise a bit and stare out of the window. But I do appreciate the rhythm of these days. It’s brought some comfort.

The mornings are often foggy now. They seem almost to give permission to stay indoors in big jumpers and baggy pants. I look at my usual work clothes with surprise. Why did I ever wear anything so uncomfortable?

The sky is the loveliest pastel yellow most evenings after the sun sinks into the hills. It’s usually viewed from the sofa with a comforting cup of tea.

I’ve bought impossibly soft pale pink merino and have started making the mammoth poncho. It is veeery slow going. I anticipate finishing by winter 2022. But the softness of the wool as I wind it around the hook is lovely.

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I’ve spent time this weekend doing some brain clearing via meditative tasks, slow exercise and writing things down. One little brain-clearer that I particularly liked was this: write down a noun for each letter of the alphabet. Do it fast and write the first word that comes into your head. Don’t give it too much thought. The only rule is that it has to be a noun.

Here’s what came out of my head the first time:

Apple, blowfish, corduroy, depth, eglantine, fortress, gurney, horse, igloo, jockey, kangaroo, loom, manse, nerine, octopus, panther, quisling, rhomboid, sentinel, trousers, upland, viper, wind, xylophone, yellow, zoo.

This exercise is so effective because it immediately cuts you off from whatever you were thinking (or overthinking) about before. It’s amusing and intriguing to see the words your brain throws up (quisling?! eglantine?! panther?!). The second time I tried it, all my nouns were animals except umbrella

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From next weekend we can travel into New South Wales. The invisible gate is opening. A friend and I are heading off to the Riverina to visit another friend. We’re going to stay in a minty green cottage and eat cheese from a community-owned cheese maker.

We’ll drive past hectares and hectares of sheep paddocks, wheat and canola, all under a big sky, and I cannot wait. It’s only three hours up the road and I’m more excited than when I went to Iceland. 

Until then, I expect it’ll be another week much like the last, with as many small, pleasant moments as I can squeeze in or stop to notice. I hope you’re  doing well and finding some comfort. Have a good week. 

Favourite

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The day got up without me. Post-migraine, I lay in bed and listened. Birdsong. A distant chainsaw. Thuds through the wall as the little kids next door ran up and down the stairs.

On the verandah roof, a currawong was eating something, bashing and tearing it. I went out and stood near him. “What have you got there?” I said to his tail. He was so engrossed that it took him a moment to notice me. He swished to the plum tree as a reflex then summed me up as no threat and flew back to finish his breakfast. Someone’s goldfish, perhaps.

Two horses strolled past the gate, riders on their backs. Most days I see bikes and golf buggies, dogs and roos, but these were the first horses. It was still the working week but we were all taking the day off and taking it slowly.

I walked to the shop. We can go to big supermarkets again now, but I’ve decided I like the little local one better. Sometimes they have what I want and sometimes they don’t, so I come home with something else. I like having to rethink dinner while I’m there.

I like that there aren’t many people and that I’m getting to know those who work there. One of the girls behind the counter rolls her Ls in an interesting way when she says, “Have a llllovellly day.” The other morning, when it was very cold and the walk hadn’t warmed me up, she told me she’d been out riding her horse at 4 am and he hadn’t wanted to go. Horses are obviously smarter than people.

I bought bread, eggs and milk and walked home slowly. A man was chiding his golden retriever: “No. No. Come on. No.” From my side of the street it looked as though the dog was walking beautifully and I wondered what subtle battle was going on between leader and led.

I made poached eggs on toast with spinach and hot chilli sauce and ate breakfast in the back garden. The russet leaves looked perfect against the clear blue sky.

I love poached eggs but I can’t make them the posh way. I have an egg poacher with four little cups in it, which is how we always made them when I was a kid. I was absurdly happy when I bought it. Today the hot sour sauce, rich egg and crunch of toast seemed all the more delicious for being eaten at leisure.

I made a pot of coffee, wrapped myself in a blanket and went upstairs to the nook to crochet and listen to podcasts. I learned, while listening to this, that there are no bridges over the Amazon and that there is a hotel in England that grows its own loofahs. The hotel is near Bath (!!)

