IMK July 2015– flashback to 1968

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Recently a friend’s blog post brought back a long ago memory of cooking. The memory was before I ever traveled, or even thought much about it, so the ‘foreign’ foods I’d eaten were mostly Americanised. On a few occasions I’d had some fairly authentic Italian and German and that was about it. About the time I was reminded of this memory, I found a photo taken the same year and I thought you might enjoy it. Remember when girls wore curlers? BIG curlers? My best friend and I both had wavy hair, and that was just not in fashion in the 60’s. So we used the largest curlers we could find, even repurposed orange juice cans on occasion!

1960-girls-curlers

Curler girls, Lorraine on the left, me on the right–making a pie

Both being from fairly strict homes with hard working parents, we had to contribute our share of the sweat to cleaning our respective homes every Saturday. After the cleaning was done, and only afterward, the fun could begin. We would shower and set our hair in curlers to spend the afternoon drying, so that we would look beautiful when we went out that evening, if we were lucky enough to have a date or a party to attend.

One particular Saturday, I had organised the ingredients to try recipes given to me by our High School French teacher. She was the second of what would be three by the end of two years. She had actually lived in France, as opposed to the third teacher we had who was the Spanish teacher and was learning French at the same time she taught us. Not a great experience, and fascinating that I learned much at all, mon petit chou!

Mrs. K, the second teacher, had authentic French recipes for three things; bread, onion soup, and cheese soufflé. In those days I had no idea that American ingredients were any different that those used in France, and would yield a somewhat different, though reminiscent, result. Being very inexperienced at creating a menu, I decided that those three things would BE the menu. My best friend who supported me in all my crazy endeavours spent that entire Saturday afternoon helping me make the meal…in our curlers.

Where would we be without our best friends to support our adventures??

I seem to recall sampling some of the dishes at a French Club gathering we had, but certainly I had never cooked them before. At the ages of about 15 or 16 we were far from experienced cooks, though both of us had to assist with meal preparation at our homes. But probably the biggest challenge was that none of my family had tasted anything like the soup or the soufflé, so we were pushing them into the deep end, with ourselves following closely behind. In a little mid-western town of 2500 people in the late 1960’s, people did not eat this way. As I recall my family was not terribly disparaging, but I do know we never had the meal again. The amazing thing was, that we had it at all, and that it was a precursor to tasting, and cooking, so many dishes unfamiliar to me.

 

Flash forward to the present:

Just over a week ago, I found myself in the signature restaurant of one of Australia’s best known cooks (he does not call himself a chef). You can read about the meal and how it came about in this previous post, but here’s the thing…now, I’ve travelled all over the world and eaten many, very fine meals, and even cooked a few myself, but I’m still learning about my own taste preferences. Dinner at Stefano’s showed me the food that I really love to eat. It is rustic, made with quality ingredients and lots of flavour. After several very nice meals while we were away, the one dish I wanted to recreate was Stefano’s version of fennel. I love fennel, finely shredded and raw, or cooked in soups, but the best fennel I ever had was his baked version, and looked very much like this:

Baked fennel

Baked fennel

My fennel was baked at 175C (350F) in a single layer, glass baking dish, that had been generously greased with butter. The single, large fennel bulb (no stems) was cut across the layers in slices about 1cm (1/2inch) thick and laid on their sides in the dish. A generous pinch of salt sprinkled over, then 1/2 C of pouring cream, or double cream with about 1 T water to thin it, drizzled over evenly. I covered the dish with foil and baked for 55 minutes, but test to make certain the pieces are very tender. The joy of cooked fennel is a tender texture that brings out its sweetness. Remove from the oven, and turn the oven to grill/broil. Remove the foil from the baking dish, while the griller is heating, and grate 1 C of Romano or Parmesan cheese and sprinkle evenly over the cooked fennel. Place under the griller for a few minutes until the cheese turns golden. I wouldn’t presume to say this is as good as Stefano’s, but it is close enough to satisfy me until I can get back to Mildura!!

Thanks to Celia for hosting our monthly kitchen get together. My contribution this month is a bit different due to traveling and being away from my own kitchen most of the time, but I hope it is of interest, nevertheless.

