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Since we last met, I’ve been on a lovely walk up Cooleman Ridge with friends, human and canine. The sun came up while we walked, treating us to a
sky-blue-pink view from the top of the ridge. Hot air balloons took off in the distance as we watched.

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At first glance, I thought this rock looked like a blond Darth Vader. Now, looking closely at the photo, I think it looks like a stone Womble. What can you see? The hills behind us were rose tinted, and low cloud hung over the elusive Murrumbidgee. My friends suggested that a person could possibly walk the length of the ridge, from their house to mine. Speaking from experience, I’d say that person would need a map. And even then they’d be likely to end up back at the place they started from.

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Since we last met, I’ve made a pair of trousers. I hand-sewed them. Yes, indeedy, I did. The material is light and drapes softly and they fit perfectly. I read about a type of seam called flat fell and wanted to try it. I was having a bout of sewing machine fear, so I hand-stitched the whole garment while listening to podcasts. The sparkle of satisfaction that I got from making them comes back every time I wear them.

I hope you’ll excuse the bandaid-wrapped toe in the photo. I cut my toe open twice by stubbing it two days in a row on the same step… living proof that human beings are slow learners and some people should really wear slippers more often.

Since we last met, I’ve been listening to The West Wing Weekly podcast a lot. I adored The West Wing. Every couple of years I re-watch the whole seven seasons and I still think it’s brilliant. The podcast dissects and discusses an episode each time. It’s very witty and engaging, and it makes TWW tragics like me glad to know that we’re part of a community.

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Since we last met, I’ve read some good books. Brigid Lowry’s Still Life With Teapot is a gem. I devoured it in an afternoon. Part memoir and collection of hilarious lists, it’s also a discussion on writing and creativity in general. In the first part of the book Brigid makes you like her so much that you can’t wait to read the rest of it. “I’ve written my way towards you,” she says, and she really has.

The second book I thought I’d bought was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I laughed when I got home and realised I’d bought The Artist’s Way for Retirement. It’s aimed at people who suddenly have a lot of time on their hands, which, alas, is not me or any of my friends just yet. But it’s something we all long for.

The advice in the book—how to unlock creativity—is relevant for all of us, though. Just yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend’s teenage daughter who wanted to start painting but thought she needed to be taught how first. She said the local art teacher painted in a style she didn’t like. “So paint in your own style,” we said.

This morning I read a passage in the book about artistic U-turns, where people take up an artistic pursuit because they enjoy it but then give it up for years because of some unfavourable experience or negative feedback. They (we) associate the negativity with their artistic ability when really it comes down to the teacher having a different style or their work being judged by the wrong audience.

That applies not only to art. When I was a kid I thought I was rubbish at sport. I enjoyed riding my bike and going horseriding, but I hated school sports because I thought I was no good. At our school we wore fluorescent yellow sweatshirts for sport, probably because it was so foggy that the teachers needed a way of keeping an eye on us. On cross-country runs we of course took our sweatshirts off and ran away into the mist to do our own thing. My friends and I would wander around town or go to the sweet shop then duck home for a while. One day we decided to go to the graveyard and noisily stumbled into a funeral by mistake.

Because I was made to do sports that didn’t suit me, I thought I was no good at sport as a whole. I discovered running in my 40s and I love it, but if you’d told me that when I was 13 I’d have laughed because running then meant running away from school to go and buy sweets. So if you enjoy making art or writing or figure-skating or playing the spoons but you’ve convinced yourself that you’re no good at it, maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Which brings me to the next book. Susan Cain’s Quiet came out six years ago and that’s exactly how long I’ve been wanting to read it. There’s a nice review of it here. It’s a well-researched and at times very funny book about being an introvert in a world that values extroversion. I love the way that it debunks the current theories about group work being the way to solve a problem or open-plan being the best office design. To think deeply or be creative, I need a quiet space every time.

When I borrowed the book from work, the librarian, a colleague, was chatty and outgoing. She told me how much it had helped her to understand her son, when previously she and her similarly extroverted hubby had been scratching their heads and thinking, “What do we do with this left-handed introvert?!” I had to smile because she had no idea that she was telling her story to another left-handed introvert. Obviously we have to act extroverted a lot of the time just to get along in life, but for a third of the population our natural inclination is to do the opposite. And that’s perfectly okay.

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Since we last met, I’ve made peanut butter cookies and mushroom soup, and this afternoon I’ll be getting the plum puree out of the freezer and turning it into jam. A hint of autumn has crept into each day, which makes me want to bake. I discovered Luisa Weiss’s gorgeous book Classic German Baking yesterday at a friend’s house, and I can’t wait to bake from it. I enjoyed its photos of Berlin as much as I enjoyed reading the recipes and rolling their names around on my tongue. Who wouldn’t want to make Knerken or Versunkener Apfelkuchen?

And you? Where have you been walking and what have you seen? What are you listening to? What have you learned? What have you been making or baking… since we last met?