My grandma always had loofahs in her bathroom, huge desiccated holey things. They terrified me so much when I was a child that I would leap up and scream if one fell in the bath.

After one podcast episode and a few rows of the shh! crochet project, I got up and cleaned the house. Rather than whirl through in disgruntlement as usual, I did it slowly and paid attention which, funnily enough, made it seem less like a chore and more like an achievement.

House clean, blanket back on, I looked online for wool for my next project: the Uptown Girl poncho. I want soft pink merino but so far I’m baulking at the price. A little more research and I’m sure I’ll be back at the page where I first started, wondering why I haven’t ordered it yet.

I made some tea, grumbling mildly at myself for mistakenly buying bags, not leaves. This grumble will probably come up every day for the next 23 days, until I’ve used all the teabags. Tomorrow I might cut a teabag open and see if that fools me.

I went back to the shh! project and discovered Sandra, a humorous, vaguely dystopian podcast. I listened to several episodes, then I went downstairs to eat a green, crunchy pear. There was a tiny square of sunlight in the corner by the sofa and I tried to squeeze into it like a cat or a small dog.

“I am really enjoying this day,” I thought.

I went to the mailbox and, on the way, checked in with the front garden. The spinach is coming up but some varmint has eaten the dill and coriander. The lemongrass is very happy in its pot. There are many small pomegranates but they’re too sour to eat yet (ascertained via brief taste test).

The afternoon was slipping away with the sun, so I turned on the fire and the fairylights and went upstairs for one more go at project shh! and to see what happened to Sandra.

For dinner I cooked *modified spicy cauliflower fritters with yoghurt and tamarind sauce. A spicy, cheesy, vegetabley fritter is a very delicious thing. (*See improvising dinner, above.)

The sun went down behind the range in hues of cool blue and palest apricot.

It was my favourite kind of day.

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Paths

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Last year, on a meditation walk, my friend told us to go off the path. I still think of my reaction and laugh: “Off the path?!!” Paths are there to be followed, surely? Following the path is how you know where to go, isn’t it? Paths are how you get there. I grew up in a place where each nice bit of greenery had a sign next to it saying “Keep off the grass”. We were brought up to be path followers.

So far this year, every bushwalk I’ve been on has involved losing the path, scrambling down rocks into the river or walking sideways down a steep hill or, today, crawling under a fence and winding our way up another steep slope to find surprised kangaroos at the top. Clearly, they don’t see a lot of humans on that hilltop.

We couldn’t find the path to the next hilltop either, but there was a well-placed rock and a handy tree to hold on to while we climbed the fence. (Just so that you know: this is not private land. The fences are there to protect natural areas from grazing stock.) This hill is an easier walk from the other side, where there’s a path, but we chose to walk from the wild side.

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On the way up, we found a gorgeous green amphitheatre and quoted John Cooper Clarke poems in a Manchester accent then sang Ian Dury songs with an Essex twang. And we talked a lot about identity and paths in life:

How an identity can be given to you, how you can accept it without realising that you have, until decades later when the real you, who’s been hidden behind it, calls out in a voice that you can finally hear: “Remember me?” How, from the howling abyss of aloneness new strengths grow so that you come out of the experience thinking: “All the things I used to fill my life with are now less powerful. I’m going to guard my time more, focus on what’s truly important.”

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Up here in Canberra we’ve been cut off from the coast for months, first by bushfire and now by disease. There’s an art gallery on the far South Coast that I want to visit but can’t, so I’ve been following them online. Just after I wrote my previous post, this beautiful painting of a spinebill popped up. Reader, I bought it.

I told the gallery owner the story of how spinebills have come to symbolise, to me, getting up when life smacks you down. She told it to the artist, who’s also been having a tough time. It moved her, just as the painting moves me. “Thank you for sharing this story,” she said. “It reassures me I’m on the right path.”

So is there a right path and a wrong path? Or can a path be the right one for a while, until the time comes to find another…or to leave the path altogether? To follow your heart’s true path, I think you have to step off the main track. You have go across country, climbing and scrabbling and being surprised and getting a bit lost but ultimately feeling exhilarated and alive. Because you’re making your own way.