 

dinner at Stefano’s

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A hundred years ago when Don and I watched Stefano De Pieri‘s cooking show, ‘Gondola on the Murray’, we had no idea that one day we would have a meal with him as the cook! After all, we grew up halfway around the world in a little Midwest town in the USA,  with nothing to indicate these kinds of special experiences awaited. 

But the road to true gastronomique does not run smoothly! A couple of months ago when Don made the booking to eat at Stefano’s Mildura, on an upcoming trip we had planned to drive from Adelaide to Broken Hill and Mildura and back to Adealaide, he warned me to have a look at the menu to be sure there was something I could eat. Given my  semi-disabled immune and digestive system, and Stefano’s reputation as an Italian cook (he calls himself a cook, not a chef), there could be problems. But the sample menus seemed to have enough choice that I could skirt the difficult ingredients like wheat and onions, despite them being basic staples of Italian cuisine.

We arrived at Stefano’s precisely at the time we had booked. Approximately twelve other patrons joined us in the damp, narrow basement of the old Grand Hotel in Mildura. First impressions of the damp smell did not bode well, but I am nothing if not open to being impressed when it seems least likely! Must be the optimist in me.

Our waitress explained that the meal was a set menu, based on seasonal local ingredients, and then asked if we had any food allergies or problems. Oh dear. Apparently they had tried to reach us by phone the previous day when we were in Broken Hill, to check on the food allergy issue.  We didn’t get the call. When I told her about the wheat and onions she immediately went to talk to Stefano. We could hear his voice in the kitchen, not yelling, I hasten to add. Back and forth she came several times…could I eat leeks or spring onion or chives? No, no, and no. But I am very vegetable friendly and can eat dairy, meat and eggs. Finally she came back and said not to worry Stefano would make it work!

  • Stinging nettle soufflé with Romano sauce and truffle oil
  • Veal fillet sliced very thinly, with homemade tuna mayonnaise, shaved radicchio, baby capers and dill
  • Straciatella soup (homemade chicken broth with egg and Romano cheese)
  • Seared Sea Trout with fennel and spinach
  • Mandarin Brûlée

Except for the soufflé, Don had a completely different meal; the same meal that everyone else around us had. I, alone, had the menu above. Every course was like a perfect piece of art–a focal point accentuated by textures and flavours, with not a piece of onion in sight! To say Stefano made it work is like saying Michelangelo could paint. 

           

Mandarin Brulee (yum)

 I later learned that someone else is the usual chef at Stefano’s these days. That we had the Man himself was at worst a fluke and at best a gift! Stefano’s cookery style is rustic Italian and the regular chef’s style is more nouveau cuisine. I’m more of a rustic girl. Bravo Stefano!

rain in the red centre

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Washed of ochre dust

immodest saturation

against sapphire sky.

Eucalyptus air

and tears, cling to nodded heads

gratefully renewed.

Beneath duvet folds

lay Dreamtime Yeperenye

Winter rain cleansed.

One thing about my haiku poetry, it may not be very good, but it’s short!! The poem was inspired by a post by The Practical Mystic and the photos by the first rain we have had in six months here in Alice. It transforms the land like nothing else. Thanks for reading! :)

As always, if you tap or click on a photo once, the gallery will appear in a larger form for you to enjoy. Tap or click at the end and you should return to the post.

IMK June 2015 (how I use my slow cooker)

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Before I start, this will be long…begin at your own risk! And most importantly, thank you to Celia for hosting our monthly kitchen get together!

Quite a few things have been happening in my life in recent months, but little of it in the kitchen. Due to food sensitivities as well as other priorities my cooking has been basic and probably not innovative, but not lacking in flavour. I’ve found myself reverting to old tried and true recipes from my past. And my past includes liberal use of a slow cooker! I’ve had a slow cooker, then called a ‘crock pot’, for about 40 years. Frankly, I can’t even believe I just wrote that, and that it is true!! That was a fast 40 years!

Rival Crock-Pot manual, circa 1977

Rival Crock-Pot manual, circa 1977

I’ve kept the little manual that came with it, since it is far better than any subsequent literature received with other slow cookers; though I hardly use any recipes these days as my tastes have mostly regressed to simple. Based on various comments I’ve had from previous posts, I gathered there was a wide ranging set of experiences for those trying to use a slow cooker, so for whatever it’s worth, here is my take on it.

This may surprise you, but I use it in the summer as well as the colder months. I love it because I can cook a roast or stew a chicken to utter tenderness with very little heat getting into the kitchen. That is a bonus where we live! But it would be of no interest if the result wasn’t full of flavour and tender. For a beef bolar roast or a whole chicken I do the following:

Stewing position for the chook is breast side down

Stewing position for the chook is breast side down

1-2 stalks of celery, chopped into large pieces

1 large carrot cut into large pieces

a few sprigs of fresh parsley

2-3 bay leaves

10 peppercorns

1 tsp sea salt

juice from half a lemon

Place all of these ingredients on the bottom of the cooker. Lay the meat on top and in the case of a chicken, place it breast side down. Cover with water to about 2/3 the way up the meat/chook. Lid on, cook on slow/low setting for 6 hrs for chook, 8 hours for beef. Debone the chicken before serving, strain the broth and use for soup later. Serve either with salad or steamed or roasted vegetables. For leftovers, make chicken salad later, and slice the beef for sandwiches or Vietnamese style beef salad in the summer.

Tip: For the chicken, once I’ve removed the meat from the bones, I pour maybe a third of a cup of the broth over the meat to store it and keep it flavourful and moist.

My preference is to buy organic or free range chicken and pastured beef. I almost never cook stews in my slow cooker and the old adage of using lesser quality cuts cooked slowly is not my thing. But if you have a family and like stews, it does a good job with those as well. We like the meat sliced thinly and used for sandwiches and salads or with steamed veg in subsequent days.

To cook a silverside (corned beef) in the slow cooker I do the following:

1 stalk of celery, chopped into large pieces

1 large carrot cut into large pieces

2-3 bay leaves

10 peppercorns

1 tsp prepared mustard (stir in some water so that it mixes with the rest)

1 tsp brown sugar

Place above ingredients into bottom of the slow cooker, then place the meat on top, fill with water to within about 50mm (1.5 inches) of the top of the cooker and cook long and slow, 8 or 9 hours. I prefer to cook my vegetables separate, as we like braised cabbage and roasted carrots or pumpkin and potatoes with silverside. Sorry, no white sauce at my house, we use our favourite horseradish that is grown in South Australia at Rusticana. (I have noticed in the USA, corned beef is sold with a flavour packet included. Use that as it contains most of the ingredients I’ve listed above, but do add the carrot and celery for extra flavour)

TIP: Once you have eaten what you want for your meal, allow the leftover meat to go cold in the strained broth. This keeps the sliverside nice and moist.

Having said I almost never cook stews in my cooker, I do sometimes cook bean soup. Due to dietary/digestive requirements, I soak tinned beans for at least 18 hours prior to cooking them with the ham. If I have a leftover, meaty ham bone I place it in the cooker with the following:

1 full stalk celery, finely chopped in tiny diceIMG_3172

Ham and bean soup

Ham and bean soup

1 medium carrot, finely chopped into tiny dice

2 bay leaves

½ tsp salt

plenty of freshly ground black pepper

4 x 400g tins pre-soaked cannellini or other similar beans

Cover with water and cook on low/slow for 8 hours. I usually like to make a gluten free cornbread to serve with it. My husband is in heaven with this meal as it takes him back to his grandma’s house in Virginia.

Pork roast from slow cooker, with roasted pumpkin and sauerkraut

Pulled Pork from slow cooker, with roasted pumpkin and cabbage.

As well as pulled pork (link amended 6/6/15), there is one other favourite meal I make in the slow cooker and it is a nod to both my husband’s and my German heritage.

Pork scotch fillet with potato, sauerkraut and cabbage

Pork scotch fillet with potato, sauerkraut and cabbage

Pork Scotch fillets cooked with sauerkraut, cabbage and potatoes.

This one starts with the meat on the bottom, then layer up with finely sliced potatoes (3-4), covered with finely sliced cabbage then a layer of sauerkraut. The cabbage can be omitted but not the sauerkraut. If you are wondering if the sauerkraut should be rinsed, yes, but only lightly. Retaining some of the salty brine on the kraut is good.