 

Taking stock

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Hello there. Apparently it’s still only April, not normally a time when I’d take stock, but that’s what I’m doing. Without all the usual noise, I can most certainly hear myself think and it hasn’t all been small, quiet or pretty. Here’s my list.

Admitting: that there have been times in the past month when I’ve felt like this tree, alone and struggling.

Doing: something about it. Took time off work, went to the doctor for help with sleep, talked to friends and did lots of exercise. Some days are still hard, but that’s an improvement on all the days.

Realising: that the adrenaline rush I got from working in my particular field when I began, 18 years ago, is now well and truly over. Although I’d love to leap out of it right now, I can’t. I’m lucky to have a job. I know that. But I’m counting down the days. “Remember,” said a friend, “it’s less about escaping from where you are and more about being drawn to what you want.” I like that.

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Appreciating: the garden. Out the front, the windflowers are out, the pomegranate tree is laden, the bees are still buzzing in the rosemary, the daisies and callistemons and succulents and roses are still flowering. Out the back, the Chinese pistachio is turning red, orange, yellow. Sitting in the sun with a book and a pot of coffee is a treat right now.

Eating: after a couple of weeks of toasted cheese sandwiches, I decided to make an effort. First (effortless) effort: roast chicken. I think the last time I roasted a chicken was six years ago! I’d forgotten how easy it is and how tasty. I also slow roasted whole sweet potatoes and they were caramelicious.

Then I went all out and cooked a dinnertime feast from The Simple Things mag, February issue: chilli beef with proper dark chocolate in the sauce, served with with herby, crispy, sun-dried tomatoey rice and steamed green veg, followed by banoffee pie. Magnifique!

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Listening to: really bad podcasts. Why are there so many bad ones? Things that make a podcast bad (in my not so humble opinion) include having a voice that’s really annoying to listen to, gushing about your guest too much, interviewing people about their long and distinguished career and subsequent burnout when they’re only 24 (pur-lease!), talking about yourself when you’re the interviewer, interrupting the guest… I think I’ll stop there because I’m getting grumpy.

I have enjoyed a couple, though. How to Fail, series 6, episode 2, where Alain de Botton talked about the value of the ordinary, was a goodie. NASA’s Curious Universe, Only on Earth, has a brilliant beginning and transports you to the Amazon basin. Can you recommend any others? I need something to listen to while I’m crocheting.

Watching:

  • False Flag, an Israeli drama. Gripping!
  • Motherland. The awful accuracy of it made me laugh A LOT.
  • Reds, the epic movie with Diane Keaton and Warren Beatty. How can a person be so good looking?! I first saw that movie at 16. I loved the fashion then and I still love it: long tailored jackets and embroidered dresses, striped stockings and fun hats.

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Walking: and getting a bit lost. My friend J and I turned a short walk into a long one by accident. We were both talking about big things and having a bit of a cry and suddenly we were lost. We had to slide under a fence in the dirt to get back onto the path. The wind picked up and the rain pricked our faces. The dog thought it was great fun. We arrived home soggy and windburnt but we did manage to pick a bagful of rosehips on our travels, so I turned them into jam.

Painting: the woodwork on the back of the house. There are a lot of fiddly bits, but it’s an absorbing task. The weather’s turned cold now, but if we get another warm spell I’ll be out there again with the paintbrush.

Feeling: surprisingly angry. The police have reported an increase in people driving at crazy speeds, and I understand that. Some days I’d quite like to get out on to a straight bit of highway and drive my car as fast as it’ll go.

Making: music on my phone, with GarageBand. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I didn’t save the song, but for a few minutes I was a pretty hot erhu player with a funky backbeat!

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Gazing: at the stars. I went out to look for the meteorite shower and saw not a one. But ohmygoodness the stars.