4 pork scotch fillets

3-4 thinly sliced potatoes

2 x 400g tins sauerkraut, to which I add 1tsp caraway seeds, two bay leaves, three sprigs fresh thyme and some fresh or tinned small mushrooms-optional

¼ finely shredded green cabbage

2 T dry sherry or white wine

weak chicken broth or water

salt and pepper

2 T butter, dotted around the top layer

Add some freshly cracked pepper and a bit of salt to the meat layer and the potato layer, but not the kraut layer. Sprinkle the dry sherry or white wine over the final layer, then pour over the chicken broth if you have it, or just water is fine, and dot with butter over the top. Cook on low for 8 hrs. This is a great, easy one pot meal, if you like the German flavours.

Sorry for the length of this post—happy eating!

the beauty of Melancholy

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IMG_2982You know how Melancholy comes to visit? She quietly slips under the door, and floats along from room to room until she finds you. Then she follows you, sitting in your lap, accompanying you on walks, being painfully present.

Melancholy is a species of sadness that arises when we are open to the fact that life is inherently difficult and that suffering and disappointment are core parts of universal experience. It’s not a disorder that needs to be cured. Modern society tends to emphasise buoyancy and cheerfulness. But we have to admit that reality is for the most part about grief and loss. The good life is not one immune to sadness, but one in which suffering contributes to our development. Sometimes you feel sad and you can’t quite put your finger on why. It’s not one acute sorrow that’s eating you. You feel in a way the whole of life calls for tears.

When I first read the line ‘reality is for the most part about grief and loss’ I thought ‘No, it’s not!’ But as this idea has settled into my psyche, I realise my strong reaction to the contrary was an indication of how right it is. We are funny creatures that way, often declaring adversely, those things which are most true.

Why is it, then, that my visitor comes, uninvited, and often, but is not thrown to the curb? Because I am a Light Chaser, and even I know, there is no light without darkness.

We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty. –In Praise of Shadows, 1933, Junichiro Tanizaki (via Brainpickings Newsletter)

IMG_2807Melancholy came three weeks ago today, searching the shadows of death to illuminate for me what the life had meant to mine. The Now Departed was someone who had been very influential in my life during my teens and twenties. The truth is, we had grown apart in recent years but both of us honoured our past relationship with fondness, gratitude and loyalty. Right in the middle of my huge clearing out of possessions, she passed, creating yet another, necessary adjustment to my surrounding energies. It has been a lot to mull over.

Her influence is everywhere. As I sorted through cupboards and collections, recipes and photos, scarves and books; shadows and highlights merged. They are the fabric of my life, interwoven and unique; containing my first trip outside the USA to Mexico, my first trip to Italy–connecting me with my Italian heritage, my first train ride, tasting my first raw mushroom! How can you forget eating your first raw mushroom?

Melancholy is a key mental state and a valuable one, because it links pain with beauty and wisdom.

So, I have been reflective, sad, grateful…and now, I see…all of that is part of the connection Melancholy provides to other parts of ourselves. I commend to you an article in its entirety on this topic, and hope it may help you, as it did me, understand this part of life a little better. It is comforting to know these feelings are normal, and even desirable, to move us forward and connect us with better understanding. Not to mention beauty.

21 year old me with my Aunt, Rome, 1974

21 year old me with my Aunt, Rome, 1974

just a little detailing…

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Here’s a little known factoid; many years ago I took a course in airbrushing vehicle designs. As in cars and trucks. Yes. I never intended to actually apply the skills to vehicles, it was just the only course available in Darwin when I first moved there 32 years ago. I wanted to develop my airbrush* skills and so I took the course. In those days, airbrushes were still being used in design and advertising, now it is all done digitally in computers. I had used it in my University studies but needed to advance my skills and no one locally was doing it, so I was having a ‘go’. That experience and my design background are why I have long appreciated high calibre detailing on vehicles.

Usually one is not in close proximity when seeing the primo examples. Driving down the highway is not the best way to get good photos–distracting for everyone involved. So when I looked up, I could hardly believe there was a very special tractor (Big Rig) parked on the side of the road near the walking path in front of me. Approaching from behind, what I first noticed was the Australian Military insignia. This being the 100th year of Australia’s entry into the First World War, there have been numerous special observances and I’ve seen it often.

three-dog-train

Three dog train traveling through Alice Springs                

The closer I got to the Rig the more fantastic I could see the detailing was. I hasten to add, I don’t believe the design was applied with airbrush, I’m certain it was decal, but it was still spectacular. There were a lot of cars whizzing past, wondering what I was so busy photographing, and then they would see the Rig and slow down to get a better look. It was a dead set traffic stopper. I can only imagine what it would look like with three dogs (trailers) behind!

Back of cab with Military Insignia

Back of cab with Military Insignia

The name ‘Bill Braitiling’ was painted in the design, so I Googled it–as you do these days. Bill was born in Alice Springs and joined the 2nd Light Horse Regiment at the age of 28 in 1915. Fortunately he lived beyond the war and died in Alice Springs at Mt Doreen Station in 1959. The Rig is obviously in his memory and the memory of others in that war.

Detailing is an art form added to street art, murals and tattoos which reflect our culture and give us pause for thought. Enjoy the gallery. (as usual, if you click on the photos you can see them enlarged, and scrolling over them in the gallery you will see the captions)

*(an airbrush was a small pen-like device with a paint pot attached and compressed air was fed through with the ink/paint to create shading and layers of paints and shapes)

the yellow challenge

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Along the way of my ‘365 photo challenge’ I have done a couple of sub-challenges. It helps me keep perspective, otherwise I wander along the same walks and routines and the ideas could get stale.

the photographer and her tool

the photographer and her tool (perhaps the ‘tool’ and her photo??)

The first sub-challenge was to take 3 photos over three days that I could post ‘straight out of the camera’, that is no edits at all, only cropping–because Instagram primarily uses square format photos. I’m sorry if this disappoints all my peeps out there, but I DO edit the majority of my photos. A photo seldom looks like what the eye has seen, so I endeavour to recreate my memory of the subject/scene—what excited me about it in the first place, and usually that takes editing. Occasionally I take a photo, maybe once a week, that I feel meets my objectives and so I post it ‘as is’. The #sooc (straight out of the camera) challenge went well. Magic happened and I was able to do 3 photos, three days in a row, that I honestly felt needed no editing. Whew.

So, recently I accepted another challenge, the ‘yellow challenge’. This one, for five days in a row, is to take a photo of something yellow or with yellow as a major component. The morning the invitation came through to me, it happened that my photo of the day had been a stunning one, of a yellow leaf. So I took this as encouragement to accept the invitation for four more days. No pressure.

Nanook of the South

Nanook of the South

Day two was exceptionally windy…Nanook-of-the-North windy. It was also cloudy and I took a beautiful photo of the subdued hues of clouds in early morning, but no yellow. I turned right to continue my walk–still with the yellow challenge in my mind. My eyes fell on flowers and leaves and bits of yellow rubbish, but nothing I hadn’t recently photographed or that seemed worthy.macdonnell-ranges-australia

And then…

galah-feather-pink

pink galah feather

Caught in the grass was a tiny feather, white of fluff and yellow of tip. It was the rarest of the rare. I see feathers of many colours on my walks, and have photographed a few—pink, green, blue, grey, black and white. But never have I seen a yellow one. It was my little bit of magic for the day, for the challenge, for ME.

Despite the strong winds the grass was holding it securely. Carefully I bent down and plucked it from its lodging and placed it in my pocket. For the remainder of the walk, I smiled the smile of the cat who ate the cream. Arriving home I unloaded my pockets—key, used tissue, glasses, iPhone, macro lens and yellow feather.

Aaaaarrgghh, WHERE WAS MY FEATHER?

It was as gone as yesterday’s lunch. Gone. I turned pockets inside out, unravelled the snotty tissue—at least three times. It was nowhere to be found.

It was my treasure. My beautiful little bit of magic and I had let it slip through my fingers–probably quite literally. Despite all logic to the contrary, I decided to go look for it, IN THE ROARING WINDS. Silly girl. You will never find it. But I believe in magic, so I looked. I walked up the street and beyond where I had found it, searching in the grass, along the roadside, everywhere. Notta. I was so sad I nearly cried. How could this magic thing have happened and then it was as if it hadn’t? Why? I suspected when I could answer that question, the real magic would happen.