Thinking about: a little bird. An eastern spinebill flew—SMACK!—into the window. She fluttered around in pain then flopped down on the deck. I was having a bad day and the last thing I wanted was to see a bird die. She lay there, tiny and beautiful, for ages. Then she blinked, got up and staggered into the window again. It was awful. She stayed standing, though, resting her head against the glass. I couldn’t help her but I couldn’t watch anymore, so I walked away. I came back a few minutes later to hear the whir of wings. Off she soared.

I keep that little story close to my heart at the moment. You can too, if you like.

 

 

Walking and fairy lights

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In January I was walking along a street in Sydney with two people I’d just met. One asked, “What do you do?” and the other said, “I live.” I’ve been thinking about that answer a lot, especially now, when I’m spending whole days at my computer in the spare bedroom, pulled into the ever widening maelstrom at work.

Do I like working from home? Yes. Do I like doing my current job from home? No, not at all. So there’s some deep thinking going on in the small, quiet, pretty house. And as soon as we’re allowed to travel, I’m going down the mountain to look at blocks of land. This is the year of action, remember?

I went for an early morning walk and sat on a big rock for a while. Kangaroos grazed on the hill. Magpies carolled in surround sound. The rising sun warmed my back. The waning gibbous moon sat high in the sky in front of me. I imagined it dropping straight down to the mountains, impaling itself on the peak of Camels Hump.

I went for a lunchtime walk, striding out under cirrus cloud. The ducks on the dam had six ducklings. A pair of joggers passed me too closely and I swear their dog rolled his eyes at me.

I went for an afternoon walk, fast and angry after a frustrating day at the computer. The wind was cold. I waved to a neighbour going the other way. When we passed each other again we talked about how much we need it, the walking, to let everything out.

I’ve been trotting briskly through Hilary Mantel’s Tudor England. I’m almost halfway through The Mirror and the Light and have now broken into a canter. The language is so rich and enjoyable. I particularly liked the description of the queen’s eating habits: “She is a great doer at the table.” I think we all are at the moment.

The mini trampoline is getting a lot of use, when I don’t have time to go out for a walk. This week I’ve been belly dancing on it to the music of Umm Kulthum. Did you see Cairo Time a few years ago? It’s a small but poignant film, with Umm Kulthum’s music as the soundtrack. What I didn’t know until this week is that some of her songs go for half an hour. This belly dancer gives up way before the song ends.

In the evenings I’m walking through possibilities. I’m walking my thoughts through the building of a small house, imagining the work I might do, what the days could look like and the ways I might weave myself into the community.

In the future, when someone asks me what I do, I’d like to be able to give that answer: “I live.”

In the meantime, stuck mostly in the spare bedroom, I ordered some fairy lights to cheer myself up. They arrived today. I’ve strung one lot above my desk. The other set is blooming all over a wall in the lounge room. I’m so glad I bought them. They make me ridiculously happy.

How are you this week? What little things are brightening your days?

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Good things: part 3

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There is more rain coming and the insects are breeeeeking contentedly in anticipation of it.

The birds are noisily settling in for dusk: currawongs calling and cockatoos screeching and one unknown cry, lamenting over and over.

The week since I last posted has been very hard and I am struggling. At lunchtime today I soothed myself a little by listening to Bernard Fanning’s Tea and Sympathy, dancing to this and singing to this.

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I’ve made some more cheese. This week’s cheese-making resulted in a soft, crumbly product. It’s not very photogenic but it tastes nice, salty and herby, with the texture of paneer.

I have paid off my credit card. All my bills are paid.

I’ve got my hands on a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light.

I’ve started crocheting something new. Shh! It’s a present. I can’t show you.

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The creek is up, flowing fast, impossible to cross. It’s also rained out west, apparently, which makes me feel like doing a little happy dance. All those dry farms are being planted with crops now.

I was awake at the moment when the clocks changed. I travelled back through time from 2.59 am to 2.00 am without a time machine.

The change in time has had no effect on the possum’s galumphing journey across the roof or on the birds singing at dawn. Their clock is the sun.

I found lots of interesting podcasts to listen to over the Easter weekend. Podcasts + crochet; that’s the plan.

Last year I started writing a story but shelved it because the plot involved a government shutting down a country. “No-one would believe that,” I thought. Might be time to pick that up again and dust it off.