Fast forward 24 hours…

Every so often my mornings are turned upside down like a snow dome and I have to rearrange the timings of coffee, breakfast, and walking to accommodate some unusual errand or event. This was one of those mornings. The walk came at the end of all the other things, including a trip to the grocery. The fact that the wind was once again blowing a gale straight from the Antarctic was just like a layer of Vegemite on top of a cake. Not that great.

It was very hard to take photos when the branches were swaying wildly and at times, gusting so hard it threw me off balance. Thank goodness for warm houses on cold, blustery days, I thought. Photos are very much a by-product of my walks. I walk because it is good for my back and heart, but most especially for my mind. It is moving meditation for me. Though it was late-ish and the sun was getting high in the sky, I set out, perhaps to take a photo or two. Too much overhead light makes for bleached out colours in photos, but I am ever hopeful.

I was wearing sunglasses, which generally I find a nuisance when photographing, but otherwise the light was so bright I couldn’t really look around to see things, including approaching bicycles and vehicles! Bracing myself against the wind I walked down our street, analysing the patches of shifting light and possible subjects to photograph. And then for reasons I have no idea about I glanced to my right, in the grass. There. It. Was. Yellow of tip and white of fluff. I was stunned. I held my breath and slowly reached down to release it from the grass. This time I took nothing for granted. I deliberately held tightly to it, and did not look away until it was safely in my pocket. Deep down in my pocket. For certain.

For the rest of the walk I was cautiously jubilant, and truthfully wondering if I was asleep and dreaming I had found the feather again. What if it had been another mistake, and was not real? Occasionally, and carefully, I stopped and peered down into my pocket, the way a small child does when they are carrying a treasure in their tiny cupped hands. Is it still there? Yes, still there.

Arriving home, I repeated my daily ritual of unloading things from my pockets. Finally, I looked for the feather. It was nestled deep down into the farthest corner of my pocket and waiting for me saying…

have hope, patience, and perseverance;

all things are possible, in their own time.

feather-yellow-white

yellow of tip, white of fluff

The gallery of photos from my yellow challenge:

(Posted on the occasion of my 62nd birthday. It’s good to be alive. Thank you for reading.)

when things come together…

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No one asks me how my 365 photo challenge is going. I think they are afraid I will have to tell them ‘I’ve failed’. There is no failure in such things, there is only learning. If I never learn another thing, these 128 days of taking a new photo every day, will have been worth it. SO…if you are wondering how my 365 Photo Challenge is progressing, here is an update…

Sunrise is over an hour and half later now than it was when I started my challenge. That means my morning walks are later, otherwise there is not enough light to capture my subjects. And light is everything with photography.

There are problems with walking later. I intersect with people doing other things, like playing golf on the course that is my backyard, and where I take most of my walks! It also disrupts my comfortable morning routine. Things are all topsy-turvy now.

It is a confluence of activities, re-creating the flow of my life.

Yesterday morning, in order to avoid the golfers, I left the house too early. The sun was not high enough to light the things I wanted to photograph. So I walked farther, to take up some time. This brought me to the Todd River. It lay in its usual state of benign desiccation, still waters running deeply beneath. Nevertheless, there was something pulling me into the riverbed.

dry-todd-river

Dramatic sunlight and shadows.

I realised the siren song was the dramatic light and shadows. They created a different Todd River than the one I showed you a few months ago, at the beginning of my photographic challenge. It was confluence of a different kind, the two sides of the personality of the Todd.

(If you move your cursor over the photo gallery, you will see the captions revealed at the bottom of each photo. If you click on the photo you can see it full size)

The discarded.

Hidden danger.

The everyday.

And the extraordinary.

The photo challenge is…challenging. Most days it requires at least an hour of my time, some days more. It’s a bit like ‘home schooling’ myself. I am learning new methods of editing, and practicing basic photographic skills as well as developing my eye. I have discovered a new application called Steller (click to see some of my stories), that allows a person to publish photographic stories. (I haven’t been able to figure out how to get it to show as a ‘widget’ on my blog, but stay tuned!)

After 23 years, I have also fallen in love, all over again, with the place that I live. The more I photograph, the more I see. Also, the additional walking and climbing, to chase the light, has forced me to become more fit (seriously)–and that is no bad thing!

Contributing influences—confluence–where things meet. If a person’s life isn’t this, I don’t know what is.

ANZAC in our memories

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  For those of you not living in Australia, the 25th of April is ANZAC Day. The acronym, ANZAC, was derived from persons serving in ‘Australia and New Zealand Army Corps’ (1914-1818). The two countries were brothers in arms when entering WWI, one hundred years ago tomorrow, at the landing in Gallipoli, Turkey.

Last year, my husband and I included a trip to Gallipoli in our tour of the Black Sea countries and Turkey. It stands out as one of the most memorable places I’ve ever been. To see the terrain the troops occupied, where over 36,000 Commonwealth  troops died was an emotional experience I had not expected. After all, I had no family in that battle, nor was I born in Australia, or even the Commonwealth. We visited the graves and read the sad inscriptions. We walked among some of those 100 year old trenches as our tour guide, who was Turkish, compassionately told us stories from both sides of the battle.

I wished my Dad was still alive to tell him about it, if he could have even brought himself to listen. He seldom talked about his WWII experience as it upset him. He was not quite 17 when he began his five years in the US Army; his mother lied about his age so that he could escape a miserable home life. And what he got was more misery. Hearing the stories of the ANZACS, as we have this week in the media, I was reminded. Young men signed up for what they thought was their duty, if not an adventure. Many paid the ultimate price.

The abject slaughter and loss of innocence of these gorgeous young men, not to mention the loss for their loved ones, is what I remember on ANZAC Day. The stories of their courage and that of the families they left behind is beyond anything I know. And wasn’t that the point? That following generations would not know such sorrow and sacrifice? And yet some still do. Whether ill conceived or not, the actions of these men were meant to preserve the quality of Australian life. That they retreated in the end, and lost the battle, makes their sacrifice even more poignant, and no less important. Perhaps it should be an even greater cautionary tale against war.

 Tomorrow morning is sure to be record numbers, for observance of the 100th anniversary. Rather than attend dawn services in a mass of people, I chose to climb ANZAC Hill by myself at dawn this morning. With every step I climbed up the rugged stone steps, I thought of the rocky escarpment that greeted the troops at dawn on the shores of Gallipoli. As I looked out, every beautiful view reinforced the fact of my fortunate life.

 The local effort toward this anniversary was to cover the words ‘Lest We Forget’ with poppies, the emblematic flower worn on Remembrance Day each year. The words have been erected at ANZAC Hill, greeting visitors and overlooking the town.

view-heavitree-gap

From Anzac Hill looking to Heavitree Gap

Even if we never have another war, never lose another soldier, we should not forget the lives of those lost. We stand on their shoulders, like it or not. Taking photos this morning, and writing this blog is how I choose to honour my Dad and all the many soldiers and families who have given so much.

 Lest We Forget.

less is more…

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I even moved on my crown and sceptre.

I even relinquished my crown and sceptre.

The words in the title have never been more true to me than now. The idea of ‘less is more’ goes back farther than most people commonly think, but for the most part, we attribute the concept to architect and furniture designer, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969). He was trying to help people understand how simplicity and clarity lead to good design.

I’ve just been through the first two phases of trying to achieve more simplicity and clarity in my life…by clearing clutter.

Simple.

And yet not.

I didn’t want to ditch my husband, or get a dog, but something needed to change. At the time I even wondered if I wanted to leave Alice Springs and start a new adventure. It didn’t feel like a mid-life crisis, more like a renewal of purpose and consolidation. When I began my 365 photo challenge in January, I fell in love all over again with the Alice, so I knew leaving here wasn’t the answer.

Even before that, I had started following a blog written by Courtney Carver, Be More With Less.  Her advice made sense so I allowed it to inspire me toward the goal of lightening my load.

Courtney says–Having more stuff doesn’t make you more of yourself.