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Good things: part 2

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Head Honcho 2: “What’s your *COVID name? Mine’s Exhausted Lamb Rack.”

Me: “Exploding Head Sandwich.” (Thinks: where did he buy lamb?)

Humour. Always a good thing.

(*How you’re feeling plus what you ate for dinner last night. I don’t know who came up with the concept, but it’s made me smile.)

Hello. How are you? I am, alas, still essential at work, just for one more day. There are fewer and fewer of us and we all look tired. I scurry from the car park to the coalface each day feeling that at any moment I might be challenged for being out and about. I’m half expecting someone to leap out in front of me and hand me a white feather, as in the First World War.

A good thing that I’ve implemented before rushing out the door each morning is a brief pause. I remember a film set in Russia (which I think was the one about Tolstoy, with Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy) in which everyone madly rushed around getting ready to go out, then just before they went out they all sat down and had a cup of tea.

Taking that moment to pause is a terribly civilised thing to do, but I have never done it. Lately, though, I’ve stopped myself from dashing out by removing my shoes, stepping out the back door instead and doing 10 minutes of Qigong in the garden.

Slow breathing while looking at the trees and the mountains is what I start with. Next, I do a few flowing exercises as slowly as possible. Then I put my shoes back on and walk calmly to the car. I fight with myself every day about whether I’ve got time to do it, but so far the sensible person is winning over the stress-head.

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Back to the subject of Russians and tea, another thing I remember from that film is that they put jam in their tea. A colleague of mine who’s from Laos puts marmalade in hers. In a share house I lived in once, my Dutch housemate watched me put milk in my tea and shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how different tea drinking is around the world and how important tea is to so many cultures. I’ve had a bit of fun reading articles about Russians and tea. Tea is definitely a good thing in my day. How do you take your tea?

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We swam in the river again. It was cold this time and brown as tea. The rapids pummelled my shoulders harder than any masseuse could. Up above, the trail was unusually busy, people passing each other with as much distance as possible but always with a smile and a hello. I like the upsurge in etiquette that the current situation seems to have promoted (on walks if not in the supermarket).

We are so lucky in this city to have so much open space. In the older suburbs in particular, every cul-de-sac has a path leading to a park. Every hill is a nature reserve with walking tracks, and roos and birdlife to look at.

There are a lot of butterflies around right now. Near the river, the shrubs are flowering: hot red spiders and delicate white stars. The slanting autumn light makes the afternoons golden.

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I’ve been feeling a bit retro here in my 1970s house and listening to “old” music. I love the joyful rhythm of this. Inexplicably, I particularly like the bits where someone whistles in the background and someone (Paul Simon?) says, “Pick it up, pick it up.”

I’ve also been dancing in the lounge room to this. In 1988, when this song came out, I was unemployed, nuclear war was a real threat, and a little understood virus called  HIV was travelling the world. I know today’s situation is  different, but we danced in the lounge room then and we can dance in the lounge room now.

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I’ve made labneh. It’s the easiest cheese to make. Put some yoghurt (full fat Greek yoghurt is best) in muslin or a clean tea towel and hang it up so that the whey drips out. I usually leave mine like this all day, if the house is cool, then put it in the fridge overnight. (Tie the muslin to a wooden spoon balanced over the colander.) Spread it on toast, sprinkle it with herbs/salt and munch. 

Eggplant relish has also featured heavily in the kitchen lately. Oooh, it’s so good! I bought a jar of the fiery stuff last week and can’t leave it alone. The question becomes not “What can I eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner?” but “What goes with eggplant relish?” It’s excellent with feta. The salt balances the heat.

On the dining room table I’ve got a growing list of good things to do that I never seem to get around to. Now might be the time. While part of me longs to go and hang out with friends, hug someone or just sit in a cafe and watch the world go by, another part is thinking what an opportunity this is. Enforced time for reflection, for checking in with ourselves, for living slowly and deliberately is a bit of a gift.

The ever-changing new normal notwithstanding, there are still a lot of good things around. I hope that’s true for you too.