The useful ‘stuff’ is just what we use to illuminate our path, to show ourselves to ourselves. It doesn’t make us more, it just shows us who we already are, or can be. The other stuff is just in the way, and drags us down, holds us back.

To my friends, and any untrained eye, my home looked perfectly organised and showed no evidence of needing to be de-cluttered. I had/have a spare room with nothing in it but what a guest would need. I had empty shelves and plenty of room for more things; but still, I wanted less. To my inner eye, my life was cluttered. I was blocked…creatively…energetically. You see, physical clutter is but an outward sign of what is going on inside us. If we cannot mentally leave the past and move forward, we will also have trouble getting rid of things in our environment. We think of ‘clutter’ as mostly a condition of modern times, though I can recall quite a few old barns and sheds from my childhood that seemed full to bursting! It is greatly enhanced by affluence, to be sure, but it is also reflected in individuals who have a poverty of spirit, or fear that life won’t provide for them.

So, where did I start? Mental preparation was the first phase of the process:

  • I bought only minimal things to add to the load, and when I did, I adopted the practice of getting rid of something when something new came over the threshold
  • I inspired myself; reading about Feng Shui, clearing energies, organisation
  • I took mental note every time I opened a drawer or cupboard, paying attention to what I used and what remained untouched.
  • I evaluated which activities meant the most to me, and therefor the tools that I would need to pursue those activities.
Vestiges.

Vestiges.

In the heat of summer, I struggle to have enough energy to do the basics, so I always knew the task of physical clearing would have to wait for cooler days. Two weeks ago we got a cool precursor, followed by one last-hot-blast of summer. That was my cue. Phase Two–the ‘purge’, began. Things came flying out of cupboards and shelves. I became a fiend for a cluttered drawer, unrelenting to old papers. Soon, I had only a small path leading to the computer in my office, lined either side with once valued items from my life. I no longer felt attachment for them. I had assimilated what they had to give me, and now it was time to move on.

And then, suddenly, I stalled. Stuck in the mucky energy again, I was unable to figure out prices and organise things to sell or give away. Enter: Two. Good. Friends. They ‘double-teamed’ me, one helping with pricing and organising, the other helping with the nuts and bolts of tables, cash/coinage and advice. The day one friend showed up to help price things, she brought with her a little book…Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, by Karen Kingston. Only four days to lawn sale time–I read it cover to cover in 24 hours. Even though I had read much of what it contained in other sources, I’ve never seen it all in one concise, helpful place. Along with my friends’ help, the book renewed my resolve and helped me push ahead.

(If you think Feng Shui sounds too much like superstition, or good design, to award credence, then try to accept that the end result, ridding oneself of clutter, makes things work and look better!)

Kingston, who coaches people to help them clear the clutter from their lives, has much wisdom on the topic, but perhaps the observation that most affected me was this:

“…when we feel moved to collect a particular thing, or even when we ‘accidentally’ end up with such a collection, what we are in fact doing is responding to an intuitive need to gather a particular type of essence that we need for our own personal growth. It’s a specific frequency that we need to bring into ourselves at that time, and this is entirely valid. But life is constantly changing and moving, and we actually only need to collect that essence for as long as it takes us to spiritually integrate it into our life. Then we can move our focus on to something new.”

Letting go in order to move on, keeps us learning and discovering. It allows me to enjoy the things I have kept, that are still meaningful. I see them more clearly, not filtered through other things–or worse, stored away in a cupboard never to be seen. As I’ve cleared space, things previously stored away have come to light so that I can use them. And some were no longer of value, the way old thoughts that no longer serve us, can be let go. Mostly ‘things’ have never been that important to me. I left nearly all of it when I migrated to Australia 32 years ago. But of course, I enjoy beauty, and certain objects with emotional attachment remain. For me, it’s not about having nothing, it’s about choosing which things deserve my energy, and even renew me.

I know this– have known it for a long time.

We are all a work in progress. Sometimes the progress is slow, but it is still progress. Phase three of the transformation will be to continue the purge. I still have more things to shed. Even if scales don’t reflect it, I am lighter and more vibrant, without the weight of the ‘stuff’–that is the more of the less.

vera-wang-jug

less colour, more appreciation of the lovely shape of this little jug

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